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by Rick Pender 05.09.2014
Posted In: Theater at 08:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
the north pool @ cincinnati playhouse - eli gelb and ted deasy - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: Thoughtful Performances

There are quite a few good options for theatergoing this weekend. First and foremost, I'd point to The North Pool at the Cincinnati Playhouse. It's a newish script from Rajiv Joseph (his play Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo was a runner up for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize), and it's a very timely piece, set in 2007 in a large public high school. Just two characters: a slightly disgruntled, tightly wound vice principal and a student of Middle Eastern descent who's been called in on the eve of spring break for a "conversation." What starts out as awkward but mildly amusing takes numerous twists and turns (the show is about 85 minutes long) and will keep you guessing as more and more is revealed. The teacher says people are like onions: You can keep peeling, but you never quite get down to the essence. You will arrive at a surprising — and moving — conclusion, likely not what you'll be suspecting. That's the kind of writing and performance to be found in this production. Through June 1. Tickets ($30-$75; $25 for teens and students, with the proviso that the show has strong language and mature themes): 513-421-3888.

For lighter entertainment, I recommend Size Matters at Ensemble Theatre. It's a premiere by actor Raymond McAnally, who performs the one-man show. He's a big guy in the theater, literally: 300 pounds. plus. He's used his weight to his advantage to find acting gigs, but he tends to be typecast — fat slobs, geeks and so on. Not great for self-esteem, but hey, it's work. However, it can wear on one's confidence, and when he sees his young nephew going down a similar path, well, it's food for thought. There's nothing terribly profound about this script, but McAnally is a very adept performer — he takes on the roles of his father, his nephew, even his wife, with the assistance of projections and sound effects. McAnally says that this is 95 percent material drawn from real life, and it has the ring of truth. It's not likely that this show will be produced elsewhere unless McAnally does it himself, so here's a chance to see a one-of-a-kind performance that will keep you laughing and make you like a guy you might have otherwise dismissed. Through May 25. Tickets ($39-$43; half-price and $15 student rush tickets starts two hours prior to show time if seating is available): 513-421-3555.

Cincinnati Music Theater opens its production of the classic musical Peter Pan at the Jarson-Kaplan Theater tonight (it runs through May 17). This top-notch community theater typically does a commendable job with big musicals, and this family-friendly piece is likely to be a big attraction, what with flying and local actor Joshua Steele in the title role. Tickets ($20-$24): 513-621-2782.
 
 
by Rick Pender 05.02.2014
Posted In: Theater at 09:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
lynn meyers copy

Ensemble Theatre Announces 2014-15 Season

Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati's artistic director D. Lynn Meyers has assembled another set of intriguing productions for 2014-15, opening with the musical Hands on a Hardbody (September), a Tony-nominated 2013 musical with a book by Doug Wright, the playwright of I Am My Own Wife and bookwriter for Grey Gardens, both hits for past ETC seasons. This one is based on a 1997 documentary about a Texas contest to win a new truck by being the last person to keep at least one hand on the new vehicle. 

In October-November it will be An Iliad, adapted from Homer's classic Greek epic of the Trojan War by Lisa Peterson and Denis O'Hare. This one-man show will be staged by Michael Evan Haney, always a good bet for a fine production, and feature veteran actor Bruce Cromer as the many characters in the story.

For the holidays, ETC will bring back Sleeping Beauty, another of its smart fairytale adaptations that entertain kids and make adults smile.

To kick off 2015, ETC will offer Sharr White's drama The Other Place, a gripping psychological thriller. The March-April slot has not been filled yet. In May, former Cincinnati Playhouse artistic director Ed Stern will work with popular stage veterans Dale Hodges and Joneal Joplin to present the regional premiere of Outside Mullingar, a romantic comedy by John Patrick Shanley, winner of the Pulitzer, Oscar and Tony awards. (He's the writer of Doubt and Moonstruck.) They'll play the parents of the show's shy central character, Anthony, who lives on an Irish cattle farm, next door to Rosemary, who has pined for him for years. This one just had a Broadway production, so ETC's production will be one of its first on a regional stage.

Subscriptions are on sale now. For the coming season, ETC will offer a five-show Tuesday preview subscription, as well as Sunday evening subscriptions. The preview package provides the first chance to see productions (and at $125 price, considerably below the regular subscription rate), and the Sunday evenings have great seating availability. You can order a subscription by calling 513-421-3555.
 
 
by Rick Pender 05.02.2014
Posted In: Theater at 09:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door 5-2 - venus in fur @ cincy playhouse - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: Rare Shakespeare, Romance and More

If you're looking for a show that will get things going romantically, I'll point you to the Cincinnati Playhouse's production of Venus in Fur (onstage through May 17). But be careful what you wish for: You might end up like playwright/director Thomas with your hands full of more than you wanted to take on. He's seeking an actress to play the central role in his adaptation of an erotic Victorian novel. Vanda shows up for an audition, none too promising at first, but the tables turn very quickly. This is a funny and provocative script, and Greta Wohlrabe's performance as Vanda is masterful and highly entertaining. I gave it a Critic's Pick. Tickets ($30-$75): 513-421-3888.

For something completely different — and in a venue I bet you've never visited — head to Bellevue, Ky., to St. John United Church of Christ (520 Fairfield Ave.) for a bare-bones, church-basement production of Joe Calarco's Walter Cronkite Is Dead by WIT-Women in Theatre. The group is focused on plays for and about women, and this one touches on a lot of issues when two women without much in common end up spending an unwilling evening together, stuck in an airport lounge due to bad weather. They cover a lot of territory — imperfect marriages, ungrateful children, fears, beliefs and politics (they're at opposite ends of the spectrum). Their ups and downs are a bit forced, but actresses Cat Cook and Cate White do solid jobs portraying two very different women. It's a tad like a movie of the week on the Lifetime channel, but there's some entertaining writing. This is the second and final weekend. Word has it that Friday night is pretty full, but Saturday (thanks to the Kentucky Derby) has plenty of seats available. Tickets ($15, discounted by $5 if you bring a piece of luggage bigger than a carry-on): 859-441-6882.

If you've seen Shakespeare's 37 other plays, tonight is the night for you to catch the one you've missed: The Two Noble Kinsmen opens at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, the final script by the Bard that gives the company bragging rights to be one of only five theaters in the U.S. to stage every one of his plays. You can read more about this one, as well as Cincy Shakes, which is marking its 20th anniversary in my cover story in this week's issue. See it before it closes on May 25: Two Noble Kinsmen is rarely onstage, and Shakespeare fans are coming from all over North America to see this production. Tickets ($22-$35): 513-381-2273, x1.

Finishing up this weekend are runs of the musical Gypsy at the Covedale (513-241-6550) and Know Theatre's production of The Twentieth-Century Way (513-300-5669).
 
 
by Rick Pender 04.25.2014
Posted In: Theater at 08:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door 4-25 - venus in fur @ cincinnati playhouse - greta wohlrabe & pj sosko - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: Options Abound

There's ample evidence at the Cincinnati Playhouse as to why David Ives' Tony-nominated play Venus in Fur is the most produced script in America this season. I saw the opening performance last evening, and it's an entertaining attention-grabber. Inspired by an erotic Victorian novel, it's the story of a playwright who's adapted it for the stage but despairing of finding the right actress — until Vanda appears. Despite the initial impression she makes, she proves to be almost too good to be true. Greta Wohlrabe is a marvel in this role, flipping between being an ambitious, over-enthused wannabe and a commanding, demanding, sophisticated paramour who knows the character she wants to play and how to get what she wants. It's sexy and funny — and a great evening for grown-ups. Through May 17. Tickets ($30-$75): 513-421-3888.

Want to try something new this weekend? A new theater company, Women in Theatre (WIT) is staging Joe Calarco's Walter Cronkite Is Dead at St. John United Church of Christ in Bellevue, Ky. Two women stuck in an airport together end up sharing a table: One, from Washington, D.C., is reserved and educated, yearning for peace and quiet; the other is a chatty Southerner who can't stop talking. Their conversation, according to the show's publicity, is "funny, difficult, deeply revealing and astonishingly frank." Through May 3. Tickets: 859-441-6882.

