When I moved to Cincinnati in March 1980, the very first theatrical production I saw the week I arrived was Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. The great Russian playwright's works don't get staged all that often locally (don't ask me why), but I'm grateful to come around to this one again: THE CHERRY ORCHARD will be offered by CINCINNATI SHAKESPEARE COMPANY (CSC) beginning Thursday and continuing through April 15. Although CSC is regularly staging classics, this is their first foray into Chekhov's works. The 1904 script (Chekhov died just months after its first performance) is about the struggles of a once wealthy Russian family who can't cope with changing times: They're in arrears financially, and the only way out seems to be to sell a family cherry orchard to a bourgeois businessman who wants to develop the land. But it means the demise of a place the family has cherished for generations. This gentle comedy, directed by CSC's artistic director BRIAN ISAAC PHILLIPS, is full of poignant drama and heartbreak
If you live on the West Side and you enjoy theater, I suspect you've taken in a production or two at COVEDALE CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS. They've just announced their 2007-08 season, and it's a pleasant mix of plays and musicals that begins with Tom Dudick's Over the Tavern (Oct. 4-21), a big hit for the Cincinnati Playhouse back in 1999. The rest of the season will be the legendary musical A Chorus Line (Nov. 1-18); the murder mystery Deathtrap (Jan. 24-Feb. 10, 2008); a round-up of tunes by Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and others in Honky Tonk Laundry (Feb. 21-March 9, 2008); and another classic, Man of La Mancha (March 27-April 13, 2008). Covedale fills out its season with a production of the big, old-fashioned musical Anything Goes (July 27-Aug.5), the 26th annual summer show by Cincinnati Young People's Theatre, and a holiday show, Forever Plaid (Dec. 13-23). Covedale has also decided to expand its offerings with two dramas in a series they're calling WITH out WALLS (or "WOW"): Those will be Jason Miller's That Championship Season (May 31-June 2), a 1973 play about the reunion of a winning high school basketball team, and Extremities (Sept. 6-8), a 1983 script by William Mastrosimone in which a woman turns the tables on an attacker. Info: 513-241-6550.
TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE, sportswriter Mitch Albom's 1997 best-selling reminiscence about spending time with a beloved college professor afflicted with Lou Gehrig's disease, has been turned into a schmaltzy but heartfelt stage play (co-written with playwright Jeffrey Hatcher, whose Murderers will be onstage at the Cincinnati Playhouse this spring) that's getting quite a few productions around the U.S. this season. That includes one here in Cincinnati by Ovation Theatre Company (where it's onstage until Saturday at the Aronoff Center's Jarson-Kaplan Theater). Al Alexander plays Albom, the ambitious and sometimes unfeeling reporter and commentator; Tom Manning is Morrie Schwartz, a kindly sociology professor at Brandeis who forces the hardboiled journalist to take some long, hard looks at the life choices he's made and the paths he's followed. His lessons are simple and obvious truths that often escape us in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The sentiments are pretty predictable, but Alexander and Manning have a workable chemistry -- although the production needs a bit more warmth to capture the essence of the book. Perhaps the emotions are a bit too overt for the stage, but Ovation's production clearly tugged at the audience's heartstrings the night I attended. It's a good reminder to examine your own priorities. Grade: B
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