CityBeat Blogs - Theater http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/blogs-1-1-1-37-16.html <![CDATA[Stage Door: Safe House and Spooky Performances]]> Last night I was at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park for the opening of Keith Josef Adkins' new play, Safe House, the 71st world premiere staged by our Tony Award-winning regional theater. (CityBeat feature story here.)

It's a fascinating piece that's about the little-known circumstances of "free people of color" in 19th-century America — not slaves but not exactly free. They're put into complex and stressful situations, personified here by a pair of very different brothers: Addison is a hardworking, aspiring entrepreneur, dreaming of become a cobbler with his own store, while younger brother Frank is impetuous and chafing at the restrictions imposed on them. The heat gets turned up when runaway slaves through their Northern Kentucky county need shelter and perhaps passage to Liberia, something their Aunt Dorcas has quietly supported. The story is based on Adkins' family history in this region, and it comes to life in this provocative drama. Through Nov. 15. Tickets ($30-$75): 513-421-3888.

UC's College-Conservatory of Music only rarely gives more than one weekend to musical theater productions. This fall's privileged show is the very commercial Legally Blonde (a hit movie with Reese Witherspoon from 2001 that became a Broadway property in 2007). It's a genuinely entertaining show that actually has a meaningful message about living up to potential and not judging people by their exteriors. It also has a ton of dancing, so it's great news that this production is both being staged by veteran CCM choreographer Diane, who I profiled in my Curtain Call column this week. The production is happening at UC's Patricia Corbett Theater through Nov. 2. Tickets ($31-$35): 513-556-4183.

It's fairytale time at the Covedale Center with a production of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods. But proceed with caution: The first act takes more or less traditional stories of Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk and more, and mixes them into one happy stew. But in Act II, well, things aren't so "happily every after" when reality sets in. Big cast, great tunes, lots of humor — but some thoughtfulness, too. Through Nov. 16. Tickets ($21-$24): 513-241-6550.

The chance to see Bruce Cromer's one-man performance in An Iliad at Ensemble Theatre is an absolute must for anyone who's serious about theater. (CityBeat review here.) It's quite astonishing that one man can do so much and hold an audience's attention for 100 minutes in this retelling of the savagery of the Trojan War. It's all the more powerful because it's a condemnation of war across the ages. Don't miss this one. Through Nov. 2, and no chance that it will be extended, so call now for your tickets. Here's a tip, thanks to friendly relations with Know Theatre, just around the corner from ETC: Use the coupon code MOBY20 to get 20 percent off the price of two tickets for any remaining performances. Tickets ($28-$44): 513-421-3555.

With Halloween just a week away, several theaters are offering shows that will make your heart pound. There's creepy ghost in Falcon Theatre's production of The Woman in Black ($17-$19, 513-479-6783), and the characters in Conor McPherson's The Birds are under attack in ways that don't bode to well for human interaction ($22-$36, 513-381-2273). (CityBeat review here.) And while it's not exactly a Halloween story, Moby Dick at Know Theatre has some scary oddballs and a gargantuan villain out to murder everyone, so that qualifies, too. (CityBeat review here.) It's onstage through Nov. 8 ($18; 513-300-5669).

This weekend is last call for I loved, I lost, I Made Spaghetti at the Cincinnati Playhouse. (CityBeat review here.) Actress Antoinette LaVecchia spins some great stories about writer Giulia Melucci's bad taste in men, all the while making an aromatic Italian dinner — antipasti, wine, spaghetti Bolognese (homemade pasta and fresh sauce) — for a few lucky audience members. This is a totally charming show, great for weekend entertainment. Final performance is Sunday. Tickets ($30-$75): 513-2418-3888.

Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
]]>
<![CDATA[Stage Door: An Iliad, Varekai, and Other Items of Note]]> On Wednesday evening I attended one of the most remarkable solo performances I've ever seen: Bruce Cromer starring in An Iliad at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati.  Based on Homer's epic poem about the Trojan War, the poetic but dynamic script calls on one actor to play a dozen or so characters. Cromer does everyone of them (sometimes interacting with one another) with both imagination and detail. But mostly he's "The Poet," trapped by his role to tell this story — and the story of war in general — for nearly three millennia. He lets us see the attraction of glory and the devastation of senseless combat often for trivial reasons (the stealing of one man's wife by another lit the fuse on the Siege of Troy). The play is a condemnation of war and an acknowledgement of its inevitability. But it's also a celebration of theater, and Cromer is an absolute marvel to watch: After 100 minutes (no intermission) he's dripping with sweat from the effort and bowing to a genuine standing ovation. This is a production that no theater fan should miss. Tickets ($28-$44): 513-421-3555

There's a Cirque du Soleil show, Varekai, at the Bank of Kentucky Center at Northern Kentucky University. Like most, it's light on content and high on entertainment: A winged man falls from the rafters into a magical world where he recovers, witnessing the delights of strange creatures — who also happen to be marvelous performers: tumblers, aerial artists, jugglers and acrobats. As always, there's a pair of clowns who have fun with a few audience members. I didn't find Varekai (it's a Gypsy word that means "wherever") quite as breathtaking as some of the Cirque shows I've witnessed, but that's a relative remark, not a judgment on this production. The "Russian Swings" just before the finale feature acrobats hurled high into the air by massive swings, landing in the arms of others or on canvas sails. (Don't try this at home.) Varekai is a great escape and totally family friendly. Final performance is Sunday at 5 p.m. Tickets ($28-$145): 800-745-3000

For a quick taste of Know Theatre's Moby Dick, check out this trailer: http://youtu.be/QMbqos66s0s. There's singing of sea shanties, hoisting of sails and a tremendous battle with the Great White Whale. I'm hoping that this ambitious production gets its sea legs soon: It felt a bit wobbly during the opening week. But Herman Melville's classic American novel has life breathed into it by a cast of eight hardworking actors. Onstage through Nov. 8. Tickets ($18, but performances on Wednesdays are free): 513-300-3669

Other items of note: On Monday evening, Know Theatre hosts the quarterly presentation of TRUEtheatre, real stories told by everyday people; this time around it's True Hair. … The following night at KNow, Cincinnati Fringe favorite Kevin Thornton is back in town to present another of his one-man shows of music and comedy, this one is called Talky Concert Thingy. He's a load of unpredictable talent, always watchable. … Falcon Theatre (they perform at the Monmouth Theatre in Newport) this weekend opens a production of the classic thriller, The Woman in Black. It's a good scare for the Halloween season. Tickets: 513-479-6783 … Children's Theatre of Cincinnati is offering public performances of Disney's Beauty and the Beast JR. at the Taft this weekend (and Saturday, Oct. 25). Tickets ($7-$25): 800-745-3000
]]>
<![CDATA[Stage Door: A Whale, Two Brothers and a Beast]]> Know Theatre sets sail this weekend with tonight's opening of Moby Dick. It's Herman Melville's great American novel stripped down to its bare essentials of men at sea doing battle with a creature that maimed their obsessive captain. It's Know's first main stage show staged by new artistic director Andrew Hungerford, who's teamed with co-director Michael Burnham, retired from CCM but no doubt as inventive as ever in bringing unusual material to audiences. Featuring the haunting music of sea shanties and a stage full of theatricality, it being performed through Nov. 8. Tickets ($20 in advance): 513-300-5669. And here's a tip: Wednesday evening performances are free as part of Know's "Welcome Experiment," intended to bring new audiences to its Over-the-Rhine facility.

