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by Rick Pender 12.09.2014
Posted In: Theater at 11:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
clooney copy

Call Board: Theater News

Actors Sought. Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati hosts its third annual Meals for Monologues on Monday and Tuesday between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. at 1127 Vine St. in Over-the-Rhine. It's an open casting call to Equity and non-union actors for theater, film, TV and/or commercial projects cast by the theater's artistic director D. Lynn Meyers. Interested performers should bring two non-perishable food (pasta, canned goods, etc.) or toiletry items (soap, toothpaste) to the theater — to be donated to the Freestore/Foodbank as well as a current headshot and résumé and a short prepared monologue, song or two monologues. (No accompanist, so songs need to be performed a capellla.) Time slots are five minutes maximum and are available by appointment only. The deadline was last Friday, but a quick email to Ben Raanan (braanan@ensemblecincinnati.org) will let you know if any slots are still available. Meyers is a member of the Casting Society of America, and she has tons of projects and connections beyond shows at ETC; she recently did a lot of casting during two locally shot films, Carol and Miles Ahead.

Seasonal Fundraiser for New Edgecliff. The classic holiday story, Miracle on 34th Street — yes, the one with Kris Kringle and Natalie Wood as a child actor — will be brought to life as a radio production on Sunday evening at the Northside Tavern (4163 Hamilton Ave.) as an old-time radio drama. Produced by New Edgecliff Theatre with sound effects by WMKV's Mike Martini, it's a benefit to the theater group. Admission is $35, and it includes a dessert buffet at intermission provided by Cincinnati State's Midwest Culinary Institute. Tickets: 888-428-7311 (or at the door).

Rosie Keeps Singing. The Cincinnati Playhouse's production of Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical seems to be a big hit. The show, onstage in the Shelterhouse, opened on Nov. 20, and on its first night artistic director Blake Robison announced that sales were brisk enough to make it possible to extend the production a week beyond its intended closing date (Dec. 28) to Jan. 4. Demand for tickets has continued, so the Playhouse has extended the show another week, now closing on Jan. 11. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

Welcome to Dystopia. If you've read Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel The Handmaid's Tale, you know it's a creepy vision of the not-too-distant future in which the United States has become a theocracy called the Republic of Gilead. An oppressive regime forces women to bear children for population growth, but Offred resists the demands made of her. Cincinnati Shakespeare gave Joe Stollenwerk's adaptation of the show a workshop in 2009 and a short-run production in 2011 featuring veteran Cincy Shakes actress Corinne Mohlenhoff as Offred. Next month Know Theatre fills in a TBA slot in its season with the show's first full-fledged production (Jan. 23-Feb. 21). Cincy Shakes' Brian Phillips will stage the one-woman piece with Mohlenhoff. They are married, so this is an unusual opportunity for them to work together on a new work rather than the classics that Cincy Shakes usually stages. Tickets ($20) are now available: 513-300-5669.

CityBeat's Rick Pender posts theater notices on CALL BOARD every Monday morning.

by Rick Pender 12.08.2014
Posted In: Theater at 09:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
christmas carol_cincinnati playhouse - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: A Ho-Ho-Whole Lotta ​Holiday Shows

If you want to go to the theater this weekend, you have plenty of choices, so long as you have the spirit of the season. Let's start with the familiar: Cincinnati Playhouse launched its 24th year of A Christmas Carol last week, and it's always a pleasure to see, featuring Bruce Cromer as Scrooge. But there are many more fine acting performances, including Ryan Wesley Gilreath as Bob Cratchit and Douglas Rees as the ebullient Mr. Fezziwig. Played out on a wingding of a set that spins and glitters and makes it possible to tell the story swiftly, Dickens' classic tale is a wonderful holiday tradition. Through Dec. 28. Tickets ($30-$85): 513-421-3888

Another tradition continues at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, where Sleeping Beauty is being revived for the fourth time. For 18 seasons, ETC has presented original shows by two local creators, playwright Joseph McDonough and composer David Kisor. It's a family-friendly piece that's conceived to entertain kids and adults with its innocent charm and a message that one person can truly make a difference. Many of ETC's regular actors return annually to do these shows, especially Deb G. Girdler (as the evil Wisteria) and Michael G. Bath (as her nefarious henchman). Intern Deirdre Manning is the sweet princess who sleeps for 100 years, and Terrance J. Ganser is both the prince who fulfills her curse and the one who breaks her free a century later. Especially enjoyable as a trio of mischievous fairies are Sara Mackie, Denise Devlin and Brooke Steele as Marigold, Lilac and Daisy. (They will be familiar to ETC audiences from several productions of the "Marvelous Wonderettes.") Through Jan. 4. Tickets ($28-$44): 513-421-3555

Lots of good holiday choices are up and running elsewhere: Forever Plaid – Plaid Tidings at the Covedale Center on the West Side; The Comedy of Errors at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company downtown; The Eight Reindeer Monologues at Falcon Theatre in Newport; and the Children's Theatre of Cincinnati's production of The Snow Queen at the Taft Theatre downtown.

If you prefer to avoid elves, nutcrackers and bah-humbugs, you should try Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical (CityBeat review here) at the Playhouse or The Bureau of Missing Persons, a the magical, mysterious production at Know Theatre (CityBeat review here).

Ho, ho, ho, indeed. That's enough theater to make anyone jolly.

Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 12.01.2014
Posted In: Theater at 08:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
susan haefner as rosemary clooney - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: Clooney, Christmas Carol and Comedy

Earlier this week I took my mom to see Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical at the Cincinnati Playhouse (CityBeat review here). It was just as good the second time around. Mom, who loved Clooney as a performer in her heyday, had this to say: "It was like seeing her perform live!" I agree: Susan Haefner offers a wonderful interpretation of a Cincinnati icon; and it's great fun to watch Michael Marotta (the only other actor onstage) play her psychiatrist and a dozen or so other characters from Rosie's life. It's a great story of a woman who overcame some daunting demons and made a second career when she had been largely forgotten. Through Jan. 4. Tickets ($30-$85): 513-421-3888.

Even though everyone's Christmas decorations have been up for a while, the holiday season doesn't really begin for me until the Cincinnati Playhouse opens its production of A Christmas Carol. Well, there's no more waiting for that one: For the 24th consecutive year, the Mt. Adams theater kicks things off tonight with a glittering production of Charles Dickens' story of the re-education of Ebenezer Scrooge by several ghosts and the loving family of Bob Cratchit. This show is worth seeing simply for Bruce Cromer's winning performance in the pivotal role, but there's so much more — it's a scenically beautiful production, and the ensemble totally enters into the spirit of the season and brings the audience right along, too. Through Dec. 28. Tickets ($30-$85): 513-421-3888.

Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors is not exactly a holiday show, but it's a lot of fun (CityBeat review here), what with two sets of twins intersecting without realizing the confusion they're causing. Of course, it all sorts out eventually with a happy ending and multiple weddings. Set in a carnival town and costumed as if it were America in the 1930s, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's production induces laughter from start to finish. It would be a happy weekend outing for anyone, young or old. Through Dec. 13. Tickets ($22-$36): 513-381-2273.

Know Theatre's production of The Bureau of Missing Persons is an evocative and entertaining piece of alternative theater (CityBeat review here). The story of a woman's quest from her New York City apartment to a cave in Moscow in search of someone missing is described in the show's publicity as "a poignant tale of loss and redemption — part mystery, part love story." It's also the directorial debut for Tamara Winters, who recently became Know's associate artistic director. There's a preview tonight and the official opening is Saturday evening; it will be onstage through Dec. 20. Tickets ($20 in advance; $10 at the door 10 minutes prior to curtain, if available … cash only): 513-300-5669.

Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
by Rick Pender 11.21.2014
Posted In: Theater at 09:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
susan haefner as rosemary clooney at cincinnati playhouse - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: A Girl Singer and Two Pairs of Twins

Many Cincinnati stages are momentarily paused, readying shows for the holidays. Last night the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park opened its production of Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical. Susan Haefner does a remarkable job of channeling the "girl singer" from Maysville, Ky., who grew up in Greater Cincinnati. We learn how she became a star, rose to fame, almost lost it to pills and dissolute behavior, then battled back for a "flip side" to her singing career. All the other characters in her story — male and female, young and old, famous and unknown — are performed by Michael Marotta, who principally plays her counselor but is amusingly convincing as Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Merv Griffin and many more. It's a thoroughly entertaining two hours on the Playhouse's Shelterhouse stage, and it's already appealing to audiences apparently, since the show's run has been extended from Dec. 28 to Jan. 4. Tickets ($30-$85): 513-421-3888

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company kicks off its next production of the 2014-2015 season tonight with The Comedy of Errors. The emphasis in this show, one of Shakespeare's earliest works, is definitely on the comedy, what with two pairs of twins whose adventures are hysterically compounded by mistaken identities when they end up in the same town on the same day. For this staging, it's set in a seaside resort in America of the 1930s in the midst of a classic carnival, adding to the story's hilarity. This one will only be onstage until Dec. 13, so this weekend is the perfect time to catch a performance, before holiday shows take center stage elsewhere. Tickets ($22-$36): 513-381-2273

One last treat I'll mention, which happens to be operatic rather than theatrical: It's Great Scott, a new work that Cincinnati Opera is nurturing in partnership with UC's College-Conservatory of Music. The production's creators have been in town all this week honing this brand new opera, the story of a struggling opera company and the hometown football team. They come into conflict when the team is to play in the Super Bowl on the same day the company has planned to premiere a long lost opera. To heighten the drama, the team's owner is married to the opera company's founder. The composer is Jake Heggie, who wrote the music for Dead Man Walking, a work produced by Cincinnati Opera at Music Hall in 2002, and Great Scott's script is by prize-winning playwright Terrence McNally. The week's work will culminate in a public reading on Tuesday evening. It's free, but you are asked to make a reservation by calling 513-241-2742 to see it at Memorial Hall (1225 Elm Street, next door to Music Hall; it's easy to park your car in the nearby Washington Park Garage).

Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
by Rick Pender 11.14.2014
Posted In: Theater at 09:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: Broadway Here, Broadway There — It's Everywhere

If you're looking for good theater this weekend you have two great choices at downtown Cincinnati's Aronoff Center. It's your pick: Recent Broadway hit Once, in a touring production, or a past award-winner, Young Frankenstein, staged by one of Cincinnati's best community theaters.

The musical Once began life as an Academy Award-winning film in 2007; the song "Falling Slowly" won an Oscar. The film became an off-Broadway production as a musical in 2011 then a Broadway contender in 2012, where it won eight Tony Awards, including best musical. Since 2013 it's been a hit in London (the film is about musicians in Dublin, and the stage adaptation is set in an Irish pub) and on a national tour in the U.S. a year ago that's been much praised. It's that tour presently onstage at the Aronoff Center's big hall. It's a very contemporary love story that succeeds in part because it's unpredictable: Boy Meets Girl (yeah, that's a cliché) but despite their chemistry and potential for romance, it doesn't turn out as you might expect. Along the way, a great cast of actor/musicians play instruments onstage and sing their hearts out as the story unfolds. And it's fun: Arrive early enough and you can queue up to go onstage and order a pint from the bar there and mingle with some of the cast. If there's such a thing as a casual musical for contemporary music lovers, this is it. Through Nov. 23. Tickets ($33-$80): 513-621-2787.

Don't think that you'll see something less than professional if you choose to head to the Aronoff's Jarson-Kaplan Theater to see Young Frankenstein, presented by Cincinnati Music Theatre through Sunday. This company of local theater junkies knows how to make big musicals work, and this jokey show by Mel Brooks (based on his equally jokey classic comedy from 1974) is a great vehicle for a talented cast and crew. There are great sets (designed by Rick Kramer) and visual effects (by Jeff Surber), and the talented performers milk every laugh line to the nth degree. Charlie Harper is lots of fun as the latter-day scientist Frankenstein, Alison Evans is his fetching lab assistant Inga and Kate Mock Elliott has great moments as his twitchy fiancee Elizabeth. Chuck Ingram's portrait of the Monster is spot on, and his delivery of the show's big number, "Puttin' on the Ritz," will stick that tune in your head for days in ways that Irving Berlin never imagined. Tickets ($20-$24): 513-621-2787.

Broadway star Faith Prince is making a local appearance at Memorial Hall for an 8 p.m. concert tonight. It's part of a series of "Libations & Lite Bites," this one titled "Broadway & Bordeaux." The evening begins at 6:30 with hors d'oeuvres from local restaurants, wine and cocktails and concludes with dessert and more. Tickets ($47-$57): cincinnatimemorialhall.com.

If you've got Broadway on the brain and you're on Cincinnati's West Side, you should definitely check out the Covedale Center's production of Stephen Sondheim's fairytale musical Into the Woods, finishing up its run on Sunday. It's an entertaining classic (in December it will be on movie screens everywhere in a new film version featuring Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp), and the Covedale has a great cast to put it across. Tickets ($21-$24): 513-241-6550.

You still have a chance to catch one of our great local actresses, Dale Hodges, in Driving Miss Daisy at Covington's Carnegie through Sunday. She's playing haughty, elderly Daisy Wertham, unwillingly partnered with Hoke, an African-American chauffeur (Reggie Williams) hired by her solicitous son Boolie (Randy Lee Bailey). It's a solid ensemble and a very entertaining production. Tickets ($18-$25): 859-957-1940.

And if you're looking for something that's brand new and edgy, check out All New People by contemporary writer Zach Braff. It's onstage at Clifton Performance Theatre, staged by Untethered Theatre through Nov. 30. It starts with a suicide attempt on Charlie's birthday and spirals from there. I'm going to see it this weekend. Maybe I'll see you there. Tickets ($20): 513-939-0599.

Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here
by 11.07.2014
Posted In: Theater at 09:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
driving miss daisy_ the carnegie_photo matt steffen

Stage Door: What You Can Learn at the Theater

Most of us go to the theater to be entertained. But we are often subtly educated and sometimes changed by the stories we witness. Take Driving Miss Daisy, for instance, Alfred Uhry's Pulitzer Prize-winning play from 1987, currently onstage at the Carnegie in Covington. It has just three characters, all from different points on the personality compass. There's the feisty Daisy Werthan, an elderly, wealthy Jewish woman in Atlanta, fiercely independent but actually in need of assistance for daily life; her rather patronizing son, Boolie, a businessman trying to ensure her safety; and Hoke Coburn, the African-American chauffeur who Boolie hires to keep his mother from risking life and limb by driving herself. Things don't go well initially, but over the course of a quarter-century Miss Daisy and Hoke become best friends, and we learn how people can connect across vast divides. Featuring three very capable local stage veterans — the brilliant Dale Hodges as Daisy, Reggie Willis as Hoke and Randy Lee Baily as Boolie — this swift play (about 90 minutes) is a story about understanding and caring for someone whose life experience is vastly different. It's done with a lot of gentle humor and insightful moments. Staged by Mark Lutwak, whose day job is at the Cincinnati Playhouse, this very satisfying production is a great choice for theater this weekend. Through Nov. 16. Tickets ($18-$25): 859-957-1940

At the Cincinnati Playhouse, the world premiere of Safe House (CityBeat review here) connects because it's a story about family dynamics that aren't all that unusual — a pair of brothers with opposing perspectives who are on a collision course — but it's made interesting because it's set in Northern Kentucky in 1843, and the characters are "free people of color" — not slaves but not exactly free. Addison is a hardworking, itinerant cobbler, dreaming of opening his own shop, while his younger brother Frank is impetuous and chafing at restrictions imposed on them despite their freedom. They're caught up in the chaos of helping others escape bondage via the Underground Railroad. Playwright Keith Josef Adkins based his new play on his own family's history, and this meticulously crafted production will keep you guessing about the outcome and leave you with a sense of how some things evolve and some never change. Through Nov. 15. Tickets ($30-$75): 513-421-3888.

