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Everything is Right in Broadway In Cincinnati’s “Play That Goes Wrong”

Review by Liz Eichler of “The Play That Goes Wrong”: Broadway in Cincinnati

If you’re in need of a good chuckle (aren’t we all) imagine 2 hours of sustained belly laughs – that what you find in “The Play That Goes Wrong,” part of the Broadway in Cincinnati series. Recently closed on Broadway, many of the top notch professionals have joined the tour bringing one of the best evenings of theatre around.

It is a farce. No heavy thinking involved. It is physical comedy and word play. A whodunit in a stereotypical but beautiful English estate, complete with study, butler, gardener, and a little hanky panky.

It is the story of a hapless theatre troupe (the Cornley University Drama Society) mounting a play (“The Murder at Haversham Manor”), and things go terribly wrong because the members of the troupe are either incredibly naïve, overworked, pompous, forgetful, or just plain over-actors. And when you think things have fallen apart as much as it can—they fall apart even more. The melodrama they are mounting is so melodramatic, and the “theatre troupe” so incredibly inept, it is hysterical to watch—because the real performers are so incredibly talented with physical comedy and timing.

That is the secret of this play…timing. Timing the laughs, timing the silence, timing the looks. There’s a lot of other key timing, catching books or keys thrown, and more.

This show is funny for every audience, but an extra hoot to anyone who has spent anytime backstage knowing that things do go wrong, and actors and crew have to make split second choices. Sometimes they work, but this is a smorgasbord of bad choices in set dressing and ensemble work – all great fun for the audience.

The cast consists of the deep-voiced Peyton Crim (Robert), Ned Noyes (the misogynist Max), Scott Cote (Dennis) with a limited vocabulary, Brandon Ellis (Trevor) with a Duran Duran fixation, Yaegel T Welch (Johnathan, who plays the most undead dead body), Jamie Romero (Sandra), Angela Grovey (Annie), and Evan Alexander Smith (Chris) who may have the most stage time to demonstrate his impeccable timing (except for mentioning Cleveland).

Also to note is the set by Nigel Hook, the costumes, by Roberto Surace, and the lighting by Ric Mountjoy. All three scenic elements must perform over and above the usual call for a show – and they do. Great work by tour director Matt DiCarlo, based on the original direction by Mark Bell. The play was written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields and is quite a celebration of the good, the bad and the ugly things that have happened on a local stage. I saw this show in a much smaller theatre on Broadway last year and it loses little in the translation to the tour.

An integral part of the show is the audience, as the actors react and present directly to you–the people. So I guarantee you will have an evening of laughter at “The Play That Goes Wrong,” playing now through December 2 at the Aronoff Center, as part of the Fifth Third Broadway in Cincinnati series. Contact cincinnatiarts.org for tickets.

Broadway in Cincinnati’s “Play That Goes Wrong” Definitely Goes Right

Review by Spenser Smith of The Play That Goes Wrong: Broadway in Cincinnati

Photo: Jeremy Daniel

At the risk of needing no further review, I must say this is absolutely the funniest play I have ever seen. Bring tissues.

The Play That Goes Wrong is a play by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields of Mischief Theatre Company. It won Best New Comedy at the 2015 Laurence Olivier Awards and Best Scenic Design of a Play at the 2017 Tony Awards.

The play, that is already going wrong, begins before curtain. Members of the crew are on stage as the audience enters the theatre finishing up some last minute setup and searching for a missing dog. You might even be asked to help. The fictitious Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society has recently had some issues with casting. Due to restraints, they’ve had to make some adjustments to a few classics. What would you do if during James and the Giant Peach your only peach goes rotten? Or if you really liked poems about kittens by T.S. Eliot set to music by Andrew Lloyd Weber but only had one actor? This year the company is staging The Murder at Haversham Manor, which has the right number of parts. During the performance, I think the better question to ask is “What goes right?” The set is falling apart, props are misplaced, actors are forgetting lines, and the stage manager (visible to the audience in a House Left box) is missing his cues. The joy of surprise is the beauty of this hilarious play, so I won’t give away any plot details.

