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Cincy Stage Pulse: Jackie Demaline Previews February's Theatre Offerings

With the Polar Vortex finally back where it’s supposed to be, it’s safe to come back outside (without battery-powered long underwear). 
 
And just in time for a full February for Cincy theatre audiences. We’re being rewarded with regional premieres and some edgier work mixing with classics and audience-pleasers, and lots of favorite local actors on area stages. (Dale Hodges isn’t among them, she’s off at St. Louis Rep with “Noises Off.”)
 
Here’s a week-by-week look at what’s coming to help you plan your show-going schedule. There’s a Still Playing list of January openings at the bottom.
 
See you at the theatre!
 
Jackie Demaline
 
WEEK ONE – “Tribes,” through Feb. 16, Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, 1127 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine. 513-421-3555, www.ensemblecincinnati.org
 
My rule is: Michael Haney directs, I buy a ticket. I caught a pitch-perfect dress rehearsal of the Cincy premiere about a young deaf man who lives with his savage, narcissistic family. It’s not exactly astonishing when he finds a new “family” in the deaf community, in a comedy-drama about family dynamics, belonging and limitations of communication.
 
The New York Times wrote: "Have you heard? Are you listening to me? What did you just say? Most of us ask variations on those questions at least a dozen times a day. But it’s unlikely that they vibrate with the resonance they acquire in Nina Raine’s “Tribes,” a smart, lively… new play that asks us to hear how we hear, in silence as well as in speech."

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Amy Warner as Beth, Ryan Wesley Gilreath as Daniel & Dale Dymkoski as Billy/by Ryan Kurtz
The Wall Street Journal raved, “The best-written, best plotted, deepest, most daring – and funniest – new play in recent years.” 
 
ETC producing artistic director Lynn Meyers notes, “It’s more a play about relationships than being in the deaf community. It’s a story about a family and falling in love – no matter who we are we fall I love.”
 
“Tribes” is Ensemble’s best production this season to date with a first-rate acting ensemble led by Dale Dymkoski in the central role.
 
Alert: For mature audiences only.
 
Also consider: “Seminar,” through Feb. 15, Falcon Theatre, Monmouth Theater, 636 Monmouth St., Newport. 513-479-6783, www.falcontheater.net.
 
Cincinnati gets its first look at native daughter Theresa Rebeck’s recent (opened in 2011) Broadway comedy, set at a post-graduate writing seminar led by a jaded professor who knows how to cut his quartet of students to the bone.
 
Some thrive and others flounder, alliances are made and broken, sex is used as a weapon and hearts are unmoored and innocence collides with experience in Rebeck’s biting comedy.
 
Popular local Equity actor Michael Shooner plays the professor, courtesy of a grant from the Theatre
 
Artists Project Fund at Greater Cincinnati Foundation, which helps get local pros on smaller local stages. 
 
WEEK TWO“Metamorphoses,” Feb. 6-9, College-Conservatory of Music, Corbett Theater, University of Cincinnati. 513-556-4183, www.ccm.uc.edu
 
Mary Zimmerman created a jaw-dropping theatre with her adaptation of Ovid’s poem in 2002, setting the action around a rippling pool, as she wove ancient and familiar myths into a spellbinding evening. It won a Tony Award in 2002 and it later mesmerized Playhouse audiences. 
 

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A note on the photos from this production:

"The story behind these photos is kind of interesting, so bear with me: CCM Professor of Technical Direction Stirling Shelton also happens to be a certified scuba diver and underwater photographer, so he took his gear and our cast over to UC's Campus Recreation Center and commandeered part of the aquatics center to make this shoot happen. We actually held our METAMORPHOSES auditions in that same aquatics center, too, so our cast has become very accustomed to UC's swimming pool!" -Curt Whitacre, CCM

At CCM, guest director D. Lynn Meyers, producing artistic director at Ensemble Theatre, carries us into the stories of King Midas, Orpheus, Eros and Psyche and many more, in a style that can redefine the possibilities (and emotional impact) of live theater for contemporary audiences – if you know high school students, bring them.
 
The water, Meyers notes, is “the sustaining element. It has always meant change. The play is about how things begin, how they’ve changed, what they are now.”
 
CCM Drama’s entire graduating class is in the production (with three underclassmen – it’s a big show) and complementing the action, CCM student Jacob Yates, a cellist and composer, has created music to underscore the production. (He first worked with Meyers on Ensemble’s “Next to Normal.”) 
 
ALERT: For mature audiences only. 
 
And, if you like Zimmerman’s theatrical fantasies, keep an eye out later this month for a revival of her Arabian Nights,” opening at NKU on Feb. 20.
 
