Since last week’s Stage Door I’ve seen several productions that are definitely worth checking out.
Diogenes Theatre Company is presenting Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days at the Aronoff Center’s Fifth Third Bank Theater through Sunday. Don’t ask me to tell you what it’s about — it’s by Beckett, so it’s an absurdist piece that deals with existence, loneliness and happiness.
There are two characters: Winnie talks incessantly, while Willie barely speaks at all. They’re a couple, it seems, but they’re living minimal and seemingly diminishing lives, literally stuck in holes in a vast, arid landscape. Nevertheless, Winnie seems to remain relentlessly optimistic about the future, while Willie doesn’t have much to say but seems weary of it all. It’s one of those works (like Beckett’s Waiting for Godot) that can be interpreted in numerous ways, so I’ll leave that to you. But I will say that it’s a rare opportunity to see an impressive acting performance by Amy Warner, a professional who graced local stages for more than a decade. She now lives in Minnesota with her husband, former Playhouse Associate Artistic Director Michael Evan Haney, who staged this piece. In the show’s shorter second act, she is buried up to her neck — and still presents a compelling performance based almost solely on facial expressions. (Willie is played by Michael Sommers who teaches at the University of Minnesota.) This show won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a fascinating script that will keep you talking with anyone who joins you to a performance. Tickets: 513-621-2787.
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is presenting Antony & Cleopatra, the second installment in its staging of Shakespeare’s Roman plays. It uses many of the same actors in roles established in its recent staging of Julius Caesar (April 8-May 7), most particularly Nick Rose as the ebullient but besotted Roman general Marc Antony. Guest actress Chantal Jean-Pierre is Cleopatra, the object of his obsession. The role is an unusual one for Shakespeare — the Egyptian queen is strong-willed, impulsive and downright willful. Jean-Pierre’s performance put me in mind of Beyoncé, strong and sassy performer who knows how to manipulate her audience. I can’t say her performance struck me as historically accurate, but it has an emotional essence that distills her power over the aging warrior. It’s not the chemistry I expected, but she’s intriguing to watch. Kyle Brumley plays a slightly creepy, slow-mo Emperor Octavius, a reticent but efficient in establishing his power yet drained of passion. Cincy Shakes stages this sweeping story with projected video and animation to depict sea battles and military combat, and that’s a plus for this production. The show is one for completists who want to check it off, but I found it overlong and not always compelling. Through June 4. Tickets: 513-381-2273.
The Cincinnati Playhouse’s staging of Theresa Rebeck’s Bad Dates is an entertaining evening of storytelling by a woman who’s trying to make a go at finding love after a dry spell and at middle age. It’s amusing without being in any way profound, but you’ll like Vivia Font’s charming performance as Haley Walker, a sweet but uninhibited girl next door — at least next door in New York City. This show was an immense hit for the playhouse in 2005, and it seems likely that this revival will pack the Shelterhouse Theatre through June 12. (CityBeat review here.) Tickets: 513-421-3888.
If you’re a musical theater fan and willing to spring for a ticket to the touring production of Cabaret at the Aronoff, you won’t be disappointed. It’s a fittingly slutty interpretation of Kander and Ebb’s powerful piece, and this rendition doesn’t pull its punches when it comes to the sinister undertones of life in Berlin before World War II as the Nazi regime rose to power. The show has great music, but sometimes that takes precedence over the admonitory tale of people unwilling to see what’s right in front of them. The tour features a strong ensemble, especially with 2000 CCM grad Randy Harrison as the sleazy, sinister emcee. He’s so engaged in this role that right after intermission he ad libs his way through a few minutes of audience interaction — spreading the discomfort beyond the stage. Tickets: 513-621-2787.
Quite a few shows are wrapping up runs and seasons this weekend, what with Memorial Day not far behind when Cincinnati theaters tend to slow down. It’s final curtains for Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Swing at the Playhouse, Brigadoon at the Covedale, the truly excellent staging of Violet at Ensemble Theatre, plus Next Fall at Newport’s Falcon Theatre and Catch Me If You Can by Showbiz Players at the Carnegie in Covington.
Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday.
The musical Violet at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati is the story of an angry, self-conscious young woman who believes her life is a dead end because of a disfiguring facial scar. She travels from North Carolina to a televangelist in Oklahoma in hopes of a miracle, which does happen — kind of, but certainly not in the way she imagined. This is a moving story with great music, and it’s superbly performed, especially by Brooke Steele as the title character: Putting together an excellent vocal performance with fully committed acting, she delivers an aching, anxious performance that occasionally flashes with joy. She’s surrounded by more talent, several of whom take on multiple roles. This is the kind of show that makes you grateful that we have a theater like ETC and a director like Lynn Meyers. (CityBeat review here.) Through May 22. Tickets: 513-421-3555.
