In the imaginary town of GOMPERS, the locale for a new script from one of America's most admired young playwrights, Adam Rapp, people try to take shortcuts to make it big. Rapp does not write "pretty" plays; like his friend, filmmaker Neil LaBute, he often takes difficult situations, indulges in a bit of sick humor and then heads down a road to an even darker place. In the case of this Rust Belt community, a gambling boat is one hope local residents are counting on, a way to make a quick fortune. But like so many other things in this dead-end town, it's a mirage. CHRIS GUTHRIE is directing the regional premiere of Gompers for Know Theatre; it opens this week (Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m. it's pay-what you-can; regular performances are Jan. 18-Feb. 3). Guthrie, a veteran of Cincinnati Shakespeare Company and an actor who routinely impresses audiences (he's earned several CEA nominations), took on directing this show because it was a good fit.
"It's actor-heavy," he says, admitting a bit of envy for the talent he's assembled. But he adds, as director, "It's almost as if I get to be every character." And there's a host of them: Jeff Groh plays a high school athlete who's become a local gangster; Angel Zachel, a new performer in Cincinnati, is a recovering alcoholic who hopes the anticipated casino is a way out; Ian Golightly plays a guy with a punkish exterior who's the only character with a soul. Guthrie says, "This show has heightened my awareness of people around me. It's illuminated the choices I make when I realize we're all connected." Beyond the cast of nine characters, he notes, 30 more people are named but never seen -- each affected by the actions of people onstage. He adds, "Everyone seeks what's going to save them. There's an easy, fast way to get ahead, and there's a way that requires real work and personal change." This production, Guthrie says, showcases what Know Theatre is doing. "This is the strongest acting ensemble we have put together, one of the best I've ever worked with." That's serious praise from one of Cincinnati's best actors. Calling this the "straightest play" Know has staged in some time (i.e., the most traditionally theatrical), he adds that Gompers is one of the most ambitious productions the company has ever undertaken in terms of set, lights, sound and costuming -- a real showcase for the potential of its new home at 1120 Jackson St. in Over-the Rhine. For a preview, check out Know's trailer: www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJmt7K82MQ8. Tickets: 513-627-2787. ...
If you are (or know) a college student studying theater, music or dance who could use some cash, you'll want to make arrangements to head to Northern Kentucky University on Jan. 27. From 1:30-5 p.m. that day, the ASSOCIATION OF COMMUNITY THEATERS OF GREATER CINCINNATI will sponsor its annual scholarship audition competition. Four scholarships, ranging from $300-$1,000, will be awarded by ACT to full-time students currently majoring in the performing arts. Those auditioning have up to five minutes to present two contrasting pieces, such as monologues, songs and dances. Auditions are by appointment only; an accompanist is provided for musical selections. If you're interested, you need to request a slot: Kathy.Unkrich@cincyplay.com. ...
I'm still disappointed we haven't seen more of the late August Wilson's plays onstage in Cincinnati: If you agree, you might plan a trip to Indianapolis between Jan. 17 and Feb. 10 when Indiana Repertory Theatre presents GEM OF THE OCEAN, Wilson's ninth play in his 10-play cycle chronicling each decade of the 20th century in the African-American experience. This one happens in 1904 and lays the mythical foundation for the subsequent tales, focusing on the central character of Aunt Esther, a legendary healer about to celebrate her 287th birthday. The play offers a poignant journey full of the songs and echoes of slave ships. Info: 317-635-5252 or www.irtlive.com
contact rick Pender: rpender(at)citybeat.com