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

On Wednesday evening I took a bunch of kids (four elementary-school-age nieces and a nephew in town for a visit) to see a bunch of kids (high schoolers, average age 16) in Hairspray, this summers’ Cincinnati Young People’s Theatre production at the Covedale Center. The verdict: “We loved it.” One of them said, “They did more singing than talking.” (A good thing, in her opinion.) And one even got the message of black and white teens breaking color barriers and just being teens. So the story from 1962 still makes some sense. The CYPT performers come from 33 schools across Greater Cincinnati. It’s a big undertaking to get that so many performers (I counted 70 in the program) working together, plus several more backstage. Tim Perrino has been doing this for 34 years, so he knows how to get the best out of teen performers, and there are some standouts in this cast — especially Julie Deye and Gabe Schenker as the ebullient but fair-minded plus-sized teen and her lumpy mom. The kids are all right! Performances continue through Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets: 513-241-6550

The most dazzling show onstage right now is Hundred Days, a Folk Rock Opera, at Know Theatre. It’s 75 minutes of great music written and performed by the dynamic duo of Abigail and Shaun Bengson, backed by five talented musicians and singers. But it’s also a fine piece of theater — a love affair cut short by a fatal illness that’s met head-on with clarity and joy to celebrate what might have been 60 wonderful years in just “100 days.” Great concept, great execution. I gave it a Critic’s Pick in my CityBeat review.

You’ll get a lot of laughs out of Cincinnati Shakespeare’s performance of The Complete History of America (Abridged), largely thanks to the comic talents of actors Justin McCombs, Miranda McGee and Geoffrey Barnes. Even if the script  — by the comic trio who originated The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) — strains a little too hard to be hilarious, playing fast and loose with America’s past, these three know how to turn every scene into a good laugh. Things occasionally fall flat and a few elements are borderline tasteless, but before you know it they’re off and running again with another gag, joke, pratfall, misunderstanding or just tossing a bucket of water. All in good fun; it’s not very profound nor is it intended to be. Here’s my CityBeat review. Through Aug. 15. Tickets: 513-381-2273

If you like your Shakespeare a bit more traditional — but perhaps just a little funny — some of Cincy Shakes' troupe begins their FREE Shakespeare in the Park tour this weekend. Throughout August they’ll be offering performances in parks across Greater Cincinnati and beyond using a handful of young actors handling multiple roles in two-hour reductions of plays by Shakespeare. This weekend you have three chances to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream — at Eden Park’s Seasongood Pavilion on Friday at 7 p.m., at the Harry Whiting Brown Lawn in Glendale on Saturday at 7 p.m. and in Washington Park on Sunday at 6 p.m.

If you haven’t tuned in yet for the third iteration of Serials! at Know Theatre, you might want to show up on Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. Each of five plays will have the third of five 15-minute installments; the trick this time out is that the playwrights trade places with each biweekly event, so stories definitely veer off in unexpected and unplanned directions. Don’t worry about catching up — there’s a quick preview as each piece starts. But even more, these are just zany stories, made all the zanier by the format. You’ll have fun watching even if you can’t quite figure out what’s going on. Tickets: 513-300-5669

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

]]>
<![CDATA[<i>Carol</i> Release Date Moves Up]]> Indiewire is reporting today that the Weinstein Company, distributor of Todd Haynes’ Cincinnati-shot drama Carol, will move up its theatrical release date to Nov. 20 from the originally planned Dec. 18. It will start out in limited release and then go wider.

That means the company believes the adult-oriented film, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, not only will be an Oscar contender but will also be a holiday-season hit along the lines of another film it distributed this way in 2014, The Imitation Game.

Indiewire reports Carol will face the youth-oriented The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 on its limited-release opening weekend, “but should benefit from an earlier start than was originally planned.”

]]>
<![CDATA[Review: Cincinnati Opera's <i>Turandot</i>]]>

Cincinnati Opera winds up its 95th season in truly grand operatic fashion with an opulent production of Puccini’s Turandot. The singing is (mostly) sublime, the spectacle is lavish and all the production elements are executed with stylish precision.

The opera is a fantasy based on a play by the Venetian Carlo Gozzi. Turandot is a Chinese princess bent on revenge for the rape and murder of an ancient ancestor. If a prospective suitor fails to answer three riddles, off with his head. That doesn’t discourage Prince Calaf, who manages to solve the riddles and melt the ice princess’s reserve. Oh yes indeed, this is a fairy tale.

It’s also Puccini’s grandest opera with fabulous music incorporating romance, drama and Chinese folk melodies. The score was unfinished when Puccini died in 1924; composer Franco Alfano composed the final section using Puccini’s sketches. Despite Calaf’s signature aria “Nessun Dorma,” the best music belongs to the chorus and the two female leads.

Biggest ups to the chorus. They sing with power, precision and a remarkable dynamic control thanks to Chorusmaster Henri Venanzi, who celebrates his 41st year with the CO. Unlike most other operas that feature one big choral number and that’s it, Turandot’s chorus is onstage for almost the entire piece.

Marcy Stonikas is a formidable Turandot, physically and vocally. Her voice has the cold, steely edge for an ice princess but there’s a hint of warmth that fully emerged in the final scene to convey a sense of humanity. “In questa reggia” is Turandot’s big aria and Stonikas did not disappoint. Hers is one of the most exciting voices I’ve heard in a long time and I hope she’ll be back.

The role of the slave Liu usually steals the shows and this was no exception. French soprano Norah Amsellem sings with haunting delicacy and tremendous power. It’s a performance to savor, and she garnered the evening’s loudest ovations. And her limping on the stage was no act — she injured an ankle earlier in the week and was using a brace.

Frank Porretta’s Calaf was barely audible in the first act. He may have been having vocal problems because he powered up in the second act, but “Nessun Dorma” was under pitch and lagged behind the orchestra. Let’s hope he recovers for the remaining performances.

As the court officials Ping, Pang and Pong, Jonathan Beyer, Julius Ahn and Joseph Hu were genuinely responsive Puccini’s score, offering characters ironically comic and human as they sing of returning home. They also executed a vaudeville soft shoe routine with panache.

Bass Andrea Mastroni made an impressive debut as Calaf’s father, Timur. Tenor Chris Merritt sang the Emperor Altoum with poignant beauty.

Under the baton of Ramón Tebar, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra gave a stunning performance of this magnificent score. There are so many gorgeous subtleties, from the loudest of gongs to shimmering woodwinds and strings, and they were heard to wonderful effect.

Red is the operative color for André Barbe’s sets and costumes, with black and white running close seconds. A huge red lacquer arch is the main set piece, punctuated by huge white heads on pikes, reminders of the executed princes. The chorus, mandarins and dancers are swathed in black and red. Ping, Pang and Pong sport sky-blue robes, and Turandot and Emperor Altoum are garbed in white. It’s opulent but never excessive.

