Friday the 13th is brings forward Halloween shows and Cincinnati’s exciting new light festival, BLINK, which kicked off on Thursday. If festival organizers’ attendance projections are close to accurate, navigating downtown and Over-the-Rhine could be challenging. Illuminated, animated murals on 22 buildings all along the route of the Cincinnati Bell Connector streetcar as well as music and other attractions will draw crowds and perhaps cause congestion on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. If you have tickets to a performance the city’s core on those days, come early — or make valet parking arrangements, offered by several theaters.
Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati opened Steven Dietz’s This Random World on Wednesday. It’s the first production in ETC’s newly expanded and renovated Over-the-Rhine theater. The beautiful space on Vine Street has plenty of elbow room to relax pre-show. But the real attraction is this play, which debuted at Louisville’s Humana Festival in 2016. It’s a serious comedy of missed connections, humorous and bittersweet, portraying myriad lives that connect but don’t intersect in expected ways.
Seven intertwined characters collide and miss one another — in dirty diners, a Japanese temple and a funeral home. It’s actually how life often unfolds, even if we don’t see it. Lynn Meyers has staged Dietz’s thoughtful play with a cast of familiar players. Annie Fitzpatrick convincingly plays Scottie, a woman who’s a good 20 years older than the actress’s actual age. Kelly Mengelkoch (a regular with Cincy Shakes) and Patrick Phillips (a onetime ETC intern, now playing significant roles there) are Scottie’s contentious adult children. Two more recognizable players are Justin McCombs (another Cincy Shakes regular, at ETC for the first time) as a frustrated, spurned boyfriend and Burgess Byrd (who’s performed for Cincy Shakes and Know Theatre, in addition to ETC) as Scottie’s weary health care aide. Brianna Bernard and Ernaisja Curry round out the cast.
ETC’s Brian c. Mehring’s scenic and lighting designs extend his superb record of providing elegant contexts for contemporary storytelling. Meyers says this play reflects “a world frustratingly like our own. Characters miss connections, some things may never be fixed, and everything is defined as an ‘accident.’ There’s a beauty in that. We try to force the randomness around us to make sense, but sometimes they are just that.” In the case of This Random World there’s no accident: This is a well-intended success. Through Nov. 4. Tickets: 513-421-3555.
Get in a Halloween mood with Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production of Dracula. I’m sure you know the story, but you can count on Cincinnati Shakespeare Company to ramp up the creepiness in a production opening tonight. What with a new theater capable of special effects, surprises and technical wizardry, a drink at the new theater’s sleek bar might be a good idea. (Cup holders are available on the new seats.) Interestingly, this adaptation is by Steven Dietz, the prolific playwright who penned This Random World at Ensemble Theatre. Through Nov. 4. Tickets: 513-381-2273. … If you prefer to keep your distance from downtown this weekend, you might consider Falcon Theatre’s staging of a serious rendition of Frankenstein at its Monmouth Theatre in Newport. Onstage through Saturday. Tickets: 513-479-6783.
If it’s great acting you’re seeking, I recommend the Cincinnati Playhouse’s production of Mr. Joy by Daniel Beaty. It uses only one performer, but Debra Walton portrays an entire Harlem neighborhood as she plays nine distinctly different people whose lives have been touched by a Chinese immigrant with a shoe repair shop that’s had an impact on many people’s lives. We never meet Mr. Joy, but by the time Walton’s 90-minute performance is over, we know him very well. Through Oct. 22. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
Quick Takes: It’s the final weekend for the Broadway Series’ five-week engagement of Wicked at the Aronoff (closing Sunday); Know Theatre’s production of The Arsonists and Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater (both finish their runs on Saturday). And if you’re in the mood for a trek to Louisville, there’s still a few performances left of Actors Theatre’s magnificent production of both parts of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, closing on Sunday.
Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.