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by Rick Pender 10.11.2011
Posted In: Theater at 01:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ayli - playouse - david graham jones is touchstone, sarah dandridge is rosalind and francesca choy-kee is celia - photo sandy underwood

LCT issues some more awards

But do they have their act together?

The League of Cincinnati Theatres LCT) continues its program of recognition for 2011-2012 theater productions with recently announced awards for productions of As You Like It at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park and Gruesome Playground Injuries at Know Theatre of Cincinnati. Nine shows have now been handed awards by panels of informed theatergoers.

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by Rick Pender 10.29.2012
Posted In: Theater at 09:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
rj production 2_ sara clark and ian bond as juliet and rome_ photo rich sofranko

Stage Door: Some Bloody Good Theater at Cincy Shakes

My schedule prevented me from making it to Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s opening of Romeo & Juliet back on Oct. 11, and I hadn’t caught up yet with CSC’s annual Halloween-season tarting up of a Shakespearean tragedy to be offered within the run of the mainstage show. This year it’s the rarely produced revenge piece, Titus Andronicus, presented on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings as well as Saturday matinees through Nov. 11, the same day that Romeo & Juliet wraps up. Neither production could be termed “traditional,” although they are sharing the same set, designed by Andrew Hungerford, and both shows are effectively lit by Gregory Bredestege.

Although the two plays are located at the opposite poles of familiarity in the canon of Shakespeare — R&J has a plot that everyone knows, while Titus is almost never staged — they have some elements in common. Both tales are driven by thoughtless acts that fuel an unquenchable desire for revenge. The young lovers’ meet their ends in a tragedy of miscommunication and bad timing; the fictional Roman general, Titus, and those around him find themselves caught up in a horrifying series of events brought on by greed for power and a desire for one-upmanship.

In fact, both plays are the product of a young Shakespeare, not yet 30 years old. They were probably first performed just a year or so apart: Titus was his first tragedy, initially presented in January 1594; R&J made its debut sometime in 1595. Titus is a revenge tragedy, wildly popular plays that were all the rage in the early 1590s. (CSC’s director for Titus, Jeremy Dubin, aptly calls it “a snuff film in blank verse.”). R&J is a paean to impetuous adolescent love, and until things start to go wrong it’s as much a sweet comedy as it is a story barreling toward a tragic ending. The humor in Titus is dark and twisted; that in R&J intensifies the tragedy. In both cases, we see the work of a writer who knew how to manipulate the emotions of his audience.

Romeo & Juliet. Staged by Brian Isaac Phillips, CSC’s artistic director, this production has been modernized. The inhabitants of “fair Verona” wear contemporary clothes, and their entertainment and behavior has a 21st-century overlay. But rather than trying to twist it too far out of its original context in a Renaissance town in Italy, I’d say this feels more like an alternate reality. Billy Chace plays the brash Mercutio, Romeo’s kinsman, as a madcap clubber, always ready for a good time with his cronies Benvolio (Jessie Wray Goodman) and Balthasar (Maggie Lou Rader). The masked ball at the Capulets’ estate where Romeo (Ian Bond) first spies Juliet (Sara Clark) begins with delicate chamber music but quickly devolves to thumping club tunes.

But this filter does not diminish the nature of the central characters. Both Bond and Clark play their roles like the hormonal teens they are meant to be. Juliet is not quite 14, and Romeo is perhaps 16. When we first meet him, he is pining for Rosaline, a love we never meet — we only hear Romeo’s idealized whining that she’s spurned him. He wants to be in love, and she’s his most likely prospect. He quickly transfers his affections to the sweetly innocent Juliet, and the petite Clark gives her the kind of breathless silliness that is endearing if not enduring. Neither of the lovers is meant to experience love in any profound way: They are swept up in the passion of youth — they go from meeting to marriage in a blur of four or five scenes.