Most impressive are Renaud Doucet’s staging and choreography. The huge cast of choristers, supernumeraries and dancers move with confidence and precision. Fortunately for us all, the leads are equally graceful and they respond to each other with more than outstretched arms. Doucet creates stage pictures that, for all their scope, never lose focus on the performers. The dancers are a special pleasure. Their costumes with multiple flags projecting from the back don’t make for easy movement, but they make it look effortless.

Go see it. And go hear it. There aren’t many opportunities to see spectacle like this, unless it’s Andrew Lloyd Webber, who mined Puccini’s melodies for inspiration. Puccini did it way better.


TURANDOT continues Wednesday and Friday. More info here.

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

Did you attend the Cincy Fringe back in 2011? If so, maybe you saw Abigail and Shaun Bengson perform a musical work in progress then called “Songs from the Proof.” They came back in 2012 to present a one-night concert of some of the songs. The work evolved into a show called Hundred Days, which had a staging in San Francisco in early 2014. It’s continued to evolve — and its next incarnation will be onstage at Know Theatre for the next month, opening on Friday and running through Aug. 22. It’s about a young couple who fall in love, only to have their time together cut short by a fatal illness. They decide to live the 100 days they have left as though it were 60 years they had hoped for. Lots of music and creativity have gone into this one, and it promises to be a powerful performance with some great tunes. (Read more in my Curtain Call column in this week’s edition of CityBeat.) Tickets: $25 in advance; rush tickets at the door ($10, if available). Free performances on Wednesdays, but reservations required: 513-300-5669.

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s 2015-2016 season is beginning as it has for several years with a light-hearted abridgement — but this time it’s The Complete History of America (abridged), opening Friday night and continuing through Aug. 15. The show is the creation of the same nuts responsible for the hilarious Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged). It’s the same format: Veteran comic actors Miranda McGee and Justin McCombs, along with newcomer Geoffrey Barnes, will take audiences on a whirlwind tour that sends up America’s greatest hits … and misses. It’s the kind of delirious summer entertainment we’ve come to expect the from our often-more-serious classical theater folks. Tickets ($22-$35): 513-381-2273

Last weekend I went to Stanberry Park in Mt. Washington to see The Complete Tom: 3. Abroad, presented by Queen City Flash, Cincinnati’s flash-mob theater company. It’s the third installment of its four-part play cycle of Mark Twain’s tales of Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and Jim, the runaway slave. It was charmingly performed by Dave Powell, Rico Reid and Trey Tatum — plus some amusing puppets (aka wooden spoons) and a few sheets for ghost stories. This charming episode features the threesome on a trans-Atlantic voyage in a Jules Verne-like airship, meeting a number of interesting characters along the way — played in quick-change manner by the three actors. Free performances begin at 8 p.m. but don’t go to Stanberry Park — they’ll be elsewhere this weekend. In fact, the outdoor locations remain secret until 4 p.m. the day of performance when an email is sent to ticket holders with a map and parking instructions. The show is a lot of fun and great entertainment for kids, and part of the adventure is figuring out where you’re headed. Take a chance! Tickets — no charge — can be reserved at QueenCityFlash.com

This weekend offers the final performances of 1776 at the Incline Theater (513-241-6550) and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (859-572-5464). Both are worth seeing.

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

]]>
<![CDATA[Cincinnati-Filmed ‘Miles Ahead’ to Premiere at New York Film Festival]]>

It continues to be a good year for movies shot in Cincinnati. First, Todd Haynes’ Carol premiered in competition at the Cannes Film Festival and was so well-received that its distributor, Weinstein Company, has scheduled a December release to showcase it for Oscar consideration.

Today, Indiewire is reporting that Miles Ahead, the Don Cheadle-directed movie about Jazz musician Miles Davis’ troubled final years, will be the Oct. 11 closing-night showcase for the prestigious 53rd New York Film Festival. The fest is presented by The Film Society of Lincoln Center. Cheadle also plays Davis in the film, shot in Cincinnati last year.

The Indiewire story, written by David Canfield, reports that “NYFF Director and Selection Committee Chair Kent Jones said, ‘I admire Don's film because of all the intelligent decisions he's made about how to deal with Miles, but I was moved — deeply moved — by Miles Ahead for other reasons. Don knows, as an actor, a writer, a director, and a lover of Miles' music, that intelligent decisions and well-planned strategies only get you so far, that finally it's your own commitment and attention to every moment and every detail that brings a movie to life.’”

In the story, Cheadle is quoted as adding, "I am happy that the selection committee saw fit to invite us to the dance. It's very gratifying that all the hard work that went into the making of this film, from every person on the team, has brought us here. Miles' music is all-encompassing, forward-leaning, and expansive. He changed the game time after time, and New York is really where it all took off for him.”

]]>
<![CDATA[DEVO's Mark Mothersbaugh to Perform at Cincinnati Concert (Update)]]>

Roughly one month in advance of the Contemporary Arts Center opening Myopia, its highly anticipated retrospective of Mark Mothersbaugh’s artwork, he will come to Woodward Theater for a special concert.

The Aug. 28 performance will be what the CAC is calling a “three-headed evening.” It will start with a small orchestral group playing DEVO covers and Wes Anderson scores — Mothersbaugh co-founded the ground-breaking New Wave/Post-punk band and then moved into film-score composition, working often with Anderson. He also has long been active as a visual artist, having studied art at Kent State University.

Next, there will be a short “onstage dialogue” with Mothersbaugh. Then he will conduct an ensemble in “Music for Six Sided Keyboard.” He did a similar performance in Denver in connection to Myopia’s opening there.

Tickets will be $60 seated and $30 standing, and more information should be available next week on the Contemporary Art Center’s website, www.contemportaryartcenter.org. Myopia opens at the CAC on Sept. 25 and runs through Jan. 9. The exhibit is curated by Adam Lerner of Denver’s Museum of Contemporary Art.

UPDATE: A pricing change has been added.

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

Every year, Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati brings together a group of young professionals who spend a season at the Over-the-Rhine theater understudying roles, working backstage, helping build sets and run lights and sound — learning the ins and outs of professional theater. Many of them stick around town continuing their lives in the theater. Several of them will come together at Washington Park on Sunday evening at 6 p.m. for a free performance of Still Life with Iris, a play by Steven Dietz. The 1996 script is an adventure about a little girl’s search for the simplest of things: home. She lives with her mom on a magical island where by night workers make things seen in the world by day. The rulers are determined to have the best of everything on their island, so they kidnap Iris and bring her to be their daughter, leaving her with no memory of her home or family. She joins with friends she meets on her journey as she embarks on a quest to return home. The family-friendly play, written in 1998, was the first to receive the Kennedy Center’s Fund for New American Plays Award. The cast is comprised entirely of former ETC interns, including: Jared D. Doren (1996), Sara Mackie and Burgess Byrd (2000), Daniel Winters (2005), Lisa DeRoberts (2011), Ben Raanan and Jared Earland (2014), and Molly Israel and Patrick Phillips (2015).

The summer theater company, Stone on a Rock, is back for the second production of its second season with a new version of Aristophanes’ ancient comedy Lysistrata. The company focuses on productions that are “short, sweet and cheap.” This one is a time-tested farce about the women of Greece giving their husbands an ultimatum: Stop waging war or no more sex. Maybe they can next bring their strategy to bear on Greece’s current financial crisis? Performances are at Simple Space, 16 E. 13th St., Over-the-Rhine. Tickets ($10) can be purchased at the door.

Another summer company is presenting the 1998 Tony Award-winning musical Ragtime at Highlands High School’s Performing Arts Center (2400 Memorial Parkway in Ft. Thomas). The Commonwealth Artists Summer Theatre (C.A.S.T.) is led by theatre instructor Jason Burgess; his cast includes students from Anderson, Walnut Hills, Newport Central Catholic, Cincinnati Country Day, Seven Hills, Highlands, Scott High Schools and more. Ragtime is a remarkable show with great music (composed by Stephen Flaherty, a graduate of the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music). Set at the dawn of the 20th century, it’s a time of change and possibility in the volatile melting pot New York City. The show tells three interwoven stories — a stifled upper-class wife, a determined Jewish immigrant and a daring young Harlem musician — united by courage, compassion and belief in the promise of the future. It’s being presented for two weekends, opening tonight and continuing through a matinee on July 26. Tickets ($10) can be reserved at http://www.showtix4u.com. (Remaining unreserved seats may be purchased at the door one hour prior to each performance.)

Queen City Flash, Cincinnati’s flash-mob theater company, is up to the third installment of its four-part play cycle of Mark Twain’s tales of Tom Sawyer. This part, The Complete Tom: 3. Abroad, is performed by three actors and an array of puppets. For this episode, the characters of Tom, Huck Finn and Jim the runaway slave are on a trans-Atlantic voyage in a Jules Verne-like airship. Free performances begin at 8 p.m. but the outdoor locations remain secret until 4 p.m. when an email is sent to ticket holders with a map and parking instructions. (The fourth installment is set to happen in August.) Tickets — no charge — can be reserved at http://www.QueenCityFlash.com

You can stay at home on Saturday evening, if you prefer, and enjoy a radio theater production of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac by LA Theatre Works, broadcast on WVXU-FM 91.7 at 8 p.m. The story of the brash 17th-century soldier-poet with an oversized nose is also a tale of love and longing. The audio production features Hamish Linklater, Jason Ritter, Devon Sovari and Gregory Itzin. This is your chance to get prepared for Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s season opening production (Sept. 11-Oct. 13).

Continuing productions of 1776 at the Incline Theater (513-241-6550) and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (859-572-5464) are both worth seeing.


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


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

Of course, everyone is focused on baseball this weekend, leading up to Tuesday’s All-Star Game right in our own backyard — and that’s great for Cincinnati. But if you’re looking for theatrical entertainment, it’s here, too. 

I had a chance to see the musical 1776 at Cincinnati Landmark’s new Warsaw Federal Incline Theater on Wednesday. It’s just the second show to be staged there, but it’s a fine one from just about every angle. The 1969 show — as much a play about American history as a musical (it has a stretch of 30 minutes in which no music happens) — is seldom produced in part because it requires nearly two-dozen strong singing male actors. This production found them, and they do a fine job: Especially noteworthy is Rodger Pille as the feisty John Adams, as well as his colleagues Ben Franklin (played by Bob Brunner )and Thomas Jefferson (taken on by Matt Krieg). But numerous others have their “historical” moments, as do Allison Muennich as Adams’ understanding wife Abigail and Lindsey Franxman as Jefferson’s lovely wife Martha. The show is both entertaining and inspiring, even if it takes a lot of liberties with real events. It won the 1969 Tony Award for best musical, and it’s a delight to see. It’s onstage at the Incline through July 26. Tickets: 513-241-6550

After 10 years, the musical about adolescents vying for honors in the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee has become pretty familiar. But it’s still a lot of fun to watch, and I suspect anyone who goes to the Commonwealth Theatre Company’s dinner theater production on campus at Northern Kentucky University will be having a good time — maybe even becoming a volunteer speller to join the contest. For 8 p.m. shows in the Stauss Theatre, there’s dinner at 6:30 p.m. in the Corbett Lobby. Through July 26. Tickets: 859-572-5464

If you want something a little more off the beaten path, you’ll find it at Know Theatre on Saturday and Sunday when the One-Minute Play Festival has three performances. Part community-convening, part social action and part play festival, the program investigates who we are and how we relate to our community through a series of 60 moments of storytelling by local writers and actors. If you’ve enjoyed the annual Fringe Festival, you should show up for this one. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

In a similar vein — and just a block away from Know Theatre’s Over-the-Rhine location — you’ll find a show by the GoodPeople Theatre Company, Is This Really Happening Right Now? It’s some vignettes by two local writers exploring friendships and relationships — on a blind date, in a coffee shop, in a Laundromat and over Tinder. Tickets ($15) at the door at Simple Space (16 E. 13th St., Over-the-Rhine).

And if you still need more, remember that Monday will be the second round of Serials! at Know Theatre, with five plays started by local writers pick up for another 15-minute episode, but now penned by a different playwright. This time around the theme is “Round House,” and it’s sure to generate some zany stuff. 


Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
]]>
<![CDATA[Review: Cincinnati Opera's <i>Don Pasquale</i>]]>

Cincinnati Opera's Don Pasquale was a delight and, so far, the season’s best overall production. Burak Bilgili’s Pasquale and Alexey Lavrov’s Malatesta share the honors for outstanding performances and the entire enchilada (as Peter Schickele would say) was directed by Chuck Hudson, with production elements and costumes built by Arizona Opera.

The setting is 1950s Hollywood and Don Pasquale is a silent film star trying to make a comeback by marrying a starlet. We get Don’s backstory through a series of black-and-white film clips of his biggest hits, press notices and his subsequent failures in talkies and as a director. They’re brilliantly effective and the opening segments are in synch with the overture.

Pasquale’s black-and-white environment takes on color as he decides to seek a bride, and by Act II, the only gray spot is Pasquale himself.

Burak Bilgili brought crisp articulation and robust presence to the aging Pasquale. He’s a gifted comic and he handled the physical demands (and there were plenty) moving gracefully across the stage. His foil Malatesta was Polish baritone Alexey Lavrov; the phrase "silky elegance" is the best descriptor of his voice. Since he’s scheduled to sing this role at the Met, it doesn’t look like he has to worry about future gigs, but if he ever does, he’s got a great future as Dracula — he can handle a cape with the best of them.