Stacy Sims, my CityBeat colleague, thought that New Edgecliff Theatre's production of Other People's Money was pretty good. (CityBeat review here.) Jerry Sterner's 1989 play remains timely, the story of a rapacious business guy who stands to destroy a small town when he buys a company that is pretty much the sole livelihood of the residents of a small Rhode Island town. Stacy called the show "good entertainment" and added, "it just might provoke you to consider whom you are listening to today." It's onstage at the Aronoff's Fifth Third Bank Theater through Saturday evening. 

Stacy liked Know Theatre's production of The Twentieth-Century Way enough to give it a Critic's Pick in her CityBeat review here. It's two actors playing two actors in 1914 who are hired to play gay men in Long Beach and entrap "social vagrants" — that is, gay men. It's a multi-leveled script, playing with concepts of what's real and what's "enacted." Heady but fascinating, and it features two excellent actors, Jens Rasmussen and Michael McKeough. You won't be bored if you go to see this one. Through May 3. Tickets ($15 in advance; $20 at the door): 513-300-5669.

Two productions that will appeal to audiences who like old-fashioned theater remain onstage. With its final performance on Sunday, Mary Chase's gentle comedy, Harvey, at the Carnegie in Covington, is about Elwood, a guy who's a little off-kilter — who sees a six-foot-tall white rabbit that no one else believes is real (except the audience). Tickets ($17-$24); 859-957-1940. The classic musical Gypsy — full of great show tunes — continues at the Covedale through May 4; it's about Rose, the pushy stage mother who launched her rather unwilling daughter into a burlesque career as Gypsy Rose Lee. (CityBeat review here.) Tickets ($21-$24): 513-241-6550.
 
 
by Rick Pender 04.18.2014
Posted In: Theater at 11:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
spam

Stage Door: Weekend Theater Picks

There are several good theater choices south of the Ohio River this weekend.

The theater (and dance) program at Northern Kentucky University presents a truly varied array of programming — this season has included a play by Orson Welles, the legendary musical South Pacific, Shakespeare's As You Like It and more. The academic year's final production Monty Python's Spamalot, opened last evening, and it seems to be a perfect vehicle for a lot of onstage clowning. (In case you haven't been tuned in, the show is subtitled "A musical lovingly ripped off from the motion picture Monty Python and the Holy Grail," and many of the show's most hilarious moments are reproduced wholesale onstage.) But clowning can be serious work, and if you catch NKU's production, pay attention to the choreography (the work of NKU grad Roderick Justice) which is complex, amusing and very well executed by the cast of 25. Director Ken Jones keeps things moving; the actors get into the tomfoolery from start to finish, especially Kat Moser as the diva who's the Lady of the Lake and Bradley Goren as long-suffering Patsy (he's the one who clicks the coconut shells to simulate King Arthur riding on horseback, among other amusing moments). The show is a fine entertainment, if you're a fan of the low but articulate humor of the Python troupe. Through April 27. Tickets ($8-$14): 859-572-5464.

Comedy of an entirely different sort is available at another Kentucky venue, the Carnegie in Covington, where Mary Chase's 1945 Pulitzer Prize winner Harvey is available through April 27. This is a piece of gentle humor from the past, about a slightly off-kilter guy who sees a six-foot-plus rabbit — he calls it a "pooka" — named Harvey, much to the dismay of several family members who are embarrassed by his behavior. Their efforts to get him committed to a local asylum go awry to much merriment and a message about being, well, gentle and sweet. This is good, old-fashioned fun. Tickets: 859-957-1940.

If you prefer a well-written contemporary drama, this weekend is your last chance to see A Delicate Ship at the Cincinnati Playhouse. Anna Ziegler's new show (this is its world premiere) is a memory play that explores an unexpected chain of events triggered by a love triangle. It's beautifully staged by Michael Evan Haney with a cast of three actors who are just right for each of their roles. I gave this one a Critic's Pick when it opened; it's as good as anything I saw recently at the much-respected Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville. Tickets ($30-$80): 513-421-3888
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by Rick Pender 04.16.2014
Posted In: Theater at 08:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
2014-fringe-festival-image - designed by alex kesman copy

Know Theatre Announces 2014 Fringe Festival Lineup

This evening at its Jackson Street headquarters in Over-the-Rhine, Know Theatre of Cincinnati revealed the lineup for the 11th annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival to a crowd of nearly 100 enthusiastic supporters and performers. The two-week festival begins Tuesday, May 27, with the CityBeat Fringe Kick-Off Party; it winds up 12 days later on Saturday, June 7, having presented 32 productions — 17 plays, two musicals, seven solo performers, and six dance presentations. In addition, there will be four FringeNext productions (selected from 11 applicants — a record number), featuring original material produced and performed by local students from the School for Creative and Performing Arts, Newport Central Catholic High School, St. Xavier High School and Highlands High School.

Performance Gallery is kind of the alpha and omega of the Cincinnati Fringe: They’ve been in all 11 festivals, including the 2008 hit show fricative. Producer Eric Vosmeier calls them the inspiration for much of what the Fringe is about: They were doing “fringe-like” work before the festival began, and they’ve returned annually with work that pushes the envelope. This time they’ll offer Heist, about three crooks of questionable ability. Vosmeier also cited Pones Inc., the dance-based company that returns for the seventh time with Traffick, a piece of audience engagement that explores issues of human trafficking. Vosmeier says, “This is the kind of work the Fringe was built to exhibit.”

“We had a great mix of new producers and returning favorites in the applicant pool,” Vosmeier says. “The word continues to spread about our Cincinnati Fringe Festival, which has a national reputation for being the most artist-friendly festival. We’ve worked very hard on this over the years, and I believe that we’ve created something special for our artists and for our region.”

The Cincinnati Fringe differs from festivals elsewhere in that productions are screened and handpicked by a committee of local theater artists. Drawing from a large pool of applicants, comparable to last year’s record-breaking number, this yielded a balanced mix of local vs. out-of-town producers: 15 from Greater Cincinnati and 18 from beyond. The latter number includes three international shows, the most ever for the festival: Around Dark Matter, a Holocaust memory piece by Mica Dvir, is from Tel Aviv, Israel; A Brief History of Beer by Wish Experience from London, a company that has performed at festivals from Edinburgh to Adelaide; and Prefer Not to Say, an interactive piece by blueDragonfly Productions, another U.K. group, the presenter of And All the Rest is Junk Mail a year ago.

For Wednesday evening’s announcement event, members of the Fringe staff mentioned the shows they were most looking forward to. They named:

·     An Unauthorized Autobiography of Benny Hill by Four Humors Theater (Minneapolis), the creative minds behind such past Festival favorites as Lolita: A Three Man Show, Bombus and Berylline and Harold. This will be their sixth consecutive Cincinnati Fringe appearance.

·     Blogging Behind Bars by Unity Productions, creators of two past Fringe hits, The Wave and Nothing. This time it’s a true story about a young, nonviolent criminal who wrote a blog while incarcerated in a maximum-security prison.

·     Papa Squat’s Store of Sorts by solo artist Paul Strickland from Indianapolis, whose Ain’t True and Uncle False was a “Pick of the Fringe” last year. His new show is a music-filled memorial for a guy who “once filled the emptiness in Big-Fib Cul-de-sac with his insightful songs.”

·     Something Something New Vagina by Rebecca Kling, a transgender artist and educator from Chicago with a follow-up show to her 2012 production, Beneath Her Skin.

·     The Ultimate Stimulus by Felipe Ossa, a Brooklyn-based playwright and a new artist to the Cincy Fringe, is presented in the form of a TED Talk that argues for concubinage as a way to address the problem of income inequality.

The festival is also a chance for Cincinnati’s local theater companies to show off. Clifton Performance Theatre will present Sarge, a piece by Kevin Crowley about the wife of discredited Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. Untethered Theatre has prepared Where Edward Went, a new play by Ben Dudley and Adam Sievering about a screenwriter’s effort to make a documentary about Edward, the late fiancé of Elyse, a painter. They don’t quite agree about the portrait. New Edgecliff Theatre will offer TRAGEDY: a tragedy, described as “one of the funniest apocalypses of our time.” And Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati’s intern company always offers a fine showcase of young talent. This year it’s two one-act plays: Sheila Callaghan’s Crumble (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake) and Itamar Moses’s Authorial Intent.