Bond’s Romeo spends a lot of time agonizing over his frustrations, and he doesn’t seem to mature much, despite the seriousness of the situation. Clark’s Juliet has more opportunity to show growth and personal recognition at the conundrum life has presented her. Her loving but thoughtless nurse (Sherman Fracher), her domineering, unthinking father (Jim Hopkins) and her vain, superficial mother (Jennifer Joplin) make matters worse by forcing her toward an arranged marriage. The well-intentioned Friar Lawrence (Jeff Groh, more like a hippie raising strange herbs than a devout priest) aids the young lovers, but like the nurse, exacerbates a tough situation with his meddling. Clark is stunningly honest in her role, and the heat between her and Bond is palpable, if uncomplicated — as it should be for a couple of teenagers in heat.

The production as a lot of stage combat, and seeing it two weeks into its run let me see how capable Cincy Shakes can be. I had heard things were a little rough on the opening weekend, but there was no evidence of that at the performance I saw, which was thoroughly enjoyed by the full house.

Titus Andronicus. This show requires a lot of hand-to-hand combat and considerably more blood than Romeo & Juliet. It was all done with ghastly if over-the-top realism. The plot is both simple and ridiculous by contemporary standards: Titus (Nick Rose) is a successful general who turns down the chance to become emperor. Things go bad for him and his family when his prisoner Tamora, Queen of the Goths (Miranda McGee in a showy, sexy role), gets hitched to the emperor Saturninus (played as a foppish, preening fool by Justin McComb). She wreaks some vengeance on Titus’s offspring, masterminded by her scheming lover Aaron (Darnell Benjamin) who steers her fawning, selfish sons Chiron (Travis Emery) and Demetrius (Zach Schute) to some vile acts. After gruesome violence on Titus’s daughter Lavinia (Maggie Lou Rader), a grief-crazed Titus figures out some even more grotesque ways to fight back.

This is all spelled out in the script and played out on CSC’s stage with a lot of gore and stage blood — decapitated heads and severed hands — for instance, and extended to the brink of insanity lengths in the second half with Titus’s missing left hand replaced by a metal forearm that accommodates various implements from a fork to a corkscrew to a set of mechanical knife blades (like the electric knife I use to carve the Thanksgiving turkey). You can be assured these are used for violent purposes, and Nick Rose, a CSC veteran (in fact, one of its founders), revels in Titus’s madness — with some manic behavior, including bemoaning the “murder” of a fly in a blackly humorous moment. Rose is having a ball with this juicy role.

Director Jeremy Dubin has provided a different sort of filter for this interpretation of Titus Andronicus, that of the sci-fi genre of “Steampunk,” which presumes that the Victorian ingenuity of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells in the 19th century extended its steam-driven, mechanical technology prevailed in the 20th and 21st centuries. Accordingly, costumes are a curious, colorful mishmash of Victorian styles — cutaway coats, vests, goggles, belts and bustiers — and six video monitors around the theater display show cards offering the gist of scenes with quaint, tongue-in-cheek summaries. Each act began with n actor attaching a hand crank to a gear at stage right to wind up the mechanism of the show. Similarly, when certain offstage action needed to be represented, a servant bearing a kind of magic lantern projector came on to reveal a scene, which the audience saw on the monitors. (The device was clever; I wish it had been more fully and frequently integrated into the action.)

Titus Andronicus is not a great play, but Cincy Shakes — and especially actors Nick Rose, Miranda McGee, Darnell Benjamin and Maggie Lou Rader — make this production great fun to watch, providing you’re not too squeamish. It is, after all, a bloody mess, intentionally so and perfect for the thrill-seekers of late October.

 
 
by Rick Pender 11.13.2011
Posted In: Theater at 02:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
humana 36 poster

Actors Theatre Is Ready for Humana Festival No. 36

Here comes the big annual dose of new American plays

The 36th annual Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville is set for Feb. 26 through April 1, 2012. The theater today announced the line-up of full-length works. (A bill of three ten-minute plays will be announced at a later date.) Here’s what’s in store for the festival that the theater world looks to every year for the hottest new plays and playwrights. (Maple and Vine by Jordan Harrison from the 2011 festival is getting rave reviews at Chicago’s Next Theatre Company and is about to open at Playwrights Horizons in New York City.)

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by Rick Pender 09.07.2012
Posted In: Theater at 11:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
good people @ etc - annie fitzpatrick, kate wilford & deb g. girdler - photo ryan kurtz

Stage Door: 'Good People' and 'The Three Musketeers'

After a long hot summer (well, it's still feeling like a long hot summer), we have a full array of shows onstage in Cincinnati for you to choose among. I've seen two of them so far: Good People at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati and The Three Musketeers at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.

