Live Audiences and Multiple Genres Mark the Return of Theater in Cincinnati This Fall

Know Theatre, Ensemble, Cincy Shakes and the Playhouse in the Park release their 2021-22 performance schedules.

Aug 18, 2021 at 1:40 pm
click to enlarge Adam Tran in "Mongrel" from Know Theatre - Photo: Provided by Know Theatre
Photo: Provided by Know Theatre
Adam Tran in "Mongrel" from Know Theatre

As the fall theater season readies for a start in the weeks ahead, Cincinnati is welcoming audiences back with engaging slates of drama, comedy and music.

These scheduled productions were accurate as of press time, but with the recent rise in COVID-19 cases in the region and the uncertainty of live theater performances since March 2020, things may change. CityBeat recommends that theatergoers check with venues about schedules or safety protocols.

Know Theatre of Cincinnati

Know Theatre has the first production this fall with its premiere of a new work, Mongrel (Aug. 26-Sept. 12), by actor Adam Tran. If you caught pre-pandemic productions at Know, you saw Tran in Whisper House (2018) and The Girl in the Red Corner (2019). His one-man show about Genghis Khan, the Mongol conqueror and charismatic leader, had a reading in April 2020 with the intention of producing the work during the 2020-2021 season.

Of course COVID-19 prevented Cincinnati’s theaters from staging traditional indoor performances for audiences. Instead, Mongrel will kick off Know’s 2021-2022 season in an outdoor setting at Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park and Museum. It will also be available as video-on-demand, a medium Know used successfully during the Cincinnati Fringe Festival in June.

Know describes Mongrel as a chance for audiences to step into the camp of Genghis Khan and meet a young man who defies the destiny of his birth and builds himself a legend. The theater cautions that the show has adult language and situations, including depictions of violence.

Tran is a mixed-race native of Greencastle, Indiana. His father was Vietnamese, and Tran was exposed to racism as a child and teen — experiences that have informed both his career and his new play. He recalls watching The Shadow (1994), a movie that featured John Lone, an actor of Chinese descent, as a villainous descendant of Khan. It awakened in him a sense that Asians are often stereotyped. A fan of the 1990s TV series Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Tran was intrigued that actor Dean Cain, who played Clark/Superman, was mixed race, opening a door Tran had not considered.

After spending time in New York City, Tran has mostly been acting on stages in Indiana and currently in Indianapolis Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. By sheer happenstance in 2018, Tran drove a friend to Cincinnati for an audition with Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. While in town, he dropped his head shot at Know Theatre, with little expectation that it would lead to anything.

But Tran was invited to be in the cast of Whisper House, and his acquaintance with Know’s artistic director, Andrew Hungerford, led to an invitation to develop his Genghis Khan script. Tran’s performance is being directed by Rebecca Ware, a young Asian director from Los Angeles.

Know’s 24th season has two more productions scheduled for the fall: SHOCK! The Spine-Tingling Tale of Miss Spidra (Oct. 8-24), a comic drama inspired by 1950s horror movies by Joseph Zettelmaier, followed by Reina Hardy’s Glassheart (Nov. 19-Dec. 12), a latter-day beauty-and-the-beast tale.

Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati

click to enlarge "Pipeline" at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati - Photo: Ryan Kurtz
Photo: Ryan Kurtz
"Pipeline" at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati

Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati has a staged reading of The Guys planned for 7:30 p.m. Aug. 27 and Aug. 28 and 2 p.m. Aug. 29 at the Cincinnati Fire Museum (315 W. Court St., Downtown). A show ETC produced 20 years ago, it’s a genuinely moving work about eulogizing firefighters who died on 9/11. 

After that, the company gets back to onstage performances where it left off after March 11, 2020, the night it opened Dominique Morisseau’s Pipeline. That was the show’s single performance, cut short by COVID-19 restrictions. Its set has remained on ETC’s stage since then. 

