Several great choices for theatergoing this weekend. At the top of your list should be Rapture, Blister, Burn at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati. I was at the opening of Gina Gionfriddo's 2013 Pulitzer Prize runner-up on Wednesday, and it's another fine example of the kind of excellent production we've come to expect from ETC. Lynn Meyers has a knack for finding exactly the right actors for her shows, and she's assembled a perfect cast for this one, the story of a twisty relationship between three one-time college friends. Two women, played by Jen Joplin and Corinne Mohlenhoff, were roommates back then, and Mohlenhoff's character had a charismatic boyfriend. She went off to a renowned academic career and Joplin's character ended up marrying Don, played by Charlie Clark. Twenty years later they're back in close proximity, and neither woman is feeling fulfilled by her life. Don is a willing player in trading places, which makes for some amusing drama. Mohlenhoff's character offers a summer seminar in feminism, film and pornography which plays out some interesting theorizing among the show's female characters about the roles women play. It's a great stew of talking and experimenting, which takes some interesting turns along the way. Definitely watchable and entertaining. Onstage through Oct. 27. Tickets: 513-421-3555.
You have two good choices at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park this weekend. Last evening I attended the opening of Martín Zimmerman's Seven Spots on the Sun (it's onstage through Oct. 27). It's a thoughtful and gripping drama about the fallout of civil war in an unnamed Latin American country. Warring factions draw lines and commit atrocities that make for inconsolable lives afterward, even when something magical seems to offer a chance for healing. It's a challenging story that will remind audiences that wars create more strife than they solve. Well-acted and swiftly staged (it's 90 minutes long, no intermission, on the Playhouse's Shelterhouse Stage), this is a world premiere by a playwright who's name will surely become familiar to audiences in the future. Meanwhile, this weekend offers the final performances of Fly on the Playhouse's mainstage. It's the story of valiant African Americans who we know today as the Tuskegee Airmen, men who overcame prejudice and doubt to be heroes during World War II. It's inventively staged using video and tap dancing. Definitely worth seeing; final performance is Saturday evening. (Tickets: 513-421-3888)
Perhaps this weekend you want to take a last-chance trip down Memory Lane. You have that option as the Showboat Majestic is wrapping up its production of Showboat Follies, the final show that Cincinnati Landmark Productions will stage on the historic vessel. It's a revue of songs and skits that should be fun if not profound, but if you go (final performance is Sunday), you'll be able to tell you foriends that you were among the last to visit this nostalgic Cincinnati venue. (Unless the City of Cincinnati finds another operator — which they've been seeking with no success.) Tickets: 513-241-6550.
Lots of choices to fulfill your appetite for good theater this weekend. Best bet is to catch one of the final performances of Other Desert Cities at Ensemble Theatre (Sunday at 2 p.m. is your last chance), the story of parents and children who just can't get along. (CityBeat review here.) Heavy doses of guilt, sarcasm and politics fuel a lot of family angst, and some unexpected twists and turns keep things interesting as a daughter who's a writer blames her parents for her activist brother's suicide — in a very public way. The show features a solid cast of local favorites. It's definitely worth seeing if you can get a ticket. 513-421-3555.
Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati is typically the first professional theater
in town to start the season, and that's the case for 2013 with Other Desert Cities that opened a week ago. You can read my review;
I really appreciated the powerhouse cast performing the show. That led
me to give Jon Robin Baitz's provocative family drama about strife
between generations a "Critic's Pick." (It's onstage through Sept. 22.) A tip option for seats is an added 7 p.m. performance on that final Sunday. If you enjoy ETC's productions of fresh new plays, you owe a debt of gratitude to its founding supporters. Longtime friends
Ruth Sawyer and Murph Mahler got the ball rolling back in 1987 and
faithfully guided the company for two decades, sustaining the company
financially, artistically and spiritually. Mahler passed away in 2009
and Sawyer earlier this year, so ETC is commemorating their dedication
with a special free event this Sunday evening at 7 p.m. The program will offer songs and stories performed by some of ETC's best artists. Seating is limited, so you need to RSVP: 513-421-3555.
