Cincinnati Playhouse production is playful, thrilling
0 Comments · Friday, May 3, 2013
Tough guys. Dames. Desperation. Shadows. Cynical narration. Sexual motivation. The Cincinnati Playhouse’s production of Double Indemnity
has all the requisite elements of film noir.
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 08:46 AM | Permalink
You still have several weeks to see Cock (aka "The Cockfight Play" for journalism wimps) at Know Theatre. (It's onstage through May 11.) It's an oh-so-contemporary piece of theater about a gay man — or rather a man — who thought himself to be gay until he breaks up with his boyfriend and takes up with a woman. (CityBeat review here.) The play involves the tense dance of indecision he becomes part of as his lovers fight over him. It's about 90-minutes of fiercely acted theatrics, staged in a setting that looks like the arena where cockfighting happens. Definitely for mature audiences who appreciate shows that don't pull punches. Tickets: 513-3
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 08:06 AM | Permalink
I'm off to the Humana
Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville this
weekend, where I'll be checking out plays that could well be on their
way to theaters across America in future seasons. For those of you
staying here in Greater Cincinnati, there's lots of good stuff to get
out and see onstage:War Horse
completes its Cincinnati stop on Sunday. I heard a rumor that it's not
selling well, which strikes me as mystifying. It's one of the best
pieces of theater I've seen on tour in ages. (Review here.) Of course, it's not a
musical (which is what people who go to the Broadway Series at the
Aronoff have come to expect) and it was made into a moderately
successful movie by Steven Spielberg. But the stage production is a
miraculous piece of theater artistry, especially the onstage creation of
living breathing horses, life-sized puppets that are manipulated (by
three performers) that you'll be convinced you're watching the real
thing. The silver lining to poor attendance, I suppose, is that tickets
are readily available. You should get yours right away for the chance to
see this Tony Award-winning production: Final performance is on Sunday.
Box office: 800-987-2787
Last evening I made time to see Cincinnati Shakespeare's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
It's going to be around for several more weeks, and it's definitely an
entertaining — and unusual — rendition of the tale of mixed-up lovers. (Review here.) Director Jeremy Dubin has transported it from the mythical Athens that
Shakespeare envisioned and landed it in a swampy Southeastern U.S. in
the 1940s, complete with a few guys with drawls in uniform and a clown
in a loud plaid sports coat. The latter is CSC Nick Rose, and watching
him overact as Nick Bottom, the weaver who imagines himself to be a
brilliant performer, is hilarious. MND's mix of magic and humor is
always fun, even if it doesn't make much sense, especially in this
setting. Box office: 513-381-2273, x1.
Also worth checking out is the Cincinnati Playhouse's entertaining production of The Book Club Play.
It's good in the same way as a well-done TV sitcom: Familiar characters
pushed to comic extremes, funny situations that you can identify with,
story twists that surprise and amuse. (Review here.) Because book clubs are a big deal
these days, lots of people are flocking to see this show (it's been
extended to May 5), so you should call now to get your tickets. I can
assure you that you'll leave the theater with a smile on your face. Box
cannot be predicted with the staging of Jason Robert Brown's very
serious musical, Parade, at the Carnegie. But a piece of great drama and
fine music is certainly in store if you head to Covington for this one,
staged by Ed Cohen and Dee Ann Bryll. It's actually a studio production
from UC's College-Conservatory of Music, featuring some outstanding
talent from one of America's best training programs for Broadway talent.
The story of a falsely accused factor manager, railroaded into a murder
conviction mainly because of anti-Semitic attitudes, is heart-rending.
But it makes for powerful theater. It opens tonight and runs through
April 21. Box office: 859-957-1940.
Playhouse debut is a deeply heartfelt story about home
0 Comments · Monday, March 18, 2013
Horton Foote, who died in 2009 at the age of 92, is making a long overdue debut
at the Cincinnati Playhouse with The Trip
0 Comments · Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Here are the ingredients: a couple of
Broadway and off-Broadway hits, three world premieres, a lavish Jane
Austen show, a classic musical by Kander and Ebb, an innovative drama
with tap dancing and video, plus holiday festivities...