UC's College-Conservatory of Music is presenting Willy Russell's powerful British musical Blood Brothers today and tomorrow in the Cohen Family StudioTheater. Set in 1950s Liverpool, it's about a woman with too many children who is talked into giving up one of a pair of newborn fraternal twins. Despite her efforts and those of the unstable woman who wanted a baby, the boys meet and become not just friends but "blood brothers." They don't know their history, they simply feel drawn to one another. That leads to a tragic, perhaps inevitable, confrontation. But there is humor and an energetic Pop Rock score along the way. Hannah Kornfeld is heartbreaking as the conflicted mother; Thomas Knapp and Karl Amundson turn in heart-breaking performances as the ill-fated boys, from age 7 to 22. This weekend only; the final performance is Saturday evening at 8 p.m. Tickets are free but need to be reserved (513-556-4183); call in advance — performances are often sold out.

Perhaps you'd like to take a kid or two to see a show. The Cincinnati Playhouse's "Off the Hill" production, Roses & Thorns, based on "Beauty and the Beast," would be a fine choice. It's a touring production for kids ages 7 and up, and it's making its way to various neighborhoods over the next month or so (through Nov. 2). I attended a preview recently and found it thoroughly enjoyable. It's a sweet retelling of the familiar story whose love and devotion saves her family and breaks a curse on a monstrous beast who's really a handsome prince. The show uses clever props and costumes, slapstick, satire and high camp styles; its four actors are professionals in training, and their work, playing multiple characters and making quick changes, is great fun to watch. This weekend it's onstage at the Lebanon Theatre Company (10 S. Mechanic St., Lebanon) on Sunday at 2 p.m. Check the Playhouse's website for future performances around the Tristate. Tickets in Lebanon are $5: 513-228-0932

If you missed Kevin Crowley's one-woman show Sarge during the Cincinnati Fringe Festival last June, it's getting a reprise this weekend and next (it's onstage tonight through Oct. 20). Christine Dye's performance as the devoted but deluded wife of Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, found guilty of molesting young boys, won the Critics Pick of the Fringe. Dye is remarkable in three monologues that reveal the mind of a woman who cannot accept her husband's true nature. It's being presented in a double bill with another short script by local actor and playwright Crowley, The Monkey's Paw, a dark comedy about a couple struggling with the anxieties of early parenthood. Performances at Clifton Performance Theater, 404 Ludlow Avenue. Tickets ($25): 513-861-7469

I gave Critic's Picks in CityBeat recently to two excellent productions recently, and they remain onstage this weekend. I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti at the Cincinnati Playhouse is a one-woman piece about cooking and relationships (charming actress Antoinette LaVecchia prepares an Italian dinner while describing her bad luck with men). Tickets ($30-$75): 513-421-3888 … The Little Dog Laughed finishes its run this weekend at New Edgecliff Theater at Hoffner Hall (4120 Hamilton, Ave., Northside. It's the story of a gay actor whose agent is trying to keep him from ruining his career by being public about his persuasion. It's surprising how a play from 2007 could present anxieties about something that today is much more accepted, but this production is great fun to watch thanks to four fine actors, especially Kemper Florin as the motor-mouthed, scheming agent. Tickets: ($20-$27): 888-428-7311
]]>
<![CDATA[Stage Door: Spaghetti, Macbeth and More]]> Last night I was at the Cincinnati Playhouse for the opening of I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti, a charming one-woman play based on Giulia Melucci's foodie memoir from 2009. The frame of the show is that it's set in a stylish kitchen where actress Antoinette LaVecchia prepares a meal while sketching out her numerous disconnects in search of love, feeding boyfriends but finding herself starving. Four couples pay a bit more ($35 apiece beyond the ticket price) to sit at tables directly in front of her kitchen where she serves antipasti, salad and spaghetti Bolognese that she prepares as she talks about a series of amusing but unpromising relationships, convincingly painting portraits of her ill-fated choice in men. La Vecchia is so natural in the role (which she originated in 2012 and has played at several regional theaters since then) that you'll feel like you're one of her best friends. Running through Oct. 26, this Shelterhouse production gets a Critic's Pick. Tickets ($30-$75): 513-421-3888

I also thoroughly enjoyed New Edgecliff Theatre's production of The Little Dog Laughed (at Hoffner Hall, 4120 Hamilton Ave., Northside). The four-actor comedy by Douglas Carter Beane is about Diane, an acerbic agent, and Mitch, the actor whose career she's advancing. He's found a boyfriend he really likes (even though boyfriend is a male prostitute with a girlfriend), but she's convinced that this news could ruin his chances … and hers. Kemper Florin is a hoot as the motor-mouthed agent, spouting all sorts of crazy theories about how things should be in monologues that directly address the audience. The entire cast does a fine job, and I gave this one a Critic's Pick. Tickets ($20-$27): 888-428-7311


Area universities have two classics to offer. At UC's College-Conservatory of Music in a brief weekend run (through Sunday) it's Shakespeare's classic tragedy, Macbeth. In an unusual twist, the production features third-year female drama student Laura McCarthy as the power-mad military man who seizes the throne of Scotland. Tickets ($27-$31): 513-556-4183 … South of the Ohio River, Northern Kentucky University presents Euripides' The Bacchae, a play first performed in 405 B.C. The tale of power, revenge, decadence and debauchery takes place in Thebes, where citizens are torn between worship of the god Dionysus and the centrality of reason and humanism. Sunday will be the conclusion of a two-week run of the production. Tickets ($14): 859-572-5464

The musical Dirty Dancing, based on a hit movie from 1987 about young love at a family resort in the Catskills, wraps up two weeks of performance at the Aronoff Center. The touring production, presented by Broadway in Cincinnati through Sunday, features some dazzling video and lots of dancing. The story is pretty predictable, but it's one that people love. "Don't put Baby in the corner." Tickets ($39-$89): 513-621-2787]]>
<![CDATA[Stage Door: Dirty Dancing, Laughing Dogs and More]]> To see some of Cincinnati's finest actors working together in close quarters, check out Clifton Players' production of Kevin Crowley's new play The Riverside, onstage through Saturday at Clifton Performance Theatre (located just west of the Clifton/Ludlow business district at 404 Ludlow). It's 1989 and the denizens of a fictional bar in a very real Mt. Adams are riled up over Pete Rose's battle with the baseball commissioner gambling problems as well as the imminent closing of the family-owner bar where they all hang out. Although a few of the characters are rather caricatured, it's evident that Crowley is a close observer of everyday people. They drink and fight, love and cheat. And they have their passions, feelings that bubble up and over. The theater is a small space with seating for just a few dozen, but that's part of the fun — you feel like you're one of the regulars at the Riverside. Tickets ($25): https://cpt.tixato/com/buy

