0 Comments · Wednesday, July 17, 2013
In recent columns I surveyed Cincinnati
theater companies that came and went during the past 20 years. Some
stumbled because their founders had more passion than management
expertise; others simply lacked the focus to keep audiences coming back.
The truth is it’s hard to identify a niche and settle into it
0 Comments · Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Several slots for the 2013-2014 season
have been filled in by local theaters as the current season finishes.
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 08:00 AM | Permalink
Cincy Playhouse veterans Ed Stern and Michael Evan Haney to stage shows
If you enjoyed "great theater in a great theater" at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park during past seasons, you'll be pleased to learn that Ed Stern, former producing artistic director, and Michael Evan Haney, whose tenure as associate artistic director ends on June 30, have both been engaged to stage shows at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati (ETC) for its 2013-2014 season. Haney will stage Nina Raine's Tribes (Jan. 29-Feb. 16, 2014) and Stern will co-direct the world premiere of Raymond McAnally's Size Matters (May 7-25, 2014); the playwright is also an actor (he co-starred in ETC's production of Mrs. Mannerly last fall) and he will be the solo performer of the one-man show.Tribes is about Billy, the deaf son of an outspoken family obsessed with self-expression. He has adapted to his family but not vice versa. Then he begins to connect with the deaf community, and his family resents his new "tribe." The show uses spoken and sign language as well as surtitles so audiences can fully follow the action. The show has been a hit in New York (where it won the 2012 Drama Desk Award for outstanding play) and London, where it debuted in 2010 at the Royal Court Theatre. It's only been seen at a few theaters in the U.S. including the La Jolla Playhouse and the Guthrie in Minneapolis. As usual, ETC's Lynn Meyers is ahead of the curve in picking up great new works, and it's a good bet that Haney will make this a fine production. (Haney remains connected with the Playhouse as one of three artistic associates; he will direct A Christmas Carol as well as the world premiere of Anna Ziegler's A Delicate Ship during the Playhouse's 2013-2014 season.)McAnally's comedy, Size Matters is even newer, of course, as a world premiere. It's about a "big guy," living in a crowded city and getting work based on his weight. McAnally, an actor who's weighed more than 280 pounds since he was 18, explores the impact his weight has had on who he is: It's apparent to him that "size matters" much of the time, but not always. The show about body issues and self-confidence is based on true events. Stern will co-direct with ETC's Meyers.The balance of ETC's season was announced earlier: It opens on Sept. 4 with Jon Robin Baitz's Other Desert Cities, andincludes Gina Gionfriddo's Rapture, Blister, Burn, the holiday musical Around the World in 80 Days and Katori Hall's The Mountaintop about Martin Luther King Jr. Find more details here.
0 Comments · Saturday, June 8, 2013
The 2013 Fringe has provided a final showcase for a half-dozen talented performers to shine in their own light in a production of Adam Bock’s absurdist comedy.
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 08:52 AM | Permalink
Nothing new onstage
this week, but lots of good work continues as we head toward the summer
when theater gets scarce. Now's the time to stock up.
This is the final weekend for Cock at Know Theatre. (Some publications call it The Cockfight Play, but Cock
is Mike Bartlett's actual title for his play.) It's the story of a man
who thought he was gay but now finds himself powerfully drawn to a
woman. (CityBeat review here.) His former lover and his new passion both push him to make a
choice, and he's torn. It's a great piece of theater, fueled by strong
acting and interesting staging. Tickets: 513-300-5669. Ensemble Theatre's production of The Marvelous Wonderettes: Caps and Gowns
is off and running — and on its way to being another box-office hit for
ETC. It's the same four spunky gals who audiences loved back in 2010
(in ETC's best-selling show ever), with new tuneful glimpses into their
high school graduation in 1958 and a wedding reception in 1968. Talented
singers, individually and as a quartet, make this a fine evening's
entertainment. If you've seen it before, you know the drill — and you're
probably ready for more. Tickets: 513-421-3555
James M. Cain's novel of crime and deception, Double Indemnity, continues at the Cincinnati Playhouse. (CityBeat review here.) If you think you know this show from Billy Wilder's 1944 film (one that defined the noir
genre), you're in for a treat: While this production adopts the
elements of terse narration, tough guys and sexy dames, the playwrights
tell the story differently for the stage. And the Playhouse stages it
inventively — one might even say cinematically. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
Shakespeare's Measure for Measure
is a strange piece, a comedy with a deeply disturbing story about
hypocrisy. (CityBeat review here.) A judgmental official condemns men for their licentious
behavior, then turns around and propositions a virtuous woman pleading
to spare her brother. This troublesome tale is interspersed with comic
moments as minor characters wend their way through a time of sordid
behavior — in Cincinnati Shakespeare's production it's been moved to
Prohibition-era America. If you're a Shakespeare buff, this one is worth
seeing, since it's not often staged. (It's been 18 years since it's
been presented locally.) Tickets: 513-381-2273 x.1.
