CityBeat Blogs - Arts & Culture http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/blogs-1-1-1-37.html <![CDATA[Stage Door]]>

Need suggestions for a good theater production to attend this weekend? Here are some good choices on Cincinnati stages.

Last night I attended the opening of Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Swing at the Cincinnati Playhouse. It’s an inventive recreation of the legendary African-American pitcher who found his fame eclipsed by Jackie Robinson. The changes wrought by events in 1947 affected both black and white Americans, and this play by Ricardo Khan and Trey Ellis explores them. They know their way around storytelling: Their play Fly, about the Tuskegee Airmen, was well received at the Playhouse in 2013. In this one, players from two teams of baseball all-stars, one black and one white, share a boarding house on a rainy night in Kansas City. We get to eavesdrop on what they might have talked about, their dreams, their grudges and their fates. Robert Karma Robinson wholly inhabits the role of Paige as an angular, grumpy philosopher of sports, race and life. It’s onstage through May 21. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

Before they wrote My Fair Lady and Camelot, the lyricist-composer team of Lerner and Loewe had a 1949 hit with the musical Brigadoon. It’s about a pair of American tourists who happen upon a mysterious town in Scotland that appears just once every century. Of course, one of the guys falls in love with a resident of the town — and that gets complicated. When I was six years old, I went to see this show with my very British grandfather, my first experience of musical theater. I still love the show, and I’ll be seeing it this weekend at the Covedale Center, where it will be onstage through May 22. Tickets: 513-241-6550.

Don’t shy away from Cincinnati Shakespeare’s production of Julius Caesar because you read it in high school. Set in ancient Rome, there’s as much political intrigue — and perhaps more danger — that you’d find in your average episode of House of Cards. Several fine acting performances make this production especially watchable: Brent Vimtrup gives a textured performance of the principled but conflicted Brutus; Josh Katawick is the “lean and hungry” Cassius who recruits the assassins who bring down Caesar; and Nick Rose is the wily Mark Antony who finds a way to turn Caesar’s death to his own advantage. Once you’ve seen this production, you should make plans to return for a kind of sequel as Cincy Shakes stages Antony and Cleopatra with several of the actors from Julius Caesar reprising their roles. Through May 7. Tickets: 513-381-2273.

Playwright Lauren Gunderson presented a quartet of badass women from 18th-century France in The Revolutionists at the Cincinnati Playhouse back in February. Some more strong females — Americans from the early 20th century — are the characters of Silent Sky, the current production at Know Theatre. The central character is Henrietta Leavitt, an aspiring astronomer who had to work doubly hard to earn recognition for her scientific insights. She’s bracketed by a devoted, conservative sister and a pair of “lunatic women” who are her scientific colleagues. Director Tamara Winters has an excellent cast of actors to tell this story — especially Maggie Lou Rader in a luminous portrait of the feisty, persistent Henrietta. Through May 14. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati seldom brings back a show it’s presented in the past, but when it staged Jeanine Tesori’s musical Violet back in 1998, that was long before Over-the-Rhine was a go-to neighborhood for entertainment. So there’s a good rationale for reviving this lovely, heartfelt story. Check out this video preview. 


Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
]]>
<![CDATA[Stage Door]]>

You have more theater choices this weekend than time, I suspect, so choose carefully depending on the kind of show you most enjoy.

If it’s a classic, I suggest you check out Julius Caesar at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. This tale of one of history’s most memorable political assassinations is one of Shakespeare’s shorter plays, about two hours and 15 minutes. But it’s action-packed with a lot of intrigue, soul-searching and emotions that ebb and flow. Cincy Shakes relies on its acting ensemble to fill these iconic roles, and they bring them to life more vividly than I’ve seen in a long time. Josh Katawick is especially engaging as the leader, “lean and hungry” Cassius, whose motives are not far below his ambitious surface; Brent Vimtrup is Brutus, caught up in the plot for reasons of principle rather than envy, and his subtle performance of this conflicted man is compelling. Veteran Nick Rose is the blustery soldier Marc Antony, who’s actually a subtle manipulator of opinion. (We’ll see more of him next month when Cincy Shakes move on to Shakespeare’s other Roman play, Antony and Cleopatra). Through May 7. Tickets: 513-381-2273.

An engaging new play, Lauren Gunderson’s Silent Sky, is onstage at Know Theatre, the story of Henrietta Leavitt, a woman of science from a century ago when women were not expected to have meaningful insights. But drawn to the mysteries of astronomy, she tirelessly made advances despite many barriers. Maggie Lou Rader plays the feisty woman, and her moral support from two older women, played by Annie Fitzpatrick and Regina Pugh, has elements of humor. This is a well-acted, well-staged play (direction by Know’s Tamara Winters), worth seeing. I gave it a Critic’s Pick with my CityBeat review. Through May 14. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

The 2014 movie of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods featured Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, James Corden and Johnny Depp. A production currently onstage at Northern Kentucky University doesn’t have that kind of star power, but the student cast does an admirable job with a show that places extraordinary vocal demands on singers. Director Jamey Strawn hit upon an imaginative framing device for the legendary fairy tale mash-up, setting it in a library where a young boy (played with a mischievously expressive demeanor by Charlie Klesa, a sixth-grader at Mercy Montessori), hides away for an overnight adventure of reading and fantasizing. As giants threaten the kingdom, books tumble from the library’s two-story-tall shelves. Into the Woods requires a big cast, and more than 20 NKU student actors plus a stylized wooden cow are clearly committed to giving their all to this production. Opening night on Thursday was an enthusiastic full house. Through May 1. Tickets: 859-572-5464.

Neil LaBute’s plays traffic in complex, often ironic, manipulative situations, frequently brutal stories of abusive, selfish behavior. The Shape of Things, presented by New Edgecliff Theatre at Hoffner Lodge in Northside, is that kind of story — about Evelyn, an ambitious young woman who makes an art project of Adam, another student who thinks their relationship is a love affair. Rebecca Whatley and Matthew Krieg handle these complicated roles believably, but you’ll walk away wondering about their motives — she’s cold, he’s clueless. It’s a compelling, disturbing story that makes for an evening of edgy, psychological theater. Another Critic’s Pick with my CityBeat review. Through April 30. Tickets here.

There’s a touring production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast onstage at the Aronoff Center through Sunday. It’s an entertaining, visually captivating production. There’s nothing new about it, to be sure, but the young cast carries off the sprightly songs and choreography with lots of energy. I wish there was a little more heart and a little less clowning, especially by Sam Hartley as the Beast, who’s meant to be a tragic hero. The chemistry between him and Brooke Quintana as Belle is in the script, but it only shows up intermittently onstage. Nevertheless, Wednesday night’s full house with lots of kids dressed for the evening clearly had a good time watching the story unfold. Through Sunday. Tickets: 513-621-2787.

Quick Notes: True Theater is back for another quarterly evening of storytelling on Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. Know Theatre. This time the theme is True Gay, so it will be enlightening to hear the personal reminiscences that get shared. … At UC’s College-Conservatory of Music this weekend, the drama program presents a staged reading of Grace Gardner’s new script, Very Dumb Kids, tonight 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. It’s the beginning of a new play commissioning initiative that will foster new works. … This is the final weekend for David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross at the Incline Theater in East Price Hill and for Jason Robert Brown’s musical, The Last Five Years, at The Carnegie in Covington.


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

]]>
<![CDATA[Nonprofit Spotlight: May We Help]]>

Patty Kempf was one of May We Help’s first clients before the organization really even existed. She had cerebral palsy and was having trouble turning the pages of the books she loved reading. Bill Wood agreed to help Kempf by designing something that would make reading easier for her. At the same time, Bill Dieseling was doing something similar for a member of his family. The two Bills were connected through a mutual friend and began to work together. Shortly after that they met Bill Sand and the idea for May We Help was born. The Bills began working together harmoniously and May We Help now has hundreds of completed projects and satisfied clients.

The goal of May We Help is to make life easier for people with disabilities. They do this through technology, mechanical engineering, handy work, programming and problem solving. May We Help hopes to free people from their disabilities with these custom creations that will allow them to gain independence and pursue their passions.

