The Play's the Thing

Shakespeare is front and center for theater season

click to enlarge Sara Clark in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” - Photo: Mikki Schaffner Photography
Photo: Mikki Schaffner Photography
Sara Clark in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

We go to the theater to meet interesting people. Not those friends we run into in the lobby — I’m referring to the characters on the stage. This fall, Cincinnati theaters will conjure up a multitude of fascinating characters ready to make your acquaintance.

As the theater season opens, the big name is Shakespeare. Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is opening its new Otto M. Budig Theatre with a production of his most popular comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Sept. 8-30). It’s the story of magical mischief and mixed-up lovers, with a hilarious subplot in which a team of inept “rude mechanicals” (today we’d call them blue-collar workers) try to produce a play of their own. They’re directed by the bombastic weaver Nick Bottom — he’s literally transformed into a jackass for several scenes — one of Shakespeare’s most amusing characters. This is a Shakespeare play everyone can enjoy, and in Cincinnati Shakespeare’s glistening new venue on Elm Street in Over-the-Rhine, it will demonstrate just what can be accomplished. (By the way, Northern Kentucky University is mounting its own production of the same show in Highland Height Sept. 28-Oct. 8.)

Shakespeare’s plays are so frequently staged that American Theatre magazine omits him from its annual list of most-produced playwrights. His great tragedy, Hamlet, about a prince wrestling with suspicions that his uncle has murdered his father, will be staged at the University of Cincinnati by the College-Conservatory of Music Acting program (Sept. 28-Oct. 1).

While his plays are all over town, Shakespeare himself will be a character onstage at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, which presents a stage adaptation of the Academy Award-winning film Shakespeare in Love to open its season (Sept. 2-30). The story imagines the young playwright afflicted with writer’s block and a looming deadline for a new play. He meets Viola, who aspires to perform onstage (in an era when only men were actors), and she inspires him to write Romeo and Juliet. The show is replete with references to other works by the Bard, but this funny, romantic show — employing accessible, everyday language — will appeal to both Shakespeare fans and newbies.

Who else might you meet onstage this fall? Helen Keller is the subject of The Miracle Worker, kicking off productions at the Covedale Center (Sept. 7-Oct. 1), born blind and deaf but brought into the world by Anne Sullivan, a caring teacher. Groucho Marx will take up residence at the Cincinnati Playhouse when Frank Ferrante brings his much-traveled show, An Evening with Groucho, to the Shelterhouse Theater (Nov. 4-Dec. 17). Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical, about the rise of the legendary girl singer from Kentucky, shows up at The Carnegie in Covington (Nov. 4-19). This show was a big hit for the Cincinnati Playhouse in 2014.

If you prefer fictional characters, you can find one of Mark Twain’s most colorful adolescents at Cincinnati Shakespeare for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Nov. 17-Dec. 9). Elphaba and Glinda, the witches from Oz, will fly into the Aronoff for a touring production of Wicked (Sept. 13-Oct. 15), and later in the fall, Finding Neverland, the story of Peter Pan and his creator James Barrie, is in town for a tour stop (Nov. 7-19). 

Halloween often inspires creepy characters on local stages. Falcon Theater presents Frankenstein (Sept. 29-Oct. 14) at its Newport theater venue. Also in Newport, Footlighters, a reliable community theater, is staging the musical Jekyll & Hyde (Oct. 5-21). For trick-or-treat time, you’ll find Dracula at Cincinnati Shakespeare (Oct. 13-Nov. 4) and the musical comedy Young Frankenstein at the Covedale (Oct. 19-Nov. 12).

Cincinnati Playhouse presents two more fascinating characters this fall: In Mr. Joy (Shelterhouse, Sept. 23-Oct. 22), by Dayton native Daniel Beaty, one actress plays nine people who share perspectives about a missing Chinese shoe repairman in Harlem. Of particular interest will be Christopher, the central character in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Marx, Oct. 14-Nov. 11): A precocious 15-year-old boy on the autism spectrum sets out to find who killed a neighbor’s dog. This Tony Award-winning script is an imaginative trip inside the mind of a very unusual character doing his best to sort out the world around him.

Sorting out the world is the task of the seven characters in Steven Dietz’s This Random World (Oct. 11-Nov. 4), Ensemble Theatre’s season-opening production in its beautifully renovated and expanded Over-the-Rhine venue. The dramedy is about missed connections and parallel paths that intersect in unexpected ways. Another play by Dietz, Bloomsday, closed the theater’s 2016-17 season; he writes characters with humor and humanity, just the kind of scripts that ETC’s D. Lynn Meyers excels at staging.

Know Theatre will present a pair of interesting characters in The Arsonists (Sept. 22-Oct. 14), a father and a daughter who burn places for a living, the family trade for generations. This will be just the second time Jacqueline Goldfinger’s show has been staged; it uses music, too, rootsy songs from the American Folk tradition. Later in the fall, Know will present 13 Dead Dreams of “Eugene” (Oct. 20-Nov. 14), an unsettling, haunting tale by storyteller Paul Strickland and his frequent partner in offbeat songs and stories, Erika Kate MacDonald. This one is rooted in shared nightmares that trouble the sleepy town of Sabina, Ohio.

As always there will be plenty of musicals to be enjoyed. In addition to the aforementioned touring productions at the Aronoff, these include the heartwarming story of a spunky orphan, Annieat the Covedale (Nov. 30-Dec. 23); Leonard Bernstein’s satirical operetta about a naïve young man, Candide, by CCM Opera (Nov. 16-19); the whimsical Seussical the Musical (CCM Musical Theater, (Oct. 19-29), based on the stories and characters of Dr. Seuss; and Legally Blonde (Oct. 19-21), a contemporary show about a superficial young woman who succeeds surprisingly well in a legal career, at Xavier University.

Bottom line: Head for a theater this fall to meet someone new and different. Not only will you be entertained, but your horizons just might be expanded. ©

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