I caught a performance of Dirty Dancing, a musical based on the iconic 1987 movie about sensual dancing and the intermingling of guests and staff at a posh resort in the Catskills in 1963. This touring show is presented by Broadway in Cincinnati at the Aronoff Center, even though it has yet to land on Broadway. It uses a lot of creative video and projections, a constant reminder that its roots are cinematic. But it has an ensemble of vigorous dancers, especially Jillian Mueller as idealistic Frances "Baby" Houseman, who's eager to grow up, and Samuel Pergande as bad-boy dance instructor Johnny Castle. There's also Jenny Winton, whose dancing is especially watchable as the very sexy Penny Johnson. This is a dance show from start to finish, using familiar Pop tunes from the '60s plus a lot of sambas and rumbas. I realized as the performance  was winding up that the central characters never sang — not once. Mueller and Pergande look great as they recreate the iconic movie roles created by Jennifer Gray and Patrick Swayze, but virtually all the singing is handled by ensemble members Doug Carpenter and Jennlee Shallow — powerful vocalists who handle a number of singing styles, but who especially elevate the temperature with the show's best-known numbers, including "The Time of My Life." Don't go expecting great acting beyond the leads: Most of the rest of the roles range from shallow to silly. But trust me, you'll be surrounded by people who know and love this story, and they're having a good time, waiting until the moment when Johnny shouts, "Don't put Baby in the corner!" Through Oct. 5. Tickets: $39-$89: 513-621-2787

New Edgecliff Theatre has finally found a new home, Hoffner Lodge (4120 Hamilton Ave., Northside), after a season at the Aronoff. NET's first production at the former St. Patrick's church will be Douglas Carter Beane's The Little Dog Laughed, a very funny four-character comedy from 2006 about a Hollywood star, his controlling agent, his boyfriend and the boyfriend's girlfriend. Yes, it's that complicated, and that's the source of much of the humor as the agent tries to keep the lid on the gossip about her star client. Through Oct. 11. Tickets ($20-$27): 888-428-7311

A couple of well-received shows are still running, including Tennessee Williams' classic drama A Streetcar Named Desire at the Covedale Center (through Oct. 5; tickets: 513-241-6550), a stage version of The Great Gatsby at Cincinnati Shakespeare (through Oct. 4; tickets 513-381-2273), and a fast-paced mystery, Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club, at the Cincinnati Playhouse (through Oct. 4; tickets: 513-421-3888). Finally, this weekend is your last chance to see Showbiz Players' staging of the tongue-in-cheek musical Reefer Madness, about the "dangers" of marijuana, at the Carnegie in Covington. Tickets ($19.50-$22.50): 859-957-1940. ]]>
<![CDATA[Stage Door: Riverside, Reefer and Sondheim]]>

There are several good productions onstage around town — check out CityBeat coverage of Hands on a Hardbody (a musical at ETC), The Great Gatsby (a classic American novel adapted for the stage at Cincy Shakes), Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club (a new adventure for the great detective at the Cincinnati Playhouse) and Tennessee Williams' prize-winning A Streetcar Named Desire (at the Covedale) — but if you've seen those, you have other choices for onstage entertainment. Here are three suggestions for shows a little more off the beaten path:

Local actor/director/writer Kevin Crowley has written a play called The Riverside, rooted in Cincinnati (Crowley is a member of a family that's lived locally for generations) and getting a production — he's directing it, too — at Clifton Performance Theatre, just west of the Clifton/Ludlow business district (404 Ludlow). It's set in an imaginary (or rather an imagined) bar called the Riverside, where a bunch of folks in 1989 are following the Pete Rose case about gambling that eventually got him banned from baseball. But there's a lot more happening — like protests in Tiananmen Square and the fall of the Berlin Wall. In CPT's tiny space is filled up with a lot of talent — Michael Shooner, Daniel Britt, Buz Davis, Mike Dennis, Mindy Heithaus, Reggie Willis, Mark Bowen, MaryKate Moran, Gary McGurk, Pete Wood, Cathy Springfield and Paul Morris — playing folks who hang out and argue about what's going on. I haven't caught this one yet, but everyone who has says it's worth seeing. Through Sept. 27. Tickets ($25): https://cpt.tixato/com/buy

Community theater company Showbiz Players is staging the musical Reefer Madness at the Carnegie in Covington. It opens tonight (and runs through Sept. 28). This tongue-in-cheek show was inspired by a very serious film from 1936 designed to inspire fear and loathing when clean-cut kids fall prey to marijuana. The producers "warn" that it contains adult humor, religious parody and drug use — and note that it will go "straight to your head." Should be a lot of fun for those mature enough to get the jokes ... Tickets ($19.50-$22.50): 859-957-1940

Side by Side by Sondheim was the first musical revue created using songs by the guy who wrote the music and lyrics for shows including Company, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Gypsy and A Little Night Music. That was in 1976 in London, but the tunes are just as fresh and vibrant today as they were nearly four decades ago. Middletown Lyric Theatre is presenting this collection of 25 numbers for two weekends (tonight and tomorrow, as well as Sept. 26-27) — using seven singers and two pianists. Tickets ($15): 513-425-7140
]]>
<![CDATA[Stage Door: Sherlock Holmes & More]]>

Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club opened last night at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. It's a new adventure for the Victorian sleuth. How can that be, you might ask, if you're a Sherlock fan — this isn't a familiar title. That's because playwright Jeffrey Hatcher picked up Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's memorable detective, a master of deductive observation, and plugged him into a tale of mystery and intrigue conceived by Robert Louis Stevenson back in 1878. No spoilers here, but I will tell you that the plot of this show requires closely following a complex tale of both personal and political intrigue. Hatcher has set the story in 1914, on the brink of the first World War, and the state of international relations in Europe is woven into the tale. But there's nothing dry about this story, and Steven Hauck's performance as Sherlock is very satisfying: He brings a quirky physicality as well as a sharp wit to the character that makes him very engaging. Fans of Sherlock will not be disappointed by this show. Through Oct. 4. Tickets ($30-$85): 513-421-3888.

 

I attended the opening of The Great Gatsby at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company last week. In my review, I said, "the production gets the story and the era right," and I added that CSC's Justin McCombs "perfectly embodies" Nick Carraway, the honest narrator of this Jazz Age tale of nouveau riche Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan, the one-time debutante who obsesses him. There's lots to like about this production, which captures the essence of lavish parties and the fast life of the Roaring Twenties. Cincy Shakes is committed to bringing classic literary works to the stage, and this production is a good example of how they get it done. Simon Levy's script hews close to F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1924 novel, and the company's actors bring life to the characters. Through Oct. 4. Tickets ($22-$36): 513-381-2273.

 

Everyone I've talked to about Hands on a Hardbody at Ensemble Theatre has been enthusiastic about the show that brings to life a contest to win a Nissan pickup truck by keeping one hand on it the longest. It's a true story (it was a 1997 documentary) and these feel like real people, down on their luck but dreaming what a difference that winning could make. The music is by Trey Anastasio (of Phish) and Amanda Green, and the script was written by Pulitzer Prize winner Doug Wright. ETC has staged memorable productions of his play I Am My Own Wife and his musical, Grey Gardens. But the real attraction is an excellent cast who make you believe in these people, struggling to stay away and outlast one another under the brutal sun beating down on the Texas parking lot of a Nissan dealership. It's a fine entertainment. Through Sept. 21. Tickets ($28-$44): 513-421-3555.

 

Just opened at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts is a production of Tennessee Williams's great American play, A Streetcar Named Desire. It's about a woman who's down on her luck but unwilling to admit it. When genteel Blanche DuBois moves with her pragmatic sister and her brutal, blue-collar husband, Stanley Kowalski, is a rude awakening that goes downhill fast. Through Oct. 5. Tickets ($-$): 513-241-6550.

 

If you've become a fan of shows in the intimate Clifton Performance Theatre, you might want to check out The Riverside, a play written and directed by local theater artist Kevin Crowley. It's a story set in a Cincinnati bar in 1989 as locals follow the saga of Pete Rose's demise in baseball, the fall of the Berlin Wall and Tiananmen Square. But the bar itself is changing, too, impacting the lives of the family that owns it as well as its patrons.

Through Sept. 27. Tickets ($25): https://cpt.tixato.com/buy/.

]]>
<![CDATA[Stage Door: 'Tis the Season for Theater]]>

If you'd like to go to the theater every evening for the next four days, there are plenty of options for you to consider as the 2014-2015 season is getting underway on stages all over town. Here are some good choices to consider:

Hands on a Hardbody opened on Wednesday at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, and CityBeat reviewer Stacy Sims called it "effervescent" and "offbeat" in her review, giving it a Critic's Pick. I was there, too, and couldn't agree more about the infectious, heartfelt joy coming from the big cast of 15. The show is based on a true story (the subject of a 1997 documentary) about people in a downtrodden Texas town who enter a contest to win a Nissan pickup truck by outlasting others who vow to keep one hand on the vehicle. The cherry-red truck is as much a character as any of the contestants, the physical embodiment of their hopes and dreams — which take the form of songs by Trey Anastasio (of Phish) and Amanda Green. The script by Pulitzer Prize winner Doug Wright treats these diverse, down-on-their-luck folks with dignity, and the performers (who often perform with the truck as their dance partner) bring every one of them to life in vivid ways. This one is a must-see, a great way to kick-off ETC's theater season. Through Sept. 21. Tickets ($28-$44): 513-421-3555

The Great Gatsby kicks off Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's season tonight. You didn't know Shakespeare wrote it? Well, he didn't. This theater company focuses on the Bard, to be sure, but it frequently branches out to present stage versions of other classics, in this case an adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 classic about a mysterious nouveau-riche millionaire who's obsessed with a one-time debutante. Set in the Jazz Age and inspired by lavish parties the high-flying Fitzgerald attended on the prosperous North Shore of Long Island, Gatsby is a story about the ups and downs of the American Dream. Simon Levy's script is the only one authorized by Fitzgerald's estate, and Cincy Shakes is presenting its regional premiere. (And here's a tip: on opening nights at 6 p.m., the theater offers ticket holders a complimentary catered meal, beer and wine.) Through Oct. 4. Tickets ($22-$36): 513-381-2273

Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club opens next Thursday at the Cincinnati Playhouse, but previews begin for the season opener this Saturday (through Wednesday). Tickets for these performances are discounted, and you'll be seeing a show that's pretty much ready to go. Jeffrey Hatcher's script should be lots of fun for fans of the Victorian sleuth. He's taken the character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and dropped him into a tale conceived by another inventive writer, Robert Louis Stevenson, for a mash-up that will keep even Baker Street regulars guessing. Tickets: 513-421-3888

Serials! at Know Theatre, which has presented episodes of six Fringe-like shows at two-week intervals all summer long, culminates on Monday evening at 8 p.m. with finales of each tale. Who will win the ultimate fist fight with the Devil in Flesh Descending? How long can Luke really stay in his bedroom during The Funeral? Will we ever find out what's really happening in Mars vs. The Atom? These questions and more will be answered on Monday. Even if you've missed a few episodes, don't worry: Each 15-minute performance begins with a brief recap of the story so far. Zany and fun for anyone who's enjoyed the annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival. Tickets ($15): 513-300-5669

Finally, a tip for an eye-opening theater experience next weekend: On Sunday, Sept. 14, the Cincinnati area's first-ever South Asian Theater Festival happens in an all-day event at the Anderson Theater (7850 Five Mile Rd.). Five plays are scheduled to be presented, as well as panel discussions, seven hours of programming in all. The day begins at 12:30 p.m. and is set to conclude around 8 p.m. A limited number of tickets remain ($19-$29): SATFCincy.org

]]>
<![CDATA[Stage Door: Busy August]]>

Not too many years ago August was a very quiet month on local stages. No longer. You have plenty of good choices this weekend.

Stacy Sims reviewed Know Theatre's production of Harry & the Thief, which opened last week. She called it "a wonderfully ridiculous, history-twisting, large cast mash-up of a play," and that's just the beginning." Sigrid Gilmer's play is a riot of modern perspectives and Civil War values, a mingling of contemporary attitudes with opinions and behaviors long since set aside — but not so far off that we can't recognize them as prejudice, misogyny and racism. But Gilmer's weaves a lot of humor and satire around Harriet Tubman (a real woman who led many people out of slavery into freedom in the 1850s and 1860s). The play has been staged by guest director Holly Derr to spotlight a zany streak of humor that the playwright has generously salted across her script from start to finish. This feels a lot like a Fringe festival show, and that makes sense, since Know is the annual producer of the Cincy Fringe, and Harry & the Thief kicks off its 2014-2015 season.

As Stacy noted, "this bodes well" for the theater now being managed artistically by Andrew Hungerford. I watched a performance earlier this week with a full house resulting from Know's "Welcome Project," throwing its doors open to anyone who wants to come on several Wednesday evenings (hoping that a few of them will pay something, but requiring nothing more than showing up). I suspect many of those in attendance will be recommending this production to friends. Through Aug. 30. Tickets ($20 most of the time, although you can get rush tickets for remaining seats 10 minutes before curtain time, and free next Wednesday, Aug. 20): 513-300-5669.

Speaking of the Fringe, Know presents occasional encores from past festivals. On Sunday evening at 8 p.m. (one night only) you can catch one of the best acts I've ever enjoyed in the Cincy Fringe: David Gaines returns with 7(x1) Samurai, retelling Kurasawa's classic 1954 film in a one-man show that was a hit of the 2009 festival. It's true to the source about victimized peasants, marauding bandits and samurai warriors, astonishing to watch and one hell of a performance. Tickets ($15): 513-300-5669.

There's another astonishing, virtuoso work of theater onstage, this one south of the Ohio River at Covington's Carnegie Theatre. It's Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. I plan to see it on Friday evening (it opened last week), but people are already saying that Justin Glaser brings a great voice to the maniacal killer and Helen Raymond-Goers sings the role of the meat-pie-baking Mrs. Lovett with both wit and polish. This is one of the greatest musicals of the late 20th century, and all indicators are that this is a production worth seeing. Through Aug. 23. Tickets ($21-$28): 859-857-1940.

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company will double your choices this weekend. At its Race Street theater you'll find the final performances of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), a comic rendering — or at least passing references to — all 38 of the Bard's plays, his sonnets and some amusingly presented "facts" about his life. It's a romp from start to finish, featuring three of Cincy Shakes' best actors having a hell of a good time onstage, Jeremy Dubin, Justin McCombs and Nicholas Rose. Tickets ($22-$31): 513-381-2273.