WEEK THREEROMANCE is all over area stages and for something completely different – Shakespeare’s tragedy Coriolanus,” 7 p.m., Feb. 16 (only), Springdale Showcase Cinema. (Details below)
 
Happy Valentine’s Day! Stages all over Cincy want you to feel the love. Among your choices: the big name is the world premiere of “King Arthur’s Camelot” at Cincinnati Ballet choreographed by artistic director Victoria Morgan. 513-621-5219, www.cballet.org.
 
Victoria Morgan happily dished about her new work from source material that’s never been used for ballet. “We wanted something that really celebrated what it means to be 50 and creating King Arthur’s Camelot seemed a fitting tribute in so many wonderful ways. 
 
“It’s a work that we’re uniquely capable of at this time in our history – the last five years have put us on solid financial footing, we’ve delved into rich and adventuresome artistic collaborations that have been hugely rewarding and we have a stronger company of dancers than we have had at any other time in my tenure. It was an opportunity to be bold. 

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“And to gift our community with a legendary world premiere work as well as a gift for the larger dance community which suffers from the lack of productions of this scale and breadth. 
 
“But what became most compelling was this gorgeously epic story. Full of romance and chivalric ideology, it’s a story that yearns to be danced. And no one else has done it. 
 
“Even in light of its centuries-old tradition, the story of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table has shocking relevance today. Told through a contemporary lens with the use of digital projection and contemporary stagecraft, it’s a modern, visceral and poignant portrayal of what it means to be human."
 
Also consider a couple of smaller charmers: One of the theater scene’s underground delights is True Theater, in which real people take the stage of Know’s Underground (the bar area) to tell their real life stories. On Feb. 14, the theme, appropriately, is “True Dating.” (513-300-5669, www.knowtheatre.com.) 
 
At 7:30 p.m. Feb 13 The Carnegie will screen “Cover Girl,” from 1944 and starring Rita Hayworth and Gene Kelly singing and dancing to Ira Gershwin and Jerome Kern. The plot – who cares? There will be live music synchronized to the film’s soundtrack and it’s all in glorious Technicolor. (859-957-1940, www.thecarnegie.com)
 
If you’re NOT feeling the romance, go classic:
 
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” (Feb. 14-March 9), Cincinnati Shakespeare, 719 Race St., Downtown. 513-381-2273, www.cincyshakes.com
 
Tom Stoppard’s brilliant sideways look at “Hamlet.” 
 
A pair of bit players come center stage to watch the drama unfold with Beckett-ian bemusement and a growing sense of impending doom. 

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If you need a reminder of what the heck is going on (the Prince of Denmark returns home to the castle to discover his murdered father’s ghost. Revenge, betrayal, madness add up to The Most Famous English-Speaking Play Ever – deservedly…), “Hamlet” continues at CSC through Feb. 9. The same cast appears in both.
 
AND – if you haven’t found your way to National Theatre LIVE screenings at Springdale 18 Cinema de Lux – don’t miss this chance. Like the MET Opera series, the plays are filmed-in-performance, and the productions are to theater what the Met is to Opera – among the best in the world.
 
Coriolanus,” 7 p.m. Feb. 16, Springdale 18 Cinema de Lux, (800) 315-4000, [email protected].
 
When you plan a trip to London, if the first thing you look for is what’s playing at the National and the second thing you look for is what’s playing at the Donmar Warehouse. (At $19, $15 students – it’s a bargain.)
 
Tom Hiddleston takes the title role in the Bard’s searing tragedy of political manipulation. Rome faces threats from without and within – an old enemy stands ready to attack but politically naïve warrior hero Coriolanus must also contend with famine and an increasingly angry populace.
 
Among the rave reviews out of London: “Tom Hiddleston's Coriolanus is a lean, mean killing machine with crippled emotions in this exciting and intense production” – The Telegraph; “Josie Rourke directs this stark, swiftly-paced account of Shakespeare's severe Roman play and elicits a central performance of blazing stellar power and intelligence from Tom Hiddleston.” – The Independent 
 
For more info, reviews and videos, check out the Donmar site here.
 
WEEK FOUR – “4,000 Miles,” Feb. 18-March 9, Thompson Shelterhouse, Playhouse in the Park, Eden Park. 513-421-3888, www.cincyplay.com.
 
Named "the best play of the season" by Time Magazine, 4000 Miles is a heart-warming exploration of growing up, growing old and discovering the moments in-
between. 
 
