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Update on Unified Auditions 2015

The League of Cincinnati Theatres will not be hosting a Unified Audition in 2015. Each of our professional member theatres holds auditions at various points during the year. We strongly encourage interested actors to contact individual companies for which they may be interested in auditioning; links are provided under the “Membership Information” tab above. For actors new to town, or curious about the theatres that might be a good fit for them, you’re invited to contact LCT President Joshua Steele at joshuaTsteele@gmail.com.

New Changes to the LCT Paneling/Review Process!

For the winter/spring season this year, LCT is excited to announce a new format for reviews. Instead of a formal rating system, we will be posting a full review from one of our panelists on our review page here. We are hoping this approach will give theatre goers more robust insight into the productions and help them choose the shows they really want to watch. We anticipate even more exciting changes in our review process and awards for the next season, so stay posted!

CSC Gets Back to School Early with “Complete History of America”

CSCCompleteHistoryImageQ: “What do you get when you cross three crazy actors and 5,000 years of American history?”

A: “The Complete History of America (Abridged)!”

Ba-dum-bum-CHING!

This production, having its regional premiere at the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, is created by the same trio who created the wildly popular “The Complete History of Shakespeare (Abridged).” The basic premise is that there is much to be made fun of with respect to American history—and they deliver many very funny moments.

Having to cover 5,000 years of American history, playwrights Adam Long, Reed Martin, and Austin Tichenor cover a lot of ground, but leave out some important elements of American history. I was surprised that they did not discuss the Westward expansion and taming of the frontier.  

This show delivers major laughs and the three CSC actors (veterans Justin McCombs and Miranda McGee and newcomer Goeffrey Barnes) are up to the challenge in poking fun at everything in American history, from Amerigo Vespucci’s role in naming the continents of North and South America to a slide show of the Civil War.

            Special praise goes to Justin McCombs, who was outstanding playing a large number of female roles in drag. There is one scene at the end of Act II where he comes on stage playing a seductive Madame Chiang-Kai-Shek that is a showstopper. Coming on stage, McCombs has this exaggerated cross-legged shashay that is completely hysterical.

            Fellow cast members Miranda McGee and Geoffrey Barnes also had their fair share of funny moments. I loved the premise given at the top of the show that McGee needed to do this play as extra credit for her to get her green card. It added more weight to the exploration of American history. Barnes does a very funny imitation of President Obama and shines with being the lead in the film noir review of the last thirty years of history.

            Despite the load of laughs, there were several jokes that fell flat which did not showcase these actors not nearly as well as they should have. I suspect that these problems with be corrected as the actors fine-tune the production over its run.

The Complete History of America (Abridged) is a great summer offering from Cincinnati Shakespeare. I hope that they reprise this play again next year, so that the production can grow to become even funnier the next time out.

CSC “Guv’nor” Unimpeachably Hysterical

CSCGuvnorsImageI have been looking forward all year to see the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s regional premier of One Man, Two Guv’nors, after having seen the original version on the London Stage. The play, based on Italian Commedia Dell’Arte with a good dash of vaudeville, Monty Python, and audience participation thrown in, requires tremendous energy and comic flair; as usual, CSC did not disappoint, providing an uproarious production every bit as entertaining as the original. Key to success is a charming and both physically and verbally gifted leading man to play Francis Henshall, our everyman protagonist who juggles the demands of two bosses while simultaneously looking for a good meal and a good…woman. Matthew Lewis Johnson, who wowed theatre-goers last year as Falstaff in CSC’s Henry IV, was perfectly cast and once again demonstrated his impeccable comic timing and connection with the audience. He was backed up by CSC’s outstanding stable of character actors , highlighted by the eternally reliable Justin Combs, Miranda McGee, and especially Jeremy Dubin as the nonagenarian waiter, Alfie. Certainly not to be forgotten are “The Shakes”, the jazzy/bluesy skiffle band who provide entertaining musical interludes throughout the show, led by Kelly Mengelkoch, Cary Davenport and other CSC regulars who for a change of pace got to show off their musical talents. Finally, kudos to director Brian Isaac Phillips who nailed the pace and timing of this non-stop foolishness.

One Man Two Guv’nors may not be high art—maybe not even high comedy. But it’s an irreverent homage to the art of comedy itself that breaks down the fourth wall of theater and never fails to surprise and amuse. Tickets are almost sold out, although two shows have recently been added, so don’t miss this production. I hope CSC continues to take similar opportunities to produce fresh, contemporary productions with enough of a classical twist to fit into their otherwise traditional repertoire.

