Since the 2011 Cincinnati Fringe Festival kicked off on June 1, a panel of three dedicated theater experts have been evaluating performances for recognition through the Acclaim Awards. These awards are in the process of being renamed, but for the sake of clarity and brevity, I’m going to call them by their soon-to-be-former name. The panelists are veterans of the Acclaims; neither Jackie Demaline of The Cincinnati Enquirer nor I are members of the panel or involved in this process.
On Monday, Cincinnati Art Museum announced the resignation of James Crump, its chief curator and photography curator. He arrived at the museum in 2008. A press release said he would "pursue independent projects." The press release also included high praise for Crump from Aaron Betsky, museum director:
"We are so grateful for the great work James has done here in Cincinnati. His exhibitions and acquisitions have made us a center for photography, and we look forward to building on his extraordinary achievements."
One of those achievements, the exhibition James Welling: Monograph, just opened Feb. 2. Crump was also a leader in the organization of last year's multi-venue FotoFocus photography festival, and Cincinnati Art Museum sponsored two of its biggest shows — Herb Ritts: L.A. Style and Doug and Mike Starn's Gravity of Light.
The museum said an interim chief curator will be named soon.
Recently, the Italian art-book publisher Damiani launched a new line of Damiani / Crump books. It begins in March with Empire Falling, photographer Elena Dorfman's study of Midwest rock quarries.
Perhaps you’ve been hearing some conversation about the Cincinnati Playhouse moving downtown, which started late last year. Guess it would no longer be the “Playhouse in the Park,” but there are some grand plans for a new theater facility right in the heart of downtown.
If you’d like to learn more, you might want to stop by the Playhouse’s Marx Theatre tonight for the second of two town hall-style meetings about the future. (The first meeting was on Sept. 22.) Playhouse Board President Jack Rouse and Producing Artistic Director Ed Stern will present the pros and cons of the Mount Adams location and what downtown has to offer; there will be a chance for questions from the audience, too.
Rouse says, “Theater is a collaborative art, and we want to mirror that collaborative process as we analyze the important decisions that we will be making concerning our physical theaters and their location.”
Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis in the Marx Theatre. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. Parking is free (there are no performances at the Playhouse on Monday evenings). Following the presentation, attendees can stay for further conversation with Playhouse board members and key staff in the Rosenthal Plaza. Hors d’oeuvres will be served, and a cash bar is available.
What might become of the Playhouse’s current facility in Eden Park is a big question, as is how a downtown theater complex could be funded. These are important questions for the future of our much-admired regional theater. Sounds like a worthwhile way to spend a few hours on a Monday evening.
– Rick Pender
This past Saturday (Aug. 15) marked this year’s one-night-only installment of ballet tech cincinnati’s annual Gala of International Dance Stars at the Aronoff Center.
It was a night of connections. Connections are necessary for any performance worth its salt—both with the audience and amongst the performers. But when it comes to dance, connectivity arguably becomes even more central to success and enjoyment.
Around noon on Monday, the Cincinnati Playhouse will announcement its 2012-2013 season, the first mapped out by someone other than Producing Artistic Director Ed Stern in 20 years. Blake Robison takes over for the retiring Stern on July 1, so he’s had the daunting task of following in those big (and very successful) footsteps. Stern liked to present work by up-and-coming playwrights, and Robison has the same inclination, although as someone a generation younger than Stern, he has his own connections and ideas. He’s landed a world premiere by one of the most intriguing young playwrights in the United States, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. The show is called Abigail/1702, and we’ll see it early in 2013 (Jan. 19-Feb. 17).
It’s Aguirre-Sacasa’s imaginative exploration of what became of Abigail Williams, the young girl who sets in motion the Salem witch trials portrayed in Arthur Miller’s classic play from 1952, The Crucible. The new work, set a decade after Abigail accused many people of witchcraft, portrays her in her late 20s, struggling to atone for her sins, the ones portrayed in that memorable play — as well as darker ones that live in her heart. As she cares for a young sailor on the brink of death, a stranger from her past finds her and sets her on a quest for redemption.