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 11:00 AM | Permalink
Blake Robison to stage "Cabaret," "Pride and Prejudice" among compelling new work
“People look to the
Cincinnati Playhouse for classic entertainment and the best contemporary
theatre,” says Blake Robison, producing artistic director, as he announces his
second season, coming in September. For 2013-2014 he’s assembled an array of
big titles — including the classic Kander and Ebb musical Cabaret and a stage adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice — and a
collection compelling new work (including two world premieres), mostly on the
Shelterhouse Theatre stage.
The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park has two stages: The Robert
S. Marx Theatre is the mainstage with 626 seats; the Thompson Shelterhouse
(which is in fact a one-time park shelter) can accommodate an audience of 225.
Both have thrust-style stages surrounded by audience seating on three sides,
making the action is close and intimate in both theaters.
On the Marx Stage:
Trey Ellis and Ricardo Khan (Sept. 7-Oct. 5, 2013). The story of World War II’s
Tuskegee Airmen is told using live action, video projections and tap dancing.
This new work will be directed by Khan, its co-creator.
by John Kander and Fred Ebb (Oct. 19-Nov. 16, 2013). Set in Berlin in the
1930s, and especially in the decadent Kit Kat Club, it’s a musical love story
with lots of choreography. Marcia Milgrom Dodge, a Broadway veteran, will
Christmas Carol, adapted by Howard Dallin (Nov. 27-Dec. 29, 2013). Michael
Evan Haney will direct the holiday show with a cast of 30 for the 21st time.
Park by Bruce Norris (Jan.18-Feb. 16, 2014). This one won the 2011 Pulitzer
Prize and Tony Award for best play. Inspired by Lorraine Hansberry’s classic
play, A Raisin in the Sun, the play
is explores racial attitudes in a Chicago neighborhood in 1959 and 2009.
Artistic Associate Timothy Douglas (who staged the current production of A Trip to Bountiful) is the director.
Prejudice, adapted by Joseph Hanreddy and J. R. Sullivan (March 8-April 5,
2014). Robison will direct this lavish, full-scale production of Jane Austen’s
Fur by David Ives (April 19-May 17, 2014). Maybe you know Ives’ very funny
collection of skits, All in the Timing. This is a full-length comedy about a
director seeking the right actress who gets more than he bargained for.
Artistic Associate KJ Sanchez is staging this one.
On the Shelterhouse Stage:
Spots on the Sun by Martín Zimmerman (Sept. 28-Oct. 27, 2013). The first of
several world premieres for the season, this one is a fable of revenge and
redemption set in a Latin American village just after a brutal civil war.
Sanchez is directing this one.
Complete History of Comedy (Abridged) by the Reduced Shakespeare Company
(Nov. 9-Dec. 29, 2013). The same guys who abbreviated Shakespeare, the Bible
and American history are at it again, premiering their latest abridgment right
here in River City.
by Amy Herzog (Feb. 8-March 9, 2014). Robison will stage this tale of a pair of
unlikely roommates, a 91-year-old grandmother and her 21-year-old grandson.
Ship by Anna Ziegler (March 22-April 20, 2014). Another world premiere
production, this one by an impressive young playwright who offers a humorous
and heartbreaking look at love, memory and decisions that change lives. Michael
Haney will direct. (Haney, perhaps Cincinnati’s best local director, was the
Playhouse’s Associate Artistic Director from 2001 to 2013; starting in the
fall, he joins Douglas and Sanchez in a trio of “artistic associates” who each will
direct two shows.)
Pool by Rajiv Joseph (May 3-June 1, 2014). Rajiv Joseph’s riveting
psychological drama is the story of a transfer student from the Middle East
whose life quickly becomes complicated. Douglas is the director.
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.
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.