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.
There’s an exciting array of theater on local stages this weekend, a perfect time to check out a live performance before you settle in for the Academy Awards on Sunday night.
It seems that all a theater needs to do these days is mention Jane Austen and fans line up for tickets. I’m sure that’s what Cincinnati Shakespeare Company has in mind with its production of Emma, opening tonight. It’s the story of an amateur matchmaker who loves to meddle in the love lives of others. But when her efforts on behalf of her friend Harriet go awry, Emma Wodehouse has to undo the damage. Cincy Shakes’ productions of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility broke box-office records, and there’s no reason that show adaptation (also by Jon Jory, who led Actors Theatre of Louisville for 32 seasons). Tonight’s the opening, and the show will be onstage at 719 Race St. through March 26. Tickets: 513-381-2273.
Last June, the Audience Pick of the 2015 Cincinnati Fringe was dungeon by the Hit The Lights! Theatre Company from New York City. In fact, the company has roots here in Cincinnati; its co-founder says, “We’re overjoyed to be returning to Cincinnati, our home away from home, to invite audiences into a more fully-formed dungeon than they last encountered.” The show is about a young man who enters the unknown to rescue something he holds dear. The show is inspired by kabuki, video games, horror movies and Pixar shorts, creating a world where darkness speaks louder than light. Two encore performances this weekend at Essex Studios (2511 Essex Place) in Walnut Hills at the Cincinnati Actors Studio and Academy (CASA, Room 282B), tonight and Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets: $15 at the door.
It’s the final weekend for three shows on campus at Xavier University, presented in repertory: Miss Julie, a classic by August Strindberg; Betrayal, a heady drama by Harold Pinter; and Begotten, a world premiere by senior theater major Tatum Hunter. At the Gallagher Student Center Theater through Sunday. Tickets: 513-745-3939.
The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s world premiere of Lauren Gunderson’s The Revolutionists (on the Shelterhouse Stage through March 6) has another week to run. It brings together a quartet of badass women, under house arrest during the French Revolution — including Queen Marie Antoinette and assassin Charlotte Corday. Awaiting their likely demise by the guillotine, they encourage, inspire and support one another during the horrific Reign of Terror. Sounds serious but it’s a very funny, irreverent fantasia performed by an excellent cast. I gave this one a resounding Critic’s Pick. Through March 6. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
The characters might express the feeling that “It Sucks to Be Me,” but I don’t think anyone in the audience will feel that way watching Cincinnati Landmark’s production of Avenue Q at the Incline Theater in Price Hill. The darkly funny and very adult parody of Sesame Street has been staged by local stage veteran Elizabeth Harris with a cast of singers and actors who know how to bring puppets to life — politically inappropriate, from start to finish. It’s an evening of gasps, giggles and guffaws. Through March 6. Tickets: 513-241-6550.
Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
The 2016-2017 season for Broadway in Cincinnati was announced over the weekend. We’ll be seeing several time-tested titles, as well as a number of brand-new works and a couple of certifiable hits. Here’s the rundown:
The Sound of Music (Sept. 27-Oct. 9): It’s a new production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s beloved hit about Maria and the von Trapp Family. It’s a sure bet that audiences will love this one, the show that became the most successful movie musical in history.
The Phantom of the Opera (Nov. 15-27): I’ve lost track of how many times a tour of Phantom has come to Cincinnati, but I can tell you that the Aronoff Center’s Procter & Gamble Hall, which opened in 1995, was designed with the appropriate infrastructure to support the show’s crashing chandelier. This tour is a new production by Cameron Mackintosh that’s described as “bigger and better than ever before,” featuring many exciting special effects — including that legendary chandelier. It’s one of the largest productions currently touring. This one is what the Broadway Series calls a “Season Extra,” not part of the package of shows that subscribers can purchase — it’s an over-and-above choice that a lot of people will be making, I’m sure.
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder (Jan. 3-8, 2017): The one-week run suggests low audience expectations, but this show earned rave reviews in 2014 and won the year’s Tony Award for the season’s best musical. It’s the story of a distant heir to a family fortune who sets out to move to the top of the list by eliminating eight relatives in the way — all played by one actor. It’s a very funny farce.