Robison, who will direct the production, staged another work by Aguirre-Sacasa, his adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray that proved to be a bit hit at the Roundhouse Theatre in Maryland, where Robison served as artistic director. “When I found out that I was coming to the Playhouse, one of the first calls I made was to Roberto because I value his voice as an artist so much. I told him, ‘Send me whatever you’re working on right now.’ He sent me this play and I read it. I texted him and said, ‘You wrote an awesome play! I want to do it.’”
Robison admires the writer’s breadth of work: He’s written for Marvel Comics (Marvel Knights, Spider-Man and The Stand), for television (as a staff writer for HBO’s Big Love and the hit Fox series Glee) as well as nearly a dozen plays. “One of the fun things for me as the incoming artistic director,” Robison told me recently, “is to bring new voices to the community and to introduce some writers who I have a wonderful relationship with who haven’t been seen yet in Cincinnati.”
Robison loves Aguirre-Sacasa’s new script. “He has a gift for dialogue, and a highly visual sense to his writing. This play is quite unlike any of his other plays, quite unlike anything I’ve seen onstage before. To go back into our collective consciousness and pluck this famous figure from the dramatic canon and imagine what her life must be like 10 years down the line is a wonderfully creative act.”
Not to mention a great way for Robison to define his own artistic tastes for Cincinnati audiences. Keep an eye on CityBeat’s Arts Blog tomorrow for more news of the Playhouse’s upcoming season.
Critic's PickAs I ate dinner on Tuesday evening before attending a performance at Dayton’s Victoria Theatre, my server asked, “Did you hear that Green Day is performing next door?” I had to set her straight. “Well, not exactly. Green Day’s music is being performed next door — it’s a Broadway show that uses the tunes from their American Idiot recording.” I caught the opening night of a three-day gig (through Thursday, March 14) by an energetic touring company that’s recreating the Tony Award-nominated American Idiot: The Musical. If you have time to make an hour north on I-75, you won’t be disappointed.
Green Day’s powerful Punk score — their 2004 album was conceived as a “Punk Rock Opera” — is the perfect soundtrack for the story of three disaffected guys who take different downward spirals when confronted with the numbing boredom of everyday life, “alien nation,” as they sing in the opening number. Johnny is the central character, a wannabe musician who yearns to make it in the city; he convinces his buddies Will and Tunny to join him in escaping suburbia.
Their paths diverge quickly: Will’s girlfriend is pregnant, so he stays to sort things out; Tunny is quickly disaffected by urban life and captivated by dreams of military success; and Johnny, not quite willing to admit his loneliness, dreams about a girl he sees and gets caught by a drug dealer — who’s probably a figment of his imagination. Things don’t turn out well for any of them, and by show’s end they’re back home, chastened by the experience — Tunny’s leg lost in combat, Johnny’s ego shattered and Will’s relationship in ruins. But they seem to be more accepting of their fates. The curtain call features the entire company playing guitars and performing “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” a number that reflects their disillusion, reminiscence and (maybe) forward motion.
The current tour has a young cast (it’s a non-Equity tour) without a ton of experience, but that’s perfect for this show, which demands a stage full of angry energy. They hurtle through the 100-minute performance, diving right into the title tune with thrashing energy demanded by Green Day’s music. (For theater fans, it’s worth noting that Green Day’s music has been orchestrated and arranged by Tom Kitt, composer of the Tony Award-winning next to normal, a show that has a score with similar power.) Steven Hoggett’s pounding choreography captures the physicality of Rock stage performance, rendered rapidly and rhythmically with tons of repetitive angular motion.
Alex Nee, Casey O’Farrell and Thomas Hettrick, as Johnny, Will and Tunny, turn in credible performances of roles that don’t have a lot of depth — and that’s OK. American Idiot is more about emotions than storytelling, and they each capture that: Nee’s hallucinatory attraction to destructive behavior is convincing, O’Farrell’s frustration with being trapped and left behind is believable, and Hettrick’s dreams of heroism and his wake-up call to a damaged life are rendered credibly. Female roles are more stereotyped — two of them don’t even have names: Whatsername and The Extraordinary Girl — but Alyssa DiPalma, Jenna Rubah and Kennedy Caughell (as Heather, the mother of Will’s kid) have fine voices. DiPalma and Rubah have featured choreography (Rubah does an aerial ballet with Hettrick as he recovers in a military hospital) that is effective.
