CityBeat Blogs - Arts <![CDATA[Beyond the Books]]>

There’s nothing like being greeted by the bright echoes of music as you step inside from the pouring rain. On this particular day I was visiting the main branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County for the monthly Jazz of the Month Club performance, featuring the Jamey Aebersold Quartet. It wasn’t hard to find the musicians, since their tunes bounced all around the library atrium, and as I slipped into my seat I settled down and let the warm jazz beats warm my cold body.

The Jamey Aebersold Quartet, the third performer in the Jazz of the Month Club, featured an extremely talented group of musicians, led by an award-winning Jazz master and educator. Jamey Aebersold, who led the group on the alto sax, received the 2014 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Award, the highest jazz honor in America. A native of New Albany, Ind., Aebersold has been playing Jazz for more than 50 years, and has gained international recognition as a Jazz musician and educator. It was perhaps the educator in him that couldn’t resist adding tidbits of the pieces and artists they performed.

The quartet played several Jazz tunes, including “Lament” by J.J. Johnson, “Hi-Fly” by Randy Weston and “In a Sentimental Mood” by Duke Ellington, one of the most famous Jazz compositions. As I listened to the lively beats I couldn’t help but look around at the rest of the audience. While a couple people slept in the back row, most were intently focused on the performers, nodding their heads, tapping their toes or even dancing in their seats. Peeking out at passersby, I noticed a few that were even dancing as they walked, and I saw more than one librarian sneak a peek between tasks.

At one point, Aebersold pulled a Jamaican pianist into the performance and gave him a rehearsal for their next song in “be-dos,” singing the melody in gibberish. As strange as that seemed, Aebersold’s next instruction confused me further: “There’s a two-bar break on bar…something. You’ll hear it.” While we all laughed, I couldn’t help but wonder how the pianist could follow those instructions, but to my amazement he jumped right in without missing a beat, improvising as if he’d known the tune all along.

As a Jazz enthusiast, it was wonderful to hear the different styles of Jazz played in a way that drew crowds from all sections of the library. Older adults sat patiently through the program while younger audiences slipped in and out. But no matter how long they stayed, all seemed to leave with an expression of peace and pleasure at the simple but beautiful tunes wafting through the building. It was evidence of what Aebersold described by saying, “The world’s a mess. But we can make it better by playing some music.”

Did this event sound interesting? Check out similar programs at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County’s Main Branch:
History of Cincinnati Music Reprise: Explore the musical history of Cincinnati with Musicologist Uncle Dave Lewis.
Jazz Jam Session: Enjoy an evening of jazz with the Blue Night Jazz Band.
Ring in the Holidays: Listen to a holiday performance by the Pyropus Hand Bell Choir.


<![CDATA[Beyond the Books]]>

There was little reading happening at the Boone County Public Library on Native American Day on Nov. 14. A life-size tipi sat on the lawn of the main branch, and inside the sound of drums carried from the second floor. In a corner of the children’s area sat craft tables where kids could make pinch pots out of clay, and Sioux dancers wandered around in traditional dress and face paint.

November, which is Native American Heritage Month, was the perfect time to host this event, although it took library staff several months of planning to get it ready. Adult Programmer Kathy Utz says this was the first-ever Native American Day at the library. “This is totally an experiment for us,” she says. “It’s really turned out to be a good program, and people are interested in it.” Utz added that one of the library’s goals is to expose the community to different cultures. “We always like to broaden the horizon of Boone County and to see something they haven’t seen before,” she said. They certainly achieved the desired effect, for as I wandered through the various stations, I can honestly say I’d never before experienced so much Native American culture in one place.

Chaske Hotain, a group of Sioux drummers, performed with brothers and sisters from around the country, beating the rhythms of their ancestors. Wearing their traditional dress, the dancers presented various Native American styles, at times inviting the audience to join them as they circled gracefully inside the wide perimeter of chairs. “It’s great … I’ve never been to a powwow or anything like that before, so I didn’t know what to expect,” says Kaitlin Barber, public service associate with the library’s local history department and the one who arranged the demonstration. “It’s really surpassed my expectations.” Outside the crowd was just as enthralled, and children could scarcely contain their excitement to enter the life-size tipi. It was surprising how many could fit into what looked like a small space — as I stood there I watched at least 30 people file in and settle comfortably on the floor. As I listened in I heard the owner, Tim Deane of Morristown, Tenn., describe the hand-made, authentic Sioux articles inside.