Musicals are often at the far end of the lightweight entertainment spectrum, but if composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim's name is attached, you can be sure there will be twists on stories and music that goes well beyond toe-tapping numbers. That's certainly the case with Into the Woods (CityBeat review here), currently onstage at the Covedale through Nov. 16. It's a mash-up of familiar fairy tales — Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel and more — that get entangled but seem to wrap up with happy endings by intermission. Then Act II comes along, and reality sets in. It's a show that's ultimately about understanding, caring and building community. Tickets ($21-$24): 513-241-6550.

Other productions worth checking out this weekend include Conor McPherson's adaptation of the psychological thriller The Birds (CityBeat review here) at Cincinnati Shakespeare (through Saturday; tickets, $22-$36: 513-381-2273); a creative stage adaptation of Herman Melville's Moby Dick (CityBeat review here) at Know Theatre (through Saturday; tickets: $20, 513-300-5669); Stephen Karam's comedy Speech and Debate about a trio of misfit teens (CCM Drama on the UC campus, through Saturday; free, but reservations required: 513-556-4183); and Zach Braff's All New People about a disrupted suicide (Untethered Theater at Clifton Performance Theatre through Nov. 30; $25: 513-939-0599). And Cincinnati Music Theatre, a community group that is both ambitioius and successful with musicals, takes on the silly but entertaining Young Frankenstein at the Aronoff Center's Jarson-Kaplan Theatre (through Nov. 15; tickets, $20-$24; 513-621-2787).

Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
by Rick Pender 10.31.2014
Posted In: Theater at 08:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: No Tricks, All Treats – Theater Choices for Halloween Weekend

Don't be scared. Just because it's Halloween, you don't have to miss out on good theater. In fact, there are some great deals available. For instance, this weekend is your last chance to see Ensemble Theatre's production of An Iliad (CityBeat review here), a one-man retelling of Homer's epic tale of the Trojan War. (The final performance is Sunday at 2 p.m.) Bruce Cromer has been turning in one of the best acting performances seen locally in years as "The Poet" who narrates the story of the tragic conflict — as well as about a dozen of the story's central characters. Several of the weekend's performances are sold out, but seats do remain tonight at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. and if you use the coupon code SPOOKY to order tickets for either one, you'll get them for $25 each (they're usually $44). Box office: 513-421-3555.

This is also the final weekend for Falcon Theater's staging of The Woman in Black in Newport's tiny Monmouth Theater (which the group recently purchased, so it now has a permanent home, renamed "Falcon Theater"). The final performance on Saturday is sold out, but if you attend the classic ghost story tonight at 8 p.m. in costume, you'll get a $2 discount on your ticket (normally $19; $17 for students and seniors): 513-479-6783.

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's production of The Birds (CityBeat review here) is also intended to give you the creeps, so it's another good choice for Halloween weekend. If that title sounds familiar, it's because Alfred Hitchcock adapted Daphne Du Maurier's short story into a classic thriller back in 1963. Cincy Shakes is presenting a more recent stage adaptation, this one by Irish playwright Conor McPherson (who has his own reputation as a storyteller who knows how to scare an audience, with past hits like The Weir and The Seafarer). It's an evening of psychological twists and turns with a cast featuring four of the company's best actors. This one will be around for another week, but if you're celebrating Halloween, you'll have fun with this one. Tickets ($22-$36): 513-381-2273, x1.

Also onstage through Nov. 8 is Know Theatre's production of Moby Dick (CityBeat review here.) It's not exactly a ghost story, but the obsessive Captain Ahab is certainly haunted by the specter of the great white whale, and Know's retelling of Herman Melville's great American novel is inventive and engaging. Tickets ($18): 513-300-5669.

Other good choices onstage are Covedale Center's Into the Woods (CityBeat review here) and the Cincinnati Playhouse's Safe House (CityBeat review here.) The former (tickets, $21-$24: 513-241-6550) is Stephen Sondheim's classic musical that's a mash-up of fairytales; the Playhouse show is a world premiere of a play by native Cincinnatian Keith Josef Adkins about people like his ancestors, free people of color in 19th-century Kentucky (tickets, $30-$75: 513-421-3888).

Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
by Rick Pender 10.24.2014
Posted In: Theater at 08:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: Safe House and Spooky Performances

Last night I was at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park for the opening of Keith Josef Adkins' new play, Safe House, the 71st world premiere staged by our Tony Award-winning regional theater. (CityBeat feature story here.)

It's a fascinating piece that's about the little-known circumstances of "free people of color" in 19th-century America — not slaves but not exactly free. They're put into complex and stressful situations, personified here by a pair of very different brothers: Addison is a hardworking, aspiring entrepreneur, dreaming of become a cobbler with his own store, while younger brother Frank is impetuous and chafing at the restrictions imposed on them. The heat gets turned up when runaway slaves through their Northern Kentucky county need shelter and perhaps passage to Liberia, something their Aunt Dorcas has quietly supported. The story is based on Adkins' family history in this region, and it comes to life in this provocative drama. Through Nov. 15. Tickets ($30-$75): 513-421-3888.

UC's College-Conservatory of Music only rarely gives more than one weekend to musical theater productions. This fall's privileged show is the very commercial Legally Blonde (a hit movie with Reese Witherspoon from 2001 that became a Broadway property in 2007). It's a genuinely entertaining show that actually has a meaningful message about living up to potential and not judging people by their exteriors. It also has a ton of dancing, so it's great news that this production is both being staged by veteran CCM choreographer Diane, who I profiled in my Curtain Call column this week. The production is happening at UC's Patricia Corbett Theater through Nov. 2. Tickets ($31-$35): 513-556-4183.

It's fairytale time at the Covedale Center with a production of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods. But proceed with caution: The first act takes more or less traditional stories of Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk and more, and mixes them into one happy stew. But in Act II, well, things aren't so "happily every after" when reality sets in. Big cast, great tunes, lots of humor — but some thoughtfulness, too. Through Nov. 16. Tickets ($21-$24): 513-241-6550.

The chance to see Bruce Cromer's one-man performance in An Iliad at Ensemble Theatre is an absolute must for anyone who's serious about theater. (CityBeat review here.) It's quite astonishing that one man can do so much and hold an audience's attention for 100 minutes in this retelling of the savagery of the Trojan War. It's all the more powerful because it's a condemnation of war across the ages. Don't miss this one. Through Nov. 2, and no chance that it will be extended, so call now for your tickets. Here's a tip, thanks to friendly relations with Know Theatre, just around the corner from ETC: Use the coupon code MOBY20 to get 20 percent off the price of two tickets for any remaining performances. Tickets ($28-$44): 513-421-3555.

With Halloween just a week away, several theaters are offering shows that will make your heart pound. There's creepy ghost in Falcon Theatre's production of The Woman in Black ($17-$19, 513-479-6783), and the characters in Conor McPherson's The Birds are under attack in ways that don't bode to well for human interaction ($22-$36, 513-381-2273). (CityBeat review here.) And while it's not exactly a Halloween story, Moby Dick at Know Theatre has some scary oddballs and a gargantuan villain out to murder everyone, so that qualifies, too. (CityBeat review here.) It's onstage through Nov. 8 ($18; 513-300-5669).

This weekend is last call for I loved, I lost, I Made Spaghetti at the Cincinnati Playhouse. (CityBeat review here.) Actress Antoinette LaVecchia spins some great stories about writer Giulia Melucci's bad taste in men, all the while making an aromatic Italian dinner — antipasti, wine, spaghetti Bolognese (homemade pasta and fresh sauce) — for a few lucky audience members. This is a totally charming show, great for weekend entertainment. Final performance is Sunday. Tickets ($30-$75): 513-2418-3888.

Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
by Rick Pender 10.17.2014
Posted In: Theater at 08:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
bruce cromer_an iliad_etc _photo ryan kurtz

Stage Door: An Iliad, Varekai, and Other Items of Note

On Wednesday evening I attended one of the most remarkable solo performances I've ever seen: Bruce Cromer starring in An Iliad at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati.  Based on Homer's epic poem about the Trojan War, the poetic but dynamic script calls on one actor to play a dozen or so characters. Cromer does everyone of them (sometimes interacting with one another) with both imagination and detail. But mostly he's "The Poet," trapped by his role to tell this story — and the story of war in general — for nearly three millennia. He lets us see the attraction of glory and the devastation of senseless combat often for trivial reasons (the stealing of one man's wife by another lit the fuse on the Siege of Troy). The play is a condemnation of war and an acknowledgement of its inevitability. But it's also a celebration of theater, and Cromer is an absolute marvel to watch: After 100 minutes (no intermission) he's dripping with sweat from the effort and bowing to a genuine standing ovation. This is a production that no theater fan should miss. Tickets ($28-$44): 513-421-3555

There's a Cirque du Soleil show, Varekai, at the Bank of Kentucky Center at Northern Kentucky University. Like most, it's light on content and high on entertainment: A winged man falls from the rafters into a magical world where he recovers, witnessing the delights of strange creatures — who also happen to be marvelous performers: tumblers, aerial artists, jugglers and acrobats. As always, there's a pair of clowns who have fun with a few audience members. I didn't find Varekai (it's a Gypsy word that means "wherever") quite as breathtaking as some of the Cirque shows I've witnessed, but that's a relative remark, not a judgment on this production. The "Russian Swings" just before the finale feature acrobats hurled high into the air by massive swings, landing in the arms of others or on canvas sails. (Don't try this at home.) Varekai is a great escape and totally family friendly. Final performance is Sunday at 5 p.m. Tickets ($28-$145): 800-745-3000

For a quick taste of Know Theatre's Moby Dick, check out this trailer: http://youtu.be/QMbqos66s0s. There's singing of sea shanties, hoisting of sails and a tremendous battle with the Great White Whale. I'm hoping that this ambitious production gets its sea legs soon: It felt a bit wobbly during the opening week. But Herman Melville's classic American novel has life breathed into it by a cast of eight hardworking actors. Onstage through Nov. 8. Tickets ($18, but performances on Wednesdays are free): 513-300-3669

Other items of note: On Monday evening, Know Theatre hosts the quarterly presentation of TRUEtheatre, real stories told by everyday people; this time around it's True Hair. … The following night at KNow, Cincinnati Fringe favorite Kevin Thornton is back in town to present another of his one-man shows of music and comedy, this one is called Talky Concert Thingy. He's a load of unpredictable talent, always watchable. … Falcon Theatre (they perform at the Monmouth Theatre in Newport) this weekend opens a production of the classic thriller, The Woman in Black. It's a good scare for the Halloween season. Tickets: 513-479-6783 … Children's Theatre of Cincinnati is offering public performances of Disney's Beauty and the Beast JR. at the Taft this weekend (and Saturday, Oct. 25). Tickets ($7-$25): 800-745-3000
by Rick Pender 10.10.2014
Posted In: Theater at 08:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
moby dick_left to right montez o jenkins as queequeg _rico reid as ahab _photo_deogracias lerma

Stage Door: A Whale, Two Brothers and a Beast

Know Theatre sets sail this weekend with tonight's opening of Moby Dick. It's Herman Melville's great American novel stripped down to its bare essentials of men at sea doing battle with a creature that maimed their obsessive captain. It's Know's first main stage show staged by new artistic director Andrew Hungerford, who's teamed with co-director Michael Burnham, retired from CCM but no doubt as inventive as ever in bringing unusual material to audiences. Featuring the haunting music of sea shanties and a stage full of theatricality, it being performed through Nov. 8. Tickets ($20 in advance): 513-300-5669. And here's a tip: Wednesday evening performances are free as part of Know's "Welcome Experiment," intended to bring new audiences to its Over-the-Rhine facility.

UC's College-Conservatory of Music is presenting Willy Russell's powerful British musical Blood Brothers today and tomorrow in the Cohen Family StudioTheater. Set in 1950s Liverpool, it's about a woman with too many children who is talked into giving up one of a pair of newborn fraternal twins. Despite her efforts and those of the unstable woman who wanted a baby, the boys meet and become not just friends but "blood brothers." They don't know their history, they simply feel drawn to one another. That leads to a tragic, perhaps inevitable, confrontation. But there is humor and an energetic Pop Rock score along the way. Hannah Kornfeld is heartbreaking as the conflicted mother; Thomas Knapp and Karl Amundson turn in heart-breaking performances as the ill-fated boys, from age 7 to 22. This weekend only; the final performance is Saturday evening at 8 p.m. Tickets are free but need to be reserved (513-556-4183); call in advance — performances are often sold out.

Perhaps you'd like to take a kid or two to see a show. The Cincinnati Playhouse's "Off the Hill" production, Roses & Thorns, based on "Beauty and the Beast," would be a fine choice. It's a touring production for kids ages 7 and up, and it's making its way to various neighborhoods over the next month or so (through Nov. 2). I attended a preview recently and found it thoroughly enjoyable. It's a sweet retelling of the familiar story whose love and devotion saves her family and breaks a curse on a monstrous beast who's really a handsome prince. The show uses clever props and costumes, slapstick, satire and high camp styles; its four actors are professionals in training, and their work, playing multiple characters and making quick changes, is great fun to watch. This weekend it's onstage at the Lebanon Theatre Company (10 S. Mechanic St., Lebanon) on Sunday at 2 p.m. Check the Playhouse's website for future performances around the Tristate. Tickets in Lebanon are $5: 513-228-0932

If you missed Kevin Crowley's one-woman show Sarge during the Cincinnati Fringe Festival last June, it's getting a reprise this weekend and next (it's onstage tonight through Oct. 20). Christine Dye's performance as the devoted but deluded wife of Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, found guilty of molesting young boys, won the Critics Pick of the Fringe. Dye is remarkable in three monologues that reveal the mind of a woman who cannot accept her husband's true nature. It's being presented in a double bill with another short script by local actor and playwright Crowley, The Monkey's Paw, a dark comedy about a couple struggling with the anxieties of early parenthood. Performances at Clifton Performance Theater, 404 Ludlow Avenue. Tickets ($25): 513-861-7469

I gave Critic's Picks in CityBeat recently to two excellent productions recently, and they remain onstage this weekend. I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti at the Cincinnati Playhouse is a one-woman piece about cooking and relationships (charming actress Antoinette LaVecchia prepares an Italian dinner while describing her bad luck with men). Tickets ($30-$75): 513-421-3888 … The Little Dog Laughed finishes its run this weekend at New Edgecliff Theater at Hoffner Hall (4120 Hamilton, Ave., Northside. It's the story of a gay actor whose agent is trying to keep him from ruining his career by being public about his persuasion. It's surprising how a play from 2007 could present anxieties about something that today is much more accepted, but this production is great fun to watch thanks to four fine actors, especially Kemper Florin as the motor-mouthed, scheming agent. Tickets: ($20-$27): 888-428-7311



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by Rick Pender 11.20.2015 11 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 10:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 11-20 - low down dirty blues @ cincinnati playhouse - felicia p. fields connects with an audience member - photo mikki schaffner .jpg

Stage Door: Non-Holiday Holiday Shows

Several of our local theaters produce shows this time of year that are a kind of antidote to the usual fare of A Christmas Carol and other happy, merry tales. Three get under way this weekend:

I went to a rockin’ party earlier this week, and you can, too — if you turn up for the Cincinnati Playhouse’s production of Low Down Dirty Blues, through Dec. 20. That’s right, a whole month of good times and sad in the intimate Shelterhouse Theater, doubling as Big Mama’s after-hours Blues bar. Every year around this time the Playhouse puts on a show as an alternate holiday choice to A Christmas Carol (which gets underway next week). This year it’s a warm-hearted good time featuring three excellent singers and a couple of very accomplished Jazz musicians (especially local Jazz pianist Steve Schmidt) performing off-color tunes, full of double-entendres and scandalous joking. The first half of the two-hour performance is mostly about lusty interaction via tunes like “Rough and Ready Man,” “I Got My Mojo Workin’ ” and “You Bring Out the Boogie in Me.” After intermission the party continues briefly (including some cute audience interaction to the tune of “I’m Not That Kind of Girl” — but then the tone darkens with passionate songs of grief (“Death Letter”), mourning (“Good Morning Heartache”) and then hope (“Change is ’Gonna Come”). Felicia P. Fields, a Broadway veteran who played a major role in the original staging of The Color Purple, anchors (and I use that word quite literally) the banter and the singing, but she is ably matched by Caron “Sugaray” Rayford, a massive force of energy, perspiration and rhythm. Chic Street Man sings and plays several guitars (especially a steel number with a gorgeous ring), and his sly, sinuous presence is a perfect complement to Fields’ and Rayford’s more ebullient performances. Don’t go if you’re offended by sexual innuendo, but if you’re looking for a “low down dirty” time, call now for a ticket: 513-421-3888

One of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies, As You Like It, is the first step of holiday happiness at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. The story of tomfoolery and romance in the Forest of Arden kicks off tonight; it’s around until Dec. 12, when it’s followed by the tenth annual staging of Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some). In case you missed it, Cincy Shakes announced this week that by mid-2017 it moves to its own spectacular new space in Washington Park, the Otto M. Budig Theatre, with nearly 100 more seats than its Race Street facility. (Read my story in this week's issue for more.) Until then, you need to line up for tickets, since many of the company’s performances sell out quickly. Tickets: 513-381-2273

Another “kind of” holiday show getting started is Know Theatre’s production of All Childish Things, opening tonight and onstage through Dec. 19. In a story set right here in Cincinnati (Norwood, in fact), it’s 2006 and two guys are still yearning for the galactic adventures promised by Star Wars when they were kids. One guy lives in his mom’s basement; the other has a girlfriend who could care less about The Force. They think their big break might be residing in a warehouse full of collectible Star Wars memorabilia. Zany shows rooted in childhood have become a holiday staple at Know Theatre, and this is right up that weird, happy alley. Tickets: 513-300-5669

And if you’re really longing to get the holidays under way, you have the perfect opportunity with a tour stop by a production of White Christmas at the Aronoff (next Tuesday through Dec. 6). It’s a stage version of the popular film; the tour features stage Cincinnati and Broadway veteran Pamela Myers in a cute, outspoken role. She performs a number titled “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy,” a perfect summary of her illustrious career. Tickets: 513-621-2787

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 11.13.2015 18 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 12:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door

Getting Down and Dirty After Hours

I’m in New York City this week to check out some Broadway shows, so I’m missing the opening night of the Cincinnati Playhouse’s production of Low Down Dirty Blues. It’s the holiday “alternative” to A Christmas Carol, and alternative it is. It’s set in a nameless Blues club on Chicago’s South Side that’s closing for the night. But that’s just when the party heats up as a group of musicians assembles for an after-hours jam session to swap stories and perform favorite tunes, especially numbers from the bawdier side of the Blues, tunes by the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Big Mama Thornton and more. “It is a spicier kind of Blues, specifically one that has two sides to it," says Dan Wheetman, the production’s co-creator and music director. "On one hand, it is a more intimate look, it is a smaller group and a smaller palate… It’s a story about the people, these people in this club and their stories, which includes the music but it is more of a personal talk about what brought them to where they are.” I’m eager to see it. Onstage through Dec. 20. Tickets: 513-421-3555

It’s that time of year when families begin thinking about going to the theater together. Getting an early start are musical productions for the entire family. Once choice is Seussical, based on the works of Dr. Seuss, at Northern Kentucky University. It opened on Thursday and continues through Nov. 22. Tickets: 859-572-5464 … The other is a production of the musical Mary Poppins by Cincinnati Music Theatre at the Aronoff Center’s Jarson-Kaplan Theater. This is perhaps the city’s most ambitious community theater company, typically undertaking big musicals and doing a good job with them. It opens tonight and continues through Nov. 21. Tickets: 513-621-2787 … If you miss the latter, you’ll have a chance to see a different production: The Covedale Center will be presenting it Nov. 27-Dec. 27.

Continuing and finishing: A keep-’em-guessing murder mystery with just two characters, Sleuth, continues its run at the Carnegie through Nov. 22. (Tickets: 859-957-1940)… This is the final weekend for Mad River Rising at the Cincinnati Playhouse (final performance is Saturday; tickets: 513-421-3888); Andy’s House of [BLANK], an original musical at Know Theater (also winding up on Saturday; tickets: 513-300-5669); and an old-fashioned farce, Fox on the Fairway, at the Covedale (Sunday’s matinee is your last chance; tickets: 513-241-6550). 

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 11.06.2015 25 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door: Playing House

“Florala.” That’s where you are when you head down the ramp to see Know Theatre’s production of Andy’s House of [Blank]. It’s set on the state line between Florida and Alabama, but it’s recreated in two-dimensional cardboard props (telephones and ice cream cones) and decorations (comically taxidermied animals, including the backside of a dog) imaginatively designed and executed by Sarah Beth Hall. The tale is filtered through the often-divergent memories of two guys who were 16 in 1998, holding down their first jobs in roadside oddity shop and museum of “unmailed love letters.” The “guys” are Paul Strickland and Trey Tatum (truly from Florida and Alabama). They serve as the narrators — or perhaps the “recollectors” — of the oddball musical tale of Andy (Christopher Michael Richardson), the proprietor, and Sadie (Erika Kate MacDonald), the girl he had a crush on as a kid. The show was a well-received entry in Know’s “Serials” earlier this year, a story told in five 15-minute episodes. Strickland and Tatum have stitched those pieces together, and director Bridget Leak has given the piece continuity and flow. Their ebullient enthusiasm is obvious from start to finish — Tatum pounds away on an electric keyboard, Strickland (who composed the 20 or so songs) plays guitar and sings almost operatically, and Richardson and MacDonald (both with gorgeous voices) affectingly play two people caught in a looping time warp. In fact, all four characters are living out the theme repeatedly spoken and sung: “Every day is just a variation on a theme.” The music is great, and there are lots of laughs along the way, but the story is a serious, poignant rumination about love, longing and how to move forward by looking back. At two-plus hours (including an intermission) it feels a tad long, but every moment is a treat to watch. Onstage through Nov. 14. Tickets: 513-300-5669

Opening this week: Anthony Schaffer’s Sleuth, a humorous but taut murder mystery is at The Carnegie in Covington. It’s a two-man show about a famous mystery writer who’s out to murder a man having an affair with his wife. There are a lot of twists and turns in this tale, so it’s fun to watch if you pay close attention. Through Nov. 14. Tickets: 859-957-1840 … Playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa fascinated Cincinnati Playhouse audiences back in 2013 with his “sequel” to The Crucible, Abigail/1702. Falcon Theatre is offering two related one-acts by him, The Mystery Plays, inspired by the tradition of medieval theater that dealt with the imponderables of death, the afterlife, religion, faith and forgiveness — but from a thoroughly American perspective. In the first piece, a horror film director survives a train wreck only to be haunted by someone who didn’t make it; in the second, a woman travels to a rural Oregon town to make peace with the man who murdered her parents and her sister: He’s her older brother. Through Nov. 21 at the Monmouth Theatre in Newport. Tickets: 513-479-6783

Continuing: Cincinnati Shakespeare’s excellent production of Arthur Miller’s classic drama Death of a Salesman has its final performance on Saturday evening. It’s worth seeing, but tickets might be scarce. Tickets: 513-381-2273 … Mad River Rising at the Cincinnati Playhouse is a compelling study of place and aging, an old man trying to forestall the sale of his family farm. It continues through Nov. 14. Tickets: 513-421-3888 … Covedale Center’s staging of the comedy Fox on the Fairway, a tribute to cinematic farces from the 1930s and 1940s, is onstage until Nov. 15. Tickets: 513-241-6550

Tune in to WVXU (FM 91.7) on Saturday evening at 8 p.m. to catch LA Theater Works’ production of Matthew Lopez’s The Whipping Man. This show, about a young Jewish Confederate soldier marking Passover 1865 with his family’s newly freed slaves in a crumbling mansion in Richmond, Va., at the end of the Civil War, is a powerful work. Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati staged this show very effectively in 2012.

