I know more critics who love theater than who live to spew out negativity. In fact, I've often said it seems nonsensical (if not masochistic) to carve out a career as a critic if you hate the theater and never enjoy the experience. Why subject yourself to night after night of torture if you really find actors or directors incompetent or self-serving?
It's the time of year when theaters hope to strike holiday gold with shows that will deliver lots of ticket revenue — enough to provide the funds needed for the second half of their seasons. The hands-down winner, of course, is Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol,' a budget balancer for the Cincinnati Playhouse since 1991. But there are plenty of other holiday-themed stories being told on local stages this season.
When a director pushes boundaries, great things can happen. That's certainly what John Doyle's staging of 'Three Sisters' has tried to do. A high-profile venture for the Cincinnati Playhouse's 50th anniversary, Doyle's production uses a new, very colloquial version of Anton Chekhov's play by the much-admired writer Sarah Ruhl and a team of Tony Award winners and nominees.
When the Cincinnati Playhouse's Ed Stern described his 50th anniversary season last spring, he was especially excited about a new version of Anton Chekhov's 'Three Sisters,' a 1905 play about three siblings who yearn for the life they once enjoyed in Moscow but now find themselves trapped in a cultural backwater. Stern and veteran Broadway director John Doyle talk about the Playhouse production.
How can people with the best of intentions do things that eventually turn out to be wrong, or at least misguided? Such matters are the foundation of Michele Lowe's 'Victoria Musica,' in its world premiere at the Cincinnati Playhouse.
Even if you know the story of 'Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde,' Robert Louis Stevenson's classic 1886 horror story, you'll likely be surprised by the Cincinnati Playhouse's version, since it twists and turns the tale in unanticipated directions. Jeffrey Hatcher adapted the story, and this version provides unexpected textures and narrative elements.
The Cincinnati Playhouse has offered a steady diet of musicals by Stephen Sondheim over the past decade. If you've seen them, you might think you're familiar with music by the legendary composer/lyricist. I have news for you: The current Shelterhouse production, 'Marry Me a Little,' will feel like a new show, full of songs that are clearly Sondheim's but seldom heard. It's a show for Sondheim fans and musical theater lovers.
Sometimes it's good to go away to get a little perspective. Two weeks ago, I attended the annual conference of the American Theatre Critics Association in Sarasota, Fla., a city that was new to me. I'll go back another time for theater in particular and arts and culture in general. A dark thread ran through this conference, since many ATCA members are victims of a sea change in journalism that's diminishing arts coverage by newspapers.
While Arlene Hutton's play is new to Cincinnati, it's been around for almost a decade. The two-actor, 90-minute script charmed audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and its simplicity appeals to theaters today because it's inexpensive to produce, requiring minimal scenery. But it's rich in the emotion and storytelling that audiences respond to.
When the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park kicks off its 50th anniversary season this fall, Ed Stern will be in his 18th year as producing artistic director. That's a remarkably long tenure as a theater leader, but he has an uncanny knack for offering tried-and-true classics alongside works by rising playwrights.