If you want something a tad closer to the original, find one of CSC's free touring productions at an area park: Macbeth on Friday night (7 p.m.) at Keehner Park in West Chester and Saturday evening (7 p.m.) at Cottell Park in Mason or A Midsummer Night's Dream on Sunday evening (6 p.m.) at Washington Park. These are somewhat reduced productions (done in two hours) using just six actors: That makes them all the more exciting to watch — and to be dazzled by actors who can convincingly play multiple roles.
]]>
<![CDATA[Stage Door: Free Shakespeare!]]>

The big show this weekend will be Lumenocity in Washington Park. If you were lucky enough to get a ticket, you'll be seeing some great images on Music Hall's facade with accompaniment by the Cincinnati Symphony. If you weren't so lucky, you can still enjoy the show via radio (WGUC), television, big screens (at Fountain Square and Riverbend, for free) or via live streaming at lumenocity2014.com.

If you want to check out a free show at another park, how about free performances of A Midsummer Night's Dream? Cincinnati Shakespeare kicks off its Shakespeare in the Park tour this weekend. They'll be at Seasongood Pavilion at Eden Park on Friday evening, at Harry Whiting Brown Lawn in Glendale on Saturday and the Community Park Pavilion at the Milford Historical Society in Milford on Sunday. Performances generally begin around 7 p.m. Show up earlier to get a good seat and enjoy six of Cincy Shakes actors playing a bunch of characters in a very funny comedy.

On the West Side, it's the final weekend for Footloose The Musical, presented as the 33rd annual summer show by Cincinnati Young People's Theatre at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts. This is a program that gives teens from across Greater Cincinnati a chance to work onstage and backstage. During the past three decades more than 2,300 kids have participated. The show, based on a popular movie from 1984, is about a teenager and his mother who move from Chicago to a small farming town where dancing is frowned upon by the local preacher. But his rebellious daughter shakes things up and love wins out. It's a fine show for teens. Tickets ($12-$16): 513-241-6550.

If you're willing to make the drive to Dayton, you have the opportunity to check out workshops of new musical theater material at the Human Race Theatre Company. Molly Sweeney is about a young woman whose blindness becomes an obstacle for her new husband to overcome, even though she has a different perspective. (It's happening Friday night at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m.) The second work is a songwriter showcase (Saturday at 8 p.m.) by a dozen creators who are working on new shows. It's being hosted by Dayton native Susan Blackwell, creator of the clever [title of show]. Advance tickets ($15): 888-228-3630 – or $20 at the door at the Loft Theatre (126 N. Main St., Dayton).
]]>
<![CDATA[Stage Door: Shakin' It]]>

If you paid attention to the local theater season just concluded, you will recall that Cincinnati Shakespeare Company completed a herculean task: During its 20-year existence, the classic theater has produced all 38 of Shakespeare's plays. This summer three of Cincy Shakes' best actors are repeating the feat — sort of — with a production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), opening tonight. Jeremy Dubin, Justin McCombs and Nicholas Rose will be careening through the comedies, histories and tragedies digging props, wigs and ridiculous costumes out of a trunk. This is a perfect summer laugh-fest, and it's been a predictable hit in past seasons for Cincy Shakes, so tickets are sure to sell fast. Through Aug. 11. Tickets ($22-$35): 513-381-2273.

Summertime musicals are another great tradition, and Cincinnati Young People's Theatre has been presenting them with big casts of high school students for three decades. In fact, the just-opened production of Footloose at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts is the 33rd summer show. It's the stage version of the popular 1984 movie musical, and it's a perfect vehicle for youthful energy focused on a group of high school kids — despite a repressive conservative atmosphere, kids in a small farming town just want to dance and have fun. With Tim Perrino at the helm, CYPT has steered more than 2,300 teens through entertaining shows, and this one will be another notch in his director's belt, providing experience for performers and techies alike. Through Aug. 3, you'll be able to come out and "Hear It for the Boy"! Tickets ($12-$16): 513-241-6559.

I wrote a CityBeat column a week ago about John Leo Muething, an ambitious young theater artistic who's staging a couple of shows this summer at the Art Academy's auditorium on Jackson Street in Over-the-Rhine. His second of three shows, repertory theatre, will be produced this weekend (Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.). It's about a timid young playwright who approaches a veteran director about his new play. With Shakespeare's Hamlet echoing throughout, things get wilder and wilder. This show was a hit at the Edinburgh Fringe for two years, and its original production is still touring in England; this is its U.S. premiere. Tickets ($10) at the door.

The Commonwealth Theatre Company's Route 66 winds up its run at Northern Kentucky University this weekend on Sunday. It's the tale of a band headed for the West Coast in the 1960s stopping at juke joints, diners, cheap motels and curio shops along one of America's legendary highways. Wes Carman, Roderick Justice, Dain Alan Paige and Joshua Steele play The Chicago Avenue Band. Dinner and the show ($30): 859-572-5464.

If Monday evening arrives and you're still yearning for something entertaining onstage, you can't go wrong with the next quarterly installment of TrueTheatre. This time around it's trueBLOOD, with the warning that if you cringe easily, this might not be the show for you. Whether it's stories that make your blood run cold — or just run — you can be sure that there will be first-person tales of memorable experiences. Great fun with a lively audience. One night only, Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. at Know Theatre. Tickets ($15, only a few left): 513-300-5669.

]]>
<![CDATA[Stage Door: Kentucky's the Place for Theater this Weekend]]>

The Commonwealth Theatre Company's production of Route 66 continues its dinner-theater run at Northern Kentucky University. It's about a band traveling from Chicago to the West Coast in the 1960s along one of America's most legendary highways. Along the way, they meet a lot of colorful characters and see a lot of America. Wes Carman, Roderick Justice, Dain Alan Paige and Joshua Steele make up "The Chicago Avenue Band," who make stops at juke joints, diners, cheap motels and curio shops in this coming of age story. Through July 27. Dinner and the show ($30): 859-572-5464.

Last Saturday evening I ended up at Highlands High School in Fort Thomas to see teacher Jason Burgess's production of The Addams Family featuring a herd of high school kids from all over Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. It's a perfect musical for the program Burgess has created (C.A.S.T, the Commonwealth Artists Summer Theatre), bringing together a ton of students who are in love with theater. Surrounding the central characters in The Addams Family, nicely portrayed by Aaron Schilling as Gomez, Lindsey Gwen Franxman as Morticia and Harrison Swayne as Uncle Fester, are 18 ghostly "ancestors." Each one is costumed (designer Laura Martin) from various periods with a clearly evident character; together they sing and dance as a coherent company. (Amy Burgess served as the production's choreographer, and Alex Gartner is the music director — in creepy makeup.) Through Sunday at 2 p.m. General admission ($10) at the door or online via www.showtix4u.com.