The organization designs unique devices for people with disabilities to meet the needs that are not being met by anything else on the market. Clients pitch to the organization what they are looking for, the team researches the idea and if nothing has been developed to meet the need, they accept the project. Beginning with design and then moving into building, the team is focused on the client and what will work for them.

Volunteer:

At May We Help there are 60 volunteers for every one staff member. “They are the heart and soul of our organization,” says Katy Collura, development director. “They truly are the glue that holds everything together.”

There are many different opportunities to get involved with this organization, whether you want to design, build or work behind the scenes. “Our volunteers design and create custom solutions to free individuals with special needs,” Collura says.

Technical volunteers develop the unique devices for clients. Most volunteers in this category are professionals or have a serious interest in product development. These volunteers hear the needs of the client and go from there. This is a very creative opportunity.

There are resource volunteers who build and get to be hands-on with projects. This is a great place to start with May We Help because it is not a leadership position, but it gets into the action of product construction.

A person with a lot of personality makes a great “first impressions” volunteer. In this role, volunteers take charge of the experiences of new volunteers and clients. Their job is to make sure everyone is comfortable, heading to the right place and introduced to the right people during monthly volunteer meetings and monthly work meetings.

Follow-up volunteers make monthly visits to clients who have received their devices. This is a key role because May We Help wants to be sure what they build is working the way it was intended; they don't want to send someone home with a device that isn’t meeting their needs. The follow-up team receives feedback from clients about how their needs are, or aren’t, being met by their device.

May We Help provides meals for around 40 people at all of their monthly meetings. Foodie volunteers are in charge of making sure the people eat. The organization reimburses the cost of food for the meals, but be prepared to cook for what feels like an army.

One of the most important positions is the procurement volunteer. This role was designed to ensure the technical volunteers have the crucial materials they will need throughout the project. Procurement volunteers are responsible for meeting with potential material and service providers to build donor relationships. On the inside they work with the technical volunteers by helping them meet their needs. Sometimes that means contacting other volunteers for advice, checking what is in stock or contacting donors. This position is the bones of the operations and keeps the ball rolling forward.

To become a volunteer, fill out the application online and someone will be in contact soon after. There is no hourly requirement — volunteers can make their own hours. The organization just asks that all projects are done in a timely manner. “In most cases we are the families last resort and they are counting on us to deliver,” Collura says.

Donate:

Monetary donations are crucial to the success of this nonprofit. Because each device is custom to the client, it is hard to know what materials will be needed for the next project. Business owners with available resources to help are encouraged to contact the procurement team about donating services or material.

For more information and access to the volunteer application, visit maywehelp.org.

]]>
<![CDATA[Animated Films with Insects]]>

When I lived in Los Angeles, one of the most unforgettable events I attended was a screening of films by the 20th-century Russian animator Ladislaw Starewicz, who used insects in his amazingly inventive animated films. (He also used puppets.)

He placed the insects into various settings and then shot the stop-motion films frame by frame. A Jazz/New Music group called Tin Hat Trio played a live score to accompany the visuals.

Lo and behold, the Mini Microcinema on Tuesday (April 19) is presenting Starewicz’s films in the auditorium of Covington’s Carnegie. And there will be a live score played by Little Bang Theory, a group led by Detroit composer Frank Pahl. They play children’s instruments and toys.

There will be a reception starting at 6 p.m. and the performance gets underway at 7 p.m. It is free. This is the last event for the Mini during its residency at The Carnegie. It should be a rewarding one. For more information, please visit www.mini-cinema.org.

]]>
<![CDATA[Slice of Cincinnati: Harriet Beecher Stowe House]]>

Situated on a hill overlooking a strip of Gilbert Avenue sits an old house that stands out from its urban surroundings in Walnut Hills. Though it may seem out of place against the backdrop of apartment buildings and businesses, inside the house lies a story of being in the right place at the right time, of discussion and of empathy and compassion.

2950 Gilbert Avenue is the last remaining building that was once part of the Lane Theological Seminary. It is also the former home of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Although it is not where she wrote the novel that introduced Northerners to what slavery is like in the South and increased tensions between the two regions, it is where Stowe spent 18 years of her life.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin has been translated into more than 60 languages — second only to the Bible. It is no wonder that visitors from as far away as Russia and China have recently visited the Harriet Beecher Stowe House. In fact, Kelli Higginson, the house’s only paid employee, says most visitors come from out of town.

“This house is unique because at one time it was the ground center for discussion of slavery,” says volunteer John Douglass. Built in 1832, the house was saved from demolition and purchased by the Ohio Historical Society in 1943. It is still owned by the society today and is designated as a historic landmark.

Stowe lived in Cincinnati from her early 20s until 1859, one year before her famous book was published. Her presence in Cincinnati had a lasting impact on U.S. history and beyond, as Uncle Tom’s Cabin is read in schools around the world. While living in the border town allowed Stowe to see firsthand the desperation of slaves trying to escape to freedom across the Ohio River, it was also here that Stowe was exposed to the controversial debates going on at the seminary where her father, Dr. Lyman Beecher, was president.

Students of the seminary debated about the issue of slavery in 1834 before it became a hot topic throughout the rest of the U.S. Should slaves be emancipated? If slaves were to be freed, where should they go? Some supported sending freed slaves to Africa, while others thought they should be allowed to stay in the U.S. Enrollment at the seminary dropped after the school’s board of trustees dismissed these so-called “Lane Rebels.”

Living in Cincinnati also gave Stowe a stark look at the tension between the anti-slavery movement and those opposed to it. During the Cincinnati riots of 1836, the press that printed The Philanthropist, an abolitionist newspaper published by James Birney, was twice destroyed and thrown into the Ohio River. This sparked Stowe to find her own abolitionist voice and write her first remarks about slavery, in which she defended free speech and denounced mob rule. Her work was published in her brother Henry’s newspaper.

When the cholera epidemic swept through Cincinnati and Stowe’s one-year-old son Samuel Charles died, the personal tragedy caused Stowe to empathize with slave mothers who were often separated from their children. Her son’s death was the catalyst that caused Stowe to begin writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

While it is a work of fiction, Stowe’s novel depicts what American slavery was like at the time. Her visit to a Kentucky plantation allowed her to see how slaves lived. However, many argued that the book’s depiction of slavery couldn’t be accurate. Stowe responded with A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which provides factual evidence from her experience in Cincinnati to defend her claims. (Copies of the key just arrived in the Stowe House’s gift shop; Higginson says they were on backorder for six weeks).

The Ohio Historical Society plans to renovate the house this summer. The renovations will restore the house to what it would have looked like when Stowe’s family lived there. The house will also host Stowe’s 205th birthday celebration (with cake and ice cream, of course) on June 14.

The house is open for tours from noon to 4 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. It is also the site of many field trips, lectures, film screenings, history portrayals and more. More information at stowehousecincy.org.

]]>
<![CDATA[Nonprofit Spotlight: Stepping Stones]]>

Stepping Stones was founded in 1963 as a nonprofit organization to increase independence, improve lives and promote inclusion for children and adults with disabilities. There are four campuses in the Greater Cincinnati area serving close to 1,000 children and adults every year.

The organization offers programs for people of all ages with many different abilities. The Summer Day Camp, Saturday Clubs, Overnight Staycations and Respites and the Sensory Needs Respite and Support Program are all ways for Stepping Stones to provide support, opportunity and education and to increase independence for participants and their families.

Volunteer:

Our participants love to meet new people and the attention they receive from a volunteer makes them feel important and valued,” says Moira Grainger, marketing, board and community liaison at Stepping Stones.Volunteers enhance our activities and programs by providing an added layer of respect, care, concern and enthusiasm for the daily goals our participants strive for.”

All year there are opportunities for volunteers to work on special maintenance projects, like landscaping and painting. Stepping Stones can use volunteers on the weekends for the Saturday Kids Club and during Weekend Respites. There are also frequent fundraising events where a helping hand is always welcome.

The Summer Day Camp is a program for children with a range of disabilities; it is also where the most volunteers are needed. In 2015 the camp served 455 children and utilized more than 800 volunteers. Summer camp runs Monday-Friday, June 6-Aug. 5. It is not required to be at camp every day of the week, but volunteers must commit to being there from 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. on the days they choose. This opportunity is open to people as young as 13. We are fortunate to have compassionate and caring individuals who simply love the involvement with our participants, regardless of age,” Grainger says.

Saturday Clubs are a time to celebrate the abilities of children and young adults that participate in the program. This weekend activity encourages friendships and social interaction and is a good opportunity for volunteering. Weekends Respites are for children with severe sensory needs. Since 2013, Stepping Stones along with its volunteers has been providing one-on-one attention for participants helping them learn social skills to take home with them.

Volunteers that have experience working with people with disabilities or a background in special education are often placed in leadership roles, where they can share their experience with less experienced volunteers.

Community groups are encouraged to volunteer at Stepping Stones. Business groups, boy and girl scout groups and school leadership programs are just a few types of groups that have already used the organization to engage in community service. “These groups will usually tackle a project such as landscaping or building something needed, sometimes a maintenance project, or setting up for a special event such as a group dance,” Grainger says.  When corporations visit, a lot of times they will host a special event, like a picnic, for the participants at Stepping Stones.

To become a volunteer, start by filling out the online application. After a receiving a clean background check there is a training program. “The goal of the training is to ensure that all events ranging from needing a band aid to responding to a weather alert can be addressed in a safe and orderly manner,” Grainger says. During training new volunteers learn how to work with people who have disabilities, the appropriate terminology to use when communicate about disabilities and safety procedures.

Stepping Stones hopes that all volunteers are willing to make a long-term commitment. “It makes the experience more rewarding for the participants and the volunteers,” Grainger says.

Donate:

Stepping Stones relies on financial donations to support their programs and activities. The materials they use change depending on the needs of the programs and participants. If you can’t donate time to Stepping Stones, the gift of money can provide financial aid for participants that can’t afford the programs.

Register a Kroger Plus Card to earn cash rewards for Stepping Stones by enrolling in the Community Rewards Program, which gives a portion of every purchase to the chosen organization. Amazon Smile is a similar program that can be used to make donations.


For more information on STEPPING STONES and access to the online volunteer application, visit steppingstonesohio.org.

]]>
<![CDATA[Stage Door]]>

We’re closing in on the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 1616, and today is the Ides of April (that means the 15th of the month), so let’s start with several notes about the Bard.

Cincinnati Shakespeare’s production of Julius Caesar continues this weekend (it’s onstage through May 7). You might recall that the emperor’s assassination happened on the Ides of March. We’re a month late, but it’s worth noting since that historic event was the impetus for one of Shakespeare’s great plays of Roman history. Caesar is the focal point, but the play’s most interesting characters are Brutus, the morally conflicted conspirator, and the ambitious Marc Antony, who has his own designs on the throne. It’s also worth noting this production, since it will be followed in May by Shakespeare’s other Roman story, Antony and Cleopatra. Many of the actors playing key roles in Julius Caesar will return in the second production. It’s a rare pairing of these two works, made possible by Cincy Shakes depth of talent in its resident acting company. I wrote about this project in a recent Curtain Call column. Tickets: 513-381-2273.

If a history play isn’t enough, then you might want to head to the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood where Cincy Shakes is continuing its education initiative, Project 38 Festival, working with more than 1,600 students at 45+ different area schools to bring each of Shakespeare’s 38 plays to life in creative ways. The celebration is already underway (performances continue through Monday) in Washington Park and the Woodward Theatre (1404 Main St.) — 43 free performances in all. Eighteen performances feature exclusively Shakespearean text, while others interpret the plays with music, dance, filmmaking and visual arts. One is even told with computer animation. For the festival’s full schedule, go here.

Know Theatre opens Silent Sky by Lauren Gunderson this weekend. The Cincinnati Playhouse recently presented Gunderson’s intriguing show, The Revolutionists, a fantasy set during the French Revolution. The show at Know is rooted in real events, too, focusing on a group of brilliant women hired by the Harvard Observatory to catalog the stars. Directed by Tamara Winters, the production features a cast of excellent local professionals — Maggie Lou Rader, Justin McCombs and Miranda McGee (from Cincy Shakes) and Annie Fitzpatrick and Miranda McGee (regularly seen at Ensemble Theatre). It’s a fascinating story as well as a chance to experience another work by an award-winning young playwright. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

New Edgecliff Theatre opened the final production of its 2015-2016 season this week, Neil LaBute’s The Shape of Things. It’s an emotional drama about relationships and love and what you can believe. Performances are at The Hoffner Lodge (4120 Hamilton Ave., Northside). Read my recent column for more about NET’s search for a home. For NET tickets here.

A production with young audiences in mind kicks off this weekend with the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s “Off the Hill” staging of The Garden of Rikki Tikki Tavi adapted from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book by playwright Y York. It’s about a fierce mongoose and his enemy the cobra Nag. The show, directed by the Playhouse’s new director of education, Daunielle Rasmussen, debuts at the theater on Saturday (10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.); tickets are $5 at the box office. The show then tours throughout Greater Cincinnati, starting Sunday at 2 p.m. at Cedar Village Retirement Community in Mason. Full schedule here.


Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
]]>
<![CDATA[Slice of Cincinnati]]>

With both the Contemporary Arts Center and the Cincinnati Art Museum now offering free admission, and more galleries popping up in Over-the-Rhine and Camp Washington, there’s never been more opportunities to see fine art (for free) in Cincinnati. However, the best-kept secret of Cincinnati art lies in the Art Academy of Cincinnati. That’s right — let’s go back to where many artists get their start: art school.

From the complex layers surrounding everything around us to the concepts on concealing, revealing and everything in between, students at the Art Academy are exploring many realms this spring in their senior thesis shows.

The thesis shows are the final requirement for students of all majors to graduate from the Art Academy, exhibiting the culmination of their work completed over their academic career there. What makes the students’ exhibitions interesting is their creative freedom to center them on any theme or subject they choose.

For many students, it is their first exhibition and introduction into the professional art world. For many gallery visitors, it is a look at the youngest and newest talent in the art world. In addition to displaying their work, students are responsible for all other aspects of the exhibitions, such as lighting and publicizing their event.

“The thesis show is crucial to every student,” says Aaron Broughton, whose work is featured in the thesis show THIS/THAT. “It's that instance at the end of education that says, ‘Look out world, I'm here to fuck shit up!’ ”

THIS/THAT, which closed tonight with a reception from 5-8 p.m., has no prevailing theme; instead, it is a combination of solo shows for the six students represented. The eclectic sample features fashion design, photography, painting, sculpture, video and more.

“The school teaches us a bunch of tools, figuratively and literally, then gives us a bunch of opportunities,” Broughton says. “Then we learn to put in the hard work to make them worthwhile. It's prepared me to seek what I want and grab any opportunity I can.”

Art Academy Professor Jimmy Baker says it is important not only that the students create work, but also for them to learn to put their work into the world for criticism and public engagement.

As each exhibition remains on display for only one week, visitors can see the Art Academy transformed into a new world to explore each week from March through April. The rich curry of mediums and topics explored give viewers a little bit of everything, such as Katie Barnett’s fusion of plant displays into sculpture, Leslie Hacker’s series of pillows printed with images of nudes or Morgan Greer’s exploration of hair with braids forming into intricate designs and sculptures.

“I feel like our seniors have a real interesting interdisciplinary senior year,” Baker says. “Sometimes we have people who may be majoring in sculpture but making video, we have people who are designers but might end up doing performance.”

While you will probably never be disappointed with a visit to any art exhibit in Cincinnati, be sure to make your way to the Art Academy this month to catch some innovative and thought provoking art from Cincinnati’s freshest up-and-coming talent. The last senior thesis show, Zenith, runs until April 29.

]]>
<![CDATA[Stage Door]]>

I’m heading to Louisville this weekend for the Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre. (You’ll find a report online and in CityBeat later this month.) For those of you staying in town, there are several interesting shows to catch locally. 

