When you see a play, you might notice the acting, scenic design or writing, the most visible elements at the moment of performance. But the real glue that knits a show together is the director, the person with the big picture who coordinates everything into a singular artistic event. Actors often say the most invigorating part of any production is rehearsing, in “the room” where a director imposes a vision and steers performers and designers toward the final product.
For that reason, you should pay heed to who’s directing shows you choose to see. At many theaters, the artistic director stages several works each season. Cincinnati Shakespeare’s Brian Phillips is currently assembling Shakespeare’s rarely staged King John (Jan. 14-30). Ensemble Theatre’s Lynn Meyers is rehearsing the regional premiere of Gregory Nauffts Tony-nominated Next Fall (Jan. 26-Feb. 13), a humorous, honest play about the complicated lives of two gay men. Eric Vosmeier at Know Theatre will stage the recently announced Aliens with Extraordinary Skills by Saviana Stanescu, a lighthearted but profound comedy (Jan. 29-Feb. 26). Each director has a solid record of successful work. If you’ve enjoyed their efforts, you’ll want to see each show they stage.
But watch also for guest directors, who generate exciting theater with new perspectives.
The Cincinnati Playhouse uses many guests with noteworthy credentials. For instance, Derrick Sanders will direct Gee’s Bend (March 17-April 19). The protégé of August Wilson and co-founder of Chicago’s much-admired Congo Square Theatre Company will bring his own vision of the African-American experience to Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder’s show about a group of women in Alabama whose quilts are magnificent works of art and whose lives parallel the turbulent history of 20th-century America.
Mark Wing-Davey returns for the Playhouse’s world premiere of Carson Kreitzer’s Behind the Eye (April 7-May 1), a script about Lee Miller, a Vogue model in the 1920s, a muse of Paris artists in the ’30s and an acclaimed World War II photographer. The British director, who teaches acting at New York University, staged the award-winning premiere of Kreitzer’s The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer for the Playhouse in 2003, as well as the premiere of her searing drama 1:23 (2007). His work is admired around the world, especially in stagings of Caryl Churchill’s Mad Forest. I expect Behind the Eye to be another highly theatrical experience.
Guest directors can have local roots, too. ETC’s Meyers will be busy elsewhere, staging a theatrical version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice for Cincinnati Shakespeare (Feb. 18-March 13) as well as Craig Wright’s poetic and comic love story The Pavilion at the Playhouse (May 19-June 12). Playhouse Associate Artistic Director Michael Haney returns to ETC to direct Deborah Zoe Laufer’s offbeat comedy End Days (March 16-April 3); his Playhouse production of The Understudy was a highlight last fall.
Drew Fracher makes his living as a guest director locally and beyond, and we saw evidence of his excellent work with Skin Tight at Know Theatre in October. This winter he’ll stage Neil Simon’s classic comedy The Odd Couple at the Carnegie Center (Jan. 27-Feb. 13). Don’t dismiss this as a been-there/done-that show: With good actors and Fracher at the helm, it might be a whole new ballgame. Guest directors often provide a shot in the arm.
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