Ed Stern says his 2005-2006 season at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park is all about saying thanks to the Cincinnati area. The Playhouse was recognized with the 2004 Regional Theatre Tony Award last June, when the current season was already set. For the coming year, Stern says, "We wanted to bring Cincinnati audiences the most spectacular, most special season -- as a thank you for supporting us all of these years and making the Playhouse one of the best attended nonprofit theaters in the country." (The Playhouse's subscriber base, just under 20,000, is remarkable for a midsized city like Cincinnati.) The next season will offer 11 productions, plus the annual holiday presentation of A Christmas Carol. On the larger Robert S. Marx stage, productions will include not one but two musicals by Stephen Sondheim. The season opens with A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM (Sept. 8-Oct. 7), and later offers a bold reinvention of Sondheim's 1970 landmark musical, COMPANY (March 16-April 14, 2006) in which the actors will sing, dance and play musical instruments.
Stern has hired international director John Doyle for the production (his similarly staged version of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd is expected to move from London to Broadway this fall), and he expects Sondheim to be personally involved. The rights are still pending for this unusual production, but Stern is optimistic that it will happen. Other Marx shows will be Tennessee Williams' classic, CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (Oct. 20-Nov. 18); a recent play by up-and-coming writer Sarah Ruhl, THE CLEAN HOUSE (Jan. 26-Feb. 24, 2006); and a classic mystery, Agatha Christie's WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (May 4-June 4, 2006). The Playhouse's more intimate Shelterhouse stage will offer five (actually six) more shows: The "bonus" comes in the form of a pair of holiday offerings by the Reduced Shakespeare Company: THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF AMERICA (ABRIDGED) and ALL THE GREAT BOOKS (ABRIDGED) in repertory (Nov. 17, 2005-Jan. 15, 2006). The RSC -- whose best known work is The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged) -- developed the original "books" during the Playhouse's summer 2002 season. Other Shelterhouse productions will be a musical portrait of Janis Joplin, LOVE, JANIS (Sept. 29-Nov. 6); Dael Orlandersmith's Pulitzer-nominated YELLOWMAN (Feb. 16-March 12, 2006); a new play by Cincinnati writer Joseph McDonough STONE MY HEART (April 6-30, 2006), the winner of the Playhouse's 2006 Mickey Kaplan New American Play Prize; and a return to the Playhouse by Loveland native Ann Randolph in her one-woman show, SQUEEZEBOX (May 25-June 25, 2006). Randolph presented the piece in 2002 as a one-night act for the Playhouse's alteractive series. Subscriptions are presently available: 513-421-3888. ...
Cincinnati Enter-tainment Award Hall of Fame inductee MICHAEL BURNHAM, who's directed for several Cincinnati theater companies and who teaches at CCM, has a new 30-minute one-man piece he'll share on Friday evening at 7:30 at InkTank (1311 Main St., Over-the-Rhine). HYPOTHETICAL OLD WHITE GUY STEPS OUT (RACE AND VIOLENCE) is Burnham's response to a young black woman from Vermont who recently asked him, "What do you intend to do about the murder rate among the young black men in your home town?" When Burnham asked her what he should do, she told him, "Make your own play. Tell your truth. Maybe they'll answer." No charge for admission. Info: www.inktank.com
D'S TIRE TOWN, a new script by local writer Thom Atkinson, was read on March 14 at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati. I enjoyed Cuttings, the playwright's off-beat, insightful glimpse about a woman with an odd disfigurement. (After a brief run at ETC, that show has been staged at two Florida theaters.) But his new work, a slice of life about a bunch of blue-collar guys in a tire shop, was mostly an excuse for a lot of low, crass humor. If it weren't so crude, it might be TV sitcom fare. But it really didn't go anywhere or have much to say. Some funny moments and a few insights don't make a script worth two hours in the theater. (Rick Pender) Grade: C-