If you’ve been a Fringe Festival regular for the past three years, it’s likely that you’ve enjoyed one of Paul Strickland’s musical monologues about the Big Fib Trailer Park Cul-de-Sac. If you missed them (or if you simply want to be outrageously entertained by them again), they’re being reprised this weekend at Falcon Theater (636 Monmouth St., Newport). Papa Squat’s Store of Sorts happens on Friday at 8 p.m.; Ain’t True and Uncle False shows up on Saturday at 8 p.m. Both evenings you can catch Tales Too Tall for Trailers at 9:15 p.m., the latter featuring Strickland with Erika Kate MacDonald, shadow puppets … and clothespins. Advance tickets: 513-300-5669

Incline Theater continues to produce adult drama, this time with David Mamet’s hard-hitting (and foul-mouthed) Glengarry Glen Ross. It’s about a group of unprincipled real estate guys competing to be the top dog in a slimy sales contest, selling worthless Florida property and homes to unsuspecting buyers. Their jockeying for position knows no ethical bounds. That might sound like a story that’s tough to watch, but the play — which won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for drama — uses a kind of word-jazz with Mamet’s rat-a-tat-tat dialogue that makes it both fascinating and darkly humorous. The Incline’s production, which opened Wednesday, features seven actors directed by stage veteran Greg Procaccino. They wrestle with this gristly verbiage, some with more success than others, but Mike Dennis (as the hard-selling No. 1 guy, Ricky Roma) has just the right amount of oiliness and superficial arrogance, and David A. Levy (as nervous George Aaronow) is especially convincing as a schlub who can’t catch a break. Nik Pajic (as brash young Dave Moss) has a lot of fire, and Joel Lind (as over-the-hill Shelly “The Machine” Levine) is sympathetic playing a character who talks way too much as he revels in past success. Mike Hall portrays the trying-to-be-tough sales manager; Tom Peters is a gruff cop investigating the very suspicious burglary in the show’s second act; and Scott Unes has a brief scene as a hapless client trying to get out of a bad deal. Through April 24. Tickets: 513-241-6550.

Perhaps you read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in high school. Maybe it’s time to revisit it during a presidential election year where the draw of power and the charisma of men who want to govern is top of mind. This production, opening tonight and running through May 7, will be followed by Antony and Cleopatra (May 13-June 4), in which Shakespeare returned to several of the earlier play’s central characters. Cincinnati Shakespeare is producing the two works in sequence with the actors playing the overlapping roles in both shows. It will be an interesting chance to see how the plays relate and diverge, and how young generals become old politicians. Read more about Cincy Shakes’ productions in my Curtain Call column. Tickets: 513-381-2273.

Jason Robert Brown’s musical exploration of a marriage that comes apart, The Last Five Years, is told in an unusual way, with parallel stories, one running from start to finish and the other in the opposite direction, from the final sad moments to the joyous beginning. The retelling of Jamie and Cathy’s marriage in a series of solo songs overlaps at only one moment — their wedding day. It’s a fascinating way to track the course of love … and loss. Brown’s gorgeous score makes it all the more poignant. Weekends through April 24. Tickets: 859-957-1940.

OK, the final four for men and women are now over and done, both with exciting finishes. If you’re in need of one more weekend of basketball action — featuring men and women — check out Lysistrata Jones, a musical performed in the Cohen Family Studio at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music. It’s an amusing retelling of the ancient Greek comedy by Aristophanes, updated to a story of women withholding their “favors” to get the men of the Athens University basketball team on the winning track. The show had a quick Broadway run in 2011-2012. Friday and Saturday. Admission is free, but you need to call ahead for tickets: 513-556-4183.

Wrapping up and continuing: Annapurna, about the reunion of a colorful and dysfunctional couple, wraps up on Sunday at Ensemble Theatre. At the Cincinnati Playhouse, an excellent stage adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird finishes its run on Sunday, while the contemporary drama Mothers and Sons, about gay marriage and parenting, is on the Shelterhouse stage for another week.


Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
]]>
<![CDATA[Nonprofit Spotlight: Women Helping Women]]> Women Helping Women is a nonprofit agency serving survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. The organization was founded in 1973 to provide advocacy, support and safety to survivors. WHW serves around 12,000 people yearly between the two offices in Hamilton County and Butler County.

One-on-one counseling, court advocacy, support groups and hospital accompaniment are just a few of the free services that are available. The education and prevention team gives presentations to business and community service agencies that focus on recognizing sexual assault and domestic violence along with how to access resources. 

Volunteer:

“We rely so much on our volunteers,” says Ellen Newman, Hamilton County volunteer coordinator. And for good reason: There are about 40 volunteers right now covering a range of survivor services from the 24-hour hotline to court room accompaniment.

The 24-hour hotline is mostly operated by volunteers. This is a daytime opportunity to answer calls from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. in the office on East Ninth Street. The hotline is an anonymous support system for survivors who might need someone to talk to or advice on how to move forward.

Hospital advocates are on call anywhere from 11-13 hours per day. If a survivor is at the hospital and asks for someone to talk to, the on-call volunteer will be contacted to answer questions and provide support.

Court advocates attend arraignment court with, and sometimes without, survivors. “They are there to answer questions and help them in the initial first step,” Newman says. If a survivor can’t attend the arraignment, the volunteer advocate will make notes of what happened there. As the trial progresses, advocates continue to attend and support the survivor.

Education advocates help with community awareness. Volunteers travel to businesses, churches, schools and events around the Greater Cincinnati area to provide information on recognizing and surviving sexual assault and domestic violence. There is also a Teen Dating Violence Prevention curriculum the travels to area high schools focusing on preventing violence before it starts. The program helps teens identify healthy and unhealthy behaviors in relationships and encourages them to challenge the social norms that encourage dating violence.

Women Helping Women will often need volunteers to work a table at an event, talk about the programs and hand out information. They are also looking for people to help with Light Up The Night, their annual fundraising event on April 28.

“We are survivor-centric — that is the first and foremost quality you have to have,” Newman says. To become a volunteer, you first need to fill out the online application; after it’s reviewed, there will be an interview to determine if you are a good fit for WHW.

“Our name is a little misleading — we are really searching to add more male volunteers,” Newman says. The organization is nondiscriminatory and they are hoping to grow in the number of male volunteers they have available to work with survivors.

The training program is 40 hours and includes an overview of the programs and services along with the ethics of the organization. There is information about what to report and how to work with survivors. They also focus on how to work with specific populations of people to ensure all survivors feel safe.

All volunteers must be 18 and have a clean background check. Women Helping Women asks that volunteers stay with them for at least a year and complete two sessions a month in any of the programs.

Donations:

Donations are always evolving with the needs of each survivor. Feel free to contact the organization to find out what is in immediate need. Some things that can always be used are feminine hygiene products, new clothes and bus passes for survivors to get home, to court and to the doctor’s office.


For more information on WOMEN HELPING WOMEN and to access the volunteer application visit womenhelpingwomen.org.


]]>
<![CDATA[Friday Night Sights]]>

There are so many good art events going on this coming weekend, I wish I could clone myself in order to attend everything without going mad or (maybe worse) hangry. And it’s noteworthy to mention that much of the work being shown Friday evening emphasizes the art-going experience over the exhibition of objects.

San Francisco-based Cincinnati-native conceptual artist Tom Marioni gave a lecture at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning and held a participatory performance called Art History, Philosophy and Dirty Jokes at The Littlefield this past Tuesday. 

Marioni, who weaves conviviality into all of his work is perhaps best known for his ongoing social art, The Act of Drinking Beer with Friends is the Highest Form of Art, which he’s been enacting since 1970. West-coast conceptualists like Marioni have long investigated public actions as an alternative to the creation of an art object. 

Tonigh, Marioni will be present for an opening of his more object-based art (in this case, dry fresco, drawings and bronze sculptures) at Carl Solway gallery, and his work seems like an interesting counterpoint to the very tangible, stitched work of up-and-coming artist Elsa Hansen (b. 1986). Hansen, originally from Louisville, Ky., cross stitches 8-bit portraits of famous subjects like R. Crumb and R. Kelly, or pop cultural events like when Olympic diver Greg Louganis hit his head on the springboard in 1988, and — like Marioni’s work — Hansen’s relies on wit and humor. 

Both the Art Academy and UC will have exhibition openings of their students’ thesis work Friday evening. Caliber, the AAC’s senior thesis exhibition will feature the work of six students, while the Contemporary Arts Center hosts the work of 15 MFA students from DAAP.

I had the chance to speak with DAAP grad Mary Clare Rietz regarding her ongoing social practice project On The Map|Over-the-Rhine involving what she terms “aesthetic action”. 

