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by Rick Pender 03.22.2013
Posted In: Theater at 07:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
dont cross the streams

Stage Door: Comedy, Conflict and Classics

My schedule hasn't afforded me the time to see the production of Don't Cross the Streams: The Cease and Desist Musical, a show that began its life in the Cincinnati Fringe Festival back in June. (It also was a festival highlight at the IndyFringe in Indianapolis in August.) But the very tongue-in-cheek piece inspired by the film Ghostbusters (but not allowed to say that) has now been expanded into a full-fledged musical that's onstage at Newport's Monmouth Theatre, presented by Falcon Theatre and Hugo West Theatricals. The League of Cincinnati Theatres has termed the show a "recommended production," so it's evident that their judging panel enjoyed it. One panelist called it "a lively, enthusiastic spoof," and another said that the show is "an evening of theater that doesn't take itself too seriously. The show just had a two-weekend run, so it's final performance is Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets: 513-479-6783.

Ensemble Theatre's production of Black Pearl Sings! features one of the finest performances by a local actor that I've seen this season. Torie Wiggins plays a woman in the 1930s who translates her memory of songs from her African ancestors into a ticket out of prison and to some notoriety in New York City. Wiggins nuanced performance is complemented by veteran Annie Fitzpatrick as the folk music researcher who sees Pearl as her own ticket to success. Their tentative relationship becomes a delicately balanced friendship, while both explore issues of racism, sexism and getting ahead. Definitely worth seeing. Through March 31. Box office: 513-421-3555. 

Lizan Mitchell is at the other end of the career spectrum from Wiggins, but she too plays Carrie Watts, a sprightly, elderly African-Amerian woman whose powerful sense of home takes her on an impromptu journey back to her roots in A Trip to Bountiful at the Cincinnati Playhouse. It's laced with sadness, since what she remembers no longer exists, but her memories and her joyful take on life make it all worthwhile, not only for her but for others in her life, including her browbeaten son and his selfish wife as well as a sweet young woman who is Carrie's companion on a long bus ride. Through April 7. Box office: 513-421-3888.

This weekend Cincinnati Shakespeare is opening a production of the much-loved Shakespearean romantic comedy, A Midsummer Night's Dream. It's been transported to 1940s America and set in a Jazz-inspired magical forest, with original musica composed by resident sound designer Doug Borntrager; there's also original choreography by Brittany Kugler. The production is staged by Jeremy Dubin, and features veteran actor Nick Rose in the role of Nick Bottom the Weaver, the guy who makes an ass of himself — literally. It's a tangled, funny story that all works out perfectly in the end. A great show to kick off springtime. Through April 21. Box office: 513-381-2273 x1. 

by Rick Pender 06.23.2013
Posted In: Theater at 11:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
lauren gunderman - playwright of toil & trouble

Know Announces Summer Comedy Opening July 26

Vosmeier to produce second production of Lauren Gunderson’s 'Toil and Trouble'

Eric Vosmeier says he’s stoked by a show he’s just added to Know Theatre’s production schedule for the summer. He’s set to direct a modern take on Shakespeare’s Macbeth called Toil and Trouble. Lauren Gunderson’s play had its world premiere at Impact Theatre in Berkeley, Calif., last November; Know is giving the show its second production, opening July 26 and running through August 24.

Landing it, Vosmeier says, is “another victory for our new schedule model by securing the rights for the first production of this show following its world premiere. We’ve been looking for a strong comedy for quite some time, and I think this fits the bill perfectly. This contemporary retelling of Macbeth is spot on, but with enough twists and turns to keep the audience guessing. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Toil and Trouble is the story of two ambitious guys and a badass lady who decide to fight the recession with dictatorial dreams. Instead of going to grad school like everyone else they know, Adam, Matt and Beth are Bay Area thirtysomethings with too much education and not enough employment. They’re overqualified to work at Borders, and Adam is brimming with ideas — but most of them involve robots.

