Wilde's “trivial comedy for serious people” stays fresh, funny
0 Comments · Monday, November 26, 2012
It doesn’t matter whether your preference at
teatime is for cake or muffins. You’ll be pleased with Cincinnati
Shakespeare’s production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest,
full of sweets and bon mots.
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 09:42 AM | Permalink
So Thanksgiving was early this year, and that means that not only
retailers but all of our local theaters have fired their starting guns
earlier than usual with family-friendly holiday shows. That began with
Ensemble Theatre's opening of Alice in Wonderland on Nov. 28, and
Cinderella at the Covedale, A Christmas Carol at the Playhouse and New Edgecliff's Santaland Diaries (newly paired with The 12 Dates of Christmas) using a new venue, the Aronoff's Fifth Third Bank Theater.
But before you start wearing your Christmas sweaters and holiday socks, I
have a few non-seasonal but highly entertaining productions you should
Let's start with Cincinnati Shakespeare's staging of
The Importance of Being Earnest.
This is a classic comedy from 1895 by Oscar Wilde, but don't think
there's anything old and musty about it. The production of this witty,
romantic tale of harmless manipulation bubbles with laughter and
sprightly performances. I gave it a Critic's Pick here and I suspect
it will be another sold-out run for Cincy Shakes, which has assembled a
gangbuster season. You should note that it's only onstage through Dec.
16, so if you want to see it, don't wait too long. (As of the 16th it
will be supplanted by Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some), Cincy Shakes' holiday offering.) Box office: 513-381-2273 x.1.
And if smiles without holiday trimming are something you seek, I highly recommend the touring production of
This is the true story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Pop stars
from the 1960s, and the show is stuffed full of their memorable,
tuneful hits. The four leading actors faithfully recreate the
group's close harmonies and Valli's soaring falsetto tenor — he's one of
the great Pop vocalists of all time, and Nick Cosgrove nails the role.
Although the history of these four singers has its ups and downs, the
story is told with a sense of wry humor (and numerous F-bombs) that
keeps things light and entertaining. Audiences have been clamoring for
Broadway in Cincinnati to bring this show back since it appeared at the
Aronoff back in 2008, and tickets are selling fast. Box office:
Hank Williams: Lost Highway at the
Playhouse's Shelterhouse stage. (Review here.) It's another genuine
reincarnation of a singer who made an indelible mark on the world of Pop
music. Box office: 513-421-3888.
0 Comments · Tuesday, November 20, 2012
When Oscar Wilde wrote The Importance of Being Earnest
back in 1895, he subtitled it “A Trivial Comedy for Serious People.”
That’s an apt description for a show still produced with frequency 117
years later — and as funny as ever.
0 Comments · Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Collaboration is the byword for many
arts organizations today, especially theaters where financial support is
tough to obtain and ticket revenues are seldom enough to support the
cost of productions. By working together, economies can be achieved and,
in some cases, multiple constituencies can be activated.
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 10:05 AM | Permalink
If you can tear yourself way from TV ads for the
presidential election this weekend, you'll find plenty of good theater
to distract you, starting with a production at Covington's Carnegie
Center opening Friday night. It's Under a Red Moon, a
world premiere co-production with Dayton’s Human Race Theatre Company.
Michael Slade's taut psychological thriller just spent nearly a month
onstage at the Loft Theatre in Dayton, so it's already a seasoned
production. A dramatized psychological interview in the same vein as Silence of the Lambs,
it’s based on the chilling true story of England’s notorious “Acid Bath
Murderer” from a half-century ago. The play features Broadway actors
Bradford Cover as the criminal and Dee Pelletier as the psychologist
trying to get inside his head. Box office: 859-957-1940.
A different set of thrills are available from Cincinnati Shakespeare
Company, which is staging Shakespeare's bloody revenge tragedy,
Titus Andronicus. This
show requires a lot of hand-to-hand combat, blood and gore — presented
by CSC with ghastly zeal. Just as creepy tales like Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween
have chilled film audiences in recent years, this kind of play was all
the rage in the early 1590s. (CSC director Jeremy Dubin calls it “a
snuff film in blank verse.”) It's especially fun to watch veteran Nick
Rose as a Roman general who gets into a grotesque battle of wills with
the amoral Queen of the Goths, played by Miranda McGee. The awful things
they they do to one another's families make for some delicious,
hair-raising storytelling. Also onstage at Cincy Shakes is Romeo & Juliet,
with the central characters played as hormonal, irrational teens. Sara
Clark is especially good as Juliet. Both productions tell their tale
through more contemporary visual filters — R&J's characters wear contemporary clothing and are surrounded with music of the here and now, while Titus
gets a "Steampunk" treatment that presumes that the Victorian
ingenuity of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells extended its steam-driven,
mechanical technology to the present. Both approaches give new vitality
to the shows. (Review here.) Box office: 513-381-2273.
