Pop Empire first came together in 2009 as a duo. The group featured Henry Wilson, an audio engineer who worked on video sessions — like the cool one-shot live music video series, The Emery Sessions — with his father, renowned photographer Michael Wilson, and he has also done production and mastering work with Cincinnati acts like Aaron Collins, ADM and Shadowraptr. With Cameron Cochran (currently with The Midwestern Swing), the twosome released an EP and a full-length, 2011’s The Devil’s Party, before parting ways.
But that was far from the end of Pop Empire. Singer/songwriter/bassist Wilson joined forces with guitarist Ryan Back and the pair release the Future Blues LP in 2014, showcasing the strengthening of the Blues-tinged Psych Rock sound for which Pop Empire has become known.
The growth and evolution of Pop Empire continues as the band approaches the May release of a new EP, The Violent Bear It Away (the exact date is TBA). Now a trio with the addition of drummer Jake Langknecht, the group is in peak form, and the new tracks reflect the musical chemistry and potent live energy of the current configuration.
“These songs were written through a collaborative process since we began playing in our current three-piece Garage Punk setup,” Wilson says about the forthcoming EP, which features four tracks and was recorded by Wilson and the band at their Northside practice space.
Here is the premiere of the EP track, “Psyche,” a trippy, glammy strutter that brings to mind a blend of T Rex and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
After The Violent Bear It Away’s release, Pop Empire is planning to support the EP with Midwestern and East Coast touring in June. Hometown fans won’t have to wait that long to see the band. The trio plays Northside Yacht Club on March 12 with locals Orchards, New Jersey’s The Off White and New York’s Psychiatric Metaphors. And on March 22 at Northside’s The Comet, Pop Empire and Us, Today will be the special guests of Dawg Yawp, which is playing the club’s every-Tuesday residency this month.
Keep tabs on Pop Empire’s latest happenings here.
Good morning! Here are the headlines today.
The Ohio primary is less than two weeks away. Are you ready for it? Because it looks like Hamilton County isn't. The Hamilton County Board of Elections is looking for 300 extra poll workers for the election on March 15. This primary is expected to draw in a higher turnout than in previous election due to the increasingly tense bloody battle between Democrats Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton and the six remaining GOP candidates, one of which is Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Elections director Sherry Poland said the extra workers help to cover for any last minute cancellations from other workers. They could also be useful if last-minute issues arise, as they did during the November 2015 election. During the last election, tablets used for check-in malfunctioned, leaving some registered voters off the log. A judge ordered Hamilton County polls to remain open longer causing unexpected extended hours for workers.
• The multi-million dollar transformation of Covington's former city hall into a boutique hotel called Hotel Covington is nearly complete. The building is located on Madison Avenue and was also the former home of Coppin's department store. It is set to open this summer as a 114 room hotel with 4,700 square feet of meeting space, a ballroom, boardroom, library and restaurant. Rooms will feature touches like vintage-style clothing racks instead of an enclosed closet as a nod to the building's previous occupant.
• U.S. News and World Report ranked Cincinnati at number 37 on its list of the top 100 places to live. The magazine creates the list based on the amount of individuals who want to live there, the strength of the job market, the quality of life and the overall value. Cincinnati was the highest ranked Ohio city, beating Columbus (50), Dayton (69) Toledo (75) and rival Cleveland, which barely made the list at number 87.
• The Supreme Court heard the oral arguments yesterday in a major case that could affect Ohio abortion laws. The case is based off of a 2013 Texas law passed by a mostly Republican legislature requiring doctors performing abortions to have hospital admitting privileges and for abortion clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers. Republicans behind the law say its about improving the clinics' health standards. The clinics the are challenging the law say its strict requirements are medically unnecessary and have forced half of the state's abortion clinics to close. The Supreme Court is ruling on whether Texas' requirements violates the ruling from a 1992 case that says states cannot impose medically unnecessary rules imposing an "undue" burden on a women's right to access abortion.
Under Ohio Governor and GOP presidential candidate John Kasich, Ohio has passed similar abortion restrictions that could be overturned by the Supreme Court's ruling expected in June. In 2013, Kasich signed a provision prohibiting clinics requiring to secure patient-transfer agreement with a private hospital no further than 30 miles away. The provision has nearly forced the two last remaining abortion providers in southwest Ohio to lose their licenses, which would make Cincinnati the largest metropolitan area without access to abortion.
An EP can be a risky endeavor for any musician. The shorter run time leaves little room for a filler track; the artist has to make their impression and showcase their style in the span of time it takes for some full-lengths to start stretching their legs. Of course, crafting a journey for the listener is a bit easier when their leader is a scene veteran with a wide array of releases to his name. And that’s exactly what makes Northern Kentucky resident Jimmy Snowden’s new EP, Mandarin, so enjoyable. (In his solo guise, Snowden is billed as simply “Jims.”)
Snowden is a member of Cincinnati-area acts like Smoke Signals… and Sweet Ray Laurel, and each of his projects places a spotlight on his myriad influences, from unpredictable Post Punk to acoustic-guitar-driven Indie Pop. Mandarin’s five tracks are undeniably Snowden’s design, each showing a fragment of his musical sensibilities. As a whole, they coalesce to provide a complete picture of the artist and his broad skill set. Snowden wrote, performed, and recorded the EP entirely on his own, and Mandarin bleeds Snowden’s individual playstyles as a result.
The first track, “Systems,” has an initially startling introduction. The track features vocal loops layered over downplayed percussion and acoustic guitar, which lead to a track that mixes unease and catchy melody in equal measure. It highlights Snowden’s more experimental qualities before allowing the rest of the EP to showcase his more traditional, Indie roots. It may not initially line up with the rest of the EP’s auditory aesthetic, but it’s an important track due to its insight into Snowden’s more forceful proclivities.
What follows are four tracks that thematically fall in line more evenly than what “Systems” initially hints at. “She’s Down” and “Hey Nola” feature driving guitar riffs and unconventional percussion set just under Snowden’s emotive singing voice. Snowden’s layering techniques are in full effect on each track. At times, it sounds like Snowden was running between instruments during recording to give each their own standout moment in the mix. The guitar is the star of the show, with Snowden crafting licks that enter your eardrum, weave into the folds of your brain and take up residence long after the disc has stopped spinning.
On the final tracks, “LOVE” and “ALONE,” Snowden takes his formula and makes subtle shifts to alter the mood and take the listener to a more introspective and thoughtful place. “LOVE” introduces keys at critical points of the song to create an almost mournful tone to the balance of guitar and upbeat percussion. Snowden carries the same feeling into “ALONE” by stripping away almost every layer that he had so carefully constructed on the previous tracks and focusing mainly on his vocals and guitar. What comes out on the other side is an artist laid bare. It’s a song that easily climbs beyond its self-imposed limitations and works as a suitably antithetical bookend with EP opener, “Systems.”