Tenor Ji-Min Park sang Ernesto with clarity and sweetness, especially “Com’e Gentil” but the stage business covered up a lot of the loveliest passages. Eglise Gutierrez broke her ankle earlier in the week, but she navigated the stage in such a way that unless you saw her wearing a slightly different slipper, you wouldn’t suspect anything was amiss. But something was because she was a restrained Norina and I frequently couldn’t hear her. She might have been in a lot of pain and backstage, she had on a boot, so I’m more than willing to give her a break. One hopes she'll notch it up by Saturday.

Richard Buckley led a lively reading of this delightful score. Hudson’s staging is based on his studies with Marcel Marceau and the best example of that was the staging “Com’e Gentil.” It was hilarious (the long arm reaching for Pasquale’s keys) but it upstaged the aria. Oh well. The audience loved it. The actors proved to be deft comedians, especially Park, whose wonky Ernesto can’t do anything right. Of course the revenge duet got an encore.

Fun, fun, fun. And with a ‘50s setting, there might have been a T Bird lurking backstage.


DON PASQUALE continues Saturday. For info here.

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

With the Fourth of July falling on a weekend, most theaters will be dark, and all the hubbub around the All-Star Game means that most of them will wait until the dust settles at Great American Ball Park before they crank things up again. But if you’re jonesing for some good summer theater and you haven’t seen Cincinnati Shakespeare’s hilarious One Man, Two Guvnors, it has performances on Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Be forewarned that both are sold out, but if you want to try your luck with the regional premiere of this excellent situation comedy about a hapless guy with two bosses, show up at the theater 719 Race St., Downtown 30 minutes before the performance and ask to join the waiting list. Box Office: 513-381-2273

While you’re waiting for the fireworks on Saturday, you might consider what theater you’ll see over the next week or so. Of particular interest is The 1st Cincinnati One-Minute Play Festival that will be presented at Know Theater at 8 p.m. on July 11 and 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on July 12. It’s a collaboration between Know and One-Minute Play Festival (aka #1MPF). In nearly 20 cities #1MPF partners with local companies to present brief works by local writers. They are given a prompt that asks them to consider the world around them, their community and all the ways in which they view and engage with the world, and to write and submit moments that could only happen at this time and in this place. It’s a great chance to check out local talent in the form of brand-new one-minute plays by Linnea Bond, John Bromels, Michael Burnham, Nick Carmine, Kevin Crowley, Bekka Eaton, Kate Fine, Brian Griffin, Mike Hall, Becca Howell, Alan Jozwiak, David Loehr, Robert Macke, Erica MacDonald, Joe McDonough, Eric Pfeffinger, Maggie Lou Rader, Alison Rampa, Brant Russell, Paul Shortt, Stacy Sims, Andy Simpson, Nathan Singer, Jim Stark, Paul Strickland, Trey Tatum, Eileen Tull, Chris Wesselman, Torie Wiggins and Alison Vodnoy Wolf. It’s also a showcase for local directors including Michael Burnham, Ed Cohen, Katie Lupica, Regina Pugh, Brant Russell, Carrington Rowe and Torie Wiggins. Tickets ($20): 513-300-5669. Part of the proceeds will benefit new play development at Know Theatre.

In the mood for more locally generated material? Check out the premiere of Is This Really Happening Right Now? – A Series of Vignettes, developed and presented by Good People Theatre on July 9, 10 and 11 at 8 p.m.. They’re performing at Simple Space, located in Over-the-Rhine at 16 E. 13th St., just a block or so north of Know Theatre. Four original pieces by Mollie J. Amburgey and Will Bonfiglio are about friendships and relationships — one takes place on a blind date, one in a coffee shop, one via Tinder and one in a Laundromat. Tickets $20: http://goodpeopletheatre.ticketleap.com/CincyPremiere


Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here
]]>
<![CDATA[Review: <i>Morning Star</i> World Premiere]]>

Morning Star, the new opera by composer Ricky Ian Gordon and librettist William Hoffman, had its world premiere last night before a near-capacity audience in the School for Creative and Performing Arts’ Corbett Theater. Based on a 1940 play by Sylvia Regan, the story follows a Jewish immigrant family in the early decades of the 20th century. Think of it as a follow-up to the Tevye family from Fiddler on the Roof coming to America and having to abandon all that tradition.

Morning Star was originally commissioned by Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Goodman Theater but was dropped when artistic differences killed the collaboration. In 2012, Opera Fusion: New Works offered Gordon and Hoffman the opportunity to rework Morning Star. The final result is light-years from what was heard in workshops, but to paraphrase a line from the opera, the story abides.

Gordon writes beautifully for the voice and his score has moments of dramatic intensity, playfulness and heartbreaking beauty. He’s a favorite among American singers, so it’s not surprising how great the singing is — but that’s also thanks to Ron Daniel’s staging.

Daniels also guided the shaping of the piece, strengthening the drama and developing characters. But there are still problems with the libretto. Many of Hoffman’s images and lines are poetic but much of the rhymed verses are more distracting than descriptive. But when he nails it, the words and music are a gorgeous synthesis.

The Triangle Shirtwaist fire in Manhattan serves as a framing device and a looming presence. On March 25, 1911, the Triangle erupted in flames, killing 146 workers — mostly young immigrant women who were trapped by locked doors, non-functioning elevators and broken fire escapes.

The opera’s prologue is a brilliant evocation of the public viewing of the victims in the factory, which took place during a torrential downpour. Against a background of images from that day, singers clad in raincoats and holding black umbrellas recite accounts of what took place as the music swirls into a collective moan.

The Triangle Shirtwaist fire serves as a framing device and a looming presence. In March 1911, the Triangle erupted in flames, killing 146 workers, mostly young immigrant women, who were trapped by locked doors, non-functioning elevators, and broken fire escapes.

The opera’s prologue is a brilliant evocation of the public viewing of the victims in the factory, which took place during a torrential downpour. Against a background of images from that day, singers clad in raincoats and holding black umbrellas recite accounts of what took place as the music swirls into a collective moan.

Widow Becky Felderman presides over her family of three teenaged daughters and a young son. Like many immigrant families, the Feldermans have a border, Aaron, who happens to come from the same village and is a friend of the family. He also happens to be in love with Becky.

It’s a terrific cast made up of some of the best American voices out there. Jeanine De Bique stole the show as Pearl with a velvety, lyric mezzo that elevated her aria “I See Colors” into a showpiece. Soprano Twyla Robinson’s Becky has a sweetness tempered by determination and she’ll break your heart when she sings “The Family Abides.”  The daughters get powerful performances from Elizabeth Zharoff, Jennifer Zetlan and Elizabeth Pojanowski.

Andrew Bidlack sings the title song with great style. Andrew Lovato is a sensitive and sympathetic Harry Engel, the unhappy husband of Sadie Felderman. Morgan Smith is an amazing baritone and I wish that Aaron’s character had more depth, but Smith makes it his own and it’s worth hearing.

Riccardo Hernandez’s scenic design incorporates the Triangle factory and Wendall K. Harrington’s projections are used to great effect, particularly in the prologue and in the final ensemble in which the fire claims its victims.