The entire cast is a riot. Most of the actors have several moments when they directly interact with the audience and Cincinnati ate it up. The actors are up, down, under, over and all across Proctor and Gamble Hall for two hours. It must be physically exhausting for them, but man are we having fun! The set, designed by Nigel Hook, becomes an important piece of the puzzle and does not disappoint. Well, at least not from the audience perspective. The show has everything. Spit takes, pratfalls, sword fighting and when was the last time you saw a play with coordinated stunts? It is often said that “there is something got everyone!” Well, in this play, that is abundantly true. This is a group of equal opportunity offenders and they’ll get you to laugh one way or another. Or all of the above.

If you doubt the play is as funny as I have described, go see it for yourself or just ask the young girl that was sitting in front of me during the opening night performance. I think I was being too loud. Sorry, girl in G7, but it was VERY funny.

The Play That Goes Wrong continues at the Aronoff Center through December 2.
For tickets, visit the box office located at 650 Walnut Street , call 513-621-2787 [ARTS] or you can order online at cincinnatiarts.org.
 

 

Know’s “Susan Swayne” Brandishes Corsets and Cutlasses

Review by Sheldon Polonsky of Susan Swayne and the Bewildered Bride: Know Theatre

The Know Theatre summarizes its Thanksgiving offering, Susan Swayne and the Bewildered Bride, written by Reina Hardy, as “Sherlock Holmes meets Mary Poppins”. That’s as apt a description as I can think of, with the added suggestion of a little “League of Extraordinary Gentlewomen”.

We meet the titular Susan Swayne (Lisa DeRoberts) as she stakes out the house of her rival, Katherine Denn (Jordan Trovillion) in Victorian England. She is accosted by an angry wife, Isabelle Fontaine-Kite (Ernaisja Curry), who accuses her of spiriting away her husband, Eric. We soon discover that the impeccably mannered and attired Susan (dare we say, “practically perfect in every way”?) is a member of S.O.L.D., the Society of Lady Detectives, and quickly proves she is as equally adept at splitting ruffians with sword and fisticuffs as she is at avoiding splitting her infinitives. She takes Isabelle into her confidence and introduces her to the rest of her organization, led by the equally proper Lady Alice Bomberry (Regina Pugh) and rounded out by two young trainees, Adelaide (Kearston Hawkins-Johnson) and Madeline (Alexx Rouse). The only males in sight are Chris Wesselman and Nathan Tubbs, as various unnamed filler characters.

Anything more would be spoiling and frankly a little superfluous, as the plot itself is rather muddled and hard to swallow. Suffice it to say it involves cross-dressing, shifting loyalties between the women and and a lot of unbuckled swashbuckling (the women, heaven forfend, fight corset-less). Never fear, there is nothing here to offend young sensibilities except for some mild to moderate sexual innuendo. The fun of this show lies in the juxtaposition of the mild-mannered bustled women and the Holmesian milieu of the Victorian detective genre. And unfortunately that makes it a bit of a one-joke play, with the exception of a very funny exchange in an opium den during the second act. In fairness, though, this talented cast, shepherded by director Tamara Winters, manages to milk the joke for everything it’s worth, and the interplay between DeRoberts’ dead-panning delivery and Curry’s histrionics manages somehow to stay fresh throughout. Trovillion’s portrayal of Denn, while initially a little wooden, becomes quite endearing. The laurels for the evening, though, go to Alexx Rouse who had the timing down perfectly for her role as the dim-witted Madeline and consistently garnered the biggest laughs.