While Mandarin’s run time is a scant 14 minutes, Snowden is able to expose his listeners to the many elements of his musical style that enables him to be a part of so many disparate bands and be successful with all of them. Mandarin is a release that gives new listeners a fantastic introduction to Snowden’s skills. But for those of us who are already aware, it’s a solid reminder of his eclectic talents.
Located in the heart of St. Bernard, My Dad’s Place has everything customers expect from a small town diner — crinkle cut fries, thick and juicy burgers, double decker sandwiches, homemade soups, fluffy pancakes and breakfast all day — on the cheap.
My Dad’s Place started because, well, owner Dave Roll’s father owns the building the restaurant is housed in. The space originally housed Dave’s Pub, but the business was sold after Roll’s son Tyler Rapien was born. After the space fell into disrepair as Boomerang’s Bar and Grill, Roll decided to buy it back and start a family-run restaurant.
“St. Bernard has been needing this for so many years,” Rapien says.
Roll and his son stepped up to fill the void of local restaurants, despite the fact that neither of them have prior restaurant experience. The menu was brought to life by Pam Bishop, the former owner of Pam’s Diner in Colerain (now Frank’s Diner).
Rapien, a senior at Roger Bacon High School, says managing the restaurant comes easy to him because he is a people person. Next year he will continue to manage the restaurant while he attends Northern Kentucky University to study marketing.
If you grew up in St. Bernard like me, or a small neighborhood just like it, you probably have a thing for small diners. While many people from around the neighborhood absolutely love Chili Time (including my grandfather, who ate there almost every day), I am one of the Naridans who is willing to face the look of shock on others’ faces when I say I am not a big fan of that spot.
Thankfully, My Dad’s Place offers traditional comfort food with the same low prices. For only $4.75 you can get a cheeseburger with slices of thick, premium bacon. The burgers are surprisingly thick and filling for how inexpensive they are, and very tasty.
For those who like breakfast, the pancakes are as big as your face, sweet and fluffy. A stack of three with your choice of breakfast meat is $6. My Dad’s Place’s most popular dish is the goetta, egg and cheese hoagy for $4.25. Glier’s goetta, a fried egg and American cheese pack the hoagy bun for a treat that’s appropriate any time of the day. It’s no wonder the sandwich is even popular during dinner hours.
My Dad’s Place also serves Philly cheese steak sandwiches, chicken Phillys and reubens, as well as a variety of salads. In short, there’s something for everyone.
What makes the restaurant unique is the friendly feel customers are greeted with immediately after walking inside. All staff are pleasant and helpful — this is thanks to the fact that the restaurant is family-owned and operated.
“When you walk in here it doesn’t feel like a restaurant to be honest,” Rapien says. “It doesn’t matter where you are from; you are family to us.”
You do not have to be from St. Bernard or missing Pam’s Diner in order to enjoy My Dad’s Place. It is a nice stop for anyone craving comfort food at a great price in a friendly atmosphere.
While My Dad’s Place has only been open for a little more than a month, it has already enticed a string of regulars and a packed house on its first day. This was largely thanks to Rapien’s marketing on Facebook.
“The whole friggin’ town was here,” Roll says. “We had people still waiting for food at 10 even though we closed at 9.”
No worries — I waited less than 20 minutes for the food I ordered. This is quite impressive considering the grill is quite small. Rapien says there are plans to expand the building to make the small kitchen larger in the future.
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.
Two Cincinnati police officers accused of covering up a fellow officer’s auto accident while he was allegedly under the influence appeared in Hamilton County court yesterday. You can see the original CityBeat story here, but the main points: In March 2015, Sgt. Andrew Mitchell crashed his car along West McMicken Street while he was off-duty. Instead of investigating that accident, prosecutors allege responding officer Jason Cotterman drove Mitchell to CPD District 5 headquarters, ignoring a witness who said Mitchell appeared to be under the influence. Prosecutors also allege another officer, Sgt. Richard Sulfsted, oversaw Mitchell’s removal from the scene in an attempt to protect the fellow officer. The trial, overseen by Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Josh Berkowitz, involves charges of dereliction of duty and obstructing justice for Cotterman and Sulfsted. Berkowitz is expected to spend about a week on the trial and will issue a verdict. We’ll continue to update as the case goes on.
• A crowd of more than 100 showed up to Peaslee Neighborhood Center in Over-the-Rhine last night for a wide-ranging discussion from academics, neighborhood residents, housing advocates and others who have lived in, worked in or studied the quickly changing neighborhood. Presenters provided wider historical and political context for recent heated debates about housing prices, displacement of some residents and cultural change in the neighborhood. Some presenters held an activity around a recent housing study that shows that while the neighborhood’s housing has become more economically diverse between 2000 and 2015, 73 percent of the neighborhood’s most affordable rental units became unavailable to low-income renters during that time. You can hear recordings of all the presenters here.
• Just down the street in OTR, the city of Cincinnati held an event at the Woodward Theater discussing possible changes to Liberty Street, which bisects the neighborhood. The road is wide — some crosswalks across it span 70 feet, double the norm in the neighborhood — and has a high traffic volume. That, some say, is impacting the neighborhood’s walkability and keeping its northern section from experiencing development that has taken off in the southern half. The city last night released results of a survey of neighborhood residents, who seem to prefer either two options that would narrow Liberty significantly as well as adding bike lanes and other changes.
• This is cool. A sustainability group and cooperative in Price Hill has plans to open up a new community center, homesteading store and bar to serve as a spot for community-building in the neighborhood. Enright Eco Village has purchased the former Paradise Lounge at West Eighth Street and Enright Avenue in West Price Hill and is currently rehabbing it for its yet-to-be-named store. Organizers of the store hope to host public events there and foresee opening it this summer.
• Well, this is a big one. Or two. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have thrown their endorsements to former Ohio Governor and U.S. Senate hopeful Ted Strickland in his Democratic primary bid to take on incumbent Republican Sen. Rob Portman. The big endorsement comes as Strickland tangles with Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld for the party’s nomination. Strickland is definitely the favorite in the race — he polls well above Sittenfeld and fellow contender Kelli Prather, also of Cincinnati — but that hasn’t stopped Sittenfeld from hitting him hard on gun issues and other concerns. Obama and Biden’s endorsement is a sign that Democrats are doubling down on efforts to re-win control of the Senate in 2016 and see known entities like Strickland as the way to do that.