No matter which corner of the library you found yourself, there was something exciting to greet you. Patrons and performers alike took advantage of the vibrant atmosphere, and all around I could see the results of exposure to a different culture. This is what Jordan Padgett, youth services programmer, says the library strives to provide: “That is part of what we do here at the library, is really engage the community and reach them where they’re at. [And] providing stuff that amplifies what they’re already learning is a big key.”

<![CDATA[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.

<![CDATA[Cincinnati Art Museum to Screen 'Dior and I' Movie Sunday]]>

As a perfect accompaniment for its current High Style: Twentieth-Century Masterworks from the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection exhibition, the Cincinnati Art Museum is offering a free screening of the new documentary Dior and I this Sunday at 2 p.m.

The film, by director Frederic Tcheng, shows the high-pressure process by which new designer/creative director Raf Simons prepares to debut a line of clothing at Fashion Week.

Tcheng’s previous fashion documentaries include 2008’s Valentino: The Last Emperor and 2011’s Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel.

The screening is part of the monthly Moving Pictures series. It occurs in Fath Auditorium and no reservations are needed. There is a parking fee for non-members.

<![CDATA[Jens Lekman's Cincinnati 'Ghostwriting' Project Yields First Songs]]>

Jens Lekman, the acclaimed Swedish singer-songwriter whose weeklong residency at Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center is now in its third day, has finished and posted the first five songs in his Ghostwriting project.

You can hear them here.

Through Thursday, Lekman will be meeting with 11 people (it was supposed to be 12, but one had to cancel) whose written entries about their experiences were selected by him for song adaptations.

He will be discussing their stories with them, creating lyrics and then recording — with a small combo — songs that he posts for the world to hear. The participants receive a USB copy in a gift box. Read more information about the project here.

Listening to the five songs posted so far, one can hear that his knack for melody is up for this challenge. “What Was Worth Saving,” “Cartwheels” and “The Love It Takes to Get By” are particularly memorable. Because of an issue with one song on Monday night, Lekman compensated by recording two versions of another, “Northeastern Ascent.” Three more songs are scheduled to be finished and posted online tonight and another three on Thursday evening.

On Friday at 8 p.m. at the Woodward Theater, Lekman will perform in concert with the MYCincinnati Ambassador Ensemble, a string section of Price Hill youth under the direction of local musician/composer Eddy Kwon, who also adapted the arrangements. Some of the Cincinnati-composed songs will be included.

Tickets are available at for $20 (or $15 for CAC members) now and should still be available at the door.

<![CDATA[Stage Door]]>

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.

<![CDATA[Beyond the Books]]>

Every piece of art has a story, but what we don’t often remember is that the story of the artist can be even more enthralling. Donna King of River’s Edge Pottery Studio shared not only her trade but her history with a group during a pottery demonstration at the Covington branch of the Kenton County Public Library. The demonstration, which was scheduled for only two hours, stretched out as King engaged her audience in a series of stories.

She begian by slamming the clay on the wheel, making a large thump. “You’ve gotta get really really tough with it,” she explained. After centering the blob of clay on the wheel, King went to work on what she tells us is going to be a bowl. “With my students, the first thing I have them do is make a bowl,” she said.

As we watched, King masterfully poked a hole in the middle of the clay lump, eventually widening it out to form a discernable bowl shape. Once she was finished with it, King set it aside and grabbed a larger lump of clay, which she again threw on the wheel. This one was to become a vase, and King eagerly shared her technique for designing her pieces, which includes using a variety of objects to create patterns. Leaves, feathers and lace are a few of her standard tools, but she’s also used Hot Wheels cars, plastic placemats and pages from adult coloring books. “Sometimes I use a feather, sometimes I use sugar, and one time I actually used cat’s whiskers,” she said, laughing.