Andrew Hungerford’s set design, in subdued blacks, white and grays, was effective both at the evoking the Victorian setting as well as reminding us of the inherent theatricality of the production, and its sliding panel design made it very functional. The lighting design (also by Hungerford) and sound (Doug Borntrager) was subtle but appropriate. Plenty of eye-turning props abound, especially of the weapon variety (Rebecca Armstrong, Kara Eble Trusty, Andrew Homan, and Tom Fiocchi apparently can all take some of the credit for this). Finally, Noelle Wedig-Johnston’s costume design is spot-on authentic for our fastidiously habilimented heroines.

Susan Swayne has a reassuring message of female empowerment and sexual liberation, albeit without the sharpness or bite of its characters’ rapiers. And, for all the single-mindedness of its plot and gags, the production undoubtedly entertained its audience on opening night who rewarded it with a lot of hoots and guffaws. So, for a pleasant evening of derring-do with the added benefit of an extra X chromosome, head out to Know Theatre. Susan Swayne runs through December 16th; tickets can be obtained from the Know box office or https://knowtheatre.com.

 

 

CSC’s “Twelfth Night” Shows How the West Was Won

Review by Doug Iden of Twelfth Night: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

I attended a Shakespeare play last night and a Wild West Show broke out. Set against a background of an Old West barroom (designed by Vince Salpietro), the Cincinnati Shakespeare Theater opened its production of Twelfth Night in “rootin’-tootin’” fashion.

The gender-bending comedy follows twins Viola (Caitlin McWethy) and Sebastian (Patrick Earl Phillips) when their boat capsizes, they are separated (each thinking the other is dead) and, then, struggle to survive in a foreign land. For protection, Viola pretends to be a man named Cesario and enters the service of Duke Orsino (William Oliver Watkins) with whom she promptly falls in love.  Orsino is attracted to Cesario as well but, since he thinks she is a man, complications ensue.  However, Orsino thinks he is in love with Countess Olivia (Abby Lee) and sends Cesario as an intermediary.  Olivia, then, promptly falls in love with Cesario/Viola.  Complications, misunderstandings, confused identities and general chaos continue to run rampant through the remainder of the show

In the comic subplot, Olivia’s uncle (one of the Bard’s greatest characters, Sir Toby Belch played deliciously by Billy Chase) conspires with Olivia’s maid Maria (Jennifer Joplin) to belittle Olivia’s pompous steward Malvolio (Barry Mulholland). They are abetted by Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Geoffrey Warren Barnes II), Fabian (Jeremy Dubin) and Feste (Paul Riopelle) with more than a passing nod to The Three Stooges.  Their collective buffoonery is a highlight of the evening.

Somehow, with a wave of Will’s magic wand, it all sorts itself out in the end and everyone ends up with whom they are supposed to.

The acting, as usual, was superb. McWethy did an excellent job of playing the confusing male/female role with frequent looks of consternation.  She parroted the movements that, as woman, she thought a man would employ.  At one point, she sprawled all over the stage (as a man) rather than assuming a modest female posture.  One scene in particular stands out when the band has taken the stage with a production number.  Viola and Orsino are sitting together ostensibly enjoying the music but secretly stealing glances at each other.  Orsino is embarrassed by his apparent attraction to a man.  All of this is done subtly with no dialogue.  The comic quartet of Belch, Aguecheek, Fabian and Feste cavort uproariously and steal every scene they are in.

Music plays a significant part in the story as a group of troubadours dressed like John Wayne constantly appear, acting, at times, like a Western Greek Chorus. Sometimes, they walk in the saloon door and, at other times, they just pop up from behind the bar and on the roof unexpectedly (which always garnered laughs from the audience).   The musicians, playing in a distinctly western, horse-opera style, include Barnes, Cary Davenport, Josh Katawick, Sylvester Little, Jr., and Riopelle.  There are also numerous musical gags with snippets from popular songs from musical such as “The Sound of Music” and “Maria” along with “The Twelve Days of Christmas” (a play on the title, I’m sure) and some standard folk songs such as “Oh, Susanna”.