The touring production retains Christine Jones’s scenic design and Kevin Adams’s lighting design, both of which landed 2010 Tony Awards. The set has a floor-to-ceiling rear wall sporting two dozen video screens that support the action — from an opening barrage of mind-numbing, multi-channel news coverage to scene-to-scene punctuation with wry titles. Additionally, the screens are sometimes fed live imagery from an onstage camera, especially when St. Jimmy (Trent Saunders) entices Johnny into the world of addiction, but also during “Favorite Son,” Tunny’s late-night infomercial of military recruitment (performed with muscle-bound humor by Jared Young, backed up by four dancers in sparkling short dresses).
The grunge of American Idiot is made all the more vivid by the green velvet and gilt trim of the Victoria Theatre in downtown Dayton (138 North Main St.). While the nihilistic young men sing, “I don’t care if you don’t care,” I suspect that a lot of people will care about this show, one that reaches out and grabs audiences by the scruff of their necks and never lets up. But bear in mind: Only two more performances — Wednesday and Thursday at 8 p.m. Tickets ($46-$67, half-off student rush, day of show): 937-228-3630 or victoriatheatre.com.
The Cincinnati literary scene suffered a loss last summer when Brock Clarke moved to Portland, Maine, to take a job teaching creative writing at Bowdoin College. Through his work as a writer (via two short-story collections and three novels, including 2007's well-received An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England) and educator (he taught creative writing at UC where he brought in such guest speakers/authors as Chris Bachelder, Sam Lipsyte, Heidi Julavits and Jonathan Lethem), Clarke was a one-man literary juggernaut who produced, nurtured and promoted the written word with unwavering commitment, creativity and good taste.
If you Google search “John McClellan,” you’ll find the late Democratic senator from Arkansas and the 19th century chemist. So what is comedian, Akron native and onetime Cincinnatian John McClellan — who brings his "Punk Rock" stand-up tour, the Fuck All Comedy Ball into Northside's tiny music club/bar, The Comet, this Saturday — doing to distance himself from his fellow McClellans?
“None of those guys are funny,” says the funny McClellan. “That’s why I had to get boozecoma.com, because some guy already had johnmcclellan.com, and asking people to spell my last name was a chore. They’re working on old cars or selling real estate and I’m just out there trying to bring the jokes to the people.”
I think there are few more satisfying segments of musical theater than the opening 10 minutes of the musical Chicago, which is in town for a brief run at the Aronoff Center. The first number, “All That Jazz,” gives you an encyclopedia of the stylistic dance moves of iconic choreographer Bob Fosse, followed by “Funny Honey,” an introduction of Roxie Hart, who murders her low-life lover. A few minutes later, “Cell Block Tango” provides the set-up for the colorful women who are in prison for their acts of violence. The touring production stars Terra MacLeod as Velma Kelly and Bianca Marroquin as Roxie Hart (the roles played by Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger in the Academy Award-winning film) and they dance and sing with the requisite zest. Chicago opens with a quick speech defining it as containing “violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery — all the things we hold near and dear to our hearts.” If you’re looking for a stylish musical with nary a whiff of the holidays, this is the show to see this weekend. It runs through Sunday. Tickets: 800-982-2787.
Having wrapped up a very busy first (extended) weekend of FotoFocus activities, I’m humbled by the fact that I only got to a portion of the exhibits and events occurring under the month-long, regional photography festival’s umbrella.
Before it’s over, more than 70 shows and related special events — like this Wednesday’s concert at the Emery Theatre by Bill Frisell/858 Quarter, featuring musical portraits inspired by photographer Mike Disfarmer’s work — will have taken place. I’m wondering if FotoFocus, like the National Park Service, should have a passport that can be stamped at each site of a sponsored activity. (Quite a few exhibits will continue past October – check here for schedules.)