Monday evening at 8 p.m. brings the third installment of Serials! at Know Theatre (1120 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine). It's a wacky summer-long set of a half-dozen episodic plays by local playwrights. So far we have seen meat falling from the sky, an NSA spook monitoring a contentious couple, a kid refusing to go to a funeral, a philosophical fetus, a suicidal pair competing over techniques and more. Each 10-15 minute episode is preceded by a clever recap to catch you up, even if it's your first time there. Rest assured there are cliffhangers — not to mention Know's well-stocked Underground Bar. Admission is $15. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

]]>
<![CDATA[Stage Door: Opera, Dinner Theater and More]]>

I saw Cincinnati Opera's production of Silent Night on Thursday evening. It's the regional premiere of a work that won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for music, and our local opera is doing a bang-up job of presenting it. And "bang-up" is the operative term: This opera is set during some of the darkest days of World War I, and the opening segment of the production reproduces the violent and deadly combat between troops from England (actually a regiment from Scotland), France and Germany. You're not likely to see a more gripping onstage representation of battle than what's happening at Music Hall. Before Thursday's performance I listened to composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell talk about how to "musicalize" such a scene: Their research included studying the opening sequence of the Saving Private Ryan, the graphic, Academy Award-winning film of the D-Day invasion during World War II. It's a powerfully real scene, a perfect opening to the moving tale of soldiers pitted as enemies who found common ground in one another's humanity on Christmas Eve 1914. You can get good seats for the concluding performance on Saturday evening (7:30 p.m.) for $30-$45 by calling the Opera's box office: 513-241-2742.

Area high school students are the talent in onstage for Commonwealth Artists Summer Theatre (C.A.S.T.) at Highlands High School (2400 Memorial Pkwy., Fort Thomas). Starting tonight is a two-week run (July 11-20) of The Addams Family, a Broadway musical based on cartoonist Charles Addams' bizarre and beloved family of characters. The group is headed up by Fort Thomas theater instructor Jason Burgess, who has assembled theater kids from the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky who are eager to develop their skills in performance and production. Tickets: $10 (http://www.showtix4u.com) or at the door.

The Tony Award-winning musical next to normal, about a woman with bipolar disorder, gets not one but two productions by Cincinnati-area community theaters: Sunset Players on the West Side and Paradise Players for East Side siders. You can choose between them tonight. The venerable Sunset Players, which presents shows at the Dunham Arts Center (in the Dunham Recreation Complex, 4320 Guerley Rd., Price Hill), has performances through July 26, mostly at 8 p.m. Tickets ($14-$16): 513-588-4988. Meanwhile, Paradise Players, a newish group offering summer productions at McNicholas High School's Jeanne Spurlock Theatre (6536 Beechmont Ave.), is presenting its rendition of the show this weekend only, tonight at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $15 (http://mcnhs.seatyourself.biz).

Tickets tend to be a bit harder to come by at Northern Kentucky University for a dinner-theater production by Commonwealth Theatre Company of Route 66. It's about a band traveling from Chicago to the West Coast in the 1960s along one of America's most legendary highways. Along the way, they meet a lot of colorful characters and see a lot of America. The production features four solid local performers: Wes Carman, Roderick Justice, Dain Alan Paige and Joshua Steele are likely to make this a very entertaining evening. Through July 27. Dinner and the show ($30): 859-572-5464.

]]>
<![CDATA[Stage Door: Cincinnati Stages Are Waking up This Week ]]>

Cincinnati stages were pretty quiet over the Independence Day weekend, but this week they start waking up and getting ready for more. Tonight at 8 p.m. is the second installment of Serials! at Know Theatre. You can see six fresh, 10-minute episodes of brand-new plays by local playwrights — Trey Tatum, Chris Wesselman, Jon Kovach, Ben Dudley, Michael Hall and the team of Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin — and featuring lots of Cincinnati-area actors. New artistic director Andrew Hungerford calls it a "theater party" offering cold beer, air-conditioning and world-premiere stories in Know's Underground bar (1120 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine). Even if you missed the "pilots" on June 23, you'll get caught up with a recap before each episode. I had a blast watching these tantalizing tidbits two weeks ago, and I suspect tickets will become harder to get as the summer progresses. (Subsequent performances on July 21, Aug. 11 and 25 and Sept. 8.) Tickets ($15): 513-300-5669.


Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati is assembling a cast for its season opener, Hands on a Hardbody (Sept. 3-21), a recent Tony-nominated musical about 10 people vying to win a truck by outlasting their competitors and keeping their hands touching the vehicle — which will be onstage at the Over-the-Rhine theater (1127 Vine St.). ETC is seeking actors, singers and dancers for the show with an open audition on Wednesday this week (July 9, 5-8 p.m.). All are welcome, but an appointment is required. (Contact bholmes@ensemblecincinnati.com) Ensemble Theatre is an AEA Theatre. Union and non-union actors are encouraged to apply. Rehearsals begin August 11. ETC is seeking a diverse cast, and all ethnicities are encouraged to apply, especially African-American men and Hispanic males and females.

ETC had a big hit on its hands three years ago with the Tony Award-winning musical next to normal about a woman with bipolar disorder. In fact it was such a draw that they revived it in the summer of 2012. Although the Rock musical is a challenging work, this week features not one but two productions by Cincinnati-area community theaters: Sunset Players on the West Side and Paradise Players on the East Side. Both productions open Friday evening. The venerable Sunset Players, which presents shows at the Dunham Arts Center (in the Dunham Recreation Complex, 4320 Guerley Rd., Price Hill), has performances through July 26, mostly at 8 p.m. (July 20 is a 2 p.m. matinee.) Tickets ($14-$16): 513-588-4988. Meanwhile, Paradise Players, a newish group offering summer productions at McNicholas High School's Jeanne Spurlock Theatre (6536 Beechmont Ave.), will offer the show just this week, July 10-11 (7:30 p.m.) and July 12 (2:30 and 7:30 p.m.). Tickets: $15 (http://mcnhs.seatyourself.biz

Area high schoolers now have Commonwealth Artists Summer Theatre (C.A.S.T.) as a summer outlet for theatrical opportunities at Highlands High School (2400 Memorial Pkwy., Fort Thomas). Starting Friday is a two-week run (July 11-20) of The Addams Family, a Broadway musical based on the bizarre and beloved family of characters created by cartoonist Charles Addams. C.A.S.T., headed by Fort Thomas Independent Schools' theater instructor Jason Burgess, enables kids from the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky to develop their skills in performance and production beyond their school year and beyond their school population. Tickets: $10 (http://www.showtix4u.com) or at the door.
]]>
<![CDATA[Stage Door: Options Abound]]>

There's a great array of theater this weekend, no matter what you like. That's a good thing, because local theater, like baseball, takes a kind of midsummer break (no All-Star Game onstage anywhere, however). So get out and see something this weekend, then enjoy the fireworks and picnics next. Here are some suggestions:

Traditionally entertaining shows can be found at two professional theaters. At Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, it's the closing weekend for Private Lives, a very witty classic comedy about marriage by Nöel Coward. (CityBeat review here.) Two couples are honeymooning in the south of France, in adjacent hotel rooms. Things go awry when one husband and the other wife cross paths by chance. They were once married to one another, and the spark quickly rekindles, despite the fact that they had a very volatile chemistry. It's a great piece for four comic actors, and Cincy Shakes has a great cast to handle it. Staged by Ensemble Theatre's D. Lynn Meyers. Tickets ($22-$31): 513-381-2273.

A different kind of couple is showcased at Covedale Center, where Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys is in its final weekend. Two guys who were comic partners in the days of vaudeville — and who grew very tired of one another — are brought together for a TV special about the "good old days." They don't much want to do it, but they're coaxed, and the results of their bickering and nastiness makes for a lot of laughter. Tickets ($21-$24): 513-241-6550.