ETC's production of Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire's 2011 piece (this is the regional premiere of Good People, which was nominated for a Tony a year ago) about a woman who falls off the bottom of the employment ladder has enough humor to be entertaining (especially with Annie Fitzpatrick in the central role of Margie and Kate Wilford and Deb Girdler as her gossipy friends and bingo-night comrades) and enough contemporary relevance to be thought-provoking. ETC's D. Lynn Meyers is at her best staging naturalistic shows with social meaning, and that's exactly what this one offers. It has a great cast and flexible, attractive scenic design by the ever-creative Brian c. Mehring. I gave it a Critic's Pick. Through Sept. 23. Review here. Box office: 513-421-3555.

I wanted to love The Three Musketeers at the Playhouse (through Sept. 29), but its balance of humor and heart is out of whack to my tastes. There's lots of adventure, hilarity and laughter — especially some no-holds-barred swordplay — but the show tries to hard to entertain that it misses out on the true emotion that should lie beneath. I suspect many people will love this thrill-a-minute tale of political intrigue and valor, loyalty and royalty in 17th-century France, and perhaps it will evolve to deeper feelings as it runs. I love new Artistic Director Blake Robison's desire to put appealing, family-friendly work onstage, and he's using this production to show what he means. I hope his approach gets a tad more texture and depth as his tenure continues. Review here. Box office: 513-421-3888.

I haven't yet seen To Kill a Mockingbird at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, and their publicity says it's already sold out its first-two weekends. So you might want to put that one on your calendar for sometime before it wraps up (Sept. 30). In the meantime, you might want to head to Washington Park on Sunday evening at 7 p.m. for a special free presentation of CSC's touring production of The Tempest. It's a perfect piece for outdoor performance, set on an island with a sorcerer and his lovely daughter and some shipwrecked nobles who are responsible for his exile. Audience participation will be a key component of this event, with the audience asked to create large-scale effects by blowing bubbles, making waves with silk and generating sound effects. Sounds like great fun. Music (by The Young Heirlooms) begins at 6 p.m. This is a good one to bring kids to see.

Also off and running this weekend is Cincinnati Landmark's production of Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. It's a classic drama of sexual tension and family strife, a bit heavier fare than is usually found at the Covedale Center. It's a sign of the company's ambition to be a full-fledged theater offering a wide range of material. (Through Sept. 30.) Box office: 513-241-6550.

 
 
by Rick Pender 07.13.2011
Posted In: Theater at 09:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 

True Theatre Will Be Back at Know

Monday night I attended the fourth of four sold-out evenings of True Theatre, an innovative spoken word program that's been happening at Know Theatre since last October. Organizers Dave Levy and Jeff Groh have found considerable success inviting people (usually five per evening) to speak at these quarter gatherings about some real, personal event — usually on a theme, such as Monday night's "True Independence," inspired by last week's holiday.

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by Rick Pender 12.18.2009
Posted In: Theater at 03:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Stage Door: Sideways Stories a Hot Ticket

Audience response can be a good indicator of which holiday shows are hitting the mark. While I found the humor in Know Theatre's Sideways Stories from Wayside School to be a tad forced (you can read my full review here), the theater’s box office phone (513-300-5669) has been ringing steadily, so they've added a performance this weekend on Saturday at 3 p.m., and also on Dec. 27, the final day end of the run.

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by Rick Pender 12.14.2012
Posted In: Theater, Arts community at 11:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
holiday_onstage_achristmascarol

Stage Door: Making Merry Edition

By next weekend you'll be all crazy with gift shopping and baking cookies, so theater might not be such a high priority. So how about catching a great holiday show this weekend to put in in the holiday mood?

