It’s time for mistletoe and holly, when
theaters entice folks in search of holiday cheer (and occasional
parodies thereof) to celebrate the season. Many theaters need December
ticket revenues to present shows onstage for the rest of the year.
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.
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?
To paraphrase Bill Clinton, "It depends on what your definition of 'well' is." Sure, 'All's Well That Ends Well' at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company ends up neatly with loose threads tidied away. But truest delights are the four strong women who, as in no other play by Shakespeare, dominate the action as played by Kelly Mengelkoch, Sherman Fracher, Amy Warner and Sara Clark.
William S. Gilbert's 1877 comedy is commonly assumed to be the inspiration for Oscar Wilde's later classic, 'The Importance of Being Earnest.' If you've ever laughed your way through that clever comedy, you should head downtown to Cincinnati Shakespeare Company for a fresh dose of hilarity.
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.