by Rick Pender
89 days ago
Posted In: Theater
at 08:38 PM | Permalink
Artistic Director Blake Robison to bring a variety of programming by a diverse array of playwrights
On Monday evening, Blake Robison, artistic director at the
Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, announced the shows he has selected for
the theater’s 2016-2017 season. In an earlier conversation about the 10
works to be presented, Robison told me why he’s excited about the coming
year. “This hits all the programming areas that we talk about a lot,”
he says, referencing family-friendly productions, new works and a diverse
array of playwrights.
For his fifth season in Cincinnati, six of the 10
productions are by women or artists of color. Robison has included a Pulitzer
Prize winner, a work by America’s greatest African-American playwright, a
couple of classics, two world premieres and some shows that touch on
important contemporary issues.
He’s particularly pleased that the shows he’s programmed
for the Robert S. Marx Stage “have some degree of name recognition. But
the season is not watered down — we haven’t resorted to ‘cotton-candy’
programming. We’re leaning forward and doing some very challenging work,
but it has a popular flair. From the beginning I said that I wanted to
be sure that our programming was both artistically challenging and
hugely popular. That seems like it should be an easy thing, but it’s
actually one of the hardest. I think this season has come the closest to
The Marx season opens with an adaptation of John Irving’s popular 1989 novel, A Prayer for Owen Meany (Sept.
3-Oct. 1). A work that explores friendship, destiny and faith, it’s a
show that Robison staged with memorable success a decade ago at Round
House Theatre in Bethesda, Md., where he was artistic director before
Cincinnati. “It’s a beautiful, imaginative, resonant story,” he says.
“The search for meaning, personal faith and true things, above and
beyond organized religion, is interesting to people these days.”
Next will be August Wilson’s Jitney (Oct.
15-Nov. 12), one of the 10 plays in Wilson’s “Century Cycle,”
chronicling African-American life during the 20th century. The story of
men operating an unlicensed car service in Pittsburgh has never been
staged in Cincinnati. Playhouse Associate Artist Timothy Douglas, one of
the foremost interpreters of Wilson’s work in America today, will
Following the 26th annual production of A Christmas Carol, the Playhouse will present Little Shop of Horrors
(Jan. 21-Feb. 19), a campy off-Broadway show about a man-eating plant
that became a Broadway hit (and a movie) in the 1980s. (The Playhouse
produced it in 1987.) “I just love this show.” Robison says. It’s no
longer touring, and he promises “a high-level treatment” by guest
director Bill Fennelly, who helped make Jersey Boys a hit. “When we did Ring of Fire in 2015,” says Robison, “we discovered that something fun and peppy and innately populist fits in January.”
From populism to the classics is the path he’s taking for
the season’s final productions on the mainstage — an adaptation of
Charlotte Brontë’s romantic novel Jane Eyre (March 11-April 8) and Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery (April 22-May 20). The latter is an amusing adaptation in the same vein as the hilarious production of The 39 Steps, using five actors to play numerous roles and hurtle through a familiar tale.
The Playhouse’s Shelterhouse stage is where more
adventurous works are offered. The season kicks off with Ayad Akhtar’s
2013 Pulitzer Prize winning play, Disgraced (Sept. 24-Oct.
23), a dinner party on New York City’s Upper East Side hosted by a
Muslim-American attorney with friends and colleagues that melts down
around identity, religion and politics. “It’s the Playhouse’s
responsibility to ensure that our audiences can enjoy these huge
award-winning plays,” Robison explains. “ You don’t have to go to New
York or Chicago to see them. It’s going to be fantastic in the
Shelterhouse. We’ve intentionally chosen to put this pressure cooker in
the Shelterhouse and turn up the heat.”
Every holiday season the Playhouse seeks an alternative to its lovely traditional production of A Christmas Carol. This year’s show should be especially attractive: The Second City’s Holidazed & Confused Revue (Nov.
5-Dec. 31). It promises to be a hilarious evening of its skits that
send up Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and everything in between,
performed by talent from the legendary Chicago comedy club.
In the New Year, Robison has lined up two more world
premieres, again featuring up-and-coming female playwrights. Arlitia
Jones’s Summerland (Feb. 4-March 5) is about a “spirit
photographer,” inspired by a man who took haunting images of the dead in
the era just after the Civil War. That will be followed by Jen
Silverman’s All the Roads Home (March 25-April 23), the
story of three generations of women and the legacies they inherit across
the latter half of the 20th century.
The Shelterhouse season wraps up with a one-woman show, Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End (May
6-June 4), a portrait of the Dayton, Ohio, housewife whose newspaper
columns gave voice to ordinary women everywhere. “This show is just an
absolute stitch,” says Robison. “It had a very successful run at Arena
Stage in Washington last spring, and we got it immediately because of
the Ohio connection. It’s the perfect vehicle to send people into summer
with a smile.”
As Robison said, it sounds easy to assemble an
artistically challenging and popular season, but it’s truly a tough
task. It would appear that he’s done it for 2016-2017. “I think this
season has come the closest to that goal,” he says. The box office is
the true gauge, but the season certainly looks promising.
Queen City Off Broadway stages August Wilson in Madisonville
0 Comments · Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Accordingly, it's a fine work to inaugurate the new theater space at the Madisonville Arts Center, where Queen City Off Broadway has landed after several years of performing downtown and in Northside.