The library demonstration was King’s second at the Kenton County Public Library. The artist, who has been creating pottery for nine years, originally asked to display pottery for the Clay Alliance of Cincinnati, but when the library reached out requesting her to come give a presentation last fall, she gladly accepted.  “It’s just fun,” she said. “It’s just been an adventure.” The artist says she’s traveled all over the community doing demonstrations and classes and has worked with several Girl Scout troops and taught classes at Christian schools in the area, as well as teaching private or group classes. “I’ve had them as young as two years old, and up to 86 years old,” she said “People who say, ‘You know, I’ve always wanted to try that,’ and I say, ‘Well, now’s your chance.’ ”

Find this interesting? Check out similar events at the Kenton County Public Library:

Nov. 12: Scarf It Up: Learn to knit from a local hobbyist. (Durr Branch)
Nov. 17: Coloring for Adults: Unwind at the Erlanger branch with this creative past time. (Erlanger Branch)
Nov. 19: Holiday Sewing: Machines and fabric are available for you to come make a holiday gift. (Covington Branch)

<![CDATA[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.

<![CDATA[FotoFocus Takes its Mapplethorpe Symposium on the Road]]>

After a successful symposium here last month, FotoFocus is taking its Robert Mapplethorpe presentation, The Perfect Moment: 25 Years Later, on the road. (The Cincinnati symposium was called Mapplethorpe +25.)

In observance of the 25th anniversary of the unsuccessful obscenity trial in Cincinnati of the Contemporary Arts Center following the exhibition of The Perfect Moment there in 1990, FotoFocus will sponsor a panel discussion at 7 p.m. at New York’s cutting-edge New Museum, 235 Bowery.

It will be moderated by Kevin Moore, FotoFocus’ New York-based artistic director, and feature Amy Adler, law professor at New York University School of Law; Jennifer Blessing, senior photography curator at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Paul Martineau, associate curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles; and Britt Salvesen, curator of the Wallis Annenberg Photography Department at Los Angeles County Museum. The latter three were on a panel in Cincinnati.

Further information about FotoFocus can be found at Additional information about the Mapplethorpe + 25 symposium can be found at


<![CDATA[Beatles Historian and Author to Speak at Main Library]]>

Mark Lewisohn, the internationally recognized Beatles historian who is working on his epic All These Years biography of the Fab Four’s story, will discuss the first book completed and published in the planned trilogy — Tune In — at 7 p.m. next Tuesday in the Main Library's Reading Garden Lounge, 800 Vine St., Downtown Cincinnati.

Lewisohn’s talk is free. No registration is required, and a book signing will follow his appearance. Books will be available for purchase courtesy of Joseph-Beth Booksellers.

Ten years in the making and consisting of hundreds of new interviews and information learned from access to archives, Tune In follows the Beatles from their childhoods through 1962 when their first hit record, “Love Me Do,” gives indication of the greatness ahead.

The English author began writing about the Beatles in 1983, and had previously published The Beatles Live!, The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, The Beatles Day by Day and the Complete Beatles Chronicle before turning to this project.

He is now busily at work on the second volume and has come to Cincinnati to do research at the Main Library.


<![CDATA[Stage Door: Oddities, Carnies and a Big Ole Flood]]>

Know Theatre opens Andy’s House of [BLANK] tonight at 8 p.m. The show is the spawn of the second round of Know’s Serials, a happily creative two-month program of five 15-minute episodes. This one, a musical about a shop full of oddities and a story of love, regret and time travel, was a crowd favorite early in 2015. It struck Know’s artistic team as warranting further development, so they invited creators/storytellers Trey Tatum and Paul Strickland to turn it into a full-fledged work. As in Serials, it’s staged by director Bridget Leak. It’s being produced in Know’s Underground Bar, cleverly transmuted into the interior of Andy’s oddity shop with a set drawn on cardboard. Strickland (who’s also a singer and songwriter) has created a bunch of musical numbers; he and playwright Tatum are in the show, as if they were teens working at Andy’s back in the day and now retelling what went on. Read my Curtain Call column here to learn more. It’s happening through Nov. 14. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, with a short run at UC’s College-Conservatory of music this weekend, is a classic from the Golden Age of Broadway musicals. It’s a darker story than you might expect from Rodgers and Hammerstein: Billy Bigelow, a good-looking bad boy who runs the merry-go-round at the carnival is love-’em-and-leave-’em kind of guy until he meets Julie Jordan. He tries to live a better life once they’re married and she’s pregnant, but it’s not really his thing. He dies after a bungled robbery and then has a chance to come back and make things right with his teenage daughter. There’ a lot of great music in this show — “If I Loved You” is one of several classic numbers — and with faculty member Diane Lala staging it (and choreographing it, too), it’s sure to be extremely watchable. Final performance is the Sunday matinee. Tickets: 513-556-4183.