Is it perfect? No. But it’s got staying power, a score with a lot of memorable music, and this production features voices you should hear. Bravo to Cincinnati Opera and Opera Fusion: New Works for fostering this project.

And damned if I can’t get that song “Morning Star” out of my head.

MORNING STAR continues through July 19 at SCPA’s Corbett Theater. More info: cincinnatiopera.com.

]]>
<![CDATA[Stage Door: Too Many Bosses, One Crusader and a Theater Party]]>

Need a good laugh this weekend? Cincinnati Shakespeare has the show you want to see: One Man Two Guvnors, based on an 18th-century comedy, The Servant of Two Masters. It’s a riot of slapstick, fart jokes, pratfalls, lewd innuendo and more. Francis Henshaw (Matthew Lewis Johnson) is the hapless hero, trapped between jealous bosses and a crew of comic types, each one funnier than the last. The show was an award winner London and on Broadway, where James Corden played the manic guy who can barely keep all the plates spinning. I gave this one a Critic’s Pick. Read my full review here. Tickets: 513-381-2273.

In 1916, Margaret Sanger founded the organization that eventually became Planned Parenthood. She was a fearless protester for women’s rights and an ardent crusader for birth control when it was a hush-hush topic. She was often arrested for speaking frankly about sexuality. Cincinnati native Pamela Daly this weekend is presenting a one-woman show that she personally commissioned; it’s onstage at the Aronoff Center’s Jarson-Kaplan Theater. Sanger uses the militant firebrand’s own words to dig into issues that remain inflammatory today: abortion, birth control, sex education and the plight of women. Performances on Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets: 513-621-2787.

Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. is the first installment in the third run of Serials! at Know Theatre. This time the theme is “Roundhouse”: You’ll find the 15-minute episodes of new plays, every two weeks for a total of five evenings. Five playwrights, five stories, five directors, five casts. Each week the playwrights switch, so not even the original writers know where their shows are headed. Here at the titles: Hangin’ with BenFire Down Below#roxybalboaThe Good, The Bad, and the Elderly; and Real Time Strategy. Tickets for this crazy episodic theater party: 513-300-5669  More info here.

Not for this weekend (in fact, this fills in a gap in Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati’s upcoming season next spring, March 22-April 10, 2016), but you might want to know that Sharr White’s Annapurna will be onstage. White wrote The Other Place, a well-received script that ETC presented earlier this year. The award-winning show from 2011 is a simple piece — two people in a room, in fact, a room in a mobile home. It’s about a woman and her husband, a poet, who deserted her. He’s in failing health, living in a low-rent trailer park, and she decides to re-enter his life. More information about ETC’s complete season here.


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

]]>
<![CDATA[Foreign Film Friday: <i>Chunhyang</i> (2000)]]>

Two cinemas weave — though not seamlessly — together in Chunhyang, South Korean filmmaker Im Kwon-taek’s adaptation of Chunhyangaa, a legendary Korean folktale that follows the journeys of two lovers, one poor and one aristocratic, as they face problems within Korea’s ancient class system. The two cinemas in question are traditional film cinema and pansori, a Korean storytelling custom where a vocalist tells a story accompanied by a percussionist playing a buk, a traditional Korean drum. Its roots come from the Korean for “sound” and “a place where many people gather.” In a way, this makes it a type of cinema that predates film by hundreds of years.

For me, pansori was harsh at first. It felt out of place, the grating transitions back and forth between the live pansori performance in modern day South Korea and the dramatic portrayals in 18th century Korea too cobbled-together to resemble a harmonious story. But then I surrendered to its slow, sometimes arrhythmic tempo, and its strange, lithe magic was an experience I haven’t felt in a movie since. By intertwining traditional storytelling techniques with a (somewhat) contemporary one, we as an audience are able to experience firsthand the tensions that exist in a culture between old and new.

Chunhyang is an ideal gateway film into the cinema of Korea, territory that can often seem daunting to Western moviegoers due to the century-spanning political baggage that stretches from the Joseon Dynasty to the Korean War to current events. But the sweep of the region’s moral tides encompasses a generally universal understanding, and this film is full of simultaneously heart-wrenching and understated pathos as we watch forbidden trysts and suspenseful compromises unfold. It’s a folktale, but the ache of its themes will always be, perhaps unfortunately, timeless. 

]]>
<![CDATA[Stage Door: A Good Chance for Laughs, and the Opportunity to Dance the Night Away]]>

There’s not too much theater going on as summer moves in with full heat. But there are enough laughs at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company for several shows with the production of the great 2011 British farce, One Man Two Guvnors. It’s based on a play from the 18th century called The Servant of Two Masters, but don’t think that because it’s a classic it will be over your head. This show has slapstick, fart jokes, silly antics, sly innuendo and just about anything else that might induce laughter. Matthew Lewis Johnson is a comedy machine as the irrepressibly hungry (and hopelessly confused) Francis Henshaw, and he’s not the only one. At least a half-dozen of Cincy Shakes regulars dive into the hilarity headfirst. There’s also a great band playing tunes that sound like Pop numbers from the early 1960s; the story had been updated to the British seaside town of Brighton, where scandalous behavior was apparently the norm. Signing on to work for two bosses who have cross-purposes and connections that Francis doesn’t know about, he’s in for a raucous 24 hours as he tries to keep a lot of plates spinning — almost literally. Demand for tickets was strong from the opening last week (this show won awards in London’s West End as well as on Broadway in 2012, where James Corden played the manic Henshaw), so you’ll find two added performances to the announced schedule — this Saturday and next at 2 p.m. Tickets: 513-381-2273.

Tickets are even scarcer, apparently for The Producers at Cincinnati Landmark Productions new Incline Theater. That zany musical about trying to make money on a Broadway flop has been a big success, heavily subscribed from start to finish. You might try for the waiting list (513-241-6550), but don’t get your hopes up. Same goes for Commonwealth Theater Company’s production of Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys at Northern Kentucky University, (859-572-5464) also in its final weekend. It’s a dinner theater production, and it looks like most of the seats at that table are taken, too.

Since you can’t get into either of those, how about a free interpretation of the movie Footloose on Saturday evening? The dance troupe Pones Inc. and Gorilla Cinema have joined up to present the film in a parking lot in Covington (at West Seventh and Washington streets) starting at 8 p.m. All the inspired dance scenes from the 1984 film about teens in a town where dancing is discouraged will be performed live, and you’re welcome to join in! No charge for admission; snacks and suds available for purchase. Check out the trailer:


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

]]>
<![CDATA[Stage Door: Laughs, a New World and Some Bad Guys]]>

Several productions onstage at the moment have been so successful that tickets are scarce, if available at all: The opening show at Cincinnati Landmark Productions’ Warsaw Federal Incline Theater, The Producers — and in fact, the Inclines three-show summer season — is heavily subscribed, so the chance of finding seats at the last minute is slim. The same goes for the Commonwealth Theatre Company’s dinner-theater production of Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys at Northern Kentucky University. So let’s consider some other options.