The musical Sister Act,
based on the Whoopi Goldberg film from 1992, continues at the Aronoff. (CityBeat review here.)
It's an evening of silly fluff, but the touring production, onstage
through Sunday, is polished and entertaining. The plot is implausible,
but it's a framework for some great singing and an eye-popping series of
set pieces. Tickets: 800-982-2787.
If you prefer a musical with a little more grit, head to Dayton where the Human Race Theatre Company is presenting next to normal
at the Victoria Theater. This Rock musical about a paranoid
schizophrenic mom and the damage her affliction imposes on her family is
a powerful show, one that Cincinnati's Ensemble Theatre gave a well
received production in 2011 that was revived a year ago. The show was an
unusual winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for drama. It's onstage in
Dayton through May 19. Tickets: 937-228-9360.
0 Comments · Wednesday, May 8, 2013
“If something is worth doing, it’s worth overdoing,” proclaims one of the spunky gals in the current iteration of The Marvelous Wonderettes
at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati this month. ETC apparently agrees, since
this is the fourth consecutive year it has staged one of Roger Bean’s
retro shows featuring music from the ’50s and ’60s.
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 08:50 AM | Permalink
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company opens its
production of the infrequently staged Measure for Measure tonight. Director Brian Isaac Phillips says, “We have discovered a lot of
satire and wit as we explore the biting social criticism in
this play. The behavior of these characters … is like a dark comic
mirror, held up to nature. Shakespeare has written a play that begs us
to examine modern day decadence and hypocrisy.” Phillips has set the
production in the corrupt and hypocritical Prohibition Era, to "give
modern audiences a context for the
actions and the characters' deeply held opinions." It's onstage through
May 26. Tickets: 513-381-2273 x.1. The Marvelous Wonderettes
are back at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati with another sequel to the 2010
show that set box-office records. This time the theme is "Caps and
Gowns" — which means graduation (in 1958) and a wedding (in 1968). The
quartet of girl singers are lively and sometimes harmonious, although
each one has her quirks and pet peeves. The spread of a decade allows a
range through two distinct periods of Rock & Roll, one innocent, the
other a bit more knowing. ETC has reunited three of the four actresses
who've played these parts before, and the fourth slot – filled by Leslie
Goddard — is a petite stick of dynamite in cats' eye glasses. The show
opened on Wednesday, and it will surely be a hot ticket again — ETC has
already extended it by two weeks beyond its original closing date.
I went to see Sister Act,
based on the Whoopi Goldberg film from 1992 about nuns and disco, with
low expectations. I was pleasantly surprised: This is a solid production
of a very silly show, with some genuine talent in the leading roles,
and plenty of energy in the ensemble. The music (by composer Alan
Menken, who also wrote Little Shop of Horrors, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Newsies
and many more) is entertaining, the production looks great — lots of
glitter and sequins — and some moments of touching emotion (cliched, but
moving nonetheless). Don't expect anything profound and you'll have a
good time. It's onstage at the Aronoff Center. Tickets: 800-982-2782.