In addition to the productions offered nightly, artists, audience members, staff and volunteers flock nightly at Know Theatre’s Underground and headquarters for the Fringe Bar Series, with a reasonably priced bar, some free food inside and offerings for purchase from food wagons on Jackson Street. Each evening after the Channel Fringe Hard Hitting Action News Update, everyone has a chance to be a performer with activities such as the Fringe Olympics, Fringe-A-Oke, Fringe Prom, Segway Night and the Night Without Technology. This year the Bar Series night adds Fringetoberfest, an evening of German-inspired food and brews from local craft beer creators.

Vosmeier expects the festival to attract more than 8,000 visitors this year. If you’re someone who tries to see as much as possible, your best bet is a “Full Frontal” Fringe pass ($200) providing access to every event in the festival. Know also offers “Voyeur” passes ($60) good for six shows of your choice. If you can only make it once, a “One Night Stand” pass ($25) is available — admission to any two performances in an evening plus one drink at Know’s Underground bar. Single tickets to Fringe shows continue to be priced at $12; they’ll go on sale in mid-May.

There will be lots more — and the lineup can change. Hey, it’s the Fringe, so be ready for anything. You’ll find details on all these shows and more at cincyfringe.com.

 
 
by Rick Pender 04.16.2014
Posted In: Theater at 07:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
heist 2

Know to Announce 2014 Fringe Lineup Tonight

Eleventh-annual fest kicks off May 27

This evening at its Jackson Street headquarters in Over-the-Rhine, Know Theatre of Cincinnati will announce the lineup for the 11th annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival. The two-week festival begins on Tuesday, May 27, with the CityBeat Fringe Kick-Off Party, and continues through Saturday, June 7, presenting 33 productions — 17 plays, two musicals, seven solo performers, six dance presentations and one defined as “variety/other.” In addition, there will be four FringeNext productions, featuring area high school students, and an array of special events.

“We had a great mix of new producers and returning favorites in the applicant pool,” says Producing Artistic Director Eric Vosmeier. “The word continues to spread about our Cincinnati Fringe Festival, which has a national reputation for being the most artist-friendly festival. We’ve worked very hard on this over the years, and I believe that we’ve created something special for our artists and for our region.”

The pool of applicants, comparable to last year’s record-breaking number, has yielded a mix of local vs. out-of-town producers: 15 from Greater Cincinnati, including the return of Performance Gallery for the 11th consecutive year (it’s the only group that’s been in every Fringe) with a new piece, Heist, about three crooks of questionable ability. There will be 18 productions from beyond Cincinnati, including three international shows.

Vosmeier expects the festival to attract more than 8,000 visitors for 2014. If you’re one of those people who tries to see as much as possible, your best bet is a “Full Frontal” Fringe pass ($200) that gives you access to every event in the festival. Know also offers “Voyeur” passes ($60) good for six shows of your choice. If you can be there for one evening, a “One Night Stand” pass ($25) is available, offering access to any two performances in an evening and one drink at Know Theatre’s Underground bar. Individual tickets to Fringe Festival shows continue to be priced at $12; they’ll go on sale in mid-May.

Look for more information at CityBeat.com after the 7 p.m. announcement tonight. More info: cincyfringe.com.

 
 
by Rick Pender 04.11.2014
Posted In: Theater at 08:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door

Stage Door: Green Day and More

If you follow music coverage in CityBeat (hey, isn't that really why you pick up the paper?), you're certainly aware of Green Day's 2004 recording American Idiot. But since you're reading my weekend theater previews, you must be interested in other kinds of performance, so here's a tip: For two nights only, Green Day's American Idiot, a stage version of the powerful Punk score, will be onstage at the Aronoff. That's right — Friday and Saturday only, just three performances, much shorter that Broadway in Cincinnati's two-week presentation of touring Broadway musicals. I can vouch for this one, since I saw it a year ago during a similar tour stop in Dayton.

It's the story of three disaffected guys who take different downward spirals when confronted with the numbing boredom of everyday life — "alien nation" — as they sing in the opening number. The recording was conceived as a "Punk Rock Opera" and turned into a Tony Award-nominated Broadway show in 2010, with a lot of involvement by Green Day's lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong (who actually appeared onstage in New York at various performances; that's not happening here in Cincinnati). There's a day-of-performance lottery for a limited number of $25 tickets; you need to show up two-and-a-half hours before the performance you're hoping to see (8 p.m. Friday, and 5 and 8 p.m. on Saturday) with a valid photo ID. Complete an entry form and wait 30 minutes to find out if you're a winner. If you prefer to just go ahead and buy your seats ($38-$91), you can call the Aronoff box office: 513-621-2787.

In the classic musical Gypsy, Rose has very concrete ideas regarding how to turn her daughters into stars (long before Green Day was punking out, to be sure): Back in the 1920s and ’30s she pushed her kids onto vaudeville stages whether they liked it or not. Things never went quite as she imagined, which was really a desire for her own fame and stardom. It's one of the great musicals, and the role of Rose has been compared to King Lear. That might be a bit of a stretch, but she's a tragic character who's fascinating to watch. There's a ton of great music, composed by Jule Styne with lyrics by a very young Stephen Sondheim and lots of humor along the way, especially the hilarious number by three strippers, "You Gotta Get a Gimmick." Cincinnati Landmark opened its production Thursday night, and it will be onstage at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts through May 4. Tickets ($21-$24): 513-241-6550.

Mary Chase's comedy Harvey won the 1945 Pulitzer Prize and had a four-year Broadway run (1,800 performances). The story of Elwood P. Dowd and his invisible friend, a 6-foot tall rabbit named Harvey, is perhaps best known for the 1950 movie featuring Jimmy Stewart in an Oscar-nominated performance. That's all well and good, but it's a show that audiences love to see live and in-person, and you can do just that at Covington's Carnegie for the next three weekends (tonight through April 27). It's directed by Buz Davis, who produced shows at the Carnegie when it was a dilapidated wreck back in the ’80s and ’90s. Now he's returning to stage Harvey in the beautifully renovated Otto M. Budig Theatre.
(Tickets ($17-$24): 859-957-1940.) Davis has assembled a strong cast for this family-friendly comedy, you can catch a few of them in this charming promotional video:



Still onstage are several recommended productions: The Mountaintop at Ensemble Theatre (final extended performance is Saturday evening; 513-421-3555); A Delicate Ship at the Cincinnati Playhouse (through April 20; 513-421-3888; CityBeat review here); and The Twentieth-Century Way at Know Theatre (through May 3; CityBeat review here.) And if Monday comes and you want still more: Check out True Theatre's next installment — True Dating (7:30 p.m. at Know Theatre). This round of monologues of real experiences will feature stories of dating that led to true love, and some that went off the tracks along the way. Tickets ($15): 513-300-5669.
 
 
by Rick Pender 04.08.2014
Posted In: Theater at 03:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door image for 10-4 - seven spots on the sun - cincy playhouse - photo sandy underwood

Playhouse World Premiere 'Seven Spots on the Sun' Earns National Recognition

Actors Theatre’s Humana Festival is indeed a launching pad for exciting new works. That makes its final weekend the perfect moment for the American Theatre Critics Association to recognize a set of outstanding plays produced at regional theaters during 2013. None of the 2013 Humana Festival shows was nominated, but one of the three works to win a significant cash prize ($7,500) was Martín Zimmerman’s Seven Spots on the Sun, given its world premiere at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park last fall. The play blends magical realism and political issues in an affecting tale examining if forgiveness is truly possible. Set in a Central American nation ravaged by civil war, lust, plague and a consuming need for vengeance, it’s about a widowed doctor in a small village and a newly-married soldier charged with subduing dissent. Their journeys towards redemption converge in some painful ways.

The top prize ($25,000) went to Lauren Gunderson for her play I and You, about a cranky high school student who needs a liver transplant. A smart, athletic classmate recruits her to help him finish a school project focused on Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. As their unlikely relationship evolves, they explore the meaning of life and death without a shred of condescension or pretentiousness. I and You was staged last October at Marin Theatre Company in California, where Jasson Minadakis, who founded Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, is now artistic director and nurtured the development of Gunderson’s script. Her play Toil & Trouble was presented locally last summer by Know Theatre.

 
 
by Rick Pender 03.21.2014
Posted In: Theater at 08:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 

Stage Door: Excellent Options

The three-week run of the tour of Wicked wraps up this Sunday at the Aronoff Center. It's a faithful reproduction of the Broadway hit, with performers who can give you the experience of seeing the original, a kind of prequel to The Wizard of Oz. (Tickets, $38-$188: 513-621-2787, but each performance has a pre-show lottery; if your name is pulled, you can buy a ticket for $25). If you've already seen this one, I suggest you check out one of the great new productions on local stages.

Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati has offered another powerhouse season this year, but I'll venture to say that The Mountaintop is aptly named: It's at the peak. It's an imagined story about Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on the night before he was assassinated. I'll venture to say that you've never seen him in quite this altogether human light, as portrayed — dare I say wholly embodied — by Gavin Lawrence. And then he's visited by Camae, a sassy maid who evolves into something so much more as he contemplates the meaning of his life. The always watchable Torie Wiggins takes on this role, and it might be one of her best performances yet at ETC. The Mountaintop won London's Olivier Award for Best New Play in 2011, and in my opinion, it's one of the best productions we'll see here in Cincinnati this theater season. Through April 6. (Tickets, $25-$43: 513-421-3555).

I caught up with the Cincinnati Playhouse's production of Pride and Prejudice at the Playhouse earlier this week. (It opened a week ago, but I was out of town.) It's a faithful rendition of Jane Austen's beloved novel, gorgeously staged and costumed. It has a big cast, so all the characters, quirky and memorable, are present and accounted for — a few actors need to play more than one role. If you're an Austen fan, I suspect you'll like this one; if not, you might find it kind of uneven, since some characters come across as cartoons (especially Elizabeth Bennet's meddlesome, garrulous mother and the arrogant Lady Catherine de Bourgh) while others are more naturalistic. Kate Cook's Lizzie has all the right notes (she ought to, as she's played the role several times elsewhere) and Loren Dunn's Mr. Darcy, while a bit slow out of the gate, eventually captures the character's aloof charm. Director Blake Robison has done a good job with an interesting adaptation that has scenes that flow swiftly one into the next, sometimes with overlapping elements that recall past moments. Through April 5. (Tickets, $30-$80: 513-421-3888).

Back in the early 1980s, the musical A … My Name is Alice had a long run at New York City's The Village Gate. Northern Kentucky University is producing its version of this collection of songs focused on the paradoxes women face — beauty, strength and heart. The show, created by an array of comedians, lyricists and composers, has 20 songs. It's being staged by Corrie Daniely, the newest faculty member in NKU's theater and dance department. Through April 30. (Tickets, $8-$14: 859-572-5464).

 
 

 

 

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by Rick Pender 04.29.2016 57 hours ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door 4-29 - satchel paige @ playhouse - robert karma robinson) - mikki schaffner photography

Stage Door

Baseball, mysterious Scotland, Romans (and countrymen) and an astronomer

Need suggestions for a good theater production to attend this weekend? Here are some good choices on Cincinnati stages.

Last night I attended the opening of Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Swing at the Cincinnati Playhouse. It’s an inventive recreation of the legendary African-American pitcher who found his fame eclipsed by Jackie Robinson. The changes wrought by events in 1947 affected both black and white Americans, and this play by Ricardo Khan and Trey Ellis explores them. They know their way around storytelling: Their play Fly, about the Tuskegee Airmen, was well received at the Playhouse in 2013. In this one, players from two teams of baseball all-stars, one black and one white, share a boarding house on a rainy night in Kansas City. We get to eavesdrop on what they might have talked about, their dreams, their grudges and their fates. Robert Karma Robinson wholly inhabits the role of Paige as an angular, grumpy philosopher of sports, race and life. It’s onstage through May 21. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

Before they wrote My Fair Lady and Camelot, the lyricist-composer team of Lerner and Loewe had a 1949 hit with the musical Brigadoon. It’s about a pair of American tourists who happen upon a mysterious town in Scotland that appears just once every century. Of course, one of the guys falls in love with a resident of the town — and that gets complicated. When I was six years old, I went to see this show with my very British grandfather, my first experience of musical theater. I still love the show, and I’ll be seeing it this weekend at the Covedale Center, where it will be onstage through May 22. Tickets: 513-241-6550.

Don’t shy away from Cincinnati Shakespeare’s production of Julius Caesar because you read it in high school. Set in ancient Rome, there’s as much political intrigue — and perhaps more danger — that you’d find in your average episode of House of Cards. Several fine acting performances make this production especially watchable: Brent Vimtrup gives a textured performance of the principled but conflicted Brutus; Josh Katawick is the “lean and hungry” Cassius who recruits the assassins who bring down Caesar; and Nick Rose is the wily Mark Antony who finds a way to turn Caesar’s death to his own advantage. Once you’ve seen this production, you should make plans to return for a kind of sequel as Cincy Shakes stages Antony and Cleopatra with several of the actors from Julius Caesar reprising their roles. Through May 7. Tickets: 513-381-2273.

Playwright Lauren Gunderson presented a quartet of badass women from 18th-century France in The Revolutionists at the Cincinnati Playhouse back in February. Some more strong females — Americans from the early 20th century — are the characters of Silent Sky, the current production at Know Theatre. The central character is Henrietta Leavitt, an aspiring astronomer who had to work doubly hard to earn recognition for her scientific insights. She’s bracketed by a devoted, conservative sister and a pair of “lunatic women” who are her scientific colleagues. Director Tamara Winters has an excellent cast of actors to tell this story — especially Maggie Lou Rader in a luminous portrait of the feisty, persistent Henrietta. Through May 14. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati seldom brings back a show it’s presented in the past, but when it staged Jeanine Tesori’s musical Violet back in 1998, that was long before Over-the-Rhine was a go-to neighborhood for entertainment. So there’s a good rationale for reviving this lovely, heartfelt story. Check out this video preview. 


Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
 
 
by Rick Pender 04.22.2016 9 days ago
Posted In: Theater, Arts community at 08:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door 4-22 - julius caesar @ cincy shakes - josh katawick (cassius) & brent vimtrup (brutus) - mikki schaffner photography

Stage Door

Noble Romans, ambitious astronomers, fairy tales and one bad girl

You have more theater choices this weekend than time, I suspect, so choose carefully depending on the kind of show you most enjoy.

If it’s a classic, I suggest you check out Julius Caesar at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. This tale of one of history’s most memorable political assassinations is one of Shakespeare’s shorter plays, about two hours and 15 minutes. But it’s action-packed with a lot of intrigue, soul-searching and emotions that ebb and flow. Cincy Shakes relies on its acting ensemble to fill these iconic roles, and they bring them to life more vividly than I’ve seen in a long time. Josh Katawick is especially engaging as the leader, “lean and hungry” Cassius, whose motives are not far below his ambitious surface; Brent Vimtrup is Brutus, caught up in the plot for reasons of principle rather than envy, and his subtle performance of this conflicted man is compelling. Veteran Nick Rose is the blustery soldier Marc Antony, who’s actually a subtle manipulator of opinion. (We’ll see more of him next month when Cincy Shakes move on to Shakespeare’s other Roman play, Antony and Cleopatra). Through May 7. Tickets: 513-381-2273.

An engaging new play, Lauren Gunderson’s Silent Sky, is onstage at Know Theatre, the story of Henrietta Leavitt, a woman of science from a century ago when women were not expected to have meaningful insights. But drawn to the mysteries of astronomy, she tirelessly made advances despite many barriers. Maggie Lou Rader plays the feisty woman, and her moral support from two older women, played by Annie Fitzpatrick and Regina Pugh, has elements of humor. This is a well-acted, well-staged play (direction by Know’s Tamara Winters), worth seeing. I gave it a Critic’s Pick with my CityBeat review. Through May 14. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

The 2014 movie of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods featured Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, James Corden and Johnny Depp. A production currently onstage at Northern Kentucky University doesn’t have that kind of star power, but the student cast does an admirable job with a show that places extraordinary vocal demands on singers. Director Jamey Strawn hit upon an imaginative framing device for the legendary fairy tale mash-up, setting it in a library where a young boy (played with a mischievously expressive demeanor by Charlie Klesa, a sixth-grader at Mercy Montessori), hides away for an overnight adventure of reading and fantasizing. As giants threaten the kingdom, books tumble from the library’s two-story-tall shelves. Into the Woods requires a big cast, and more than 20 NKU student actors plus a stylized wooden cow are clearly committed to giving their all to this production. Opening night on Thursday was an enthusiastic full house. Through May 1. Tickets: 859-572-5464.

