by Rick Pender
76 days ago
Posted In: Theater
at 08:53 AM | Permalink
Lots of plays not previously seen in Cincinnati are good theater choices this weekend:Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati just opened its regional premiere of Tribes by Nina Raines on Wednesday,
and I've given it a Critic's Pick. The story circles around two young
adults from families with very different approaches to deafness. Billy's
family has tried to give him a "normal" life by teaching him to speak
and lip read, while Sylvia's deaf parents have always communicated using
sign language. Now that she's going deaf, she's more and more dependent
on that skill. But Billy's loud, boisterous family objects to him to
make his deafness so obvious, even though he's finally found a path to
overcome his loneliness. This tale of warring tribes is as much about
family dynamics and human nature as it is about coming to terms with a
disability. Provocative and thoughtful, with a sterling cast of
convincing actors. Through Feb. 16. Tickets: 513-421-3555.
The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park has a winner with its production of Bruce Norris's Clybourne Park, a show that portrays territoriality rooted in insensitivity and prejudice. (CityBeat review here.) Using a 1959 play, Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun*, as
its jumping-off point, Norris's first act portrays a white Chicago
neighborhood where the sale of a home to an African-American family has
set off warfare between residents. In the second act, it's 2009 and the
same neighborhood, blighted by deterioration, is now being gentrified.
The tables are turned, but many of the arguments — and in Norris's
clever script, even some of the same words — resurface. I gave this one a
Critic's Pick, too. Through Feb. 16. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
*A footnote to Clybourne Park: To experience this show's inspiration, A Raisin in the Sun, tune to WVXU (FM 91.7) on Saturday evening, 8-10 p.m., for a radio production of Lorraine Hansberry's play by LA Theatre Works. It's a seminal American drama in its own right.
This bounty of premieres is joined by Know Theater's staging of Steve Yockey's brand-new play, Pluto.
(CityBeat review here.) It's the story of a single mom and her sullen, disconnected son in a
generic suburb. It feels realistic, but there are signs that it goes
beyond that: A blossoming cherry tree has crashed through the ceiling,
and a three-headed dog (played by a one-headed actress) sits nearby,
offering curious observations about what's going on. A radio spits out
news about a school shooting, sometimes speaking directly to the mom,
and then the refrigerator begins to shake violently, as if some force is
trying to escape. There's more to be revealed, and I should warn that
gun violence and death are portrayed. But this is a poetic and emotional
tale of grief distilled. Through Feb. 22. Tickets: 513-300-5669.
Daniel Beaty's one-man show, Through the Night,
was well-received at the Cincinnati Playhouse in a Fall 2012
production, performed by the playwright. (CityBeat previewed that piece here.) Northern Kentucky University
this weekend is offering another of Beaty's solo works, the
multi-character show (27 roles in all) Emergency, a piece
that features slam poetry, performed by local actor Deondra Means. It
begins with a fanciful premise, a slave ship arriving in a New York City
harbor in the 21st century. Director Daryl Harris calls Emergency
"a perfect storm for the social activist and the theater artist in me."
It's onstage only this weekend at NKU's Stauss Theatre. Tickets: 859-572-5464.
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 10:19 AM | Permalink
Can you hear the clock ticking? That's not just because this weekend marks the "spring forward" to Daylight Savings Time early on Sunday. It's also because several theater productions are just about over: If you want to see them, you only have a few days left.
Leveling Up, the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park's show about video gamers,
is as contemporary as can be. One of its characters is recruited by the
NSA to fly drones into war zones — activity that totally blurs the
boundary between the real world and cyberspace, not to mention the moral boundaries between killing video villains and actual living people. (Review here.) The show is also about taking charge of your life in a world of maturity and responsibility, rather than retreating into simulated space. Deborah Zoe Laufer's script uses four characters,
all twentysomethings, who will seem like people you know — their
language, their actions, their concerns are the stuff of contemporary
life. Box office: 513-421-3888.
If you want something that's quite intentionally removed from everyday life, you need to check out the wry and ironic musical theater piece at UC's College-Conservatory of Music, Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera. (Review here.) It's an allegory and critique of corrupt capitalism, told with dark humor in a production by CCM Opera chair Robin Guarino (who has staged productions at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City). She knows how to present the stark humor and cynical attitudes in Brecht's script, and the talented CCM musical theater performers (accompanied by a small onstage orchestra dominated by woodwinds and brass) provide great renderings of Weill's score. This is a rarely produced work, definitely worth seeing. Box office: 513-556-4183.
