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.
Good morning y’all! Here are your morning headlines.
• Councilwoman Yvette Simpson might have released the first shred of evidence that she’s running for mayor next year. Simpson sent a letter to consulting firms this month searching for someone who could help with a “campaign against an incumbent executive office holder,” aka Mayor John Cranley. Simpson won’t officially say yet whether she’s going to take a shot at Cranley’s spot or just run for a third term on Council in 2017 but says she’ll make a decision by the end of this year.
• It’s that super exciting time of year when the city lays out its budget for next year. Yesterday, City Manager Harry Black presented his plan for a $1.2 billion city budget that includes raises for city employees, cuts to the human service department and the city’s economic development programs and building a new marina. Yep, the city wants the Parks Department to build a marina along the Ohio River. Mayor Cranley has two weeks to present the budget to Council, which will then approve or amend it some time before the next fiscal year begins on July 1.
• The University of Cincinnati Department of Public Safety says it is down to three candidates to lead the department. The candidates were chosen by an outside consulting firm and include the director of public safety at Oregon State University, a previous CPD officer with more than 20 years experience and police deputy chief at Ohio State. The department is also down to two candidates for assistant chief, including a CPD Department Captain. UC will present the candidates to the public during open forums will be held May 23-25. Former Police Chief Jason Goodrich and Assistant Chief Tim Thornton resigned in February in the wake of the shooting of Mount Auburn resident Samuel DuBose by former UC police officer Ray Tensing.
• Judge Tracie Hunter will not be going to jail today. The suspended juvenile court judge was supposed to start her 60-day jail sentence today, but a judge suspended her sentence after Hunter filed a petition claiming misconduct by the special prosecutor and judge during her trial. Federal Judge Timothy Black ruled Hunter can remain free during the proceedings. A jury convicted Hunter of unlawful interest in a public contract for helping her brother in a discipline hearing 19 months ago.
• Could U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown become Vice President Brown? Yesterday, Sen. Brown was seen parading around with current VP Joe Biden in Columbus, leading to rumors that the progressive senator could be Hillary Clinton’s pick for running mate. Nothing is certain yet, as Biden told White House reporters that Brown would be a “great pick” but then went on to highlight other strong Democratic contenders without hinting at a favorite.
• Oklahoma’s Republican-dominated legislature passed a bill yesterday that would subject doctors to felony charges and revoke their medical licenses for performing abortions. The bill — which is most restrictive abortion bill passed yet — is still waiting on a signature from Republican Gov. Mary Fallin. If signed in to law, it will almost certainly be challenged in state or federal court where legal experts say it will likely be declared unconstitutional.
News tips go here.
Good morning all. Let’s talk about that news stuff.
Cincinnati’s population increased slightly again last year, though not as much as the surrounding suburbs. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the Queen City’s population grew to 298,550 people from the 298,041 who lived here in 2014. That’s a .17 percent bump — smaller than the metropolitan area’s growth rate of .4 percent. But hey, at least we’re not losing people like we were just a decade ago, and like cities such as Cleveland, St. Louis and Pittsburgh still are. Other cities in our region outperformed us in population growth, however, including Columbus, Indianapolis and Louisville, which each added a couple thousand people. So, Cincy’s doing OK when it comes to rebounding from decades of population loss, but could be doing better. Personally, I’d like to see us get above 300,000 again, so please, invite 1,450 of your closest friends to move here. Just as long as they’re not jerks.
• Did you know that your sewer bills have helped pay the salaries of the Cincinnati Park Board? It’s true, apparently. Due to some joint cooperation between the city’s Metropolitan Sewer District and the parks, money from MSD goes to personnel like Parks Director Willie Carden. That money exchange started when parks began helping MSD with some green infrastructure projects, but now some county officials are questioning whether the funding should go so far as to pay administrative salaries. Both MSD and parks have been mired in recent oversight issues around spending, so this revelation will probably anger some folks. You can read more about the situation here.
• Soon, you’ll be able to hop on Metro buses and the streetcar using a mobile app to pay your fare. Officials with the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority Tuesday announced an agreement with Passport, which makes payment apps. The contract between the two means that riders will be able to pay via a Passport app and show Metro and streetcar drivers their tickets on their phone. That will eliminate the need to carry cash for many customers, SORTA officials say. The app will also let riders track their bus as it makes its way to the bus stop, which is pretty cool.