Abandon ship! Well, that's not exactly true. In fact, Cincinnati Landmark Productions has done a remarkable and loving job of sustaining the ship — in the form of the Showboat Majestic, which it has operated for 23 years in the face of at least 10 floods and countless repairs (including a leaky hull). But with its lease running out later this month, the company has decided not to return for the 2014 season.
Cincinnati Landmark will focus its endeavors on the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, the converted West Side movie theater where it will offer a "Summer Classics Season" in a vein similar to mainstream fare of classic comedies and musicals that has long drawn audiences to the Majestic. There have been 170 productions on board since 1991, attracting more than 350,000 patrons to the last floating theater in the United States. Cincinnati Landmark is also embarking on a new voyage with a performing arts center to be built in the Incline District in East Price Hill, a venue anticipated to be up and running as early as 2015.
Tim Perrino, executive artistic director at Cincinnati Landmark, says, "It's time to say goodbye. Our organization enjoyed a prolific chapter in the Majestic's grand history, painstakingly caring for the old boat" — launched in 1923 — "and producing seasons that paid tribute to her heritage."
Opening this week on Wednesday, Showboat Follies will be Cincinnati Landmark's final production on the Majestic. An annual tradition, it's a compilation of musical showstoppers, comic sketches, audience interaction and a return of the "Queen City Toast," a longtime staple of season-closing shows. "This show has become our love letter to the Majestic," Perrino says, adding that it's "a thank-you to our subscribers, longtime supporters and the many artists who helped make our time on the Showboat so special." Showboat Follies runs through Sept. 29.
During the summer of 2014, Cincinnati Landmark will present four productions at the Covedale: Jerry Herman's Hello, Dolly! (May 22-June 1); Neil Simon's comedy, The Sunshine Boys (June 19-29); Footloose (July 24-Aug. 3), the 2014 Cincinnati Young People's Theater production, a summer favorite using local high school talent; and a spectacular song-and-dance show, The Will Rogers Follies (Aug. 21-31).
In 1989, the Showboat Majestic was named a National Historic Landmark. No word from the City of Cincinnati, which has owned the Majestic since 1967, as to what might be next. The Majestic was operated with summertime shows by the University of Cincinnati for many years, and it served as a popular venue during several of the Tall Stacks festivals over the years.
The first week of September always brings an avalanche of theater productions, and that's exactly what's available to you this weekend.
I'll start with Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati's Other Desert Cities, which opened on Wednesday. You can read my review, which gives this excellent production a Critic's Pick. It's a drama about generational family strife coming to a boil on Christmas Eve in 2004 when conservative, politically prominent parents learn that their liberal daughter has written a supposedly tell-all memoir about the suicide of her older brother, an antiwar activist. It's a great vehicle for actors, and ETC has assembled an excellent cast of local and New York professionals, including Amy Warner, Dale Hodges, Sara Mackie, Ryan Wesley Gilreath and Dennis Parlato. The show, a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize, is full of confrontations and revelations — a juicy night onstage. Through Sept. 22. Tickets ($27-$42): 513-421-3555.
Tonight at Know Theatre is a Fringe "Encore," a performance by actor/musician Kevin Thornton, a popular performer in the annual Fringe Festivals that Know produces. Stairway to Kevin focuses on the fact that he's turning 40 and questioning everything. This is an evening stuffed with new material, both the comedy and the music. Two nights only — Sept. 6 and 13 at 8 p.m. Tickets ($12): 513-300-5669.
Tonight is the opener for Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's adaptation of Charles Dickens' classic novel, Oliver Twist. If you've enjoyed stage productions of A Christmas Carol, you have a sense of Dickens' flair with colorful characters and dramatic storytelling. That's exactly what this tale of an orphan in 19th-century London has to offer, and CSC's retelling uses music and inventive staging to bring that place and its inhabitants to life. Sure to be popular with family audiences. Through Sept. 29. Tickets ($22-$31): 513-381-2273, x1.
The Cincinnati Playhouse's season doesn't officially open until Sept. 12, but the first production, Fly, a creatively staged piece about the legendary Tuskegee Airmen from World War II, is in previews this weekend, so it's a chance to catch it early. Tune in to Around Cincinnati on WVXU (FM 91.7) on Sunday at 7 p.m. to hear me interview playwright and director Ricardo Khan. Through Oct. 5. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
Finally, you might want to check out the gala celebration by Footlighters this evening (Friday at 7 p.m. at the Syndicate in Newport) when the reliable community theater company marks its 50th season, quite a remarkable accomplishment. Later this month (Sept. 26-Oct. 12), Footlighters will present the jaunty musical Anything Goes at its Stained Glass Theatre; the company is one of the few community groups with its own facility. Tickets ($20): 859-652-3849.
