Stage Door

'The Whipping Man,' 'Spring Awakening,' 'Red' and 'Collapse' are all worthy weekend productions

Ensemble Theater's 'The Whipping Man'
Ensemble Theater's 'The Whipping Man'

Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.

The Whipping Man is drawing big audiences for Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati. In fact, they’ve added several performances extending the closing date from Feb. 12 to Feb. 18. It’s the story of Simon, a dedicated former slave who remains in a ruined mansion in 1865 Richmond in the days just after the Civil War. Caleb, the wounded son of his former master, stumbles in (desperately needing some horrendous surgery) and then does John, another former slave, a young man raised side by side with Caleb. The slave-owning family was Jewish, and it’s almost time for Passover, which they must celebrate with limited means. It’s a powerful show about freedom and responsibility with a plot that will keep you guessing. As I noted recently in this week's Curtain Call column, director D. Lynn Meyers gets the most from her cast, especially Ken Early as Simon. This one is a must-see. Box office: 513-421-3555—-

Spring Awakening, the Rock musical that won the 2007 Tony Award, is onstage this weekend in the Cohen Family Studio Theater at UC’s College Conservatory of Music. It’s a perfect show for a cast of 18 to 22 year olds who aren’t that far away from being angsty teenagers. The black box is a great venue because everything is close, intimate and sweaty — much like the lives of kids whose repressed parents try to contain the urges of sexual “awakening” that are coursing through their musical veins. The show’s rhythmic score runs counter to the straitlaced 19th-century German atmosphere, and that creates a dynamic tension that’s hard to deny. I saw the opening performance on Thursday and enjoyed it. Performances (this weekend only, Friday and Saturday evenings, plus a Saturday matinee) are free, but you need to call in advance for a reservation. This is a popular title, so tickets might be hard to come by. Box office: 513-556-4183

Red, John Logan’s 2010 Tony Award winning drama about abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko, is onstage at Dayton’s Human Race Theatre Company. It’s an interestingly different production from the one offered back in September at the Cincinnati Playhouse — more abstract, in fact, one might say. The setting just barely suggests an artist’s studio, so you get to focus on the dynamic between the intellectual, outspoken painter (played by Michael Kenwood Lippert) and his assistant Ken (Will Allan) who grows from tremulous respect to angry equal. It’s a great script, and this production highlights the forces that motivate artists, visual or otherwise. Direction is by CCM drama professor Richard E. Hess. This production has been onstage since Jan. 19; I didn’t get to see it until this week. Final performance is a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday. Box office: 937-228-3630

Know Theater opens Collapse, a “comedy of anxiety” by Allison Moore with a performance on Saturday night, kicking off a run through March 3. The collapse of a highway bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis touches the lives of several people touched by the tragic event. David went off the bridge and survived, but now he’s suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. His wife has her own stress — mostly coping with David’s depression. The arrival of her flaky sister pushes Hannah to the verge of her own collapse. This is the kind of edgy script Know Theatre excels at producing, and Jason Bruffy, Know’s former artistic director, is directing this regional premiere. Box office: 513-300-5669

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