In December 2004, Cincinnati actress Corinne Mohlenhoff was in a production of Crimes of the Heart at Dayton's Human Race Theatre, working with actress JENNIFER JOPLIN. Joplin hadn't performed on a Cincinnati stage at that point, although she had been in town to watch her father, Joneal Joplin, perform at the Cincinnati Playhouse. (Among other roles, he played Scrooge in A Christmas Carol for eight seasons at the Playhouse.) Backstage during Crimes, Mohlenhoff and Joplin chatted about roles they dreamed of playing, and Joplin mentioned Cleopatra in Shakespeare's ANTONY & CLEOPATRA. Fast-forward a year: Mohlenhoff relayed the conversation to Brian Isaac Phillips, artistic director of the Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival (CSF) who also happens to be Mohlenhoff's husband. Phillips decided that Joplin was the right actress for the pivotal role in CSF's first-ever production of Antony & Cleopatra and hiring her would be in keeping with the company's effort to employ more members of Equity, the professional actors union. As the Egyptian queen, Joplin is joined by CSF regular MATT JOHNSON, playing the leader of ancient Rome, as the lovers whose romantic passion transcends their opposing political and military positions. It's one of Shakespeare's most complex plays, written late in his career and divided among a confusing array of locations in Italy, Egypt, Syria and Alexandria. The production is being directed — and unthreaded — by former CSF actor and director R. CHRIS REEDER, who Joplin says has cut the script down to size for modern audiences. Asked why Antony & Cleopatra should be seen, Joplin cites its poetry, its humor and the passion of its central characters.
You can check it at CSF (719 Race St., Downtown) beginning Thursday. Through Jan. 29. Tickets: 513-381-2273. ...
Another CSF product, JASON BRUFFY, now artistic director of the Know Theatre Tribe and founder of the Cincinnati Fringe Festival, is directing Know's production of Stephen Adly Guirgis' THE LAST DAYS OF JUDAS ISCARIOT. (Thursday-Saturday are pay-what-you-can performances; the production runs through Feb. 4.) The recent play — it premiered just a year ago at New York City's Public Theatre — imagines the world's greatest sinner on trial in purgatory, with character witnesses including Sigmund Freud and Mother Teresa testifying. CSF veterans CHRISTOPHER GUTHRIE and NICK ROSE play Judas and Satan respectively. Bruffy tells me, "The first act is hilarious: St. Monica is all-ghetto." But the show is far from blasphemous. Bruffy had a long conversation with an actress uncomfortable with the show's tone. "I told her to keep reading. The message of this play is Jesus' message: It's the ideal of love for humanity. Faith and forgiveness are the themes that Guirgis explores." (The actress stayed in the production.) Bruffy believes this play is Guirgis' strongest script to date (he is the playwright who created Jesus Hopped the "A" Train, staged by CSF back in 2002). "The biggest challenge," Bruffy maintains, "is to give the arguments of sin and redemption equal weight. The true message comes out in a beautiful and poetic way at the end of the second act." The cast also includes REGGIE WILLIS as a religiously devout prosecutor, MOLLY BINDER as Judas' fictional mother Henrietta and ELIZABETH HOLT as Judas' defense counsel. Bruffy admits to a conservative religious upbringing; although this play contains adult themes and language, he says, "Reading this play reminded me of the good in Christianity. Whether you believe Jesus is God, a story or the son of God, this play has relevance. The message is that we all need to step away from making judgments and treat one another with love and respect." Know stirred conservative religious backlash with its production of Terrence McNally's Corpus Christi in 2003, a retelling of Christ's last days in contemporary (and gay) terms. Adding to the drama, Know regularly presents its works at Gabriel's Corner, a church basement at 1425 Sycamore St. (Over-the-Rhine). Tickets: 513-300-5669.