If you're a theater fan looking for something to do this weekend, you've probably realized that the Labor Day holiday is not overflowing with options. In fact, many theater companies are gathering their strength as they prepare for shows that open next week.
A few good local productions are winding up this weekend. On Labor Day weekend, you won't find much onstage. But you have a couple of decent choices right now to tide you over.
The pickings have been kind of slim at Know Theatre over the past year. The quality has been high (the staging of When the Rain Stops Falling was one of the best shows onstage locally during 2013, and Mike Bartlett’s Cock offered a showcase of strong acting), but the works have felt few and far between. So today’s announcement from Producing Artistic Director Eric Vosmeier of a full schedule that’s already under way and extends beyond the typical end of the 2013-2014 season is welcome news. Here’s what’s in store following Lauren Gunderson’s Macbeth-inspired comedy Toil and Trouble (presently onstage through Aug. 24):
Bull by Mike Bartlett (Nov. 1-30): Yes, it’s another piece by the playwright of Cock, making Know the first U.S. theater to produce both pieces by the British writer. Both use a stripped-down aesthetic — no props and no scenery make for a lot of onstage intensity regarding characters and their relationships. This one is the story of three mid-level executives who compete for two corporate positions. Brian Robertson, who also staged Cock, returns to direct this one, and George Alexander, one of the four actors in the earlier show, will perform in this one, too.
The Naughty List (Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings, Dec. 1-30): OTRImprov, an improvisational comedy troupe that’s part of Know’s Jackson Street Market, will hold forth in the courtyard at Arnold’s Bar & Grill in downtown Cincinnati for the holidays. Combining long- and short-form improv, the performers will offer a very irreverent take on the holidays — with the help of audience suggestions and participation.
Pluto (Jan. 24-Feb. 22, 2014): Know’s former artistic director Jason Bruffy comes back to town to stage a poignant and evocative new script by Steve Yockey. The production is part of a rolling world premiere through the National New Play Network, and it will feature two excellent local professionals, Annie Fitzpatrick and Tori Wiggins. An ordinary day in a suburban home takes a strange turn following a local tragedy, what with all hell breaking loose. Know’s publicity says the show “explores tragedy, loss and the way love can blind us to the truth.”
TBD (April 4-May 10, 2014): Know is holding a slot for a production to be announced later. You can be sure it will be another script with the ink still drying.
Cincinnati Fringe Festival (May 27-June 7, 2014): The 11th annual Fringe will be back with 12 days of theater, music, dance, film, art — and a lot of stuff in between that kind of defies simple description. Applications for performers will be accepted starting Sept. 1, 2013 (through Dec. 6). Info: www.cincyfringe.com.
Moby Dick (Fall 2014): Playwright Julian Rad adapted Herman Melville’s great American novel for an Off-Off-Broadway production in 2003. Michael Burnham, recently retired from a long career as a professor of drama at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music, will co-direct the show with designer Andrew Hungerford. The tale of revenge and obsession with Captain Ahab pursuing the great white whale that maimed him has been stripped to its essence for what promises to be a highly theatrical endeavor that uses sea chanteys and creative staging.
In addition to these full-scale productions, Know has announced several Fringe “encores,” the return of shows that were hits during the festival’s 10th iteration back in June. Jon Kovach will repeat his powerful one-man show based on Ron Jones’ The Wave (Aug. 26-27); comedian/storyteller/singer Kevin Thornton will present Stairway to Kevin (Sept. 6 and 13); and Paul Strickland’s one-man trailer park fairytale comedy, Ain’t True and Uncle False (Oct. 11-12).
Tickets for the full-productions are $15 in advance, and $20 the week of the performance; Fringe “encore” tickets are $12. Know offers sets of six-show flex passes for $90 that do not expire. They can be exchanged for tickets for any of these productions. For more information: 513-300-5669 or www.knowtheatre.com.