• OK. Super Tuesday. I’m going to be quick. On the GOP side of the presidential primary election fest that went down yesterday across 11 states, Trump won seven states, walloping rivals U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who won three, and U.S. Sen Marco Rubio, who won one. Ohio Gov. John Kasich and surgeon Ben Carson won… zero. That’s sent election-watchers on both sides of the aisle into all sorts of fits as Trump’s path to the nomination becomes more and more likely. On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton safely coasted past Bernie Sanders, taking seven primary states to his four. You can see the commanding leads the front runners are taking in the delegate counts here.
• Speaking of The Donald, he was in Ohio briefly yesterday for a rally ahead of the state’s March 15 primary. He talked a lot about immigrants and making America great again, both topics he seems to be fixated upon. He didn’t, however,say much at all about Kasich, a sure sign Trump doesn’t see the Ohio guv as much of a threat. Kasich has polled behind Trump among GOP voters in the state and has just 28 delegates so far to Trump’s 285.
Tyler Wolf and Lily Turner, co-founders of Urban Blooms, recently built the largest living wall in Ohio. The two Walnut Hills High School graduates started the nonprofit two years ago and have been amazed with the outpouring of support and interest they have seen from Cincinnati communities thus far. Urban Blooms specializes the design, installation and maintenance of indoor and outdoor living walls — functional vertical gardens — as a source of income for other community sustainability projects. One of the organization’s goals for the year is to build at least six more. The living walls are not only aesthetically beautiful, but also good for the environment — with air-cleaning abilities, they can filter out particulate matter and volatile organic compounds from the air we breathe. Urban Blooms is responsible for the 18-by-8-foot installation at Hyde Park’s E+O Kitchen, and will be exhibiting a living wall at the Cincinnati Flower Show in April.
What makes this nonprofit really special? It’s still in the startup phase. Wolf and Turner have no paid staff and haven’t pulled a salary for themselves yet.
“We are professional volunteers,” Turner says. “When you remove the money factor, you see what you can do, and that’s when the passion really kicks in — and the ambition. It’s fantastic to see, and that’s part of the energy of the startup community.”
The two are committed to their cause and to the city of Cincinnati. “We are not trying to get rich with this,” Wolf says. “We really want to make our city into a more sustainable and community-oriented place that appreciates art, like these living walls. I believe we can turn Cincinnati into the most sustainable city in the country.”
There is an upcoming opportunity to volunteer with Urban Blooms. During the next few weeks, the team will be working to clean out a space in North Avondale to build a community butterfly garden. Any one wanting to help can contact Urban Blooms for details on time and place.
At the beginning of last year, Wolf got involved with the East End Veterans Memorial Garden, located behind Eli’s BBQ. The vets that tend to the garden are part of the drug and alcohol program at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center. “The whole program is based around providing healthy living and learning environments and to teach them sober activities to occupy their time with,” Wolf says. Volunteers are welcome to visit the garden from 9 a.m.-noon Thursday or 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday starting around the first week of April. There is a 52-week curriculum that teaches different gardening techniques that are relevant to the seasons. “In the spring we teach how to get soil ready, starting seeds and transplanting,” Wolf says. “In the summer it’s more about taking care of plants and knowing when its time to pick. In the fall it’s about picking produce, cooking with it and getting the garden ready for the next year.” Urban Blooms is not looking for gardening gurus to get involved with this community project, just volunteers who want to spend some time getting their hands dirty to make a difference in the life of a veteran.
There is another garden near the Cincinnati Zoo where volunteers are welcome to come and help the team prepare the beds to be planted. This community garden has about 12 raised beds and is a traditional community garden where people in the neighborhood take responsibility for their own beds and work through trading with other people utilizing the gardening space. Anyone living in Avondale or Clifton who wants space in the garden can contact Urban Blooms.
Because this organization is so new, they could still use a little help with the business side of things. Anyone willing to contribute time to grant writing, website building or nonprofit administration would be more than appreciated.
Urban Blooms is a young nonprofit, so donations help greatly. Money is always appreciated but there are many other ways to help this growing organization. The team has asked for gardening supplies like soil, seeds and rocks. Donated wood and 55-gallon barrels can be used to make garden beds and planters. One unique donation they are looking for is old jeans — Turner has the interesting idea of turning jeans into cool planters.
Happy Super Tuesday, Cincinnati. Here are your morning headlines.
A shooting at Madison Junior/Senior High School in Butler County yesterday left two teenagers with non-life threatening injuries. According to witnesses, yesterday morning around 11 a.m., freshman James Austin Hancock started firing a gun in the lunchroom. Hancock luckily did not fatally injure anyone and reportedly threw the gun away before deputies arrived and arrested him. He is facing several felony accounts, including attempted murder. The two students who were shot are expected to make a full recovery. The event rocked Madison, a town of 9,000 people where the elementary, middle and high schools are all located next to one another. School officials have cancelled classes for Tuesday.
• As if the chaos in Madison wasn't enough yesterday, another student at nearby Middletown High School was also arrested for bringing a handgun to school. This event was much less dire than the one at Madison. There were no shootings, threats, injuries or big disruptions to the school day, and the student was arrested on unspecified charges. This incident at the high school follows another one earlier this month when a 15-year-old was arrested after officials linked him with a note containing death threats and racial slurs.
• The Cincinnati Veterans Affairs Medical Center has named Dr. Ralph Panos as the new acting chief of staff. Panos, who is the center's chief of medicine, replaces Dr. Barbara Temeck, who was outed from the position from by the feds last Thursday following a Feb. 2016 federal investigation that found her guilty of prescribing medication to another VA employee's family member. Her license does not allow her to prescribe medication privately outside the VA. Temeck remains at the clinic until the Department of Veterans Affairs announces what further action it will take, but she has been taken off of patient care duty and has had a her hospital privileges suspended in the meantime. VA network director Jack Hetrick also submitted his notice of retirement on Feb. 25 after the federal government also recommended he be removed from his position. Temeck was reportedly prescribing Hetrick's wife medication.
• Details about the apartments at the former School of Creative and Performing Arts building are finally out. The Alumni Lofts will hold 142 apartments ranging from 550 to 2,200 square feet in size. Rent will cost between $800 and $1,200 a month. The complex will host an open house from 5 to 7 p.m. on March 16 for anyone curious to see what a school-turned-apartment complex looks like. The event's Facebook page already has one commenter wondering what it would be like to live in her old school building. Leasing will start this month, and new residents will be able to move in this September.