Disney’s The Little Mermaid (Jan. 17-29, 2017): Based on the Disney animated film, this one will draw families by the droves, I’m sure. It’s the story of Ariel, weary of flipping her fins and longing to be on dry land. All the characters from the film are all onstage — Sebastian, her crabby sidekick; handsome Prince Eric; and most memorably, Ursula, the evil sea witch. I bet you know some of these songs.
Something Rotten! (February 21-March 5, 2017): Weary of competing with Rock star playwright Shakespeare, Nick and Nigel set out to write the world’s first musical, based on questionable advice from a soothsayer who suggests that the future of theater is about singing, dancing and acting — all at once! Great fun for those who pick up on the Elizabethan gags and musical theater parodies, as well as anyone else who simply loves over-the-top comedy. I saw this show on Broadway back in November, and pretty much laughed from start to finish.
Mamma Mia! (March 10-12, 2017): This is another “Season Extra,” presented outside the subscription package for just a three-day stop. It’s the ultimate feel-good show with ABBA’s greatest hits, including “Dancing Queen,” “Take A Chance on Me” and “The Winner Takes It All,” and a story of love, laughter and friendship.
The Illusionists – Live from Broadway (March 21-26, 2017): OK, it’s not exactly a Broadway musical or play, but it is a spectacular showcase performed by seven of today’s most entertaining illusionists.
Matilda The Musical (April 4-16, 2017): Roald Dahl’s beloved novel became a hit in London when it debuted as a musical in 2011 where it’s still running; it’s been a Broadway attraction since 2013, when it picked up a bushel basketful of Tony nominations. Time magazine named it 2013’s No. 1 show, and the story of a spunky girl who, using her imagination and her sharp mind, takes a stand and changes her destiny, is a worldwide hit. It should be popular with Cincinnati families.
Beautiful – The Carole King Musical (May 2-14, 2017): Everyone I know who’s seen this show in NYC has loved it. King’s songs (many of them written with her husband Gerry Goffin and best friends Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann) became hits for the biggest acts in Rock & Roll. But when her personal life began to disintegrate she found her true voice and became one of the most successful solo acts in Pop music. Her tunes were a soundtrack for the late ’60s and early ’70s — “I Feel The Earth Move,” “One Fine Day,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and “You’ve Got A Friend.” The show won two 2014 Tony Awards and its cast recording earned a 2015 Grammy; it’s still playing to sold-out houses on Broadway. Nostalgia is the key and it’s unlocking a lot of warm feelings.
British playwright George Bernard Shaw was one of the great writers for the stage a century ago, and his most popular play, Saint Joan, is a choice available for theatergoers this weekend, thanks to the Diogenes Theatre Company. It’s the story of the rise and fall of one of history’s most fascinating characters, a young country girl in the early 15th century who claimed that God told her to drive the invading English army out of France. Of course, her fate turns and she’s burned at the stake before her 20th birthday. Cincinnati Shakespeare veteran Sara Clark is taking on the title role, and Lindsey August Mercer, who has assisted with many Cincy Shakes productions, is the director. She says, “The beautiful effect of Shaw’s account is the way his language encapsulates Joan’s strength, conviction and unshakable positivity.” Three actors — Billy Chace and Geoffrey Barnes from the Shakespeare company and Patrick Phillips, a regular with Ensemble Theatre —portray a large cast of additional characters. Diogenes is presenting Saint Joan at the Aronoff’s Fifth Third Bank Theater through March 5. Tickets: cincinnatiarts.org
The smart-alecky Avenue Q just opened at Cincinnati Landmark Productions’ Incline Theater in Price Hill. A Tony winner in 2004, the show is a darkly funny knock-off from Sesame Street, Muppet-like puppets and all, with a strong off-color dose of contemporary sarcasm. Kids who watched the educational PBS show were told they could do anything if they tried hard; Avenue Q turns that notion inside out, working from the premise that life sucks. (The song “It Sucks to Be Me” takes most of the air out of any optimist’s balloon.) The production, staged by local state veteran Elizabeth Harris, has a cast of able singers and actors who have learned they way around making puppets laugh-out-loud funny, especially Allyson Snyder as nice girl Kate Monster and neighborhood bad girl Lucy the Slut. A fine and varied singer, Snyder ably flips the switch between Kate’s naïve innocence and Lucy’s lascivious come-hither ways, often in the same scene. It’s an evening of giggles and guffaws, but not for the kids. Through March 6.