Perhaps you prefer your cynicism in an 18th century mode: That's what you'll get with Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's production of Dangerous Liaisons, a story of the idle rich who entertain themselves by seducing and manipulating their naive colleagues — or their innocent offspring. (Review here.) It's not a pretty story, in that the central characters are scheming and out for their own entertainment and pleasure, often for revenge. But if you like nasty behavior, this production has it in spades. Two of CSC's best veterans, Corinne Mohlenhoff and Giles Davies, play the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont, a pair of arch schemers who relish making a mess of others' lives. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but it's a literate, cleverly plotted piece of theater. Box office: 513-381-2273 x.1. The previous three shows finish their runs this weekend. When the Rain Stops Falling at Know Theatre has one more week (it closes on March 16), but you should order your tickets now: I expect the final performances will be hard to get into on short notice. (Review here.) This is one of the best shows that Know has staged in several seasons, a fine, complex script performed by a talented cast of nine, directed by Cincy Shakes Brian Isaac Phillips. (Four of the cast members are CSC regulars.) They play four generations
of two families, strangely and fatefully intertwined. The story weaves
back and forth between 1959 and 2039; at first it seems to be
disjointed, then things suddenly beging to fall into place. By the time it's over — with several shocking moments along the way — you'll see how it all fits together. If you haven't seen this one yet, this is the ticket you need to get. Box office: 513-300-5669.
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 03:37 PM | Permalink
just opened Thunder Knocking on the Door, a show it
staged in 1999 and sold a boatload of tickets — the most for any
musical it’s presented in the past two decades! I was there on
Thursday night for the opening, and this is a drop-dead gorgeous
production — costumes, sets, lighting and sound by Broadway
designers, and a cast of five who all have star-power. Even better,
they form a wonderful musical ensemble when they need to. Keith
Glover’s play is a fable about the Blues: Marvell Thunder is a
mystical presence who years earlier lost a “cuttin’ contest” to
a fellow named Jaguar Dupree, and now he’s back to even the score
“where the two roads meet,” somewhere near Bessemer, Alabama. But
Jaguar’s passed, survived by his wife (twice widowed since then)
and his twin brother. Her and Jaguar’s twin children, Jaguar Jr.
and Glory are musical and each have magical guitars that he
bequeathed to them. Jr. has lost his to Thunder, and now he’s
coming for the other one. But it’s complicated, because Thunder is
turning to stone because it’s been so long since he’s been in
love. All this is played out to a wonderful Blues score, most of it
by singer and composer Keb’ Mo’. There’s a great band backing
them up, and to make this tale all the more magical, among its
technical team is an “illusion designer.” You’ll be asking,
“How’d they do that?” more than once. I gave it a Critic’s
Pick, and you should get your tickets right away. 513-421k-3888.
production of the recent off-Broadway and Broadway Rock musical hit,
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is a youthful mix of
political commentary, driving Rock performances, history, humor and
sober observations on the will of the people — just what we’ve
come expect from Know Theatre. Not many musicals begin with the cast
flipping the bird at the audience, but then not many musicals are
like this one, spinning a tale of America’s seventh president to
in-your-face Indie Rock tunes. This is Bloody Bloody’s first
professional regional production. I gave it a Critic’s Pick, and
the show is proving to be a big hit for Know. (Through May 12.) Box
Pump Boys &
Dinettes at the Covington’s Carnegie Center is something
like an off-Broadway classic (it had a brief Broadway run) from the
early 1980s. Set in a filling station that’s also a diner, it’s a
framework for downhome Country tunes and cornpone humor. Not much of
a story, but a talented cast makes this one a lot of light-hearted
fun. This is the final weekend. Box office: 859-957-1940.
Covedale Center is
presenting Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s but Joseph and
the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I saw it last Friday and
can recommend it as a production that does justice to a piece of
entertaining fluff. Director Tim Perrino has assembled a fast-paced
production with some fine voices. The jaunty show, which covers the
familiar tale in about 90 minutes (including intermission), has fun
with (and parodies) various musical styles — from Elvis-styled Rock
and Western Swing to French ballads and calypso. Stone walls and
palms slide back to reveal a sphinx and a smoking entrance for the
Pharaoh (aka Elvis). It’s not groundbreaking in any way, but it is
the kind of solid entertainment the Covedale has presented for 10
seasons. Through May 13. Box office: 513-241-6550.
And while I’m talking
about lighthearted shows, make not that a tour of Mamma Mia,
cramming tons of ABBA tunes into an implausible but funny story,
makes a one-week stop at the Aronoff starting on Tuesday. It would be
hard not to have a good time at any production of Mamma Mia.
Each week in Stage
Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces
of theater news.
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 10:29 AM | Permalink
'The Whipping Man,' 'Spring Awakening,' 'Red' and 'Collapse' are all worthy weekend productions
Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news. The Whipping Man is drawing big audiences for Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati. In fact, they’ve added several performances extending the closing date from Feb. 12 to Feb. 18. It’s the story of Simon, a dedicated former slave who remains in a ruined mansion in 1865 Richmond in the days just after the Civil War. Caleb, the wounded son of his former master, stumbles in (desperately needing some horrendous surgery) and then does John, another former slave, a young man raised side by side with Caleb. The slave-owning family was Jewish, and it’s almost time for Passover, which they must celebrate with limited means. It’s a powerful show about freedom and responsibility with a plot that will keep you guessing. As I noted recently in this week's Curtain Call column, director D. Lynn Meyers gets the most from her cast, especially Ken Early as Simon. This one is a must-see. Box office: 513-421-3555