Thanks to three fortune cookies with some creepy fortunes (remember, Toil and Trouble this is based on Macbeth, which commences with three witches predicting Macbeth’s rise to power), the trio settles for taking over a small island nation off the coast of Chile. The show throws baseball, investors, Wikipedia, hypothetical sex and real violence into one bubbling cauldron. The overlay of Macbeth brings hipster malaise and ridiculous modernity into the mix, demonstrating that hubris, greed, power and passion never go out of style.

Vosmeier has cast Breona Conrad as Beth, Joshua Murphy as Matt and Chris Wesselman as Adam. Conrad and Murphy have been touring for several seasons in Know’s production of the Fringe hit Calculus: The Musical. Vosmeier says, “I’m thrilled to have one more chance to work with Josh and Breona before they leave Cincinnati.”

You can purchase tickets in advance for $15; they’ll be $20 the week of performance, beginning Mondays at noon. (Your best deal is to purchase one of Know’s flex-passes, six tickets for $90. You can use some for Toil and Trouble, and save the rest for future shows.) Info: 513-300-5669.

by Rick Pender 11.30.2011
Posted In: Theater at 06:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
always patsy cline @ cincinnati playhouse - carter calvert - photo sandy underwood

'Patsy Cline' Still Award-Worthy

Costumer is cited for authenticity

Let's give credit where credit is due. The League of Cincinnati Theatres award process moved quickly (if incompletely) on recognizing the Cincinnati Playhouse production of Always … Patsy Cline, which opened just a week ago today. The judging panel singled out costume designer Gordon DeVinney for his work. A panel member commented, “If you look at images of Pasty online, these ‘looks’ are incredibly authentic and evoke her persona in a startling and effective combination of era and personality.” DeVinney is the Playhouse’s costume shop manager; he has designed more than 30 productions for the Playhouse.

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by Rick Pender 08.18.2013
Posted In: Theater at 06:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

A Knowing Season (and More) Is Announced

The pickings have been kind of slim at Know Theatre over the past year. The quality has been high (the staging of When the Rain Stops Falling was one of the best shows onstage locally during 2013, and Mike Bartlett’s Cock offered a showcase of strong acting), but the works have felt few and far between. So today’s announcement from Producing Artistic Director Eric Vosmeier of a full schedule that’s already under way and extends beyond the typical end of the 2013-2014 season is welcome news. Here’s what’s in store following Lauren Gunderson’s Macbeth-inspired comedy Toil and Trouble (presently onstage through Aug. 24):

Bull by Mike Bartlett (Nov. 1-30): Yes, it’s another piece by the playwright of Cock, making Know the first U.S. theater to produce both pieces by the British writer. Both use a stripped-down aesthetic — no props and no scenery make for a lot of onstage intensity regarding characters and their relationships. This one is the story of three mid-level executives who compete for two corporate positions. Brian Robertson, who also staged Cock, returns to direct this one, and George Alexander, one of the four actors in the earlier show, will perform in this one, too.

The Naughty List (Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings, Dec. 1-30): OTRImprov, an improvisational comedy troupe that’s part of Know’s Jackson Street Market, will hold forth in the courtyard at Arnold’s Bar & Grill in downtown Cincinnati for the holidays. Combining long- and short-form improv, the performers will offer a very irreverent take on the holidays — with the help of audience suggestions and participation.

Pluto (Jan. 24-Feb. 22, 2014): Know’s former artistic director Jason Bruffy comes back to town to stage a poignant and evocative new script by Steve Yockey. The production is part of a rolling world premiere through the National New Play Network, and it will feature two excellent local professionals, Annie Fitzpatrick and Tori Wiggins. An ordinary day in a suburban home takes a strange turn following a local tragedy, what with all hell breaking loose. Know’s publicity says the show “explores tragedy, loss and the way love can blind us to the truth.”

TBD (April 4-May 10, 2014): Know is holding a slot for a production to be announced later. You can be sure it will be another script with the ink still drying.

Cincinnati Fringe Festival (May 27-June 7, 2014): The 11th annual Fringe will be back with 12 days of theater, music, dance, film, art — and a lot of stuff in between that kind of defies simple description. Applications for performers will be accepted starting Sept. 1, 2013 (through Dec. 6). Info: www.cincyfringe.com.