Floodwaters are threatening life and limb in the past and the present at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park where Dana Yeaton’s Mad River Rising is on the big stage. Set in an abandoned barn, it’s the story of Angus Stewart (played with dry humor and stubborn attitudes by 82-year-old actor Robert Hogan) who witnessed a devastating flood in 1937 that all but destroyed his family’s farm. In old age he’s trying to stave off waves of newfangled innovation and life choices that have abandoned the traditional values of farming and owning land. Hogan is a fine performer, and the story has intriguing moments as he tangles with family members trying to accommodate him, help him or navigate around him. It’s a fine portrait of the challenges of aging. Here’s a to my CityBeat review. It’s onstage through Nov. 14. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

Elsewhere: Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati finishes its run of the very funny one-man show Buyer and Cellar, about an actor hired to manage a faux shopping mall in the basement of Barbra Streisand’s Malibu estate. (CityBeat review here.) Actor Nick Cearley turns in winning performances as the actor, as Streisand and a handful of others as he retells the ups-and-downs of “selling” to one tough customer. The run ends on Sunday. Tickets: 513-421-3555. … Cincinnati Shakespeare’s fine production of the prize-winning American drama Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller continues through Nov. 7. (CityBeat review here.) One of our region’s great professional actors, Bruce Cromer, turns in a heart-rending performance as Willy Loman, whose aspirations have come to a grinding halt; Annie Fitzpatrick’s powerful portrait of Willy’s devoted, weary wife Linda makes the sad story all the more compelling. Tickets: 513-381-2273. … Covedale Center is presenting a frothy farce by Ken Ludwig in the tradition of Marx Brothers’ comedies. Fox on the Fairway is a madcap story set at a private country club. Onstage through Nov. 15. Tickets: 513-241-6550.

One more thing: Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati is presenting a series of behind-the-scenes events that will enhance your appreciation of how theater productions are put together. This month’s Caffeinated Conversation on Saturday morning at 11 a.m. explores how ETC’s season is put together, how local actors are found and what it’s like to direct plays and musicals that deal with mental illness, economic disparity and racial tension. One of Cincinnati’s most admired directors, D. Lynn Meyers, will speak and answer questions. Tickets ($15): 513-421-3555.

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

<![CDATA[Stage Door: Buying and Selling — Lots of Theater Options]]>

You’ll find a lot of good theater choices this weekend — Death of a Salesman at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is fine, moving production of a classic drama, while Ensemble Theatre has a hit with its one-man comedy, Buyer and Cellar, about a guy managing a shopping mall in Barbra Streisand’s basement. Here’s a review that provides my comments on both. If you enjoy Nick Cearley’s performance at ETC, you might want to come back for a late-night performance (Friday and Saturday at 11 p.m.) by The Skivvies, his musical duet in underwear with another New Yorker, Lauren Molina. They’ll feature special guests — Drew Lachey tonight and Beth Harris of The Hiders on Saturday. (No info on what they’ll wear … or not wear.) He’s doing B&C through Nov. 1, but the Skivvies happen only this weekend.

This weekend is your last chance to see the romantic comedy Sex with Strangers at the Cincinnati Playhouse (it closes Sunday). It’s a very entertaining and contemporary piece about two very different writers who are strongly attracted to one another. Last evening I attended the opening of the Playhouse’s production of Mad River Rising. Set in an abandoned barn that’s seen better days, it’s the story of Angus Stewart, a man who’s seen better — and worse — days. As a 7-year-old in 1937, he witnessed a tragic flood that washed away most his family’s farm. He was part of rebuilding it, but in 2015 Angus, now 85, is seeing a flood of modernity threatening his world. Stubborn, cantankerous and sharper than he appears at first glance, he escapes from a nursing home and hides out in the barn, where family members — past and present — swirl around him. And in the hands of actor Robert Hogan, the portrait of Angus is memorable. It’s onstage through Nov. 14.

New Edgecliff Theatre offers an imaginative fundraiser every year around Halloween. They call it “Sweet Suspense,” and it’s a production in the form of a radio drama, often of a familiar noir thriller. It happens on Sunday at 7:30 p.m. at The Hoffner Lodge (4120 Hamilton Ave. in Northside). Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, a psychological crime thriller from 1951, is the material this year, a classic mystery about two people who meet on a train and conjure a twisted plot for a perfect murder. The evening’s “sweetness” is a complimentary dessert buffet at intermission with desserts from local restaurants and bakeries. Tickets are $35 (888-428-7311).

I dropped by Clifton Performance Theatre last week to see The Norwegians. C. Denby Swanson’s bitter comedy is about women scorned in Minnesota and a pair of nice hit men they hire to whack their former boyfriends. The production has a cast of excellent local actors — Miranda McGee, Carol Brammer, Michael Bath and Sean Dillon — but it’s an odd piece of writing. Director Cathy Springfield has done her best to make this distant cousin of Fargo both entertaining and coherent; but she’s only partially succeeded. There are moments of sardonic humor, but I never really got the point.

Opening this week: Ken Ludwig’s tribute to the comic farces of the 1930s and 1940s, The Fox on the Fairway is up and running at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets: 513-241-6550. … Two university productions to check out this weekend: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Xavier (7:30 p.m., plus a Saturday matinee at 2 p.m.) Tickets: 513-745-3939. … Shakespeare’s seldom-produced The Winter’s Tale opened this week at Northern Kentucky University; it’s onstage through Sunday. Tickets: 859-572-5464.

Closing: WIT – Women in Theatre is offering the second and final weekend of David Ives’ sexy and provocative Venus in Fur, which was well received at the Playhouse when it was staged there in April 2014. WIT presents its shows as the St. John United Church of Christ in Bellevue, Ky. Tickets can be purchased at the door for performances at 8 p.m. tonight or Saturday. … The Hunchback of Seville, an irreverent comedy co-produced by CCM drama at Know Theatre has its final performance on Saturday. You should be able to buy tickets at the door.

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

<![CDATA[Local Vent Haven Ventriloquism Museum Is Subject of New Avant-Garde Play in Chicago ]]> Vent Haven — Fort Mitchell’s ventriloquism museum that is the only one in the world devoted to the subject — continues to be of interest to the art world at large.

Photographers Laurie Simmons and Matthew Rolston have both previously done series based on its collection of dummies, and Simmons even used them in a 40-minute film, The Music of Regret, that also starred Meryl Streep.

Now Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art is hosting a new theater work, The Ventriloquists Convention, that is based on the annual event here that Vent Haven sponsors. According to the MCA, “the piece imagines meetings among the convention delegates and their dummies, who each maintain distinct voices and identities.”

European director/choreographer Gisèle Vienne is working with American novelist Dennis Cooper on this project, joined by German puppet-theater company Puppentheater Halle.

The MCA also says that Vienne and Cooper “developed their approach for this show from documentary and fictional sources, building it into a group of quirky portraits of ventriloquists celebrating their shared interests and friendship. The show explores why ventriloquists do what they do, and what lies behind the relationships that they have with their dummies.

“Performed by nine ventriloquists-puppeteers, the piece hinges on the use of multiple layered dialogues, including the ghostly, non-physical ventriloquists' voices. These portraits enable Gisèle Vienne to continue her ongoing research into the interplay between physical presence and dissociation that she had developed in prior projects.”