Rietz and fellow collaborators like social practice artist and AAC professor Anissa Lewis have been working on this project together for several years, engaging unlikely stakeholders from the neighborhood (long-time residents, new residents, developers and business owners) via creative mapping, guided walks, performances, and story sharing. Rietz’s project is informed by a key concept in social network theory, “the strength of weak ties”, i.e. the idea that a network is strongest when people connect across differences.

The artist calls OTR a “highly dense, close-quarters place where development is creating diversity but not always connection,” so the potential to connect across difference is ripe here; and Rietz’ decades of experience working in community organizing give her a unique set of skills to respond to these disconnects. 

Through conversation and strategic engagement, On The Map|Over-the-Rhine asks the question:  Are people who feel connected more likely to work together toward goals that meet the diverse needs and interests of all?

To that aim, the artist has had events happening all week in the lobby of the CAC, and Friday evening Rietz will put on yet another creative community building project, WHO DO YOU WANT TO MOVE?, which will invite viewers to witness and participate in creating connections between unlikely OTR stakeholders, forged though dance. 

The participatory performance/procession will start at Buddy’s Place in the heart of OTR at 13th and Vine streets and move to the CAC, where more performances will be put on for museumgoers at 7:30 and 8:30 p.m.

Finally, contemporary avant-garde performance art by experimental sound artist Guillermo Galindo and interdisciplinary artist, DAAP professor Mark Harris, opens Friday night at Wave Pool in Camp Washington. 

Inspired by John Cage’s words describing music as “a purposeless play,” Galindo and Harris will each perform during the opening night, and the objects left behind after each performance will act as the exhibition in the gallery space — reemphasizing the experience of the performance as the true art form.

]]>
<![CDATA[Stage Door]]> There’s are some excellent dramatic productions on local stages this weekend, as well as one of Broadway’s biggest, most raucous musical hits.

Let’s start with the hilariously crude Tony winner, The Book of Mormon, in town for a brief one-week run. Even if you don’t have tickets yet (or didn’t think you could afford them), you might try your luck for the lottery with each performance. Leave your name at the Aronoff Center box office beginning two-and-a-half hours before a specific performance; you can request one or two seats. Two hours before the curtain, names are drawn at random for a limited number of $25 tickets. You have to be present for the drawing and show a valid ID. (Be forewarned: There have been as many as 800 entries at some performances.) The final performance is at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday.

There is some truly fine acting in Sharr White’s Annapurna at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati. It’s the story of a once-married couple who couldn’t keep it together: Ulysses (Dennis Parlato), a recovering alcoholic who was once an esteemed poet (and a father) is now holed up in a trailer park in the wilds of Colorado. He’s not in a good way, but he’s surprised and none to hospitable when Emma (Regina Pugh), his wife from two decades earlier, shows up. Their encounter and subsequent soul-searching are sardonically comic and tragically poignant, and Parlato and Pugh make these vivid characters all the more human. Through April 10. Tickets: 513-241-3555.

Two excellent productions are onstage at Cincinnati Playhouse. Mothers and Sons by Terrence McNally (in the Shelterhouse) is a very contemporary story about gay marriage, parents and children. Even with the Supreme Court’s approval of marriage equality, there are still a lot of challenges to be faced, and this production, staged by the reliably insightful Timothy Douglas, presents them in some deeply personal ways. Read my review … In a more classic vein, although another story about parents and children, the Playhouse’s moving mainstage production of a theatrical adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird continues. In fact, it’s been extended a week beyond its initially announced closing, to April 10. That means tickets should be easily available next week. Box Office: 513-421-3888.

SHORT TAKES: A few more choices to consider this weekend: Know Theatre is presenting a Fringe Encore double-bill in Clifton. One production is a solo act, Cody Clark: A Different Way of Thinking, a young man from Louisville who has coped with autism by delving in the performance of magic. The other work is Kevin Crowley’s Hitchhikers May Be Inmates, in a performance featuring the actor-playwright with another respected local performer, Michael Bath. It’s a sarcastic cautionary tale about struggling to maintain sobriety. Both shows will be onstage at Clifton Performance Theatre (404 Ludlow Ave.) tonight and Saturday. Tickets available at the door … George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion is the play Lerner & Loewe musicalized when they created My Fair Lady. Shaw’s script is a more thorny work, but the story is familiar. It’s at Northern Kentucky University’s black box theater through Sunday. Tickets: 859-572-5464 … Stay home and listen to WVXU (FM 91.7) on Saturday evening (8-10 p.m.) for an L.A. Theatre Works radio production of Moisés Kaufman’s excellent drama, Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde … On Monday evening at 7 p.m., the Cincinnati Playhouse wraps up its series of script readings of works by writers whose shows are being produced there this season. This time it’s Theresa Rebeck’s Omnium Gatherum, the story of a surreal dinner party that echoes 9/11 and more. The reading is free, but a reservation is necessary. Box Office: 513-421-3888.


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

]]>
<![CDATA[Matthew Kolodziej's Paintings at Solway Look But Aren't Purely Abstract]]>

Upon first encountering Matthew Kolodziej’s wonderful artwork at Carl Solway Gallery’s Patch Work: New Paintings show (through Saturday), you might think he’s reviving the colorfully splattering, helter-skelter Abstract-Expressionist style of Jackson Pollock. But first appearances can be deceiving.

He explains, in answer to an inquiry, that he starts the paintings by putting together photo collages of places he’s seen that are in a state of transition. He then puts those through an illustrator program that turns them into line drawings, often with altered images.

These are projected onto a canvas and traced out with brushes. He uses a combination of modeling pastes and acrylics applied with putty knives to build up the paintings. He sometimes traces over lines with heavy gels to create a raised surface where paint can be filled in.

So there are concrete origins, actual images, to his work — it isn’t non-objective. You can see they’re rooted in some kind of place, and you can establish a perspective that gives definition and even a sense of kaleidoscopic movement to the canvases.

This is most clearly and thrillingly evident in the fantastic “Shanty,” an acrylic painting. As you study its mosaic-like structure, you begin to sense you’re getting an overview of a crowded town on a mountainside, like in Rio, with a beltway of trees and strip of water beyond (at the top of the canvas).

It’s a breathtakingly beautiful painting, and the show has other excellent ones, too, like “Blaze” and “Diode.”

Kolodziej is an art professor at University of Akron. One hopes there will be more shows of his demanding, rewarding work at Solway.


For more information, visit solwaygallery.com.

]]>
<![CDATA[Nonprofit Spotlight: Visionaries + Voices]]> Visionaries + Voices is a nonprofit organization operating in Northside. The purpose of V+V is to provide space and opportunity for artists with disabilities to thrive, giving exhibition opportunities, studio space, supplies and support to more than 125 artists with disabilities.

“Our mission is to provide artists with professional, creative, and cultural opportunities,” says Hannah Leow, volunteer coordinator at V+V. The artists were creating before they come to V+V so they just keep doing their own thing. “They keep their vision and their style, we just support them,” Leow says.

Visionaries + Voices achieves its mission in three ways, the first being the studio program where artists can come and spend time working on their art. The exhibition program gives opportunities for them to show their work with five exhibits a year in the Northside gallery. The final piece is the Teaching Artist Program, which allows artists to go into the community and teach their style of creativity.

Volunteer:

Volunteers are needed Monday-Friday 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. and occasionally on evenings and weekends. The biggest need is for people in the creative field who are interested in making art and want to work collaboratively with artists. “The biggest need I’ve seen is creative folks, or folks who aren't creative and are interested in learning about creativity, being in the studio working with the artists,” Leow says.

Service learning days at V+V are great for high school groups. They can come in and do organizational tasks for a little while, which is very helpful to the organization. Then they have the chance to work with the artists and combine their creative ideas.

Opportunities outside of creative work include organizational projects, cleaning and providing technical support.

There are volunteers at V+V who come frequently and have been there for a long time, but there are also volunteers who don't come so often. There really isn’t a requirement for the type of commitment you need to make.

Anyone interested in volunteering can reach out online. Before starting as a volunteer, expect a short introductory session with a tour of the studio and general information about the organization and its goals, a questionnaire and background check. “It’s a pretty quick process,” Leow says.

Some of the resources available to volunteers include articles about working with adults with disabilities. This isn’t really focused on during the brief training because Leow believes it’s something you learn as you go. “The biggest thing for me is that it’s an experience based training,” Leow says.