Also worth seeing is a funny, touching tale of growing up in Depression-era Brooklyn, Neil Simon's
Brighton Beach Memoirs at the Cincinnati Playhouse (513-381-3888)).
(Review here.) It's the first time that the Playhouse has staged a
work by Simon, one of America's most prolific playwrights of the 20th
century. Box office: 513-421-3888
CSC adds 21st century overlay to Shakespearean classic
0 Comments · Monday, October 29, 2012
Staged by Brian Isaac Phillips, CSC’s artistic director, this production has been modernized. The inhabitants of “fair Verona” wear contemporary clothes, and their entertainment and behavior has
Violence and Steampunk style unite for bloody Shakespeare work
0 Comments · Monday, October 29, 2012
Director Jeremy Dubin has provided a different sort of filter for this interpretation of Titus Andronicus,
that of the sci-fi genre of “Steampunk,” which presumes that the
Victorian ingenuity of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells in the 19th century
extended its steam-driven, mechanical technology prevailed in the 20th
and 21st centuries.
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 09:18 AM | Permalink
My schedule prevented me from making it to Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s opening of Romeo & Juliet back on Oct. 11, and I hadn’t caught up yet with CSC’s annual Halloween-season tarting up of a Shakespearean tragedy to be offered within the run of the mainstage show. This year it’s the rarely produced revenge piece, Titus Andronicus, presented on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings as well as Saturday matinees through Nov. 11, the same day that Romeo & Juliet wraps up. Neither production could be termed “traditional,” although they are sharing the same set, designed by Andrew Hungerford, and both shows are effectively lit by Gregory Bredestege.Although the two plays are located at the opposite poles of familiarity in the canon of Shakespeare — R&J has a plot that everyone knows, while Titus is almost never staged — they have some elements in common. Both tales are driven by thoughtless acts that fuel an unquenchable desire for revenge. The young lovers’ meet their ends in a tragedy of miscommunication and bad timing; the fictional Roman general, Titus, and those around him find themselves caught up in a horrifying series of events brought on by greed for power and a desire for one-upmanship. In fact, both plays are the product of a young Shakespeare, not yet 30 years old. They were probably first performed just a year or so apart: Titus was his first tragedy, initially presented in January 1594; R&J made its debut sometime in 1595. Titus is a revenge tragedy, wildly popular plays that were all the rage in the early 1590s. (CSC’s director for Titus, Jeremy Dubin, aptly calls it “a snuff film in blank verse.”). R&J is a paean to impetuous adolescent love, and until things start to go wrong it’s as much a sweet comedy as it is a story barreling toward a tragic ending. The humor in Titus is dark and twisted; that in R&J intensifies the tragedy. In both cases, we see the work of a writer who knew how to manipulate the emotions of his audience. Romeo & Juliet. Staged by Brian Isaac Phillips, CSC’s artistic director, this production has been modernized. The inhabitants of “fair Verona” wear contemporary clothes, and their entertainment and behavior has a 21st-century overlay. But rather than trying to twist it too far out of its original context in a Renaissance town in Italy, I’d say this feels more like an alternate reality. Billy Chace plays the brash Mercutio, Romeo’s kinsman, as a madcap clubber, always ready for a good time with his cronies Benvolio (Jessie Wray Goodman) and Balthasar (Maggie Lou Rader). The masked ball at the Capulets’ estate where Romeo (Ian Bond) first spies Juliet (Sara Clark) begins with delicate chamber music but quickly devolves to thumping club tunes.But this filter does not diminish the nature of the central characters. Both Bond and Clark play their roles like the hormonal teens they are meant to be. Juliet is not quite 14, and Romeo is perhaps 16. When we first meet him, he is pining for Rosaline, a love we never meet — we only hear Romeo’s idealized whining that she’s spurned him. He wants to be in love, and she’s his most likely prospect. He quickly transfers his affections to the sweetly innocent Juliet, and the petite Clark gives her the kind of breathless silliness that is endearing if not enduring. Neither of the lovers is meant to experience love in any profound way: They are swept up in the passion of youth — they go from meeting to marriage in a blur of four or five scenes. Bond’s Romeo spends a lot of time agonizing over his frustrations, and he doesn’t seem to mature much, despite the seriousness of the situation. Clark’s Juliet has more opportunity to show growth and personal recognition at the conundrum life has presented her. Her loving but thoughtless nurse (Sherman Fracher), her domineering, unthinking father (Jim Hopkins) and her vain, superficial mother (Jennifer Joplin) make matters worse by forcing her toward an arranged marriage. The well-intentioned Friar Lawrence (Jeff Groh, more like a hippie raising strange herbs than a devout priest) aids the young lovers, but like the nurse, exacerbates a tough situation