I have three words for you regarding theater-going this weekend: Fringe. Fringe. Fringe.
If you haven't dropped in yet for this stimulating festival of push-the-envelope performances, you're missing out on the greatest dose of annual creativity that we get here in Cincinnati. And a lot of your friends have already caught on: Fringe Producer Eric Vosmeier tells me that as of Thursday they've hit their ticket goal for the entire festival ... and there are still two more days to go!
If the last gasps of winter still have you shivering, you can warm up this weekend with some frothy musical theater at UC's College-Conservatory of Music, where Two Gentlemen of Verona is dancing its heart out. With a silly story (thanks to Shakespeare) and an eclectic score (from the guy who wrote the music for Hair), this 1971 show doesn't get staged very often. But you'll wonder why if you find yourself in Patricia Corbett Theater: Thanks to CCM 1995 grad Andrew Palermo, who's returned to direct and choreograph the show, the cast never stops dancing.
Don't fret about the story — changing affections, disguises, villains and heroes — just watch as the tale takes you from the university town of Verona to the urban Milano. The costumes (preppy white shirts and ties in the former, metropolitan chic black and Hip Hop in the latter) will tell you where you are. And the performers are all shining stars from CCM's musical theater program, several of them ready to move along to Broadway. This is the CCM musical people will continue to talk when the current season is over. Two Gentlemen runs longer than usual for a CCM show — two weekends (final performance is March 8) — but don't dally to get your tickets: By next weekend they'll all be claimed. Box office: 513-556-4183.
Cincinnati Art Museum did well at this week's announcement of MacArthur Foundation $500,000 "genius grants" — one of the most prestigious in the world. Among the 24 recipients were artist Los Angeles artist Mark Bradford (pictured), who creates large-scale map-like collages out of everyday material and whose show Maps & Manifests was featured at Cincinnati Art Museum in 2008.
While it’s not part of the Fringe, Avenue Q, presented by Showbiz Players at Covington’s Carnegie Center, has the same zany vibe. It’s an X-rated musical with puppets that might visually remind you of Sesame Street — until they open their dirty mouths. The show was a surprise Tony Award winner several years back, and it promises lots of laughs for those who go. Through June 10. 859-957-1940.
If you want something more traditional, try Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production of The Merchant of Venice, one of Shakespeare’s most difficult plays. It’s officially categorized as a comedy because it has humorous and romantic elements. But the central story about a potentially fatal argument between a moneylender and a businessman is anything but amusing. CSC’s artistic director Brian Isaac Phillips takes on the role of the rapacious moneylender who has faced anti-Semitic discrimination for his entire life. Is Shylock a villain or a victim? Shakespeare gives him aspects of each, and CSC’s production does not tilt in either direction. You get to decide, and it won’t be easy. Box office: 513-381-2273, x1.
Be sure to consider downtown’s newest performance venue, Speakeasy Theatre, storefront space at 815 Race Street. Their inaugural production is Paul Baerman’s The Whistler, set in 1965 in an unnamed Southern city awash in racist attitudes. The Andy Griffith Show is in its fifth season, and the guy who whistles the theme (played here by local professional actor Michael G. Bath) is living off his royalties. But life gets more complicated when he meets an African-American trumpet player (played by Tony Davis) who shares his passion for music. The Whistler will be onstage through June 10. Box office: 513-861-7469
Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
Right now most theaters are readying shows that will be onstage in early September, so there's not a lot to see around town. But if you're looking for some dramatic entertainment on Sunday evening that will keep you outdoors, I suggest you head to the lawn at the Harry Whiting Brown Community Center in Glendale where Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's "Shakespeare in the Park" makes a stop at 7 p.m. –––
They're offering a stripped-down version of the tragic tale of Romeo and Juliet, using just eight actors (which means several performers play more than one role). You'll see some fine acting and a couple of well-staged fights. It might feel like a "back-to-school" special, what with the poetry and all, but even teens should enjoy the action and big emotions. Best of all, it's free (although your donation to the cause will be appreciated.)
Get details on the CSC web site.
You might think that Dead City is a play about Cincinnati, especially after our second snowstorm in a week. But it's actually the next production coming to New Stage Collective, one of the "Gems of the Neighborhood," those hardy theaters that are, in fact, bringing new life to Over-the-Rhine, as described in CityBeat's cover story this week.
Dead City was supposed to open on Thursday this week, but with all the bad weather in the past seven days rehearsal time has been held to a minimum. So NSC's Alan Patrick Kenny has decided to push his opening night to Friday.
A completely different choice is the Afghan Women’s Writing Project at Know Theatre, this weekend only. Playwrights Elizabeth Martin and Lauren Hynek took material written by women in Afghanistan who risk their lives to write their stories and turn them into material for the stage. Several outstanding local actresses — including CEA Hall of Famer Dale Hodges and frequent CEA award winner Annie Fitzpatrick — are among the interpreters. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m. If you go on Friday, plan to stick around for a post-show discussion. Tickets ($18): 513-300-5669
If you like heart-warming, schmaltzy tales, you should find your way to Newport’s Monmouth Theatre where Falcon Theatre is presenting Visiting Mr. Green. It’s the story of a young man “sentenced” to regular visits with an elderly gentleman he nearly ran over. Beneath the surface of their disparate worlds they discover some surprising common ground. What makes this rather predictable story come to life is the acting: Joshua Steele and Mike Moskowitz, who happen to be grandfather and grandson, portray their characters with believability. This is the second of two weekends, Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets: 513-479-6783
A year ago Cincinnati Shakespeare had a big hit with Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. They’ve done it again with another adaptation, Sense & Sensibility. This time it’s two sisters, one rational and one emotional, wonderfully portrayed by Kelly Mengelkoch (as the reserved, reasonable Elinor) and Sara Clark (as willful, romantic Marianne). They’re surrounded by droll supporting characters in a story of romance and domestic intrigue. I gave the production a Critic’s Pick. It’s onstage until March 18, but many performances have sold out. Tickets: 513-381-2273
Speaking of Cincinnati Shakespeare, the company recently announced its 2012-2013 season, which will feature some memorable characters — Sherlock Holmes, Atticus Finch (in To Kill a Mockingbird), Romeo & Juliet, Lady Bracknell (in Oscar Wilde’s hilarious The Importance of Being Earnest), Richard II and Nick Bottom (Midsummer Night Dream’s aspiring actor who makes an ass of himself). You can read about the entire season in my blog post from last Sunday.
Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
Cincinnati has had many famous visitors over the years including Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde and John F. Kennedy. Now we can add Superman to the list.
As part of an ongoing storyline in DC Comics' Superman title, the Man of Steel will visit the Queen City in issue #703, on sale in September.
Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati today announced four of its six shows for the 2013-2014 season, which opens on Sept. 4. Producing Artistic Director D. Lynn Meyers says, "We are planning a truly original, fresh and exhilarating season of dynamic regional premieres, and I am absolutely thrilled to showcase some of the hottest titles and newest voices this coming year."