There’s more theater and performance than you can shake a stick at in Over-the-Rhine this weekend, thanks to the 2012 Cincinnati Fringe Festival. (In fact, if you stand on a corner in OTR and shake a stick, you could be mistaken for a Fringe act …) You can read about all the Fringe productions that are up and running here, but here’s half-dozen shows that CityBeat’s reviewers have recommended: Grim & Fischer: A Deathly Comedy in Full-Face Mask (this one has a limited run, closing on Saturday, and it’s had brisk box office since it opened on Wednesday); Methtacular (a one-man show about a musical theater actor who’s a gay crystal-meth addict); Sweet, Burning Yonder (an eco-sensitive comedy about the weird aftermath of Hurricane Katrina); Quake: A Closet Love Story (about a broken-up couple trapped in a closet after an earthquake); Don’t Cross the Streams (a full-fledged musical that starts with a movie about busting ghosts and spins way beyond); and Blown Up (a FringeNext production by high schoolers). Go to cincyfringe.com for more information about schedules and tickets.
While it’s not part of the Fringe, Avenue Q, presented by Showbiz Players at Covington’s Carnegie Center, has the same zany vibe. It’s an X-rated musical with puppets that might visually remind you of Sesame Street — until they open their dirty mouths. The show was a surprise Tony Award winner several years back, and it promises lots of laughs for those who go. Through June 10. 859-957-1940.
If you want something more traditional, try Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production of The Merchant of Venice, one of Shakespeare’s most difficult plays. It’s officially categorized as a comedy because it has humorous and romantic elements. But the central story about a potentially fatal argument between a moneylender and a businessman is anything but amusing. CSC’s artistic director Brian Isaac Phillips takes on the role of the rapacious moneylender who has faced anti-Semitic discrimination for his entire life. Is Shylock a villain or a victim? Shakespeare gives him aspects of each, and CSC’s production does not tilt in either direction. You get to decide, and it won’t be easy. Box office: 513-381-2273, x1.
Be sure to consider downtown’s newest performance venue, Speakeasy Theatre, storefront space at 815 Race Street. Their inaugural production is Paul Baerman’s The Whistler, set in 1965 in an unnamed Southern city awash in racist attitudes. The Andy Griffith Show is in its fifth season, and the guy who whistles the theme (played here by local professional actor Michael G. Bath) is living off his royalties. But life gets more complicated when he meets an African-American trumpet player (played by Tony Davis) who shares his passion for music. The Whistler will be onstage through June 10. Box office: 513-861-7469
Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.