with his meddling. Clark is stunningly honest in her role, and the heat between her and Bond is palpable, if uncomplicated — as it should be for a couple of teenagers in heat.The production as a lot of stage combat, and seeing it two weeks into its run let me see how capable Cincy Shakes can be. I had heard things were a little rough on the opening weekend, but there was no evidence of that at the performance I saw, which was thoroughly enjoyed by the full house.Titus Andronicus. This show requires a lot of hand-to-hand combat and considerably more blood than Romeo & Juliet. It was all done with ghastly if over-the-top realism. The plot is both simple and ridiculous by contemporary standards: Titus (Nick Rose) is a successful general who turns down the chance to become emperor. Things go bad for him and his family when his prisoner Tamora, Queen of the Goths (Miranda McGee in a showy, sexy role), gets hitched to the emperor Saturninus (played as a foppish, preening fool by Justin McComb). She wreaks some vengeance on Titus’s offspring, masterminded by her scheming lover Aaron (Darnell Benjamin) who steers her fawning, selfish sons Chiron (Travis Emery) and Demetrius (Zach Schute) to some vile acts. After gruesome violence on Titus’s daughter Lavinia (Maggie Lou Rader), a grief-crazed Titus figures out some even more grotesque ways to fight back.This is all spelled out in the script and played out on CSC’s stage with a lot of gore and stage blood — decapitated heads and severed hands — for instance, and extended to the brink of insanity lengths in the second half with Titus’s missing left hand replaced by a metal forearm that accommodates various implements from a fork to a corkscrew to a set of mechanical knife blades (like the electric knife I use to carve the Thanksgiving turkey). You can be assured these are used for violent purposes, and Nick Rose, a CSC veteran (in fact, one of its founders), revels in Titus’s madness — with some manic behavior, including bemoaning the “murder” of a fly in a blackly humorous moment. Rose is having a ball with this juicy role.Director Jeremy Dubin has provided a different sort of filter for this interpretation of Titus Andronicus, that of the sci-fi genre of “Steampunk,” which presumes that the Victorian ingenuity of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells in the 19th century extended its steam-driven, mechanical technology prevailed in the 20th and 21st centuries. Accordingly, costumes are a curious, colorful mishmash of Victorian styles — cutaway coats, vests, goggles, belts and bustiers — and six video monitors around the theater display show cards offering the gist of scenes with quaint, tongue-in-cheek summaries. Each act began with n actor attaching a hand crank to a gear at stage right to wind up the mechanism of the show. Similarly, when certain offstage action needed to be represented, a servant bearing a kind of magic lantern projector came on to reveal a scene, which the audience saw on the monitors. (The device was clever; I wish it had been more fully and frequently integrated into the action.)Titus Andronicus is not a great play, but Cincy Shakes — and especially actors Nick Rose, Miranda McGee, Darnell Benjamin and Maggie Lou Rader — make this production great fun to watch, providing you’re not too squeamish. It is, after all, a bloody mess, intentionally so and perfect for the thrill-seekers of late October.
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 09:35 AM | Permalink
You'll have to pick and choose this weekend because
there's so much theater onstage. In addition to our professional
theaters, it's worth checking out production at universities: Tonight
through Sunday, CCM's esteemed musical theater program is offering the
cult favorite Chess, with music by ABBA's Björn Ulvaeus
and Benny Andersson. The story is set in Bangkok and Budapest during a
mid-1970s world chess championship — and it's driven by gamesmanship
between nations, between lovers and, of course, between chess players. I
saw the opening on Thursday, and it's a BIG show with a gigantic cast.
Several leading roles are double cast (with more juniors than seniors,
in fact, which bodes well for CCM productions for this season and next).
In particular, Matthew Paul Hill, playing the Russian grand master
Anatoly, lifted the roof of Corbett Auditorium with his powerful
baritone voice singing the stirring "Anthem," the Act 1 finale. Tickets
($30) Box office: 513-556-4183. At Northern Kentucky University you'll a production of Royal Gambit
by German playwright Hermann Gressieker (translated into English in the
late 1950s). The subject is King Henry VIII and his six wives, and this
looks to be a beautifully costumed show, featuring senior Seth Wallen
in the leading role. Tickets ($14). Box office: 859-572-5464.
Neil Simon's funny and endearing Brighton Beach Memoirs is
onstage at the Cincinnati Playhouse. I gave it a Critic's Pick (review here),
and I'm sure audiences will love this sweet portrait of growing up in
Brooklyn in the 1930s, where a loving but fractious family copes with
hard times. It's told from the perspective of Eugene, a precocious
adolescent (he's really Simon as a 15-year-old), who takes notes on his
family's behavior. Well acted and beautifully staged. Box office: 513-421-3888l.
