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.
Lyle Benjamin has been on and off a lot of local stages with his company Queen City Off-Broadway. He's been dormant for a few seasons, but he's back with a slightly new name — it's now called Queen City Theater — and a couple of mid-summer productions using the black box theater at the new School for Creative and Performing Arts (108 West Central Pkwy., Over-the-Rhine) as his venue. Tonight is the opening performance of The Amish Project by Jessica Dickey.
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.
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.
Well, the erratic LCT awards got this one right — even if the announcement arrives almost two weeks after the brief run of Oklahoma! at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music. (Nov. 17-20). Three performers and the show’s director and choreographer have been cited by a judging panel from the League of Cincinnati Theatres. The recreation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s trend-setting musical from 1943 is certainly one of the best productions I’ve seen all season. It marshaled the forces of 35 and an orchestra of more than 40 musicians. It’s not likely that you’ll see such a production anywhere but at a school like CCM
Professor of Musical Theatre Diana Lala, the show’s director and choreographer, was recognized with an LCT award for the show’s outstanding choreography. LCT panelists praised the quality and quantity of dancing, based on Agnes DeMille’s legendary work for the original 1943 Broadway production, as well as its “flawless” execution.
Three student performers were cited for their contributions to the show. Senior John Riddle from Vermillion, Ohio, was awarded for his performance as a leading actor, playing the cowboy Curly McLain. Senior Julia Johanos from Louisville, Colorado, was similarly recognized as a leading actress in a musical for playing Laurey Williams, the object of Curly’s romantic attention. One LCT judge said the leads “knocked this one out of the park with depth, musical talent and romantic chemistry.” Senior Eric Huffman from Lenexa, Kansas, played cowboy Will Parker, a featured role for which LCT recognized him as a “confident dancer, good singer and truly gifted actor.”
More information about the League can be found at www.leagueofcincytheatres.info.
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
Sometimes there are just too many theater events in town to feature every one of them in print. But let me bring to your attention one that's happening for just three days, Oct 23-25.
Showbiz Players, which usually offers larger musical theater productions is undertaking a piece that's more like a musical cabaret, A … My Name Is Alice, a work conceived in 1983 by Joan Micklin Silver and Julianne Boyd. This show combines the talents of numerous composers, lyricists and writers to create a work with 20 songs and sketches performed by five women who represent a broad spectrum of femininity.
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.
If you're looking to get revved up for Halloween, I can think of no better choice than heading to Cincinnati Shakespeare Company this weekend for Giles Davies' first performance of Poe, a compilation of creepy stories from the master of the macabre.