Violet is searching for beauty, while Haley, the solo character in Theresa Rebeck’s Bad Dates, is just looking for a good evening out. But she’s having a hard time finding the right man — not to mention the right shoes to wear. The Cincinnati Playhouse produced this show a dozen years ago and it was a big hit. With Vivia Font as the charming narrator, a sweet but uninhibited girl-next-door who carries it off like she’s chatting with girlfriends, this production is a surefire hit. (CityBeat review here.) Through June 12. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
Another big search us underway at the Aronoff Center’s Jarson-Kaplan Theater where Cincinnati Music Theatre is presenting the musical Big Fish, based on a Tim Burton film from 2003 featuring Albert Finney, Ewan McGregor and Billy Crudup. It’s the story of Edward Bloom (Fred Tacon, pulling off a role handled by two actors in the movie) who loves to embroider and exaggerate the events of his life, and Will (PJ Karpew, a powerful singer), his down-to-earth son who loved his dad’s tall tales as a kid. But as a grownup, he’s grown both weary and dubious of these apparent fantasies and insists on discovering the truth. Ed’s imagined adventures are brought to amusing life onstage in this production, and CMT’s cast, steered by community theater veteran Skip Fenker, is busy from start to finish with countless costume changes, dance routines and funny situations. (There’s some clever use of video, too.) Will learns some truth he never expected, discovering that his father was indeed a hero — even if it wasn’t in the stories he made up. The show’s messages of love and inspiration come through loud and clear. Through Saturday evening. Tickets: 513-621-2787.
Also worth your consideration: Opening tonight are Antony and Cleopatra (Cincinnati Shakespeare, through June 4) and Catch Me If You Can: The Musical (Showbiz Players at the Carnegie in Covington, through May 22). You still have time to see Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Swing at the Cincinnati Playhouse and the touring production of Cabaret at the Aronoff Center, presented by Broadway in Cincinnati. Both continue through next weekend.
Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
I’ve seen — and enjoyed — a number of Cirque du Soleil shows, but they didn’t prepare me for Toruk: The First Flight, currently at U.S. Bank Arena. This is one of Cirque’s newest productions, less than a year old, and it’s enormous, reproducing the world of Pandora in the distant Alpha Centauri star system — familiar to moviegoers as the setting for James Cameron’s dazzling 2009 special-effects film, Avatar. Toruk, set in Pandora’s distant past, is a tale of two adolescent boys and their adventures in search of Toruk, an endangered flying beast that’s a blend of dragon and dinosaur. Rather than Cirque’s usual productions with clowns and miscellaneous acrobatic acts, Toruk is a full-length and wholly immersive narrative, guided by a narrator and using a large cast of performers who acrobatically and artistically enact the events and create picturesque scenes. Pandora’s creatures come to life using 16 large-scale puppets, including the high-flying Toruk with a 40-foot wingspan. The story plays out on an immense set (it’s 85-by-162 feet, made of inflatable rubber) with remarkable video and light projections that convincingly recreate rivers, fires and volcanoes. Ultimately Toruk is a lesson in preserving bonds with animals and nature and of working together in unity and peace. It’s a spectacular evening of amazing imagery, thundering music (a lot of drumming) and high-flying acrobatics, but all in the service of telling a moving story. The final performance is Sunday at 5:30 p.m. Tickets: 800-745-3000.
Two local theaters opened shows this week they’ve previously presented in new productions this week:
Violet at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati is a rare reprise, a show ETC presented back in 1999, before OTR was the go-to place for entertainment and dining. It’s a lovely, intimate musical about a young woman disfigured by a childhood accident. She’s on a cross-country pilgrimage in the 1960s to a televangelist she believes can heal her. Along the way she finds the true meaning of beauty. Composer Jeanine Tesori created some wonderful anthems for this show, and it’s a story that resonates with director Lynn Meyers. “Violet,” she says, “is definitely a story about somebody coming into their own and finding their way.” This is the first weekend of performances; it’s scheduled through May 22. Tickets: 513-421-3555.