If you want to attend (no word yet on Cincinnati performances), The Ventriloquists Convention takes place Nov. 12-14 at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $30 and available at the MCA Box Office at 312-397-4010 or

The Ventriloquists Convention is supported by the French-American Fund for Contemporary Theater, an initiative of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the U.S. and the Institut Français, It is also funded by the Florence Gould Foundation and the Catherine Popesco Foundation for the Arts. Additional support comes from the Goethe-Institut and the Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany.

<![CDATA[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.

<![CDATA[Tom Wesselmann Street Banners Offered for Sale]]>

If you’re looking for a way to honor Cincinnati-native Pop artist Tom Wesselmann in your front yard or in your home or office, you might be interested in one of these 30-by-89-inch museum street banners from the popular Wesselmann retrospective, Beyond Pop Art, that came to Cincinnati Art Museum last year. They have just been offered for sale at for $499 each; there are 74 available.

Alas, the banners are not actually from the Cincinnati stop on the traveling show. They are from the previous one at the Denver Art Museum. Our art museum did not use street banners to promote the show.

The banner features a reproduction of a very lovely large painting — oil on shaped canvas — that Wesselmann created in 1967, “Seascape #22.” It is based on his observations of women sunbathing in Cape Cod. He concentrated on the foot kicking up from the beach.

Wesselmann, who died in 2004 at age 73, studied at both University of Cincinnati and the Art Academy of Cincinnati before going to the Cooper Union in New York City. He began showing his work in New York in the early 1960s and became most famous for his Great American Nude series.

Better Wall specializes in selling surplus street banners from art institutions, such as Denver, Art Institute of Chicago, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Seattle Art Museum and more.

<![CDATA[Stage Door]]> 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.

<![CDATA[Beyond the Books]]>

I must confess, driving by a library and seeing a silhouette of a rhino through a window is pretty cool. But that was nothing compared to the large giraffe that nodded its head at me just a few feet inside the entrance of the main branch of the Boone County Public Library, in Burlington, Kentucky. Both are part of the 18-station Robot Zoo that moved into the library just six weeks ago, and will be staying for the next five months.

The Robot Zoo, a 5,000-square-foot traveling exhibit, displays a variety of huge robot animals including a giant squid, bat, platypus, rhino, chameleon, grasshopper and giraffe. Finding all the stations takes a bit of exploring since they’re scattered around the library, but after watching the large creatures move, I have to say it’s pretty cool. As I walked around I marveled at how each exhibit showed the unique traits of the animal, highlighting fun facts about their anatomy. “You kind of watch and see everything going on and then read how that ties in,” says Shawn Fry, assistant director of the Boone County Public Library. “That’s where the kind of learning is snuck in.”

Becky Kempf, Public Relations Coordinator, says the exhibit provides a lot of fun for kids. “It’s not going to be quiet here for the next few months,” she jokes after handing me the list of stations. Fry says the library is always trying new ways to engage the community. “[We’re] always looking for new ways to use our space, to bring people in, to excite people,” he says. “Right now STEM programming — the science, technologies, engineering [and math] — is the thing, a very exciting thing. This is a way to incorporate that.”

According to Kempf, the Robot Zoo exceeds the library’s wish list for a new program. “Our mission is to provide life-long learning opportunities for all ages,” she says, “so whether it’s through books or the research help that we provide or bringing something like this in…it’s right down our alley. It fits perfectly with what we’re trying to do.” Fry says the branch is lucky it’s big enough to house the exhibit, and describes the challenges of moving the parts inside. “The giraffe, I think, was the hardest,” he laughs, “and it’s kind of the entrance for the whole thing.”

“It’s been really interesting… seeing, in all kinds of ages, the enthusiasm in watching them build it,” adds Fry. “There were kids that came in today [Monday] that were all excited; they’d been waiting…and they were excited.” I don’t blame them; it was almost like walking through a quiet, indoor zoo, without having to dodge wayward geese or worry about sunburn. I observed the grasshopper twitching its antennae and peeked in its open side at the glowing innards, revealing the 10 sections of the abdomen. The rhino, a declared work-in-progress, pursed its large lips, emphasized to show how their texture helps trim its grassy food while the bat creaks from its upside-down perch in the corner.

