Lots of plays not previously seen in Cincinnati are good theater choices this weekend:
If I could charter a bus and offer you transportation to Louisville over the next few days to see a production at Actors Theatre, I'd happily do so. I made the drive to see a Sunday matinee of Gilbert & Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance, "reimagined by The Hypocrites." This zany group of theater artists from Chicago have found contemporary ways to inject new energy into traditional works from Shakespeare to Golden Age musicals. And that's what they've done with Pirates, a show that was a silly musical hit in the 1880s on both sides of the Atlantic.
I caught the opening night of the Cincinnati Playhouse's production of Clybourne Park
last night. The play won the theater triple crown: Tony for best play
on Broadway, Olivier for best play in London, and the 2011 Pulitzer
Prize for drama. It's being staged by a lot of big theaters this season,
but you need go no farther than Mount Adams to see what all the fuss is
about. And there is a ton of fussing in Bruce Norris's script. He took
his inspiration from the events of Lorraine Hansberry's historic 1959
play A Raisin in the Sun, the story of a black family seeking to improve its lot by buying a home — in a previously all-white neighborhood. Clybourne Park's
first act looks at the same events from the neighborhood's perspective;
Act II jumps ahead 50 years to the same neighborhood, deteriorated but
coming back. Curiously enough — or is it predictably? — many of the
stresses and strains have only moved from one set of people to another.
Norris's clever script subtly presents parallels and contrasts, with
some humor and some pathos, and a sardonic sense that human nature is
what it is. The Playhouse does a great job with a cast that plays
different roles (some slightly connected from past to present) and a
revolving set that recreates the house at 406 Clybourne in Chicago in
1959 and 2009. This production will spur lots of thoughtful and spirited
conversation. Onstage through Feb. 16. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
Pluto at Know Theatre is being staged by former artistic director Jason Bruffy. Steve Yockey's unusual script blurs the line between real life and mythology, as weird events materialize in a suburban kitchen, what with a talking three-headed dog and other unusual phenomena getting in the way of necessary dialogue between a mom and her sullen son. It opens tonight and runs through Feb. 22. Tickets: 513-300-5669.
Last weekend I drove out through Mariemont to the Walton Creek Playhouse where Mariemont Players has assembled a thoroughly enjoyable production of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music, a show once described as "whipped cream with knives." The theater, an old schoolhouse, has an intimate performing space, a perfect setting for this tale of mixed-up couples in early-20th-century Sweden. The show, simply and effectively staged by Skip Fenker, revolves around a free-spirited but aging actress who eventually sings "Send in the Clowns," Sondheim's best-known tune. The Sunday matinee I attended was all but sold out, so you should call in advance for a reservation: 513-684-1236. Onstage through Jan. 26.
If you're looking for some outstanding acting, you should definitely head to Cincinnati Shakespeare and watch Brent Vimtrup play the title role in Hamlet. He plays the role of the indecisive Prince of Denmark, pointed toward vengeance but filled with doubt. Vimtrup uses an expressive physicality and natural insight that makes long-familiar speeches ("To be or not to be," "What a rogue and peasant slave am I" and more) feel fresh and new. He's onstage for most of the three-and-a-half hour production, a highly watchable marathon. Tickets: 513-381-2273 x 1. Through Jan. 26.
Truth to tell, midnight has already passed and Victorian adventurer Phileas Fogg thinks he's missed the deadline for getting "around the world in 80 days." But his faithful servant Passepartout (played with manic energy by the always amusing Michael G. Bath) saves the day by sorting out travel across time zones. Your deadline has not quite passed, since Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati's inventive staging of a musical version of Jules Verne's classic Around the World in 80 Days continues through a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday. (CityBeat review here.) If football and cold weather aren't your preferences, maybe you should head to the Over-the-Rhine theater for a final volley of holiday entertainment. Tickets: 513-421-3555.
At the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park you'll find the traditional Christmas favorite A Christmas Carol as well as The Complete History of Comedy (abridged) onstage through Sunday. It feels a bit odd to be watching Scrooge and the ghosts after Christmas Day, but the Playhouse's rendition is such a lovely show and Bruce Cromer's portrait of the old miser is so entertaining that you'll be charmed, I'm sure. And the Reduced Shakespeare guys doing the "comedy" piece know how to evoke laughter from the making of jokes in ways you haven't imagined. They're the guys who originated this amusing formula with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), and they're making it work with this world premiere production. It's a nice bit of entertainment for a weekend between the holidays. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
Holiday themed laughs are being served up at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company through Sunday, too, with their eighth annual presentation of Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some). No Shakespeare in evidence (although they're performing on the gussied-up set that was built for the previous production, Twelfth Night) but four of CSC's best comic talents are mashing up every imaginable tale you might think of that has a holiday connection — Charlie Brown, Charles Dickens, Rudolph, the Nutcracker, It's a Wonderful Life and many more. They'll have you laughing from start to finish, especially if you make a stop by the bar in the lobby beforehand. Not for the kids, but a lot of fun for anyone with an adolescent sense of humor. Tickets: 513-381-2273 x 1.
If you want a nice outing for the kids, I recommend Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati's holiday show, Around the World in 80 Days. Jules Verne's adventure classic about a hectic circumnavigation of the globe in 1899 has been musicalized and condensed in a way that children will enjoy it — but there's enough humor and talent onstage to keep adults entertained, too. ETC'S production actually runs through the weekend after New Year's Day, but if the kids are restless and you want to entertain them with live theater, this is a great choice. Tickets: 513-421-3555.
It's the final weekend for most holiday shows, and there are lots of good choices. I'm ranking today's listings according to the laugh-o-meter, starting with the most hilarious:
It's Friday the 13th, but if you're in the mood for holiday shows, this is your lucky weekend. Just about every theater in town has something onstage aimed at getting you into the Christmas spirit, making you laugh, diverting you from the stress of being cheerful or just poking fun at the ways of the world (at least the world of commercialism we see in America today).
Perhaps you've already done your annual brush-up on Dickens' A Christmas Carol
at the Playhouse (another fine production, now in its 23rd season with
Bruce Cromer back as Scrooge and a new interpretation of Bob Cratchit,
featuring the very angular Ryan Wesley Gilreath, who seems to be all
arms and legs and stringy hair — very Dickensian) or the musical version
being presented by Covedale Center. With the story of Scrooge's dark
night of the soul fresh in mind, perhaps you're ready for A Klingon Christmas Carol,
presented by Hugo West Theatricals at the Art Academy of Cincinnati
(1212 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine). This is a newish theater group that
knows its way around satirical work (their Don't Cross the Streams, a goofy derivative of Ghostbusters,
was a popular piece in the 2012 Fringe festival), they are giving this
unusual piece its local premiere. (It's been staged in Chicago and
Minneapolis.) It's actually a rather faithful retelling of the story
with SQuja' (Donald Volpenheim), a cowardly, money-grubbing member of
Star Trek's warrior race, taking the place of Scrooge.
It's presented by a deadpan Vulcan narrator (Lauren Carr) who positions the work as the "original" of the tale. Klingons don't celebrate Christmas, but they are bound by traditions, the greatest of them being the "Feast of the Long Night." The 70-minute piece closely matches with Scrooge's story, but it's all through a Klingon filter — lots of angry outbursts and hearty laughter, grunting, growling, drinking and chest-thumping by characters with wrinkled foreheads, bushy eyebrows and fierce demeanors. Eileen Earnest handles timHom (a Muppet-like equivalent for Tiny Tim), son of Quachit (David Dreith), whose training as a warrior is being neglected because of greedy SQuja'. If you've never yearned for a visit to Qo'noS, the Klingon homeworld, you might find this production a bit impenetrable since it's performed in the guttural Klingon language, but there are projected subtitles that add humor to the action. This won't be a show for everyone, but if you're a Star Trek fan, you'll have a good time. Tickets ($20 at the door or here).
OK, the holidays are officially here. If you have any strength left after shopping last night and all day today, there are numerous theatrical offerings to consider.
The theater season takes a bit of a pause around Thanksgiving, since many companies are readying holiday productions. But there are plenty of choices available this weekend.
I'm not the only one who enjoyed the laugh-fest that is The Complete History of Comedy (abridged) at the Cincinnati Playhouse. I've heard numerous people who saw it say they were recommending it to others. In two hours the Reduced Shakespeare Company puts forth more humor than you can shake a stick at. (But be careful shaking sticks. You might get a pie in the face.) No matter your tastes in comedy — witty, loud or rude and crude — you'll find it in this production. How about Abe Lincoln as a deadpan rapper? This could be a good outing this weekend or a lot of fun for out-of-town guests who descend on you next week. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
Tonight is an opening at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, the very frothy comedy Twelfth Night. (It's subtitle is "or What You Will," indicating that it's a lot of foolishness, which is an apt description.) In fact, Twelfth Night is a beautiful piece with clever situations, amusing characters, a bit of intrigue and a lot of mistaken identities. And several of the most laughable characters Shakespeare ever created, from the bombastic Malvolio to his persecutor Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, plus the best of all Shakespeare's fools, Feste. It's a safe bet that this is a production that even those who fear Shakespeare will truly enjoy. Tickets: 513-381-2273 x 1.
If you're more into storefront theater, you might check out the current production by Untethered Theater at Clifton Performance Theatre on Ludlow, just east of the business district. It's a tiny space (only 50 seats), but that makes it all the more interesting. The current production is Wendy Macleod's The House of Yes, a very dark comedy about a weirdly dysfunctional family. The story focuses happens while there's a Thanksgiving hurricane outside, so it's timely, too. Performances Friday and Saturday (through Dec. 7). Go here for tickets.
This is the last weekend for Boeing Boeing, a crazy farce about a guy juggling three fiancees who happen to be flight attendants. It's at the Carnegie, featuring performers from the drama program at UC's College-Conservatory of Music. Tickets: 859-957-1940.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.