But on Sept. 22, Pipeline will come back to life with just one cast change, restarting ETC’s season with a four-week run through Oct. 16. 

“This will be our big fall opening,” says D. Lynn Meyers, ETC’s producing artistic director. “We are thrilled to start with Pipeline, a play that certainly speaks to the mission of this theater.”

Meyers says that mission is presenting shows that explore compelling social issues. Pipeline is the story of a Black teacher and divorced mother trying to protect her bright, sensitive son who’s been acting out in high school and is at risk of entering the all-but-inevitable “pipeline” toward crime and incarceration. 

“This show is who we are,” Meyers says. “Morisseau is a strong voice for our country right now, and this show is all the more important given events of the past year. It was important in 2020, but I think it’s almost essential now.”

CityBeat said in its review of Pipeline last year: 

“Morisseau’s play employs naturalistic, vernacular dialogue, and the cast, thoughtfully directed by veteran Ron ‘O. J.’ Parson, rises to the occasion by enacting this powerfully moving and provocative tale. Woven through the narrative is a poem by Gwendolyn Brooks that Nya shares with her students: ‘We Real Cool.’ In two dozen chilling words, it traces the descent from ‘We left school’ to ‘We die soon.’ It’s the nightmare Nya fears Omari is entering.”

ETC will follow Pipeline with its annual holiday fairy tale musical and most popular title, Cinderella (Dec. 1-30). The show has a longer-than-usual run preceded by numerous “Fairy Godmother” previews for school groups. 

ETC starts 2022 with a regional premiere of Queen (Jan. 26-Feb. 26, 2022), about the vanishing bee population. That is followed by a double bill of Your Negro Tour Guide, a one-woman adaptation of novelist and former CityBeat columnist Kathy Y. Wilson’s book of the same name, and I Shall Not Be Moved, a world premiere by local playwright Isaiah Reaves about his grandmother and Civil Rights icon Betty Daniels Rosemond (March 23-April 23, 2022).

Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park

click to enlarge "The West End" at Playhouse in the Park - Photo: Tony Arrasmith/Arrasmith & Associates
Photo: Tony Arrasmith/Arrasmith & Associates
"The West End" at Playhouse in the Park

Back in May, the Playhouse in the Park announced an eight-show season for 2021-2022 that will commence with a pair of world premieres. 

Up first on the mainstage will be Cincinnati playwright Keith Josef Adkins’ historical play, The West End (Oct. 9-Nov. 7). Set in 1941, the production will shine a light on a transformative chapter in our city’s history, revolving around the play’s titular neighborhood. 

The second premiere will be Need Your Love (Oct. 30-Dec. 12) by KJ Sanchez, whose previous show Cincinnati King chronicled King Records. This production on the Shelterhouse stage will focus on the life and times of an underrated King recording star, Little Willie John.

The Playhouse’s 2021 schedule wraps up with a return of the Playhouse’s popular adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (Nov. 24-Dec. 30), a holiday tradition that features a cast of nearly 30 actors, elaborate costumes and thrilling special effects. 

Six more productions have been announced for 2022. Tickets for the season went on sale Aug. 17.

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

click to enlarge "Romeo and Juliet" at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company - Photo: Provided by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company
Photo: Provided by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company
"Romeo and Juliet" at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

At Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, the season will open with a tried-and-true classic, the tragic tale of Romeo and Juliet (Oct. 6-Nov. 13). 

For the holidays the company will offer an extended run of its seasonal favorite, Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some) (Nov. 19-Dec. 26), a zany mash-up of holiday stories, movies, poetry and songs told by a very funny trio of well-intended but misguided actors plus a rather inebriated Santa. 

More good news from Cincinnati Shakespeare Company for early 2022: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, a production of August Wilson’s absorbing and powerful play about Black Jazz musicians in 1920s Chicago, will kick off the new year (Jan. 19-Feb. 12).

Sign up for our weekly newsletters to get the latest on the news, things to do and places to eat delivered right to your inbox.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.