Stage Door: Haunting Tales of Royals, Ghosts and Twins

There's a lot of bad behavior onstage this weekend, from 'Richard III' at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company to 'Summerland' at the Playhouse in the Park.

Billy Chace as Richard III - Photo: Mikki Schaffner Photography
Photo: Mikki Schaffner Photography
Billy Chace as Richard III
From kings to photographers and freak shows, there’s a lot of bad behavior on Cincinnati stages this weekend.

Richard III is the Richard Nixon of English kings, reviled by most who remember him. Shakespeare amplified his bad reputation, assigning a violent, cruel character to the young, probably deformed royal (he was a hunchback, the result of what we call scoliosis today). He was the last king to die in battle on British soil, in 1485 at the hands of his upstart successor, Henry Tudor, who became Henry VII. He established the House of Tudor, which led to his illustrious son Henry VIII and subsequently Elizabeth I, who reigned during most of Shakespeare’s career. Painting Richard as a murderous villain was de rigueur during the era. Shakespeare’s deliciously evil monarch is a compelling role, and from the looks of the show’s publicity shots, Billy Chace will have a good time chewing the scenery for Cincinnati Shakespeare, starting tonight. Onstage through March 11. Box office: 513-381-2273 ext. 1.

In her review of Arlitia Jones’ Summerland, currently getting its world premiere at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Erica Reid says the show raises complicated questions: “Which is more dangerous: cold, hard facts or fairy tale belief? Should we trust our eyes over our hearts? If a lie helps us heal, is it wrong to believe it?” The story of a 19th-century photographer whose work might have revealed spirits hovering around living photo subjects becomes a debate between a cynic and believer. But then a third character, the photographer’s wife, ratchets up the action with mystery and some genuine chills. Reid says actress Whitney Maris Brown “spellbinds the audience — and the other characters.” So this might be a show to check out if you are intrigued by spiritualism — or inclined to debunk it. Through March 5. Box office: 513-421-3888.

Musicals aren’t always sunshine and romance. One of Cincinnati’s best community theaters, Footlighters Inc. (they perform at the Stained Glass Theater in Newport), is staging Side Show. It’s a musical about real-life conjoined twins, Daisy and Violet Hilton, who are inescapably close — literally joined at the hip — and deeply complicated as they yearn to be seen as distinct individuals. But they’re victimized by manipulative men. Initially, they’re an attraction in a carnival freak show; then they become stage performers in the 1930s, the objects of morbid fascination. But their story is a fascinating study of enforced closeness and its impact on their psyches. Footlighters has mounted an impressive amateur production that’s worth seeing. Through March 4. Tickets: 859-652-3849.

This is the final weekend for Know Theatre’s production of Dragon Play. It has a few mysteries of its own, as the story of a boy who falls in love with a young dragon — portrayed in human form — and another story of a married, middle-aged woman who seems to have a dragon in her life, too. There are a lot of moving parts, but they come together in a fascinating way. I gave this production a Critic’s Pick. Final performance is Saturday evening. Tickets: 513-300-5669.

If you’re seeking some musical fun, you might consider All Shook Up, an Elvis-inspired show being produced at Northern Kentucky University (through Feb. 26) or The Rocky Horror Show at the Incline Theater in E. Price Hill (through March 5).

Want something more serious with two fine local professional actresses? Check out This Wide Night at Clifton Performance Theatre (404 Ludlow Ave., Clifton) featuring Dale Hodges and Miranda McGee. It’s about two women recently released from prison who support one another while struggling to adjust to life outside. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, through March 4. Tickets: 513-813-7469.

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

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