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.)
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 11:03 AM | Permalink
The fall theater season in Cincinnati is off to a great
start, with well received productions on several stages. If you get a
chance to see Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's production of To Kill a Mockingbird,
I urge you to do so. It's onstage through Sept. 30, but almost all of
its performances (including several added ones) have been sold out. Good
news for the theater, but not for you if you don't have tickets yet.
Nevertheless, it would be worth a call to CSC's box office (513-381-2273 x1)
to see if there's anything available. The chance to see Bruce Cromer
portray the virtuous attorney Atticus Finch is worth the effort.
If you can't score a ticket at CSC, you might try to get in to see Good People,
a new play by Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire, which
concludes its run on Sunday. The tale about an unskilled woman from
South Boston seeking work in today's world has the ring of truth and
reality to it, and Annie Fitzpatrick's portrait of hard-luck Margie —
who thinks of herself as "good people" — is touching and relevant to the
world we live in. Tickets are selling at a fast clip for this one, too,
so call to find out if seats are available: 513-421-3555.
Want to take some kids to a show they'll enjoy? It's
always fun to introduce them to live theater, and there are two great
choices currently onstage: The Cincinnati Playhouse production of The Three Musketeers (running through Sept. 29, 513-421-3888) is full of action and adventure, good guys and bad guys. And The Music Man, on the Showboat Majestic (through Sept. 30, 513-241-6550),
is a classic musical with a lot of humor — and a winning acting job by
charming Owen Gunderman as Winthrop, the kid who overcomes his shyness
when he gets a cornet to play in a boys' band.
Want something a tad more adventurous: Check out the Fringe
shows that Know Theatre has brought back from last June's festival for
several days. It's a sampling of some of the best work that drew big
crowds to the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, including two "Pick of the
Fringe" offerings, On Her Pillow and The Screw You Revue,
and two solo performers, Tommy Nugent and Kevin Thornton, who always
draw a crowd. Probably no problem with ticket availability, but I
recommend calling in advance: 513-300-5669.
0 Comments · Wednesday, September 12, 2012
What makes Bruce Cromer one of our
region’s best actors? He’s especially good at virtuous characters such
as Atticus Finch, the admirable, broadminded attorney in To Kill a Mockingbird, a role he’s currently playing for Cincinnati Shakespeare Company (CSC).
0 Comments · Tuesday, August 28, 2012
As the final weeks of summer cool down, it’s time for
Cincinnati’s theaters to turn up the heat.
CSC's adept cast has a ball
0 Comments · Sunday, July 29, 2012
The process of translating clichés into high humor is a
delicate one. Luckily for Cincinnati
Shakespeare Company, the able three actors assembled for a very
tongue-in-cheek retelling of the Sherlock Holmes tale The Hound of the Baskervilles know their way around slapstick and shtick.
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 09:09 AM | Permalink
Light entertainment is what most of us are looking for
onstage during August, and Cincinnati Shakespeare Company has just the
answer: The Hound of the Baskervilles. The amusing script
takes Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's class Sherlock Holmes tale and turns it
into a silly romp around the moor. CSC's cast of three veteran
performers — Nick Rose, Jeremy Dubin and Brent Vimtrup — have just the
right attitude to keep it amusing from start to finish without becoming
tiresome. That's also due to the work of director Michael Evan Haney.
He's the longtime associate artistic director at the Cincinnati
Playhouse in the Park, and he's done fine work on other stages locally,
but this is his debut with Cincy Shakes. It's a fine partnership,
building on his experience with a similar show — a funny romp through
Around the World in 80 Days that entertained Playhouse/Shelterhouse
audiences several years back and then moved on to New York City where it
had a successful run at the Irish Repertory Theatre. Hound is like
drinking fine English tea from a dribble cup. Review here. Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1.
While other theaters are largely dormant, the folks at Cincy Shakes are
very busy in August. In addition to the aforementioned production at
their Race Street theater, they also launch their Shakespeare in the
Park series this weekend with a performance of
The Tempest at Seasongood Pavilion in Eden Park. It gets its first outing on Saturday evening at 7 p.m. Go to cincyshakes.com for more dates and locations. These are free performances, so they're definitely worth checking out.
And in case you need a reminder that we have a great theater scene
locally, here's a tidbit. The Phoenix Theatre in Indianapolis just
announced its 2012-2013 season; this is a fine theater company, rather
like Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati in its presentation of new works. But
they're touting their September production of
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson as the "Midwest Premiere," and they've given a similar designation to their January-February staging of next to normal.
Um, I'm sorry to burst their bubble, but those shows have already been
onstage here in Cincinnati (and I believe we're in the Midwest). Both
were produced last season. In fact, ETC offered next to normal
last September (not long after the Tony and Pulitzer prize winner closed
in New York) and already presented a sold-out revival in June. Know
Theatre gave us the hard-rockin' version of our seventh president in a
heavily sold run last spring. So the Indy theater's claims are more than
a bit overblown. But we'll let them believe their own hype, and aren't
we smug that we didn't have to leave town to see those shows. That being
said, the Phoenix is offering Seminar, a snarky drama by Cincinnati native Theresa Rebeck (her play Dead Accounts had its world premiere at the Cincinnati Playhouse back in January) this fall (Oct. 25-Nov. 25) and Nicky Silver's dark comedy The Lyons next spring (Feb. 28-March 31). Both could be worth the drive. www.phoenixtheatre.org.
0 Comments · Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Rather than focus
on one venue, Cincinnati
Shakespeare Company delivers its Shakespeare in the Park Tour to more than a dozen parks
and outdoor venues throughout the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky area. The first of CSC’s touring performances will be on Saturday with the 7 p.m. opening of The Tempest
at Seasongood Pavilion in Eden Park.
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 09:16 AM | Permalink
I can't say that a musical based on the Adam Sandler film The Wedding Singer
is going to be either edifying or educational for a bunch of teens. But
I can assure you that the kids from all over the region involved in
Cincinnati Young People's Theatre, which opens its production of the
show tonight, will be having a blast at the Covedale Center for the
Performing Arts. I bet their good times with this goofy show will mean
contagious entertainment for everyone who shows up to see it. Whether
they're related to the kids or not! It's onstage through Aug. 5. Box
It appears that Cincinnati Shakespeare Company has a summertime hit on its hands with its very tongue-in-cheek staging of
The Hound of the Baskervilles
using three of its best actors. The show opened a week ago and there is
so much demand for tickets that CSC has added matinee performances
through the production's three-week run. Several performances have
completely sold out. It's directed by Michael Evan Haney, associate
artistic director at the Cincinnati Playhouse and one of our area's best
at staging witty and complicated pieces — his Cincinnati Playhouse
production of Around the World in Eighty Days was a big hit
several seasons back (it used four actors) and it moved on to a
well-received run in New York City. While Hound retells the well known
Sherlock Holmes tale, it does it with actors in multiple roles (Jeremy
Dubin, who portrays Holmes, for instance, also plays all the villains)
and a lot of visual humor and slapstick physicality. Through Aug. 12.
Box office: 513-381-2273. Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.