Some good things happening starting this weekend on campus at Xavier and Northern Kentucky universities. At XU’s Gallagher Student Center Theater you’ll find three shows in repertory — a classic by August Strindberg, Miss Julie; a heady drama by Harold Pinter, Betrayal; and Begotten, a world premiere by senior theater major Tatum Hunter. They’ll be in a rotating schedule through Feb. 28. Tickets: 513-745-3939 … At NKU, it’s a classic comedy, Kaufman and Hart’s Once in a Lifetime, a wickedly funny script from 1929 about some vaudeville troupers trying to make a comeback in Hollywood. Tickets: 859-572-5464 … Want to know a bit more about local university theater programs? Read my Curtain Call column from Feb. 17.
Once you make it past the weekend it will be time for the second installment of Serials! at Know Theatre, the “episodic theater party” offering 15-minutes from five works in progress — three that began on Feb. 8, and two new works starting this week. Audience members get to vote for their favorites to keep them alive for the next session on March 7. Watch theater being made on the fly. Tickets: 513-300-5669
Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey met with great success when they created next to normal, winning several Tony Awards and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for drama. They didn’t strike gold with their next show, If/Then, onstage locally for just a week in a touring production — but I found it to be a very satisfying, if complex work. (Read my Curtain Call interview with Kitt and Yorkey here.) Elizabeth is recently divorced and trying to decide what path to take next. She asks herself musically “What If” she takes this path or that — and this show lets us follow her down two divergent threads, one toward a successful professional career as a city planner in New York, the other in a happy marriage with kids that doesn’t quite turn out as she imagined. Her stories are presented in overlapping narratives, since some moments and events are quite close. It requires paying close attention, but it’s definitely worth the effort. It’s made all the easier by a very strong cast — including Jackie Burns in the leading role, Broadway veteran Anthony Rapp as Lucas, one of her close friends (he originated the role on Broadway Lucas and played videographer Mark in the original cast of Rent back in 1996) and Tamyra Gray as Kate, who pushes Elizabeth in a different direction. The show’s inventive staging, using video and fluidly moving set pieces, is also a fine example of contemporary theater design. Definitely worth seeing. Onstage through Sunday.
In BlackTop Sky at Know Theatre, Ida’s view from an asphalt-paved courtyard surrounded by the housing project where she lives isn’t pretty. The 18-year-old yearns to escape, but her avenues are limited. The safe, predictable route is with Wynn, her boyfriend, a hardworking auto mechanic. Then there’s Klass, an all-but-inarticulate homeless man who settle on two park benches. Ida is caught between these two poles. This is a show about lives that are pretty dead-end. Nevertheless, Christina Anderson’s script has its moments, especially with Kimberly Faith Hickman’s purposeful staging of 34 distinct scenes, several of them entirely wordless. Anderson writes with occasional lyricism and feeling, but desperation underlies these sad stories. That being said, the telling holds out a promise of change. That’s an important if not altogether entertaining message. Onstage through Feb. 20.
Also at Know, the fourth outing of Serials gets under way on Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. They’ve dubbed this one Thunderdome 2 – Beyond Thunder, meaning that each evening two of the five shows will be voted out by the audience, to be replaced by two new shows at the following session. Serials 4 features some writers and directors who entertained audiences in previous iterations of Serials. But several new talents have entered the fray, and the Know staff tells me, “There are some seriously strong story pitches this round!” They feel that the “gentle competition” of Thunderdome leads to stronger writing and a better audience experience. Writers who take the challenge must leap quickly into their narratives; if they lag behind, they’ll be struck by a thunderclap and end up in the audience at the next round. Subsequent episodes are set for Feb. 22, March 7 and 21 and April 4.
Finally: If you’re tuned in to the Super Bowl on Sunday evening, keep an eye out for a 30-second commercial for Gold Star Chili. It was shot locally, featuring 15 Cincinnati actors at several Gold Star locations. Ensemble Theatre’s Lynn Meyers did the casting for it, so you’ll see some familiar faces often featured on local stages.
There are so many things happening on local stages it’s a bit of a challenge make recommendations. But every one of these productions has some sort of conflict at its heart.
