by Rick Pender
15 days ago
Posted In: Theater
at 11:47 AM | Permalink
A little history, a little love and some fantasy
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is staging the original
“game of thrones” — England’s Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) as retold
by the Bard’s history plays — eight shows being presented in
chronological order across five theater seasons. (Cincy Shakes is only
the second theater company in the U.S. to present the history cycle in
Chronological order.) We’ve already seen Richard II, Henry IV: Part 1 and 2 and Henry V. Now it’s time for the reign of Henry VI, which Shakespeare covered with three plays. This week starts the production of Henry VI, Part I,
the story of Henry V’s only son who, in 1421, inherited the throne
before his first birthday, after his father’s untimely death. A child on
the throne opened the door to the dynastic struggles of the War of the
Roses. (The cycle concludes next season with the bloody tragedy of Richard III.)
Darnell Pierre Benjamin plays Henry, an unusual choice. Here’s what he
says about taking on this role: “I’m a black male from St. Martinville,
Louisiana. Despite how much I’ve always fixated my interests on the
classics, I never thought that I’d have the honor of representing one of
Shakespeare’s history kings.” He says he hopes “to open people’s minds
and hearts to seeing the core of this story — a young man coming into
his own as he learns that there are forces, both good and bad, that can
alter his perception of himself.” Through Feb. 13. Tickets:
513-381-2273.The Covedale Center just opened Neil Simon’s Chapter Two,
a play about a widowed writer trying to start over while still grieving
for his late wife. The story is rooted in Simon’s own experience, and
the playwright’s famous one-liners are still there, but woven into the
show’s humor is a story about coming to terms with death and moving on.
Through Feb. 14. Tickets: 513-241-6550.In Covington, The Carnegie is offering what sounds like an interesting production of The Wizard of Oz that
opened last night. With musical accompaniment by the Kentucky Symphony
Orchestra, it’s a “lightly-staged” rendition with Harold Arlen’s famous
score from the 1939 movie. Of particular interest is the scenic design
by local artist Pam Kravetz, a unique take on the iconic landscapes of
Oz, including Munchkin Land and the Emerald City. Just to remind folks
passing by on Scott Avenue, you’ll see a giant pair of legs with striped
stockings and ruby slippers to remind you that one wicked witch is
dead. Through Jan. 31. Tickets: 859-957-1940.For something completely different, consider The Realistic Joneses
by Clifton Players, at Clifton Performance Theater on Ludlow Avenue.
It’s about two couples named Jones, next-door neighbors who get to know
one another despite fear and loneliness. Will Eno’s unusual play — part
comedy, part drama — digs into secrets that aren’t often spoken aloud.
It’s being staged by local theater veteran Dale Hodges with a cast that
includes Carter Bratton, Mindy Siebert, Miranda McGee and Phil Fiorini.
It’s onstage through Feb. 7. Tickets: 513-861-7469.Next week there will be even more theater on local stages: Grounded, a one-woman show about a fighter pilot assigned to making drone strikes (Ensemble Theatre, Jan. 27-Feb. 14, 513-421-3555), BlackTop Sky, a tale of homelessness and friendship (Know Theatre, Jan. 29-Feb. 20, 513-300-5669) and Prelude to a Kiss,
a sweet love story about changing places and understanding different
perspectives (Falcon Theater in Newport, Jan. 29-Feb. 13, 513-479-6783).Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
by Rick Pender
22 days ago
Posted In: Theater
at 10:51 AM | Permalink
A Fringe fix, some radioactivity, a lot of dancing — and previews of what's coming
Right now we’re about equidistant from the 2015 and the
2016 Fringe festivals. So let’s thanks the folks at Know Theatre, who are
presenting a double-bill of “Fringe Encores” to keep us stoked. This
weekend actually offers one encore plus a graduate from Know’s Serials! series. Occupational Hazards
is about an office fling that becomes the subject of fan-fiction with
wildly divergent storylines.Occupational Hazards The piece by Ben Dudley was a 2015 Fringe
show. He’s also the writer of Cinderblock, about a guy
(played by Dudley) whose windshield is smashed by a cult member. This
mystery passes through an office party. Ben DudleyThe shows are being performed
this weekend at Clifton Performance Theatre (404 Ludlow Ave., Gaslight
Clifton): performances of Occupational Hazards are Friday at 8:45 p.m. and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; Cinderblock,
which, originally presented in five 15-minute episodes, has been pieced
into a full-length version that will be presented on Friday evening at
7:30 and Saturday at 8:45. You can sit in on one piece for $15 or pay
$25 for the pair either evening. Tickets: knowtheatre.com
Mariemont Players, one of Cincinnati’s fine community theater groups, is presenting D. W. Gregory’s Radium Girls
through Jan. 24. It’s inspired by a true story about women who painted
radium numerals on glow-in-the-dark watches, unaware of the dangers of
radioactivity. The play, described as being “written with warmth and