Neil LaBute’s plays traffic in complex, often ironic, manipulative situations, frequently brutal stories of abusive, selfish behavior. The Shape of Things, presented by New Edgecliff Theatre at Hoffner Lodge in Northside, is that kind of story — about Evelyn, an ambitious young woman who makes an art project of Adam, another student who thinks their relationship is a love affair. Rebecca Whatley and Matthew Krieg handle these complicated roles believably, but you’ll walk away wondering about their motives — she’s cold, he’s clueless. It’s a compelling, disturbing story that makes for an evening of edgy, psychological theater. Another Critic’s Pick with my CityBeat review. Through April 30. Tickets here.

There’s a touring production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast onstage at the Aronoff Center through Sunday. It’s an entertaining, visually captivating production. There’s nothing new about it, to be sure, but the young cast carries off the sprightly songs and choreography with lots of energy. I wish there was a little more heart and a little less clowning, especially by Sam Hartley as the Beast, who’s meant to be a tragic hero. The chemistry between him and Brooke Quintana as Belle is in the script, but it only shows up intermittently onstage. Nevertheless, Wednesday night’s full house with lots of kids dressed for the evening clearly had a good time watching the story unfold. Through Sunday. Tickets: 513-621-2787.

Quick Notes: True Theater is back for another quarterly evening of storytelling on Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. Know Theatre. This time the theme is True Gay, so it will be enlightening to hear the personal reminiscences that get shared. … At UC’s College-Conservatory of Music this weekend, the drama program presents a staged reading of Grace Gardner’s new script, Very Dumb Kids, tonight 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. It’s the beginning of a new play commissioning initiative that will foster new works. … This is the final weekend for David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross at the Incline Theater in East Price Hill and for Jason Robert Brown’s musical, The Last Five Years, at The Carnegie in Covington.


Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

 
 
by Rick Pender 04.15.2016 16 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 11:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door 4-15 - brent vimtrup as brutus in julius caesar @ cincy shakes - mikki schaffner photography

Stage Door

Emperors, assassins, a whole lotta Shakespeare and a feisty mongoose

We’re closing in on the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 1616, and today is the Ides of April (that means the 15th of the month), so let’s start with several notes about the Bard.

Cincinnati Shakespeare’s production of Julius Caesar continues this weekend (it’s onstage through May 7). You might recall that the emperor’s assassination happened on the Ides of March. We’re a month late, but it’s worth noting since that historic event was the impetus for one of Shakespeare’s great plays of Roman history. Caesar is the focal point, but the play’s most interesting characters are Brutus, the morally conflicted conspirator, and the ambitious Marc Antony, who has his own designs on the throne. It’s also worth noting this production, since it will be followed in May by Shakespeare’s other Roman story, Antony and Cleopatra. Many of the actors playing key roles in Julius Caesar will return in the second production. It’s a rare pairing of these two works, made possible by Cincy Shakes depth of talent in its resident acting company. I wrote about this project in a recent Curtain Call column. Tickets: 513-381-2273.

If a history play isn’t enough, then you might want to head to the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood where Cincy Shakes is continuing its education initiative, Project 38 Festival, working with more than 1,600 students at 45+ different area schools to bring each of Shakespeare’s 38 plays to life in creative ways. The celebration is already underway (performances continue through Monday) in Washington Park and the Woodward Theatre (1404 Main St.) — 43 free performances in all. Eighteen performances feature exclusively Shakespearean text, while others interpret the plays with music, dance, filmmaking and visual arts. One is even told with computer animation. For the festival’s full schedule, go here.

Know Theatre opens Silent Sky by Lauren Gunderson this weekend. The Cincinnati Playhouse recently presented Gunderson’s intriguing show, The Revolutionists, a fantasy set during the French Revolution. The show at Know is rooted in real events, too, focusing on a group of brilliant women hired by the Harvard Observatory to catalog the stars. Directed by Tamara Winters, the production features a cast of excellent local professionals — Maggie Lou Rader, Justin McCombs and Miranda McGee (from Cincy Shakes) and Annie Fitzpatrick and Miranda McGee (regularly seen at Ensemble Theatre). It’s a fascinating story as well as a chance to experience another work by an award-winning young playwright. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

New Edgecliff Theatre opened the final production of its 2015-2016 season this week, Neil LaBute’s The Shape of Things. It’s an emotional drama about relationships and love and what you can believe. Performances are at The Hoffner Lodge (4120 Hamilton Ave., Northside). Read my recent column for more about NET’s search for a home. For NET tickets here.

A production with young audiences in mind kicks off this weekend with the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s “Off the Hill” staging of The Garden of Rikki Tikki Tavi adapted from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book by playwright Y York. It’s about a fierce mongoose and his enemy the cobra Nag. The show, directed by the Playhouse’s new director of education, Daunielle Rasmussen, debuts at the theater on Saturday (10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.); tickets are $5 at the box office. The show then tours throughout Greater Cincinnati, starting Sunday at 2 p.m. at Cedar Village Retirement Community in Mason. Full schedule here.


Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
 
 
by Rick Pender 04.08.2016 23 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 11:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
sd

Stage Door

Onstage this weekend

I’m heading to Louisville this weekend for the Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre. (You’ll find a report online and in CityBeat later this month.) For those of you staying in town, there are several interesting shows to catch locally. 

If you’ve been a Fringe Festival regular for the past three years, it’s likely that you’ve enjoyed one of Paul Strickland’s musical monologues about the Big Fib Trailer Park Cul-de-Sac. If you missed them (or if you simply want to be outrageously entertained by them again), they’re being reprised this weekend at Falcon Theater (636 Monmouth St., Newport). Papa Squat’s Store of Sorts happens on Friday at 8 p.m.; Ain’t True and Uncle False shows up on Saturday at 8 p.m. Both evenings you can catch Tales Too Tall for Trailers at 9:15 p.m., the latter featuring Strickland with Erika Kate MacDonald, shadow puppets … and clothespins. Advance tickets: 513-300-5669

Incline Theater continues to produce adult drama, this time with David Mamet’s hard-hitting (and foul-mouthed) Glengarry Glen Ross. It’s about a group of unprincipled real estate guys competing to be the top dog in a slimy sales contest, selling worthless Florida property and homes to unsuspecting buyers. Their jockeying for position knows no ethical bounds. That might sound like a story that’s tough to watch, but the play — which won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for drama — uses a kind of word-jazz with Mamet’s rat-a-tat-tat dialogue that makes it both fascinating and darkly humorous. The Incline’s production, which opened Wednesday, features seven actors directed by stage veteran Greg Procaccino. They wrestle with this gristly verbiage, some with more success than others, but Mike Dennis (as the hard-selling No. 1 guy, Ricky Roma) has just the right amount of oiliness and superficial arrogance, and David A. Levy (as nervous George Aaronow) is especially convincing as a schlub who can’t catch a break. Nik Pajic (as brash young Dave Moss) has a lot of fire, and Joel Lind (as over-the-hill Shelly “The Machine” Levine) is sympathetic playing a character who talks way too much as he revels in past success. Mike Hall portrays the trying-to-be-tough sales manager; Tom Peters is a gruff cop investigating the very suspicious burglary in the show’s second act; and Scott Unes has a brief scene as a hapless client trying to get out of a bad deal. Through April 24. Tickets: 513-241-6550.

Perhaps you read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in high school. Maybe it’s time to revisit it during a presidential election year where the draw of power and the charisma of men who want to govern is top of mind. This production, opening tonight and running through May 7, will be followed by Antony and Cleopatra (May 13-June 4), in which Shakespeare returned to several of the earlier play’s central characters. Cincinnati Shakespeare is producing the two works in sequence with the actors playing the overlapping roles in both shows. It will be an interesting chance to see how the plays relate and diverge, and how young generals become old politicians. Read more about Cincy Shakes’ productions in my Curtain Call column. Tickets: 513-381-2273.

Jason Robert Brown’s musical exploration of a marriage that comes apart, The Last Five Years, is told in an unusual way, with parallel stories, one running from start to finish and the other in the opposite direction, from the final sad moments to the joyous beginning. The retelling of Jamie and Cathy’s marriage in a series of solo songs overlaps at only one moment — their wedding day. It’s a fascinating way to track the course of love … and loss. Brown’s gorgeous score makes it all the more poignant. Weekends through April 24. Tickets: 859-957-1940.