Grounded opened Wednesday night Ensemble
Theatre Cincinnati. George Brant’s a one-woman script is about a
fearless fighter pilot whose career is cut short by an unexpected
pregnancy, marriage and parenthood. Her new job is to fly military
drones from a trailer outside Las Vegas; but she goes home to her family
every night — and before long, she has trouble sorting out the
boundaries between her two worlds. Kathleen Wise makes her ETC debut
with this challenging performance, a woman who knows her way “in the
blue” as a pilot, but must navigate new paths when she’s relegated to
the “chair force,” wandering remotely “in the gray,” targeting
“personality strikes.” Michael Haney is back in town to stage this one,
and he always succeeds with making solo shows a powerful experience. Grounded
is a pressure-filled, cautionary tale, gripping but not easy to watch.
Nevertheless, it’s compelling theater. Through Feb. 14. Tickets:
Karen Zacarías’ Native Gardens, a world premiere, opened at the Cincinnati Playhouse last evening. Her Book Club Play was a Playhouse hit in 2013; this time around the subject is a tad more serious, but it’s handled with deft humor as neighbors battle over styles of gardening — formal vs. natural — and choices driven by cultural differences. New neighbors Pablo and Tania are of Hispanic descent, moving in next door to Frank and Virginia, who are as waspy as can be. You can imagine where that goes: Straight down the road to audience gasps as the couples insult one another when boundaries are crossed. The 80-minute show wraps up neatly — maybe a little too much so. But there’s no denying this is a show that has lots of comic appeal involving circumstances many people will recognize. Through Feb. 21. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
Tonight is the opening for Black Top Sky at Know Theatre. Christina Anderson, a resident playwright with New York City’s New Dramatists, makes her Cincinnati debut with this show about the residents of a housing project. Ida, 18, befriends Klass, an unpredictable young homeless man. Their friendship forces Idea to make a choice: Embrace the struggle for justice or embrace a life with her successful boyfriend. Kimberly Faith Hickman, who staged 2014’s The Twentieth-Century Way for Know, is back from New York to direct. Andrew Hungerford, Know’s artistic director, chose this show because he was “struck by the poetry of the language, the visual poetry of the stage directions and the gut-wrenching timelessness of the story.” He adds, “It flips from humor to heaviness at the speed of light.” Onstage through Feb. 20. Tickets: 513-300-5669.
Shakespeare’s chronicling of King Henry VI took three plays back in the 16th-century; Cincinnati Shakespeare Company has rearranged them into two productions, one onstage now and another coming next season. This portion details the roots of the War of the Roses, with relatives vying for power — it’s truly a historic “game of thrones.” It’s also is a predecessor of today’s action movies, with lots of combat — and the fiery presence of Joan of Arc (played with zest by Caitlin McWethy), as England’s zeal for dominance in France runs a parallel track to the jockeying for position among royal relatives back home. Through Feb. 13. Tickets: 513-381-2273.
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is staging the original “game of thrones” — England’s Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) as retold by the Bard’s history plays — eight shows being presented in chronological order across five theater seasons. (Cincy Shakes is only the second theater company in the U.S. to present the history cycle in Chronological order.) We’ve already seen Richard II, Henry IV: Part 1 and 2 and Henry V. Now it’s time for the reign of Henry VI, which Shakespeare covered with three plays. This week starts the production of Henry VI, Part I, the story of Henry V’s only son who, in 1421, inherited the throne before his first birthday, after his father’s untimely death. A child on the throne opened the door to the dynastic struggles of the War of the Roses. (The cycle concludes next season with the bloody tragedy of Richard III.) Darnell Pierre Benjamin plays Henry, an unusual choice. Here’s what he says about taking on this role: “I’m a black male from St. Martinville, Louisiana. Despite how much I’ve always fixated my interests on the classics, I never thought that I’d have the honor of representing one of Shakespeare’s history kings.” He says he hopes “to open people’s minds and hearts to seeing the core of this story — a young man coming into his own as he learns that there are forces, both good and bad, that can alter his perception of himself.” Through Feb. 13. Tickets: 513-381-2273.