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 10.16.2015 46 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 10:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 10-16 - bruce cromer as willie loman in death of a salesman @ cincy shakes - photo mikki schaffner

Stage Door: A Dying Salesman, Barbra Streisand and a Prince in Search of Meaning

There are almost too many good shows for you to enjoy this weekend, but depending on what you like, you’ll probably find it somewhere.

Cincy Shakes production of Death of a Salesman doesn’t open until tonight, but all sings point to a strong production, headlined by one of our region’s best actors, Bruce Cromer, as beaten-down Willie Loman, who I interviewed for my CityBeat column this week. He’s matched with another fine local stage performer Annie Fitzpatrick as Willie’s faithful but worried wife; two of the Shakespeare team’s excellent company of actors, Jared Joplin and Justin McCombs, play Willie’s sons who can’t quite bear up to the weight of his expectations. Arthur Miller’s play is one of the greatest, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award. So if it’s serious drama, get tickets for this one, onstage through Nov. 7: 513-381-2273.

Want something more frivolous and entertaining, but still a great performance? Show up at Ensemble Theatre for Buyer and Cellar, a one-man show about a guy pretending to be a shopkeeper in a vast basement treasure trove of acquisitions on Barbra Streisand’s Malibu estate. It’s 90 minutes of non-stop storytelling, rooted in a real place — but with a fantasized chain of events. Actor Nick Cearley is a comic gem, performing in a smartly written script that requires him to conjure up not just Alex, the actor hired to wait on Barbra, “the customer” (one and only), but the singer herself and a handful of others. Great fun to watch. Here’s my review. Through Nov. 1. Tickets: 513-421-3555.

If you love a good Broadway musical, you need to show up at the Aronoff and score a seat for the touring production of Pippin. (CityBeat review here.) It’s a show from 40 years ago (by Stephen Schwartz, the creator of Wicked more recently), but this version of an award-winning Broadway revival from two years ago is full of Cirque du Soleil-styled acrobatics, as well as some great songs and performers. It’s a sort of fairytale embroidered from a real historical character from the 9th century, the son of the monarch who launched the Holy Roman Empire. It’s about the young Pippin’s arduous search for a meaningful life. The “Leading Player,” a kind of emcee/storyteller, is Gabrielle McClinton, who handled the role on Broadway for part of its two-year run there, and Charlemagne, Pippin’s father, is played by veteran actor John Rubinstein — who originated the title role back in 1972. (He’s 68 now, but still an energetic, animated performer.) Tickets: 513-621-2787.

Shows previous opened that are also worth seeing include the very serious drama Extremities at the Incline Theater in E. Price Hill (tickets: 513-241-6550), onstage through Sunday; and Sex with Strangers, a very modern romance about writers who envy one another’s careers and lust after one another’s bodies, has another week and a half at the Cincinnati Playhouse (tickets: 513-421-3888).

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 10.09.2015 53 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stage Door

Sex and violence, plus an irreverent take on history

I gave a Critic’s Pick to the Cincinnati Playhouse’s production of Sex with Strangers, a new play by Laura Eason (who’s written scripts for House of Cards on Netflix). Ethan, an arrogant 28-year-old blogger has turned his writing about sexual conquests into a best-selling book, while Olivia is a serious, introspective writer who, at 39, is hiding behind a teaching career, discouraged by negative reviews and weak sales of her first novel more than a decade earlier. He’s addicted to his cell phone, while she prefers to have her nose in a book. But they have chemistry that’s both physical and driven by aspiration and envy of one another’s careers. The Playhouse production features two actors who are totally believable in their roles, and extremely watchable. It’s an entertaining tale that doesn’t tie everything up in a neat ending. Through Oct. 25. Tickets: 513-421-3888

William Mastrisomone’s Extremities (running through Oct. 18) is not an easy play to watch. A woman is attacked by a stalker, turns the tables on him and becomes as much a bloodthirsty animal as the man who thought he could have his way with her. She has two roommates who try to defuse her violent intentions, but she’s almost as harsh with them as with the bad guy. It’s a harsh story that’s not easy to watch, and it’s a departure for Cincinnati Landmark Productions, which is known for more mainstream fare, musicals and classic comedies. But the company’s artistic leaders are hoping that the new Incline Theatre can be a venue for more serious work, and this show, written in 1982, certainly signals that. Solid individual acting jobs by the four-member cast will keep you on edge. There are a few rough edges, but I give CLP props for getting serious. Tickets: 513-241-6550

Know Theatre is playing host to a production from the drama program at CCM, directed by faculty member Brant Russell. Charise Castro Smith’s The Hunchback of Seville is an irreverent and raucous comedy that turns historical atrocities — it’s set in Spain in 1504 — on their heads with storytelling that might remind you of Quentin Tarantino’s movies. Russell says the playwright “weaves history and anachronism. The subtle variances of tone, the frequently less subtle humor and the savoring of the language all speak to me. In terms of content, this play is very much about anyone who’s ever been marginalized. This is the story of a woman who is denied so many privileges that others enjoy because she was born in a body different from those around her. Ultimately it’s a story about privilege, ethics, power, and the way we tell the story of our shared history.” It opens tonight and continues through Oct. 24. Tickets: 513-300-5669 

Advance notices: I’m really looking forward to seeing Pippin, the next touring Broadway musical at the Aronoff, kicking off on Tuesday. It’s by Stephen Schwartz (Godspell and Wicked are two of his best-known works), and this is a production that won a 2013 Tony Award as the season’s best musical revival. It’s a cool concept, integrating Cirque du Soleil-like performers into the story of a young man’s quest for meaning in the Middle Ages. It’s here for just one week (through Sunday, Oct. 18), so if you hope to see it, get your tickets now. … Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati will open its production of Buyer and Cellar on Wednesday (it continues through Nov. 1). It’s a very funny one-man show about an out-of-work actor hired to manage Barbra Streisand’s collections of stuff, set up like a shopping mall. There’s enough reality to make it hilarious, and enough truth to make it meaningful. I suspect it will be a hot ticket: 513-421-3555 

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 10.02.2015 60 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door -

Stage Door

Sex and its various outcomes

Sex is pretty much a constant presence in life as we know it, and it’s often a driving force in plays, taking on many shapes and outcomes. That’s particularly the case with two shows that just opened locally, Laura Eason’s new play, Sex with Strangers, at the Cincinnati Playhouse on its Shelterhouse stage through Oct. 25, and William Mastrisimone’s 1982 script, Extremities, at Cincinnati Landmark Productions’ Incline Theatre, through Oct. 18.