I suspect your best bet for hilarity this weekend will be Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production of One Man, Two Guvnors, which opens tonight. Playwright Richard Bean struck Gold with his adaptation of a 17th-century comedy, The Servant of Two Masters: He shifted it to the 1960s in Brighton, England, and put a fast-talking chap seeking a quick buck and a bite to eat. His greed puts him in a sticky predicament when he ends up working for two rival masters. It’s full of physical humor, improvisation, audience interaction — and a skiffle band with live musicians. The show was a smash hit in London in 2011 (one reviewer called it “the funniest show in the Western World”). When it moved to Broadway in 2012 it was nominated for seven Tony Awards. Need an evening of laughter? This is the show for you. It’s onstage through July 5. Tickets: 513-381-2273

If you want something a tad more serious, you might want to check out The Tramp’s New World, presented by Diogenes Theatre Company at the Aronoff’s Fifth Third Bank Theater. It turns Charlie Chaplin’s “Tramp” character into the sole survivor of an atomic blast. It’s a multidisciplinary piece that uses projections, physical comedy, music and silent-film technique to tell the story of the Little Tramp trying to create a new world from the ruins of the old. The show is performed by its creator, actor Rob Jansen, a Cincinnati native who spent six years in Cincy Shakes’ acting company; he performed with several companies and turned in memorable performances in Know Theatre’s productions of Corpus Christi and Angels in America. The Tramp’s New World had a well-received run in Washington, D.C., at Cultural DC’s Mead Theatre Lab, and it’s onstage here through Saturday evening. Tickets: 513-621-2787 

At Falcon Theater in Newport, you can see Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins, an unusual work imagining interactions between the real historical individuals who succeeded in shooting American presidents. It features fascinating music and a story line about the American Dream and what happens when people see it slipping beyond their grasp. It’s at Newport’s Monmouth Theatre, which Falcon now owns and is renovating. Assassins is onstage through Saturday evening. Tickets: 513-479-6783


Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
]]>
<![CDATA[Foreign Film Friday: <i>The Wicker Man</i> (1973) ]]> Upon learning of actor Christopher Lee’s passing, I decided to view him in the role he thought was his finest, as the villain in the British cult classic The Wicker Man. It’s a strange film, one that shifts from mystery to horror to baleful Pagan-folk musical with simmering disquiet. Although at the time considered by its studio to be unmarketable, it’s now considered one of British cinema’s crown jewels.

We follow a Scottish cop named Howie as he visits an island in search of a missing girl, only to find his investigation upended by the villagers’ stoic failure to cooperate. Edward Woodward is Howie, a pious Christian who is disturbed when he discovers that the islanders practice an occult Pagan faith that embraces Celtic rituals to help harvest their crops. Howie is horrified as he observes villagers copulating outside, putting frogs in their mouths to cure sore throats and donning bizarre animal masks.

The film, directed by Richard Hardy, has been christened “the Citizen Kane of horror movies,” but, if we’re sticking exclusively to Orson Welles metaphors, I would say it’s more like horror’s Touch of Evil; rather than reinventing the cinematic wheel, both films instead subvert their genres' expectations (Welles with noir, Hardy with horror) in ways that ultimately establish them as the apex of what that genre can offer. The Wicker Man, like Touch of Evil, exploits low angle shots and handheld cameras to elicit its menacing undertones that make it the creepy success it is. For sure, both filmmakers are able to use budgetary confines to their benefit; The Wicker Man’s camerawork, with its slow pans, cheap set pieces and lack of contrast, can seem almost amateurish in its levity, but it justly lets the actors carry the themes.

Interestingly, the film’s action is shot mainly during the day, an effective approach that instills a sense of the macabre in the bucolic. This can later be in seen in descendants like David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, another film that smudges horror and mystery in broad daylight. Diagetic folk music jangles throughout, and the carnal pressures between Howie, a virgin, and an innkeeper’s siren-daughter, Willow, are a dramatic thread that stretches taut across the parable, threatening to snap like the discordant strings heard in the film’s harrowing lyre motif.

It’s the dissonance of faith between Howie and the movie’s antagonist, Lord Summerisle, that affords the film a deserved cult status. Although he doesn't get as much screen time as he deserves, Christopher Lee’s convincing performance as the island messiah is a superb foil to Woodward’s oscillating states of prudishness and bewilderment. Unlike his Hammer Horror productions, Lee lends his thunderous baritone in an understated way, making his delusional puritanical incantations all the more perturbing and bolstering the film’s atmosphere.

Though the setting can resemble the Stone Ages (at one point there is a literal Stonehenge replica), The Wicker Man is an undeniable product of the ’70s in its aesthetics, and its wild, peculiar sexuality feels like a grotesque wink to the Summer of Love that had dissolved a few years prior. A note — the vertiginous twist that arrives in the third act of the film is much more of an experience if you avoid any of the movie’s posters, but no matter what, Lee’s most resounding line will haunt you: “Come,” he says almost without expression. “It is time to keep your appointment with the Wicker Man.”

]]>
<![CDATA[Foreign Film Friday: Solaris (1972)]]>

This weekly series discusses the cultural and artistic implications of a selected foreign film.

If you watch Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris, you will have, if nothing else, an experience. Yours might be revelatory or painful or, like mine, a bit of both. Based off of Polish author Stanislaw Lem’s 1961 novel of the same name, Solaris has, perhaps too often, been thought of as the Soviets’ response to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odessey. Although both films use the sci-fi genre to explore outer space frontiers as well as existential ones, Tarkovsky’s themes are much more personal and spiritual, and gravitate toward the loneliness and fragility found in humanity.

The entire plot is tensioned over the emptiness of the unknown. Set in the unspecified future, psychologist Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) is sent to a space station orbiting the planet Solaris to check up on the two crew members there. He discovers that the planet’s oceans cause the station’s inhabitants to hallucinate, and he ends up seeing visions of his dead wife, Hari (Irma Raush). These visions haunt him until he must make the decision whether to return to Earth or descend into the desire realm of Solaris.

With glacial tracking shots and a running time of 165 minutes, watching Solaris challenges your attention span for sure, and the film’s understated acting and dialogue takes some getting used to. Honestly, I literally lost consciousness and fell asleep while watching this movie at least two times. But strangely, the cinematic aftertaste of Solaris is rich and rewarding. To me, the entire work felt more like music than cinema, eschewing narrative for aesthetic and feeling. After a while it’s easy to succumb to its languid, hypnotic rhythm.

Despite the movie’s pessimism, it evokes some breathtaking images of nature with a palette of earthy hues and filters. Tarkovsky takes advantage of the 2:35:1 aspect ratio, whether he fills it with surreal underwater plant life, foggy atmospheres or a sprawling metropolis.