It's the middle of the night when 21-year-old Leo shows up dazed and disheveled at his feisty 91-year-old grandmother's Greenwich Village apartment. While his arrival marks the end of a life-changing cross-country bike trip, Leo's journey is far from over. These unlikely roommates infuriate, bewilder and ultimately connect as they find their way in the world.
 
"A funny, moving, altogether wonderful drama ... A heartening reminder that a keen focus on life's small moments can pay off in a big way onstage." – The New York Times
 
ALERT: recommended for adult and older teenage audiences. Contain adult themes and strong adult language. 
 
Also consider: “Arabian Nights,” Feb. 20-March 2, Northern Kentucky University, 859-572-5464.
 
Based on Powys Mather’s translation of “The Book of the Thousand and One Nights,” Mary Zimmerman’s look at Scheherazade’s tales of love, lust, comedy, and dreams has an underlying theme: the magic of storytelling can change hearts and minds – and lives.
 
WEEK FIVE – “Les Miserables,” Feb. 27-March 9. Patricia Corbett Theater, College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati, 513-556-4183, www.ccm.uc.edu.
 
Count on CCM musical theater to sing a “Les Miz” that will lift you out of your seat. 
 
A true musical phenom, Victor Hugo’s brutal tale of cruelty and injustice follows Jean Valjean who has broken parole after 19 years of hard labor for stealing a loaf of bread for a starving child. His quest for salvation takes him across decades, always hounded by police inspector Javert
 
You already know all this – what you really need to know is to buy tickets now (if you haven’t already.) It will sell out far in advance.
 
Take a chance on “The Irish Curse,” Feb. 28-March 15, Clifton Players, Clifton Performance Theatre, 404 Ludlow Ave., Clifton. 513-861-7469, www.cliftonperformancetheatre.com and “I Left My Heart: A Salute to the Music of Tony Bennett,” Feb. 27-March 23, Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, 4990 Glenway Ave., 513-241-6550, www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com
 
“The Irish Curse” was a hit at the 2005 New York Fringe Festival, getting big laughs out of small penises. 
 
Size matters to a self-help group of Irish-American men who meet every Wednesday night in a Catholic church basement. There is much whining about their “shortcoming” until a blue collar guy joins the group and challenges and raises questions of identity, masculinity, sex, relationships, and social status. 
 
The Covedale will deliver 40 standards all recorded by Bennett, with the talented trio of Tom Highley, Deondra Means and Will Selnick, who’ll do right by those velvet-voiced favorites including "Because Of You," "Stranger In Paradise," "Top Hat, White Tie And Tails," "The Best Is Yet To Come," "On Green Dolphin Street," "When Will The Bells Ring For Me," "Cold, Cold Heart," "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams," "I Wanna Be Around," "The Good Life," "Rags To Riches," and, natch, "I Left My Heart In San Francisco." 
 
STILL PLAYING:
 
Clybourne Park,” through Feb. 16, Playhouse in the Park, Eden Park. (513-421-3888, www.cincyplay.com)
 
Pulitzer Prize winner and a Tony Award for Best Play (2012) is playwright Bruce Norris’ 21st century response to “A Raisin in the Sun.” Set in a Chicago neighborhood, the comedy of race and real estate’s two acts are set 50 years apart. 
 
In the first act, it’s 1959 and the white residents are trying to prevent a black family from moving in. In 2009, It’s the African-American community trying to hold the line against gentrification. 
 
When “Clybourne Park” played at Lincoln Center, the in-house magazine devoted an entire issue to it. 
 
Browse here: LCT
 
ALERT: Recommended for adults and older teenage audiences. The play contains adult themes, racial conversations and strong adult language. Please contact the Box Office if you have questions or require additional information.
 
Pluto,” (pictured at top of article) through Feb. 22, Know Theatre, 1120 Jackson St., Over-the Rhine. (513-300-5669, www.knowtheatre.com.) Steve Yockey’s “Pluto” is having a “rolling” world premiere, with theaters around the U.S. signing up to produce, including Silver Spring, Md. and Orlando. It’s already opened in Atlanta to glowing reviews – “the most engrossing one hour and 20 minutes you can spend in a theater this year” and “Lovely ad heartbreaking.”
 
A mom and her withdrawn, college-age son are having a kitchen-sink drama kind of conversation at the breakfast table. But. There’s the talking dog and the cherry tree piercing the ceiling tree and the voice on the radio talking directly to her – Annie Fitzpatrick, Torie Wiggins and Ken Early star, which promises a good show, and former Know artistic director Jason Bruffy directing, another selling point. 
 
“Pluto” is also described as apocalyptic and (ALERT) recommended for mature audiences only.