There is no real precursor to being a good fit at V+V. Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis “We feel it out with each person,” Leow says. It is about connecting and accepting the artist. They have a wide variety of volunteers from many different creative backgrounds.

Donations: 

Art supplies are in high demand at V+V. You can find a list online detailing what is needed. Some of the items include permanent markers, ink pads, buttons, sewing needles and glitter.

One unique program promotes giving the gift of stocks. Consider donating stocks that have already been acquired and increased in value. Financial advisors are able to transfer stocks from private parties to Visionaries + Voices. In return, the organization will issue an acknowledgement of the gift.


For more information on VISIONARIES + VOICES visit visionariesandvoices.com.

]]>
<![CDATA[Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati Announces 2016-2017 Season]]>

Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati is really getting its act together. Not that they haven’t always been on top of things, but it’s often been deep into springtime before the coming season has been announced. Having recently shared the news about the expansion of its physical plant beginning in 2017, ETC has now shared what will be onstage for its 2016-2017 season — and much earlier than usual. Perhaps that’s because there were some evident artistic choices, as the information below will reveal.

ETC Producing Artistic Director D. Lynn Meyers has her finger on her subscribers’ pulses. Even before this announcement was released, approximately 80 percent of ETC’s 2,300 regulars had already renewed their seats for the coming season. That’s a demonstration of the confidence ETC subscribers have in Meyers’ judgment. Many of the season’s productions aren’t well known titles, but they have been chosen with specific and sharp insight into the preferences of ETC’s audience.

Here’s what’s in store:

The Legend of Georgia McBride by Matthew Lopez (Sept. 6-25, 2016): The season kicks off with show by Matthew Lopez, but it bears little resemblance to his powerful Civil War drama, The Whipping Man, which ETC staged back in 2012. This time it’s a heartwarming, music-filled comedy about Casey, a young optimist who’s broke, close to being evicted and discovering that he and his wife are pregnant. Oh, and he’s been fired from his gig as an Elvis impersonator in a run-down Florida Panhandle bar. His act is replaced by a B-level drag show, and he decides to go with the flow. It’s a new arena for him as a performer and a man. One review of the New York production called it “an irresistible and deceptively deep crowd pleaser.”

brownsville song (b-side for tray) by Kimber Lee (Oct. 11-30, 2016): I write annually about plays that get started at the Humana Festival in Louisville. (I’ll be headed there for the 38th annual event in April.) Two years ago this play received its world premiere there. Set in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, it moves between past and present to tell a tale about resilience in the face of tragedy. Tray, 18, is committed to making something of himself. He’s working on his college essay, boxing at the gym and holding down a part-time job. But he ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time, and in the blink of an eye his life is tragically over. His family is left to ponder what might have been. This poetic and powerful story jumps between a hopeful future and an uncertain present to show a unique perspective on urban violence. Myers picked this show knowing its run would overlap with August Wilson’s Jitney at the Playhouse, offering theatergoers two moving perspectives on the African-American experience.

Cinderella: After Ever After by Joe McDonough, David Kisor and Fitz Patton (Nov. 30-Dec 30): ETC’s production of Cinderella for the 2015 holiday season was one of the theater’s most attend shows ever. So for the 2016 holidays we get a world-premiere sequel, again created by playwright McDonough, lyricist Kisor and composer Patton. With the same actors who charmed audiences last December, this will be the story about what happens next. What happens when Cinderella and Prince Freddy move into the palace with her diva stepmother and her self-absorbed stepsisters in tow? What becomes of her beloved animal friends? And what’s Gwendolyn, “The Well Wisher,” up to now? All will be revealed in another family-friendly show.

First Date by Austin Winsberg, Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner (Jan. 17-Feb 5, 2017): This musical comedy had a Broadway run in 2013; ETC is presenting its regional premiere. It explores one of those treacherous human endeavors: the blind date. When Aaron, a first-time blind-date guy, is set up with serial-dater Casey, their casual drink turns into a high-stakes dinner as other restaurant patrons transform into supportive best friends, manipulative exes and protective parents — who sing and dance them through the dangerous waters of getting acquainted.

When We Were Young and Unafraid by Sarah Treem (Feb. 21-March 12, 2017): It’s 1972, before Roe v. Wade, before the Violence Against Women Act. Agnes has turned her quiet bed and breakfast into a refuge for young victims of domestic violence. But her latest runaway, Mary Anne, is beginning to influence Agnes’s college-bound daughter Penny. Playwright Treem (who’s been a writer for House of Cards and In Treatment) digs into the early days of feminism from various perspectives. The show debuted in New York in 2014; this is its regional premiere.

Bloomsday by Steven Dietz (April 4-23, 2017): Playwright Dietz’s newest play, a 2016 finalist for the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award. His work has pleased ETC audiences four times in the past — Private Eyes (2000), Fiction (2007), More Fun than Bowling (2008) and Becky’s New Car (2010). This one is set against the backdrop of James Joyce’s iconic novel Ulysses. It’s about an American searches for the Irish woman who captured his heart 30 years earlier while he led “Bloomsday” walking tour in Dublin. The play bends time and space to explore a love affair that might have been. Meyers recently fell in love with this script; the show just premiered at ACT in Seattle last September; she moved quickly to obtain the rights to present its regional premiere here.


ETC subscriptions for 2016-2017 are on sale now; single tickets will be available for purchase on Aug. 1. For more information: ensemblecincinnati.org.

]]>
<![CDATA[Stage Door]]>

There’s plenty of theater on local stages this weekend. Here’s a round-up for you to consider:

Two shows based on very different classic novels are excellent choices. Emma, adapted from Jane Austen’s 1815 novel about well-intended matchmaking that goes awry, continues at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. The production takes advantage of the company’s strong female acting contingent, especially Courtney Lucien as the title character. At the Cincinnati Playhouse you’ll find a truly memorable and creatively staged rendition of Harper Lee’s 1961 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Eric Ting’s production is exceptionally theatrical, using a barren stage to focus on the story’s characters rather than naturalistic settings. The big cast features numerous local professionals, somewhat unusual for the Playhouse, and they’re a pleasure to watch. It’s around until April 3. I gave Critic’s Picks to both Emma and Mockingbird. Cincy Shakes box office: 513-381-2273; Playhouse box office: 513-421-3888.

Beertown, the show currently onstage at Know Theatre, is as much an exercise in civic engagement as it is a piece of theatrical entertainment. Every five years a small town, perhaps in New England, revisits a time capsule to decide if the contents are still relevant. That leads to debate, and the audience is welcome to chime in during the “quinquennial” celebration, emceed by a self-assured mayor. You’re invited to bring desserts for a pre-show potluck; the townspeople (a cast of eight performers who are very adept at improv) mingle and introduce themselves before things get started and at intermission. This is the final weekend; Saturday evening’s performance at 8 p.m. will feature sign-language interpretation. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

With St. Patrick’s Day just passed, perhaps you’re looking for a piece of great Irish writing, with some trademark dark humor. Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane opens tonight at Falcon Theater in Newport (636 Monmouth St.). It’s about Maureen, a plain, lonely woman in her early 40s, who still lives with Mag, her manipulative, aging mother. Trying to stave off abandonment, Mag ruins what might be Maureen’s last chance at love — and that sets off some pretty bad behavior all around. This is not a show for the faint-hearted, but it’s a terrific script that was nominated for six Tony Awards in 1998. Through April 2. Tickets: 513-479-6783.

There’s a production of the 1963 musical She Loves Me on Broadway right now, and the charming show is getting pretty good reviews there. The same show is onstage at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts locally through April 3. It’s the story of Georg and Amalia, two lonely co-workers in a perfume shop, who get off on the wrong foot and quickly develop a combative relationship. At the same time, they’re having an unwitting pen-pal relationship with one another, quite charmed by the prospects. It’s a sweet, humorous tale, and the Covedale has some able performers — Rodger Pille and Erin Nicole Donahue — in the central roles. But the production, staged by Matt Wilson, feels disjointed, more a showcase for several comic story lines and amusing character roles than a coherent, offbeat tale of love that almost goes wrong before everything is happily resolved. Tickets: 513-241-6550.