Solaris is now considered a sort of masterpiece and one of the director’s more accessible films. Tarkovsky’s influence can be seen now in auteurs like Lars von Trier and Terrence Malick, whose Tree of Life shares the backdrop of the cosmos to explore human interiors and relationships. Also, in 2002, Steven Soderbergh made an American remake (don’t bother).

Perhaps most surprising is Tarkovsky’s ability to cull such an intimacy from the sterile reaches of outer space, and the way it leaves its final question unanswered — is it possible to fall in love with the concept of a person or life instead of the actuality, and is this enough?


SOLARIS is available for screening on Hulu Plus at hulu.com.

]]>
<![CDATA[Stage Door: Fringe and a Few Alternatives]]> Let’s start with the Cincinnati Fringe Festival. There are just two more days of performances, so you need to choose carefully. Based on what I’ve seen personally, I suggest you should seriously consider several shows still in the rotation: Moonlight After Midnight (Friday at 6:30 p.m., Saturday at 8:40 p.m.) is my favorite among this year’s productions, a well-written, well-acted two-hander that’s both romantic and thoughtful. Tales Too Tall for Trailers (Friday at 8:15 p.m.) is an entertaining hour of storytelling by Paul Strickland and Erika Kate MacDonald; Andy’s House of Blank, a script co-authored by Strickland during the winter run of Serials!, will be produced as a full-length show during the fall by Know Theatre. Edgar Allan (Saturday at 7:25 p.m.) is a fascinating piece inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, although it’s not one of his stories. But it’s slightly creepy and features two excellent performers, The Coldharts (aka Katie Hartman and Nick Ryan). For some great laughs, try Dog Show (Saturday at 9:10 p.m.), a fantasy from Animal Engine about what three dogs do when left at home alone. (Turns out it’s a French farce). To see some fine acting, I suggest you see Chemistry, another two-actor production, this one featuring Laurie Benning Roberts and Jay Hobson, recent members of the Cincinnati Playhouse’s acting intern company. She plays a chronic depressive; he portrays a manic and optimistic. They’re attracted, but their joint destiny is complicated and ultimately doomed. This is a serious and moving piece about mental illness. There are lots of other shows to see, and if you’d like to read full reviews of any of them, go to CityBeat’s Fringe review hub here.

If you prefer your theater a tad more mainstream than Fringe fare, you have several options. I particularly recommend Circle Mirror Transformation at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. It’s the final weekend for this show about five people engaged in an acting class in a small-town community center. What they learn is as much about themselves as it is about theater, and it’s sweet, profound and moving. The final performance is Saturday evening on the Shelterhouse stage. It’s the final production of the 2014-2015 season. Tickets: 513-241-3888

There are a couple of musicals you might want to catch, too. Showbiz Players is offering The Addams Family, based on the oddball cartoons of Charles Addams featured in The New Yorker (as well as an iconic TV show from the 1960s). It’s in its final weekend at the Carnegie in Covington. Tickets: 859-957-1940 … Also in Northern Kentucky, you can drop by the Monmouth Theatre in Newport to see Falcon Theater’s staging of Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins, an unusual work about the actual historical individuals who succeeded in shooting a president. It features fascinating music and a story line about the American Dream and what happens when people can’t grab ahold of it. It’s being presented through June 13. Tickets: 513-479-6783 … I’d like to recommend The Producers currently in production at the new Incline Theater in East Price Hill. It’s a delightfully silly show about showbiz. But the folks at Cincinnati Landmark Productions have so successfully marketed this opening production of its summer season that most performances are sold out. However, if you’re persistent, you might get your name on a waiting list by calling the box office: 513-241-6550.


Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here. 
]]>
<![CDATA[People's Liberty to Award Three $15,000 Grants to Local Artists ]]> Are you a local artist who can turn a 800-square-foot gallery space into something impactful and eye-catching? People’s Liberty, Cincinnati’s philanthropic laboratory, is looking for three talents to utilize their storefront Globe Gallery, located at the organization’s Over-the-Rhine headquarters. They begin accepting proposals on June 15 — when the application goes live — until July 20, and will notify the winning artists in late August. The storefront will undergo a trio of transformations in 2016, letting each artist have their own individual experience.

They don’t expect you to do it by yourself — the winning individuals will receive a $15,000 grant to install their exhibits, and will get assistance curating their projects from the organization. They’re looking for engaging, daring ideas that capitalize on the opportunities a storefront gallery space allows. The application requires a title, a video submission, a budget and a timeline, and will be reviewed by an independent panel.

The lab, which strives to bring together “civic-minded talent to address challenges and uncover opportunities to accelerate the positive transformation of Greater Cincinnati,” underwent renovations in March.

To learn more about the application process and requirements, visit peoplesliberty.org.

]]>
<![CDATA[A Very, Very Vivid Waking Dream: An Interview with Celeste Ng ]]>

"Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” These are the opening lines to Celeste Ng’s debut novel, Everything I Never Told You. They are not necessarily shocking or revelatory to readers, but instead reveal a central concern that haunts the entire story: the unknown. The novel traffics in secrets — those between mothers and daughters, fathers and sons and brothers and sisters that ultimately threaten to erase a family portrait hung crookedly in the eyes of everyone else in society.

Set primarily in Midwestern Ohio during the late 1970s, Everything I Never Told You deftly examines a mixed-race family before and after a young girl is found drowned in a lake. Ng’s prose, graceful yet powerful, follows the characters as they try to make sense out of a family member’s death and their own grief. Within this narrative is a deeper one, a quietly devastating interrogation of identity and the need to belong.

Ng, who will give a reading at Joseph-Beth Booksellers on Thursday at 7 p.m., spoke with me about diversity in diversity, the challenges of writing her first novel and the metaphors to be found in hidden garbage.

This post is the first in an ongoing series of interviews with local and visiting authors.

CityBeat: How did the idea for Everything I Never Told You unfold? Did it turn out to be the same story you thought it would be when you first started writing it?

Celeste Ng: I didn’t expect culture to be such a big part of it. It wasn’t until I started to look at the family. I had an idea about a family tragedy that would happen, and when I started to write about the family I knew that they were a mixed-race family. That was sort of surprising to me.

CB: One thing I enjoyed about the novel was how you took a mystery framework to explore more literary themes of identity and race. Can you talk about that choice of exploring your topics with that aspect of crime/thriller genre?

CN: I never intended to write a mystery or a thriller. What I’ve always been interested in with my fiction is family relationships, and how families react to each other. How parents and children get each other, don’t get each other, drive each other crazy. It’s that idea that introduced that mystery element into it — I wanted to look at how a family might deal with a tragedy.

CB: What kind of research did you do for the novel?

CN: In terms of getting the details right, I grew up in the early ’80s so a lot of things came from memory — the telephone cords and the record player that skips a little, all that sort of stuff. I researched the history of interracial marriage and about how it’s become more common. That’s when I learned that it wasn’t legal in the United States until 1967, which was a real surprise to me. For the characters themselves, I did the kind of research that writers do, which is just digging deeper and deeper into the characters, writing them until I felt like I knew what they would do or say.

CB: Another thing I noticed throughout the book was how adept you were at weaving between past and present tenses. You begin the novel at the middle, with Lydia’s death, and that’s what everything else in the story orbits. Was this challenging?

CN: I’m glad you mentioned that, because it was actually the main thing that I struggled with in writing the novel. I wrote four drafts of the novel, but the story basically stayed the same throughout — what really changed was the structure. The past imbues the present and the present echoes the past, and so I knew that there was a lot in the family’s background that I wanted to explore, and that was part of the story just as much as the story of what happened after Lydia’s death. And so I had to figure out a way to fuse this together so that the reader could see the connections between present and past. It took a lot of experimenting and restructuring and revising.

CB: Why did you set the story in the past, in ’70s Midwestern Ohio? How would the story be different today, with technology and more access to books like yours?

CN: As I was getting to know the family and the issues they were facing, I found the ’70s was a period that encapsulated that. It was a period where women would see their daughters getting opportunities that they themselves had missed out on. I don’t know if this a story that couldn’t happen today. I would like to think so — I think we’ve made a lot of progress — but another thing I researched was how public attitudes toward interracial marriage had been changing, and it was only very recently — I think in 1997 that a majority of people felt OK with interracial marriage, which is kind of mind-blowing to me, because I remember 1997, you know. I would like to think that things would be a lot different for the family now, but a lot of the issues about viewing cultures and balancing personal life and dreams with children — these are still issues that are with us.

CB: Is your recent success validating to you as a writer, and do you think it might change the way you write? Do you feel the need to keep or appeal to a wider audience now that you’ve reached this level of recognition?

CN: That’s a great question. The answer to how it feels to get all of this is probably surreal — that’s the best adjective I can come up with. I work alone, in my house or in the corner in the library and I write these things from my head, not knowing if anyone else will believe them or will ever connect with them, and so to have the book go out into the world and have a lot of people connect with it has been really amazing and kind of mind-blowing. I say to my husband, ‘Is it possible that I am having a very, very vivid waking dream, and I’m just hallucinating this?’ and he very nicely says, ‘It’s possible, but seems unlikely that that’s happening.’ I’m just kind of touched and thrilled, and that sounds very boring and cliché but it’s true. If it’s changing my writing, I don’t know yet. I’ve started to work on another novel but it’s on pause at the moment while I’m on book tour. But I’m thinking about it a lot, and I have to see if it changes my writing style. I like to think that it won’t, but that just having written a book will have taught me something.

CB: In 2010, before publishing your novel, you wrote an essay published in Huffington Post titled “Why I Don’t Want to be the Next Amy Tan.” After publishing the book, have people seen you as the next Amy Tan, or have things changed?

CN: You know what, no one has made that comparison, and I don’t know if that’s because they went and Googled me and they found that and decided not to do it or not. Amy Tan and I are both Chinese-American women writers and we write about families, but we write very different kinds of books. We have different subjects, even if broadly speaking we are writing about the same thing — families. When you get into particulars, we’re very different authors, and so I would rather be compared to Tan in terms of language style and technique, but I don’t think our books are a lot alike. We’ve had different experiences. I’ve been very encouraged in the past few years to see that people have been moving away from that kind of comparison — that there is Amy Tan and then she will be replaced by the next Amy Tan. That there can be diversity within diversity, that there can be lots of Asian American voices, and they can all be somewhat different from each other. That it something that is more possible now that wasn’t even an issue up for discussion a few years ago.

CB: Who are your general influences in storytelling, literary or not?

CN: There are some readers I love to read as a writer to study, but I also read because I love their work. Toni Morrison is one of them — I think she does an amazing job at writing about really big important subjects and always keeping it on a human level and making the writing beautiful. There’s a book called The God of Small Things by an Indian writer named Arundhati Roy, which again I love as a reader and teach from it. I pick it up to find passages I want to give to my students and I just end up reading it at the bookshelf because I love it so much. She handles language in such an amazing way and she moves through time in away that was an inspiration for the book. I looked at that a lot as a touchstone to figure out — how do I weave together past and present? I watch a lot of TV, so I like seeing some of the long form TV shows that have developed over a long season. I’m a huge Downtown Abbey fan — it’s so soapy, but it’s on PBS and so you feel very virtuous when you’re watching it. There’s something about watching characters develop in that long arc in shows like Mad Men or Sopranos. Writers tend to sort of downplay TV as an insulin, but I feel that film and TV do influence the way I tell a story in the way you cut back and forth between characters or in the way that you show things. So that’s an influence for sure.

CB: You mentioned a book you were working on earlier, can you talk more about that project? 

CN: I think it’s going to be another family story, set in my hometown of Shaker Heights, a suburb of Cleveland. It’s very pretty, there are lots of trees and beautiful houses, and they like it that way. What comes along with all that beauty and trying to be progressive and consciously working to be diverse is that there’s also a lot of focus on appearance and worry about what other people will think. They have these tiny little golf-cart sized garbage trucks that drive down every driveway to pick up the garbage in the back and bring it up to the truck in the front. There’s never garbage in the front, and I feel like that’s really metaphorically rich, that you have to keep your garbage hidden. So I think it’s going to involve a family that’s living in this community and then a mother and daughter come in from outside and have secrets, and about the way those two families get kind of intertwined and tangled.

CB: That whole environment sort of reminds me of Twin Peaks, going back to that TV influence.

CN: Exactly — there are other things too, like you were only allowed to paint your house certain colors so that the entire street could be harmonious aesthetically. They don’t do that anymore, but there’s still a lot of things like that there.

CB: Is there a question you wish someone would ask you about your work that hasn’t been asked yet?

CN: One question I was asked in an interview and then I was sad that they cut it was after being asked if there would be a movie of my book, who would I want to be in it? I can tell you the news that was just made official about a week and a half ago — the film rights have sold to Relativity Media, a studio in L.A. So I’ve been thinking about this question a lot. One of the things that excites me a lot about the fact that the book might become a movie — besides the fact that that’s cool — there would be roles for Asian Americans and mixed Asian actors, and I feel that right now those people are on the sidelines as extras, or maybe the sidekick. And so it would be really cool for someone like John Cho to play James the father. That’s what I’m excited about — the idea that maybe this could be a place where Asian American or mixed Asian actors could get roles, that there would be a spotlight for them.

CB: The whole prospect must be terrifying and wonderful, having your film in someone else’s hands.

CN: It is, but I’m trying to think of it as its own thing. I love film adaptations, and what I love about them the most is when they take the opportunity to make a slightly different thing. It’s like when you cover a song: it’s better when they don’t try to sound exactly like the original. When they do something completely different with it, that’s when I think it’s cool, and so I think of the movie as its own thing. It’s nerve-wracking, but it’s worth it.

Celeste Ng will read at Joseph-Beth Booksellers on June 4 at 7 p.m.

]]>