A new theater company, Stone on a Walk, has its inaugural production this weekend, a low-budget performance of Cain by Lord Byron at the Art Academy's lecture hall, a venue familiar to Fringe Festival mavens. Yes, the playwright is that Romantic poet George Gordon you might recall from lit classes. He also wrote plays, and this one from 1821 focuses on Adam and Eve's first son, resentful that his parents' transgressions have forced them out of Eden and made death a real possibility. He spars with Lucifer, still hanging around to make trouble, and is at odds with his pious brother Abel, as well as his wife Adah. Things don't go well, as you might recall — Cain becomes the first murderer. John Leo Muething has put together a three-show season for his new theater venture, Stone on a Walk, with a one-weekend performance of each work (more to follow in July and August). This one features three actresses: Caitlyn Maurmeier is Cain; Hannah Rahe is Adah, Cain's dutiful wife; and Aiden Sims plays Lucifer and Abel. The casting of females in male roles is unusual, and the doubling of Sims as villain and victim might cause a bit of confusion (although she plays Lucifer with sinister hissing vigor, while Abel is the picture of sincerity). The 70-minute performance is done with no stage lighting or scenery; the final section, with actors on the floor, is hard to see unless you're in the front row or two. Cain is a lot of talking, poetry and high emotions, but Maurmeier powerfully renders Cain's despair, and Sims is very watchable as Lucifer. Tickets ($10) at the door; the Art Academy is at 1212 Jackson Street in Over-the-Rhine.

How about a showcase of excerpts from Cincinnati's community theaters? Friday evening and all day Saturday that's what's happening at Parrish Auditorium at Miami University's Hamilton campus (1601 University Blvd., Hamilton). Four 30-minute selections tonight include A Midsummer Night's Dream and Les Misérables, and eight more tomorrow morning and afternoon (GodspellSteel MagnoliasNunsense and Tommy are among them). Each performance will be assessed and a few will be selected for a statewide competition in early September. Cincinnati has a lot of excellent community theater, and this is your opportunity to see some of the best shows that have been offered during the 2013-2014 season. Ticket information: http://bit.ly/1lkw098.

And in the off-week between Cincinnati Opera's opening production of Carmen and the upcoming staging of Silent Night, opera seekers might want to check out two works presented by the North American New Opera Workshop (they shorthand that name as "NANOWorks") at Below Zero's Cabaret Room (1122 Walnut St., Over-the-Rhine). It's the midwest premiere of Marie Incontrera's At the Other Side of the Earth, a riot girl opera followed by Eric Knechtges's Last Call (Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m.,Sunday at 2 p.m.). Incontrera's piece combines classical performance with punk sensibilities; the piece by Knechtges (who is head of the musical composition program at Northern Kentucky University) is loosely based on the Cincinnati gay bar scene and includes at "techno/house aria" and a high-energy drag performance. This is definitely not your grandmother's opera. Tickets: $20 at the door. 
]]>
<![CDATA[Stage Door: Keep the Groove Going]]>

Probably the most entertaining thing onstage right now is Private Lives at Cincinnati Shakespeare. It's been selling so well that 2 p.m. matinee performances have been added this Saturday and June 28. (It closes on June 29.) It's the story of honeymoons going bad when a feisty divorced couple decide to reunite rather than stick with their new spouses — when they find themselves coincidentally in adjacent hotel rooms in Southern France. (CityBeat review here.) Cleverly staged by Ensemble Theatre's Lynn Meyers, using four of Cincy Shakes best actors. Of course it's all improbable and overdone, but that's a Noël Coward play for you — witty, silly and lots of fun. Tickets ($22-$31): 513-381-2273.

You'll find laughs elsewhere with the Covedale Center's just-opened production of The Sunshine Boys by Neil Simon, a master of comedy. It's about a pair of vaudeville partners who spent 40 years working together and ended up not speaking. But they're being coaxed to come together to re-stage one of their old routines for a TV special. Rehearsals don't go well and the actual live broadcast spirals down from there. Simon is a master of one-liners, and this show has a million of them. Tickets ($21-$24): 513-241-6550.

If Monday leaves you still looking for something onstage, Know Theatre is ready to open its doors for something entertaining: Serials! All summer long at two-week intervals (starting Monday) there will be 15-minute episodes of plays by local writers. This week you'll get to see pilots of Mars vs. The Atom by Trey Tatum, Flesh Descending by Chris Wesselman, The Funeral by Jon Kovach, The Listener by Mike Hall and Fetus and the God by Ben Dudley. These stories are open-ended and audience response will be a factor in where they go. If some of those names sound familiar, it's because most of them are veterans of the Cincy Fringe. If you had a good time there earlier this month, here's a way to keep your groove going. Tickets ($15): 513-300-5669.]]>
<![CDATA[Stage Door: Wrapping up Fringe]]>

Just two more days of the Cincinnati Fringe Festival, so here are a few recommendations for great shows you can still catch. (Look for reviews of these performances on CityBeat's Fringe page here.) Many Fringe performances are sold-out, so check in advance to be sure seats are still available: cincyfringe.com.

I was very impressed by Christine Dye's moving performance in Kevin Crowley's one-woman show, Sarge, about a woman whose husband is accused of child molestation. It's final offering is tonight at 7 p.m. Four Humors' An Unauthorized Autobiography of Benny Hill epitomizes the off-kilter nature of the Fringe, a piece that's funny and poignant. Last chance to see it is Saturday at 8:45 p.m. If you like storytelling, you can catch two of those on Saturday evening: Mike Fotis's Fotis Canyon (7 p.m.) and Paul Strickland's Papa Squat's Store of Sorts (9 p.m.) You might also want to check out the intern showcase at Ensemble Theatre, which just opened on Thursday evening; performances Friday (7:45 p.m.) and Saturday (1 and 7 p.m.). It includes some fine acting in some unusual scripts. True Theatre is offers another Fringe iteration featuring its own brand of revelatory truth-telling, featuring several Fringe artists providing back stories about their careers and experiences. That's at 9 p.m. tonight at Coffee Emporium. 

If your taste is for more traditional — but equally entertaining — theater, head to Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's production of Noël Coward's Private Lives, a witty comedy classic from 1930. A formerly married couple find themselves on honeymoons with new spouses, but in close proximity to one another. Trouble ensues. Four of Cincy Shakes best actors — Kelly Mengelkoch, Jeremy Dubin, Sara Clark and Brent Vimtrup — constitute the cast. It opens tonight and continues through June 29. Tickets ($22-$31): 513-381-2273, x1.

Finally, whether or not you're a fan of garage sales, you might be interested in what's happening on Saturday morning, 8 a.m. to noon, at the Cincinnati Playhouse's Scenery Shop (2827 Gilbert Ave., Walnut Hills, across from Thomson-MacConnell Cadillac): It's the regional theater's annual sale of props, furniture, dresses and more. If you're a regular at the Playhouse, you might recognize items from productions of A Delicate Ship, The Trip to Bountiful, Thunder Knocking on the Door, As You Like It and more. You'll have your choice of lots of miscellaneous items like china and glassware, dining chairs, tables and desks, area rugs, a bathtub and even a "concrete cherub planter." There's also a collection of 20th-century "day dresses," along with some formal gowns and fabric yardage. Prices are cheap; payment must be by cash or check. All items are sold "as is." 
]]>
<![CDATA[Stage Door: Full Speed Fringe]]> If you haven't found a couple of 2014 Cincinnati Fringe show that you're dying to see this weekend, you need to go to CityBeat's Fringe hub for some recommendations — including reviews of early performances of all 30-plus shows. But if you're still coming up short, there are more choices from area theaters. 

