British playwright George Bernard Shaw was one of the great writers for the stage a century ago, and his most popular play, Saint Joan, is a choice available for theatergoers this weekend, thanks to the Diogenes Theatre Company. It’s the story of the rise and fall of one of history’s most fascinating characters, a young country girl in the early 15th century who claimed that God told her to drive the invading English army out of France. Of course, her fate turns and she’s burned at the stake before her 20th birthday. Cincinnati Shakespeare veteran Sara Clark is taking on the title role, and Lindsey August Mercer, who has assisted with many Cincy Shakes productions, is the director. She says, “The beautiful effect of Shaw’s account is the way his language encapsulates Joan’s strength, conviction and unshakable positivity.” Three actors — Billy Chace and Geoffrey Barnes from the Shakespeare company and Patrick Phillips, a regular with Ensemble Theatre —portray a large cast of additional characters. Diogenes is presenting Saint Joan at the Aronoff’s Fifth Third Bank Theater through March 5. Tickets: cincinnatiarts.org
The smart-alecky Avenue Q just opened at Cincinnati Landmark Productions’ Incline Theater in Price Hill. A Tony winner in 2004, the show is a darkly funny knock-off from Sesame Street, Muppet-like puppets and all, with a strong off-color dose of contemporary sarcasm. Kids who watched the educational PBS show were told they could do anything if they tried hard; Avenue Q turns that notion inside out, working from the premise that life sucks. (The song “It Sucks to Be Me” takes most of the air out of any optimist’s balloon.) The production, staged by local state veteran Elizabeth Harris, has a cast of able singers and actors who have learned they way around making puppets laugh-out-loud funny, especially Allyson Snyder as nice girl Kate Monster and neighborhood bad girl Lucy the Slut. A fine and varied singer, Snyder ably flips the switch between Kate’s naïve innocence and Lucy’s lascivious come-hither ways, often in the same scene. It’s an evening of giggles and guffaws, but not for the kids. Through March 6.
Some good things happening starting this weekend on campus at Xavier and Northern Kentucky universities. At XU’s Gallagher Student Center Theater you’ll find three shows in repertory — a classic by August Strindberg, Miss Julie; a heady drama by Harold Pinter, Betrayal; and Begotten, a world premiere by senior theater major Tatum Hunter. They’ll be in a rotating schedule through Feb. 28. Tickets: 513-745-3939 … At NKU, it’s a classic comedy, Kaufman and Hart’s Once in a Lifetime, a wickedly funny script from 1929 about some vaudeville troupers trying to make a comeback in Hollywood. Tickets: 859-572-5464 … Want to know a bit more about local university theater programs? Read my Curtain Call column from Feb. 17.
Once you make it past the weekend it will be time for the second installment of Serials! at Know Theatre, the “episodic theater party” offering 15-minutes from five works in progress — three that began on Feb. 8, and two new works starting this week. Audience members get to vote for their favorites to keep them alive for the next session on March 7. Watch theater being made on the fly. Tickets: 513-300-5669
Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories