Ed Stern, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s producing artistic director, today announced the shows that will make up his 20th and final season for the city’s Tony Award-winning regional theater. It consists of several shows that have proven track records with audiences as well as a smattering of new works. The season is precisely the kind of mix that audiences have come to expect from Stern during his two decades at the Playhouse — that is, unpredictable selections with enough of the tried-and-true and the wait-til-you-see-this-one that will keep everyone eager to see what’s next.—-
In chronological order, here’s the 2011-12 season:
GOD OF CARNAGE by Yasmina Reza (Sept. 3-Oct. 1, opening Sept. 8)
The Marx Theatre season starts with the 2009 Tony Award winner for best play, the story of two sets of parents who meet to discuss a playground fight between their sons. The evening deteriorates into a laugh-out-loud train wreck of finger-pointing, name-calling, tantrums and tears. Stern will direct this show, which will also be presented by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.
AS YOU LIKE IT (Oct. 1-Nov. 6, opening Oct. 6)
William Shakespeare’s romantic comedy in the Forest of Arden opens the season for the intimate Shelterhouse Theatre. Banished from court by her villainous uncle, Rosalind flees, disguised as a boy. Mistaken identities and misguided affections ensue as we see how “all the world’s a stage.” Stern had great results with Othello in the Shelterhouse in 2007, and this one will likely have the same close-up kind of engagement. He’ll co-direct the show with Associate Artistic Director Michael Haney.
RED by John Logan (Oct. 15-Nov. 12, opening Oct. 20)
This is the second Tony Award play on the Marx stage for 2011. This one took Broadway by storm in 2010, portraying the ambition and vulnerability of abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko. Steven Woolf from the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis will direct a production that starts there before coming to Cincinnati.
ALWAYS … PATSY CLINE by Ted Swindley (Nov. 19-Jan. 22, 2012; opening Nov. 23)
The heartfelt tribute to Country Music legend Patsy Cline was a Shelterhouse hit in 2003 (and in a summer production in 2000). The account of a real friendship between Cline and star-struck woman, it will receive another long run across the 2011 holiday season, entertaining audiences with many of Cline’s signature hits, including “Crazy” and “I Fall to Pieces.”
A CHRISTMAS CAROL (Dec. 1-30, opening Dec. 2)
Since 1991, the Playhouse has presented Howard Dallin’s faithful adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Christmas classic, using a cast of nearly 30 actors — many of them from Greater Cincinnati —elaborate costumes, magical sets and special effects. Michael Haney directs the show for the 19th consecutive year.
DEAD ACCOUNTS by Theresa Rebeck (Jan. 14-Feb. 11, 2012; opening Jan. 19)
The Playhouse commissioned highly respected Rebeck to write a new play, and this one reveals her Cincinnati roots. Jack shows up in the Queen City from New York for an exercise in the mass consumption of comfort foods from his youth — Graeter’s, Skyline and LaRosa’s. But is he coming home or running away? Rebeck’s Bad Dates (2005) and The Understudy (2010) were solid hits for the Playhouse, and this one on the Marx stage seems likely to be a favorite, too.
SPEAKING IN TONGUES by Andrew Bovell (Feb. 4-March 4, 2012; opening Feb. 9)
The first Shelterhouse show of 2012 is a stylish noir thriller that wanders a labyrinth of love, sex and deceit as it explores the betrayals of two married couples and the unexpected links among five isolated strangers. The fascinating psychological drama will be staged by the Playhouse’s Michael Haney.
MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth (March 3-31, 2012; opening March 8)
As previously announced, Tony Award-winning Director John Doyle — who staged Company here in 2006, a production that moved to Broadway and won a Tony as the season’s best revival of a musical — is back to revive another show by the musical theater’s great composer-lyricist. Merrily is a Broadway fable of friendship and the high price of success, focused on a jaded composer and his two closest friends. As with Company (as well as Doyle’s Broadway revival of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd), the performers will play musical instruments as they act and sing.
TIGERS BE STILL by Kim Rosenstock (March 17-April 15, 2012; opening March 22)
This darkly funny new comedy in the Shelterhouse is about a well educated woman who still lives at home with her mother who won’t come downstairs and her depressed but smart-alecky sister. As she finds her way to her first job she’s also trying to get her mother out of bed and her sister off the couch.
THUNDER KNOCKING ON THE DOOR by Keith Glover (April 21-May 20, 2012; opening April 26)
This 1999 show was the Playhouse’s biggest musical hit during Stern’s two decades of artistic leadership (pictured above). With tunes by Blues artist Keb’ Mo’, it tells the story of a mysterious stranger, Marvell Thunder, and his challenge for a “cutting contest,” in which twin guitars are the weapons of choice. Keith Glover returns to direct the show in a new production for the Marx Theatre.
THE SECOND CITY 2: LESS PRIDE … MORE PORK (April 29-July 1, 2012; opening May 3)
During the most recent holiday season, Second City performed in Cincinnati long enough to know they hadn’t come close to running out of material to satirize and tease us about. Chicago’s legendary improv company will return with an all-new show with new send-ups and razor-sharp insights about people and events in the Queen City. The 2010 edition was the highest-attended show in Shelterhouse history, and it attracted tons of twenty- and thirtysomethings. It’s a good bet that that will happen again.