Moby Dick (Fall 2014): Playwright Julian Rad adapted Herman Melville’s great American novel for an Off-Off-Broadway production in 2003. Michael Burnham, recently retired from a long career as a professor of drama at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music, will co-direct the show with designer Andrew Hungerford. The tale of revenge and obsession with Captain Ahab pursuing the great white whale that maimed him has been stripped to its essence for what promises to be a highly theatrical endeavor that uses sea chanteys and creative staging.

In addition to these full-scale productions, Know has announced several Fringe “encores,” the return of shows that were hits during the festival’s 10th iteration back in June. Jon Kovach will repeat his powerful one-man show based on Ron Jones’ The Wave (Aug. 26-27); comedian/storyteller/singer Kevin Thornton will present Stairway to Kevin (Sept. 6 and 13); and Paul Strickland’s one-man trailer park fairytale comedy, Ain’t True and Uncle False (Oct. 11-12).

Tickets for the full-productions are $15 in advance, and $20 the week of the performance; Fringe “encore” tickets are $12. Know offers sets of six-show flex passes for $90 that do not expire. They can be exchanged for tickets for any of these productions. For more information: 513-300-5669 or www.knowtheatre.com.

by Rick Pender 02.15.2013
Posted In: Theater at 10:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
onstage 2-20 - when the rain stops falling (know) cast at table - photo deogracias lerma

Stage Door: Stop Waffling

If you're waffling between whether to go to the theater or do something else this weekend, let me help you decide: You should get a ticket to see When the Rain Stops Falling at Know Theatre. It's running through March 16, but it's going to be an in-demand ticket soon: I gave it a Critic's Pick in CityBeat (review here), the League of Cincinnati Theatres bestowed eight nominations on it (I believe that's the most they've given to any production this season), and everyone I've talked to has been breathless in their praise of the script, the cast, the design — well, the entire production.

Andrew Bovell's play bounces around in time between 1959 and 2039 and between the histories of four generations of two families. That might sound a bit complicated or confusing, but it's not: There are parallels and intersections that slowly make sense, and the play uses language and imagery to bring the stories together into a coherent narrative by play's end.

Two characters are played by two different actresses, representing younger and older incarnations of these unusual women: One is an intellectual in her early years, but becomes emotionally distant due to a personal trauma; the other is a free-spirited young woman whose life turns dramatically and becomes an older woman with fragmented memories and a tenuous grip on the present. The stories are about fathers and sons, parents and children, and how actions by one generation reverberate down the line. Bovell's script reinforces these echoes with lines and artifacts that recur in different contexts. It's a brilliant piece of writing, and director Brian Phillips (he's artistic director at Cincinnati Shakespeare) uses movement and scene intersections to tell the story with nine actors (four from his Cincy Shakes company). The LCT recognition singled out three performers, but I'd suggest that the show is powerful because the entire ensemble is operating in a powerful, parallel manner. You don't want to miss this one. Box office: 513-300-5669

On Thursday evening I attended Leveling Up at the Cincinnati Playhouse, a world premiere by Deborah Zoe Laufer. It's an insightful slice of contemporary life, three young men and a girlfriend who are obsessed with video gaming, stalled in their post-college lives. They spend 20 hours a day online, and their social skills (if they had them previously) have deteriorated amid the rubble of a basement game room in Las Vegas.

Laufer's script will leave you feeling like you've eavesdropped on real life (in fact, they're already playing when you enter the Shelterhouse Theatre — although the "screen" they watch is the theater's invisible fourth wall: They are staring forward at the central audience section and their attention never wavers, even when they're having distracted conversations about life. The divide between their world and being "IRL" ("in real life" as they shorthand it) increasingly and distressingly — and sometimes comically — blurs. Laufer's metaphor about "leveling up" in games and its parallel to stepping up to levels of maturity gives the show meaning and depth. The young cast are entertaining and convincing. I know this show will appeal to young audiences, but I heard many in the audience after the 90-minute performance who were impressed with the story and what it tells us about society today. It's worth noting that this weekend the Cincinnati Playhouse has two world premieres on its stages, which Abigail/1702 (review here) on its mainstage. Box office: 513-421-3888.