“Umbrella,” by the way, is an apt word to use in one respect. Sideshow, the thoroughly charming outdoor kick-off party that took place Friday night, was bedeviled by rain and cold temperatures. As a result, attendance was small. That was disappointing because the alleys of downtown’s Backstage Theatre District had been turned into a colorful, imaginative, Fellini-esque carnival for the evening, with handmade booths, games of chance and photography opportunities.
A stage with a theatrical backdrop served to host A Hawk and a Hacksaw, a New Mexico duo — Jeremy Barnes on accordion and Heather Trost on violin — whose music had an East European/Middle Eastern flavor and whose musicianship was impeccable. They would have fit well at MidPoint. In fact, the Backstage Theatre District would make a great outdoor venue next year for MidPoint, which, as Mike Breen pointed out, needs a stronger downtown presence.
On Wednesday, I attended the preview opening of Doug and Mike Starn’s Gravity of Light in Holy Cross Church at the Mount Adams Monastery. I had gone a couple weeks earlier for a test, which I described in last week’s Big Picture column, where the noise and flying sparks from the giant carbon arc lamp’s scared me even as the magnitude and, well, gravity of the monumental photographs that its light illuminated astonished me.
On my second visit, with maybe two dozen other guests present, Gravity of Light wasn’t quite as scary — not when you see people using the carbon arc lamp’s brilliant white light to read their smart phone email. Ah, technology! But it’s still a profound exhibit — a major installation that uses photography as an intrinsic part of a created environment – and I can’t imagine that anyone interested in contemporary art or FotoFocus would want to miss it. And afterward, you’ll want to discuss what it means.
Two other exhibits I attended over the weekend were Anthony Luensman’s TAINT at the Weston Art Gallery and Let's Face It: Photographic Portraits by Melvin Grier, Michael Kearns and Michael Wilson at Kennedy Heights Art Center. Luensman is one of our most talented local artists, especially ingenious with installations involving sound and light, but I didn’t get a clear indication of how or why the presence of photography (and video) is supposed to crucially matter in this mixed-media show.
The Kennedy Heights exhibit had some remarkable large-scale black-and-white portraits by all three accomplished local photographers. Grier and Wilson, in their Giclee prints made from film negatives, got remarkable expressiveness their subjects like “Robert” and “Tony” (Grier) and “Thomas” and “Lamayah” (Wilson). Those Wilson photos, and some others, frame the pupils of their subjects’ eyes with a tiny white square, a stunning effect. In several of his large Giclee prints from digital photographs, Kearns achieves clarity of detail so rich (on “Chuck,” which is Wussy’s Chuck Cleaver, and “Andre”) that you could stand there and count every strand of the subjects’ hair. I don’t know who Andre is, but the way he is posed with head slightly upward and a triumphant smile emerging from a mouth that appears to be missing some teeth makes him heroically human. It’s a meaningful show.
On Thursday, I attended the Cincinnati Art Museum’s reception for Herb Ritts: L.A. Style, the Getty Center-organized show of the late photographer’s black-and-white prints. Beautifully installed, this exhibit features Ritts’ fashion and celebrity work, as well as his stylized, erotically charged studies of the nude male and female torso. The show doesn’t so much chart his “progression” from high fashion to high art as it spotlights the connection between fashion and art. It also underscores that the eternal human quest for perfection is about the body as much as the mind. (Kathy Schwartz will have more on this show soon.)
For opening weekend, the art museum’s Chief Curator James Crump — also FotoFocus’ co-chair — brought to town Paul Martineau, the Getty’s curator for the Ritts exhibit, and Charles Churchward, a magazine design and art director who knew Ritts and has written Herb Ritts: The Golden Hour.
Martineau, it turns out, is at work on a major Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit to be presented by the Getty and Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2016. (Getty Research Institute and LACMA recently acquired some 2,000 of his photographs, and the Getty already had acquired the archives of Sam Wagstaff, Mapplethorpe’s collector/lover.)
Martineau told me it might travel. Cincinnati would be a perfect venue for it — Crump has made a documentary about Mapplethorpe and Wagstaff, the authoritative Black White + Gray. Is it too early to start a Facebook campaign to bring that Mapplethorpe exhibit to Cincinnati? Any volunteers?