I admit that I occasionally watch the popular TV series Glee with some mixed feelings: The musical theater side of me loves it, the serious theater nut thinks it's too shallow for words. But the world seems more in the former camp than the latter, and that's led to a new social phenomena — "Glee Parties," which are popping up around the country, including one right here in Cincinnati.
After a long hot summer (well, it's still feeling like a long hot summer), we have a full array of shows onstage in Cincinnati for you to choose among. I've seen two of them so far: Good People at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati and The Three Musketeers at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.
ETC's production of Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire's 2011 piece (this is the regional premiere of Good People, which was nominated for a Tony a year ago) about a woman who falls off the bottom of the employment ladder has enough humor to be entertaining (especially with Annie Fitzpatrick in the central role of Margie and Kate Wilford and Deb Girdler as her gossipy friends and bingo-night comrades) and enough contemporary relevance to be thought-provoking. ETC's D. Lynn Meyers is at her best staging naturalistic shows with social meaning, and that's exactly what this one offers. It has a great cast and flexible, attractive scenic design by the ever-creative Brian c. Mehring. I gave it a Critic's Pick. Through Sept. 23. Review here. Box office: 513-421-3555.
I wanted to love The Three Musketeers at the Playhouse (through Sept. 29), but its balance of humor and heart is out of whack to my tastes. There's lots of adventure, hilarity and laughter — especially some no-holds-barred swordplay — but the show tries to hard to entertain that it misses out on the true emotion that should lie beneath. I suspect many people will love this thrill-a-minute tale of political intrigue and valor, loyalty and royalty in 17th-century France, and perhaps it will evolve to deeper feelings as it runs. I love new Artistic Director Blake Robison's desire to put appealing, family-friendly work onstage, and he's using this production to show what he means. I hope his approach gets a tad more texture and depth as his tenure continues. Review here. Box office: 513-421-3888.
I haven't yet seen To Kill a Mockingbird at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, and their publicity says it's already sold out its first-two weekends. So you might want to put that one on your calendar for sometime before it wraps up (Sept. 30). In the meantime, you might want to head to Washington Park on Sunday evening at 7 p.m. for a special free presentation of CSC's touring production of The Tempest. It's a perfect piece for outdoor performance, set on an island with a sorcerer and his lovely daughter and some shipwrecked nobles who are responsible for his exile. Audience participation will be a key component of this event, with the audience asked to create large-scale effects by blowing bubbles, making waves with silk and generating sound effects. Sounds like great fun. Music (by The Young Heirlooms) begins at 6 p.m. This is a good one to bring kids to see.
Also off and running this weekend is Cincinnati Landmark's production of Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. It's a classic drama of sexual tension and family strife, a bit heavier fare than is usually found at the Covedale Center. It's a sign of the company's ambition to be a full-fledged theater offering a wide range of material. (Through Sept. 30.) Box office: 513-241-6550.
Despite the 100-plus heat on Friday evening, on my way to a
World Choir Games concert at Over-the-Rhine's School for Creative and
Performing Arts (SCPA) I took an extra half-hour to wander through the
renovated Washington Park, which officially opened earlier in the day.
What an incredible scene! Hundreds of operagoers were streaming through
the park on their way to see Porgy and Bess at Music Hall, while
kids from the neighborhood — young and old, I must add — were playing in
the people-friendly fountain. Everyone was strolling around admiring
the views and the colorful "OTR Flags," another festive element of the
On from there to SCPA's Corbett Theater for another sold-out "Celebration Concert." This one used the theme "Voices of Gold," because each of the three choirs have won multiple honors in past World Choir Games and other choral competitions. SCPA seemed like the perfect setting, since each group was made up of youthful performers: Zvonky Praha is a school group from a school in Prague in the Czech Republic and some of its singers were obviously elementary school age kids; SKH Lam Woo Memorial Secondary School were high schoolers; and the Mansfield University Concert Choir was a mixed choir of young adults from the university in Pennsylvania. It's fascinating to observe the differing personalities of the choirs, here a product of age but also of directors with very different styles of leading the singing.
