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.
It’s the 15th century, and remnants of the Middle Ages hang over Europe as it unknowingly waits for the Renaissance. In the dim candlelight somewhere in Spain shines an altarpiece painted to depict the lives of St. Peter and Jesus Christ along with images of the Virgin Mary and other saints. With its impressive strokes of paint and gold and silver leaf, Lorenzo Zaragoza’s “Retablo of St. Peter” is remarkable to behold.
More than 600 years later, the altarpiece rests under the skilled hands of Cincinnati Art Museum’s chief conservator Serena Urry. With only the clack of museum visitor’s shoes disturbing the quiet peace, the setting resembles the serenity of the piece’s original home.
Zaragoza’s piece has stood the test of time, more or less. While it has been admired by thousands of Cincinnati Art Museum visitors since the museum purchased the piece in1960, it was taken off exhibit in 2010 due to its poor condition. It is now back on exhibit through April 24, as visitors can watch Urry bring the retablo to life again through cleaning all 18 of its panels.
It’s a two-in-one exhibit, giving visitors an insider’s look at the work done
by the museum’s conservation department while they view and learn about the
piece. Established in 1935, the museum’s conservation department is one of the
oldest in the country. Since then it has grown from one part-time paintings
conservator to four professionally trained conservators, each of whom have their
own specialization in paintings, paper, textiles or objects. The department is
in charge of conserving the museum’s entire collection (with the exception of
works that are on loan to the museum).
Urry proposed the exhibit because the retablo needed to be treated before it
could go back on view in the galleries. However, this is no small task — the
retouching is not expected to be complete for another few years. On view in the
exhibit is only the first step of the process: cleaning and consolidating.
Urry says determining the full condition of a piece of art before beginning its conservation treatment is the hardest part of conserving art. The two most important tenants that guide painting conservation are reversibility, which ensures that nothing will be done to the work that cannot be removed later, and dissimilarity, which means suing conservation materials that are not found in the original painting.
Of course, Uri’s conservation efforts are not the first for the retablo. With a piece of art this old, it is common for there to be many years of retouching — the first effort to conserve the retablo may have occurred around the early 1500s. It is believed that the central sculpture of St. Peter was created to replace the original lost piece.
Urry’s work includes using a variety of solvents, hand tools and a hot air gun to remove the effects of older retouching campaigns, such as discolored varnish and wax. This includes a layer of wax added by the Art Museum in 1960 to contain flaking. Since then it has become clouded with dust and grime, and the wax tinted to match the gold leaf of the painting has discolored to a greenish metallic hue.
After cleaning, painting conservation also involves structural treatments, such as modifying or replacing the canvas, its lining and stretcher. There may also be surface treatments done to conserve paintings, such as filling losses of paint, toning the fillings and adding layers of varnish.
“All of the paintings in a multi-piece work like this should be worked on together to ensure consistency,” Urry says. “The gallery space gives me an opportunity to have all of them on view as they are conserved.”
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.
From a dark studio strung to the brim with Christmas lights comes a
music that seems as if it could have originated in an Indian temple, yet it
resonates with the charm of American Folk music. A barefoot guitar player taps
his foot on a pedal as he strums along flawlessly next to his bandmate, who is
playing an instrument of his own creation — a sitar with some strings and a
bell removed, frets added and a homemade capo fashioned out of plastic rollers
and a piece of a lampshade.
As Dawg Yawp plays its song “I Wanna Be a Dawg” in WNKU’s Studio 89, the duo
emits a powerful sound that blends together traditional Folk instruments with
electronic elements. Their John Cage-esque ability to reinvent new ways to play
music (minus slapping a dead fish on a piano) sets them apart from any other
folk artist. It’s the perfect combination of worldly and psychedelic.
“It sounds amazing to sit there and listen to all of the different elements
coming together,” says WNKU’s sound engineer Matt Moermond as he watches a
video of the performance on his iPad. “They did big things this year. Their new
music has even more of an electronic side with a lot of samples and layers.”
