Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s 2010-11 season has a distinct difference between the plays it will present on its Robert S. Marx main stage and the shows slotted for its smaller Thompson Shelterhouse. With a few significant exceptions, it’s a divide between the 20th and 21st centuries.
All of the coming season’s Shelterhouse shows have originated since 2000, four of five in the past three years. On the main stage, the average age of shows is more than 20 years. (It stretches out a lot further if you use the original publication date of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, dating back to 1843, rather than the 1991 adaptation by Howard Dallin that the Playhouse produces annually.)
The big exception on the main stage, announced a week ago and detailed on CityBeat’s arts blog, is a world premiere opening the season, Matthew Lombardo’s High. Movie star Kathleen Turner takes the lead in a show that moves to Broadway in early 2011.
The other newer work is the Playhouse’s contribution to Black History Month 2011, Gee’s Bend, commissioned by the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and produced in 2007. It’s the true story of women from an isolated Alabama community where women make quilts that document African-American history. Playwright Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder was recognized by the American Theatre Critics Association with its Elizabeth M. Osborn Award in 2008 for this work.
The balance of the season on the main stage is safer, audience-pleasing works from the past. Those include the 1937 Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy You Can’t Take It With You, a classic that the Playhouse has never produced, and Over the Tavern, another story of a colorful, heartwarming family, which the Playhouse presented in 1999 to great success. Of course, the Playhouse will offer its holiday production of A Christmas Carol again, marking the 20th anniversary of the tale of the Christmas Eve conversion of stingy Ebenezer Scrooge.
The Playhouse will reprise Beehive, a show that set audience records in the Shelterhouse in 1994 and 2001. This time around the feel-good show that celebrates girl groups and female singers from the 1960s will be on the big stage. It will surely be a big seller, helping to generate revenue to support less familiar shows.
Five such lesser-known titles constitute an intriguing season for the Shelterhouse. The oldest is Craig Wright’s The Pavilion, a show from 2000 that’s been described as “an Our Town for our time.” It’s a tale of high school sweethearts separated by fear and youth who come together 20 years later. D. Lynn Meyers, producing artistic director at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati and the Playhouse associate artistic director in the 1980s, will direct this show.
Two shows presented in the Shelterhouse date from 2007 and 2008, while two others are world premieres. Julia Cho’s The Piano Teacher is the older of the two, a suspenseful work about a teacher who looks up some of her former students with surprising results. Local professional actress Dale Hodges will play the role, with the Playhouse’s Ed Stern directing.
Theresa Rebeck, a Cincinnati native who’s achieved considerable success in New York and beyond, especially with her play Bad Dates (presented by the Playhouse in 2005), will open the Shelterhouse season with her 2008 work, The Understudy, a bitingly witty look behind the scenes of the world of theater. It’s about actors and a stage manager working on a long-lost three-hour play by Franz Kafka, and it’s as dizzying as one of that author’s surreal pieces of fiction.
The holidays will offer a completely new entertainment from Chicago’s Second City, a comedy company whose alumni include Tina Fey, Steve Carrell, John Belushi and Bill Murray. They’re coming to town to mine some local laughs with The Second City Does Cincinnati: Pride and Porkopolis. It’s a new venture for the venerable troupe, which celebrated its 50th anniversary recently — Second City is extending its brand by creating revues for specific cities, and Cincinnati is one of the first.
The other Shelterhouse premiere will mark the Playhouse’s third production of a script by Carson Kreitzer. The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer (2003) earned a Steinberg/American Theatre Critics citation in 2004, and her powerful 1:23, about women who murdered their children, was a searing drama in 2007. Her new play, commissioned by the Playhouse, is Behind the Eye, about the life of Lee Miller, a Vogue model in the 1920s and a muse to the Paris Surrealists in the 1930s. She went on to become an acclaimed World War II photographer covering the front lines, the London blitz and the liberation of Paris.
The coming season is the Playhouse’s 51st. It also marks the 19th year that Producing Artistic Director Ed Stern has assembled a season with something for every theater lover in the community.
Stern has a gift for putting together tried-and-true shows that please audiences (and raise necessary revenue for a sound fiscal operation) and a meaningful selection of new works that represent the current state of American theater. Four productions are by women.
In cities elsewhere, especially New York, there have been complaints that works by women playwrights are underrepresented. Not in Cincinnati. One more reason why this is a great city for theater lovers.
High by Matthew Lombardo (Sept. 9-Oct. 2)
You Can’t Take It With You by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman (Oct. 21-Nov. 13)
A Christmas Carol (Dec. 3-30)
Gee’s Bend by Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder (Jan. 27-Feb. 19, 2011)
Beehive (March 17-April 9, 2011)
Over the Tavern by Tom Dudzick (April 29-May 21, 2011)
The Understudy by Theresa Rebeck (Sept. 23-Oct. 17)
The Second City Does Cincinnati: Pride and Porkopolis (Nov.11-Dec. 23)
The Piano Teacher by Julia Cho (Feb. 17-March 13, 2011)
Behind the Eye by Carson Kreitzer (April 7-May 1, 2011)
The Pavilion by Craig Wright (May 19-June 12, 2011)