Fry may say the exhibit is geared toward kids, but he and I both saw adults exploring too. “We kind of didn’t know it would be this cool,” Fry says, laughing. “Regardless of age, we’ve gotten lots of positive feedback.”

The Robot Zoo will be at the Burlington branch through Feb. 28, 2016. Admission is free, thanks to community sponsors, and the exhibit is open during library hours.

Other Boone County Public Library Events:
Ghosts of Rabbit Hash: Oct. 10 – Get a tour through the tiny town and hear about its haunts.
Herbs and Supplements: What’s right for you?: Oct. 13 – Learn about what natural healers and supplements are healthy or harmful.
Concert at the Library: Oct. 23 – Whiskeybent Valley performs at the Main branch.

<![CDATA[Beyond the Books]]>

It was a dim and smallish room I entered for my third library event, and at first I thought I was lost. I was in the main branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, and after searching unsuccessfully decided to follow someone, who mercifully led me to the right room. “Headlines and Dead Lines”, the title of the class, promised to teach me about a library database that would research local history, and as the program began, I contentedly settled in for a good history lesson.

The class, taught by Reference Librarian Cindy Hill, mostly focused on Newsdex, a database that holds listings for local Cincinnati history. As I listened, Hill rattled off various fun facts about the system. “It’s the longest-running publicly available database for the Cincinnati area,” she announced proudly. “It’s a really great place to start.” 

According to Hill, Newsdex is often used for genealogies, but also provides information on companies, neighborhoods, historical sites and local events. You can find death notices, obituaries, wedding announcements, murders, addresses, local events and advertisements. The database includes articles from multiple Cincinnati publications, both current and discontinued, like the Cincinnati Post, Times-Star, Gazette, Commercial and the Western Spy. “[Newsdex] has a totally wide-range of newspapers, but it’s not complete,” Hill said. “It’s being updated all the time.”

As I listened to her, I began to see why Hill sounded so excited about the database.  “As far as we know, there’s not another library that’s done this,” she said. “Many of our databases require a library card, but Newsdex is used all over the world…it’s used across this country and beyond.” She added that people from as far away as Japan have requested information from the index, and that local companies and news organizations have also used the site.

Later I talked to Steve Headley, president of the Genealogy and Local History department of the public library, who told me that the database has been around in one form or another for a long time. According to Headley, Cincinnati librarians began to index newspapers into the library’s card catalog in 1927. In 1940 a concentrated effort began to index obituaries, as well as death notices, and in 1990 the system was digitized and named Newsdex. “There is no other real source [like] it, especially for the number of newspapers that it covers,” Headley said.

However, as great as Newsdex is, it doesn’t contain everything. Hill explained one reason is that some people wanted to live private lives, so nothing was printed about them in the paper. “Not everyone can be traced,” she warned. “There were people back then that didn’t want to be out there.” According to Headley, the information might not be indexed yet, since information is added as librarians have time. “The further back you go, the less complete it gets,” he said, “simply because when the librarians were doing the indexing they were using the individual cards, and it was pretty time consuming.”

One thing I appreciated about Newsdex is that it’s easy to use. Instead of having to weed through newspapers pages, Newsdex tells you what paper the article is in, what day it printed and what page it’s on. Then you simply work with the genealogy librarians to get that paper. At the end of the hour, I found myself wishing I had something to research, because I wanted to use my newfound knowledge. Instead of being intimidated by the wealth of information in Newsdex, it amazed me how much local history one city could hold. Cincinnati has so many facts to be discovered, and while I know I could never dig through them all, Headlines and Dead Lines made me want to try.

Did this event sound interesting? Check out similar workshops at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County:

Book a Librarian: Get help with job searches, research or resume writing.
Date with an iPad: Learn the tricks to using this Apple device.
Technology Appointment: Schedule a one-on-one workshop to learn basic computer skills.


<![CDATA[Stage Door]]>

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.

<![CDATA[Stage Door]]>

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.