OK, the final four for men and women are now over and done, both with exciting finishes. If you’re in need of one more weekend of basketball action — featuring men and women — check out Lysistrata Jones, a musical performed in the Cohen Family Studio at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music. It’s an amusing retelling of the ancient Greek comedy by Aristophanes, updated to a story of women withholding their “favors” to get the men of the Athens University basketball team on the winning track. The show had a quick Broadway run in 2011-2012. Friday and Saturday. Admission is free, but you need to call ahead for tickets: 513-556-4183.

Wrapping up and continuing: Annapurna, about the reunion of a colorful and dysfunctional couple, wraps up on Sunday at Ensemble Theatre. At the Cincinnati Playhouse, an excellent stage adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird finishes its run on Sunday, while the contemporary drama Mothers and Sons, about gay marriage and parenting, is on the Shelterhouse stage for another week.


Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
 
 
by Rick Pender 04.01.2016 30 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 08:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
onstage online 3-27 annapurna @ etc - dennis parlato (as ulysses) and regina pugh (as emma) - photo ryan kurtz

Stage Door

Onstage Recommendations: Mormons, Poets, Parents and Children

There’s are some excellent dramatic productions on local stages this weekend, as well as one of Broadway’s biggest, most raucous musical hits.

Let’s start with the hilariously crude Tony winner, The Book of Mormon, in town for a brief one-week run. Even if you don’t have tickets yet (or didn’t think you could afford them), you might try your luck for the lottery with each performance. Leave your name at the Aronoff Center box office beginning two-and-a-half hours before a specific performance; you can request one or two seats. Two hours before the curtain, names are drawn at random for a limited number of $25 tickets. You have to be present for the drawing and show a valid ID. (Be forewarned: There have been as many as 800 entries at some performances.) The final performance is at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday.

There is some truly fine acting in Sharr White’s Annapurna at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati. It’s the story of a once-married couple who couldn’t keep it together: Ulysses (Dennis Parlato), a recovering alcoholic who was once an esteemed poet (and a father) is now holed up in a trailer park in the wilds of Colorado. He’s not in a good way, but he’s surprised and none to hospitable when Emma (Regina Pugh), his wife from two decades earlier, shows up. Their encounter and subsequent soul-searching are sardonically comic and tragically poignant, and Parlato and Pugh make these vivid characters all the more human. Through April 10. Tickets: 513-241-3555.

Two excellent productions are onstage at Cincinnati Playhouse. Mothers and Sons by Terrence McNally (in the Shelterhouse) is a very contemporary story about gay marriage, parents and children. Even with the Supreme Court’s approval of marriage equality, there are still a lot of challenges to be faced, and this production, staged by the reliably insightful Timothy Douglas, presents them in some deeply personal ways. Read my review … In a more classic vein, although another story about parents and children, the Playhouse’s moving mainstage production of a theatrical adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird continues. In fact, it’s been extended a week beyond its initially announced closing, to April 10. That means tickets should be easily available next week. Box Office: 513-421-3888.

SHORT TAKES: A few more choices to consider this weekend: Know Theatre is presenting a Fringe Encore double-bill in Clifton. One production is a solo act, Cody Clark: A Different Way of Thinking, a young man from Louisville who has coped with autism by delving in the performance of magic. The other work is Kevin Crowley’s Hitchhikers May Be Inmates, in a performance featuring the actor-playwright with another respected local performer, Michael Bath. It’s a sarcastic cautionary tale about struggling to maintain sobriety. Both shows will be onstage at Clifton Performance Theatre (404 Ludlow Ave.) tonight and Saturday. Tickets available at the door … George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion is the play Lerner & Loewe musicalized when they created My Fair Lady. Shaw’s script is a more thorny work, but the story is familiar. It’s at Northern Kentucky University’s black box theater through Sunday. Tickets: 859-572-5464 … Stay home and listen to WVXU (FM 91.7) on Saturday evening (8-10 p.m.) for an L.A. Theatre Works radio production of Moisés Kaufman’s excellent drama, Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde … On Monday evening at 7 p.m., the Cincinnati Playhouse wraps up its series of script readings of works by writers whose shows are being produced there this season. This time it’s Theresa Rebeck’s Omnium Gatherum, the story of a surreal dinner party that echoes 9/11 and more. The reading is free, but a reservation is necessary. Box Office: 513-421-3888.


Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

 
 
by Rick Pender 03.18.2016 44 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 03:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
lovelist_dlynnmeyers_jf2

Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati Announces 2016-2017 Season

Regional premieres of comedies, dramas and musicals at ETC

Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati is really getting its act together. Not that they haven’t always been on top of things, but it’s often been deep into springtime before the coming season has been announced. Having recently shared the news about the expansion of its physical plant beginning in 2017, ETC has now shared what will be onstage for its 2016-2017 season — and much earlier than usual. Perhaps that’s because there were some evident artistic choices, as the information below will reveal.

ETC Producing Artistic Director D. Lynn Meyers has her finger on her subscribers’ pulses. Even before this announcement was released, approximately 80 percent of ETC’s 2,300 regulars had already renewed their seats for the coming season. That’s a demonstration of the confidence ETC subscribers have in Meyers’ judgment. Many of the season’s productions aren’t well known titles, but they have been chosen with specific and sharp insight into the preferences of ETC’s audience.

Here’s what’s in store:

The Legend of Georgia McBride by Matthew Lopez (Sept. 6-25, 2016): The season kicks off with show by Matthew Lopez, but it bears little resemblance to his powerful Civil War drama, The Whipping Man, which ETC staged back in 2012. This time it’s a heartwarming, music-filled comedy about Casey, a young optimist who’s broke, close to being evicted and discovering that he and his wife are pregnant. Oh, and he’s been fired from his gig as an Elvis impersonator in a run-down Florida Panhandle bar. His act is replaced by a B-level drag show, and he decides to go with the flow. It’s a new arena for him as a performer and a man. One review of the New York production called it “an irresistible and deceptively deep crowd pleaser.”

brownsville song (b-side for tray) by Kimber Lee (Oct. 11-30, 2016): I write annually about plays that get started at the Humana Festival in Louisville. (I’ll be headed there for the 38th annual event in April.) Two years ago this play received its world premiere there. Set in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, it moves between past and present to tell a tale about resilience in the face of tragedy. Tray, 18, is committed to making something of himself. He’s working on his college essay, boxing at the gym and holding down a part-time job. But he ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time, and in the blink of an eye his life is tragically over. His family is left to ponder what might have been. This poetic and powerful story jumps between a hopeful future and an uncertain present to show a unique perspective on urban violence. Myers picked this show knowing its run would overlap with August Wilson’s Jitney at the Playhouse, offering theatergoers two moving perspectives on the African-American experience.

Cinderella: After Ever After by Joe McDonough, David Kisor and Fitz Patton (Nov. 30-Dec 30): ETC’s production of Cinderella for the 2015 holiday season was one of the theater’s most attend shows ever. So for the 2016 holidays we get a world-premiere sequel, again created by playwright McDonough, lyricist Kisor and composer Patton. With the same actors who charmed audiences last December, this will be the story about what happens next. What happens when Cinderella and Prince Freddy move into the palace with her diva stepmother and her self-absorbed stepsisters in tow? What becomes of her beloved animal friends? And what’s Gwendolyn, “The Well Wisher,” up to now? All will be revealed in another family-friendly show.

First Date by Austin Winsberg, Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner (Jan. 17-Feb 5, 2017): This musical comedy had a Broadway run in 2013; ETC is presenting its regional premiere. It explores one of those treacherous human endeavors: the blind date. When Aaron, a first-time blind-date guy, is set up with serial-dater Casey, their casual drink turns into a high-stakes dinner as other restaurant patrons transform into supportive best friends, manipulative exes and protective parents — who sing and dance them through the dangerous waters of getting acquainted.

When We Were Young and Unafraid by Sarah Treem (Feb. 21-March 12, 2017): It’s 1972, before Roe v. Wade, before the Violence Against Women Act. Agnes has turned her quiet bed and breakfast into a refuge for young victims of domestic violence. But her latest runaway, Mary Anne, is beginning to influence Agnes’s college-bound daughter Penny. Playwright Treem (who’s been a writer for House of Cards and In Treatment) digs into the early days of feminism from various perspectives. The show debuted in New York in 2014; this is its regional premiere.