The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park has brought back one of its most popular productions, Bad Dates, by Cincinnati playwright (now a big name in New York City) Theresa Rebeck. This one-woman show about Haley, a recently divorced middle-aged woman trying to get back into the dating game, was a hit in a Playhouse mainstage production back in 2005. This time around it’s happening on the smaller Shelterhouse stage, but you can be sure Michael Evan Haney’s direction (he staged the earlier production, too) it will be very entertaining. It’s onstage through June 12. … The Playhouse is presenting Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Swing on its mainstage, through May 21. Read my review here. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
Continuing at Know Theatre is Lauren Gunderson’s Silent Sky. The story of Henrietta Leavitt, an amateur astronomer from the early 20th century who made some mind-blowing discoveries, is a thoughtful script that’s being wonderfully acted by some of Cincinnati’s best female theater talent. There’s a lot of very positive buzz about this production; a friend called it was the best show she’d seen all season. Read my review here. Onstage for one more week. Tickets: 513-300-5669.
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company today made its “first pours” of cement on Wednesday afternoon, May 4, getting started on the foundation for the new Otto M. Budig Theater at 12th and Elm streets in Over-the-Rhine. This is the beginning of construction for a brand-new 244-seat theater, Cincinnati Shakespeare’s home starting in the fall of 2017. Project cost is estimated at $17 million.
Afternoon rain stopped just in time for a group of civic leaders and donors stroll down into the pit for the theater’s foundation and pull the handle to drop the first large bucket of cement into a footer mold. Participating in the event were Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, donor Otto M. Budig and other Cincy Shakes supporters including Jim Bridgeland, Calvin and Patricia Linnemann, Don Tecklenburg and Richard Westheimer.
In a social gathering at the nearby OTR Transept after the ceremonial event, Patrick Flick, executive director of The Shakespeare Theatre Association, announced that the theater company and the city of Cincinnati have been selected to host the January 2018 Shakespeare Theatre Association Conference.
Mr. Flick said, “From a roster of over 120 companies with annual budgets ranging from $50,000 to $50MM, the committee reviewed proposals from Boston, Milwaukee, Santa Cruz, Newfoundland and Prague, as well as Cincinnati. We are very excited by your city’s ongoing urban renaissance, thriving arts and culture scene, downtown walkability, streetcar development, centralized location, and, of course, the 2017 opening of Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s brand new world-class facility in Over-the-Rhine.”
Producing Artistic Director Brian Isaac Phillips said, “Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is thrilled and proud to do their part in contributing to the cultural tourism on our city and to continue to put Cincinnati on the map! … Our organization is thrilled to be able to host this conference and believe it will have a ripple effect that will benefit our city’s restaurants, hotels, and other fantastic attractions.”
The Shakespeare Theatre Association provides a forum for the artistic, managerial, educational leadership for theaters primarily involved with the production of Shakespeare’s works to discuss issues and methods of work, resources and information, and to act as an advocate for Shakespearean productions and training.
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company has sent leaders to the conference for several years. Flick added, “The annual conference is a vital opportunity for the leadership of the STA member theatres to network, share best practices, cross-pollinate talent and raise international awareness of the ongoing relevancy of Shakespeare’s plays in the 21st century.”
Need suggestions for a good theater production to attend this weekend? Here are some good choices on Cincinnati stages.
Last night I attended the opening of Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Swing at the Cincinnati Playhouse. It’s an inventive recreation of the legendary African-American pitcher who found his fame eclipsed by Jackie Robinson. The changes wrought by events in 1947 affected both black and white Americans, and this play by Ricardo Khan and Trey Ellis explores them. They know their way around storytelling: Their play Fly, about the Tuskegee Airmen, was well received at the Playhouse in 2013. In this one, players from two teams of baseball all-stars, one black and one white, share a boarding house on a rainy night in Kansas City. We get to eavesdrop on what they might have talked about, their dreams, their grudges and their fates. Robert Karma Robinson wholly inhabits the role of Paige as an angular, grumpy philosopher of sports, race and life. It’s onstage through May 21. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
Before they wrote My Fair Lady and Camelot, the lyricist-composer team of Lerner and Loewe had a 1949 hit with the musical Brigadoon. It’s about a pair of American tourists who happen upon a mysterious town in Scotland that appears just once every century. Of course, one of the guys falls in love with a resident of the town — and that gets complicated. When I was six years old, I went to see this show with my very British grandfather, my first experience of musical theater. I still love the show, and I’ll be seeing it this weekend at the Covedale Center, where it will be onstage through May 22. Tickets: 513-241-6550.
Don’t shy away from Cincinnati Shakespeare’s production of Julius Caesar because you read it in high school. Set in ancient Rome, there’s as much political intrigue — and perhaps more danger — that you’d find in your average episode of House of Cards. Several fine acting performances make this production especially watchable: Brent Vimtrup gives a textured performance of the principled but conflicted Brutus; Josh Katawick is the “lean and hungry” Cassius who recruits the assassins who bring down Caesar; and Nick Rose is the wily Mark Antony who finds a way to turn Caesar’s death to his own advantage. Once you’ve seen this production, you should make plans to return for a kind of sequel as Cincy Shakes stages Antony and Cleopatra with several of the actors from Julius Caesar reprising their roles. Through May 7. Tickets: 513-381-2273.
Playwright Lauren Gunderson presented a quartet of badass women from 18th-century France in The Revolutionists at the Cincinnati Playhouse back in February. Some more strong females — Americans from the early 20th century — are the characters of Silent Sky, the current production at Know Theatre. The central character is Henrietta Leavitt, an aspiring astronomer who had to work doubly hard to earn recognition for her scientific insights. She’s bracketed by a devoted, conservative sister and a pair of “lunatic women” who are her scientific colleagues. Director Tamara Winters has an excellent cast of actors to tell this story — especially Maggie Lou Rader in a luminous portrait of the feisty, persistent Henrietta. Through May 14. Tickets: 513-300-5669.
Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati seldom brings back a show it’s presented in the past, but when it staged Jeanine Tesori’s musical Violet back in 1998, that was long before Over-the-Rhine was a go-to neighborhood for entertainment. So there’s a good rationale for reviving this lovely, heartfelt story. Check out this video preview.
You have more theater choices this weekend than time, I suspect, so choose carefully depending on the kind of show you most enjoy.
If it’s a classic, I suggest you check out Julius Caesar at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. This tale of one of history’s most memorable political assassinations is one of Shakespeare’s shorter plays, about two hours and 15 minutes. But it’s action-packed with a lot of intrigue, soul-searching and emotions that ebb and flow. Cincy Shakes relies on its acting ensemble to fill these iconic roles, and they bring them to life more vividly than I’ve seen in a long time. Josh Katawick is especially engaging as the leader, “lean and hungry” Cassius, whose motives are not far below his ambitious surface; Brent Vimtrup is Brutus, caught up in the plot for reasons of principle rather than envy, and his subtle performance of this conflicted man is compelling. Veteran Nick Rose is the blustery soldier Marc Antony, who’s actually a subtle manipulator of opinion. (We’ll see more of him next month when Cincy Shakes move on to Shakespeare’s other Roman play, Antony and Cleopatra). Through May 7. Tickets: 513-381-2273.
An engaging new play, Lauren Gunderson’s Silent Sky, is onstage at Know Theatre, the story of Henrietta Leavitt, a woman of science from a century ago when women were not expected to have meaningful insights. But drawn to the mysteries of astronomy, she tirelessly made advances despite many barriers. Maggie Lou Rader plays the feisty woman, and her moral support from two older women, played by Annie Fitzpatrick and Regina Pugh, has elements of humor. This is a well-acted, well-staged play (direction by Know’s Tamara Winters), worth seeing. I gave it a Critic’s Pick with my CityBeat review. Through May 14. Tickets: 513-300-5669.
The 2014 movie of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods featured Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, James Corden and Johnny Depp. A production currently onstage at Northern Kentucky University doesn’t have that kind of star power, but the student cast does an admirable job with a show that places extraordinary vocal demands on singers. Director Jamey Strawn hit upon an imaginative framing device for the legendary fairy tale mash-up, setting it in a library where a young boy (played with a mischievously expressive demeanor by Charlie Klesa, a sixth-grader at Mercy Montessori), hides away for an overnight adventure of reading and fantasizing. As giants threaten the kingdom, books tumble from the library’s two-story-tall shelves. Into the Woods requires a big cast, and more than 20 NKU student actors plus a stylized wooden cow are clearly committed to giving their all to this production. Opening night on Thursday was an enthusiastic full house. Through May 1. Tickets: 859-572-5464.
Neil LaBute’s plays traffic in complex, often ironic,
manipulative situations, frequently brutal stories of abusive, selfish
behavior. The Shape of Things, presented by New
Edgecliff Theatre at Hoffner Lodge in Northside, is that kind of story —
about Evelyn, an ambitious young woman who makes an art project of
Adam, another student who thinks their relationship is a love affair.
Rebecca Whatley and Matthew Krieg handle these complicated roles
believably, but you’ll walk away wondering about their motives — she’s
cold, he’s clueless. It’s a compelling, disturbing story that makes for
an evening of edgy, psychological theater. Another Critic’s Pick with my
CityBeat review. Through April 30. Tickets here.
There’s a touring production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast onstage at the Aronoff Center through Sunday. It’s an entertaining, visually captivating production. There’s nothing new about it, to be sure, but the young cast carries off the sprightly songs and choreography with lots of energy. I wish there was a little more heart and a little less clowning, especially by Sam Hartley as the Beast, who’s meant to be a tragic hero. The chemistry between him and Brooke Quintana as Belle is in the script, but it only shows up intermittently onstage. Nevertheless, Wednesday night’s full house with lots of kids dressed for the evening clearly had a good time watching the story unfold. Through Sunday. Tickets: 513-621-2787.
Quick Notes: True Theater is back for another quarterly evening of storytelling on Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. Know Theatre. This time the theme is True Gay, so it will be enlightening to hear the personal reminiscences that get shared. … At UC’s College-Conservatory of Music this weekend, the drama program presents a staged reading of Grace Gardner’s new script, Very Dumb Kids, tonight 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. It’s the beginning of a new play commissioning initiative that will foster new works. … This is the final weekend for David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross at the Incline Theater in East Price Hill and for Jason Robert Brown’s musical, The Last Five Years, at The Carnegie in Covington.
Patty Kempf was one of May We Help’s first clients before the organization really even existed. She had cerebral palsy and was having trouble turning the pages of the books she loved reading. Bill Wood agreed to help Kempf by designing something that would make reading easier for her. At the same time, Bill Dieseling was doing something similar for a member of his family. The two Bills were connected through a mutual friend and began to work together. Shortly after that they met Bill Sand and the idea for May We Help was born. The Bills began working together harmoniously and May We Help now has hundreds of completed projects and satisfied clients.
The goal of May We Help is to make life easier for people with disabilities. They do this through technology, mechanical engineering, handy work, programming and problem solving. May We Help hopes to free people from their disabilities with these custom creations that will allow them to gain independence and pursue their passions.
The organization designs unique devices for people with disabilities to meet the needs that are not being met by anything else on the market. Clients pitch to the organization what they are looking for, the team researches the idea and if nothing has been developed to meet the need, they accept the project. Beginning with design and then moving into building, the team is focused on the client and what will work for them.
At May We Help there are 60 volunteers for every one staff member. “They are the heart and soul of our organization,” says Katy Collura, development director. “They truly are the glue that holds everything together.”
There are many different opportunities to get involved with this organization, whether you want to design, build or work behind the scenes. “Our volunteers design and create custom solutions to free individuals with special needs,” Collura says.
Technical volunteers develop the unique devices for clients. Most volunteers in this category are professionals or have a serious interest in product development. These volunteers hear the needs of the client and go from there. This is a very creative opportunity.
There are resource volunteers who build and get to be hands-on with projects. This is a great place to start with May We Help because it is not a leadership position, but it gets into the action of product construction.
A person with a lot of personality makes a great “first impressions” volunteer. In this role, volunteers take charge of the experiences of new volunteers and clients. Their job is to make sure everyone is comfortable, heading to the right place and introduced to the right people during monthly volunteer meetings and monthly work meetings.
Follow-up volunteers make monthly visits to clients who have received their devices. This is a key role because May We Help wants to be sure what they build is working the way it was intended; they don't want to send someone home with a device that isn’t meeting their needs. The follow-up team receives feedback from clients about how their needs are, or aren’t, being met by their device.
May We Help provides meals for around 40 people at all of their monthly meetings. Foodie volunteers are in charge of making sure the people eat. The organization reimburses the cost of food for the meals, but be prepared to cook for what feels like an army.
One of the most important positions is the procurement volunteer. This role was designed to ensure the technical volunteers have the crucial materials they will need throughout the project. Procurement volunteers are responsible for meeting with potential material and service providers to build donor relationships. On the inside they work with the technical volunteers by helping them meet their needs. Sometimes that means contacting other volunteers for advice, checking what is in stock or contacting donors. This position is the bones of the operations and keeps the ball rolling forward.
To become a volunteer, fill out the application online and someone will be in contact soon after. There is no hourly requirement — volunteers can make their own hours. The organization just asks that all projects are done in a timely manner. “In most cases we are the families last resort and they are counting on us to deliver,” Collura says.
Monetary donations are crucial to the success of this nonprofit. Because each device is custom to the client, it is hard to know what materials will be needed for the next project. Business owners with available resources to help are encouraged to contact the procurement team about donating services or material.
For more information and access to the volunteer application, visit .
When I lived in Los Angeles, one of the most unforgettable events I attended was a screening of films by the 20th-century Russian animator Ladislaw Starewicz, who used insects in his amazingly inventive animated films. (He also used puppets.)
He placed the insects into various settings and then shot the stop-motion films frame by frame. A Jazz/New Music group called Tin Hat Trio played a live score to accompany the visuals.
Lo and behold, the Mini Microcinema on Tuesday (April 19) is presenting Starewicz’s films in the auditorium of Covington’s Carnegie. And there will be a live score played by Little Bang Theory, a group led by Detroit composer Frank Pahl. They play children’s instruments and toys.
There will be a reception starting at 6 p.m. and the performance gets underway at 7 p.m. It is free. This is the last event for the Mini during its residency at The Carnegie. It should be a rewarding one. For more information, please visit www.mini-cinema.org.
Situated on a hill overlooking a strip of Gilbert Avenue sits an old
house that stands out from its urban surroundings in Walnut Hills. Though it
may seem out of place against the backdrop of apartment buildings and
businesses, inside the house lies a story of being in the right place at the
right time, of discussion and of empathy and compassion.
2950 Gilbert Avenue is the last remaining building that was once part of the
Lane Theological Seminary. It is also the former home of Harriet Beecher Stowe,
author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Although
it is not where she wrote the novel that introduced Northerners to what slavery
is like in the South and increased tensions between the two regions, it is
where Stowe spent 18 years of her life.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin has been translated into more than 60 languages — second only
to the Bible. It is no wonder that visitors from as far away as Russia and
China have recently visited the Harriet Beecher Stowe House. In fact, Kelli
Higginson, the house’s only paid employee, says most visitors come from out of
“This house is unique because at one time it was the ground center for
discussion of slavery,” says volunteer John Douglass. Built in 1832, the house
was saved from demolition and purchased by the Ohio Historical Society in 1943.
It is still owned by the society today and is designated as a historic
Stowe lived in Cincinnati from her early 20s until 1859, one year before her
famous book was published. Her presence in Cincinnati had a lasting impact on
U.S. history and beyond, as Uncle Tom’s
Cabin is read in schools around the world. While living in the border town
allowed Stowe to see firsthand the desperation of slaves trying to escape to
freedom across the Ohio River, it was also here that Stowe was exposed to the
controversial debates going on at the seminary where her father, Dr. Lyman
Beecher, was president.
Students of the seminary debated about the issue of slavery in 1834 before it
became a hot topic throughout the rest of the U.S. Should slaves be
emancipated? If slaves were to be freed, where should they go? Some supported
sending freed slaves to Africa, while others thought they should be allowed to
stay in the U.S. Enrollment at the seminary dropped after the school’s board of
trustees dismissed these so-called “Lane Rebels.”
Living in Cincinnati also gave Stowe a stark look at the tension between the
anti-slavery movement and those opposed to it. During the Cincinnati riots of
1836, the press that printed The
Philanthropist, an abolitionist newspaper published by James Birney, was
twice destroyed and thrown into the Ohio River. This sparked Stowe to find her
own abolitionist voice and write her first remarks about slavery, in which she
defended free speech and denounced mob rule. Her work was published in her
brother Henry’s newspaper.
When the cholera epidemic swept through Cincinnati and Stowe’s one-year-old son
Samuel Charles died, the personal tragedy caused Stowe to empathize with slave
mothers who were often separated from their children. Her son’s death was the
catalyst that caused Stowe to begin writing Uncle
While it is a work of fiction, Stowe’s novel depicts what American slavery was
like at the time. Her visit to a Kentucky plantation allowed her to see how slaves
lived. However, many argued that the book’s depiction of slavery couldn’t be
accurate. Stowe responded with A Key to
Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which provides factual evidence from her experience in
Cincinnati to defend her claims. (Copies of the key just arrived in the Stowe House’s
gift shop; Higginson says they were on backorder for six weeks).
The Ohio Historical Society plans to renovate the house this summer. The
renovations will restore the house to what it would have looked like when
Stowe’s family lived there. The house will also host Stowe’s 205th birthday
celebration (with cake and ice cream, of course) on June 14.