The popularity of Sir John Falstaff, the portly jokester in Shakespeare's 'Henry IV' plays, led to a sequel. 'The Merry Wives of Windsor' today would have been dubbed 'Falstaff II.' And like most sequels, the original idea wears thin. Falstaff is funny, but his coarse, self-aggrandizing behavior is one-dimensional. That's part of why Cincinnati Shakespeare's holiday show grows a bit wearisome.
For several summers, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company has offered shows of witty, classical fluff when most companies are on a seasonal break. This month Noel Coward's comedic ghost story 'Blithe Spirit' fills the bill nicely, featuring six CSC veteran performers as well as Annie Fitzpatrick, who provides a great dollop of loony frosting on a very tasty summer dessert.
Putting it as simply as I can, Oscar Wilde's 'An Ideal Husband' is the crowning pleasure of Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's 2009-10 season. Everything works. The direction by Jeremy Dubin is tight, focused and spot on. Design elements are more sumptuous and elegant than any CSC has ever presented. Performances maintain the lilt, audacity and inner laughter of high comedy.
While the Opening Day parade has for decades now been a cool little "uniquely Cincinnati" event folks look forward to every year, there is a newer Opening Day tradition that's beginning to rival it in terms of sheer baseball pomp and pageantry. Local Folk and Americana experts Jake Speed & the Freddies host a baseball-themed show the morning before the Reds season's first pitch downtown at Arnold's, and this spring's version is bigger and better.
Considering the talent and sensitivity of the people involved onstage and in the director's chair, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's 'Othello' is a disappointment. Little is egregiously wrong. Nobody falls down. Nobody goes up in his or her lines. But it's all so pedestrian.
The stormy plot is a fevered sex-duel with class warfare overtones between Jean, an ambitious, wily, vulgar but capable servant (Matthew Lewis Johnson), and the spoiled, self-focused daughter (Hayley Clark) of Jean's titled employer. Is it over-simplifying to locate seeds of a wayward mistress in the behavior of a willful wife?
When George Bernard Shaw's witty comedy 'Arms and the Man' debuted in 1894 in Dublin, it was a hit. Shaw described it as "one joke after another ... a firecracker." That's pretty much what you'll experience onstage at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, making its first foray into Shaw's prolific output. I hope we'll see more Shaw on Race Street, based on the success of this production.