• A new study found Cincinnati's residents receiving rental assistance from HUD to help make their cost of living a little more affordable are still facing economic hurdles in terms of access to transit. The study by the University of Texas and the University of Utah that evaluated more than 18,000 households nationwide on HUD rent subsidies found nearly half these recipients are spending more than 15 percent of their household budgets on transit. Among cities with the highest rate of rental properties receiving federal assistance, Cincinnati ranks 11th highest for transit costs--sandwiched between Cleveland at number 10 and Columbus at number 12. Wonder if that has anything to do with the state of Ohio's incredibly low spending on transit? The study found that residents of more sprawling areas like San Antonio, Houston and Pittsburgh tend to be hit harder with transit costs. HUD generally ranks housing as affordable if rent is less than 30 percent of a household's budget. However, it fails to calculate in transportation costs.
• There's still two weeks to go until Ohio's primary, but local political junkies can get their biggest hit yet as they watch the results of Super Tuesday roll in. Voters in 12 states go to the polls today, and soon we'll see just how concrete Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump's leads are for their parties' nominations. Political analysts are predicting that Trump is expected to win nearly all of the states, possibly only really having to worry about losing Sen. Ted Cruz's home state of Texas. The race between the Democratic contenders Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders should be a little more interesting. Clinton is expected to fare well in the southern states like Georgia, Tennessee and Arkansas with high African-American populations, a group that favors Clinton based on her success in the South Carolina Democratic primary. Sanders will likely have more success in the whiter states of Minnesota, Massachusetts and Vermont, his home state. Either way, as this race gets more intense, so do our candidates and some of the things flying out of their mouths. So pay attention, Ohio!
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For his fifth season in Cincinnati, six of the 10 productions are by women or artists of color. Robison has included a Pulitzer Prize winner, a work by America’s greatest African-American playwright, a couple of classics, two world premieres and some shows that touch on important contemporary issues.
He’s particularly pleased that the shows he’s programmed for the Robert S. Marx Stage “have some degree of name recognition. But the season is not watered down — we haven’t resorted to ‘cotton-candy’ programming. We’re leaning forward and doing some very challenging work, but it has a popular flair. From the beginning I said that I wanted to be sure that our programming was both artistically challenging and hugely popular. That seems like it should be an easy thing, but it’s actually one of the hardest. I think this season has come the closest to that goal.”
The Marx season opens with an adaptation of John Irving’s popular 1989 novel, A Prayer for Owen Meany (Sept. 3-Oct. 1). A work that explores friendship, destiny and faith, it’s a show that Robison staged with memorable success a decade ago at Round House Theatre in Bethesda, Md., where he was artistic director before Cincinnati. “It’s a beautiful, imaginative, resonant story,” he says. “The search for meaning, personal faith and true things, above and beyond organized religion, is interesting to people these days.”
Next will be August Wilson’s Jitney (Oct. 15-Nov. 12), one of the 10 plays in Wilson’s “Century Cycle,” chronicling African-American life during the 20th century. The story of men operating an unlicensed car service in Pittsburgh has never been staged in Cincinnati. Playhouse Associate Artist Timothy Douglas, one of the foremost interpreters of Wilson’s work in America today, will direct it.
Following the 26th annual production of A Christmas Carol, the Playhouse will present Little Shop of Horrors (Jan. 21-Feb. 19), a campy off-Broadway show about a man-eating plant that became a Broadway hit (and a movie) in the 1980s. (The Playhouse produced it in 1987.) “I just love this show.” Robison says. It’s no longer touring, and he promises “a high-level treatment” by guest director Bill Fennelly, who helped make Jersey Boys a hit. “When we did Ring of Fire in 2015,” says Robison, “we discovered that something fun and peppy and innately populist fits in January.”
From populism to the classics is the path he’s taking for the season’s final productions on the mainstage — an adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s romantic novel Jane Eyre (March 11-April 8) and Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery (April 22-May 20). The latter is an amusing adaptation in the same vein as the hilarious production of The 39 Steps, using five actors to play numerous roles and hurtle through a familiar tale.
The Playhouse’s Shelterhouse stage is where more adventurous works are offered. The season kicks off with Ayad Akhtar’s 2013 Pulitzer Prize winning play, Disgraced (Sept. 24-Oct. 23), a dinner party on New York City’s Upper East Side hosted by a Muslim-American attorney with friends and colleagues that melts down around identity, religion and politics. “It’s the Playhouse’s responsibility to ensure that our audiences can enjoy these huge award-winning plays,” Robison explains. “ You don’t have to go to New York or Chicago to see them. It’s going to be fantastic in the Shelterhouse. We’ve intentionally chosen to put this pressure cooker in the Shelterhouse and turn up the heat.”
Every holiday season the Playhouse seeks an alternative to its lovely traditional production of A Christmas Carol. This year’s show should be especially attractive: The Second City’s Holidazed & Confused Revue (Nov. 5-Dec. 31). It promises to be a hilarious evening of its skits that send up Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and everything in between, performed by talent from the legendary Chicago comedy club.
In the New Year, Robison has lined up two more world premieres, again featuring up-and-coming female playwrights. Arlitia Jones’s Summerland (Feb. 4-March 5) is about a “spirit photographer,” inspired by a man who took haunting images of the dead in the era just after the Civil War. That will be followed by Jen Silverman’s All the Roads Home (March 25-April 23), the story of three generations of women and the legacies they inherit across the latter half of the 20th century.
The Shelterhouse season wraps up with a one-woman show, Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End (May 6-June 4), a portrait of the Dayton, Ohio, housewife whose newspaper columns gave voice to ordinary women everywhere. “This show is just an absolute stitch,” says Robison. “It had a very successful run at Arena Stage in Washington last spring, and we got it immediately because of the Ohio connection. It’s the perfect vehicle to send people into summer with a smile.”
As Robison said, it sounds easy to assemble an
artistically challenging and popular season, but it’s truly a tough
task. It would appear that he’s done it for 2016-2017. “I think this
season has come the closest to that goal,” he says.
The box office is the true gauge, but the season certainly looks promising.
Ted Cruz (Republican)
Whether you agree with Ted Cruz’s policy or not, this Texas senator is highly educated — graduating from two Ivy league schools. Cruz graduated cum laude from Princeton University with a B.A. in Public Policy, we went on to graduate magna cum laude from Harvard Law School with a Juris Doctor degree.
Before setting foot in the political arena, Cruz was an adjunct law professor at the University of Texas from 2004 to 2009, teaching U.S. Supreme Court litigation.
What’s up with the campaign?
Cruz has held his head above water, consistently placed as a top-tier candidate in the GOP field. The Texas senator won his first election in 2012, being in Washington just long enough to have some knowledge in policy, but not long enough to be considered an “establishment” candidate by any reasonable margins.