Bloomsday by Steven Dietz (April 4-23, 2017): Playwright Dietz’s newest play, a 2016 finalist for the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award. His work has pleased ETC audiences four times in the past — Private Eyes (2000), Fiction (2007), More Fun than Bowling (2008) and Becky’s New Car (2010). This one is set against the backdrop of James Joyce’s iconic novel Ulysses. It’s about an American searches for the Irish woman who captured his heart 30 years earlier while he led “Bloomsday” walking tour in Dublin. The play bends time and space to explore a love affair that might have been. Meyers recently fell in love with this script; the show just premiered at ACT in Seattle last September; she moved quickly to obtain the rights to present its regional premiere here.


ETC subscriptions for 2016-2017 are on sale now; single tickets will be available for purchase on Aug. 1. For more information: ensemblecincinnati.org.

 
 
by Rick Pender 03.18.2016 44 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 10:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ccm musical theatre 2016 - photo mark lyons  copy

Stage Door

Jane Austen, Harper Lee, civics, Irish drama and perfume shop romance

There’s plenty of theater on local stages this weekend. Here’s a round-up for you to consider:

Two shows based on very different classic novels are excellent choices. Emma, adapted from Jane Austen’s 1815 novel about well-intended matchmaking that goes awry, continues at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. The production takes advantage of the company’s strong female acting contingent, especially Courtney Lucien as the title character. At the Cincinnati Playhouse you’ll find a truly memorable and creatively staged rendition of Harper Lee’s 1961 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Eric Ting’s production is exceptionally theatrical, using a barren stage to focus on the story’s characters rather than naturalistic settings. The big cast features numerous local professionals, somewhat unusual for the Playhouse, and they’re a pleasure to watch. It’s around until April 3. I gave Critic’s Picks to both Emma and Mockingbird. Cincy Shakes box office: 513-381-2273; Playhouse box office: 513-421-3888.

Beertown, the show currently onstage at Know Theatre, is as much an exercise in civic engagement as it is a piece of theatrical entertainment. Every five years a small town, perhaps in New England, revisits a time capsule to decide if the contents are still relevant. That leads to debate, and the audience is welcome to chime in during the “quinquennial” celebration, emceed by a self-assured mayor. You’re invited to bring desserts for a pre-show potluck; the townspeople (a cast of eight performers who are very adept at improv) mingle and introduce themselves before things get started and at intermission. This is the final weekend; Saturday evening’s performance at 8 p.m. will feature sign-language interpretation. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

With St. Patrick’s Day just passed, perhaps you’re looking for a piece of great Irish writing, with some trademark dark humor. Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane opens tonight at Falcon Theater in Newport (636 Monmouth St.). It’s about Maureen, a plain, lonely woman in her early 40s, who still lives with Mag, her manipulative, aging mother. Trying to stave off abandonment, Mag ruins what might be Maureen’s last chance at love — and that sets off some pretty bad behavior all around. This is not a show for the faint-hearted, but it’s a terrific script that was nominated for six Tony Awards in 1998. Through April 2. Tickets: 513-479-6783.

There’s a production of the 1963 musical She Loves Me on Broadway right now, and the charming show is getting pretty good reviews there. The same show is onstage at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts locally through April 3. It’s the story of Georg and Amalia, two lonely co-workers in a perfume shop, who get off on the wrong foot and quickly develop a combative relationship. At the same time, they’re having an unwitting pen-pal relationship with one another, quite charmed by the prospects. It’s a sweet, humorous tale, and the Covedale has some able performers — Rodger Pille and Erin Nicole Donahue — in the central roles. But the production, staged by Matt Wilson, feels disjointed, more a showcase for several comic story lines and amusing character roles than a coherent, offbeat tale of love that almost goes wrong before everything is happily resolved. Tickets: 513-241-6550.

The culmination of the excellent musical theater program at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music is the annual Not Yet Famous Showcase that seniors take to New York City. That’s about to happen, so CCM’s Class of 2016 is onstage locally to warm up before heading to Broadway for their debut next week in front of directors and casting agents. Two performances are set for Saturday at 4 and 8 p.m. in Patricia Corbett Theater. Admission is free but reservations are required (513-556-4183) … CCM Drama showcases its talent in both New York (for theater) and Los Angeles (for film and TV), and you can check out the acting talent coming out of that program in free programs on Friday at 2 or 7 p.m., also at Patricia Corbett Theater. Reservations are not necessary for the Drama Showcase.

The Cincinnati Playhouse is offering a series of readings of plays by playwrights whose shows are included in their 2015-2016 season. On Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. the offering is Terrence McNally’s A Perfect Ganesh, about two women from Connecticut on a journey to India as they try to heal from the deaths of their sons. (McNally’s more recent play, Mothers and Sons, is the next production in the Shelterhouse Theater, opening Thursday.) The reading is free, but reservations are required; a previous reading was sold-out, so call right away if you’re interested: 513-421-3888.


Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

 
 
by Rick Pender 03.11.2016 51 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 10:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door 3-11 - mockingbird @ cincy playhosue - dale hodges - mikki schaffner photography

Stage Door

Mockingbird, love letters and whiffs of Fringe

Looking for some good theater this weekend? There’s plenty to choose from on Cincinnati stages.

Last evening I was at the Cincinnati Playhouse for the opening performance of To Kill a Mockingbird. If you’ve read Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel or seen the classic film starring Gregory Peck, you know the story. But I bet you’ve never seen it quite the way Playhouse Associate Artist Eric Ting has staged this one. Reminiscent of Our Town, it’s played out on an all-but-bare stage — no scenery, minimal props — just great storytelling acting, including a lot of local professionals: Dale Hodges, Annie Fitzpatrick, Torie Wiggins, Ken Early, Barry Mulholland, Jared Joplin, Randy Bailey and three sensational kids. The set is deceptively simple, but used very effectively with Ting choreographing the action using two concentric “revolves,” atmospheric lighting and sound effects. The Playhouse clearly has a winner with this production. It just opened and the demand for tickets is already so strong that it’s been extended to April 10, a week beyond the initially announced closing. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

When you put together a songwriting team like Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick (the guys behind Fiddler on the Roof) and a writer like Joe Masteroff (he also wrote the script for Cabaret), the results ought to be good. And they were in 1963 when She Loves Me debuted on Broadway. Set in a 1930s perfumery, it’s about two shop clerks, Amalia and Georg, who don’t see eye to eye; both lonely and yearning for love, they unwittingly end up as pen-pals — and a warm-hearted comic romance ensues. (Sound familiar? It’s also the story of the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan hit film from 1998, You’ve Got Mail.) She Loves Me was revived on Broadway in 1993, and there’s a current production of it w by Roundabout Theatre Company. But you don’t have to travel to New York City to enjoy this charming show, since it’s onstage at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts through April 3. Tickets: 513-241-6550.

There are numerous whiffs of Fringe shows in the air this weekend. Beertown continues at Know Theatre through March 19, a concept brought to town by dog & pony dc, a group that’s performed more than once at Cincinnati Fringe Festivals. This one is an exercise in civics that happens to be highly entertaining, as a small town decides which items to keep or replace in a time capsule that’s reviewed every five years. Audiences get to join the conversation — and they do. With a cast featuring a lot of local improv and acting talent, Beertown is a thoroughly entertaining production, and it can go in different directions every time it’s performed. Know is also presenting a double bill of two past Fringe award winners — Petunia and Chicken from Animal Engine and Edgar Allan from the Coldharts. The former is a story of love and loss inspired by the works of Midwestern Prairie author Willa Cather; two actors play all the parts piece. Edgar Allan was inspired by imagining the boyhood of Edgar Allan Poe. If you missed these shows during the 2013 and 2015 festivals, you can see them at Know’s Jackson Street theater on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Tickets, for one or both shows, which are both presented each evening: 513-300-5669 or at the door.

If you’re still pining for Fringe-styled shows, try Transmigration 2016 at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, featuring student-created works presented tonight and Saturday evening at 7 p.m. This annual event by CCM’s drama program features teams of actors who write, promote, stage and perform a handful of 30-minute shows. For 2016 the titles are “Elliot Popkin: The Best Friends I Never Had,” “The Elephant in the Room,” “The Family,” “Colony Collapse Disorder,” “Vices” and “A Brief Eternity.” Show up for an evening and dash around the CCM complex to see four of these unpredictable but wildly creative pieces. Admission is free, but reservations are required: 513-556-4183.