The costumes, designed by Clara Jean Kelly, blend well with the theme including normal working clothes (musicians), outlandish chaps (the jester Feste), Dude outfit (Malvolio), flouncy dress (Olivia), Mississippi gambler (Orsino) and identical nautical outfits for the twins Viola and Sebastian (which helps the audience identify them). The barroom set is typical of its day but rather ornate with a touch of a nautical theme. They use a trapdoor in the floor to represent Malvolio’s imprisonment and the storm scene when the ship capsizes is very cleverly done.

Overall, the show is directed by Austin Tichenor as a broad, sweeping burlesque with significant elements of farce and slapstick. There is a whole routine where the comic conspirators use pratfalls similar to a Keystone Kops routine and several sword dueling scenes which look like a parody of an Errol Flynn movie.  The audience appeared to love the presentation.  How many times do you hear laughing out loud at a Shakespeare play?

Purists may rail at this interpretation which is not traditional. This is an example of “cultural appropriation” (according to a Shakespearean expert that I know) which incorporates modern allusions into a 400-year-old play.  There were a number of contemporary allusions including a “moon walk” (ala Michael Jackson), high-5’s and a lot of funky dance movements by Chase and Barnes.  They were even satirizing old western movies.  The point is to try to make Shakespeare more accessible and accommodating to modern audiences which I, personally, think is fine.  After seeing many Shakespeare plays, I am still a little intimidated by the Elizabethan language and it often takes me 5-10 minutes to get into the rhythm of the play.  In this production, I barely noticed the “thees and thous” and was instantly transported into the magic of the show.

So, if you are looking for a thoroughly entertaining evening, do not wait for the “Twelfth Night” of the production but gather your 10-gallon hat, saddle up your trusty Cayuse and saunter down immediately to the Cincinnati Shakespeare Theater production running through December 8.

Miami University’s “Good Kids” Have a Lot to Say

Review by Shaun Maus of Good Kids: Miami University theatre

Something happened to Chloe after that party last Saturday night. Something she says she can’t remember. But it’s all over social media. Everyone has seen it. But who is telling the truth? Whose version of the story do you believe? What does that say about you?

Miami University Department of Theatre tackles a bold topic about sexual assault in its current production, Good Kids. The play addresses a number of issues current in today’s society. While the script feels a bit dated, this fantastic ensemble cast of Miami University students make the dynamic of the plot and themes crackle with excitement. Director Tori Wiggins has devoted much of the staging to playing downstage so the issues are in your face.

While the play is centered around Connor and Chloe and the question of “will you tell me the truth?”, it’s narrated by Deidre who remains on the sidelines of the play. Jack Troiano as Connor plays the character with one-hundred percent All-American football jock boy-next-door qualities without being stereotypical.  He does bring the well-built football player, but in his emotionally-charged scenes of defending himself, Troiano is a brutal beauty of a boy on the verge of realizing what it means to be a man. Molly Boozell as Chloe brings a desperate vulnerability to the sexuality of a budding young woman.

The cast is a solid ensemble of teenagers. They gel not because they are not too far removed from the age of the characters they play but by the energy they bring to the script. The dialogue is rapid-fire without missing a beat, even when multiple characters are speaking and trying to get their side of the argument across. Lighting designer Cassie Mings allowed her lighting design to compliment the action and without over-stressing the heated arguments, while at the same time focusing the story on the characters through carefully placed spotlight effects.

While Deirdre is the narrator, I found the character of Skylar to be the true voice of the play. Deirdre’s tragic back story is unfortunately tacked on to the end of the play, resulting in a strange shift of focus. Despite the flaws in the script, the ensemble members performed well. The character of Deirdre has a tendency to break us out of the story with “Stop. Rewind,” allowing the bits to replay from a different perspective but not really propelling the story.  Skylar, played by Marjorie Trimble, is the one who brings us deeper into the plot. She’s on stage for very short periods of time, but she’s the voice I followed. Trimble’s acting was very natural. She wasn’t merely delivering lines but speaking with the conscience of all of us in the audience. Trimble’s Skylar provides a moral compass for the craziness of the issues.