• Hamilton County Democrats have tapped a big-name political consultant to help turn the county blue in the 2016 election. Candidates for county-wide office have pooled campaign funds to hire Ernie Davis, a longtime political consultant for the party. Davis will help strategize ways to convince voters to elect down-ballot candidates come November, including Hamilton County Commission candidate Denise Driehaus, Aftab Pureval for clerk of courts and others. Driehaus is in a highly competitive race with Dennis Deters for the Commission seat, which Deters currently holds after the surprise departure of former commissioner Greg Hartmann. Pureval faces a tougher challenge against current Clerk of Courts Tracy Winkler, a well-established Republican.
• You might have guessed that outspoken immigration critic Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones has something to say about Cincinnati City Council’s recent move to recognize alternate IDs for those without state-issued identification, including undocumented immigrants. You’d be right. Like any reputable, professional public servant, Jones weighed in on the issue in a tweet asking Butler County officials not to recognize cards provided by the Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati.
“I am asking butler county not 2 except Cincinnati mark cards for illegals,” Jones tweeted recently. He later clarified that he meant “MARCC ID cards,” though he has yet to confirm that he meant to use the word “accept” instead of “except.”
• Northern Kentucky University will cut more than 100 jobs in response to budget cuts to higher education from recently elected Governor Matt Bevin. NKU will eliminate 37 faculty positions and 68 staff and administrative positions as part of the attempt to make do with less money from the state. The move will save the school about $8 million. Funding for higher education in Kentucky has been sliding for most of the decade, officials with the school say, forcing tough situations for all the state’s public universities. The funding crunch has gotten worse in the state’s most recent budget, however, as Bevin looks to drastically cut state spending.
• Health officials in Ohio are scrambling to find replacement clinics that can administer services like HIV and cancer screenings ahead of a state move to cut federal and state funding for such services from Planned Parenthood. Many health officials say it’s challenging to find other clinics that can step into the void left by the controversial health organization, which state lawmakers say shouldn’t receive public money because it provides abortions. The $1 million conservatives are withholding from Planned Parenthood didn’t go to providing that service, but instead went to other health services. Lawmakers say the money will be rerouted to other clinics that don’t provide abortions, but critics say there aren’t enough clinics with the capacity to take over for Planned Parenthood.
Hey all. It's news time.
Let’s start out with some good news today, shall we? Yesterday, MadTree Brewering Co. hosted a ground-breaking celebration for their new Oakley brewing facility, MadTree 2.0. That facility in a former manufacturing site in Oakley will have 50,000 square feet of production space and another 10,000 square feet for a beer garden. The move is a sign of the brewery’s growth: The new site will allow MadTree to quadruple its production and the beer garden is twice the size of its current taproom.
• The controversial Dennison Hotel might soon be designated an “endangered” historic site by a statewide preservation nonprofit. Columbus-based Preservation Ohio is set to announce its list of endangered buildings across the state today. Local preservationists have nominated the Dennison, constructed downtown in 1892 by the firm of noted architect Samuel Hannaford. That designation won’t necessarily provide more legal protection for the building, which could soon face demolition by owners the Joseph family pending a May 26 Historic Conservation Board vote. But appearing on the list can draw more attention and support for historic structures, preservationists say.
• As we’ve talked about here and elsewhere in CityBeat a lot, Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is still walking off a loss in the Democratic Party’s Ohio primary against former Ohio governor Ted Strickland for the chance to challenge U.S. Sen. Rob Portman for his Senate seat. So what’s a young man who just lost a Senate race to do? Sittenfeld is weighing his professional options, it seems. He told WCPO recently that he has yet to decide whether to seek a third term on Cincinnati City Council. Sittenfeld, just 31, was the top vote-getter in his first run for the office. If he doesn’t do that, he might jump into a startup venture and wait until he’s a bit more seasoned to continue his career in politics. In the meantime, he’s going full-tilt on Council, and has some solid summer plans: getting married.