If you're in a darker mood, check out Double Indemnity at the Cincinnati Playhouse. It's a stage version of a noir
classic, a pair of lovers plot to murder her husband and score a big
insurance take (boyfriend is an insurance salesman). But things don't
quite work out as planned. Very stylish imagery and actors who get the
hard-boiled tough-guy style of story-telling from the 1940s. Paul
Shortt's cleverly designed set moves the action quickly from scene to
scene using two turntables, so it's almost like a movie with "wipes"
from once setting to the next. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 10:49 AM | Permalink
Two additional shows will round out 2013-14 season
Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati today announced four of its six shows for the 2013-2014 season, which opens on Sept. 4. Producing Artistic Director D. Lynn Meyers says, "We are planning a truly original, fresh and exhilarating season of dynamic regional premieres, and I am absolutely thrilled to showcase some of the hottest titles and newest voices this coming year." I'll add my vote of confidence: Meyers' play selection has been unerring for several seasons: Even if the titles aren't immediately familiar, ETC's productions have been engaging and among the best work onstage locally. It's a bit of annual amusement for ETC subscribers that Meyers takes longer than most to pull together what she will present — but that's because she's bargaining, wheedling and pleading with agents, rights organizations and sometimes playwrights themselves right up until the last minute to land very recently produced works. In fact, for the coming season, rather than wait until everything is in place, Meyers has is announcing four shows for the company's 28th season, with slots still open for productions in February and May 2014.Here's what we know, for now:Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz (Sept. 4-22, 2013). The searing comedy by the creator of TV's hit drama Brothers & Sisters, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and The New York Times called it "the best new play on Broadway" a year ago. When a once-promising novelist returns home to Palm Springs to visit her parents, conflict ensues when she reveals she's been writing a juicy, tell-all memoir focusing on the tragic death of her antiwar-activist brother. Rapture, Blister, Burn by Gina Gionfriddo (Oct. 9-27, 2013). It's another Pulitzer Prize finalist, this one is by a writer whose credits include Law & Order and the recent Netflix series starting Kevin Spacey, House of Cards. It's a social comedy about a rising young academic who's not at all certain that she's leading the life she wants. An evening with a friend who's a stay-at-home mom leads to an interesting game of musical chairs.Around the World in 80 Days by Joseph McDonough and David Kisor (Dec. 4, 2013-Jan. 4, 2014). ETC will revive one of the first of its holiday shows created back in 1999. Based on Jules Verne's classic novel, it's the story of a crazed circumnavigation of the globe in 1899 by the brilliant Englishman Phileas Fogg, who wages a fortune that he can do it in record time. Bandits, buffalo and winter storms are just a few of the obstacles he must overcome, but the story promises great fun for families.The Mountaintop by Katori Hall (March 19-April 6, 2014). This show won London's Olivier Award for the season's best new play, and its Broadway production featured Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a feisty young hotel maid. The civil rights leader is cooling down in a lonely Memphis hotel room after delivering one of his greatest speeches. The next day, tragedy would strike. It's a powerful piece of theater by a rising young playwright, according to all who have seen it.Subscriptions are already on sale for ETC's season. More information is available by calling 513-421-3555. Single tickets will go on sale to the general public on August 5, 2013.
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 07:47 AM | Permalink
My schedule hasn't afforded me the time to see the production of Don't Cross the Streams: The Cease and Desist Musical, a show that began its life in the Cincinnati Fringe Festival back in June. (It also was a festival highlight at the IndyFringe in Indianapolis in August.) But the very tongue-in-cheek piece inspired by the film Ghostbusters (but not allowed to say that) has now been expanded into a full-fledged
musical that's onstage at Newport's Monmouth Theatre, presented by
Falcon Theatre and Hugo West Theatricals. The League of Cincinnati
Theatres has termed the show a "recommended production," so it's evident
that their judging panel enjoyed it. One panelist called
it "a lively, enthusiastic spoof," and another said that the show is
"an evening of theater that doesn't take itself too seriously. The show just had a two-weekend run, so it's final performance is Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets: 513-479-6783.
Ensemble Theatre's production of Black Pearl Sings! features one of the finest performances by a local actor that I've seen this season. Torie
Wiggins plays a woman in the 1930s who translates her memory of songs
from her African ancestors into a ticket out of prison and to some
notoriety in New York City. Wiggins nuanced performance is complemented by veteran Annie Fitzpatrick as the folk music researcher who sees Pearl as her own ticket to success. Their tentative relationship becomes a delicately balanced friendship, while both explore issues of racism, sexism and getting ahead. Definitely worth seeing. Through March 31. Box office: 513-421-3555. Lizan Mitchell is at the other end of the career spectrum from Wiggins, but she too plays Carrie Watts, a sprightly, elderly African-Amerian woman whose powerful sense of home takes her on an impromptu journey back to her roots in A Trip to Bountiful at the Cincinnati Playhouse.
It's laced with sadness, since what she remembers no longer exists, but
her memories and her joyful take on life make it all worthwhile, not
only for her but for others in her life, including her browbeaten son and his selfish wife as well as a sweet young woman who is Carrie's companion on a long bus ride. Through April 7. Box office: 513-421-3888.
This weekend Cincinnati Shakespeare is opening a production of the much-loved Shakespearean romantic comedy, A Midsummer Night's Dream. It's been transported to 1940s America and set in a Jazz-inspired
magical forest, with original musica composed by resident sound
designer Doug Borntrager; there's also original choreography by Brittany
Kugler. The production is staged by Jeremy Dubin, and features veteran
actor Nick Rose in the role of Nick Bottom the Weaver, the guy who makes
an ass of himself — literally. It's a tangled, funny story that all
works out perfectly in the end. A great show to kick off springtime. Through April 21. Box office: 513-381-2273 x1.
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.