Two shows on local stages are dealing with top-of-mind issues of race and urban living, one at the Cincinnati Playhouse, the other at Ensemble Theatre.
Last evening the Playhouse opened its production of Tracey Scott Wilson's Buzzer. Wilson is a playwright who's not afraid to get at prickly issues of contemporary life (read more here), and that's what she does in this piece that could be set in Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine. (It's actually in New York City, but that doesn't make it less relevant.) Jackson returns to his onetime childhood neighborhood, once neglected and now trendy; he's black, girlfriend Suzy is white, and so is Jackson's troubled friend Don, out of rehab yet again and needing a place to stay. Their triangle is a toxic mix with a troubled past that's exacerbated by life in a neighborhood where black and white relations are strained. The Playhouse is offering talkbacks after each performance to discuss issues raised, and there will be a panel discussion focused on OTR's housing challenges here in Cincinnati on Saturday evening at 6 p.m. My take: This show is more about personal relationships that aren't entirely honest, even though there is constant conversation about "no secrets." The actors in this tense drama are vividly real, unpredictable and vulnerable; you'll feel like they're people you know. (Through April 19.) Tickets: 513-421-3888
The second show that's heating up conversations about race is ETC's staging of Dominic Morisseau's award-winning play, Detroit ’67 (reviewed here). While the story has a historical setting — the story of family aspirations and disappointments unfolds against the backdrop of the Motor City's race riots almost 50 years ago — it almost feels ripped from current news stories about unrest stemming from police brutality in Ferguson, Mo. Five actors portray some colorful and occasionally humorous characters from the era involving the family dynamic between a brother and sister who differ about making ends meet in a challenging environment. Motown tunes from the ’60s are the soundtrack for a story that's often painful but ultimately hopeful. (Through April 5.) Tickets: 513-421-3555
Know Theatre opens Hearts Like Fists tonight at its Jackson Street stage in Over-the-Rhine. Adam Szymkowicz's comic-book-inspired action adventure has some fine local actors as the Crimefighters, female superheroes who are out to stop Dr. X, on a mission to murder happy couples in their sleep using a deadly serum that goes straight to the heart. When the show was staged in New York in 2012, the New York Times called the show's comic hybrid of parody and punches "madcap" and "hysterical." That's what Know will be striving for, through April 25. Tickets: 513-300-5669
If you are interested in seeing actors, singers and dancers who are on their way to professional careers, you might want to catch Senior Showcases from the drama and musical theater programs at UC's College-Conservatory of Music. The drama majors, readying their piece for trips to Los Angeles (for potential TV work) and New York City, will perform today at 2 and 7 p.m. at Patricia Corbett Theatre. (Admission is free.) The triple threats graduating from the musical theater program offer their showcase twice on Saturday at 4 and 8 p.m. as they prepare to shine for Broadway producers and casting agents in New York next week. Admission is free but reservations are required: 513-556-4183.
Planning ahead? The popular touring production of The Lion King returns to Cincinnati where it's been a big hit twice, in 2003 and 2007. The magnificent musical about good overcoming evil and youth finding maturity opens on Tuesday for a four-week run at the Aronoff Center. (Through April 26.) Tickets: 513-621-2787
Last night before photographer Roe Ethridge's FotoFocus Lecture at Cincinnati Art Museum, FotoFocus' Artistic Director Kevin Moore announced the organization is co-presenting a two-day symposium on photographer Robert Mapplethorpe's work with the Contemporary Arts Center on Oct. 23-24.
It will mark the 25th anniversary of CAC's presentation of The Perfect Moment, the retrospective of Mapplethorpe's work that prompted conservative elements — led by then-Sheriff Simon Leis Jr. — to pursue criminal charges for alleged obscenity. (Some of Maplethorpe's work in the show was sexually graphic.) A Hamilton County jury cleared the museum of all charges.
Specifics for the symposium have yet to be announced, although indications are speakers from around the country will be invited. Also not yet announced is what, if any, works by Mapplethorpe will be shown and in what context.
Information should go on on the FotoFocus site when firm.
I took a trip to my senior year in high school when I attended the opening of Detroit '67 by Dominique Morisseau at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati on Wednesday. It's set in Detroit during that city's 1967 "race riots," but they are the backdrop for a family drama: Sister and brother Chelle and Lank are trying to make ends meet by running an after-hours club in the basement of their family home, now theirs since the death of their parents. Chelle is satisfied with the status quo; Lank dreams of owning his own legit bar. But they'd need to sell the house to make that possible, so they're at an impasse. He's impetuous and makes moves to buy a local joint without her knowledge, only to have the destructive riots threaten his deal. More personal complications make the story interesting, if a bit too pat. Motown tunes — Lank buys an eight-track player to replace his sister's turntable — make this production a walk down memory lane for Baby Boomers. But Detroit '67 will grab everyone because the events of five decades ago are eerily and sadly similar to recent disturbances in Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere. (Through April 5; tickets: 513-421-3555)
Peter and the Starcatcher at the Cincinnati Playhouse is a playful and over-the-top imagining of the origins of Peter Pan. It's not a very adult cup of tea; it's more a swig of giggle-inducing rum. But if you yearn to head back to childhood for a few hours — playing with words, making fart jokes and having an adventure "against impossible odds" — this production is a joyous must-see. (Through April 4; tickets: 513-421-3888)
The Marvelous Wonderettes was a big hit for Ensemble Theatre a few years back. They staged the original story of girls singing Doo-Wop hits in 1958 and coming together again in 1968 for more old tunes, and did well with several sequels that kept audiences eagerly coming back for more. The show is now being presented at the Covedale Center in West Price Hill, and it has a nostalgic draw for people who grew up with those tunes. But the production's characterizations of Cindy Lou, Betty Jean, Missy and Suzy feel a little shallow, reducing the potential charm of the show. Nevertheless, it's a lot of fun if you love the music of the era and remember your own angst about boyfriends and girlfriends. (Through April 4; tickets: 513-241-6550)
Cincinnati Shakespeare's very pleasant production of an adaptation of Little Women continues through Saturday evening; tickets: 513-381-2273. The musical based on Louisa May Alcott's 1868 novel about the March sisters is onstage through Saturday, too, at Newport's Stained Glass Theatre, produced by Footlighters, Inc., a community theater; tickets: 859-652-3849.