humor,” is being presented at the Walton Creek Theater (4101 Walton
Creek Rd., just east of Mariemont). Tickets ($20): 513-684-1236 or
One more weekend at the Aronoff Center for the highly entertaining touring production of Kinky Boots
(through Sunday). A struggling shoe factory in Northampton, England,
retools to avoid bankruptcy and unemployment. Rather than continuing to
manufacture stodgy men’s shoes, they turn to high-fashion footwear for
drag queens, promoted as “kinky boots.” It’s an unlikely tale that
happens to be true, and it’s the vehicle for some outrageous humor,
especially from Lola, an extrovert of a diva and her spectacularly
clad and built “Angels,” a half-dozen drag queens who back up her act. Kinky Boots
offers a meaningful message about tolerance and finding your own path,
fleshed out with some entertaining dancing and fine singing. Tickets:
The local theater scene picks up momentum next week when
three shows open on Thursday and another on Friday. That evening the
Covedale Center opens Neil Simon’s Chapter Two (through
Feb. 14), a warm-hearted comedy about getting back into the dating game;
Covington’s Carnegie offers a “lightly-staged” concert adaptation of The Wizard of Oz (through Jan. 31) with accompaniment by the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra; and Clifton Players stages The Realistic Joneses
(through Feb. 7 at Clifton Performance Theatre), a comedy-drama about
the secrets of next-door neighbors directed by local stage veteran Dale
Hodges. On Friday evening, Cincinnati Shakespeare continues its
five-year, chronological presentation of Shakespeare’s eight-play
history cycle with Henry VI, Part I (through
Feb. 13), the story of a young king who must rule after his father’s
untimely death; Joan of Arc is a key character in this tale.
Life in the big city: Lots of choices.
Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 09:02 AM | Permalink
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).
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 08:59 AM | Permalink
February is Black History Month, a period when the arts traditionally wake up and pay attention to African-American stories and artists.
I'm always a bit troubled by this segmenting, so I want to commend both
the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park and Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati
for presenting two fine productions of shows featuring African Americans
in engaging stories — in the middle of March. They represent two of this weekend's best choices.
At ETC, Black Pearl Sings! features two outstanding local actresses. Annie Fitzpatrick plays Susannah Mullally, a folk music researcher in the 1930s; Torie Wiggins is Alberta "Pearl" Johnson, a prisoner (for a violent but probably justified
crime) who has a remarkable recollection of songs she learned as a
child from her family. They form an uneasy alliance that turns into a
guarded friendship, and Fitzpatrick and Wiggins have a delightful
interplay and chemistry. I heard that this might be the 40th production
Fitzpatrick has done at ETC; she's a versatile actress, and she convincingly creates the uptight but driven Susannah. Wiggins, who graduated from the drama program at CCM, earns her Equity card on this production: Chronologically, she's probably a tad young for the role, but she so wholly embodies Pearl's feisty character that it makes no difference. Hers is a tour-de-force rendition, musically and theatrically. This one is a definite must-see. Box office: 513-421-3555.
Let's give the Playhouse — and new artistic director Blake Robison — props for finally getting around to staging a show by Horton Foote, who died in 2009 at the age of 92. He was a prolific dramatist and screenwriter (he wrote screenplays for To Kill a Mockingbird and Tender Mercies) for years, and his play A Trip to Bountiful is a lovely, emotional paean to the notion that "there's no place like home." Foote wrote the play about an
elderly Texas wido pining to return to her hometown in 1953 (as a play
for television, in fact) and it was an award-winning 1985 movie with a white cast. For the Playhouse, Timothy Douglas has changed up the story by overlaying an African-American filter over the story and casting veteran actress Lizann Mitchell as Carrie Watts. She's a dream of an actress,
portraying a tiny Texas cyclone of energy with a wry sense of humor.
The story is nothing too innovative — she runs away from a cramped apartment where she lives with her son and his demanding wife to return to her girlhood home, which has all but disappeared — but the truth and dignity of the tale (and Mitchell's performance) make this show worth seeing. Box office: 513-421-3888.
Finally, I need to mention Clifton Players production of A Behanding in Spokane by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh. He's the writer of dark tales like The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Cripple of Inishmaan, as well as the even darker film In Bruges. Clifton Players perform at Clifton Performance Theatre, a tiny, intimate storefront space on Ludlow Avenue. I've heard lots of positive remarks about this production. Be prepared to be shocked and entertained by the show's comic violence. Tickets: 513-861-7469.