Miami’s “Avenue Q” Not Your Ordinary Street

Think “Sesame Street on Crack” and you will get a little insight into what Avenue Q the musical is all about, now onstage at Miami University. Avenue Q presents a whole unique set of challenges for any theatre, especially a college theatre. That being said, Miami University’s production handles the show well. The most characteristic challenge is creating puppets that are humanistic and interesting enough for us to look at the entire show. As with the PBS hit series that teaches young children their ABC’s, numbers and other life lessons, this adult version of the avenue, continues to teach us, but perhaps topics that are just a bit different and perhaps a might naughtier.  With a book written by Jeff Whitty and music and lyrics by Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez (the same guys who brought us The Book of Mormon) this is not a show that will have you humming the tunes, however it will have you laughing and will definitely put a smile on your face and a warm feeling in your heart.

A bunch of racist, horny and sexually confused puppets (magnificently designed by Grant Lemasters in an homage to the late Jim Henson) from Avenue Q  are the “leading characters” in this musical that is very difficult to execute for a myriad of reasons.

The cast was led by a quad of four strong performers: Kelcey Steele and Taylor Hayes as Princeton and Kate Monster, and the loveable duo of Josh Stothfang and Sean Davis as Rod & Nicky (think Bert & Ernie meets Will & Grace). Princeton (Kelsey Steele), a recent college graduate with a useless BA in English, is trying to find his life purpose and through his foibles and follies, including some invasive Bad Idea Bears, the other furry and not so furry residents on the block are able to find new meaning in their lives. Of course this is all done through songs such as “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist”; “The Internet Is For Porn; “If You Were Gay”; “You Can Be As Loud As The Hell You Want When Your Making Love” and “Schadenfreude”.

For their human neighbors, it gets no better than Cara Hihn as Christmas Eve who makes Hunter Dobereinder’s Brian all the more hilarious.   Then there is Sean Davis whose crisp, funny and vocally limber performance and puppetry with Nicky is better than the original Broadway creator of the role.

With a cast that innately understands the actor/puppet relationship and a technical team that lets the show seamlessly unfold, this is a production that could run for years.  The amazing part of this production is that the actors, who become puppeteers, do so to perfection, in no small thanks to the puppet coach Aretta Baumgartner. The vocals were spotty here and there, but never enough to get in the way of the story or characters. In fact, the puppets they handle become a true part of them and even though we see their actual faces as they operate the characters, we forget that it is the human we are watching or hearing as we are focused on the puppets in the play.  As stated, the technical side of this Avenue Q is near perfect as the puppets come to life in the design by Lemasters, and coached by Aretta Barumgartner.  It’s clear these actors lived with and through their puppet counterparts as seen in their ability to bring these characters to life with their acting and singing.

Gion DeFrancesco’s scenic design is reminiscent of the original; and as usual, This production is hard to say anything in the least bit negative about (with the exception of erratic spotlights and some sound issues)– it is solid from the beginning to the end with no downtime in between. The actors are having as much fun telling us this story as we are having watching it unfold. They have heart and they become very real to us.  So if someone can’t tell you how to get to that other street, have your GPS point you to Avenue Q at Miami University.

Untethered’s “August: Osage County” Emotional, Bold

Any family has its ups and downs, issues and secrets. The Westons have that and then some. As literature, “August: Osage County” by Tracy Letts is a masterful work. It is multilayered and multi textured but not all of the layers are things you really want to explore. The story of the Weston sisters and their parents and relatives, who come together during a family crisis, reflects and absorbs the energy of many families; sometimes the mirror reflects humor, sometimes naked raw emotion.

Untethered Theatre made a bold choice in choosing this piece, perfectly aligned with their mission, but not with their sight lines, and eliminating seating for the audience. Perhaps there were other answers to the sprawling set in the cramped, yet intimate space. Could the bunkbed and study have been switched for audience comfort? Or was it a conscious effort to make the audience squirm and turn in their seats? As each layer is ripped away, the audience should become more uncomfortable at the sight of their own wounds.

With those details aside, it is a powerful play, where layer upon layer it is revealed that this family has been poisoned and eaten away by a complicated web of lies, denial, illness and the sweet allure of whiskey, pills, weed or wine.

The highlights of the evening are performances by Dale Hodges (Violet Westin), Christine Dye (Mattie Fay), Bob Allen (Charlie), Carter Bratton (Little Charlie) and Mindy Heithaus. Strength of focus, crafting people rich and full in detail confirm these actors as Cincinnati treasures. Another audience member summed up Dale Hodges’ performance “How she made me detest this complicated woman and then be hopeful for her well-being by the end of the play was lovely to watch.” The others rounding out the cast of 13 (!) fulfill their roles well, in a true ensemble cast. Costumes and lighting were appropriate.