The culmination of the excellent musical theater program at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music is the annual Not Yet Famous Showcase that seniors take to New York City. That’s about to happen, so CCM’s Class of 2016 is onstage locally to warm up before heading to Broadway for their debut next week in front of directors and casting agents. Two performances are set for Saturday at 4 and 8 p.m. in Patricia Corbett Theater. Admission is free but reservations are required (513-556-4183) … CCM Drama showcases its talent in both New York (for theater) and Los Angeles (for film and TV), and you can check out the acting talent coming out of that program in free programs on Friday at 2 or 7 p.m., also at Patricia Corbett Theater. Reservations are not necessary for the Drama Showcase.

The Cincinnati Playhouse is offering a series of readings of plays by playwrights whose shows are included in their 2015-2016 season. On Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. the offering is Terrence McNally’s A Perfect Ganesh, about two women from Connecticut on a journey to India as they try to heal from the deaths of their sons. (McNally’s more recent play, Mothers and Sons, is the next production in the Shelterhouse Theater, opening Thursday.) The reading is free, but reservations are required; a previous reading was sold-out, so call right away if you’re interested: 513-421-3888.


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

]]>
<![CDATA[Nonprofit Spotlight: Cincinnati Squash Academy]]>

The Cincinnati Squash Academy is an urban squash program operating out of the Emmanuel Community Center in Over-the-Rhine where there are three brand new courts and a learning center. “We are aiming to blend squash and academics into one cohesive unit,” says Austin Schiff, executive director of CSA. The goal is to use squash as a motivation tool to keep kids accelerating their education.

Since the second grade, Schiff has played squash, a racket sport that has been around for more than 100 years. The game is played on a four-walled court with two or four players and a hollow rubber ball. CSA is the only urban squash program in Cincinnati and recruits from four low-income schools: Robert A. Taft Information Technology High School, Hays-Porter Elementary, Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy’s Otto Armleder School and St. Joseph School.

We go into the school and do a presentation,” Schiff explains. “They sign up if they're interested and then they can come and try-out.” Try-outs can take four to seven months. Students begin at the bronze level to see if they fit well with the program; at silver they begin to track attendance and do a home visit to ensure the family is supportive and sees a future for their child in the program. Once a student reaches the gold level, they are fully enrolled in CSA and have complete access to all the resources, trips and the summer program. Try-outs are so extensive because it is very important that each accepted student succeeds in the program. “We want to be selective of the kids and families that we choose, knowing that this isn’t just a six-month fad,” Schiff says. He wants to find kids that are committed to staying in the program through high school.

CSA puts a major focus on school success along with learning squash. Kids come three times a week and their time is divided. Half the day is spent on the court and the other half is in the learning center working on homework and special projects. Rachel Parker, the academic director, works hard to help the students find their personal interests through different classroom projects and field trips. They have taken trips to the Cincinnati Art Museum and practiced gardening on Earth Day. At heart we are an education program,” Schiff saysTo the public we are squash, but it’s really much more than that.”

The main goal is not to train world-renowned squash players, but simply to provide education and motivation and to make sure the kids make it to college. They start preparing kids freshman year or earlier for college by exploring resume building, the application process and understanding financial aid. CSA took a group to Boston last year for an urban squash competition at Harvard University. When they weren’t playing, the students toured Harvard's campus. “A year ago, to them, squash was a vegetable or what you do to a roach on the family rug,” Schiff says. “Now they are on the all-glass show court at Harvard University playing a very traditionally high-class, high-brow sport.

Volunteers:

Currently CSA has 20-30 volunteers. Volunteers help on the court every day at practice. Experienced squash volunteers — the more skilled, the better — are invited to come and teach kids the meticulous technique that is so important to the game. You can do this during the school year or come for the 4-week summer program.

They need tutors in the classrooms and to chaperone trips. Schiff is looking for people who care and can connect with the kids. Volunteers as young as 12 can help in the learning center. “We want people who just love being with kids and want to push them to succeed,” Schiff says.

All volunteers must pass a background check.

Donations:

There is a big CSA fundraiser happening in April. Corporate sponsors are needed to provide squash supplies. Because all the athletic equipment is donated, rackets, goggles, shoes and squash balls are always in demand.

Basic school supplies like paper, pencils, dry-erase markers and a lot of disinfecting wipes are helpful in the learning center. CSA provides snacks for the students but haven’t had any luck getting a grant for fresh fruit and vegetables. Healthy snacks would be a great donation, but be mindful of students with allergies to peanuts and red dye.

The organization has its offices, referred to as the bunker, in the basement of the Emmanuel Community Center. The bunker is safe from nuclear fallout, but unfortunately is not very home-like. Schiff is looking for plants and art to spruce the place up. The office could also use a working copy machine because theirs recently broke.


For more information on CINCINNATI SQUASH ACADEMY, visit squashacademy.org.

]]>
<![CDATA[Stage Door]]>

Looking for some good theater this weekend? There’s plenty to choose from on Cincinnati stages.

Last evening I was at the Cincinnati Playhouse for the opening performance of To Kill a Mockingbird. If you’ve read Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel or seen the classic film starring Gregory Peck, you know the story. But I bet you’ve never seen it quite the way Playhouse Associate Artist Eric Ting has staged this one. Reminiscent of Our Town, it’s played out on an all-but-bare stage — no scenery, minimal props — just great storytelling acting, including a lot of local professionals: Dale Hodges, Annie Fitzpatrick, Torie Wiggins, Ken Early, Barry Mulholland, Jared Joplin, Randy Bailey and three sensational kids. The set is deceptively simple, but used very effectively with Ting choreographing the action using two concentric “revolves,” atmospheric lighting and sound effects. The Playhouse clearly has a winner with this production. It just opened and the demand for tickets is already so strong that it’s been extended to April 10, a week beyond the initially announced closing. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

When you put together a songwriting team like Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick (the guys behind Fiddler on the Roof) and a writer like Joe Masteroff (he also wrote the script for Cabaret), the results ought to be good. And they were in 1963 when She Loves Me debuted on Broadway. Set in a 1930s perfumery, it’s about two shop clerks, Amalia and Georg, who don’t see eye to eye; both lonely and yearning for love, they unwittingly end up as pen-pals — and a warm-hearted comic romance ensues. (Sound familiar? It’s also the story of the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan hit film from 1998, You’ve Got Mail.) She Loves Me was revived on Broadway in 1993, and there’s a current production of it w by Roundabout Theatre Company. But you don’t have to travel to New York City to enjoy this charming show, since it’s onstage at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts through April 3. Tickets: 513-241-6550.

There are numerous whiffs of Fringe shows in the air this weekend. Beertown continues at Know Theatre through March 19, a concept brought to town by dog & pony dc, a group that’s performed more than once at Cincinnati Fringe Festivals. This one is an exercise in civics that happens to be highly entertaining, as a small town decides which items to keep or replace in a time capsule that’s reviewed every five years. Audiences get to join the conversation — and they do. With a cast featuring a lot of local improv and acting talent, Beertown is a thoroughly entertaining production, and it can go in different directions every time it’s performed. Know is also presenting a double bill of two past Fringe award winners — Petunia and Chicken from Animal Engine and Edgar Allan from the Coldharts. The former is a story of love and loss inspired by the works of Midwestern Prairie author Willa Cather; two actors play all the parts piece. Edgar Allan was inspired by imagining the boyhood of Edgar Allan Poe. If you missed these shows during the 2013 and 2015 festivals, you can see them at Know’s Jackson Street theater on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Tickets, for one or both shows, which are both presented each evening: 513-300-5669 or at the door.

If you’re still pining for Fringe-styled shows, try Transmigration 2016 at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, featuring student-created works presented tonight and Saturday evening at 7 p.m. This annual event by CCM’s drama program features teams of actors who write, promote, stage and perform a handful of 30-minute shows. For 2016 the titles are “Elliot Popkin: The Best Friends I Never Had,” “The Elephant in the Room,” “The Family,” “Colony Collapse Disorder,” “Vices” and “A Brief Eternity.” Show up for an evening and dash around the CCM complex to see four of these unpredictable but wildly creative pieces. Admission is free, but reservations are required: 513-556-4183.

Also at CCM: The thrashing, pulsating production of American Idiot continues through Sunday at Patricia Corbett Theater on the UC campus. If you’re a fan of Punk Rock (the show is a stage version of Green Day’s 2004 recording), this is the show for you … Prefer something more sedate? Head downtown for Cincinnati Shakespeare’s stage adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma, which continues through March 26. Tickets: 513-381-2273.


