WHAT SHOULD I BE DOING INSTEAD OF THIS?
 
 
by Rick Pender 03.22.2013
Posted In: Theater at 07:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
dont cross the streams

Stage Door: Comedy, Conflict and Classics

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. 
 
 

Play On

Catacoustic Consort, concert:nova and Cincinnati Shakespeare Company collaborate on a Bard-inspired performance

0 Comments · Tuesday, March 12, 2013
William Shakespeare’s drama and poetry resonate far beyond the theater. Music plays a vital role in his plays and his works continue to inspire compositions in all genres of music, from song to symphony to sampling.   
by Rick Pender 03.08.2013
Posted In: Theater at 10:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
onstage 2-20 - cast of leveling up (playhouse) - photo sandy underwood

Stage Door: Tick Tock...

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 02.22.2013
at 09:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
onstage 2-20 - when the rain stops falling (know) cast at table - photo deogracias lerma

Stage Door: Cincy Shakes Steals the Show(s)

It might be hard to imagine that a show like Legally Blonde: The Musical could stir up controversy, which it did last fall at Loveland High School. But that's not stopping other theaters from putting it onstage, including Northern Kentucky University, which opened a campus production on Thursday (and continues through March 3). It's the familiar story of Elle Woods, spurned by her fiancé, off to Harvard Law School in pursuit of him, only to discover that she's got the smarts to be more than just a girlfriend. Not profound, but certainly entertaining. Tickets: 859-572-5464 On Wednesday evening, I attended the first performance of Slow Descent from Heaven, a world premiere play by local writer Catie O'Keefe. Presented by New Edgecliff Theatre (O'Keefe is their playwright-in-residence), it's an ambitious work, presented in a converted classroom at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center (3711 Clifton Ave.) in a production directed by Ed Cohen. The central character, Molly (Elizabeth A. Harris), is a NASA scientist whose story is bookended by space shuttle disasters in 1986 and 2003. She's an angry, tense character, and her involvement with men has affected her career and her attitude. The story has a reverse chronology, so we peel backward in time to learn more about why she's the way she is. I'm glad to have seen this, but I think the script needs more work in delving into Molly's psyche. Right now, her angst is all on the surface, and her interface with the two men in her life (plus the funny mother of one of them) is too predictable. Nevertheless, it's great to see a group like NET encouraging the development of new work. Tickets: 513-399-6638 Another group producing new work is Thompson House Newport (the venue formerly known as Southgate House). They are staging a new Rock musical, Variables, the comic story of five friends out for a night on the town. Their evening takes a serious turn when it's interrupted by disturbing news. It's the work of composer Jered S. Ryan and lyricist Mark D. Motz. Performances are on Feb. 23, 28 and March 2. I haven't seen it, so I can't offer an assessment, but it's another example of our fertile local theater scene. Tickets: www.thompsonhousenewport.com Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's production of Dangerous Liaisons (review here) is a listless interpretation of a show that should be deliciously (dare I say "dangerously") nasty. There are some fine actors onstage — notably Giles Davies and Corinne Mohlenhoff, both longtime favorites at CSC — and moments when the chemistry works, but not enough of them. Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1. Several Cincy Shakes actors are doing a fine job on another stage, in Know Theatre's production of When the Rain Stops Falling, a compelling story of multiple, intersecting generations of two families. (review here) It's a fascinating piece of writing by Andrew Bovell, and a taut, engaging 100-minute production, staged by CSC's Brian Phillips. If you're looking for the one show to see this weekend, this is the one I'd point you to. Tickets: 513-300-5669
 
 
by Rick Pender 02.15.2013
Posted In: Theater at 10:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
onstage 2-20 - when the rain stops falling (know) cast at table - photo deogracias lerma