Opening tonight is a production of Dangerous Liaisons at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. It's Christopher Hampton's stage play that inspired the 1988 film many will recall featuring Glenn Close and John Malkovich as manipulative French nobility who play games with young innocents (including Michelle Pfeiffer). For CSC, the cast includes two popular performers from the past: Giles Davies as the Vicomte de Valmont and Corinne Mohlenhoff as the Marquise de Merteuil, the scheming pair who put devious plots in motion. This promises to be a delicious drama. Box office: 513-381-2273 x1. 

by Rick Pender 02.10.2012
Posted In: Theater at 11:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: More Great Theater

On Thursday evening I was that the Cincinnati Playhouse for the opening of Speaking in Tongues. If you like heady, noir-ish drama with flashes of sardonic humor, this is the show for you. Andrew Bovell’s 1996 script uses four actors to play nine characters whose lives intersect and diverge and reconnect in ways that you have to pay attention to if you want to get the story. This is not a sit-back-and-relax kind of play, but rather one you’ll be trying to follow the narratives, which are neither linear nor chronological. But they are certainly fascinating. The cast includes two of Cincinnati’s best local professional actors, Bruce Cromer and Amy Warner, and two others who have delivered memorable Playhouse performances, R. Ward Duffy and Henny Russell (who happen to be husband and wife). In fact, Warner is married to director Michael Evan Haney, so this show about deceitful relationships and the importance of trust and faith must have made for an intriguing rehearsal process. Be prepared to think hard if you go to see this one on the Shelterhouse stage. 513-421-3888.

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by 08.31.2009
Posted In: Theater at 04:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Theater CEAs a Big Hit Last Night

The 13th annual Cincinnati Entertainment Awards for Theater were handed out last night in a loose, fun event at Below Zero Lounge in Over-the-Rhine. Amazingly, 11 different local theater organizations took home a trophy: Cincinnati Playhouse, Ensemble Theatre, Cincinnati Shakespeare, Know Theatre, College-Conservatory of Music, New Stage Collective, New Edgecliff Theatre, Cincinnati Music Theatre, Footlighters, Covedale Center for the Performing Arts and Artemis Exchange for a production at the 2009 Cincy Fringe Festival.

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by Rick Pender 10.21.2008
Posted In: Theater at 06:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Planting the Seeds of New Musicals

When you see a show like Emma, the Jane Austen musical recently presented at the Cincinnati Playhouse (pictured), do you ever wonder where it came from? If you paid attention to some of the Playhouse’s publicity, you might know it premiered at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto, Calif., where it was a big box-office hit. In fact, the theater’s artistic director Robert Kelley, who staged the original, and several cast members from the original production came together again in Cincinnati for the Playhouse production.

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by Rick Pender 02.08.2013
Posted In: Visual Art, Theater, Arts community at 08:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: Something Old, Something New

A new round of shows comes your way this weekend (while several good ones remain onstage, including Freud's Last Session at Ensemble Theatre and Abigail/1702 at the Cincinnati Playhouse). Here are a few choices that are just opening:

Know Theatre is finally getting around to its first full-fledged production of the season, Andrew Bovell's award-winning drama, When the Rain Stops Falling. (The playwright's Speaking in Tongues was a much admired production at the Cincinnati Playhouse a year ago.) An intricate fabric of overlapping connections, Bovell's 2010 script moves seamlessly through time and across continents between the years of 1959 and 2039. In a world where the rain rarely stops falling, four generations of a family search for truth and hope to mend broken connections. What they discover is the impossibility of escaping the past. The production should be all the more interesting since it's being directed by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's Brian Isaac Phillips and features a cast of nine excellent actors, four of whom are CSC regulars. It will be onstage through March 16. Box office: 513-300-5669.

