Over the weekend, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati announced its 2009-10 season, and it’s full of works you’ve never heard of but will be glad that D. Lynn Meyers has picked. ETC generally offers premieres of works that have been presented elsewhere, but not locally, and she’s kicking off the season with a powerful piece, Moisés Kaufman’s 33 Variations (Sept. 2-20).
Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park Producing Artistic Director Ed Stern today announced that he will leave the esteemed regional theater after two more seasons, following the 2011-12 season, his 20th. Ed’s tenure at the Playhouse predates CityBeat’s coming into existence: He began in 1992, two years before CityBeat began publishing. I had the pleasure of writing about the recovery of the theater under Stern for EveryBody’s News and then for CityBeat; the Playhouse was in desperate financial straits when Stern and Executive Director Buzz Ward took over — a $1.25 million accumulated deficit.
Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, sporting a slightly abbreviated name and a half-painted façade, today announced most of its 2012-2013 season. As usual at ETC, it’s a work in progress: That how things are when you’re on the cutting edge of contemporary theater. But Artistic Director D. Lynn Meyers knows how to juggle lots of moving parts, and that includes a nod to another local theater great: She’s engaged Ed Stern, about to retire from his 20-year tenure as artistic director at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, to stage a show that will feature the city’s most respected professional actor, Dale Hodges. Meyers has also designated five shows (the season will have six, one is still to be determined) for her schedule.
Meyers says, “Next season promises to be a selection of smart, contemporary, and compelling theater. The ETC experience is unique and intimate, unlike anything you’ll see anywhere else, along with the excellence you’ve come to expect.” She points out that the season features several strong female voices, too.
In 2007, ETC presented Rabbit Hole by Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lindsay-Abaire. He’ll be back for the theater’s 27th season with a humor-laced drama Good People (Sept. 5-23). The recent script (its Broadway production was a Tony nominee a year ago) explores the struggles, shifting loyalties and unshakeable hopes that come with having next to nothing in America. It focuses on a woman unable to catch a break who flees from urban Boston to the suburbs, where she’s totally out of her element. It’s a look at the haves and the have-nots, the kind of tale that Meyers loves to present to ETC audiences.
Up next will be Ed Stern’s production of Jeffrey Hatcher’s irreverent but poignant comedy Mrs. Mannerly (Oct. 10-28). Dale Hodges will play a demanding etiquette teacher in 1967; she’s bedeviled by a boy trying pulling out all the stops to get a perfect score, an unprecedented feat. The boy’s name Jeffrey Hatcher, so he bears a close resemblance to the playwright. (Amusingly, we are warned that this play about proper behavior contains strong language.)
For the holidays, ETC will reprise one of its family-friendly musicals: Alice in Wonderland (Nov. 28-Dec. 30) by playwright Joseph McDonough and composer-lyricist David Kisor.
Meyers is still angling for the show she’ll present in late January.
It will be followed by the regional premiere of Frank Higgins’ Black Pearl Sings! (March 13-31, 2013). I saw a production of this show in Sarasota in 2008, and I’m convinced it’s the kind of play that ETC audiences warm to, similar to this season’s The Whipping Man. It’s set during the Great Depression focusing on a researcher collecting traditional music for the Library of Congress. She finds Pearl Johnson in a Texas prison, a woman with a head and heart full of spiritual songs and a voice to perform them. Black Pearl Sings! is about being a woman in a man’s world, being black in a white world and fighting for one’s soul in a world where anyone can be a commodity.
ETC’s season will end on a familiar and definitely lighter note with another sequel to the best-selling production from 2009, The Marvelous Wonderettes. This time it’s The Marvelous Wonderettes: Caps and Gowns (May 1-19, 2013). We return to 1958 at Springfield High School for graduation and high hopes including a gymnasium full of pop tunes from the era — “River Deep, Mountain High,” “Dedicated to the One I Love,” “Rockin’ Robin.”
Subscriptions are already on sale ($156-$186); you can purchase a FlexPass ($196), which gives you six flexible tickets to use for any show and in any combination. Single tickets for season go on sale to the general public on August 13, 2012.
Around noon on Monday, the Cincinnati Playhouse will announcement its 2012-2013 season, the first mapped out by someone other than Producing Artistic Director Ed Stern in 20 years. Blake Robison takes over for the retiring Stern on July 1, so he’s had the daunting task of following in those big (and very successful) footsteps. Stern liked to present work by up-and-coming playwrights, and Robison has the same inclination, although as someone a generation younger than Stern, he has his own connections and ideas. He’s landed a world premiere by one of the most intriguing young playwrights in the United States, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. The show is called Abigail/1702, and we’ll see it early in 2013 (Jan. 19-Feb. 17).
It’s Aguirre-Sacasa’s imaginative exploration of what became of Abigail Williams, the young girl who sets in motion the Salem witch trials portrayed in Arthur Miller’s classic play from 1952, The Crucible. The new work, set a decade after Abigail accused many people of witchcraft, portrays her in her late 20s, struggling to atone for her sins, the ones portrayed in that memorable play — as well as darker ones that live in her heart. As she cares for a young sailor on the brink of death, a stranger from her past finds her and sets her on a quest for redemption.
Robison, who will direct the production, staged another work by Aguirre-Sacasa, his adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray that proved to be a bit hit at the Roundhouse Theatre in Maryland, where Robison served as artistic director. “When I found out that I was coming to the Playhouse, one of the first calls I made was to Roberto because I value his voice as an artist so much. I told him, ‘Send me whatever you’re working on right now.’ He sent me this play and I read it. I texted him and said, ‘You wrote an awesome play! I want to do it.’”
