In 2010, Cincinnati theaters continued to weather the tough economy and offer excellent productions. The year, which concluded the Cincinnati Playhouse’s 50th season and began Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati’s 25th, ended with all our local companies intact. Know Theatre presented another successful Fringe Festival in June (the seventh annual fest) and also provided a sheltering environment for interesting new projects, especially “True Theatre,” a quarterly evening of original, personal monologues based on a theme. (The next one happens on Jan. 10.)
Here are other events from 2010 that will stick with me:
• Joneal Joplin, who spent eight seasons as Ebenezer Scrooge at the Playhouse, appeared early in the year at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company in Eugene O’Neill’s Hughie and Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape, two wildly divergent (and infrequently presented) short pieces that showcased the abilities of a fine actor.
• In April, Know Theatre gave Tony Kushner’s two-part drama, Angels in America, its first full, professional Cincinnati production. Director Drew Fracher staged Millennium Approaches, while Cincinnati Shakespeare’s Brian Phillips assembled Perestroika. They shared a cast of Cincinnati’s best actors, highlighted by Michael Bath as the vituperative attorney Roy Cohn. The play, perhaps the greatest script of the late-20th century, was a resounding success for Know, which added numerous performances.
For its 50th anniversary, the Playhouse presented an impressive array of premieres, but David Bar Katz’s The History of Invulnerability, directed by Michael Evan Haney, was the one that will remain with me. Awash in comic book imagery, the show laid out the origins of Superman and the troubled life of his creator Jerry Siegel. But it was more than that, ultimately a stunning and moving study of how the Man of Steel represented the yearning of many persecuted Jews for salvation during the 20th century.
Ensemble Theatre had great success with the feel-good, girl-group musical The Marvelous Wonderettes. The tale of four high school girls who step up for their prom (and then return 10 years later) was replete with tunes that audiences recognized and loved — and kept coming back to see. The show, featuring a talented quartet of young singers, was originally scheduled for a three-week run, but eventually ran for six, making it ETC’s longest-running production ever. (ETC reassembles the cast for a sequel, Winter Wonderettes, this coming June.)
Covington’s Carnegie Center has become an occasional theatrical producer of classic musicals and plays in its Otto M. Budig Theatre, a lovely space with some physical challenges (a tiny stage and tough sight lines). The team of Ed Cohen and Dee Ann Bryll solved those issues with a fine production of Roger Miller’s Huckleberry Finn musical Big River late last summer. Using projections, a clever stage design and a stand-out cast of young performers (plus veteran Deondra Means as Jim), they gave audiences an excellent evening’s entertainment.
Donald Margulies is a prolific contemporary playwright (his Time Stands Still has been much praised on Broadway this season). ETC’s D. Lynn Meyers selected his 1996 play, Collected Stories, to open her anniversary season and used two of Cincinnati’s best local actresses to portray a veteran novelist and her ambitious protégé. Meyers, Amy Warner and Corinne Mohlenhoff (a Cincinnati Shakespeare veteran) staged their story in an engaging play about the sources of creative energy.
Skin Tight jump-started Know Theatre’s fall season with a burst of energy. The story of a combustible marriage was staged by Drew Fracher and featured two actors — Beth Harris, a local performer more engaged in musical pursuits than stage work for several years, and guest actor Jens Rasmussen. The 90-minute piece, as much choreography as dialogue, was gripping and lyrical.
Aubrey Berg, now in his 23rd year at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music, presented Evita, a musical he staged at the beginning of his tenure. This time around it was a spectacular showcase of CCM talent, led by Alaina Mills as the singer who manipulated politicians and the people of Argentina in a meteoric but tragic career. Mills, a senior, will surely make her mark as a professional in the near future.
My final theater accomplishment for 2010 was not a production but an evolution. After 14 successful years, CityBeat’s Cincinnati Entertainment Awards for theater joined forces in August with the Acclaim Awards, a more recent recognition program established by The Cincinnati Enquirer. While there have been some challenges getting the program firing on all cylinders this fall, the future looks good for an effort that can bring attention to the fine theater available to Cincinnati audiences.