Starting Sunday evening you can get caught up on Christmas lore — well, at least a funny, off-kilter version of it — thanks to the jolly folks at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company who are presenting Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some)! The mash-up of Rudolph and Frosty and Santa and Ebenezer and George Bailey (and a lot more) opens on Sunday evening. Cincy Shakes used to offer this one in the courtyard at Arnold's Bar & Grill, but they had such demand for tickets that they've moved it to their mainstage, over on Race Street in Downtown Cincinnati. They seem to have been correct in anticipating that people wanted to see the show: Several days before it opened, almost all the tickets had been sold! So they've added four more performances, 2 p.m. on Dec. 22-23 and 29-30. It all wraps up on Dec. 30, so don't waste any time figuring out when you're going fit this in. And to keep up your holiday spirits, Cincy Shakes has scored a temporary liquor permit for the run of this show. Cheers! Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1.

Speaking of Cincy Shakes, you still have a few more chances to see The Importance of Being Earnest (see review here) before it vacates the premises for Every Christmas Story. Oscar Wilde's witty farce is not a holiday show, but it's a great deal of fun, guaranteed to put you in a good mood. Although I haven't seen Falcon Theater's production of It's a Wonderful Life — recreating the story of George Bailey and Bedford Falls as it might have been without him —  it's picked up some solid recognition from a panel of judges for the Acclaim Awards. The story is presented as a production of a 1940s radio play, and it's happening in Newport's intimate Monmouth Theatre. Tickets: 513-479-6783.

Ensemble Theatre's fractured musical retelling of Alice in Wonderland (see review here) offers a colorful, visual feast as well as a take on the story that has a few lessons for kids, but plenty of entertainment for everyone. (Tickets: 513-421-3555) And the most traditional of all the holiday shows, A Christmas Carol at the Cincinnati Playhouse, continues to be a great outing for families. We had out of town guests last weekend who came to Cincinnati to see it, and they loved every minute of it. If you haven't seen it, this is one you'll remember — and probably want to add as a must-see every holiday season. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
 

 
 
by Rick Pender 11.12.2012
Posted In: Theater at 10:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
Photo: Eric Vosmeier

At Last, We Can Know ...

Looking ahead at Know Theatre's holiday schedule and beyond

In my recent Curtain Call column, I talked about collaboration and made some mention of past ventures by Know Theatre. After a period of self-examination covered in an earlier column ("Big-Picture Thinking at Know Theatre," issue of Oct. 24), the Over-the-Rhine company has now shared some of its programming plans for the holidays and the months ahead.

For the holidays, they'll produce The Naughty List, hosted by Ronda Androski and her great staff at Arnold's Bar & Grill downtown and featuring the talent of OTR Improv, one of the groups Know has nurtured with its Jackson Street Market. They'll take holiday memories from those in attendance as they recreate holiday movies and tell you how your life would have been different if you had received that special gift you yearned for. The fun will be happeing in Arnold's courtyard on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings from Dec. 2 to 30. Tickets will be $15 in advance and $18 at the door.

Know will also offer The Apocalypse Show! for two nights on its home stage at 1120 Jackson St.. Since the world is scheduled to come to an end on Dec. 21, 2012 (according to the Mayan calendar), Know will produce a variety show to end all variety shows on Dec. 20 and 21. There will be sketch comedy, predictions, guest appearances, "gratuitous drinking and answers to all of your apocalypse FAQs." Dec. 20 will be a fundraiser (tickets: $50), despite the funny come-on that you should bring all your money, since it will be worth nothing the next day! (If you come to the performance on Dec. 21, you only need to scrape together $15 in advance or $18 at the door.)

Assuming that the world really isn't ending on Dec. 21, Know will co-host its annual New Year's Eve event with CityBeat, the Speakeasy Party from 8 p.m. on Dec. 31 (to 1 a.m.). Know typically attracts 300 well-dressed guests for this event, and everyone has fun with casino games, food, dancing to a DJ and a live band, martinis and a champagne toast at midnight.

After all this fun stuff, Know will get down to some serious theater — presenting Andrew Bovell's "best new play of 2010," When the Rain Stops Falling (Feb. 8-March 16, 2013). It's another partnership, with the production being staged by Brian Isaac Phillips, artistic director at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. (Bovell's Speaking in Tongues had a great production at the Cincinnati Playhouse last season.) The show uses an intricate fabric of overlapping connections, moving between several generations between 1959 and 2039 and between London and Australia. Acts and sins of the past are connected to three generations that follow. 

