special reading -- and singing -- of a new musical, ORPHAN TRAIN, by Mary Murfitt. I've mentioned before my admiration for Cincinnati's many fine community theaters. Of course, these volunteer arts organizations exist because people enjoy the social dimension of putting on shows, but without these groups, many area residents would never be introduced to live theater. The truth is that Cincinnati has an unexpected number of groups: The Association of Community Theatres (ACT) counts 18 members, and there are others that aren't ACT members. In fact, ACT has been around for 50 years; its anniversary is being celebrated on Saturday with a dinner dance. While some of ACT's 11 founders from 1955 are no longer in business (like the Colerain Music Drama Guild and the Clifton Imps), four groups -- Stagecrafters, Mariemont Players, Drama Workshop and Wyoming Players -- still produce shows. The ACT member with the longest history is Wyoming, which has performed since 1885. "Community theater is a historic and well established means for many Cincinnatians to participate in the creation and performance of contemporary and classic plays and musicals on a non-professional level," says Rich Stoops, president of ACT for 2004-2005. ACT promotes a high standard by critiquing member groups' productions, by staging the annual OCTAfest (with the Ohio Community Theater Association) of excerpts competing to go to the state convention, and by awarding scholarships to area students in university theater programs. For more about productions by ACT members (and other area theaters) check out the Cincinnati Theatre Web (www.robbucher.com/cincytheatre), which offers a wealth of useful and timely information. ... As if there weren't enough going on at ENSEMBLE THEATRE OF CINCINNATI this week (what with the opening of Sight Unseen on Wednesday and a benefit performance by actor-singer Todd Almond on Friday at alchemize -- see stories elsewhere in this week's issue), you might also want to make a note of Monday evening's 7 p.m. special reading -- and singing -- of a new musical, ORPHAN TRAIN, by Mary Murfitt. ETC presented a reading late in 2002, and it's been fine tuned, aiming at a fully-staged production, possibly next season. The musical is based on the movement that sent thousands of orphaned, abandoned or homeless children west from New York to be placed with families in the Midwest, where many ended up as unpaid farm laborers rather than family members. Murfitt wrote -- and performed in -- the musical Cowgirls, presented by ETC in 2002. For tickets to the reading (only $6): 513-421-3555.
KNOW THEATRE TRIBE's Streamers shows what happens when men are compressed into confined situations with war staring them in the face. The 1976 play is startlingly timeless: These listless, argumentative soldiers could be awaiting shipment to Iraq in 2005. The play is a violent tale of three young soldiers, one black, one white, one gay. An angry black soldier stirs up confrontations between the three, causing a violent and bloody denouement. Know's 50th production offers a potent cast, knowingly directed by Jason Bruffy who grabs your attention and won't let go. Streamers really works in Gabriel's Corner's constricted church basement, with the audience right on top of the action -- it's impossible to look away. Through Saturday. (Rick Pender) Grade: A-
MARIEMONT PLAYERS, one of Cincinnati's most adventurous community theaters, is presenting Memoir, a profile of 19th-century actress Sarah Bernhardt, whose legendary stature as performer and diva render modern impersonations problematic. But Barbara Karol combines outward gentility and restraint with an inner fire, just waiting to be uncorked. Karol's sheer will power carries most of the evening, even as she battles the somewhat episodic and wordy script. Jack Williams plays Georges Pitou, Bernhardt's male secretary, who is goaded into playing "scene partners" and others from the actress' life. Each is rendered with humor but without undue histrionics. Director Jef Brown infuses his actors with the disciplined energy needed to carry off this complex play. Through Sunday. (Mark Sterner) Grade: A-