Work a little harder and see something unexpected. That's my theme for this weekend. Theater shouldn't always make you laugh or even smile. Sometimes a playwright sets out to make you uncomfortable or to portray characters who are thoroughly unlikeable. Harold Pinter (pictured) did that a generation ago, and Adam Rapp does it today. Pinter's Ashes to Ashes gets a quick production on Saturday and Sunday evenings at Hebrew Union College.
Your best bet for theater this weekend, based on several
enthusiastic recommendations, seems to be Daniel Beaty's one-man
performance at the Cincinnati Playhouse in Through the Night. Harper Lee gave it a Critic's Pick in her CityBeat
review this week, and the League of Cincinnati Theatres panel described
Beaty as a "brilliant showman and interpreter” whose “beautifully and
powerfully acted” performance “weaved in, out and through real people —
multifaceted people.” The show was praised as “moving and full of hope —
an evening of pure joy, celebration and a mournful reminder as well.” Through the Night
“shatters the stereotypes of the ‘African American’ plight and shows
beautifully that these predicaments and life choices are ‘human’ ones." I
caught a performance this week and found Beaty's ability to shift from
character to character quite astonishing — he plays six men and boys, as
well as numerous other figures in their lives, each well defined and
believable. It's a tour de force performance in the Shelterhouse,
presented simply with some projected images and nothing more, not even
costume changes. Box office: 513-421-3888.
College theater has good choices for you at both UC's College-Conservatory of Music and Northern Kentucky University. Each is presenting a classic, although from very different eras. NKU continues its run of You Can't Take It With You (through Sunday), a classic comedy by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart that won a Pulitzer Prize back in 1937. It's about a wacky family that marches to the beat of several different drummers and how their "normal" daughter and her boyfriend (the product of truly straitlaced parents) try to figure out how to make a relationship work in the midst of a lot of craziness. At CCM there's another form of craziness in Michael Burnham's staging of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, a tale of mistaken lovers and magical transformations. In both cases, there's a happy ending and most of the right people end up with suitable partners. Both shows are sure to offer offer a lot of laughs, as well as plenty of opportunities for young actors to take on entertaining roles. Either show should make for a fun outing that doesn't require much serious thought. CCM Box Office: 513-556-4183; NKU Box Office: 859-572-5464.
Finally, on Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. you have a very
special opportunity to see a brand-new musical as a work-in-progress at
the Carnegie Center in Covington. It's a one-night-only presentation of The Sandman, a creepy musical created by Cincinnati native and Cirque du Soleil
maestro Richard Oberacker and his creative partner Robert Taylor. Using
a wildly imaginative story by E.T.A. Hoffmann (the guy who wrote the
wildly imaginative story of battling mice and toys coming to life that
became The Nutcracker), Oberacker and Taylor have crafted a show
that's getting a workshop locally with some serious star power. Narrated
by Van Ackerman (who turned in a great performance as the Man in the
Chair in CMT's recent production of The Drowsy Chaperone), the
performance will feature Tony nominee (and early CCM grad) Pamela Myers,
always watchable Bruce Cromer (fresh off his powerful turn as Atticus
Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird at Cincy Shakes), Charlie Clark
and Sara Mackie. While it's a "reading," it will have sound effects and
some slide projections to set the eerie scene. You can call 859-957-1940 for tickets, or order them online at www.thecarnegie.com. General admission is $25 (theater professionals and students can get in for $15). Sounds like a don't miss event.
It's a good weekend for local theater, with two confirmed choices and a fascinating new production with a lot of potential. Both shows that opened a week ago — End Days at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati and Gee's Bend at Cincinnati Playhouse — have been recommended by the Acclaims judging panel that considered them, and both have received nominations for performers and other aspects.
February is Black History Month, a period when the arts traditionally wake up and pay attention to African-American stories and artists.
I'm always a bit troubled by this segmenting, so I want to commend both
the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park and Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati
for presenting two fine productions of shows featuring African Americans
in engaging stories — in the middle of March. They represent two of this weekend's best choices.
At ETC, Black Pearl Sings! features two outstanding local actresses. Annie Fitzpatrick plays Susannah Mullally, a folk music researcher in the 1930s; Torie Wiggins is Alberta "Pearl" Johnson, a prisoner (for a violent but probably justified crime) who has a remarkable recollection of songs she learned as a child from her family. They form an uneasy alliance that turns into a guarded friendship, and Fitzpatrick and Wiggins have a delightful interplay and chemistry. I heard that this might be the 40th production Fitzpatrick has done at ETC; she's a versatile actress, and she convincingly creates the uptight but driven Susannah. Wiggins, who graduated from the drama program at CCM, earns her Equity card on this production: Chronologically, she's probably a tad young for the role, but she so wholly embodies Pearl's feisty character that it makes no difference. Hers is a tour-de-force rendition, musically and theatrically. This one is a definite must-see. Box office: 513-421-3555.