The moving play based on The Diary of Anne Frank is being presented this weekend by the School for Creative and Performing Arts with performances remaining on Friday and Saturday evening at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. It's the powerful story of a Jewish family who went into hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam during World War II; Anne, the diarist who recorded their tribulations, died at age 15 in a concentration camp. Tickets: here.
One of my favorite Cincinnati artists is Rondle West, whose "assemblage sculptures" round up all manner of strange found objects (often toys) and adheres them, sometimes like appendages, to the surfaces of "host" objects. They can look like something ready to start walking or like shelving that has been attacked by miniature aliens. The finished work often has a monochromatic, other-worldly appearance.
I was hopeful his association last year with Miller Gallery would lead to a large, dramatic, high-profile one-person show, but it didn't. Now, the 2014 piece "My Date With Barbie" has turned up in an unexpected but welcome place, the front window of Electronic Arts at 1428 Race St. It's just the right touch of creative weirdness needed for an OTR store window, and it's great to look at its pinkness as other buildings reflect on the glass and add their own richness to the view. Definitely worth a visit.
Selena Reder, a former contributor to CityBeat's visual arts coverage, has curated the current Figurative Folklore exhibition at the City of Covington's gallery at 2 W. Pike St. It's devoted to six artists whose figural work tells a strong narrative. Particularly noteworthy at the show is the work of two artists who do three-dimensional work.
Ken Page brings a sense of fun an visual playfulness to his "Hole in the Wall," a sculpture that is like a small wall shelf. On that shelf a boy — carved and painted — has apparently cut a circle out of the painted "brick" wall behind him and is attempting to "roll" it away. It is not a kinetic piece, thus the necessity for those air quotes as the sense of movement is illusory. It's quite well done.
The absolute standout of this show is Stephanie Cooper — who has six pieces, some quite large. These are wood sculptures with added elements. I hate to call them carvings, as that implies folk art and these use folk art as a reference point to build from.
Her "He Who Sups With the Devil Needs a Long Spoon" features a dapper, well-dressed man at a dining table (he looks a bit like Ronald Reagan) holding a spoon. You can hand-crank the spoon to get some movement. And "Hermes" — a large piece with a height of 76 inches — is a scary wooden figure from whose head sprouts a tangle of twigs and roots, like a bird's nest.
Her other contributions, too, are good.
This show is on display through March 27. Gallery hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday. You may find a note on the door to call a city employee to come and unlock the place (a number is provided), but it's worth it. And the employee's office is just a short distance away — I waited at most five minutes for her arrival.
The Contemporary Arts Center will open its renovated lobby to the public Saturday after a members preview Friday night. The $1.1 million upgrade includes a new lounge area, a much-needed cafe and overall artsy facelift.
Local architecture and design firm firm FRCH Design Worldwide reimagined the interior space, which was under construction since Jan. 6.
The CAC's updated lobby features more seating and gathering spaces, a relocated welcome desk and, yes, more art. Previously exhibited mostly upstairs, artworks will now be displayed around the ground-level. Of course, the museum's excellent gift shop is still a part of the lobby, just more centrally located now.
Collective CAC, the museum's new cafe, comes courtesy Dustin Miller and Dave Hart of local favorite Collective Espresso. Located where the gift shop used to be in the corner of the lobby, Collective CAC will serve signature coffees along with breakfast, lunch and dessert items, plus beer and wine. Visitors can sit at communal tables or grab a drink at the bar.
The new CAC gallery hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday-Monday, closed Tuesday and 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday-Friday. Collective CAC will be open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, 7 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Tuesday and 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday-Friday.
The CAC celebrated its 75th anniversary in May 2014.
I seldom laugh out loud when I'm watching a comedy, but I found myself doing just that more than once at last night's opening of Peter and the Starcatcher at the Cincinnati Playhouse. You can read about this show and the appeal of Peter Pan here, but let me simply say this is a deliriously silly but wholly heartfelt prequel about the origins of the boy who "won't grow up." This award-winning play uses simple theatrics, not special effects, to work its magic, and the Playhouse cast of a dozen quick-change performers dive into the wacky storytelling with zest and zeal. Everyone is having a good time, perhaps Tom Story most of all, playing "Black Stache" (the pirate who will become Captain Hook) who spews malapropisms and extravagant posturing: "There's a poet in these pirate veins," he announces. The laugh-inducing moment that sets up his subsequent need for a hook is both ghastly and breathlessly funny, not to mention milked for all it's worth. Everyone in the cast has moments of fun. This is imaginative storytelling and extravagant theatricality at its best. You'll have fun if you bring a kid or two; but even if you don't, go by yourself and feel like a kid again. Through April 4. Tickets: 513-421-3888.