However, in a political field that’s hungry for someone that isn’t politics as usual, Cruz has struggled to make himself stand out compared to Trump — who is about as outside the beltway as you get. In a Trump-less election, Cruz would have likely been seen as the fringe candidate doing a hostile takeover of the GOP.
His ultra-conservative ideology and political resume put him somewhere between Rubio and Trump. With more than $19 million on-hand and a super PAC, Cruz is running a powerful campaign — but it has been hard for him to stand out or propose any attractive proposals other than he isn’t Trump.
Cruz may have won Iowa, but he looks weak moving forward. The path to the White House is narrow for the Texas senator.
Voters might like:
● Cruz is the most conservative candidate. Period. He has earned a 100 percent score from the Heritage Action Scorecard and the American Conservative Union. Glenn Beck also said Cruz is “more conservative than Reagan.”
● There’s no fear from Cruz in fighting the establishment and standing up for his principles. He consistently advocates abolishing the IRS and the Department of Education. We also cannot forget his 21-hour filibuster against Obamacare. During that same filibuster he gave a phenomenal reading of Green Eggs and Ham.
● He speaks to the evangelical crowd — which is a huge voter base in the GOP primary. Cruz has captured the heart of a lot of religious Americans, speaking as a man that lives Christian values.
...but watch out for
● Many view Cruz as more “dangerous” than Trump. This anti-Washington crusader has made a career out of dismantling the government, thus hasn’t made a lot of friends in Congress. He led the government into a shutdown in 2013. Trump has proven he can get independents and Democrats to vote for him, Cruz seemingly only has support from the far-right.
● Cruz is a loud and proud climate change denier, once saying it’s “not science, it’s a religion.” It is difficult to measure whether that is pandering or the Texas senator is being a honest skeptic of science. But when virtually all scientists and governments take climate change seriously and the pentagon considers it a “security threat,” it’s difficult to take skepticism seriously when some of Cruz’s largest donations come from oil companies.
● Cruz really hates government — of course that is a staple for conservatism these days, but he takes the Ronald Reagan rhetoric of “government is the problem” to the max. Cruz is not talking about the Islamic State when he says, “we are facing what I consider to be the epic battle of our generation” — he is talking about Obamacare. Cruz has a true hatred of the federal government, which makes it hard to understand why he wants the highest position in the federal government.
Biggest policy proposal:
Like a lot of conservatives running for the Oval Office, Cruz has proposed a flat tax — yet his is probably the most dramatic of all.
Cruz would replace the income tax with a 10-percent flat tax, abolish corporate tax and all payroll, estate and gift taxes. Some analytics such as the Tax Policy Center find that plan would cost the U.S. about $1 trillion per year for the next decade and lower the GDP 3.6 percent.
Cruz hasn’t been entirely clear on whether or not he would use conventional ground troops in Iraq or Syria to fight the Islamic State. However, it sounds like boots on ground is an option.
"The mission should be defeating ISIS before they succeed in carrying out more horrific acts of terror, before they succeed in murdering Americans. If need be, we should go that step," Cruz said in an interview on This Week with anchor George Stephanopoulos
Cruz has made it clear that the priority
should be arming those already fighting ISIS on the ground such as the Kurdish
fighters in Iraq.
After a nearly four-hour meeting, Cincinnati's Historic Conservation Board adjourned this afternoon without voting on Columbia REI, LLC's application to tear down the historic Dennison building downtown at 716-718 Main St.
That application has caused controversy. Columbia, owned by the powerful Joseph family, says it would be too expensive to save the building and would like to build a headquarters for an as-yet unidentified Fortune 500 company on the site. But preservationists say the building, which was designed by the firm of noted architect Samuel Hannaford, is a vital part of downtown's urban fabric.
Representatives for Columbia and the Joseph family presented their case to five members of the seven-member board. The group called a number of experts they've hired while they've owned the building to give evidence they say shows the building can't be redeveloped in an economically feasible way due to its poor condition and structural attributes.
Most of the presentation restated the key points of this assertion in greater detail, but there was at least one new revelation: how the Cincinnati City Center Development Company, which purchased the building for $1.2 million and then sold it to Columbia for $740,000, recouped money on the deal. Representatives for the Joseph family say the group paid 3CDC further development costs after the initial sale, making up the missing money.
The meeting had its fair share of contention: Columbia's attorney Fran Barrett moved to have Cincinnati Urban Conservator Beth Johnson's testimony stricken from the proceedings. Barrett said that Johnson has shown "extreme prejudice and bias" and that the Josephs "have a stacked deck against us going in" to their demolition application.
Johnson last month wrote a report taking staunch issue with the Josephs' assertion that anything other than demolishing the building would present the company with an economic hardship, pointing out the building's sound structural condition and the fact that studies on the economic feasibility of redevelopment of the building didn't take into account historic state tax credits and other incentives.
Lance Brown, the executive vice president of Beck Consulting, which drew up the economic feasibility report, told the board that no normal type of use — apartments, condos, office space — was feasible for the Dennison. However, when pushed by the board, Brown admitted he wasn't specifically familiar with incentives like state Historic Preservation tax credits, LEED tax credits, or city grants and tax credits that could have made the project more feasible.
Multiple board members also took issue with Brown's use of the term "flophouse" to describe the Dennison's former life as a single room occupancy hotel. Brown cracked that he got his understanding of that term from "extensive research on Wikipedia and Google."
Board member Judith Spraul-Schmidt chided Brown for using the term, saying that such housing was designed to be "decent and safe."
The board will work with attorneys representing the Josephs and opponents of the demolition application to set the next hearing, at which those seeking to save the Dennison will make their case.
The plan would rehabilitate affordable housing at eight sites, many under contracts with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Currently, those sites house 302 units of housing, many of which city officials say are in substandard and neglected condition. The city money would go toward a $135 million effort by developers like Model Group and 3CDC to turn those sites into 304 units of high-quality affordable housing along with 212 market rate units at four of the sites.
Cranley, Vice Mayor David Mann, representatives from Over-the-Rhine Community Housing and developers Model Group and the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation unveiled the proposal today at a news conference outside 1525 Race St., which would see 25 units of affordable housing developed by Model along with 85 market rate units.
“We’re very excited to be here today to celebrate affordable housing and a diverse community in Over-the-Rhine,” said Over-the-Rhine Community Executive Director Mary Burke Rivers. “At its core, affordable housing is a very simple math problem. People who are working in our city, or retired, or veterans, can’t afford what the market provides for housing. It’s gotten very complicated, but at its core it’s a simple math problem. This money addresses that math problem.”