To see another award winner, you need to head up I-75 to Dayton where the Human Race Theatre Company is offering the regional premiere of Eric Simonson's bio-play, Lombardi. Set in 1965, it's a portrait of the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers through the eyes of a young reporter assigned to follow the sports icon, a man full of passion and drive without equal. The show had a recent run on Broadway, and I expect it will attract an audience not normally drawn to the theater. Through Feb. 24. Box office: 937-228-6830

Falcon Theater, which presents its shows in the tiny Monmouth Theatre in Newport, is staging the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning play Doubt, a success on Broadway, at the Cincinnati Playhouse, and on movie screens. It's the provocative story of a starchy nun who thinks it's possible that a priest has abused one of her students. Although she's not sure, her accusations have dire ramifications. Through Feb. 23. Box office: 513-479-6783

Finally, a blast from the past at UC's College-Conservatory of Music: William Saroyan's The Time of Your Life. Set in October 1939 in a run-down waterfront dive bar on the docks of San Francisco, the script is full of colorful, eccentric characters and portrays the love and follies of human nature. It's being staged by veteran faculty member Diane Kvapil with a cast of 29. This production has a short run (one weekend, wrapping up with a performance in Patricia Corbett Theatre on Sunday at 2 p.m.) Box office: 513-556-4183

by Rick Pender 02.07.2014
Posted In: Theater at 10:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Stage Door: Choices Galore

Last evening I went to see Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses at UC's College-Conservatory of Music. You can read more about playwright Zimmerman in my column in this week's issue here, and you'll probably figure out that this is one of my favorite scripts. CCM's drama program has created a shimmering, playful production that's getting a brief run (final performance is a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday) at Patricia Corbett Theatre.

Guest director D. Lynn Meyers took a break from Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati to travel up the hill and stage this one on the UC campus, and her cast of 18 student performers wholly embraced this unusual show — which requires a pool of water as its central design feature. (Water plays a significant and meaningful role in the retelling of a set of classical myths shaped and recorded by Ovid two millennia ago.) But Dana Hall's scenic design doesn't stop with water; it's elemental, with immense hanging slabs of stone that resonate with the decorative concrete slabs in PCT. Wes Richter's lighting — it really does shimmer — enhances the stories of characters changed by circumstances, good intentions and bad decisions, and Kevin Semancik's sound design brings vivid punctuation to many stories, including a destructive storm at sea.

Speaking of sound, cellist Jacob Yates, a senior at CCM, composed moody accompaniment that distills the moving emotional essence of each scene; he performs live from stage left as the tales unfold. Amanda Kai Newman's costume designs complete the visual power of the show, whether they are fluttering around the edge of the pool or from a high balcony upstage from which the gods watch and control the mortals — and even when they are sopping wet from action in the variable-depth pool. Much of the action is beautifully choreographed and delivered with confident physicality. All in all, CCM's Metamorphoses is a total theatrical package that's definitely worth seeing. Tickets are likely available if you call quickly: 513-556-4183..

If you want a two-fer featuring shows staged by D. Lynn Meyers, you can catch her production of Tribes back at her ETC home base. (CityBeat review here.) Nina Raine's script focuses on two young adults who come from different "tribes," families with distinctively separate approaches to deafness. Billy's family wants to approximate normalcy by teaching him to lip read, while Sylvia's parents, both deaf, have used signing. Now that she's going deaf herself and has befriended Billy, these practices are at odds. But this is also a show about family dynamics, love and acceptance — something everyone can relate to. Billy's family is boisterous and rude, behaviors that often exclude him. Sylvia's gentle, thoughtful manner is both solace and revelation to him. Actors Dale Dymkoski and Kelly Mengelkoch (familiar to Cincinnati Shakespeare audiences; she's a company member there) are simply excellent in these two roles, and the balance of the cast creates real, human characters. Tribes has been extended to Feb. 22, a week beyond its announced closing, to accommodate ticket demand. Tickets: 513-421-3555.

Other productions worth checking out this weekend are Seminar by Falcon Theater at Newport's Monmouth Theater, a play by Cincinnatian Theresa Rebeck about a writing class with a tyrannical teacher (CityBeat review here; tickets: 513-479-6783); Bruce Norris's Pulitzer Prize-winning Clybourne Park, revealing how attitudes about race and class haven't evolved all that much in 50 years, at Cincinnati Playhouse (CityBeat review here; tickets: 513-421-3888); and Steve Yockey's absurdist drama Pluto at Know Theatre, an inventively told story of contemporary grief (CityBeat review here; tickets: 513-300-5669).