Eason’s script is about two writers who seem as opposite as can be — he’s an arrogant 28-year-old blogger (Nicholas Carrière as the charming and ebullient Ethan) whose writing about sexual conquests has been turned into a best-selling book, while she’s a serious, introspective novelist, 39, (Nancy Lemenager as introverted and self-conscious Olivia) who’s given up because of bad reviews and weak sales of her first book more than a decade earlier. But they end up together in a Michigan B&B due to a snowstorm (and some serious interest on his part in meeting her) and they discover a powerful mutual attraction that’s also driven by aspiration and envy of one another’s careers. Eason writes great contemporary dialogue, and director KJ Sanchez keeps things hurtling along down a road of desire and tentative trust. It seems evident that things could go off the tracks, but when they do there’s some more interesting sparks — and a lot of conversation about the state of writing and literature today. While the show’s title is titillating and they are strangers who steam things up — repeatedly — it’s really the title of his blog, and a past that he might or might not want to move beyond. There’s both humor and real emotion to be appreciated in this finely crafted production. Tickets: 513-421-3888

Mastrisimone’s off-Broadway script from three decades ago (Extremities also became a 1986 movie starring Farrah Fawcett) comes at issues of sex and attraction from a far more serious and brutal angle. It’s a significant a departure for Cincinnati Landmark, best known as a producer of safer, more mainstream fare, musicals and classical comedies. Raul (Will Reed) has been stalking three young women who share a house. He bursts in on Marjorie (Eileen Earnest), who we meet lounging around in a state of undress; he overpowers her, knowing her roommates won’t be back for hours. But she turns the tables on him, and when Terry (Katey Blood) and Patricia (Rachel Mock) return, they find Marjorie menacing and torturing her foul-mouthed attacker, hogtied and imprisoned in a large fireplace. They are shocked by her violent turn, and their perspectives — Terry is shocked and fearful, while Patricia is pragmatic and overly analytical — provide various takes on the situation and its potential resolution. Their four-cornered battle unfolds in harsh, often unhinged arguments about motives, likely outcomes and fears. Some of these feel a tad dated in 2015, but that does not diminish the story’s power. Earnest’s searing performance as Marjorie and Reed’s manipulative portrait of an intelligent, twisted man she insists on calling “The Animal” fuel the pounding pulse of this production of Extremities, staged by Tim Perrino. You’re never sure how the battle will end, and that makes for good theater. Tickets: 513-241-6550

CCM Drama head Richard Hess calls David Edgar’s Pentecost the British equivalent of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. Both are big-cast plays, stuffed full of language and contending philosophies. The discovery of a 13th-century mural in an Eastern European church threatens to upset the world of art history, but it also lights the match on conflicts that go well beyond — to geopolitics, religion, history and more. It’s a heady script, with 26 roles speaking multiple languages, utterances that audiences have to intuit, just as the characters need to try to grasp one another’s motives. Read more about Pentecost in my recent Curtain Call column. Like most CCM productions, this one (at UC’s Patricia Corbett Theater) has a short weekend run; the final performance is a matinee on Sunday. Pentecost is an important play, an essential experience for serious theatergoers. Tickets: 513-556-4183

One more interesting piece of theater this weekend, inspired by Titus Kaphar’s Vesper Project at the Contemporary Arts Center, a multi-part installation in which paintings are woven into the walls of a 19th-century American house in New England, the home of a mixed-race family. His exhibit there involves a true/false backstory and familiar/unfamiliar environments. The massive exhibit invites conversation, and that’s what writer (and occasional CityBeat contributor) Stacy Sims has created after several discussions with the artist. She invited five local actors to work with her to respond to the piece, and the result, RETRACED: A theatrical conversation with the Vesper Project, will be performed three times this weekend at the CAC on Sixth Street in downtown Cincinnati, at noon and 3 p.m. on Saturday and at 1 p.m. on Sunday. Sims says, “While I have a strong idea of how the actors will move in and out of the space and intersect with each other, each of their individual stories will be deeply informed by their own personal narratives of race, power, privilege and home.” Performances are free with gallery admission.

This weekend is your last chance to see the Cincinnati Playhouse’s beautiful production of The Secret Garden, NKU’s rendition of the comedy Moon Over Buffalo and New Edgecliff Theatre’s well-acted staging of Frankie and Johnnie in the Clair de Lune.

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 09.25.2015 67 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 08:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 9-25 - frankie & johnny @ net - sara mackie & dylan shelton - photo provided by new edgecliff theatre

Stage Door

Frankie & Johnny and a taste of Hannibal

New Edgecliff Theatre’s Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune is under way a week later than initially announced following some issues with its not-quite-ready new home in Northside. So it’s been moved to the Essex Studio (2511 Essex Place, Walnut Hills), in a performance space routinely used by Cincinnati Actors Studio & Academy, a training group for teens. It was bit of hustle and strain to move a half-built set from Northside to Walnut Hills, but it fits nicely into CASA’s black box. Rather than rattling around in a big old church sanctuary (Northside’s work-in-progress Urban Artifact), NET’s staging of Terrence McNally’s 1987 romantic dramedy works beautifully in this more intimate space. But I suspect no matter where it was staged, the two-character show would be well received thanks to actors Sara Mackie and Dylan Shelton, smartly put through their paces by director Jared Doren. As lonely co-workers in a New York greasy spoon diner, they’ve finally connected — at least for a night. They’re both kind of needy although in very different ways. Frankie, a sweet waitress, has been bruised by bad relationships and seems happy with her own insular existence; Johnny, the motor-mouthed short-order cook who can quote Shakespeare, is driven by angst and passion — filled with desperation that he doesn’t have any more chances for romances. This naturally frightens Frankie, and their navigation through this minefield, full of passion and snark, makes audiences laugh and love them both. It’s definitely worth seeing. Because of the move, it’s a short run, just through Oct. 3. Tickets: 888-528-7311

The folks who run Falcon Theater, performing in Newport at the Monmouth Theatre (636 Monmouth St.) have staked a claim on comic musical satires — they’ve produced Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical, Poseidon: The Upside-Down Musical, Evil Dead: The Musical and several more. So they worked really hard to get the rights to Silence: The Musical, based on The Silence of the Lambs, the creepy 1991 movie about “Hannibal the Cannibal” starring Anthony Hopkins as a manipulative serial killer and Jodie Foster as the young FBI cadet who needs him to solve another serial murder. The musical version was a big hit at the 2005 New York International Fringe Festival and over the past decade it's become a cult favorite. It opens tonight and continues on weekends through Oct. 10. Tickets: 513-479-6783

The first production of the season at Northern Kentucky University, Ken Ludwig’s Moon Over Buffalo, is a comedy about a pair of fading actors from the 1950s on tour in Buffalo. Their marriage is coming apart, but a famous movie director is coming to see their matinee and just might cast them in an upcoming feature. But everything goes wrong when they start confusing the two shows they’re performing — Noël Coward’s Private Lives and Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac. Tickets: 859-572-5464

Speaking of Cyrano, there’s a fine production of it (not to be confused with anything else …) at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, with an excellent performance by company veteran Jeremy Dubin in the title role. It’s onstage through Oct. 3. 513-381-2273. • Also closing on Oct. 3 is the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s beautiful production of The Secret Garden, a musical based on a cherished novel from a century ago. This is one of the Playhouse’s “family-friendly” productions — like A Christmas Carol — suitable for multiple generations. It looks great, and the talent onstage — much of it from Broadway — is top-notch. Tickets: 513-421-3888

If you haven’t seen Rebecca Gilman’s Luna Gale at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, you really should try to get there this weekend for one of its final showings. This new play hat will make you uncomfortable because it’s about a tough conflict with no obvious right or wrong — a custody fight over a baby between her irresponsible parents and her religiously conservative grandmother, refereed by an over-burdened social worker. The cast (including three former ETC apprentices who do a great job) is led by Annie Fitzpatrick as the weary social worker. She’s especially good in this role, a woman trying to do the right thing who’s thwarted at every turn. Final performance is 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: 513-421-3555

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 09.18.2015 74 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 11:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
annie fitzpatrick & brent vimtrup in luna gale @ etc - photo ryan kurtz

Stage Door

Actors are shining in several local shows

Actors are a big reason we go to see specific performances, and there are a couple of excellent choices onstage right now as several theaters are kicking off their 2015-2016 seasons. Of particular note is Annie Fitzpatrick, a familiar performer to audiences frequenting productions at Ensemble Theatre. She’s playing Caroline, an over-burdened social worker in Luna Gale. Her character is caught in a custody tug of war involving a baby, the title character. Her immature parents are on one side, caught up in drugs and angry behavior; on the other side is Luna Gale’s well-intentioned grandmother who’s religiously conservative. Fitzpatrick portrays a beleaguered woman trying to do what’s right, but constantly thwarted by the system in which she works. You feel this desperation deep down inside Caroline’s character, in her physical presence, in her exasperated stares and sighs. Fitzpatrick is a marvel to watch. She’s a major factor in my giving this production a Critic’s Pick. (Note for the future: She’ll be onstage next at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, Oct. 16-Nov. 7, playing Linda Loman in Death of a Salesman.) Luna Gale continues through Sept. 27. Tickets: 512-421-3555