The video is part of the station’s promotion of local music. Dawg Yawp is one of
the artists that has been featured as the station’s Local Discovery of the
Month, an honor that has also been spotlighted other Cincinnati-based artists
such as Jeremy Pinnell, Multimagic and The Yugos.
Moermond remarks on how the Local Discovery videos — all filmed in Studio 89 — have
become viral on social media. With the help of sharing and instant viewing on
Facebook, a WNKU video of a Jeremy Pinnell performance has had more than 13,000
Along with the monthly spotlight, WNKU plays a song by a local artist at least once
an hour. However, it isn’t just music from Cincinnati. For WNKU, local means as
far as their radio signal goes out. Artists from areas nearby Cincinnati, such
as Columbus and Indianapolis, can also enjoy being aired on the station.
WNKU’s Assistant Program Director Liz Felix sees playing local music as the
convergence of the station’s mission.
“Ultimately our mission is two-fold: play awesome music that’s not necessarily
exposed anywhere else and tying into the local community,” Felix says. “Playing
local music is both of those things together, and I think that’s what exciting
Both Felix and Moermond say they are blown away by the quality of recordings
they receive from local artists. So much so, that it is difficult for them to
pick who they will feature each month because there are so many great artists
to choose from.
“This is music that I would have no problem telling other people in the record
industry, ‘Here are the great bands from Cincinnati,’ and I think they would
stand up against any national release,” Felix says.
The local artists featured monthly are chosen from the pool of local artists
already being played on WNKU. The station also looks for artists who are
actively releasing new music and who may be familiar, but not too widely known.
“It is extremely important that we play the local artists and support the local
scene,” Moermond says. “That’s one of the main reasons that we’re here. It
gives bands a voice that they may not otherwise receive in broadcast. We were
the first ones to ever air Walk the Moon.”
Local artists can submit their music to WNKU in order to be played. Moermond
says when he is listening to local music submissions, he looks for quality.
While quality production is a requirement for airtime on WNKU, he says this
does not mean that music has to be expensively produced, as there are ways to
make quality recordings within your home.
Moermond also explains that local music submission should clearly be marked as
local recordings. The station receives so many submissions a day, it is easier
to find local music that is marked as such.
Aside from submissions, Moermund and Felix say they try to attend shows
throughout Cincinnati at least a few nights per week to stay in touch with the
local music scene and discover new artists. They enjoy artists who present
lively, energetic performances no matter how small or large the crowd. Both
agree it is as much fun as it is necessary to be in tune with the local music
The vibrant scene also gives them a unique sampling of the many local artists
making great music.
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.
It was in a rear area of the Brick 939 pop-up market in Walnut Hills. It’s already no longer on view and just waiting to be sent back to its artist. But I have a feeling we’ll be hearing much more from that artist — Ato Ribeiro — responsible for the monumental-sized portrait, “Edith Motte Young, Forever,” made through a charcoal-erasing process on brown paper.
It is a 13-by-9-foot drawing of the Detroit artist’s great-grandmother. At that size, you immediately wonder if the image deserves the space devoted to it.
It does, indeed — the woman’s eyes look upward, hopefully and compellingly. She seems, in her vaguely Modernist apparel, to be both of our relatively recent past and timeless. And the work seems both authoritative and fragile, given the use of (crumpled) paper.
Communicating by email from Detroit, where he is working on his M.F.A. at Cranbrook Academy of Art in suburban Bloomfield Hills, Ribeiro explains his process.
“(It) consists of applying a few flat layers of charcoal across each sheet of brown paper before crumpling each sheet into a little ball in order to work the creases into the paper,” Ribeiro says.
“These creases create the sense of a discarded object. After unraveling the paper, I would use a kneaded eraser to erase out my image's details, one little section at a time. There were no drawing tools involved in my process.
“Over the last 5 years, my work has gravitated towards the use of discarded natural and found objects as my preferred choice in materials. The reason the brown paper feels the way it does is because this was paper that I collected (close to the beach) while in Ghana a few months ago, where the tropical weather tends to get pretty humid. This easily accessible paper (in Ghana) is commonly used by students to cover their academic textbooks, protecting them from damage.