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

]]>
<![CDATA[Slice of Cincinnati: Wave Pool]]>

Surrounded by books, pamphlets and zine titles such as Noodle Doodle Coloring Book, never date dudes from the internet and How to Talk to Your Cat about Gun Control, Luke Kindle looks up from his nook in Wave Pool art gallery to cars whizzing past the window through the Camp Washington neighborhood.

One half of the husband-and-wife team that founded the gallery, Cal Cullen, enters the gallery with a mug of coffee for Kindle. Her 18-month-old daughter Alice toddles not far behind, ready to run around the gallery. The furry pink rug underneath the swinging pink monkey sculpture is calling her name.

Skip Cullen joins his family in the gallery and tells me that Alice is obsessed with the furry pink monkey piece, otherwise known as “Not My Circus” by Pam Kravetz. Watching Alice run and dance around the gallery, it seems to be the most whimsical playground a toddler could ask for. It is also the site of Wave Pool’s current exhibit, Cincinnati 5: Artists Impacting the Community.

The exhibit complements the newly released book of the same title by Emily Moores, which explores the practice of five local visual artists and highlights their connections to the city. The gallery features new works from each of the artists, not only as a glimpse into their studios, but also as a celebration of the local visual arts community.

Skip says the goal of Wave Pool is to elevate the arts scene in Cincinnati. The contemporary art fulfillment center hosts eight exhibits per year, which pair local artists with national and internationally recognized artists. The center consists of art studios, a woodshop and other spaces community spaces that can be rented out for private events.

Wave Pool is also the site of a small shop of quirky reading material. In addition to art books that complement the exhibitions, there is an array of humorous titles to choose from. “We also wanted to be a weird, indie book place,” Skip says.

Kindle, a fine arts student at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning, tells me he plans to reads all of them over the summer when he isn’t busy with school.

After meeting as graduate students at DAAP, the Cullens say they always had the dream to open a gallery together. While they lived in San Francisco for five years, they came back to Cincinnati to start the gallery. The couple agrees that there are not enough opportunities for local artists in Cincinnati, and they started Wave Pool to create more.

Despite being located in an old firehouse, Cal and Skip say what makes Wave Pool unique is the artist in residency program, which pays two artists per year to engage with the community in a unique way. The residency application is open to everyone, and the committee chooses artists based on how they will engage the community.

This year’s artists in residence are Sam Ihrig and Anna Riley from Brooklyn, N.Y., and Valerie Molnar and Matt Spahr from Richmond, Va.

Ihrig and Riley will bring their RIAS Studio (Research Institute of Analog Sampling), a project based on the origins and production of glass, to Wave Pool in May. RIAS Studio will explore the intimacy between maker and material and material and place through creating glass pieces specifically for Wave Pool from regionally and locally harvested materials.

The studio will also host a community workshop in which participants can join a geological expedition to identify and collect materials to create glass. They can then create their own formula in the studio and keep their unique Ohio glass.

Molnar and Spahr will transform Wave Pool into a plant rehabilitation center in July. People can leave their plants in the studio for as long as they’d like, while the plants may be groomed, repotted, fed and given other comforts for optimal happiness — such as appropriate humidity, lights and music. The team will also host workshops and lectures on plant care, yoga, guided meditation and other activities to help struggling plant owners.

Cal says Wave Pools looks for experimental art, such as interactive pieces. The gallery looks for work that pushes the envelope of what people believe is art. “Because we are a nonprofit, we’re all about education through art,” she says. While other galleries may look to feature artwork that sells, Wave Pool is dedicated to facilitating the interaction between artists and the local community. She adds that although Cincinnati has many disparate arts communities, Wave Pool is a space where any artist can feel supported.
For more information about WAVE POOL, visit wavepoolgallery.org.

]]>
<![CDATA[Stage Door]]>

Take your pick from four wildly different shows on Cincinnati stages this weekend.

For something completely different, check out Beertown at Know Theatre (through March 19). It’s a national touring project by dog & pony dc, a company that was here for several recent Cincinnati Fringes. The show is set in an imagined American town that opens a time capsule every five years to review its “eternal” and “ephemeral” contents. With the exception of dog & pony dc actor Wyckham Avery as the town’s patronizing mayor, the performers are all Cincinnati actors, a majority with significant improv experience. They solemnly execute the “20th quinquennial” ceremony to revise what’s saved and removed, relying on voluntary input from the audience as to what’s most important for the community. The show includes interspersed scenes (injected as “antecedents”) that reveal details of the century-long tradition. Beertown starts out feeling like an amusing Fringe show — artifacts range from serious items such as antique photos and a family bible to trivia such as pink slips and a “jar of smoke” — but by the time it’s over, with some cleverly planted messages from the ably played “townspeople,” you realize you’ve been part of a civic exercise that has depth as it explores just what’s important to a community. Know’s artistic director Andrew Hungerford says, “There’s nothing newer than a show that is created in partnership with the audience each night.” I’m not a fan of theatrical audience participation, but I was surprised and gratified by how Beertown unfolded and landed its messages. By the way, you’re invited to bring desserts to share for the potluck before ceremony begins. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

The Disney musical Newsies, based the 1992 film, is in town through March 13 at the Aronoff Center. The true story is unsubtle and predictable: Downtrodden newsboys in 1899 New York City get fed up with the high-handed ways of arrogant publisher Joseph Pulitzer and go on strike. Their “children’s crusade” wins out and improves conditions for kids who hawked papers on street corners. There’s no question from the outset that these spunky young fellows are going to succeed; Pulitzer is an unadulterated greedy villain, and Jack Kelly (Joey Barreiro), the Peter Pan-like leader of the boys is played as the hero from the get-go. Nevertheless, Newsies indeed showcases athletic dancing — about 15 high-energy young men who high-kick, cartwheel and back-flip around the stage for more than two hours to imaginative choreography by Christopher Gattelli. The production’s design, big pieces of Erector Set-like structures that double as fire escapes and more, roll into various configurations and provide surfaces for video projections that set the scene. Not profound, but fun to watch. Tickets: 513-621-2787. An additional note: The show’s “newsboys” will present a special evening of song and dance on Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. in the Aronoff’s Jarson-Kaplan Theater with the proceeds to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Tickets start at $25: cincinnatiarts.org/newsboys.

For another musical populated by disaffected youth dancing, check out American Idiot at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. Onstage at Patricia Corbett Theater, like Newsies, this show is rooted in real events — it opens with ominous video recollections of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It’s based on Green Day’s 2004 Punk Rock album, full of anger and angst. The show is more impressionistic than narrative following three young men yearning to escape the deadening humdrum of suburbia to do something, be somewhere, where they will feel more real. But crushing reality — ranging from parental responsibility to military service and drug addiction — bears down in depressing ways on them. After pain and searching, they find their way to stasis if not happiness. Along the way, the production, staged by Aubrey Berg with music direction by Steve Goers, pounds out Green Day’s mostly anxious songs; of singular note is CCM senior Samantha Pollino’s thrashing, hair-whipping, fist-punching choreography. One word of caution: This show is no-holds-barred in terms of drug use, sexual content and profanity. But frankly (and I do mean frankly), that’s a big part of what it’s about. It’s onstage through March 13. Tickets: 513-556-4183.

Staged by veteran company member Kelly Mengelkoch, Emma (through March 26) lives up to Cincy Shakes previous productions of stage adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels — romances, first and foremost, navigating the ins and outs of love and relationships in the early 19th century. Austen’s central characters are usually feisty but moral women, strong-minded and judgmental, and they match up well with the versatile female talent in Cincy Shakes’ acting company. First and foremost is Courtney Lucien as Emma Woodhouse, whose confidence in her matchmaking skills puts her in several pickles with friends and acquaintances as well as personally. The object of Emma’s plans is the modest Harriet Smith, played by Caitlin McWethy, who often says as much with demeanor and facial expression as with the words provided by Jon Jory’s adaptation of the 1813 novel. Despite some derailments along the way, Emma is awash in wit and good humor. I gave this production a Critic’s Pick. Tickets: 513-381-2273.

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

]]>