I highly recommend this show. It is not for the easily offended. It is long, but most of it flew by as we were all entranced by this wonderful theatre making brave, bold choices.

Falcon’s “Heat of the Night” Warms Cincinnati Audiences

So says black Pasadena Homicide Investigator, Virgil Tibbs, strongly played by Derek Snow in the Falcon Theatre’s production of In the Heat of the Night.

It’s the early sixties, and Tibbs is traveling in the deep South. He is waiting for a bus in Argo, Alabama when he arrested by the local hayseed cops for a murder. Virgil confronts racism and prejudice while helping the local sheriff solve the murder mystery.

This production of In the Heat of the Night is outstanding. Small intimate spaces like the Falcon put the audience close to the action of the stage. Director Ed Cohen smartly places all the actors behind a scrim, reminding the audience of the ensemble, which is very good. Each actor of the 10-person troupe was well-prepared for their roles. Derek Snow was solid throughout, commanding each scene. He needed a good counterpoint for his strong, laconic role of Mr. Tibbs and he got it in Michael Hall’s interpretation of Sheriff Gillespie, an outsider hired to be sheriff. Hall’s performance matched Snow’s, and you really felt his transition from desiring to be accepted in a bigoted town to accepting the new world where a black man could be equal.

Cohen used the actors to change the set and this technique moved the play along at a brisk pace. Simon Powell and Dan Maloney played police officers and both were very fine. I like when actors project their voices toward the audience! Tom Peters also stands out, playing two crucial roles.

Special mention must be made for the production music provided by two actors on stage, Rich Setterberg and Allison Evans. Rich played three roles, and played bass lines of popular tunes from the era (and harmonica). Allison provided a drum beat and did a good job playing her character.

The lighting in this show was also very fine. The Whiskey Shambles Band played some blues tunes before the show. This was a great way to set this fine period piece by John Ball.

Falcon is celebrating its 25th season. Falcon Producer Ted Weil wears more hats than the inventory of Batsakes Hat Shop downtown. Lighting design, set design, set construction, sound design. In addition, Falcon Theatre has successfully purchased the building and have made serious improvements to the theatre space.

Greater Cincinnati theatre lovers are lucky to have the Falcon Theatre as one of the many theatrical treasures available. Go see this show!

 

Mad Anthony’s “Any Given Monday” A Rewarding Production

If you stick with Mad Anthony Theatre Company’s production of “Any Given Monday,” you will be amply rewarded. Overall, the show got off to a rocky start opening night, but the second act fulfilled the play’s promise. The plot gets started with a potentially trite action – wife cheats on husband, possibly ending a 20+ year marriage. Husband Lenny, very well played by Chris Kramer, is devastated. He is a Good Man (everyone says so) who would never do the same to his wife, and all he wants is to have her back. He and his friend Mickey talk while watching Monday Night Football on TV – hence the title of the play. This is an insightful observation by playwright Bruce Graham; serious talk can flow easier if people (maybe especially men) can pretend to be distracted by the screen. The long first-act scene between the two friends is played out, rather than acted – that’s how well each actor slips into his role. Daniel C. Britt’s Mickey is rough and cynical from his long-time job on the subway. He spends his days observing all kinds of people, and none of them escapes his sarcasm. Mickey’s lines account for many of the laughs in the show, although sometimes they are cheap laughs based on bigotry and laced with profanity. It is in this first-act scene that the real plot of the show takes off, and the second act provides more twists that can’t be revealed without spoiling the pleasure for future audiences. You know an audience is totally involved when, as on opening night, there is a collective gasp at a revealing and well-played piece of stage business. Bekka Eaton as wife Risa shines in the second act. The actress is very ill-served in the first act, by her placement at an ill-lit edge of the stage and the badly chosen costume for her first appearance. By the end of “Any Given Monday” we are pondering some big ethical and moral questions about honesty, death, good and evil, introduced by the fourth performer, daughter Sarah, adequately yet awkwardly played by Allyson West. Post-show discussions may well start with “What would you do?” and that is the mark of a thoughtful script well played.

It must also be note that the newly renovated theatre is warm and welcoming, and a visit to the Fitton Center always provides additional opportunities to enjoy art shows. There are three new installations which you will also enjoy.