• The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County is one of my favorite places, like, ever, which makes this story all the more heartbreaking. Overdoses at the main branch of the library downtown have increased significantly as the heroin crisis continues to grip our region. The main branch is on pace to see 18 overdoses this year — as many as the last two years combined. Solutions to the problem might be difficult, police say, and the situation is just one sign of the larger opiate problem that has taken hold in Ohio and other parts of the country. That problem persists, even as treatment options for addiction have narrowed for many low-income people.
• Finally, how’d that Democratic presidential primary contest go just south of the Ohio River last night? It was a nail-biter. Dem frontrunner Hillary Clinton ended up pulling out a slim victory over U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. She took 46.8 percent of the vote, netting 29 delegates, to Sanders’ 46.3 percent of the vote and 27 delegates.
The contest didn’t matter much numerically — Clinton still has a comfortable lead in the overall primary, and Sanders only the narrowest path to victory, even with his win in Oregon’s primary last night. But Clinton desperately wants to put the primary behind her and focus on the general election, where she’s likely to face off against GOP presumptive nominee Donald Trump. The problem for her: Democratic voters aren’t lining up behind her yet, instead continuing to support Sanders’ populist campaign and somewhat more liberal message. Upcoming early June primaries should put Clinton over the top numbers-wise for the nomination, but even after she sews up the primary, she’ll have a bigger task: wooing Sanders supporters to back her in the general election. That may be a big hill to climb, given what happened in Nevada last week and the overall contentiousness of the Democratic primary this season.
• University of Cincinnati construction partner Skanska and Megan Construction announced Monday that it has signed a $70 million deal to begin renovating the Bearcats' basketball arena in June. The University says it's still fundraising to come up with the rest of the money for the planned $87 million renovation of Fifth Third Arena. The announcement appears to be UC's latest attempt to flaunt its feathers to convince Big 12 officials to allow the university to join the conference, which UC has been trying to join for two years. UC officials are scheduled to meet with Big 12 officials in Dallas in two weeks.
• The Centers for Disease Control is concerned that Kentucky's heroin crisis is leading to another possible crisis: an AIDS/HIV outbreak. The CDC has ranked Kentucky as the state with the highest risk for an HIV outbreak, placing thirteen of the state's counties on its top 20 at-risk list. The federal agency began analyzing every U.S. county after the virus rapidly spread through needle sharing in rural Scott County, Indiana, which has a population of just 20,000 people, and found 220 counties posed a high risk for an outbreak, which includes nearby Brown and Adams counties in Ohio.
Hey all. Let’s do this news thing.
Democrat presidential primary front runner Hillary Clinton came to Northern Kentucky yesterday for some last-minute campaigning before the state’s primary tomorrow. Clinton mostly bashed her likely general election opponent, real estate magnate and GOP presumptive nominee Donald Trump, and didn’t mention her primary opponent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was also campaigning around the state. In addition to landing punches against Trump, Clinton touched on local issues like replacing the Brent Spence Bridge and the region’s heroin crisis. There has been limited polling in Kentucky, so it’s hard to know who’s ahead. The primary is closed, meaning independents can’t vote in it. That should help Clinton. On the other hand, the state’s demographic makeup — heavily white and working class — looks to work in Sanders’ favor, given results in other states. Stay tuned.
• Speaking of the Brent Spence, the bridge carrying I-75 over the Ohio River into Kentucky just got some national media attention. It’s not necessarily the good kind of press, though. The Hill, a D.C.-centric publication covering national politics and policy, put the 53-year-old bridge at the top of an article about the nation’s “Five Big Infrastructure Emergencies.” The article highlighted the struggle over how to pay for a replacement and the fact that the bridge carries four percent of the nation’s gross national product over it every year.
• Cincinnati has scored its biggest major conference since 2012, but the crowds won’t be coming for a little bit. The African American Methodist Episcopalian Church announced yesterday it will hold its 2024 convention in Cincinnati. It’s one of the largest African American conventions in the country and is expected to draw 20,000 people. The last time the city saw that many guests at once was the World Choir Games four years ago. It’s not the only convention Cincinnati has slated, however. This year, the NAACP will hold its national conference here, which is expected to draw 10,000 people and is one of the most important political conventions in the country — an especially big get for the city considering we’re in the midst of one of the most intense presidential campaigns in modern memory.
