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by Rick Pender 02.24.2012
Posted In: Theater at 11:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: Sondheim at CCM; Broadway 2012-13

A lot of Stephen Sondheim’s shows are kind of heady, but Into the Woods — an intersection of a bunch of fairytale characters — is perhaps the most approachable and especially when it’s given the kind of colorful, overflowing with talent treatment that you’ll find for the next two weekends at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music (that’s longer than usual, but tickets will still be in short supply, I suspect). Act I is about “happily every after,” while Act II explores what comes next. Twenty years ago, when an endowed chair in musical theater (the first in the nation) was established at CCM, professor and director Aubrey Berg staged the show; to honor the gift of Patricia Corbett, he’s mounting a new production at the theater named in her honor. I thought last fall’s Oklahoma at CCM was a wonderful production, but this one, which I saw open on Thursday evening, is even better, with an incredible array of talent and wildly inventive staging. Tickets: 513-556-4183.

A year ago Cincinnati Shakespeare had a big hit with a stage adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. Looks like they’ve done it again with another adaptation of the 19th-century novelists Sense & Sensibility. This time it’s the sisters Dashwood, one rational and one emotional. The roles are wonderfully played by Kelly Mengelkoch (as the reserved, reasonable Elinor) and Sara Clark (as the willful and romantic Marianne), and they’re surrounded by delightfully drawn supporting characters — and a story of romance and domestic intrigue. I gave the production a Critic’s Pick. I’m told that several performances are already sold out (it’s onstage through March 18), so if you hope to see this one, you should line your tickets up right away. Tickets: 513-381-2273.

In case you wanted a short course in shows by Sondheim, the next few weeks is your big opportunity. In addition to Into the Woods at CCM, you can catch the touring production of West Side Story at the Aronoff (it opens a two-week run on Tuesday), a show that Sondheim wrote the lyrics for when he was 26 (he’s about to turn 82). And a week from now, the Cincinnati Playhouse will start previews of Merrily We Roll Along, a show from 1981 that was a flop at first, but now is praised as one of his greatest musical accomplishments. It’s about the joys and frustrations of success from the perspective of people involved in creating musical theater. It will be on the Marx Stage through March 31.

Andrew Bovell’s Speaking in Tongues is a complicated noir-ish tale of marital deceit and cryptic crime that unfolds more clearly because of its accomplished four-actor cast, including local professionals Bruce Cromer (who’s played roles as varied as Ebenezer Scrooge for the Playhouse to King Lear for Cincinnati Shakespeare) and Amy Warner (a regular at Ensemble Theatre and Cincinnati Shakespeare). The show is a fascinating piece of theater that takes work to watch, follow and absorb. I suppose that some casual theatergoers will be put off by it, but if you like challenging drama and multi-layered acting, you’ll leave the theater with their gears spinning. I gave Speaking in Tongues a Critic’s Pick. Through March 4. Box office: 513-421-3888.

Know Theater’s “comedy of anxiety” by Allison Moore, Collapse, opens with the collapse of a highway bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. But it’s about all kinds of things falling down — the economy, relationships. This is the kind of edgy script Know Theatre is known for, funny but meaningful. I gave the production a Critic’s Pick because it combines heart and humor. Collapse is presented with comic finesse and fine acting, especially by local professional actress Annie Fitzpatrick. Know’s best work of the season. Through March 3. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

Planning for next season? Check out my blog from last Sunday about what Broadway in Cincinnati will be presenting, including the zany Blue Man Group.

Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.

by Rick Pender 01.30.2015
Posted In: Theater at 09:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
etc the other place - photo ryan kurtz

Stage Door: Women in Distress on Local Stages This Weekend

Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati continues its hot streak of well-cast and engaging scripts with Sharr White's The Other Place, the story of a brilliant but abrasive woman who is losing her grip. Regina Pugh is excellent in this moving and sometimes funny production, ably supported by Michael G. Bath as her perplexed husband, and with two performers usually seen at Cincinnati Shakespeare, Kelly Mengelkoch and Billy Chace, in an array of supporting roles. This is a drama that keeps you guessing as to what's the truth behind the story that's unfolding. When it all comes together, the revelation is devastating. Definitely worth seeing. Box office: 513-421-3555.