The Covedale Center just opened Neil Simon’s Chapter Two, a play about a widowed writer trying to start over while still grieving for his late wife. The story is rooted in Simon’s own experience, and the playwright’s famous one-liners are still there, but woven into the show’s humor is a story about coming to terms with death and moving on. Through Feb. 14. Tickets: 513-241-6550.
In Covington, The Carnegie is offering what sounds like an interesting production of The Wizard of Oz that opened last night. With musical accompaniment by the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, it’s a “lightly-staged” rendition with Harold Arlen’s famous score from the 1939 movie. Of particular interest is the scenic design by local artist Pam Kravetz, a unique take on the iconic landscapes of Oz, including Munchkin Land and the Emerald City. Just to remind folks passing by on Scott Avenue, you’ll see a giant pair of legs with striped stockings and ruby slippers to remind you that one wicked witch is dead. Through Jan. 31. Tickets: 859-957-1940.
For something completely different, consider The Realistic Joneses by Clifton Players, at Clifton Performance Theater on Ludlow Avenue. It’s about two couples named Jones, next-door neighbors who get to know one another despite fear and loneliness. Will Eno’s unusual play — part comedy, part drama — digs into secrets that aren’t often spoken aloud. It’s being staged by local theater veteran Dale Hodges with a cast that includes Carter Bratton, Mindy Siebert, Miranda McGee and Phil Fiorini. It’s onstage through Feb. 7. Tickets: 513-861-7469.
Next week there will be even more theater on local stages: Grounded, a one-woman show about a fighter pilot assigned to making drone strikes (Ensemble Theatre, Jan. 27-Feb. 14, 513-421-3555), BlackTop Sky, a tale of homelessness and friendship (Know Theatre, Jan. 29-Feb. 20, 513-300-5669) and Prelude to a Kiss, a sweet love story about changing places and understanding different perspectives (Falcon Theater in Newport, Jan. 29-Feb. 13, 513-479-6783).
Even though we’ve just passed the halfway point of the 2015-2016 theater season, the over-achievers at Cincinnati Landmark Productions just announced plans for future productions at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts and the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater for 2016-2017.
Tim Perrino, CLP’s executive artistic director, says, “With our two venues, Cincinnati Landmark Productions has two great platforms to create exciting theater and palpable neighborhood vitality. We set a course for success with a summer of sellouts at the Incline in 2015, and we’re chomping at the bit to bring these just-announced shows to life in 2016 and 2017.”
The Covedale’s offerings are designed for mainstream audiences, while the Incline offers two distinct seasons — “Summer Classics” presents shows with broad appeal; the “District Series” produces more adult fare, both musicals and dramas.
The Covedale Center’s “Marquee Series” for 2016-2017 will offer:
The Incline’s “District Series” plans to produce starting next fall:
Still in the pipeline for the Covedale’s current season are productions of Neil Simon’s warm-hearted comedy Chapter Two (Jan. 21-Feb. 14) and two classic musicals, She Loves Me (March 1-April 3) and Brigadoon (April 28-May 22).
Queued up at the Incline for the balance of this season are the satiric musical Avenue Q (Feb. 18-March 6) and David Mamet’s hard-as-nails real-estate drama Glengarry Glen Ross (April 6-24). Those will be followed by the previously announced “Summer Classics” season for 2016, featuring three likeable musicals Anything Goes (June 1-26), Baby (July 6-31) and Chicago (Aug. 10-Sept. 4). The Incline’s summer season in 2015 completely sold out three productions — The Producers, 1776 and 9 to 5.
Right now we’re about equidistant from the 2015 and the
2016 Fringe festivals. So let’s thanks the folks at Know Theatre, who are
presenting a double-bill of “Fringe Encores” to keep us stoked. This
weekend actually offers one encore plus a graduate from Know’s Serials! series. Occupational Hazards
is about an office fling that becomes the subject of fan-fiction with
wildly divergent storylines.
The piece by Ben Dudley was a 2015 Fringe
show. He’s also the writer of Cinderblock, about a guy
(played by Dudley) whose windshield is smashed by a cult member. This
mystery passes through an office party.