Another veteran actor is shining at Cincinnati Shakespeare this month. Jeremy Dubin, a member of CSC’s acting company for 16 seasons, is playing the swashbuckling poet Cyrano de Bergerac. The show is sometimes called a heroic comedy, and Dubin handles both parts of that phrase with aplomb. He makes Cyrano larger than life in his generosity and faithfulness, but he plays him with the requisite sense of humor — especially in scenes involving Cyrano’s oversized nose, a convincing prosthetic created for Dubin’s performance. He has excelled in roles both comic and serious; Cyrano draws on both. Read more about this play and Cincy Shakes’ production in my recent column. Tickets: 513-621

One more excellent acting performance worth catching: Caitlin Cohn as 10-year-old Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden at the Cincinnati Playhouse. She’s actually a college student (New York University), but the petite actress is wholly convincing as the ornery, bright and eventually loving orphan who finds the warmth of nature and shares it with her grieving uncle. Cohn is doing an audacious job with a challenging role. Tickets: 513-421-3888

If you were planning to see New Edgecliff Theatre’s production of Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune this weekend, you need to put it in neutral. Due to some technical delays with NET’s new home at Urban Artifact (1622 Blue Rock Road, Northside) the company is moving the production to a different venue and delaying performances for a week. It’s not scheduled to be presented at Essex Studios (2511 Essex Place, Walnut Hills) opening Sept. 24 and continuing through Oct. 3. NET is contacting people who already had reservations. If you don’t have tickets yet, call now: 888-421-7311

A few quick notes: Showbiz Players, a dependable community theater company that likes satirical shows, is presenting The Rocky Horror Show at the Carnegie in Covington, through Sept. 26. Tickets: 859-957-1940 … Performance Gallery, an avant-garde troupe of performers that’s been a steady contributor to the Cincinnati Fringe, is reprising its production from the 2015 Fringe, Shirtzencockle, at Know Theatre on Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. It’s a surreal, magical, ridiculous blind of folk and fairy tales. Tickets: 513-300-5669 … Kate Tombaugh, who studied opera at UC’s CCM (and trained in numerous other places) is presenting her one-woman show, It Just Takes One. It portrays the roller-coaster story of a young woman in her 20s seeking a career in opera while struggling to find a social life. A benefit for the Charitable Care Fund at Children’s Hospital, it’s being presented at St. Thomas Episcopal Church (100 Miami Ave., Terrace Park) on Friday evening at 8 p.m. and in 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday.

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 09.11.2015 81 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 09:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
stage door 9-11 - luna gale @ etc - milly israel, patrick e. phillips & annie fitzpatrick - photo ryan kurtz

Stage Door

And so the season begins...

The fall theater season is fully under way. I’ve seen several productions that I can recommend, starting with Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati’s staging of Luna Gale. The story focuses on a weary social worker caught on the horns of a horrible dilemma — a custody battle between teen parents with drug issues and a zealously religious grandmother — with veteran actress Annie Fitzpatrick turning in another outstanding acting performance. The production is also an impressive reminder of the fine work ETC has been doing for 30 years since three actors in Luna Gale were ETC apprentices a year ago. The award-winning Luna Gale is being produced at many theaters across America this season, but I can’t imagine that any of those productions will be better than the one we have right here in Cincinnati. I gave it a Critic’s Pick. Through Sept. 27. Tickets: 513-421-3555

Last night I was at the Playhouse for The Secret Garden opening its 56th season. While this is a story about a 10-year-old girl, it’s quite serious and thoughtful. Orphaned and seemingly headed for unhappiness, she finds redemption in nature and friendship, bringing others along on her path to a better place through abandoned garden that comes back to life. In my review, I suggest that this production might be a bit too complex and impressionistic for kids, but the show is physically beautiful and gorgeous musically. Caitlin Cohn’s performance as Mary Lennox is impressive; she’s a student at New York University, but quite convincing as a young girl. The cast features two CCM musical theater grads, Adam Monley and Carlyn Connolly, and a raft of polished New York veterans. Through Oct. 3. Tickets: 513-241-3888

If you’re a fan of the music of the ’60s and ’70s, you’re likely to love the touring production of Motown: The Musical currently rattling the rafters at the Aronoff Center (through Sept. 20). The hardworking cast does a great job of recreating the sounds of Motown — The Four Tops, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Jackson Five, Marvin Gaye, and many more. The play in which this is presented, however, is not so stimulating — Motown founder Barry Gordy’s story was written by (you guessed it) Barry Gordy, and it all feels pretty self-serving. But the music is great, and it comes at you hot and heavy — nearly 60 songs, although many are in medleys or shortened versions. Nevertheless, it’s a great reminder of the Pop tunes that kept American singing and dancing several decades ago. Tickets: 513-621-2787

The Covedale Center is offering an ambitious staging of a great musical, A Chorus Line, with some fine dancing in its own right. This is a very moving show about people who put themselves “on the line” to do something they love. It’s still powerful after 40 years, and Cincinnati Landmark Productions has done a fine job with this one. (Through Sept. 27. Tickets: 513-241-6550

There’s a lot of laughter at Know Theatre this weekend where the Cincinnati Improv Festival is underway. I understand that there aren’t many tickets left, but if you’re a fan of this branch of comedy, you should call to see if you can get in. Shows tonight and Saturday. Tickets: 513-300-5669

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.

by Rick Pender 09.04.2015 88 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 11:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
seven guitars @ actors theater louisville 2015 (l-r) forrest mcclendon, j. alphonse nicholson_photo credit by bill brymer

Stage Door

Theater seasons starts movin’

There’s a lot more coming next week, once we get past Labor Day, but right now there’s just one theater locally with a production onstage. That’s the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts. Artistic Director Tim Perrino has been reminding everyone that just because Cincinnati Landmark Productions has opened the Incline Theatre, don’t think that the Covedale has shut down. In fact, it has an ambitious line-up of shows, and the opening production is already under way, A Chorus Line. I haven’t seen this production of it yet, but I will tell you that it’s a show that really lit my interest in musical theater. It was a Broadway hit back in 1975, and I saw a touring production of it in Cleveland in 1978. I had next to no income at the time — and tickets for subsequent performances were pretty well sold out anyway — but I told several friends that in a perfect world, I would have gone back to see it again. I had to wait a few years for that to happen, but this story of aspiring performers grabs me every time I see it. It’s the story of eager young dancers trying to get into the chorus of an upcoming Broadway production. The group is narrowed to 17, but the ultimate goal is four men and four women. The songs are rooted in each dancer’s personal story: Some are amusing, some are heart wrenching — all are painfully true. At the end, they all coalesce into “One (Singular Sensation),” a stunning finale that has all the individuals we’ve met together, dancing as one. It’s a wonderful metaphor about the passion to perform and to be part of a larger whole. A Chorus Line at the Covedale has performances this weekend and continues through Sept. 27. Tickets: 513-241-6550.

Last evening I drove to Louisville where Actors Theatre is opening its 2015-2016 season with a superb production of August Wilson’s Seven Guitars, one of his “Century Cycle” plays chronicling African-American life in Pittsburgh across the decades of the 20th century. This one, set in the late 1940s, swirls around a promising young Blues singer, Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton, who has been offered a recording contract just after his release from a 90-day stint in jail. The play opens with his funeral then circles back through scenes reminiscing about his life and six vividly different people who were close to him — three women and three men. The cast is powerful, and the minutely detailed setting, a desolate backyard in Pittsburgh’s Hill District (inspired by the art of African-American painter and collagist Romare Bearden) is a sight to behold. Seven Guitars blends humor, lyricism and tragedy. Although several of Wilson’s remarkable plays have been stage in Cincinnati, Seven Guitars — winner of the New York Drama Critics’ Circle award for best play in 1996 and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award — has not been produced locally. So you might want to make a run down I-71 to Louisville between now and Sept. 20 to see this. This production is definitely worth the trip. Tickets: 502-584-1205.

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.