If it's fun you're seeking, you might want to stop by the Carnegie in Covington, where Showbiz Players is presenting Spamalot. It opens tonight and runs through June 8. You probably know that this very amusing musical (it won three 2005 Tony Awards, including best musical) is "lovingly ripped off" from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. If you can repeat lines from that 1975 cult hit, then this is surely the show for you. Tickets ($21.50-$24.50): 859-957-1940

Although it's not part of the Fringe, Marc Bamuthi Joseph's red, black & GREEN: a blues surely could be. The hybrid performance work leads audiences through four seasons in four cities: summer in Chicago, fall in Houston, winter in Harlem and spring in Oakland. Memories, hallucinations, dreams and lamentations are set in shotgun houses and subway cars, on park benches and in father-son conversations. I haven't seen it, but people I know have raved about the power of the work, which ranges from hilarious to poignantly sad. Joseph is a spoken-word poet, and his work is meant to be a conversation starter about sustainability and community building. It's being presented on Friday and Saturday evening by the Contemporary Arts Center at the Aronoff's Jarson-Kaplan Theater. Tickets ($18 for CAC members, $23 for everyone else): 513-621-2787

This is the final weekend for The North Pool at the Cincinnati Playhouse. (CityBeat review here.) Rajiv Joseph's anxiety-filled drama is a sparring match between a hard-nosed vice principal who thinks he knows something and a student, the son of Middle Eastern immigrants, who has things he wants to keep to himself — but it's not what the school official thinks. In fact, they both have secrets that are slowly, painfully revealed. Great script, great actors. This one is definitely worth catching. Tickets ($25 for students; $30-$75 for others): 513-421-3888

]]>
<![CDATA[Stage Door: Fringe and More]]>

The really big show this weekend happens tonight when the The Cappies of Greater Cincinnati present their eighth annual awards for high school theater productions and performers. Our local program is one of the most established, right up there with programs in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and beyond. Our local awards are presented at the Aronoff Center's Procter & Gamble Hall. In addition to the recognition of high school student performers, the evening offers excerpts from a dozen or so schools plus ensemble numbers featuring kids from all over the region — more than 20 schools participate in the program. An especially exciting aspect (at least from my point of view as a critic) is the fact that an element of the Cappies involves students attending one another's performances and writing about them. Tonight will open with a recognition of the outstanding boy and girl critics, and wrap up by citing the top team of high school critics. I'll be onstage at the Aronoff to present that award, as well as something new: An award for the "top critique" by a student writer. I had the privilege of choosing the winner, which will be posted on CityBeat's arts blog after the award ceremony. And to show how profoundly CityBeat is committed to cultivating arts coverage, we're inviting that winner to cover a high school Fringe Next production in the Cincinnati Fringe Festival, which kicks off next week. No award for me, but I'm honored to be asked to hand out this recognition to the next generation of theater writers!

Speaking of the Cincinnati Fringe Festival, I should remind you that it kicks off with a special party hosted by CityBeat on Tuesday. Performances begin on Wednesday evening (continuing through June 7). You can read my overview of the Fringe here touching on the many aspects of creativity, talent, emotion and flat-out fun that will be happening at venues throughout Over-the-Rhine and the northern edge of Downtown Cincinnati. For more information: www.cincyfringe.com.

It's Memorial Day weekend, which is sort of the end of the local theater season, but there's still plenty to see. Size Matters, Ray McAnally's entertaining one-man show about his career as a "hefty" actor gets its final performance on Sunday (CityBeat review here; box office: 513-421-3555), and the Cincinnati Playhouse's taut drama The North Pool is still available on its Shelterhouse Stage (CityBeat review here; box office: 513-421-3888).

One last tidbit: After many years of producing shows aboard the Showboat Majestic, Cincinnati Landmark Productions has pulled into port to stage its summer productions on dry land. They just opened a production of Jerry Herman's classic musical Hello, Dolly!, the kind of show that people have flocked to see on the 'Boat for decades. The Covedale Center for the Performing Arts is an interim stop: By next summer, CLP intends to steam into its new facility, The Warsaw Federal Incline Theater. If that name is unfamiliar, it's because it's just been announced. The savings and loan has been a West Side institution since 1893, and it's lending its venerable moniker to the brand-new 220-seat performing arts center, slated to break ground this summer. The fundraising effort seeking $5.6 million for the project is nearing completion. In the meantime, catch Hello, Dolly! between now and June 1. Tickets: 513-241-6550.
]]>
<![CDATA[Stage Door: Cat-and-Mouse Games at the Playhouse]]>

You really can't go wrong with a show at the Cincinnati Playhouse this weekend. I gave both productions Critic's Picks. The North Pool, on the Shelterhouse stage through June 1, is a taut dialogue between a suspicious high school vice principal and a wary student of Middle Eastern descent. (CityBeat review here.) It takes a while (the show is about 90 minutes, played in real time) to decide who's the good guy and who's the bad guy, and you'll be turned around several times in the process. Excellent acting and a fine script by Ohio native (and Miami University grad) Rajiv Joseph makes this an excellent theatrical experience. On the Playhouse's Marx Stage, it's the final weekend for another kind of cat-and-mouse game. Venus in Fur is all about sexual tension, between an imperious playwright/director and the woman who's auditioning for a role in a play he's adapted from an erotic novel. (CityBeat review here.) David Ives' witty and allusive script (it's literary and mythical in some most amusing ways) is being produced at theaters from coast-to-coast, but I can't imagine there's a finer production than this one anywhere. Tickets: ($30-$75) 513-421-3888.

At Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, you still have two weeks to catch a rare production of The Two Noble Kinsmen. The play is rarely staged (perhaps with good reason: it's not one of Shakespeare's best), but Cincy Shakes' rendition is noteworthy because it's the final work to complete their endeavor of staging all 38 of the Bard's works. (More on that feat here; CityBeat review of The Two Noble Kinsmen here.) It's a feat accomplished by just a handful of theaters worldwide, and it's your chance to check this one off your bucket list. Through May 25. Tickets ($22-$35): 513-381-2273.

Falcon theater, which produces shows in the tiny Monmouth Theater in Newport, Ky., opens Bat Boy the Musical tonight. It's a show that was lifted from the headlines of the Weekly World News (yes, found in the finest grocery store check-out lines) about a strange creature found in a cave in West Virginia. Of course it's crazy, but the show is actually a really entertaining piece about acceptance and community. Three weekends, through May 31. Tickets ($17-$20): 513-479-6783

If you missed The Irish Curse presented by Clifton Players at the tiny Clifton Performance Theatre on Ludlow Avenue back in February and March, they've brought it back for a couple of weekends, this being the second of two. It's an amusing adult comedy about a bunch of guys fretting over the size of their "equipment." Tickets can be ordered online (brownpapertickets.com) or purchased at the door (but be aware: it's a small venue that quickly sells out).
]]>