I like to report annually about how our local theater scene stacks up against what's playing on stages around the country, as reported by American Theatre magazine. The most frequently produced play in 2007-08 is John Patrick Shanley's DOUBT, which the Cincinnati Playhouse will stage in March, one of 34 productions scheduled around the United States. Running a distant second is David Lindsay-Abaire's Pulitzer Prize winner RABBIT HOLE, which has 12 productions scheduled. In September, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati offered local audiences a moving production of this tragedy about a family suffering from the death of a child. Tied with Rabbit Hole for second place with 12 productions is Sarah Ruhl's The Clean House, a work of comic philosophy that had one of its first productions at the Cincinnati Playhouse in early 2006, nine months before it made it to Broadway. In third place is Ron Hutchison's comedy Moonlight and Magnolias, about writing the screenplay for Gone with the Wind, which ETC presented in March 2006. So we're doing OK with the top choices. Works we've missed thus far include Heather Raffo's 9 Parts of Desire, a powerful one-woman show that brings to life a cross-section of Iraqi women; the lovely children's musical A Year with Frog and Toad; and Douglas Carter Beane's The Little Dog Laughed, a timely Hollywood comedy about a handsome movie star who comes out of the closet, much to the dismay of his aggressive agent. The list also includes two plays by August Wilson (The Piano Lesson and Gem of the Ocean); ETC will offer Wilson's final play, RADIO GOLF, in March. Rounding out American Theatre's 2007-08 list are two familiar scripts that have earned multiple productions in Cincinnati, David Sedaris' THE SANTALAND DIARIES (which New Edgecliff Theatre will revive in December) and THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK (recently presented by Falcon Theater).
In New Stage Collective's staging of the sprawling, complex CAROLINE, OR CHANGE, it's 1963 and Caroline Thibodeaux does laundry for a Jewish family in Louisiana. Her occasional companion is a sad boy who leaves loose change in his pants pockets. But Caroline has change of her own to cope with, from troubled kids to the social upheaval of the Civil Rights movement. Taylore Mahogany Scott, who once performed with Cincinnati Shakespeare, sings marvelously and creates a proud African American who seethes with emotion beneath a stoic exterior. She's not the only standout: Taliba Ashe as her daughter is powerful; Piper Davis as Dotty personifies sass and friendship. Several actors bring to life inanimate objects — a washing machine, a dryer and a radio. There's also a great 11-musician orchestra, playing a blend of Klezmer and Jewish Folk tunes with Motown and Rhythm & Blues. This production is multi-generational, multi-ethnic and multi-good. Through Sunday. (Rick Pender) Grade: A
ALTAR BOYZ, at the Cincinnati Playhouse, shows how to elevate a cliché to entertainment. It's directed by Stafford Arima who put the original version on Broadway. Altar Boyz pokes gentle, good-natured fun at conservative Christianity — with special attention to Catholicism. The "boy band" features Matthew, Mark, Luke and Juan, plus "the Jewish one," Abraham. They're great individually, but it's as a tightly knit ensemble that they truly shine. The show parodies the environment familiar to anyone who's attended an arena show with squealing pre-teens — stage smoke, dramatic lighting, a metal grid floor and an announcer who sounds like a very hip Voice of God. Souls are saved (with tongue-in-cheek measurement by the "DX-12 Soul Sensor.") Altar Boyz is designed to entertain and is on its way to being a local hit. Through Friday. (RP) Grade: B+