Also at CCM: The thrashing, pulsating production of American Idiot continues through Sunday at Patricia Corbett Theater on the UC campus. If you’re a fan of Punk Rock (the show is a stage version of Green Day’s 2004 recording), this is the show for you … Prefer something more sedate? Head downtown for Cincinnati Shakespeare’s stage adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma, which continues through March 26. Tickets: 513-381-2273.


Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

 
 
by Rick Pender 03.04.2016 58 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 11:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
stage door  3-4 - know theatre and dog & pony dc present beertown - id ltor - aiden sims - mike hall - wyckham avery - photo by daniel r. winter

Stage Door

A time capsule, Punk Rock, newsboys and Austen girls

Take your pick from four wildly different shows on Cincinnati stages this weekend.

For something completely different, check out Beertown at Know Theatre (through March 19). It’s a national touring project by dog & pony dc, a company that was here for several recent Cincinnati Fringes. The show is set in an imagined American town that opens a time capsule every five years to review its “eternal” and “ephemeral” contents. With the exception of dog & pony dc actor Wyckham Avery as the town’s patronizing mayor, the performers are all Cincinnati actors, a majority with significant improv experience. They solemnly execute the “20th quinquennial” ceremony to revise what’s saved and removed, relying on voluntary input from the audience as to what’s most important for the community. The show includes interspersed scenes (injected as “antecedents”) that reveal details of the century-long tradition. Beertown starts out feeling like an amusing Fringe show — artifacts range from serious items such as antique photos and a family bible to trivia such as pink slips and a “jar of smoke” — but by the time it’s over, with some cleverly planted messages from the ably played “townspeople,” you realize you’ve been part of a civic exercise that has depth as it explores just what’s important to a community. Know’s artistic director Andrew Hungerford says, “There’s nothing newer than a show that is created in partnership with the audience each night.” I’m not a fan of theatrical audience participation, but I was surprised and gratified by how Beertown unfolded and landed its messages. By the way, you’re invited to bring desserts to share for the potluck before ceremony begins. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

The Disney musical Newsies, based the 1992 film, is in town through March 13 at the Aronoff Center. The true story is unsubtle and predictable: Downtrodden newsboys in 1899 New York City get fed up with the high-handed ways of arrogant publisher Joseph Pulitzer and go on strike. Their “children’s crusade” wins out and improves conditions for kids who hawked papers on street corners. There’s no question from the outset that these spunky young fellows are going to succeed; Pulitzer is an unadulterated greedy villain, and Jack Kelly (Joey Barreiro), the Peter Pan-like leader of the boys is played as the hero from the get-go. Nevertheless, Newsies indeed showcases athletic dancing — about 15 high-energy young men who high-kick, cartwheel and back-flip around the stage for more than two hours to imaginative choreography by Christopher Gattelli. The production’s design, big pieces of Erector Set-like structures that double as fire escapes and more, roll into various configurations and provide surfaces for video projections that set the scene. Not profound, but fun to watch. Tickets: 513-621-2787. An additional note: The show’s “newsboys” will present a special evening of song and dance on Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. in the Aronoff’s Jarson-Kaplan Theater with the proceeds to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Tickets start at $25: cincinnatiarts.org/newsboys.

For another musical populated by disaffected youth dancing, check out American Idiot at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. Onstage at Patricia Corbett Theater, like Newsies, this show is rooted in real events — it opens with ominous video recollections of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It’s based on Green Day’s 2004 Punk Rock album, full of anger and angst. The show is more impressionistic than narrative following three young men yearning to escape the deadening humdrum of suburbia to do something, be somewhere, where they will feel more real. But crushing reality — ranging from parental responsibility to military service and drug addiction — bears down in depressing ways on them. After pain and searching, they find their way to stasis if not happiness. Along the way, the production, staged by Aubrey Berg with music direction by Steve Goers, pounds out Green Day’s mostly anxious songs; of singular note is CCM senior Samantha Pollino’s thrashing, hair-whipping, fist-punching choreography. One word of caution: This show is no-holds-barred in terms of drug use, sexual content and profanity. But frankly (and I do mean frankly), that’s a big part of what it’s about. It’s onstage through March 13. Tickets: 513-556-4183.

Staged by veteran company member Kelly Mengelkoch, Emma (through March 26) lives up to Cincy Shakes previous productions of stage adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels — romances, first and foremost, navigating the ins and outs of love and relationships in the early 19th century. Austen’s central characters are usually feisty but moral women, strong-minded and judgmental, and they match up well with the versatile female talent in Cincy Shakes’ acting company. First and foremost is Courtney Lucien as Emma Woodhouse, whose confidence in her matchmaking skills puts her in several pickles with friends and acquaintances as well as personally. The object of Emma’s plans is the modest Harriet Smith, played by Caitlin McWethy, who often says as much with demeanor and facial expression as with the words provided by Jon Jory’s adaptation of the 1813 novel. Despite some derailments along the way, Emma is awash in wit and good humor. I gave this production a Critic’s Pick. Tickets: 513-381-2273.

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here. 

 
 
by Rick Pender 03.02.2016 60 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 12:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
billy chace as richard iii @ cincy shakes - mikki schaffner photography

Only the Beginning: Cincy Shakes 2016-2017 Season

Perhaps by now you’ve heard that Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is building itself a new home at 12th and Elm streets in Over-the-Rhine. (Construction is already under way.) But before the move, there’s one last season of theater to be produced at 719 Race St., Downtown, the space where the group has performed since the late 1990s but has outgrown. 

Brian Phillips, Cincy Shakes’ producing artistic director, says, “Before we go, we have one last season here on Race Street. We will present a slate of titles that are as nostalgic as they are timeless and represent the next phase of Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. This is the perfect chance to join us as we bid a fond farewell to Race Street, because this goodbye is only the beginning.” 

The season announced today offers nine productions, commencing with a powerful stage adaption of The Diary of Anne Frank (Sept. 9-Oct. 1) featuring Courtney Lucien — currently playing the title role in the current adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma — as the young Jewish girl who records her harrowing story in her diary. Her family’s experience, hiding from Nazi persecutors in an Amsterdam attic, endures as a condemnation of man’s capacity for cruelty and a celebration of the resilience of the human spirit. It will be followed by Bernard Pomerance’s award-winning American classic, The Elephant Man (Oct. 14-Nov. 5). Longtime favorite actor Giles Davies will play the deformed central character, Joseph Merrick, and Brent Vimtrup portrays the young doctor who finds an intelligent, sensitive man behind his horrifying disfigurement. 

The season’s first Shakespearean production at the classic theater is the romantic comedy Much Ado About Nothing (Nov. 18-Dec. 10). It’s about Beatrice and Benedick, a perfectly matched couple who can’t stand each other — a formula for great comedy. More Shakespeare comes in January as Cincy Shakes wraps up the History Cycle, a feat undertaken by just one other theater in the U.S. The presentation in chronological order of Shakespeare’s history plays about the reigns of five British kings and a century of turmoil began in 2013. The concluding elements of this series will be the 2017 productions of Henry VI: The Wars of the Roses, Part 2 (Jan. 20-Feb. 11) followed by the cycle’s thrilling conclusion with the story of England’s most murderous monarch, Richard III (Feb. 17-March 11), played by Billy Chace. 

Lorraine Hansberry’s masterpiece of the American stage, A Raisin in the Sun (March 24-April 15) comes next, about a working class African-American family in 1950s Chicago. A financial windfall opens a door to opportunity, but social pressures undermine their dream. The 1959 play is a classic in every sense of the word.

Cincy Shakes’ final production on the Race Street stage, fittingly, will be Shakespeare’s final play, The Tempest (May 5-June 3). Longtime company member Nicholas Rose will play the magician Prospero in a sweet story of revenge, love, magic and redemption. 

To add several sparks of hilarity to its final season, Cincy Shakes will present two other shows outside the subscription season. They are All the Great Books (abridged) (July 22-Aug. 13, 2016), another script from the deliriously fevered brains that created The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), The Complete History of America and more. They’re calling it a refresher of literature’s greatest hits for “everyone from the illiterate to the literati.” And it wouldn’t be a Cincinnati holiday season without another round of Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!) (Dec. 14-31). The 90-minute send up of “Beloved Holiday Classics” returns for the 11th year.

It’s a great send-off for the company, the little literary engine that could, which will open the following season in the new facility in Over-the-Rhine in September 2017.

 
 
 
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