As the final weeks of summer cool down, it’s time for Cincinnati’s theaters to turn up the heat. Most companies open their 2012-2013 seasons right after Labor Day, so this week I offer a collection of previews. Most theaters roll out shows they hope will create a lot of buzz; their best chance to tout a season is with audiences attending a first show that sells lots of tickets.
Because Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati opens on Wednesdays, it usually has the first season opener. That’s the case on Sept. 5 with David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People. This is the regional premiere of another script by the writer whose Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Rabbit Hole was a hit for ETC in 2007. Good People is a serious play laced with humor; it examines the struggles, shifting loyalties and unshakeable hopes that come with hard times in America. It’s about people losing jobs and the potential for strife between haves and have-nots, the kind of polarities that underlie the contentious presidential race under way in America in 2012. Artistic Director D. Lynn Meyers will use a veteran cast that includes Annie Fitzpatrick (who played a grief-stricken mother in 2007’s Rabbit Hole), Deb Girdler and Kate Wilford. Through Sept. 23.
On Sept. 6, the Cincinnati Playhouse commences a new era with its new artistic director Blake Robison making his local debut as a stage director. He has a big cast for the adventurous tale of The Three Musketeers. It’s a familiar tale of heroism, treachery and honor in which the young D’Artagnan aspires to join the valiant Musketeers who protect France’s royal family. The cantankerous and dangerous Cardinal Richelieu is the villain, and there will be plenty of swordplay and high spirits onstage at the Marx Theatre. Robison’s production represents the kind of shows he intends to make a Playhouse staple, works that appeal to multiple generations of theatergoers in a manner similar to the annual production of A Christmas Carol. Through Sept. 29.
A classic of a different sort starts at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company on Sept. 7, a theatrical adaptation of Harper Lee’s great American novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1960. Set in a small, racially divided town in Alabama in 1936, it’s the story of a virtuous attorney, Atticus Finch, who defends a young black man unjustly accused of rape. Mockingbird’s story is seen through the eyes of Atticus’s impressionable daughter. CSC’s production, directed by Sara Clark, features Bruce Cromer as Atticus, a man of profound integrity. Cromer is a CSC regular, starring as another principled character, Sir Thomas More, last season in A Man for All Seasons. (He’s perhaps best known locally for seven years as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at the Cincinnati Playhouse.) Mockingbird is already seeing significant box office activity. Through Sept. 30.
Covedale Center is offering another Pulitzer Prize winner (1955), this one by Tennessee Williams: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, opening on Sept. 6. It’s a powerful drama about the strife in the dysfunctional family of “Big Daddy” Pollitt, his son Brick and Brick’s wife, Maggie, the “Cat.” Greed, sins of the past and desperate clawing hopes for the future make up the show’s simmering dramatic stew. It’s being staged by veteran actor and director Greg Procaccino. Through Sept. 30.
Cincinnati Landmark Productions, which runs the Covedale, is having a busy month as it wraps up the summer season of the Showboat Majestic with a production of Meredith Willson’s story of a fast-talking traveling salesman, The Music Man. It opens on Sept. 12 with Dan Doerger playing the charming swindler Harold Hill. It’s co-directed by Dee Anne Bryll and Ed Cohen who have frequently staged award-winning community and collegiate productions. Through Sept. 30.
Toward the end of the month, the Cincinnati Playhouse opens its Shelterhouse season on Sept. 27 with Dayton native Daniel Beaty’s one-man show, Through the Night, winner of a recent Obie Award in New York City. In a script he developed himself, Beaty portrays six African-American men of varying age. (Through Oct. 21.) On the same night, Northern Kentucky University kicks off the collegiate theater season with Kaufman and Hart’s Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy from 1936, You Can’t Take It with You. (Through Oct. 7.)
That’s a lot of prizewinners for one month, a great way to launch a theater season. And here’s a final tip: Most of the theaters offer previews (when tickets cost much less) for several performances prior to opening, so check out their websites for details.
CONTACT RICK PENDER: [email protected]