The developments are designed to help the slide in affordable housing the neighborhood has seen in the past decade, Cranley says. Since 2000, 73 percent of OTR’s lowest-cost housing units have left the neighborhood, according to a study by Xavier’s Community Building Institute. That's caused some displacement of residents.
“We’ve seen here in Over-the-Rhine an extraordinary renaissance that was unthinkable five or 10 years ago,” Cranley said at the news conference. “But I think we all believe it should not come at the expense of the people who have lived here a long time. There has always been HUD contracts that have been extended for 15 or 30 years to preserve affordable housing. But it’s not enough, and we’d like to do more. We want to adjust to changing circumstances. We want a healthy community that is mixed income. I think this is a tremendous opportunity to do that.”
Cranley says the financing is general fund money coming from the city’s sale of the Blue Ash Airport and refinancing of some streetcar expenses.
Model Group CEO Bobby Maly says affordable housing and economic development can go hand and hand.
“Investing in affordable housing can also be investing in economic development and revitalization. That means investing in high-quality affordable housing alongside, adjacent to, high-quality market rate housing. It also means investing in affordable housing next to high-investment community projects. Things like Washington Park and other public investments.”
A focus on mixed-income development is the very deliberate focus of the proposal, Mann says.
“It’s no accident that we’re here,” Mann said about the site of the news announcement, a series of empty buildings on Race Street. “Next door, new, market rate condos are being built. As I understand from (3CDC CEO) Mr. (Steve) Leeper, they’ll be $300,000 and up. Here, because of the affordable housing money that the budget will commit to Over-the-Rhine, there will be about 25 renovated units of affordable housing.”
Mann cited statistics that 50 percent of renters in Cincinnati pay more than 30 percent of their incomes for apartments, the threshold for affordability set by the federal government.
“We hope there are ways that the $2 million can be leveraged,” Mann said, to create more opportunities for affordable housing creation. The other $2 million will be dispersed to developers doing low-income housing projects in other parts of the city through an as-yet-to-be-determined process.
The plan would, in some cases, move affordable units to other buildings and create market rate or mixed-income developments in their place.
As and example: Among the sites involved in the OTR plan are the Jan and Senate Apartments, six buildings containing 101 units of subsidized housing, and the so-called Mercy portfolio, which includes 140 units in 18 buildings in OTR for people making less than 60 percent of the area median income — about $71,000 for a family of four. About 70 of those units are in bad shape, developers say, while another 70 need only minor work.
Developers say the Jan and Senate properties are in danger of losing their rental subsidies due to their poor condition and have begun managing the sites and moving tenants to other, nearby affordable units with the help of the Cincinnati Legal Aid Society ahead of rehab work. The HUD contracts held by the Jan and Senate buildings would then be transferred to a number of other affordable housing sites, 3CDC and Model Group say in an outline of their plan provided by city officials. About 45 units of housing at 60 percent of the area median income will stay at the Jan and Senate as part of a mixed-income development.
NEWSkyline: It’s Skyline’s first year at Taste, which seems weird, right? They’ll be serving Greek salads, along with 3-ways, coneys and chilitos, for people who really enjoy the challenge of trying to walk and eat at the same time.
BEST OF TASTE WINNERS (people sampled, voted and these won)
Good morning, Cincy! A lot is happening around the city so let's get straight to the headlines.
• An off-duty Cincinnati police officer fatally shot a man suspected of robbing a Madisonville bank yesterday afternoon. CPD Chief Eliot Isaac confirmed that the still-unnamed CPD officer fired two shots at 20-year-old Terry Frost in the Fifth Third bank off Madison Avenue shortly after 4 p.m. Frost reportedly claimed to have a gun during the robbery, then, after being shot, stumbled off into the woods behind the bank where he was found dead by CPD officers. Police still haven't said whether Frost had a gun or any other weapon. CPD is planning on holding a press conference this morning to reveal the name of the officer. This is the third fatal shooting by a CPD officer this year.
• Mayor John Cranley says he is not OK with the cuts to human services funding in City Manager Harry Black's proposed budget released last week. Cranley told The Enquirer he wants to bring back 82 percent of the $413,500 Black has proposed cutting, amounting to an 8.5 percent decrease. Under Cranley's proposal, human services funding would account for 1.9 percent of the budget. Black's budget dedicates $4 million to five different agencies with the majority of funds going to nonprofit United Way.
• Mayor Cranley appears to be a busy man at the moment. The mayor will also hold a press conference with Vice Mayor David Mann this morning at 10:30 a.m. in Over-The-Rhine to unveil the details of a $135 million initiative to upgrade and add low-income housing to the neighborhood. The effort reportedly will be led by 3CDC and Walnut Hills nonprofit The Model Group.
• The city is taking Mahogany's owner Liz Rogers to court. Rogers received a $300,000 loan from the city in 2012 to open the soul food restaurant, which went under in September 2014. Taxpayers have forgiven Rogers for two-thirds of the loan, but she is refusing to repay the $96,928 she still owes the city. Rogers missed her $800 loan payments in March and April, and the city filed suit on May 11. Vice Mayor Mann said the city was left with "no choice." She is scheduled to appear in court on Aug. 1.
• A bill that would legalize medical marijuana in Ohio in a highly restrictive form is on its way to Gov. John Kasich's desk. The legislation passed the Senate last evening with a margin of just three votes. The bill would still prohibit growing and smoking the plant, but would allow it in a vapor form and would be available for doctors to prescribe to patients with a list of approved medical conditions. The Ohio Department of Commerce would oversee the growth, distribution and testing of the plant. Some Democrats expressed disapproval at the provision that allows employers to fire employees who tested positive for the drug — even if they have a prescription. If Gov. Kasich signs the bill into law, Ohio will become the 25th state to legalize medical marijuana.
Good morning all. Here’s what’s going on in the world today.
The city of Cincinnati has officially announced an opening date for the city’s streetcar. The transit project running through Over-the-Rhine and downtown will take its first passengers Sept. 9, beginning with an opening ceremony at some point mid-day. The project, which has been fraught with political battles and funding concerns, is being financed with increased parking revenues, advertising proceeds and other sources that aren’t part of the city’s general fund budget.
• Mayor John Cranley yesterday rolled out more of his proposals for the city’s budget, which involve some $30 million for neighborhood projects. He spoke at a news conference in Avondale about projects he’d like to see funded in that neighborhood under his proposed fiscal plan, including a renewed Avondale Towne Center with a Save-A-Lot grocery store. Avondale has been trying to get a full-service grocery store since Aldi left the neighborhood about eight years ago. The city would chip in about $2 million to get development started under Cranley’s plan. The mayor did acknowledge that neighborhood activists had hoped for a higher-scale store such as a Kroger but that the Save-A-Lot will be expected to stock fresh produce and other necessities. Cranley yesterday also announced he would provide $3.2 million for a new community development corporation in Bond Hill and Roselawn.