Another powerful piece of theater is onstage at Know Theatre, where another Cincy Shakes regular is featured in the one-woman adaptation of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. The script feels a tad long, but it's such a pleasure to watch Corinne Mohlenhoff as Offred — and a half-dozen other distinct characters — that all you can do is marvel at her skill in presenting them, not to mention in memorizing more than two hours of text. This frightening dystopian tale of America's possible future staged by Brian Phillips (Cincy Shakes artistic director and Mohlenhoff's husband) on a very effective set designed designed by Andrew Hungerford (Know's artistic director) is definitely worth seeing. Box office: 513-300-5669.

Other productions worth seeing on local stages: A collection of Johnny Cash tunes in Ring of Fire at the Cincinnati Playhouse (CityBeat interview here), the humorous Greater Tuna at Covedale (CityBeat review here) and a compelling staging of Samuel Beckett's breathtaking piece of absurdity, Waiting for Godot, at Cincy Shakes (CityBeat review here).

Get ready for more fun at Know Theatre with the kick-off of the second season of Serials!, this one subtitled "Thunderdome." Starting Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. (and continuing at two-week intervals through the end of March) will be five 15-minute pieces intended to be episodically developed. But this time, two will be voted off each week by the audience, to be replaced by two new works the next time around. Sounds like fun, and if this repeats the success of last summer's inaugural event, it's a chance to see local actors and writers at work. Box office: 513-300-5669.

Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
by Rick Pender 03.13.2009
Posted In: Theater at 10:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: Don't Be Afraid of Friday the 13th

There's nothing unlucky about Friday the 13th in the theater world. (Theater folks have enough other superstitions anyway.) So you have lots of excellent choices this weekend, from the very funny The Foreigner at the Playhouse (just opened) to the satiric Timon of Athens at Cincinnati Shakespeare (see review here).

If you want a heavy-duty drama, try Bent at New Stage Collective (it's about the mistreatment of gays in Nazi concentration camps; see my review here). And if you want to see some of the talent that keeps spilling out of UC's College-Conservatory of Music, I recommend that you stop by the Over-the-Rhine nightclub Below Zero tonight after 10 p.m.

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by Steven Rosen 06.03.2011
Posted In: Visual Art at 11:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Cincy Art Museum Curator Wins AAMC Award

In the Association of Art Museum Curators' recent Annual Awards for Excellence (for the calendar year 2010), Benedict Leca — curator of European Painting and Sculpture at Cincinnati Art Museum — won first place in the Outstanding Article, Essay or Extended Catalogue Entry category for his "A Favorite Among the Demireps" article for the museum's Thomas Gainsborough and the Modern Woman exhibition. He also organized the show.

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by Rick Pender 05.27.2011
Posted In: Theater at 12:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: Get Ready for Fringe

OK, so it's Memorial Day weekend, and theater-going might not be what you have in mind. How about this? If you're heading downtown for the feeding frenzy at Taste of Cincinnati (and what true Cincinnatian isn't?), you can take a quick side trip to Jackson Street in Over-the-Rhine to pick up some tickets or a pass for the eighth annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival. It's the perfect time to find your way to Know Theatre (1120 Jackson, right next to the Gateway Garage), which is Fringe headquarters.

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by Steven Rosen 10.16.2012
Posted In: Visual Art, COMMUNITY at 09:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Finding the FotoFocus Art that Transcends Categories

After the second full week of FotoFocus, I’ve begun to realize that there are way more shows and events out there than one person can get to. (Or, if you do get to them all, to remember what you’ve seen.) It’s also clear that you can begin to roughly pair into categories the kinds of shows that are out there — art photography and photojournalism, still photography and video, portraiture and everything else, contemporary work and vintage (or historic).

And then there are those that touch numerous bases — either because that’s what the artists intended or because time has changed the meaning or our appreciation of the work. In the former category, and so far the work that towers over everything else I’ve seen, is Doug and Mike Starn’s Gravity of Light in the decommissioned Holy Cross Church at Mount Adams Monastery. This installation prominently uses photographs without letting them define what its purpose or meaning is about. I’ve written about it previously and may do so again, so powerful is it. It’s up through year’s end, and I hope everyone realizes how important an artwork it is and goes to see it. Go here for details.

But two other very different exhibits deserve mention in this regard, too. On the second floor of the Emery Theatre, through the end of the month, is an exhibit of estate-authorized prints — from the original glass-plate negatives — of the mysterious Mike Disfarmer’s Depression-era portraits of residents of the small Arkansas town of Heber Springs. Here is work that, whatever its original intention, contemporary thought has turned into art photography.