Know Theatre’s “A Handmaid’s Tale” is Relevant and Thought-Provoking

Submitted by LCT Panelist

Corinne Mohlenhoff in "A Handmaid's Tale"

Corinne Mohlenhoff in “A Handmaid’s Tale”

If I’m being honest, I was skeptical walking into the Know Theatre‘s production of The Handmaid’s Tale. Margaret Atwood has long been my favorite author, and I spent a full semester of English studying this book in particular. While I was excited to see it come to life, I was scared it would have the same book-to-movie effect where details and even plot lines were cut for the sake of time or budget. Brian Isaac Phillips, however, did not disappoint. Directing his wife, Corinne Mohlenhoff, as the handmaid Offred, I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting Atwood’s work through the script adaptation by Joe Stollenwerk. Set in the not-so-distant dystopian conservative future, women are categorized based on their fertility, serving as “handmaids” for wealthy couples that can’t conceive. Offred narrates between her position in the Commander (Fred’s) house and her memories from “the time before,” which sounds like it could be as close as 30 years away.

The set, designed by Andrew J Hungerford, grew on me more and more as the two acts unfolded. The disintegrating walls, burnt wood floor and high windows combined a dystopian underground bunker with a prison cell, only letting in sunlight where you couldn’t reach it. As the show doesn’t aim to be highly “spectacle,” with one set, one costume and one actor, I enjoyed being able to interpret the set as a metaphor as well.

Also deserving mention were the light and sound design, by Hungerford and Doug Borntrager, respectively. The combination of natural stage lighting and overhead fluorescents transported us to either an old school gym, a quiet bedroom or (twice) the doorway to the unknown. Borntrager’s sound design also seemed effortlessly realistic, as I turned around more than once to see which audience member was talking while Offred described a conversation. Even the simplest suggestions of sound in the script were brought to life and pulled the audience closer into the story.

The nature of the show is, as Offred repeats, “a reconstruction.” It is not live action or a distant memory, but a retelling, full of minor modifications and inner dialogue. That being said, I enjoyed Mohlenhoff’s reconstruction of Offred, but felt there could have been more distinction between her actions and her role as a narrator– that is, defining her self between present, past and “the time before.”

While I heard remarks about the length and wordiness of the narration, what else would you expect from a one-woman novel? Again, I am extremely partial to the story, and found it even more relevant today than I did at first reading, but I would recommend this show to most modern & mature audiences, as it can make the dystopian future seem startlingly close.

Covedale’s Irreverent “Greater Tuna” Provides Oceans of Laughs

Submitted by LCT Panelist

CovedaleGreaterTunaImageTwo hardworking actors playing 21 zany characters are the comedic centerpiece of Greater Tuna. Justin Smith and Matt Wilson earn the audience’s laughter and ovations in the production now playing at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts.

The setting is Tuna, the third-smallest town in Texas, and a place where “the Lions Club is too liberal and Patsy Cline never dies.” The glue of the town is the local radio station, where no piece of news or gossip is too unimportant to be broadcast, and where everyone with an opinion is invited to call in.

And in this satire, everyone has a politically incorrect opinion. The Smut Snatchers group wants to remove books from the high school library, specifically “Roots,” because “it doesn’t properly present the other side of slavery,” and “Romeo and Juliet,” because “it just shows teenagers having sex.”

A Ku Klux Klan member makes a conspiracy case against Agent Orange when he notes that he hired several Vietnam vets; only four of them died and none turned orange. The owner of a used weapons shop advertises that all her products are “guaranteed to kill.”

And there is the elderly woman who routinely poisons dogs who come into her yard. This time, she accidentally poisons her husband’s valuable bird dog, then runs over it with the car to hide her crime.

This is Greater Tuna – consistently in bad taste, always offensive. But it can be funny. Director Bob Brunner makes that case in his program notes: “Greater Tuna is irreverent and wrong on so many levels. Prepare to laugh.”

Easier to admire is Covedale’s production of Greater Tuna. Actors Smith and Wilson move seamlessly among their characters – men, women, teenagers to senior citizens, each with a costume and wig change. Kudos to costume designer Caren Young and her team of quick-change artists: Betsy Brunner Kline, Natasha Boeckmann and Melanie Hall.

Smith and Wilson make each character (caricature, actually) distinct by voice and movement. A highlight is when they draw the audience into the scene, as a stand-in for a church congregation.

Also to be admired is the set, designed by Brett Bowling. The huge barn façade is decorated with old metal signs for Esso and beer, including one that reads “Hippies use back door,” and flanked by an old-time TV antenna and an oil derrick. Cleverly, the hayloft door opens and becomes the radio station studio.

Greater Tuna runs through Feb. 15. Call 513-241-6550 for ticket information.