Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s 2010-11 season has a distinct difference between the plays it will present on its Robert S. Marx main stage and the shows slotted for its smaller Thompson Shelterhouse. With a few significant exceptions, it’s a divide between the 20th and 21st centuries.
All of the coming season’s Shelterhouse shows have originated since 2000, four of five in the past three years. On the main stage, the average age of shows is more than 20 years. (It stretches out a lot further if you use the original publication date of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, dating back to 1843, rather than the 1991 adaptation by Howard Dallin that the Playhouse produces annually.)
There's nothing unlucky about Friday the 13th in the theater world. (Theater folks have enough other superstitions anyway.) So you have lots of excellent choices this weekend, from the very funny The Foreigner at the Playhouse (just opened) to the satiric Timon of Athens at Cincinnati Shakespeare (see review here).
If you want a heavy-duty drama, try Bent at New Stage Collective (it's about the mistreatment of gays in Nazi concentration camps; see my review here). And if you want to see some of the talent that keeps spilling out of UC's College-Conservatory of Music, I recommend that you stop by the Over-the-Rhine nightclub Below Zero tonight after 10 p.m.
A year ago Cincinnati Shakespeare had a big hit with a stage adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. Looks like they’ve done it again with another adaptation of the 19th-century novelists Sense & Sensibility. This time it’s the sisters Dashwood, one rational and one emotional. The roles are wonderfully played by Kelly Mengelkoch (as the reserved, reasonable Elinor) and Sara Clark (as the willful and romantic Marianne), and they’re surrounded by delightfully drawn supporting characters — and a story of romance and domestic intrigue. I gave the production a Critic’s Pick. I’m told that several performances are already sold out (it’s onstage through March 18), so if you hope to see this one, you should line your tickets up right away. Tickets: 513-381-2273.
In case you wanted a short course in shows by Sondheim, the next few weeks is your big opportunity. In addition to Into the Woods at CCM, you can catch the touring production of West Side Story at the Aronoff (it opens a two-week run on Tuesday), a show that Sondheim wrote the lyrics for when he was 26 (he’s about to turn 82). And a week from now, the Cincinnati Playhouse will start previews of Merrily We Roll Along, a show from 1981 that was a flop at first, but now is praised as one of his greatest musical accomplishments. It’s about the joys and frustrations of success from the perspective of people involved in creating musical theater. It will be on the Marx Stage through March 31.
Andrew Bovell’s Speaking in Tongues is a complicated noir-ish tale of marital deceit and cryptic crime that unfolds more clearly because of its accomplished four-actor cast, including local professionals Bruce Cromer (who’s played roles as varied as Ebenezer Scrooge for the Playhouse to King Lear for Cincinnati Shakespeare) and Amy Warner (a regular at Ensemble Theatre and Cincinnati Shakespeare). The show is a fascinating piece of theater that takes work to watch, follow and absorb. I suppose that some casual theatergoers will be put off by it, but if you like challenging drama and multi-layered acting, you’ll leave the theater with their gears spinning. I gave Speaking in Tongues a Critic’s Pick. Through March 4. Box office: 513-421-3888.
Know Theater’s “comedy of anxiety” by Allison Moore, Collapse, opens with the collapse of a highway bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. But it’s about all kinds of things falling down — the economy, relationships. This is the kind of edgy script Know Theatre is known for, funny but meaningful. I gave the production a Critic’s Pick because it combines heart and humor. Collapse is presented with comic finesse and fine acting, especially by local professional actress Annie Fitzpatrick. Know’s best work of the season. Through March 3. Tickets: 513-300-5669.
Planning for next season? Check out my blog from last Sunday about what Broadway in Cincinnati will be presenting, including the zany Blue Man Group.
Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
Some people yearn for sunshine this time of year and find their way to a beach to recharge their batteries. Theater fans who are impatient for the annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival, which doesn’t roll around until June, were reminded this past weekend of the kind of creativity that makes those two weeks in early summer so stimulating. Thanks to the drama program at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music (CCM), theater fans were offered a jolt of onstage vitality that just might be enough to sustain us for a few months. It was a festival called Transmigration.
Today, the Enquirer posted a story about the Cincinnati Museum Center considering the addition of a 11,200-square-foot green roof system, which is an awesome prospect. The roof would be covered with plants, could last longer than a normal roof, and would better deal with storm run-off. Not only that, but it would double the amount of green roof space in the city.
But buried at the bottom of this article is mention of another part of the issue. "The other components of the center's project - funded by a $2.4 million local tax levy, the city of Cincinnati, the state and a National Parks Service program called Save America's Treasures - include restoring long-unused dining rooms and exterior repairs," the article states.
It's the National Parks Service program that I think deserves a little more attention. Frankly, it seems amazing, not only for what it has done for the country, but for what it has done for Cincinnati.
Save America's Treasures (SAT) was started in 1998 and has the directive of "protected America's threatened cultural treasures," like a governmental, art-saving Boondock Saint. Actually a daughter organization of both the National Parks Service and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, it has completed more than 850 projects since its creation with what seems like a focus on architecture.
In Cincinnati alone, the SAT in 2003 granted $199,000 in 2003 to the Majestic Theater, $250,000 to the Cincinnati Union Terminal, $150,000 to The Showboat Majestic. And in 2005, they granted $135,250 to restore Joan Miro and Saul Steinberg Murals from Terrace Plaza Hotel and get them on display at the Cincinnati Art Museum.
This 11 x 75 ft mural by New Yorker artist Saul Steinberg is one of the only murals he made.
What other badass art has the SAT helped saved, you might ask. Well, how about the Palace Theatre in Columbus. Not a theater buff, what about the The New York Philharmonic Leonard Bernstein Collection. Still not impressed, what about the Moundville Archaeological Park in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Oh, you're more into recent history, they gave$295,586 to the USS Joseph P. Kennedy in Massachusetts. Maybe you just like to party, in 2006 Gadsby's Tavern in Alexandria, Virginia got about $50,000 . And my personal favorite, in 1999 they granted $331,000 to save the Anti-Slavery Pamphlet Collection in Ithaca, New York.
The collections of dances, photographs and other documents that have been touched by Saving America's Treasures is astounding, not to mention the dozen of courthouse they've helped to restore across the country.
Just check them out. Our government isn't complete screwed up all the time.
The Cincinnati literary scene suffered a loss last summer when Brock Clarke moved to Portland, Maine, to take a job teaching creative writing at Bowdoin College. Through his work as a writer (via two short-story collections and three novels, including 2007's well-received An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England) and educator (he taught creative writing at UC where he brought in such guest speakers/authors as Chris Bachelder, Sam Lipsyte, Heidi Julavits and Jonathan Lethem), Clarke was a one-man literary juggernaut who produced, nurtured and promoted the written word with unwavering commitment, creativity and good taste.
In the Association of Art Museum Curators' recent Annual Awards for Excellence (for the calendar year 2010), Benedict Leca — curator of European Painting and Sculpture at Cincinnati Art Museum — won first place in the Outstanding Article, Essay or Extended Catalogue Entry category for his "A Favorite Among the Demireps" article for the museum's Thomas Gainsborough and the Modern Woman exhibition. He also organized the show.
I had a trip around the world on Sunday afternoon, thanks
to the World Choir Games. It includes stops in South Africa, the
Netherlands, Venezuela, Switzerland, and the Chinese cities of
Guangdong, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Hangzhou. The program, playing to a
completely sold-out house at the Aronoff Center's Procter & Gamble
Hall, was a chance for eight choirs, each champions in one or more
categories, to briefly showcase a few selections. Singer, performer and
Cincinnati native Drew Lachey hosted the afternoon program.
In order, we were treated to performances by the Shanghai Conservatory of Music Girls Choir (Female Choirs champion); the Diocesan Boys' School Choir from Hong Kong (Young Male Chorus champion); Männerstimmen Basel from Switzerland (Male Choirs Champion); the "8 Seconds" Mixed Chorus fa Hangzhou Normal University (Mixed Youth Choir champion); the Children's Choir of the Orchestra of Laraand Camerata Singonica Larense from Venezuela (Folklore champion); Guangdong Experimental Middle School (Youth Choir of Equal Voices champion); Stellenbosch University Choir from South Africa (a double champion for Musica Sacra and Mixed Chorus); and Dekoor Close Harmony from the Netherlands (another double champion, for Popular Choral Music and Jazz).
That's too many to offer song-by-song details from the two hour program, but I want to share some memorable highlights. Perhaps most powerful was the "African Prayer," sung by the Stellenbsoch choir, following a remark from the group;s director about how much they appreciated Cincinnati's hospitality. I head this group sing the same number on Thursday evening's celebration concert, and it was equally powerful — driven by full-voiced female singing, rhythmic clapping and building enthusiasm. What's more, the director sat down and let the choir proceed under its own steam. Demonstrating their varied repertoire, the same group also did a quirky rendition of Queen's "Seaside Rendezvous," playing kazoos for part of the number.
The Chinese choruses showed tremendous discipline, carefully following their directors and, especially in the case of the group from Shanghai, creating a pure, crystalline sound that was virtually one voice. Each of those choirs were also stylishly dressed in matching costumes. (I found myself wondering how transportation was handled for these choirs, not just for the singers but for their gowns and other attire. No one seemed to have left anything behind!)
The group from Basel looked more like a scruffy Euro band, about 30 men, some with beards, others with wooly heads of hair. Many of them wore knee-length pants and suspenders. But their singing was strong and well-rehearsed. The Venezuelans were in costumes that had a Latin flair, especially the women in white, knee-length dresses with traditional, multicolored ruffles on their hems and necklines. This latter group had a fine sense of humor, especially for its tongue-twisting final number that involved singing faster and faster, then concluding in a sort of faux collapse of exhaustion.
Most unlike other choirs I've heard, Dekoor from the Netherlands, which sang in colloquial American English offered three numbers from the Pop repertoire. The group of 30, evenly divided between men and women, opened with "We Are Young," a song about friendship, youth and trust — all qualities represented by their stances and interactions (a repeated lyric: "We are young/So let's the set the world on fire/We can burn brighter/Than the sun"). They moved next to James Taylor's paean to frustration, "Damn This Traffic Jam," and as an encore rendered a funky version of George Michael's "Freedom." Quite a switch from beautifully executed but not so stirring sacred numbers.
For my second concert of the day, I was back at the Aronoff for the Energy of Youth" Celebration Concert featuring three groups. The frist was local, the Cincinnati Children's Choir, mostly junior high and high school youths. They were augmented for the second half of their program with a specially formed "Cincinnati Public Schools Honor Choir," a pair of singers selected from each of the CPS elementary schools. They concluded with two numbers commissioned for the event and conducted by composer Rollo Dillworth; the finale, "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around," had a clapping rhythm that engaged the entire audience. What this group lacked in polish (they had only three rehearsals) they more than made up for in enthusiasm.
The next group was the Farnham Youth Choir from Great Britain. Forty singers, mostly girls (there were three boys with voices not yet changed) offered a varied set that combined some sacred numbers with some folk-inspired pieces (The Piper o'Dundee" and ""Iona Boat Song"). Most interesting was a number titled "Aglepta," that began with a single member reciting this text: "To leave a enemy without an answer, say this words to him: Aglaria Pidhol garia Ananus Qepta" and blow in his direction; then he will not know which way he is headed and cannot answer you." What followed was a strange collection of sighs, whistles, squeals, shrieks, clapping and other odd noises, an odd showcase of discipline that was a long way from the more traditional numbers. It was a bit fearful, and completely captivating.
The program concluded with a set by the Guangdong Experimental Middle School Choir that was as much choreography and tradition as it was a choral performance. Native costumes, a Mongolia throat singer, drums, bells, wild dancing — this performance made me think about how little we know about other parts of the world ... and how much an event like the World Choir Games opens us to learning about other cultures.
Quite a day.
Earlier this week, Bicycles: Love Poems by Cincinnati-native and Virginia Tech professor Nikki Giovanni went on sale. The poems in this collection are meant to serve as a companion to her 1997 work, Love Poems. This is her 27th work. In the book, she addresses, among many things, the tragedy at Virginia Tech. Hear an interview with Giovanni and read an excerpt on NPR here.