My schedule hasn't permitted me to see several shows that are getting
good notices, including recognition from the folks evaluating
productions for the League of Cincinnati Theatres. I'm catching up this
evening with Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, which is offering two shows
Romeo & Juliet is its mainstage show, and
Sara Clark is getting high marks for her portrait of romantic but
tragic young love. Brian Phillips' staging picked up an LCT nod, and the
show received an overall recommendation from LCT. On the evenings when R&J
is not onstage, there's another Shakespeare work for thrill seekers,
specially selected and staged for the Halloween season: the bloody, gory
tale of revenge, Titus Andronicus. Veteran actor Nick
Rose plays a crazed Roman general, and just about everyone I've heard
from says his performance is memorable. (It earned him an LCT
nomination, too.) Box office: 513-381-2273.
This weekend is the final one for
Mrs. Mannerly at Ensemble Theatre. When Harper Lee reviewed this one for CityBeat (review here),
she gave it a Critic's Pick, and I agree wholeheartedly. (LCT named it a
recommended production, too.) CEA Hall of Fame actress Dale Hodges is
great fun to watch as a strict etiquette teacher in 1967, and Raymond
McAnally plays all the other characters — a bunch of kids who are
learning how to behave in a "mannerly" way. It's funny from start to
finish, but there's a heart-warming message within the story. Definitely
worth seeing. Box office: 513-421-3555.
At Clifton Performance Theatre, Clifton Players are staging
A Bright New Boise,
which also picked up an LCT recommendation. I haven't seen it, but the
show won an Obie Award (that's for outstanding off-Broadway plays) in
2011, and it has a strong cast. This is a newish venue that's
specializing in "storefront theater." Should be worth supporting.
Tickets ($20): 513-861-7469.
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 09:44 AM | Permalink
You have no excuse for complaining that there's not enough
theater in the days ahead. In fact, you'll have a hard time fitting it
Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati's regional premiere of
opened a few days ago: It's a comedy about growing up in small-town
Ohio under the watchful (perhaps oppressive) eye of a strict etiquette
teacher. Jeffrey Hatcher's play (largely based on his own experience in
1967) features one of Cincinnati's best actresses, Dale Hodges, in the
title role. And the production has been staged by Ed Stern, recently
retired after 20 years as producing artistic director at the Cincinnati
Playhouse. Box Office: 513-421-3555.
Cincinnati Shakespeare is producing Shakespeare's romantic tragedy
Romeo & Juliet, featuring a pair of actors — Sara Clark and Ian Bond — who had great chemistry in recent productions of Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility.
They will bring new life a familiar work, I'm sure. The production
opens Friday; bear in mind that Cincy Shakes has been selling out its
productions this season, so catching this one before it catches on with
the larger audience might be a good idea. Box Office: 513-381-2273 x1.
For entertainment of an entirely different stripe, I suggest you check out
The Beggar's Carnivale
on Friday and Saturday evenings (9 p.m.) at Know Theatre. This variety
show has been described as "Cirque du Soleil on a whiskey bender." It
includes elements of traiditonal circus arts, gypsy folk and Rock &
Roll. You'll witness a fast-paced spectacle with several acts linked by
interludes in the style of silent film. There's live music, too, by
their house band The Royal We and the Carnivale's personal DJ. Sounds
like an evening of unusual entertainment. Box Office: 513-300-5669.
For the stay-at-homes, you might sample
Lost in Yonkers on
WVXU's broadcast of L.A. Theatre Works, Saturday evening at 8 p.m. on
FM 91.7. This great nostalgic play by Neil Simon is part of an
autobiographical trilogy; the Cincinnati Playhouse is producing Brighton Beach Memoirs, another from this set, a few weeks from now. On Sunday evening at 8 p.m. WVXU will air The Moth,
a collection of monologues by everyday people, sharing anecdotes of
things that actually happened to them. It's the inspiration for our
local company True Theatre, which opens its third season on Monday
evening (7:30 p.m.) with trueLearning at Know Theatre.
Finally, to keep you occupied next week, CCM Drama is offering a week of
free, unticketed readings of gay-themed plays. On Monday it's Larry
The Normal Heart (1985); Tuesday and Wednesday offer Tony Kushner's 1993 award-winning Angels in America, Part 1: Millennium Approaches and Part 2: Perestroika. Thursday evening it's Stephen Karam's Sons of the Prophet
(2011). All readings are at 7 p.m. in the Corbett Center's Room 4755 at
the University of Cincinnati. On Friday evening, Dr. Richard Coons will
moderate a conversation about "Storytellers, History Makers and
Revolutionaries: The LGBT Story." A clinical psychologist, Coons is a
CCM Drama grad; in 1998 and 1999 he played the central role of Prior
Walter in CCM's local premiere of Kushner's Angels in America. (Also free, this event will be in Patricia Corbett Theatre on the UC campus.)