Zvonky Praha begain with its 19-member chamber component, separately named "Abbellimento," all high school age girls clad in black pants and shirts, with scarlet sashes, some worn as belts, others as scarves and one as a head band. Their female voices were reedy but strong for their program, virtually all sung in Czech, so I can't tell you much of what the music was about. But I can say it was delivered with passion and clarity, accompanied in most cases by a blonde-haired pianist who played with expressive emotion. Several numbers were enhanced by one of the singers picking up a clarinet and offering soulful punctuation. When the balance of the choir came on to join Abbellimento, the numbers were roughly doubled, but again almost all girls wearing red choir capes. (There were two young boys, but I suspect their voices had not yet changed, and the feminine quality of the singing did not change.) Director Jamila Noveknová kept the ensemble in tight control, but for several final numbers had some soloists step forward, including one of the younger performers with a gorgeous soprano voice. Their final number, a choral replication of bells, was especially memorable.
Lam Woo's director, Siu Mei Lee, is a petite, beautiful woman with shining, black hair. She conducted with the expressive grace of a ballerina, using large gestures and physical movement to inspire her very focused choristers. This was a big group, roughly 80 singers, wearing school uniforms: The boys had white shirts with a school emblem and ties while girls wore knee-length pale blue dresses with white "sailor" collars and white knee socks. This group were serious in their demeanor, totally focused on their animated director. Their wide ranging program encompassed works by Mendelssohn as well as Asian composers; their concluding number, "Zum Gali," was a rhythmic traditional number from Israel that swung between soft and loud passages and up and down energy, but with a beautiful fading elevation of tone as its conclusion. The intense singers maintained their demeanor as the audience gave them a standing ovation, but when a little boy entered from the wings to hand a bouquet to Siu Mei Lee, the entire chorus burst into applause. Their affection for her was evident.
Peggy Dettwiler is clearly a veteran conductor (she teaches the craft to others at Mansfield University) and her work with her more mature singers was the most satisfying component of the evening. A balanced choir of about 60, the men wore traditional tuxedoes and black ties, while the women were attired in floor-length gowns all cut the same way. (The women also wore identical sparkling necklaces and earrings.) According to the introductions made for this group, their repertoire is generally drawn from religious works, but that did not mean it was a lot of the same thing: They offered a beautiful piece with German lyrics and music by Mendelssohn, followed by a solemn, stately song by Stephen Paulus, "The Old Church." Next was a traditional Gospel number, "Hold On!," delivered with relaxed energy. For a traditional Appalachian hymn, "Every Night When the Sun Goes Down," the group formed an unorthodox circle around Dettwiler, who conducted the entire program without music from a small, square platform about six-inches in height. That meant that some had their backs to the audience, but at one key moment, they turned toward us, which elevated not only their volume but the intensity of their heartfelt performance. Their finale, "Pal-so seong," was a humorous number in which various solo singers burst into giggles, hoots and chortles, culminating in gales of laughter — a truly unusual piece. The group's encore, an infectious "Alleluia," had them file up the aisles at Corbett Theater, surrounding the audience with joyous song. It was a perfect conclusion to the varied program.
Know Theatre has announced the 2012 Cincinnati Fringe Festival, kicking off May 29 and continuing through June 9. Festivities begin with the official CityBeat Fringe Kick-Off Party on May 29 at 6 p.m. (A suggested donation of $5 gets you in.) During the Festivals’ two-week run, 29 productions will receive multiple performances. Some shows are locally originated (14) and others are by touring artists (15) who travel to festivals around the United States. If everything selected actually happens (that’s seldom the case), there will be 10 plays, nine solo shows, four dance works and six multimedia/variety pieces.
Several award-winning groups popular with past Fringe audiences are set to return. One of the most popular performers from 2011, Kevin J. Thornton — his I Love You (We’re Fucked) had a sold-out run and returned for another stint last October — is back with Strange Dreamz. Thornton has appeared in the Capital Fringe, Indy Fringe, NYC Frigid Festival, Tucson Fringe Festival, Phoenix Fringe Festival, Orlando Fringe Festival, Kansas City Fringe Festival, and the Minnesota Fringe Festival.
Four Humors Theater from the Twin Cities is back for the fifth consecutive year, this time presenting Bombus and Berrylinne, or the Bumblebee and the Hummingbird. The group has previously produced Mortem Capiendum (Producer’s Pick of the Fringe, 2008), April Fools (2009), and Harold (Critic’s Pick of the Fringe, 2010) and the hilarious James Bond-inspired puppet show You Only Live Forever Once (2011).