It can be discussed and debated whether Disfarmer, who died in 1959) was engaged in what he thought was a commercial venture or whether he was after something else… his own quest for an artful statement. But the work today is important as something other than straight photo-documentation, though it is that. The photographs are haunting missives from the place Greil Marcus called “the old, weird America” — a spiritual zone, a cosmic baptismal font, from where much of our contemporary culture can trace its origins.

Disfarmer was born Mike Meyers, but seems to have chosen “disfarmer” as a statement that he didn’t want to fit into the agricultural lifestyle of his hometown. He taught himself photography and built a studio, first on his mother’s back porch and then in the heart of town. According to the Disfarmer website, he obsessed over getting the right light — one wonders what his subjects, for whom time was money, thought as the minutes ticked on.

But they came, sometimes dressed in their best and sometimes dressed in the best they had. What resulted — and we are fortunate his work has been preserved, which itself was a struggle — is a different take on Depression Era poverty than the federal Farm Security Administration photos. Taken by outsiders, those placed — with warmth and humanity — their subjects in their surrounding hardscrabble environment. They have a sociological dimension.

But these remove their subjects from their environment and seem psychological. In a photograph like “First Born,” you have to wonder if Disfarmer ever told his subjects to say “cheese.” The young father, dressed up nicely and wearing a hat, has a proud but slightly furtive gaze that renders his emotions somewhat inscrutable. He sits, holding a child whose face is almost pouting and whose staring eyes are disturbing. The two look apprehensive, either about the photograph or about what life has in store for them. If Disfarmer was after that effect, maybe he was some kind of prophet.

By the way, I’m not sure how many people know this exhibit is here. FotoFocus literature didn’t list it as an ongoing show, but rather a part of a one-day event – last week’s Emery concert by guitarist Bill Frisell/858 Quartet of his composition Musical Portraits from Heber Springs. But the Emery is keeping it up through the month. To see it, e-mail info@emerytheatre.com with your phone number and times you’re available, or call 513-262-8242.

Another show that crosses boundaries in interesting ways is Santeri Tuori’s The Forest project at University of Cincinnati’s Phillip M. Meyers Jr. Memorial Gallery (for hours, go here). Tuori is from Finland — a welcome international addition to FotoFocus — and this show was curated by Judith Turner-Yamamoto, a FotoFocus staffer, with assistance from the Finnish consulate.

The artist spent five years observing — in film and still photographs — the effect of light, seasonal change and weather on a remote, pristine, Finnish island. In “Forest (Tree and Pond),” his work is condensed via editing into a relatively tight time span and projected onto a gray-painted section of a gallery wall. While it looks like we are a watching a specific spot on the island change over the seasons, I’m told it’s a composite. (I find that remarkable.) Tuori has created this slightly wavering mirage of an image to show how art can turn what we think of as mundane into something momentous. He has photographed elusive “change.”

I appreciate the thoughtfulness and hard work of this effort — which is accompanied by a soundscape by Mikko Hynninen — but did find the slight blurriness of the piece distracting. I preferred the three smaller-scale pieces in the gallery’s other room. Here, video images of trees are projected onto, and over, black-and-white photographs of similar trees, providing a three-dimensional effect — a ghostly sense of movement. That happens even though, unlike “Tree and Pond,” these works are not out to simulate an evolving time span.

Photography, like all art, isn’t meant to stand still. Tuori is at the forefront of finding new ways to show that.

Watch for Contributing Visual Art Editor Steven Rosen’s FotoFocus blog postings all month. Contact him at srosen@citybeat.com.

by Rick Pender 08.29.2011
Posted In: Theater at 10:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

'Fricative' Making Noise at Indy Fringe

If another Cincinnati theater critic actually attended the Cincinnati Fringe, she might know that Performance Gallery’s fricative was not a production from “last year’s” Fringe, as she posted recently in her blog. It was, in fact, three years ago when it won a 2008 Cincinnati Entertainment Award for Best Alternative Theatre Performance.

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by Julie Mullins 09.15.2012
Posted In: Dance at 03:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Cincinnati Ballet's 'New Works' Opens with Emotion

Contemporary new work's moments of stillness and quiet grab you and draw you in

The intense energy between Principal dancers Cervilio Amador and Janessa Touchet is so palpable you can feel it — even when their hands aren’t touching.

Their expressive duet in Heather Britt’s world premier “Opus 5.5” provided an inviting opening to Cincinnati Ballet’s annual Kaplan New Works season opener last Thursday evening.