• Cranley is set to pitch another round of investments today in the city’s East Side neighborhoods. He’s also expected to announce that the city will purchase the land necessary to build the Wasson Way bike trail. That $11.8 million, 4.1-mile stretch of former railway is vital to the completion of the trail, which would pass through a number of East Side neighborhoods on its way to Uptown. If the city doesn’t purchase the land by the end of July, the price will jump by nearly $600,000. It’s unclear where the construction money for the project will come from. The city applied for a federal TIGER grant last year to help fund building costs for the bike trail but was turned down.
• Wait. Hold on. Do I agree on something with U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, the tea party crusader from Northern Kentucky? It would… kind of appear so. Massie owes the GOP $24,000 in “party dues,” i.e. money from his fundraising coffers the party expects in order to stay in its good graces. Massie has criticized the practice, which is also used to determine who gets which committee assignment in the House. Particular assignments have particular dollar amounts assigned to them, and the more influential the committee, the more money a House member is expected to kick in. Massie is slamming this system, saying it means the best fundraisers, not the best lawmakers, get oversized influence in the legislative process. In what may be the only example of partisan agreement between a tea party member and the rest of Congress, some Democrats agree with him. I also think it sounds pretty messed up.
• What policies will law enforcement officers and departments have to follow regarding body cameras across Ohio?
Good morning all. Lots to talk about today so let’s get to it!
The 13 children of Samuel DuBose will each receive more than $200,000 as part of a settlement between the family and the University of Cincinnati, a Hamilton County judge ruled yesterday. DuBose was shot and killed by UC police officer Ray Tensing July 19 last year. In addition to the money for his children, DuBose’s mother Audrey DuBose will receive $90,000, his six siblings will receive $32,000 each and his father Sam Johnson will receive $25,000, Judge Ralph Winlker announced yesterday. The settlement, which also includes other elements such as college tuition for DuBose’s children, resolves a civil suit against the university. Criminal proceedings are ongoing against former officer Tensing, who is charged with murder and manslaughter. He’s scheduled to stand trial on those charges in October.
• Cincinnati City Council members are requesting the recently completed audit of the region’s Metropolitan Sewer District ahead of the city's budget process, but City Manager Harry Black says they shouldn't rush. The audit, which resulted from revelations that MSD spent millions on contracts it didn’t properly put through a bidding process, is still with the city’s lawyers in a working draft form, Black says. But with work on the city’s budget looming, council members like Kevin Flynn and Chris Seelbach say the time is now to reveal the results of the audit. Things got testy when Council pushed for more information from the audit at yesterday’s budget and finance committee meeting, with Black resisting requests for that information and Seelbach accusing the city manager of giving him an eye roll. Oh snap.
• Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is at the White House today meeting with Vice President Joe Biden and state and local government officials as part of a discussion on gun violence. Sittenfeld made gun control a big part of his campaign when he was running for Senate against former Ohio governor Ted Strickland. Sittenfeld lost that race but has pledged to continue efforts to curtail shootings. He told WVXU he is there to learn more about strategies for curbing gun violence and that he doesn’t think the invite has anything to do with his former Senate campaign. President Barack Obama and VP Biden endorsed Strickland in that race.
• This is a weird article. Breaking news: The city has a lot of stairs. Some of them are crumbling. More breaking news: The city isn’t exactly rushing to pay to fix them. Thus concludes your breaking news update about something you probably already knew about. The steps are a big part of the city’s walking infrastructure (I take them every day). But they’ve been neglected since, well, probably since people started moving out of the city. The money it would take to fix them is also an infinitesimally small portion of the city’s budget at a time when Mayor John Cranley is discussing throwing $30 million to a few city neighborhoods.
• A federal judge has temporarily blocked an Ohio law that would strip $1.4 million in public money from Planned Parenthood in the state. That money goes to providing health screenings for low-income women, not to providing abortions. The temporary restraining order keeping Ohio from enforcing the law, which passed in February, comes as a larger court fight around the measure continues. You can read more about all of that in our story here.
• Ohio State Auditor Dave Yost yesterday announced the results of surprise headcounts at Ohio charter schools, saying at least some of the schools had very few or no students attending on the days of the unannounced visits. Yost said the extremely low attendance numbers at three charters in the state suggests they might be operating illegally as distance learning schools instead of the brick and mortar schools they’re certified to operate as. It’s the latest revelation in a bad stretch for the state’s charters, which have faced allegations of mismanagement and an Ohio Department of Education data rigging scandal that artificially inflated charter school performance by omitting some low-performing online schools. Yost visited 14 drop-out recovery schools around the state and found an average attendance of just 34 percent.
• The revelations, as well as other frustrations with the state’s public schools, had the auditor spitting hot fire at the ODE yesterday, calling it “among the worst, if not the worst-run agency in state government.” Yost cited poor charter school accountability and performance as well as a slow roll out for ODE’s new data management system as among the sources for his frustration with the agency.
• Finally, more presidential politics, because I know you need more of that in your life. Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump in Ohio, according to the latest polls asking voters about the upcoming general election. But it’s not the blowout you might expect. Clinton’s up 44 percent to Trump’s 39 percent in the Buckeye State — less than her primary opponent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who bests Trump 48 percent to 39 percent in the CBS/YouGov poll. Voters have a pretty negative opinion of both candidates, however — 55 percent view Clinton negatively and 59 percent feel the same about Trump.
That’s it for me. See you tomorrow. Tweet or email in the meantime.
Hey hey Cincinnati. Hope you got outside and soaked up the perfect weather this weekend. Now it’s back to the real world, where news happens.
The directors of every city of Cincinnati department received raises this past year, according to city records reported by The Cincinnati Enquirer. In total, those raises are costing city taxpayers $234,000 more a year. Some of the city’s 25 department heads got those pay bumps despite making few of their stated goals and receiving rather mixed performance reviews. Top salary getters include Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac, whose $162,000 paycheck is 20 percent more than his predecessor Chief Jeffrey Blackwell made. Fire Chief Richard Braun, who is now also making $162,000, saw his pay raised 16 percent. Those raises came during a time when the city projected as much as a $14 million budget deficit. That deficit was cut in half by more recent economic projections, but could still trigger cuts to the city’s human services and economic development efforts, among other services. The city manager’s recently released budget calls for a 1 percent raise for all city employees, and police and fire personnel are negotiating to get a 3 percent bump.