Stage Door: Stop Waffling

If you're waffling between whether to go to the theater or do something else this weekend, let me help you decide: You should get a ticket to see When the Rain Stops Falling at Know Theatre. It's running through March 16, but it's going to be an in-demand ticket soon: I gave it a Critic's Pick in CityBeat (review here), the League of Cincinnati Theatres bestowed eight nominations on it (I believe that's the most they've given to any production this season), and everyone I've talked to has been breathless in their praise of the script, the cast, the design — well, the entire production. Andrew Bovell's play bounces around in time between 1959 and 2039 and between the histories of four generations of two families. That might sound a bit complicated or confusing, but it's not: There are parallels and intersections that slowly make sense, and the play uses language and imagery to bring the stories together into a coherent narrative by play's end. Two characters are played by two different actresses, representing younger and older incarnations of these unusual women: One is an intellectual in her early years, but becomes emotionally distant due to a personal trauma; the other is a free-spirited young woman whose life turns dramatically and becomes an older woman with fragmented memories and a tenuous grip on the present. The stories are about fathers and sons, parents and children, and how actions by one generation reverberate down the line. Bovell's script reinforces these echoes with lines and artifacts that recur in different contexts. It's a brilliant piece of writing, and director Brian Phillips (he's artistic director at Cincinnati Shakespeare) uses movement and scene intersections to tell the story with nine actors (four from his Cincy Shakes company). The LCT recognition singled out three performers, but I'd suggest that the show is powerful because the entire ensemble is operating in a powerful, parallel manner. You don't want to miss this one. Box office: 513-300-5669 On Thursday evening I attended Leveling Up at the Cincinnati Playhouse, a world premiere by Deborah Zoe Laufer. It's an insightful slice of contemporary life, three young men and a girlfriend who are obsessed with video gaming, stalled in their post-college lives. They spend 20 hours a day online, and their social skills (if they had them previously) have deteriorated amid the rubble of a basement game room in Las Vegas. Laufer's script will leave you feeling like you've eavesdropped on real life (in fact, they're already playing when you enter the Shelterhouse Theatre — although the "screen" they watch is the theater's invisible fourth wall: They are staring forward at the central audience section and their attention never wavers, even when they're having distracted conversations about life. The divide between their world and being "IRL" ("in real life" as they shorthand it) increasingly and distressingly — and sometimes comically — blurs. Laufer's metaphor about "leveling up" in games and its parallel to stepping up to levels of maturity gives the show meaning and depth. The young cast are entertaining and convincing. I know this show will appeal to young audiences, but I heard many in the audience after the 90-minute performance who were impressed with the story and what it tells us about society today. It's worth noting that this weekend the Cincinnati Playhouse has two world premieres on its stages, which Abigail/1702 (review here) on its mainstage. Box office: 513-421-3888. Opening tonight is a production of Dangerous Liaisons at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. It's Christopher Hampton's stage play that inspired the 1988 film many will recall featuring Glenn Close and John Malkovich as manipulative French nobility who play games with young innocents (including Michelle Pfeiffer). For CSC, the cast includes two popular performers from the past: Giles Davies as the Vicomte de Valmont and Corinne Mohlenhoff as the Marquise de Merteuil, the scheming pair who put devious plots in motion. This promises to be a delicious drama. Box office: 513-381-2273 x1. 
 
 
by Rick Pender 02.01.2013
Posted In: Theater at 10:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
brent vimtrup as king richard ii - cincinnati shakespeare company - photo by rich sofranki

Stage Door: Closing Shows

No new shows opened this week. But several will close this weekend, so it's your last chance to see them. At the top of that list I would put Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's production of Richard II (Review here). If you're a completist, this is a rare chance to catch a show that's produced very infrequently. (CSC's staging is its first in 19 seasons, leaving it just one shy of producing all 38 of Shakespeare's surviving plays.) But an even more important reason is that actor Brent Vimtrup offers a breathtaking portrait of a weak king (he ruled in the 14th century) who questioned his own ability to reign, decided to hand over his throne and then agonized over relinquishing his "God-given" right. Vimtrup makes Richard real and human in some unexpected ways; it's a performance that's definitely worth seeing. It doesn't hurt that the script is entirely in verse — CSC's actors know how to revel in this language, so the words are wondrous things to hear. But you last chances are this weekend; the final performance is Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1. A British king of a different sort is onstage at the Carnegie in Covington, where the musical Camelot is on view in a concert staging (Review here). The mythical King Arthur — he of chivalry and knighthood and the Round Table — is the subject, as well as his beautiful Queen Guinevere and his valiant retainer Sir Lancelot. Like Richard, Arthur has some shortcomings — hey, we're all human, right? — but his problems are more about being too idealistic and trusting. The truth about Camelot is that the story is kind of choppy and the characters rather one-dimensional, but Lerner and Loewe's music is beautiful, especially in this production, where some great voices are accompanied by an ensemble of musicians from the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, conducted by the CCO's Mischa Santora. The show is minimally staged and costumed, but its maximally sung. This one wraps up with a 3 p.m. matinee on Sunday. Tickets: 859-957-1940. Two other productions that are definitely worth seeing: The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park's world premiere of Abigail/1702 (through Feb. 17, 513-421-3888) (Review here), a spooky sequel to Arthur Miller's The Crucible, and Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati's regional premiere of the recent Off-Broadway hit Freud's Last Sesson (through Feb. 16, 513-421-3555) (Review here). The latter is an imagined conversation between Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis about some big issues of life and death, faith and belief. It's a very thought-provoking script, performed at ETC by two fine actors, Bruce Cromer and Barry Mulholland. This one was scheduled to close on Feb. 10, but demand for tickets led to an extension. Take advantage of it!
 
 

Richard II (Review)

CSC portrays the fall of a king

0 Comments · Monday, January 14, 2013
Audiences seeing Richard II will wonder why it’s not presented more often because this production works so well. The common wisdom is that Richard II is more about head than heart. Shakespeare’s other histories are full of glory and combat, whereas this play focuses on a king whose weakness leads to his downfall.     
by Rick Pender 01.18.2013
Posted In: Arts community, Visual Art, Theater at 09:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
a&c1_abigail1702_photo_clintonbphotography

Stage Door: Options Abound

An avalanche of theater heads our way next week — including the touring Broadway musical Memphis (not Million Dollar Quartet, as mistakenly published in last Sunday's Enquirer), the regional premiere of Freud's Last Session at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati (not "Freud's Last Stand" as the same Enquirer piece labeled it — doesn't our daily paper employ copy editors and fact checkers?), the world premiere of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's Abigail/1702 (in previews this weekend; read more here) and a concert staging of Lerner & Loewe's lovely musical Camelot at the Carnegie Center in Covington (with accompaniment by Mischa Santora and members of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra).  By the way, there's apparently such anticipation for Freud's Last Session, which features local actor Bruce Cromer, that tickets are selling out for some performances. As a result, even before the show opens on Jan. 23, ETC has extended the show's run by a week, to Feb. 16. Box office: 513-421-3555 If you haven't yet caught Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's staging of Richard II, you really should make a point of doing so. In my review, I pointed to Brent Vimtrup's multi-faceted performance. I'll add here that there are strong supporting performances from Jim Hopkins, Nick Rose and Giles Davies (this longtime CSC favorite is back in town for a few productions). This show isn't often produced (it's the first time for Cincy Shakes in its 19-year history), but this staging will make you wonder why. It's bursting with poetry, and there's lots to look at with beautiful 14th-century-styled costumes. An Acclaim Awards panel cited Vimtrup's performance as well as Andrew Hungerford's lighting design; I gave the production a Critic's Pick. Need any more encouragement? Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1 Elsewhere, you'll find a production of Adam Rapp's Red Light Winter by Untethered Theater at Clifton Performance Theatre. This is a chilly drama about a weird love triangle. It's a great piece for three young actors. Look for a review in the next issue of CityBeat. (Tickets: 513-939-0599) If you want something a little lighter, consider Moonlight and Magnolias at Mariemont Players, a very dependable community theater on Cincinnati's east side. The show is an amusing reconstruction of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans involved in writing the script for Gone with the Wind. It's told with a lot of slapstick that will have audiences laughing out loud. (513-684-1236)
 
 
by Rick Pender 01.11.2013
Posted In: Theater at 10:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
Photo: Rich Sofranki

Stage Door: Cincy Shakes Opens 2013

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is the first out of the chute with a new production in 2013. Of course, it's a 400-year-old play about a king from two centuries before that. But Shakespeare proved with his script for Richard II that there are universal traits that make us all human, even if we're a king who's supposedly given his powers directly from God. Richard was thrust onto the throne while still a teenager, and in Shakespeare's version he's an adult but very uncertain of his right to rule and doubtful of his ability to do so. That kind of anxiety still makes sense in the 21st century. So CSC's first-ever staging of the show is something that should interest both to your average theatergoer as well as anyone looking to complete the experience of seeing every play the Bard penned. This one marks No. 37 of 38 for CSC; one more year and they'll have staged every one of Shakespeare's surviving works, quite an accomplishment. With a fine actor, Brent Vimtrup, playing Richard, and a script that's all poetry, this one promises to be both fascinating and satisfying. More things start up next week and the one after that has a veritable avalanche of shows, so I suggest you hustle on downtown to Cincy Shakes venue and catch this one before you have too many choices. 
 
 

The Human Side of a King

0 Comments · Wednesday, January 2, 2013
You might know that Shakespeare’s Richard III focuses on one of his great villains. But among his 38 plays, there’s also Richard II. You probably know almost nothing about this guy — a weak king, deposed in 1399 — who died in captivity in 1400.   

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