The longevity honors will continue to be held by Cincinnati Fringe veteran group Performance Gallery, returning for their ninth year with Rodney Rumple's Random Reality. Past Cincinnati Fringe appearances include Images of a Beating Heart (2004), The Killer Whispers and Prays (2005), Godsplay (2006), Girlfight (2007), Fricative (2008), KAZ/m (2009), The Council (2010) and The Body Speaks (2011). Brad Cupples, the playwright for Performance Gallery’s 2010 entry, returns with Third Quarter Moon: A Complex Derivative Love Story.
We’ll see shows from established local companies, including Quake: A Love Story from New Edgecliff Theatre (they presented Darker in 2011) and Don't Cross The Streams: The Cease and Desist Musical, a stage musical from Covington’s Carnegie Visual & Performing Arts Center.
Two new local companies will present for the first time. Homegrown Theatre, led by local actress Leah Strasser will present an absurdist piece, The Doppelganger Cometh and Overtaketh, while Essex Theatre Arts Studio, founded by actors Bob Allen and Elizabeth Harris, will stage Love Knots, a series of shorts plays about love and romance by local playwright Phil Paradis.
There will be plenty of new acts, including Grim & Fisher (the award-winning A deathly comedy in full-face mask) from Portland, Ore., and Rebecca King (Storms Beneath Her Skin), a transgender artist from Chicago. New York artist Tanya O’Debra’s Radio Star has won awards in San Francisco, Montreal and New York City.
There will be dance performances by Houston-based dance company Psophonia (Delicious) and two local groups, MamLuft&Co.’s (Latitude) and Pones, Inc. (Project Activate). The latter is a collaborative and participatory performance that asks “How do you activate Cincinnati?” It’s the product of five local service organizations with 12 professional artists from a variety of disciplines.
Each evening after performances, artists, audience members, staff, and volunteers gather at Know Theatre’s Underground bar for the Fringe Bar Series featuring the “Channel Fringe Hard Hitting Action News Update.” Events there include Fringe previews, Fringe Olympics, Fringe-e-Oke, Fringe Prom, and the 22.5 hour play project.
This year marks the second year of FringeNext, offering three shows created and performed by high school students. Two are originating from the School for Creative and Performing Arts; the third is from Lakota West High School.
Individual tickets to shows are still $12. “Full Frontal” passes are $200, providing access to every event in the festival. “Flexible Voyeur” six-show passes are on sale for $60, the price equivalent of five tickets. “One Night Stand” passes are $35; that’s good for one weeknight (as many as three shows) and a drink at Know Theatre's Bar. Pre-sale single tickets will go on sale mid-May.
For more information about the performances or to purchase passes, check out www.cincyfringe.com or call (513) 300-KNOW (5669).
Each week in Stage Door I offer theater tips for the weekend, sometimes with a few pieces of theater news.
The Whipping Man opened on Wednesday at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati. The show made a big splash at Manhattan Theatre Club in New York last spring with Andre Braugher in the central role of Simon, a dedicated former slave who remains in a ruined mansion in 1865 Richmond in the days just after the Civil War. Caleb, the wounded son of his former master stumbles in (desperately needing some horrendous surgery) and then John, another former slave, a young man raised side by side with Caleb. The slave-owning family was Jewish, and it’s almost time for Passover, which they decide to celebrate. It’s a powerful show about freedom and responsibility with some jaw-dropping plot twists. Director D. Lynn Meyers gets the most from her cast. This one is a must-see. Onstage through Feb. 12.
Students at the Cincinnati Arts & Technology Center (CATC) had a productive summer of paint-slinging as they created a mural of local scenes for display at the bigg’s store in Florence, Ky. The mural is the 10th in a series of 11 murals being painted by the students for the supermarket chain in the Tristate area under the guidance of CATC instructor Mike McGuire.