The shows are being performed this weekend at Clifton Performance Theatre (404 Ludlow Ave., Gaslight Clifton): performances of Occupational Hazards are Friday at 8:45 p.m. and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; Cinderblock, which, originally presented in five 15-minute episodes, has been pieced into a full-length version that will be presented on Friday evening at 7:30 and Saturday at 8:45. You can sit in on one piece for $15 or pay $25 for the pair either evening. Tickets: knowtheatre.com
Mariemont Players, one of Cincinnati’s fine community theater groups, is presenting D. W. Gregory’s Radium Girls through Jan. 24. It’s inspired by a true story about women who painted radium numerals on glow-in-the-dark watches, unaware of the dangers of radioactivity. The play, described as being “written with warmth and humor,” is being presented at the Walton Creek Theater (4101 Walton Creek Rd., just east of Mariemont). Tickets ($20): 513-684-1236 or mariemontplayers.com
One more weekend at the Aronoff Center for the highly entertaining touring production of Kinky Boots (through Sunday). A struggling shoe factory in Northampton, England, retools to avoid bankruptcy and unemployment. Rather than continuing to manufacture stodgy men’s shoes, they turn to high-fashion footwear for drag queens, promoted as “kinky boots.” It’s an unlikely tale that happens to be true, and it’s the vehicle for some outrageous humor, especially from Lola, an extrovert of a diva and her spectacularly clad and built “Angels,” a half-dozen drag queens who back up her act. Kinky Boots offers a meaningful message about tolerance and finding your own path, fleshed out with some entertaining dancing and fine singing. Tickets: 513-621-2787
The local theater scene picks up momentum next week when three shows open on Thursday and another on Friday. That evening the Covedale Center opens Neil Simon’s Chapter Two (through Feb. 14), a warm-hearted comedy about getting back into the dating game; Covington’s Carnegie offers a “lightly-staged” concert adaptation of The Wizard of Oz (through Jan. 31) with accompaniment by the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra; and Clifton Players stages The Realistic Joneses (through Feb. 7 at Clifton Performance Theatre), a comedy-drama about the secrets of next-door neighbors directed by local stage veteran Dale Hodges. On Friday evening, Cincinnati Shakespeare continues its five-year, chronological presentation of Shakespeare’s eight-play history cycle with Henry VI, Part I (through Feb. 13), the story of a young king who must rule after his father’s untimely death; Joan of Arc is a key character in this tale.
Life in the big city: Lots of choices.
If you turn up at the Aronoff Center for the touring production of Kinky Boots (it’s onstage through Jan. 17), you might think you’ve landed in Over-the-Rhine. That’s how much the show’s opening vista of a factory in Northampton, England, resembles our own historic neighborhood. It’s the Victorian brick façade of a shoe factory that’s struggling in the 21st century because it’s still manufacturing old-fashioned men’s shoes. Even if they’re “the most beautiful thing in the world” (the theme of the show’s opening song), not so many people want to buy them today. As a last-ditch effort to keep the company from closing, the fourth-generation heir to the business, Charlie Price, decides to make “kinky boots,” high-fashion footwear for drag queens whose male frames are too much for standard female shoe heels. His customer No. 1 is Lola, an extrovert of a diva who — not unlike Charlie — has struggled with living up to his dad’s expectations. There’s a lot of fun and frippery along the way: Lola has a half-dozen “Angels” — drag queens who back up her act — and they’re spectacularly clad and built. A perky factory worker, Lauren, keeps giving Charlie advice (while falling for him despite his imminent fiancée in London). Another employee, Don, a hardcore male chauvinist, wants nothing to do with Lola. Watching events unfold is the fun of this show, even if you know where it’s all headed. Kinky Boots offers a meaningful message about tolerance and finding your own path, and there’s a lot of fancy dancing and fine singing along the way. Tickets: 513-621-2787
Whether or not your New Year’s resolution had to do with losing weight, you still have to eat. So the topic this quarter’s True Theatre, True Food, should be of interest. These are true personal narratives, sometimes confessional, often humorous, told by everyday people. Monday night’s stories are about what a homeless woman did when she had access to a kitchen, a man who ate the wrong thing at the wrong time, another man reconsidering his family’s “roots” and two guys who eat like there’s no tomorrow, day in and day out. What happens when a foodie and a picky eater cross paths? You can find out on Monday when folks crowd into Know Theatre’s Underground Bar (1120 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine) to get the dish on these stories. Call for tickets ($18); these events are often sold out.
Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.