Robison admires the writer’s breadth of work: He’s written for Marvel Comics (Marvel Knights, Spider-Man and The Stand), for television (as a staff writer for HBO’s Big Love and the hit Fox series Glee) as well as nearly a dozen plays. “One of the fun things for me as the incoming artistic director,” Robison told me recently, “is to bring new voices to the community and to introduce some writers who I have a wonderful relationship with who haven’t been seen yet in Cincinnati.”
Robison loves Aguirre-Sacasa’s new script. “He has a gift for dialogue, and a highly visual sense to his writing. This play is quite unlike any of his other plays, quite unlike anything I’ve seen onstage before. To go back into our collective consciousness and pluck this famous figure from the dramatic canon and imagine what her life must be like 10 years down the line is a wonderfully creative act.”
Not to mention a great way for Robison to define his own artistic tastes for Cincinnati audiences. Keep an eye on CityBeat’s Arts Blog tomorrow for more news of the Playhouse’s upcoming season.
Since the 2011 Cincinnati Fringe Festival kicked off on June 1, a panel of three dedicated theater experts have been evaluating performances for recognition through the Acclaim Awards. These awards are in the process of being renamed, but for the sake of clarity and brevity, I’m going to call them by their soon-to-be-former name. The panelists are veterans of the Acclaims; neither Jackie Demaline of The Cincinnati Enquirer nor I are members of the panel or involved in this process.
Perhaps you’ve been hearing some conversation about the Cincinnati Playhouse moving downtown, which started late last year. Guess it would no longer be the “Playhouse in the Park,” but there are some grand plans for a new theater facility right in the heart of downtown.
If you’d like to learn more, you might want to stop by the Playhouse’s Marx Theatre tonight for the second of two town hall-style meetings about the future. (The first meeting was on Sept. 22.) Playhouse Board President Jack Rouse and Producing Artistic Director Ed Stern will present the pros and cons of the Mount Adams location and what downtown has to offer; there will be a chance for questions from the audience, too.
Rouse says, “Theater is a collaborative art, and we want to mirror that collaborative process as we analyze the important decisions that we will be making concerning our physical theaters and their location.”
Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis in the Marx Theatre. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. Parking is free (there are no performances at the Playhouse on Monday evenings). Following the presentation, attendees can stay for further conversation with Playhouse board members and key staff in the Rosenthal Plaza. Hors d’oeuvres will be served, and a cash bar is available.
What might become of the Playhouse’s current facility in Eden Park is a big question, as is how a downtown theater complex could be funded. These are important questions for the future of our much-admired regional theater. Sounds like a worthwhile way to spend a few hours on a Monday evening.
– Rick Pender
If circuses haven't been the same for you since realizing that animals don't actually like trainers who crack the whip, go to Cirque du Soleil. CityBeat staffers were among the folks who attended last night's sneak preview of their new show, OVO, at Coney Island. It was amazing: technically impeccable, delightfully entertaining and 100 percent cruelty free!
OVO runs through May 15, and there's a Mother's Day
discount promotion going on now. Click here for details.
Abandon ship! Well, that's not exactly true. In fact, Cincinnati Landmark Productions has done a remarkable and loving job of sustaining the ship — in the form of the Showboat Majestic, which it has operated for 23 years in the face of at least 10 floods and countless repairs (including a leaky hull). But with its lease running out later this month, the company has decided not to return for the 2014 season.
Cincinnati Landmark will focus its endeavors on the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, the converted West Side movie theater where it will offer a "Summer Classics Season" in a vein similar to mainstream fare of classic comedies and musicals that has long drawn audiences to the Majestic. There have been 170 productions on board since 1991, attracting more than 350,000 patrons to the last floating theater in the United States. Cincinnati Landmark is also embarking on a new voyage with a performing arts center to be built in the Incline District in East Price Hill, a venue anticipated to be up and running as early as 2015.
Tim Perrino, executive artistic director at Cincinnati Landmark, says, "It's time to say goodbye. Our organization enjoyed a prolific chapter in the Majestic's grand history, painstakingly caring for the old boat" — launched in 1923 — "and producing seasons that paid tribute to her heritage."
Opening this week on Wednesday, Showboat Follies will be Cincinnati Landmark's final production on the Majestic. An annual tradition, it's a compilation of musical showstoppers, comic sketches, audience interaction and a return of the "Queen City Toast," a longtime staple of season-closing shows. "This show has become our love letter to the Majestic," Perrino says, adding that it's "a thank-you to our subscribers, longtime supporters and the many artists who helped make our time on the Showboat so special." Showboat Follies runs through Sept. 29.
During the summer of 2014, Cincinnati Landmark will present four productions at the Covedale: Jerry Herman's Hello, Dolly! (May 22-June 1); Neil Simon's comedy, The Sunshine Boys (June 19-29); Footloose (July 24-Aug. 3), the 2014 Cincinnati Young People's Theater production, a summer favorite using local high school talent; and a spectacular song-and-dance show, The Will Rogers Follies (Aug. 21-31).
In 1989, the Showboat Majestic was named a National Historic Landmark. No word from the City of Cincinnati, which has owned the Majestic since 1967, as to what might be next. The Majestic was operated with summertime shows by the University of Cincinnati for many years, and it served as a popular venue during several of the Tall Stacks festivals over the years.
Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s 2010-11 season has a distinct difference between the plays it will present on its Robert S. Marx main stage and the shows slotted for its smaller Thompson Shelterhouse. With a few significant exceptions, it’s a divide between the 20th and 21st centuries.
All of the coming season’s Shelterhouse shows have originated since 2000, four of five in the past three years. On the main stage, the average age of shows is more than 20 years. (It stretches out a lot further if you use the original publication date of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, dating back to 1843, rather than the 1991 adaptation by Howard Dallin that the Playhouse produces annually.)