A bunch of classic characters will be showing up at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company to entertain us for the 2012-2013 theater season, announced today: Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson; Atticus Finch; Romeo and Juliet; Lady Bracknell; Nick Bottom and Puck. Oh, and a few kings and generals — Richard II and the bloody Titus Andronicus — plus a hearty dose of laughs with reprises of Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!) and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). Here’s the rundown:
All rooms were jam-packed with people in imaginative costumes, and in the ballroom the DAAP Girls (outfitted for the night as the DAAP Witches) belted out a funky, soulful, garage-rock version of “Ghostbusters” far better than the cutesy original.
Best of all, for those who remember coughing and hacking their way through the old Southgate House, the place was non-smoking for this event and had signs up everywhere to enforce that. If it can keep up the pleasant smoke-free environment, Thompson House might just become the nightclub that counts in Greater Cincinnati. Still not sure if that will make me turn out for the upcoming Dying Fetus/Malignancy concert, but the place is definitely back on my radar.
Carnevil’s turnout also proved that FotoFocus, as an event, was on people’s radar. There had been some questioning of that earlier in the week, after moderate turnouts for two appearances by nationally significant photographers at Cincinnati Art Museum’s Fath Auditorium.
Laurel Nakadate gave the prestigious FotoFocus Lecture there on Oct. 24, presenting a slide show of the past 12 years of her sometimes-eyebrow-raising performative-video and still-photography work.
For one project, she wandered around truck stops and invited truckers to dance with her in their cabs. In another, she traveled across Canada by train and threw her underwear out the window each day, photographing the colorful results. (As far as I know, she did not get arrested for littering.) Someone asked about the inherent danger in some of her early work, which involved putting herself in erotic situations with strange men. “I look back at my early work and fear for my life,” she said. “But I’m really glad I made that work.”
Incidentally, one of her more recent projects — for which
she showed slides — was to photograph herself crying everyday for one year. The
“one year” motif seems to be such a strong one that some curator somewhere
should devote a show to its variations. There’s plenty of material right here.
At Michael Lowe’s Downtown gallery, site of the “Using Photography” FotoFocus
exhibit featuring work by 1970s-era (and beyond) Conceptual Artists, there is
an example of On Kawara’s “I Got Up” series. For 11 years (1968-1979), he sent
friend picture postcards stamped with the time that he arose each day.
And when Todd Pavlisko was in town last week to plan for his “Docent” rifle-firing project that occurred Monday at Cincinnati Art Museum, he said that one piece in his resultant museum show next year will be displaying all the loose change he’s collected in a year. (He will gold-plate the coinage.)
At the other appearance of a photographer at CAM last week, Chief Curator James Crump discussed the future of photography books with Minnesota photographer/publisher Alec Soth and Darius Himes, a gallerist whose Radius Books publishes unusual photography creations.
Some in the audience wished the event would have featured much more of Soth and his fascinating photojournalistic work. He did discuss a current project, in which he and Brad Zellar are photographing election-eve everyday life in Michigan for his LBM Dispatch, which tries to quickly publish and distribute photo essays. (The work will then be displayed at Detroit’s Cranbrook Institute.)
But Himes did express admiration for the strangest Conceptualist book project I’ve heard of in a long time. That would be photographer Mishka Henner’s printed-on-demand Astronomical, twelve 506-page volumes representing, in total, a scale model of the solar system from the sun to Pluto. Many of the pages are blank, representing the great distances between planets in space. Himes did not say if you must order the whole set or just your favorite volume, but you can find out more at here.
I was able to spend some time last week with Barry Andersen, photography professor emeritus at Northern Kentucky University who has been a strong, forceful advocate for the importance of this form as both an artistic medium and a critical societal observer. His own show, the now-concluded Sky, Earth and Sea at Notre Dame Academy in Park Hills, served as a satisfying retrospective of thirty years of his work. Especially lovely were his gorgeous aerial-shot” Cloudscapes,” vivid inkjet prints from negative scans.
And as a curator, he put together a superb, sadly also now-concluded, show at NKU called Reporting Back, which surveyed the work of 14 documentary photographers whose thematic interests covered the globe. Each one’s work was presented as a series of photographs, a thematically related suite, to remind us of the journalistic impact of the photo essay. Ashley Gilbertson’s quietly moving “Bedrooms of the Fallen” visited the bedrooms of soldiers slain in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their solemnity was balanced by Jim Dow’s colorful portraits of idiosyncratically appealing, retro-Americana buildings. You can learn more about the show — and be introduced to some fine photographers — here.
FotoFocus has the potential to shine a lens on fine Cincinnati photographers of the past whose reputations could use a revival. One of the best shows to achieve that goal this year was Cincinnati Museum Center’s Photographic Legacy of Paul Briol: 1909-1955, which closes Thursday. Briol’s black-and-white images of the rhythms and architecture of Cincinnati life have a dreamy beauty, partly because he was not adverse to stripping in more dramatic skies and otherwise heightening an image’s dramatic effect.
The populism and humanism in his work are evident — Lewis Hine perhaps was an inspiration. An elderly African-American couple sits while the woman peels a potato; children in what seems to be an aged urban schoolroom pose with their stuffed animals. Those, along with images of the skyline, a roller coaster, Fountain Square, the riverfront, Rabbit Hash, Ky.’s general store, give life to that era’s Cincinnati.
Actually, the photo of his that moved me the most was in a different show, the concluded Images of the Great Depression: A Documentary Portrait of Ohio. It was by far the best thing in that exhibit. His contribution, an extraordinarily composed photo from 1935 called “Waiting for Work,” shows the looming shadows of men against a room’s wall. A sign reads, “Dirty Men Will Not Be Sent Out.” Briol may have arranged this image rather than just observed and captured it, but no matter. It magnificently speaks to the despair and denigration that the Depression brought.
One hopes 2014’s FotoFocus will find room to spotlight a few other Cincinnati photographers of the past who could use rediscovery — perhaps Nelson Ronsheim or George Rosenthal. Or, if you have ideas, send them along to me at email@example.com. In the Nov. 14 Big Picture column in CityBeat, I’ll address some suggestions for how we can keep the momentum going now that the interest level for photography has been raised.
Lynn Meyers spends most of her time staging shows at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, where she’s the producing artistic director. However, she headed a few blocks south from her Over-the-Rhine venue this month to direct Pride and Prejudice for Cincinnati Shakespeare Company at its Race Street venue.
And then there are those that touch numerous bases — either because that’s what the artists intended or because time has changed the meaning or our appreciation of the work. In the former category, and so far the work that towers over everything else I’ve seen, is Doug and Mike Starn’s Gravity of Light in the decommissioned Holy Cross Church at Mount Adams Monastery. This installation prominently uses photographs without letting them define what its purpose or meaning is about. I’ve written about it previously and may do so again, so powerful is it. It’s up through year’s end, and I hope everyone realizes how important an artwork it is and goes to see it. Go here for details.
It can be discussed and debated whether Disfarmer, who died in 1959) was engaged in what he thought was a commercial venture or whether he was after something else… his own quest for an artful statement. But the work today is important as something other than straight photo-documentation, though it is that. The photographs are haunting missives from the place Greil Marcus called “the old, weird America” — a spiritual zone, a cosmic baptismal font, from where much of our contemporary culture can trace its origins.
But they came, sometimes dressed in their best and sometimes dressed in the best they had. What resulted — and we are fortunate his work has been preserved, which itself was a struggle — is a different take on Depression Era poverty than the federal Farm Security Administration photos. Taken by outsiders, those placed — with warmth and humanity — their subjects in their surrounding hardscrabble environment. They have a sociological dimension.
By the way, I’m not sure how many people know this exhibit is here. FotoFocus literature didn’t list it as an ongoing show, but rather a part of a one-day event – last week’s Emery concert by guitarist Bill Frisell/858 Quartet of his composition Musical Portraits from Heber Springs. But the Emery is keeping it up through the month. To see it, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with your phone number and times you’re available, or call 513-262-8242.
The artist spent five years observing — in film and still photographs — the effect of light, seasonal change and weather on a remote, pristine, Finnish island. In “Forest (Tree and Pond),” his work is condensed via editing into a relatively tight time span and projected onto a gray-painted section of a gallery wall. While it looks like we are a watching a specific spot on the island change over the seasons, I’m told it’s a composite. (I find that remarkable.) Tuori has created this slightly wavering mirage of an image to show how art can turn what we think of as mundane into something momentous. He has photographed elusive “change.”
Photography, like all art, isn’t meant to stand still. Tuori is at the forefront of finding new ways to show that.