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Theatre Reviews: Carnegie's "Wizard of Oz", Clifton Players' "Joneses"

The Wizard of Oz, The Carnegie, through Jan 31.

Is The Wizard of Oz at The Carnegie ‘lightly staged’ or a dressed-up ‘concert version’?

Whatever the definition, Wizard, continuing through this weekend, delivers on the score, thanks to the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra led by J.R. Cassidy, (which takes up most of The Carnegie’s small stage) and the show’s four iconic principals – Dorothy and pals The Scarecrow, The Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion.

What it doesn’t have is oomph, or a sense of wonder.

Part of the problem is there’s not much room to move. Part of it is that the supporting ensemble of four can’t evoke the magical journey or the Land of Oz despite their best efforts – and they work really hard.

Part of it is that designer Pam Kravetz’s whimsical scenic design doesn’t define a place that generations of audiences know and love.

A big part is that stage director Matt Wilson doesn’t solve the problems created by the challenges of space and production budget (it looks cheap rather than imaginative). He doesn’t surprise or tug at our hearts.

Caroline Chisholm, a junior at Wright State, is a little mature and robust to play Dorothy, but she delivers her songs well. Her BFFs are all swell – Jack Manion as Scarecrow, Tyler Kuhlman as Tin Man and Sean Mette as Cowardly Lion. Jeff Richardson is fun as the Wizard and Lesley Hitch cackles effectively as The Wicked Witch.

The Wizard of Oz, Jan. 21-31. The Carnegie, 1028 Scott Blvd., Covington. 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $30. Two half-price student tickets with one full-priced adult ticket available at box office. 859-957-1940 and at www.thecarnegie.com. Costume contest at all matinees.

The Realistic Joneses, Clifton Players, through Feb. 6

If Grounded at Ensemble is your top choice for the coming few weeks – make the regional premiere of The Realistic Joneses at Clifton Players #2. It’s a honey.

As the play begins, middle-aged Bob and Jennifer Jones (Phil Fiorini and Mindy Seibert) are sitting in their ex-urban backyard looking at the night sky.

“It just seems like we don’t talk,” Jennifer tells her husband.

“What are we doing right now, math?,” Bob returns.

“No, we’re — I don’t know — sort of throwing words at each other.”

So we know that this is a play, in part, about how we do – and don’t – communicate with the people closest to us. Before long it’s also clear that something is going on with Bob.

Soon enough new young neighbors appear with a bottle of wine. John and Pony Jones (Carter Bratton and Miranda McGee) are friendly but also – carrying something emotional.

John in particular is prone to saying the oddest things.

Early on, Jennifer blurts out something that is preying on her mind, and her husband’s, and quickly apologizes.

John assures her, “That’s all right. That’s what separates us from the animal. You never hear animals blurting things out. Unless they’re being run over by a car or something.”

There’s lots of nutsy dialogue, but there’s never a minute that we don’t know Joneses is about something. It turns out to be mortality.

This is a play you’d expect/hope to see in Playhouse in the Park’s Shelterhouse, but as the regional theater turns toward lighter fare, let’s cheer Clifton Players for giving us what we’re missing.

The production values are minimal – Clifton Performance Theatre is a teeny space, a former coffeehouse a few steps down from the street, on Ludlow across from the CVS. Part of the fun of going there is a convivial atmosphere and the feeling that you’ve discovered something.

What matters is that director Dale Hodges (who spends most of her time on stage as one of the area’s best actors) understands Joneses and so does her very talented cast.

Late in the play it’s observed, “There’s human-ness in the air.”

Yes, there is. It makes Realistic Joneses one of the best nights of theater so far this season.

The Realistic Joneses, Jan. 21-Feb. 7. Clifton Players, 404 Ludlow Ave., Clifton. 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $25. 513-861-7469 and here.

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts