Ensemble Theatre’s 2019-2020 Season Begins with Tony Award-winning 'Fun Home'

Ensemble Theatre 2019-2020 lineup offers seven productions, including two regional premieres; Falcon Theater announces its 30th season

click to enlarge Over-the-Rhine's Ensemble Theater - Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Over-the-Rhine's Ensemble Theater

It takes a bit longer for Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati to pull together its upcoming season because the plays presented there are new works, so getting permission to stage them takes time to work out the details. That being said, ETC’s Producing Artistic Director D. Lynn Meyers is finally able to announce what’s going to be onstage at 1127 Vine St. in Over-the-Rhine for the 2019-2020 season.

The opener is a local coup, the regional premiere of Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron’s Fun Home (Aug. 31-Sept. 28, 2019), based on Alison Bechdel’s best-selling graphic personal memoir. The show won five 2015 Tony Awards, including the season’s best musical. I saw it on Broadway in November 2015, and it’s the show I’ve been most eager to see on a Cincinnati stage. Alison’s father was an enigmatic, brilliant man who had secrets — he was a deeply closeted gay man — that defined their family and her life. He taught high school English, ran the family’s funeral home business (Alison and her brothers called it the “Fun” home) and was obsessed with restoring their old house. His unexpected death prompted Alison to explore her childhood memories and to unravel the mysteries of how her parents shaped her life. In the production, she’s portrayed by three actresses representing her at different ages: child, college student and mature adult. It’s a powerful, beautiful work and just the kind of thoughtful show that Meyers and ETC excel at staging.

Lissa Levin’s Sex and Education gets a limited engagement (Oct. 15-26, 2019) that subscribers can substitute for the annual holiday show, if they prefer. A high school basketball star finds his future jeopardized by a sexually explicit note he passes to his girlfriend when it’s intercepted by his jaded English teacher on her final day in the classroom. Weary of disinterested students, she pushes him to turn his message into a persuasive essay. ETC calls this one “a hilarious lesson for all in life, sex, sports and grammar.”

For the fourth time, ETC revives The Frog Princess (Dec. 4, 2019-Jan. 4, 2020) as its family-friendly holiday musical. The show by playwright Joesph McDonough and composer/lyricist David Kisor was first presented by ETC in 1997. (It was ETC’s first holiday fairy tale musical.) Prince Ivan and his father, the king, are eager for him to marry. But there’s a big challenge: His bride-to-be is a frog; in reality, she's a kind-hearted princess under a curse. It’s a story about seeing beyond appearances. The script and score have been revitalized by the creative team.

Kicking off 2020 will be Deborah Zoe Laufer’s romantic comedy Fortune (Jan. 18-Feb. 15, 2020). Back in 2011, ETC introduced her to Cincinnati audiences with her play End Days (2011). Since, the playwright has had a pair of world premieres at the Cincinnati Playhouse: Leveling Up (2013) and Be Here Now (2018). Fortune, getting its regional premiere, follows a far-from-average fortune teller. Maude, who goes by “Madame Rosa,” is a blunt clairvoyant who often scares customers away with her truth-telling. When a hapless accountant stumbles into her parlor, she softens the blow slightly, and their destinies change. Ultimately, the tale is about the benefits of life's unpredictability.

Dominique Morisseau’s Pipeline (March 7-April 4, 2020) is another powerful script from the playwright whose Detroit ’67 (2015) and Skeleton Crew (coming to ETC’s stage this month) have made her a familiar writer with ETC audiences. Pipeline is about a committed inner-city teacher who hopes to give her son opportunities that her own students seldom receive. When he is expelled from a prestigious private school, her hopes are dashed; she panics that he’s entering a predictable “pipeline" — a downward spiral that plagues young black men in America. Morisseau’s script portrays a mother who is both trying to fight for her son's future while still remaining committed to her community. 

In 1953 Rosalind Franklin, a pioneering British biophysicist, began to unwind the secrets of the DNA double helix, the biggest scientific breakthrough of the 20th century. But her research was ultimately credited to Francis Crick, James Dewey Watson and Maurice Wilkins. Anna Ziegler’s award-winning play Photograph 51 (April 18-May 16, 2020) retells the thrilling twists and turns of the true story of the competitive chase to map the DNA molecule. Franklin, a great scientist in her own right, has often been overlooked. Ziegler (whose A Delicate Ship was commissioned and premiered by the Cincinnati Playhouse in 2014) does her part to restore Franklin’s reputation.

How time changes the friendships of four female friends is the subject of two-time Obie winner Susan Miller’s 20th Century Blues (May 30-June 27, 2020). After an impromptu photo was taken by Danny — one of the four — when the group was arrested in a 1970s protest, they've come together annually to catch up and pose for another photo. But when Danny hopes to show these chronological, private images in a public exhibit, their friendship and relationships are tested. In 2016, I saw the premiere production of this intriguing show at the Contemporary American Theatre Festival in Shepherdstown, West Virginia — and it’s one I’m sure will appeal to ETC audiences.

Subscriptions are now on sale. You can find more information at ensemblecincy.com or by calling 513-421-3555.

Falcon Theatre Announces 30th Anniversary Lineup

Falcon Theatre — which performs in the intimate Monmouth Street Theatre in Newport — has assembled a five-play season to mark its 30th anniversary. The lineup includes two area premieres. It will open with a revival of one of its popular 2012 production of The 39 Steps (Sept. 27-Oct. 12, 2019), characterized as “a Hitchcock masterpiece, a juicy spy novel, and a dash of Monty Python.” Following that will be the first area production of Jordan Harrison’s Marjorie Prime (Nov. 22-Dec. 7, 2019), a play about human identity and artificial intelligence. Falcon calls it “a must for any fans of Black Mirror.”

Three more works follow in 2020, starting with Pearl Cleage’s Blues for an Alabama Sky (Jan. 24-Feb. 8, 2020), set in 1930 after the euphoria of the Harlem Renaissance. Mat Smart’s The Agitators (March 20-April 4, 2020) is Falcon’s second premiere of the season, the story of the friendship between Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass as they fought for the rights of others. The season concludes with Lauren Gunderson’s Silent Sky (May 1-16, 2020), the story of 19th-century astronomer Henrietta Leavitt.

For subscription information: falcontheater.net or call 513-479-6783.

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