The production offers a rare chance to see dance up close, as it takes place in the company’s home performance studio at the Cincinnati Ballet Center.

There’s nothing like watching live performance, but there’s something even more exciting and visceral about seeing the dancers glowing and their muscles flexing.

Full of emotion, Britt’s sweeping contemporary new work has the dancers really moving all over: across the stage in sculptural lifts, through the air in expansive leaps and extravagant extensions. But it’s really the rare moments of stillness and quiet that grab you and draw you in closer.

New Works’ stock in trade has always been pushing stylistic boundaries.

“It’s our R&D,” says Cincinnati Ballet CEO/Artistic Director Victoria Morgan. “We need to scare ourselves, to try things we’ve never done before.”

But this year is noteworthy for another reason: For the first time, all of the choreographers featured are female.

Dance-wise, the women also stand out in the spotlight this year more than usual. Though, as always, there are plenty of equally fine turns by the men as well.

Paige Cunningham Caldarella’s “Without Consideration,” the program’s most offbeat piece, presents a topsy-turvy look at social media and its pleasures and pitfalls.

Its five short sections comprise a modern dance piece cut with classical ballet. It’s by turns satirical, ominous and oddly compelling.

Clad in a lime green tee-shirt and a short, ruffled floral skirt, Corps de Ballet dancer Courtney Hellebuyck shines in her solo.

She attacks each movement with ferocious intensity. Her dramatic facial expressions and stage presence are spellbinding. She and the other four dancers appear equally comfortable switching between styles — instant, by instant — in this mash-up of ballet and modern. The women even manage to perform modern floor drops in pointe shoes.

A physical wall (think social media) covered in paper provides the backdrop and set piece. The dancers write on it, hurl themselves against it, and press into it. They connect and disconnect, or nearly connect with each other. But at times, they just miss, undulating away from each other. Individual gestures are repeated, such as one’s own hand suddenly turning the head and face away in a slo-mo sideways “slap.” It seems to suggest the struggle to turn one’s attention away from staying online all day.

Amy Seiwert, San Francisco-based Resident Choreographer for Smuin Ballet (where she was also a longtime dancer), has created a thoroughly delightful getaway world in her world premier modern ballet ,“Think of You Often.”

The weather is balmy. The light-colored clothing, designed by the Cincinnati Ballet Wardrobe Department, is carefree and casual. The women collectively become an ocean tide, even in their pointe shoes. Its feel-good soundtrack, music by the Swedish group Koop, delivers effusive swing and a touch of Latin flair.

Principal dancer Sarah Hairston warmly embraces her role, full of flirtation and feline sassiness. First two, then four men lift and sway her — and no doubt cater to her every need.

But don’t let the piece’s escapist playfulness belie its underlying choreographic sophistication. The partnering throughout is highly complex, original, and technically demanding.

In a most striking duet, Zach Grubbs and Jacqueline Damico make the most intricate sequences look as easy and natural as an ocean breeze.

Jessica Lang’s contemporary neoclassical work “La Belle Danse” (2007) presents a slightly quirky court dance of sorts. Set to a score of the likes of Handel and Mozart, it’s the sole work here that the Ballet has presented previously, in 2009.

It’s the most classical piece on the program — relatively speaking — yet unexpectedly it marks the only one where the women wear soft shoes.

Displaying a very different, more sacred type of passion in this role’s solo, Hairston demonstrates her versatility as  dancer, and a performer.

The large cast brims over with expressive dancing, filled with plenty of leaps, turns, waltzing… and conducting gestures.

Amador and Touchet rapid-fire their way through pirouettes and petit allegro galore. Although their style here sharply contrasts their opening duet, this superb pairing brings this production — one of the best New Works in recent years — full circle.

by 12.29.2008
Posted In: Visual Art at 02:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Buried Under the Museum Center's Green Roof

Today, the Enquirer posted a story about the Cincinnati Museum Center considering the addition of a 11,200-square-foot green roof system, which is an awesome prospect. The roof would be covered with plants, could last longer than a normal roof, and would better deal with storm run-off.  Not only that, but it would double the amount of green roof space in the city. 

But buried at the bottom of this article is mention of another part of the issue.  "The other components of the center's project - funded by a $2.4 million local tax levy, the city of Cincinnati, the state and a National Parks Service program called Save America's Treasures - include restoring long-unused dining rooms and exterior repairs," the article states.