“Through the reductive process of charcoal erasing to create my subjects, I attempt to highlight several members of my African-American history (whom I use as role models in my life) while addressing the struggles that African-Americans face relating to the preservation of much of our culture. Also the work is intentionally not fixed so that viewers who do decide to touch the piece would become aware of the how easy it is to erase/remove part of our 'history.' ’’
Exactly how this piece came to be shown here — where it was on display Nov. 27-Jan. 3 — is an interesting story. A fellow Cranbrook artist from Cincinnati, Ingrid Alexandra Schmidt, heard of the opportunity and arranged for Ribeiro to present his work.
“Though I have never spent an extended amount of time in Ohio, Edith Motte Young ended up moving her family to Oberlin, Ohio in 1929 (where my grandfather went to Oberlin High School and Oberlin College before becoming a pilot),” Ribeiro says. “So I thought it would be a little poetic to send the piece of her back in that direction. Thus I applied and was later accepted.”
Ribeiro is at work on a Forever Young series of family portraits — Young is his mother's maiden name. When it is finished, one hopes to be able to see it in Cincinnati. From the work shown here, his series is a remarkable and inspirational display of love and respect (and artistic ability) from a young man to his family.
Meanwhile, the Brick pop-up shop and the organization behind it — MORTAR, which is out to empower residents of Over-the-Rhine and Walnut Hills through entrepreneurship — should be proud of giving Cincinnati a chance to see this fine artist. For more information about him, visit atoribeiroart.com.
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.
This weekend is your final chance to see several December productions, including Low Down Dirty Blues (Cincinnati Playhouse), All Childish Things (Know Theatre) and Rent (Incline Theater). A few shows stick around after Dec. 25 — A Christmas Carol (Playhouse) continues through Dec. 30 and Ensemble Theatre’s staging of its jaunty rendition of Cinderella remains onstage until Jan. 3. I would find it odd to watch Ebenezer Scrooge getting scared into a “Merry Christmas” a few days after the holiday, but ETC’s contemporary rendition of a beloved fairytale might be just the thing to entertain bored kids after they’ve tried out all the new toys. Tickets for the latter: 513-421-3555.
I checked out opening night of the tenth anniversary presentation of Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some) at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, and it’s as silly and funny as ever — especially with some clever pokes at people and events from 2015. The annual gags about fruitcakes take on a whole new dimension this time around by having some fun with Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis and her intransigence about issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. Every Christmas Story trots out just about every “BHC” (Beloved Holiday Classic) you might recall and puts it through a humorous filter. It’s fun from start to finish, but there is a moment — after recreating A Charlie Brown Christmas, complete with a woebegone tree — when Justin McCombs steps into a pool of light as Linus with his security blanket and recites the New Testament passage from the Gospel of Luke about an angel speaking to the shepherds. It’s a somber and wholly lovely scene, so far removed from very tongue-in-cheek, sometimes off-color humor typical of the show that it sticks with audience members. The antic McCombs also plays a true believer who refuses to be be convinced that Santa’s existence is impossible: His enthusiasm for all the miraculous things the Jolly Old Elf can accomplish is so childlike that you’ll wish you could return to that innocent age yourself. Even if you’ve seen Every Christmas Story before, it’s a blast to go back. In fact, I’d say it’s become a BHC in its own right. Onstage through Dec. 27. Tickets (if they’re still available): 513-381-2273.
There’s also some great holiday laughs to be had compliments of OTRImprov, presenting its annual show The Naughty List in the Courtyard at Arnold’s Bar & Grill in Downtown Cincinnati. The 90-minute show — unscripted and building off suggestions from the audience — happens Sunday-Tuesday, Dec. 20-22 and Dec. 27-29. It’s a laugh-a-minute way to have fun right before or after Christmas. To make an evening of it, show up at Arnolds (201 East 8th St.) between 6 and 6:30 p.m., get seated and place your dinner order. The performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. The rotating cast includes OTRImprov’s quick-witted regulars Mike Hall, Kirk Keevert, Sean Mette, Dave Powell, Charlie Roetting, Dylan Shelton and Kat Smith. Tickets (order before 4:30 on the day of the show): 513-300-5669.