• Speaking of the budget, Mayor John Cranley is set to unveil his ideas for the city’s financial plan today at 11 a.m. at Westwood Town Hall, according to a news release from the mayor's office. On the agenda: $30 million for neighborhood projects in that neighborhood and in places like West Price Hill, North Avondale, Bond Hill and others. City Manager Black released his budget proposal Thursday, and Cranley has two weeks to submit his version to City Council. He’ll be presenting his version of the budget at town halls throughout the week.
• We haven’t even survived 2016 yet, but we’re already talking about the election after it. Last week, we told you about the increasing focus around Cincinnati’s 2017 mayoral and City Council races. Now, after revelations that Councilwoman Yvette Simpson sent out a memo to potential firms that could help her in a bid opposing fellow Dem Cranley, Hamilton County Democratic Party Chair Tim Burke is asking party members to focus on this year’s election. Burke has said it’s too early to focus on next year just yet when there are big races at the county level — most notably a pitched fight for control of the Hamilton County Commission. State Rep. Denise Driehaus is running to grab a seat on that body, and if she pulls out a victory against Republican interim commissioner Dennis Deters, the three-member group that oversees the county could have a Democrat majority for the first time in years. But the call for unity from Burke comes as the party is experiencing tension between two factions in the city: younger, more progressive Dems who tended to support the streetcar and who push for items like increases in human services funding, and more established, moderate Democrats like Mayor Cranley.
• That battle continues to shape up: progressive 2013 City Council candidate Michelle Dillingham is launching her bid for a Council seat in the 2017 election tonight at Bromwell’s Harth-Lounge at 6 p.m. Dillingham came in 12th in that race and hopes to turn support for her from progressives into a Council seat this time around.
• A historic building in Covington will get at least a little more time safe from the wrecking ball. Kenton County Circuit Court Judge Patricia Summe told Bavarian Brewery owners Columbia Sussex that they can’t demolish the 100-year-old building. The structure, which sits in a historic district, once held Jillian’s nightclub. Columbia-Sussex originally wanted to put a casino on the property, but Kentucky legislators have yet to pass a law that would allow that to happen. Now, the company says the only way it can see a return on investment is by demolishing the building. Covington’s Urban Design Review Board previously denied a permit application for that demolition, and Judge Summe’s ruling affirms that position. Columbia-Sussex can appeal her decision, however.
• Finally, University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono made big news over the weekend with his admission that he suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts as a younger man. Ono made the revelation at a fundraiser Saturday for mental health-awareness group 1N5, whose name is a reference to research that shows one in five individuals in the United States suffers from mental illness. Ono said that by talking about his past struggles, he hoped to show that mental illness is treatable and nothing to be ashamed of.
Since last week’s Stage Door I’ve seen several productions that are definitely worth checking out.
Diogenes Theatre Company is presenting Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days at the Aronoff Center’s Fifth Third Bank Theater through Sunday. Don’t ask me to tell you what it’s about — it’s by Beckett, so it’s an absurdist piece that deals with existence, loneliness and happiness.
There are two characters: Winnie talks incessantly, while Willie barely speaks at all. They’re a couple, it seems, but they’re living minimal and seemingly diminishing lives, literally stuck in holes in a vast, arid landscape. Nevertheless, Winnie seems to remain relentlessly optimistic about the future, while Willie doesn’t have much to say but seems weary of it all. It’s one of those works (like Beckett’s Waiting for Godot) that can be interpreted in numerous ways, so I’ll leave that to you. But I will say that it’s a rare opportunity to see an impressive acting performance by Amy Warner, a professional who graced local stages for more than a decade. She now lives in Minnesota with her husband, former Playhouse Associate Artistic Director Michael Evan Haney, who staged this piece. In the show’s shorter second act, she is buried up to her neck — and still presents a compelling performance based almost solely on facial expressions. (Willie is played by Michael Sommers who teaches at the University of Minnesota.) This show won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a fascinating script that will keep you talking with anyone who joins you to a performance. Tickets: 513-621-2787.
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is presenting Antony & Cleopatra, the second installment in its staging of Shakespeare’s Roman plays. It uses many of the same actors in roles established in its recent staging of Julius Caesar (April 8-May 7), most particularly Nick Rose as the ebullient but besotted Roman general Marc Antony. Guest actress Chantal Jean-Pierre is Cleopatra, the object of his obsession. The role is an unusual one for Shakespeare — the Egyptian queen is strong-willed, impulsive and downright willful. Jean-Pierre’s performance put me in mind of Beyoncé, strong and sassy performer who knows how to manipulate her audience. I can’t say her performance struck me as historically accurate, but it has an emotional essence that distills her power over the aging warrior. It’s not the chemistry I expected, but she’s intriguing to watch. Kyle Brumley plays a slightly creepy, slow-mo Emperor Octavius, a reticent but efficient in establishing his power yet drained of passion. Cincy Shakes stages this sweeping story with projected video and animation to depict sea battles and military combat, and that’s a plus for this production. The show is one for completists who want to check it off, but I found it overlong and not always compelling. Through June 4. Tickets: 513-381-2273.
The Cincinnati Playhouse’s staging of Theresa Rebeck’s Bad Dates is an entertaining evening of storytelling by a woman who’s trying to make a go at finding love after a dry spell and at middle age. It’s amusing without being in any way profound, but you’ll like Vivia Font’s charming performance as Haley Walker, a sweet but uninhibited girl next door — at least next door in New York City. This show was an immense hit for the playhouse in 2005, and it seems likely that this revival will pack the Shelterhouse Theatre through June 12. (CityBeat review here.) Tickets: 513-421-3888.
If you’re a musical theater fan and willing to spring for a ticket to the touring production of Cabaret at the Aronoff, you won’t be disappointed. It’s a fittingly slutty interpretation of Kander and Ebb’s powerful piece, and this rendition doesn’t pull its punches when it comes to the sinister undertones of life in Berlin before World War II as the Nazi regime rose to power. The show has great music, but sometimes that takes precedence over the admonitory tale of people unwilling to see what’s right in front of them. The tour features a strong ensemble, especially with 2000 CCM grad Randy Harrison as the sleazy, sinister emcee. He’s so engaged in this role that right after intermission he ad libs his way through a few minutes of audience interaction — spreading the discomfort beyond the stage. Tickets: 513-621-2787.
Quite a few shows are wrapping up runs and seasons this weekend, what with Memorial Day not far behind when Cincinnati theaters tend to slow down. It’s final curtains for Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Swing at the Playhouse, Brigadoon at the Covedale, the truly excellent staging of Violet at Ensemble Theatre, plus Next Fall at Newport’s Falcon Theatre and Catch Me If You Can by Showbiz Players at the Carnegie in Covington.
Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday.