Stage Door: Ghosts, Spirits and Spirited Theater

Shows this weekend include 'Summerland' at the Cincinnati Playhouse, a world-premiere mystery about 1860s photographer William H. Mumler and the images he captured of living people with ghostly spirits nearby.

click to enlarge Michael Rothhaar (foreground) and Billy Finn (background) in "Summerland" - Photo: Mikki Schaffner Photography
Photo: Mikki Schaffner Photography
Michael Rothhaar (foreground) and Billy Finn (background) in "Summerland"
I doubt that a “spirit photographer” would be taken seriously these days, what with Photoshop and the ability to manipulate images digitally. But back in the 1860s, photography was a new, mysterious art form — so it’s not a big surprise that some people believed a camera could capture images of dead people who had passed over to the happy netherworld of “Summerland.” The immense number of men who died tragically in the Civil War, leaving grieving wives and mothers hoping to be consoled, fueled spiritualism in general and made this branch of photography popular. William H. Mumler had numerous famous customers, but some authorities dubbed as chicanery his images of living people with ghostly spirits nearby. That’s what the Cincinnati Playhouse’s world premiere play, Summerland by Arlitia Jones, is all about. Mumler and an investigator debate what’s real and what isn’t, with some startling outcomes. It’s a great premise for a mystery. It opened last night and continues through March 5. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie is being staged by New Edgecliff Theatre at Hoffner Hall on Hamilton Avenue in Northside. Northern Kentucky University theater professor Daryl Harris is staging the memory play about a dysfunctional family in the 1940s with an African-American cast. Williams’ characters of domineering Amanda and fragile Laura were modeled after his own mother and sister (he was an introverted loner like the son Tom), but this production will reveal the universality of the script, a true classic of American drama. Through Feb. 25. Tickets: 888-428-7311.

Cincinnati’s university stages often present shows that might not be seen elsewhere. This weekend at the University of Cincinnati you can see one staged by College-Conservatory of Music Acting: Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s Her Naked Skin, set in London in 1913 as British women were demanding the right to vote. Many of these suffragettes were incarcerated because of their activism. Holloway Prison becomes the setting for an unlikely love story between a noblewoman and a seamstress. The show premiered at London’s National Theatre in 2008, the first original play by a woman to be staged there. One weekend only, wrapping up Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets: 513-556-4183.

If your tastes run to the classical, you might want to check out Xavier University’s production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet this weekend; it will be followed the following weekend by the laugh-out-loud Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [revised]. The latter is being staged by Ed Stern, longtime producing artistic director at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. Tickets: 513-745-3939.

This weekend is your last chance to see the following shows: 

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance at Newport’s Falcon Theatre; Henry VI, Part 2 at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company; and Doubt, A Parable at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts. Know Theatre’s premiere of Jenny Connell Davis’ Dragon Play has one more week, closing on Feb. 18.

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here. 

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