Let's give the Playhouse — and new artistic director Blake Robison — props for finally getting around to staging a show by Horton Foote, who died in 2009 at the age of 92. He was a prolific dramatist and screenwriter (he wrote screenplays for To Kill a Mockingbird and Tender Mercies) for years, and his play A Trip to Bountiful is a lovely, emotional paean to the notion that "there's no place like home." Foote wrote the play about an elderly Texas wido pining to return to her hometown in 1953 (as a play for television, in fact) and it was an award-winning 1985 movie with a white cast. For the Playhouse, Timothy Douglas has changed up the story by overlaying an African-American filter over the story and casting veteran actress Lizann Mitchell as Carrie Watts. She's a dream of an actress, portraying a tiny Texas cyclone of energy with a wry sense of humor. The story is nothing too innovative — she runs away from a cramped apartment where she lives with her son and his demanding wife to return to her girlhood home, which has all but disappeared — but the truth and dignity of the tale (and Mitchell's performance) make this show worth seeing. Box office: 513-421-3888.
Finally, I need to mention Clifton Players production of A Behanding in Spokane by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh. He's the writer of dark tales like The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Cripple of Inishmaan, as well as the even darker film In Bruges. Clifton Players perform at Clifton Performance Theatre, a tiny, intimate storefront space on Ludlow Avenue. I've heard lots of positive remarks about this production. Be prepared to be shocked and entertained by the show's comic violence. Tickets: 513-861-7469.
Just as the 2010-11 theater season is about to kick off, Know Theatre of Cincinnati has shared plans for its 13th season. They'll offer four mainstage productions (there were five in 2009-10), the eighth annual Cincy Fringe Festival and a new family of programs dubbed the "Jackson Street Market." The season begins in earnest after Know hosts MidPoint Music Festival showcases Sept. 23-25.
The Cincinnati Arts Association (CAA) manages the Aronoff Center — that means they run our downtown performing arts center on Walnut Street, but it also means they work to fill the facility with occasional performances to supplement the big shows brought to town by Broadway Across America.
The first of those opens tonight, when CAA presents Late Nite Catechism for a two-week run (Oct. 7-19) at the Jarson-Kaplan Theater. This funny one-woman show about a nun preparing adults for the rigors of the Roman Catholic Church has a built-in local appeal, what with the large number of local residents who went to parochial schools where various teachings and behaviors were drilled into them.
When this played in Cincinnati several years ago for a one-week run, people flocked to see it — laughing from start to finish as audience members were chastised, scolded and gently (or firmly) reminded of tenets of belief and proper behavior. There’s lots of audience participation (including rewards in the form of glow-in-the-dark rosaries and other nifty prizes like trading cards depicting various saints); every performance takes on a life of its own because actress Kimberly Richards as “Sister” plays off those present and responds to moments in the theater that are seldom predictable. Get tickets and more info here.
CAA recently announced an extensive lineup of other performances in the next two weeks:
1. Christian musicians Michael W. Smith and Steven Curtis Chapman will offer a one-night program on Oct. 10 in the Procter & Gamble Hall.
2. NBC’s Last Comic Standing Live Tour will provide some laughs from the comedians you saw recently on TV on Oct. 16 in the Procter & Gamble Hall.
More good things are also booked for 2009:
• Lily Tomlin will offer a program of her classic routines on Feb. 6, 2009.
• Neil Berg’s 100 Years of Broadway will offer music from a century of Broadway shows, and is likely to include some musical theater performers with Cincinnati connections. This one is planned for Feb. 20, 2009.
• DrumLine Live! happens on March 16, 2009, featuring thunderous entertainment from the African-American marching band tradition.
• The Afro-Cuban All Stars will show up on March 22, 2009. You might know some of these performers from the wonderful film The Buena Vista Social Club.
• Actor Hal Holbrook has been playing 19th-century American writer Mark Twain for more than 50 years. He’ll bring his act to the Aronoff on May 14, 2009. Holbrook has more than 16 hours of material he’s developed, and he tailors each performance to the moment, often offering comment on current events drawn from Twain’s observations. He’s a treasure of the American theater.
For more information about CAA’s offerings: www.cincinnatiarts.org
— Rick Pender
Right now most theaters are readying shows that will be onstage in early September, so there's not a lot to see around town. But if you're looking for some dramatic entertainment on Sunday evening that will keep you outdoors, I suggest you head to the lawn at the Harry Whiting Brown Community Center in Glendale where Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's "Shakespeare in the Park" makes a stop at 7 p.m. –––
They're offering a stripped-down version of the tragic tale of Romeo and Juliet, using just eight actors (which means several performers play more than one role). You'll see some fine acting and a couple of well-staged fights. It might feel like a "back-to-school" special, what with the poetry and all, but even teens should enjoy the action and big emotions. Best of all, it's free (although your donation to the cause will be appreciated.)
Get details on the CSC web site.