It's funny how one or two words can convey many different meanings. Take the word Mauritius. If you know your geography, it's an island in the Indian Ocean east of Africa. If you're a stamp collector, it's one of the first places in the world where postage stamps were issued — and it's where some of the rarest stamps originated, today worth millions of dollars.
If you're Cincinnati-born playwright Theresa Rebeck, it's an inspiration for an edgy comic drama about two half-sisters and some eager stamp experts fighting over a stamp collection. And if you're a theatergoer, Mauritius, the title of Rebeck's play, means you'll be lining up to see Ensemble Theatre's latest production. It's a great script, profane and funny, yet also insightful and sad about how human nature works — or doesn't.
While it’s not part of the Fringe, Avenue Q, presented by Showbiz Players at Covington’s Carnegie Center, has the same zany vibe. It’s an X-rated musical with puppets that might visually remind you of Sesame Street — until they open their dirty mouths. The show was a surprise Tony Award winner several years back, and it promises lots of laughs for those who go. Through June 10. 859-957-1940.
If you want something more traditional, try Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production of The Merchant of Venice, one of Shakespeare’s most difficult plays. It’s officially categorized as a comedy because it has humorous and romantic elements. But the central story about a potentially fatal argument between a moneylender and a businessman is anything but amusing. CSC’s artistic director Brian Isaac Phillips takes on the role of the rapacious moneylender who has faced anti-Semitic discrimination for his entire life. Is Shylock a villain or a victim? Shakespeare gives him aspects of each, and CSC’s production does not tilt in either direction. You get to decide, and it won’t be easy. Box office: 513-381-2273, x1.
Be sure to consider downtown’s newest performance venue, Speakeasy Theatre, storefront space at 815 Race Street. Their inaugural production is Paul Baerman’s The Whistler, set in 1965 in an unnamed Southern city awash in racist attitudes. The Andy Griffith Show is in its fifth season, and the guy who whistles the theme (played here by local professional actor Michael G. Bath) is living off his royalties. But life gets more complicated when he meets an African-American trumpet player (played by Tony Davis) who shares his passion for music. The Whistler will be onstage through June 10. Box office: 513-861-7469
Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
If you can get a ticket this weekend for Hair at UC's College-Conservatory of Music, that's the show to see this weekend. It's an intentional trip down memory lane — if your memory goes back 40 years. (The show that turned the world of Broadway upside down in the late 1960s is being presented as part of the celebration of the 40th anniversary of CCM's musical theater program.) If not, and you want a taste of what all the shouting was about in 1969, Corbett Auditorium is the place to be.
I've been away for two weeks — including seeing some great theater in Denver — but it's good to be back in Cincinnati. There's lots of great theater going on for you to see. This is the final weekend for Ensemble Theatre's well-received production of August Wilson's Gem of the Ocean. (Read my review here.) A performance was added earlier this week to meet audience demand, but I suspect tickets are still scarce.
The 2010 Cincy Fringe Festival has three days/nights left, and tickets are going fast for the final performances of the more critically-acclaimed shows. CityBeat's review crew has now posted reviews of 27 of Fringe's 29 productions, with the final two coming later today on our Fringe micro-site.
While others are scaring themselves silly this weekend, perhaps you'd like to have a good, old-fashioned laugh. I can recommend the perfect show for you to escape the ghosts and goblins of Halloween, not to mention the scary world of 2009 (with unemployment and financial distress). Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman's 1936 Pulitzer Prize winner, You Can't Take It With You, is an old-school screwball comedy with 19 people in the cast, every one of them playing a character with some kind of eccentricity.
I know it's Christmas and not Easter, but don't let that stop you from seeing Jesus Christ Superstar at The Carnegie Center in Covington. It's a faithful reproduction of Andrew Lloyd Webber's first big hit (back in 1971), a Rock opera that retells the story of the last days of Christ, leading up to his crucifixion.
This production features energetic choreography and some solid individual performances, especially Roderick Justice as Judas. He's played the role before, when he was a student at Northern Kentucky University (he was nominated for a 2004 CEA for the role), and he's part of a cast that includes several others who were in that NKU staging, directed by theater program chair Ken Jones.
A completely different choice is the Afghan Women’s Writing Project at Know Theatre, this weekend only. Playwrights Elizabeth Martin and Lauren Hynek took material written by women in Afghanistan who risk their lives to write their stories and turn them into material for the stage. Several outstanding local actresses — including CEA Hall of Famer Dale Hodges and frequent CEA award winner Annie Fitzpatrick — are among the interpreters. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m. If you go on Friday, plan to stick around for a post-show discussion. Tickets ($18): 513-300-5669
If you like heart-warming, schmaltzy tales, you should find your way to Newport’s Monmouth Theatre where Falcon Theatre is presenting Visiting Mr. Green. It’s the story of a young man “sentenced” to regular visits with an elderly gentleman he nearly ran over. Beneath the surface of their disparate worlds they discover some surprising common ground. What makes this rather predictable story come to life is the acting: Joshua Steele and Mike Moskowitz, who happen to be grandfather and grandson, portray their characters with believability. This is the second of two weekends, Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets: 513-479-6783
A year ago Cincinnati Shakespeare had a big hit with Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. They’ve done it again with another adaptation, Sense & Sensibility. This time it’s two sisters, one rational and one emotional, wonderfully portrayed by Kelly Mengelkoch (as the reserved, reasonable Elinor) and Sara Clark (as willful, romantic Marianne). They’re surrounded by droll supporting characters in a story of romance and domestic intrigue. I gave the production a Critic’s Pick. It’s onstage until March 18, but many performances have sold out. Tickets: 513-381-2273
Speaking of Cincinnati Shakespeare, the company recently announced its 2012-2013 season, which will feature some memorable characters — Sherlock Holmes, Atticus Finch (in To Kill a Mockingbird), Romeo & Juliet, Lady Bracknell (in Oscar Wilde’s hilarious The Importance of Being Earnest), Richard II and Nick Bottom (Midsummer Night Dream’s aspiring actor who makes an ass of himself). You can read about the entire season in my blog post from last Sunday.
Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.