Reviving America's Honky-Tonk hero
0 Comments · Monday, November 12, 2012
For a guy who spent most of
his mental energy on comic books, “Hillbilly” singer Hank Williams
surely knew how write songs that connected with people from all walks of
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 09:01 AM | Permalink
There's plenty of good theater available around town in the next few days, including the just-opened production of Hank Williams: Lost Highway at the Cincinnati Playhouse, as well as Romeo and Juliet and Titus Andronicus, which finish their runs at Cincinnati Shakespeare this weekend. But for this week's edition of Stage Door, I'm recommending three productions that might not be on your radar.One of the big hits of the 2012 Cincinnati Fringe Festival, Grim and Fischer, is back for performances on Friday and Saturday. It was only offered three times back in June, and a lot of people missed the unusual "full-face mask" show about death (aka Grim, as in "Grim Reaper") matching wits with elderly Mrs. Fischer, who's not ready to take her leave of this world. Everyone who saw the wordless piece raved about it, so Know Theatre (they guys who present the Fringe) have brought back the two performers from Wonderheads Theatre in Portland, Ore., to give us three more chances, Friday and Saturday evening at 8 p.m. plus a 3 p.m. Saturday matinee. I'm not missing their 50-minute performance this time around. Tickets ($12): 513-300-5669.Community theater often brings back classics that audiences love, and Footlighters (you can find them at Newport's Stained Glass Theatre, right across the street from the York Street Cafe) is doing just that with Thornton Wilder's 1938 Pulitzer Prize winner, Our Town. But don't think you've been there and done that, since this production takes several familiar conventions and freshens them. The "Stage Manager," usually a folksy older guy, is played by a woman, and many of the references to New England life in the early 1900s are minimized, which makes the show feel a lot more universal and relevant to life today. Through Nov. 18. Tickets ($20): 859-652-3849. And my third recommendation is from another community theater, one that really knows its way around musicals: Cincinnati Music Theatre is staging Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's Company, a Tony winner from 1970 — and again in 2007 when the Cincinnati Playhouse's revival of the story of Bobby and his married friends moved to Broadway and was named the year's best musical revival. It has a brilliant and energetic score, great comic scenes and songs you're likely to know, including "Another Hundred People," "The Ladies Who Lunch" and "Being Alive." CMT presents its shows at the Aronoff Center's Jarson-Kaplan Theater. Through Nov. 17. Tickets ($22): 513-621-2787.
Glimpse inside a serial killer's sensitive psyche in seesaw game of cat-and-mouse
0 Comments · Monday, November 5, 2012
The “Acid Bath Killer,” as British serial killer John George Haigh came to be known, is the subject of a new play, Under a Red Moon, in a world premiere production at Covington’s Carnegie Center.
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
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.
Playhouse's first Neil Simon staging is honest, heartfelt
0 Comments · Monday, October 22, 2012
surprising that one of the most frequently produced and honored
playwrights of the 20th century hasn’t previously had one of his works
staged at our award-winning regional theater, but it’s almost worth the
wait given the current staging of Neil Simon’s 1983 Tony Award winner, Brighton Beach Memoirs.
Fifty years of marriage onstage at Covedale
0 Comments · Monday, October 22, 2012
The folks who run Cincinnati Landmark Productions know their audience:
This is the kind of warm-hearted, old-fashioned show that appeals to
their subscribers. But I Do! I Do! has really become a history lesson more than a romantic voyage.
by Rick Pender
Posted In: Theater
at 09:20 AM | Permalink
My first and foremost recommendation for the weekend is Blue Man Group.
(Review here.) It's a performance experience unlike much of anything else you've
probably ever experienced in a theater — raucous music, zany humor,
eye-popping technology and infectiously fun engagement with the
audience. Amazingly, it's done without spoken words — the guys mime
(well, kind of, it's actually more like they're mute in the style of
Harpo Marx, with a lot of staring and double-takes), although they're
backed up by awesome video that does offer some instruction (and laughs)
for the literate. As I've said before, it's hard to describe but easy
to enjoy. This is Blue Man Group's first time in Cincinnati, presented
by Broadway Across America; the Aronoff Center might never be the same.
(Through Oct. 28) Box office: 800-982-2787.
Last night I enjoyed opening night for the thoroughly authentic and charming production of Neil Simon's
Brighton Beach Memoirs
at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. It's the story of a Jewish
family in Brooklyn in the 1930s, but thanks to Simon's witty, heartfelt
recollections of his own youth, it has a feeling of universality. The
narrator is Eugene Morris Jerome (who's a stand-in for Simon himself),
and actor Ryan DeLuca conveys the joys and pangs of adolescence and
puberty with feeling and hilarity. He frequently addresses the audience
about his interactions with his grouchy parents and his woebegon aunt,
his worldly brother, his pampered cousins — he's documenting them for
something he'll write when he's older, a novel or perhaps a play! And
that play is the one onstage at the Playhouse, the first Neil Simon
script ever presented there in more than 50 seasons. (Through Nov. 10.)
Box office: 513-421-3888.
Continuing productions of the comedy
Mrs. Mannerly at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati (513-421-3555) and Shakespeare's romantic tragedy Romeo & Juliet at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company (513-381-2273, x1)
have been positively reviewed and appreciated by audiences. This
weekend also marks the opening of Cincy Shakes' staging of Shakespeare's
bloody history of the Roman emperor Titus Andronicus,
staged with tongue in cheek (and in a pie) for the Halloween season. It
happens on the nights when the R&J cast takes a breather.
You might also consider two special events: New Edgecliff Theatre's annual one-night fundraiser,
Sweet Suspense Theatre,
a presentation in the style of a radio play, happens on Saturday
evening. This year the production, a new adaptation of Oscar Wilde's
story of The Canterville Ghost, is being presented at the
Cincinnati Art Museum — and includes an extended intermission with lots
of goodies from local bakeries and restaurants. (Tickets: 888-588-0177). You might also want to check in with the Playhouse about ticket availability for Post Secret
on Monday evening; the one-night presentation of a piece based on an
anonymous "true confessions" website is rumored to be sold out, but
there might be a waiting list if you call the box office. (513-421-3888)
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.)