It's the National Parks Service program that I think deserves a little more attention.  Frankly, it seems amazing, not only for what it has done for the country, but for what it has done for Cincinnati.

Save America's Treasures (SAT) was started in 1998 and has the directive of "protected America's threatened cultural treasures," like a governmental, art-saving Boondock Saint.  Actually a daughter organization of both the National Parks Service and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, it has completed more than 850 projects since its creation with what seems like a focus on architecture.

In Cincinnati alone, the SAT in 2003 granted $199,000 in 2003 to the Majestic Theater, $250,000 to the Cincinnati Union Terminal, $150,000 to The Showboat Majestic.  And in 2005, they granted $135,250 to restore Joan Miro and Saul Steinberg Murals from Terrace Plaza Hotel and get them on display at the Cincinnati Art Museum.

This 11 x 75 ft mural by New Yorker artist Saul Steinberg is one of the only murals he made.

What other badass art has the SAT helped saved, you might ask. Well, how about the Palace Theatre in Columbus. Not a theater buff, what about the The New York Philharmonic Leonard Bernstein Collection. Still not impressed, what about the Moundville Archaeological Park in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Oh, you're more into recent history, they gave$295,586 to the USS Joseph P. Kennedy in Massachusetts. Maybe you just like to party, in 2006 Gadsby's Tavern in Alexandria, Virginia got about $50,000 . And my personal favorite, in 1999 they granted $331,000 to save the Anti-Slavery Pamphlet Collection in Ithaca, New York.

The collections of dances, photographs and other documents that have been touched by Saving America's Treasures is astounding, not to mention the dozen of courthouse they've helped to restore across the country.

Just check them out. Our government isn't complete screwed up all the time.

by Rick Pender 09.07.2012
Posted In: Theater at 11:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
good people @ etc - annie fitzpatrick, kate wilford & deb g. girdler - photo ryan kurtz

Stage Door: 'Good People' and 'The Three Musketeers'

After a long hot summer (well, it's still feeling like a long hot summer), we have a full array of shows onstage in Cincinnati for you to choose among. I've seen two of them so far: Good People at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati and The Three Musketeers at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.

ETC's production of Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire's 2011 piece (this is the regional premiere of Good People, which was nominated for a Tony a year ago) about a woman who falls off the bottom of the employment ladder has enough humor to be entertaining (especially with Annie Fitzpatrick in the central role of Margie and Kate Wilford and Deb Girdler as her gossipy friends and bingo-night comrades) and enough contemporary relevance to be thought-provoking. ETC's D. Lynn Meyers is at her best staging naturalistic shows with social meaning, and that's exactly what this one offers. It has a great cast and flexible, attractive scenic design by the ever-creative Brian c. Mehring. I gave it a Critic's Pick. Through Sept. 23. Review here. Box office: 513-421-3555.

I wanted to love The Three Musketeers at the Playhouse (through Sept. 29), but its balance of humor and heart is out of whack to my tastes. There's lots of adventure, hilarity and laughter — especially some no-holds-barred swordplay — but the show tries to hard to entertain that it misses out on the true emotion that should lie beneath. I suspect many people will love this thrill-a-minute tale of political intrigue and valor, loyalty and royalty in 17th-century France, and perhaps it will evolve to deeper feelings as it runs. I love new Artistic Director Blake Robison's desire to put appealing, family-friendly work onstage, and he's using this production to show what he means. I hope his approach gets a tad more texture and depth as his tenure continues. Review here. Box office: 513-421-3888.

I haven't yet seen To Kill a Mockingbird at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, and their publicity says it's already sold out its first-two weekends. So you might want to put that one on your calendar for sometime before it wraps up (Sept. 30). In the meantime, you might want to head to Washington Park on Sunday evening at 7 p.m. for a special free presentation of CSC's touring production of The Tempest. It's a perfect piece for outdoor performance, set on an island with a sorcerer and his lovely daughter and some shipwrecked nobles who are responsible for his exile. Audience participation will be a key component of this event, with the audience asked to create large-scale effects by blowing bubbles, making waves with silk and generating sound effects. Sounds like great fun. Music (by The Young Heirlooms) begins at 6 p.m. This is a good one to bring kids to see.

Also off and running this weekend is Cincinnati Landmark's production of Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. It's a classic drama of sexual tension and family strife, a bit heavier fare than is usually found at the Covedale Center. It's a sign of the company's ambition to be a full-fledged theater offering a wide range of material. (Through Sept. 30.) Box office: 513-241-6550.