• There is about to be a beer garden on Central Parkway in Over-the-Rhine. Queen City Radio, named for the former business that occupied the location at West 12th Street, will carry local brews like Braxton, Listermann’s, Rhinegeist, Morelein, Madtree, Rivertown and others. It’s also right next to the Central Parkway Bikeway, something owners and siblings Louisa Reckman and Gabriel Deutsch have highlighted as a reason for choosing the location. The two expect to open in July.
• Former house speaker John Boehner spoke this weekend at Xavier University’s graduation, though he didn’t drop any news-making bombs about the 2016 presidential election like he did at an earlier speech at Stanford last month. Boehner, who graduated from Xavier before his career in Congress, stuck mostly to the inspirational fare common to commencement addresses. But in true form, he did tear up a little bit. Boehner last month told a group of students at Stanford that U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, then a presidential primary contender, was "Lucifer in the flesh."
• Kentucky public schools will resist an order from the federal government requiring it to recognize the expressed gender identity of transgender students, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin has said. That sets up a big fight between the state, as well as some others in the South, and the federal government. President Barack Obama announced the measure, an effort to clarify standards under the anti-sex-discrimination law known as Title IX. Bevin says the order amounts to intimidation by the feds, however, and that Kentucky won’t comply.
• Following the exit of the last opponents to GOP presidential primary presumptive nominee Donald Trump, some bigwigs in the party have taken up an effort to draft a third-party candidate to compete against the real estate mogul and his Democrat opponent Hillary Clinton. But Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who was briefly Trump’s last opponent standing, won’t be that candidate. Despite being on a shortlist of possible Trump/Clinton challengers, a staffer for Kasich’s campaign told Columbus’ 10TV that Kasich isn’t interested in that particular suicide mission, which is perhaps the most clear-headed decision the governor has made in this whole mess.
The musical Violet at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati is the story of an angry, self-conscious young woman who believes her life is a dead end because of a disfiguring facial scar. She travels from North Carolina to a televangelist in Oklahoma in hopes of a miracle, which does happen — kind of, but certainly not in the way she imagined. This is a moving story with great music, and it’s superbly performed, especially by Brooke Steele as the title character: Putting together an excellent vocal performance with fully committed acting, she delivers an aching, anxious performance that occasionally flashes with joy. She’s surrounded by more talent, several of whom take on multiple roles. This is the kind of show that makes you grateful that we have a theater like ETC and a director like Lynn Meyers. (CityBeat review here.) Through May 22. Tickets: 513-421-3555.
Violet is searching for beauty, while Haley, the solo character in Theresa Rebeck’s Bad Dates, is just looking for a good evening out. But she’s having a hard time finding the right man — not to mention the right shoes to wear. The Cincinnati Playhouse produced this show a dozen years ago and it was a big hit. With Vivia Font as the charming narrator, a sweet but uninhibited girl-next-door who carries it off like she’s chatting with girlfriends, this production is a surefire hit. (CityBeat review here.) Through June 12. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
Another big search us underway at the Aronoff Center’s Jarson-Kaplan Theater where Cincinnati Music Theatre is presenting the musical Big Fish, based on a Tim Burton film from 2003 featuring Albert Finney, Ewan McGregor and Billy Crudup. It’s the story of Edward Bloom (Fred Tacon, pulling off a role handled by two actors in the movie) who loves to embroider and exaggerate the events of his life, and Will (PJ Karpew, a powerful singer), his down-to-earth son who loved his dad’s tall tales as a kid. But as a grownup, he’s grown both weary and dubious of these apparent fantasies and insists on discovering the truth. Ed’s imagined adventures are brought to amusing life onstage in this production, and CMT’s cast, steered by community theater veteran Skip Fenker, is busy from start to finish with countless costume changes, dance routines and funny situations. (There’s some clever use of video, too.) Will learns some truth he never expected, discovering that his father was indeed a hero — even if it wasn’t in the stories he made up. The show’s messages of love and inspiration come through loud and clear. Through Saturday evening. Tickets: 513-621-2787.
Also worth your consideration: Opening tonight are Antony and Cleopatra (Cincinnati Shakespeare, through June 4) and Catch Me If You Can: The Musical (Showbiz Players at the Carnegie in Covington, through May 22). You still have time to see Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Swing at the Cincinnati Playhouse and the touring production of Cabaret at the Aronoff Center, presented by Broadway in Cincinnati. Both continue through next weekend.
Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.