More will be following, including an unnamed production running from April 5 to May 12. Sometime in late April (date TBA), just in advance of the tenth annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival (May 28-June 8, 2013), Know will host the 2013 United States Association of Fringe Festivals Conference. "We're honored to have been selected to host this year's conference," says Know's Producing Artistic Director Eric Vosmeier. "It's an amazing opportunity to work on ideas and issues at the core of all Fringe Festivals. Every time I have been to a conference, the Cincinnati Fringe is better for it. We can't wait to show off our city to festival producers from all over the United States."

One more note: Know is selling its version of a subscription, Flex Passes. But these have evolved: You can purchase six flex passes for $90. Valid for most Know productions, they do not expire. (If a show ticket has a higher price than the pass, you can use your pass and just pay the difference.) Know's website will designate: "Flex passes are valid for this event." When you run out of tickets (and you surely will), you simply need to buy another pass.

Know's Fringe Festival has promoted itself with the slogan "Weird, like us." And they're living up to that mantra in a way that should appeal to its supporters and more.

 
 
by Rick Pender 07.07.2011
Posted In: Theater at 12:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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'Winter Wonderettes' Wins LCT Award

In my CityBeat column this week I shared the news that the Acclaim Awards are gone and that the League of Cincinnati Theatres (LCT) have stepped up to create a new awards program. The first two recognitions of the season have been awarded to Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati’s (ETC) Christmas-in-July celebration, Roger Bean’s Winter Wonderettes. This musical sequel to ETC’s biggest-ever box-office hit, The Marvelous Wonderettes, has earned these awards for its acting ensemble and specialized design.

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by Rick Pender 06.01.2012
Posted In: Theater at 09:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
fringe1

Stage Door: Fringe, 'Avenue Q,' CSC, etc.

There’s more theater and performance than you can shake a stick at in Over-the-Rhine this weekend, thanks to the 2012 Cincinnati Fringe Festival. (In fact, if you stand on a corner in OTR and shake a stick, you could be mistaken for a Fringe act …) You can read about all the Fringe productions that are up and running here, but here’s half-dozen shows that CityBeat’s reviewers have recommended: Grim & Fischer: A Deathly Comedy in Full-Face Mask (this one has a limited run, closing on Saturday, and it’s had brisk box office since it opened on Wednesday); Methtacular (a one-man show about a musical theater actor who’s a gay crystal-meth addict); Sweet, Burning Yonder (an eco-sensitive comedy about the weird aftermath of Hurricane Katrina); Quake: A Closet Love Story (about a broken-up couple trapped in a closet after an earthquake); Don’t Cross the Streams (a full-fledged musical that starts with a movie about busting ghosts and spins way beyond); and Blown Up (a FringeNext production by high schoolers). Go to cincyfringe.com for more information about schedules and tickets.

While it’s not part of the Fringe, Avenue Q, presented by Showbiz Players at Covington’s Carnegie Center, has the same zany vibe. It’s an X-rated musical with puppets that might visually remind you of Sesame Street — until they open their dirty mouths. The show was a surprise Tony Award winner several years back, and it promises lots of laughs for those who go. Through June 10. 859-957-1940.

If you want something more traditional, try Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production of The Merchant of Venice, one of Shakespeare’s most difficult plays. It’s officially categorized as a comedy because it has humorous and romantic elements. But the central story about a potentially fatal argument between a moneylender and a businessman is anything but amusing. CSC’s artistic director Brian Isaac Phillips takes on the role of the rapacious moneylender who has faced anti-Semitic discrimination for his entire life. Is Shylock a villain or a victim? Shakespeare gives him aspects of each, and CSC’s production does not tilt in either direction. You get to decide, and it won’t be easy. Box office: 513-381-2273, x1.

Be sure to consider downtown’s newest performance venue, Speakeasy Theatre, storefront space at 815 Race Street. Their inaugural production is Paul Baerman’s The Whistler, set in 1965 in an unnamed Southern city awash in racist attitudes. The Andy Griffith Show is in its fifth season, and the guy who whistles the theme (played here by local professional actor Michael G. Bath) is living off his royalties. But life gets more complicated when he meets an African-American trumpet player (played by Tony Davis) who shares his passion for music. The Whistler will be onstage through June 10. Box office: 513-861-7469

Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.

 
 

 

 

 
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