Good Kids, the script, brings an important issue into a public realm especially given it was produced on a college campus which is its focus. But sadly, it misses the opportunity to contribute anything to the social conversation in a more meaningful way.

 

“A Small Fire” Smolders at Falcon Theatre

Review by Laurel Humes of A Small Fire: Falcon Theatre

A family’s life unravels in A Small Fire, now at Falcon Theatre.

The play literally begins with a small stovetop fire. That’s when Emily discovers she has lost her sense of smell, unable to smell the dishcloth smoldering on the burner.

She shrugs it off. As portrayed by Kristy Rucker, Emily is a hard-driving owner of a construction company, both barking orders and showing sincere friendship to her manager, Billy (Evan Blanton).

Anyway, Emily’s got no time for this malady. She and husband John (Terry Gosdin) are planning daughter Jenny’s (Victoria Hawley) wedding. Even though Emily does not approve of the match.

But – one by one, Emily’s other senses shut down. Taste. Sight. Hearing. It happens fast within the 90-minute play, because playwright Adam Bock is not concerned with the impairments but with everyone’s reactions to them.

Rucker shines in the difficult role of Emily. Her expressive face shares all her emotions with us: fear, frustration, anger, hopelessness. In the end, she is almost totally isolated.

Gosdin’s mild-mannered John at first comes off as nearly milquetoast pitted against his forceful wife. But he stays devoted, continuing to put her needs ahead of his own. He stays even when her words hurt. “I didn’t love you, but I do now,” says Emily, now dependent on him.

Hawley performs well the difficult role of daughter Jenny. She helps us empathize with her always problematic relationship with her mother. But in the end, she flees. “It’s just too sad,” she tells her father.

Blanton’s Billy provides some much-needed comic relief, and a philosophical tone, too. “This can be a disaster or an opportunity, a chance to change stuff,” he tells John.

I was frustrated with this play. I simply could not suspend my disbelief. There is no explanation for Emily’s condition, no therapists, no one teaching her braille.

What’s left for audience members to ponder, then, is: What if this happened to me? A hard question, and we may not like the answers.

A Small Fire, directed by Ted J. Weil, continues Thursdays-Saturdays through Dec. 1 at Falcon Theatre, 636 Monmouth St., Newport. Tickets are available at 513-479-6783 or athttp://falcontheater.net.

CSC’s “Twelfth Night” Features the Good, the Bard, and Nothing Ugly

Review by Sheldon Polonsky of Twelfth Night: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

Caitlyn McWethy and Abby Lee in “Twelfth Night”

“Westward Ho!” The Cincinnati Shakespeare Company takes Viola’s quote from Twelfth Night at its word when it envisions one of Shakespeare’s most well-known and beloved comedies in 1850’s San Francisco. CSC has certainly had its share of clever period staging of Shakespeare’s plays, but perhaps never so effectively and hysterically as this one (I’ll admit, though, steam punk Titus Andronicus was hard to beat). And lest you think that the bard’s immortal words hardly fit the twang of the western forty-niner, consider that when Yosemite Sam calls someone a “lily-livered varmint” in the cartoons, his words come directly from Macbeth and Elizabethan idiom.

One of CSC’s greatest strengths is the depth and energy of its ensemble and never is that more evident than in the current production–there is not a weak link in the cast. To give a summary of the plot and do justice to all the performers is no easy task, but here goes: Viola (Caitlyn McWethy) is shipwrecked and separated from her twin brother, Sebastian, whom she believes is drowned. Dressed as a man for protection, she becomes the servant of Duke (Mayor?) Orsino (William Oliver Watkins) and awkwardly falls in love with him. Watkins plays the straight-man, for the most part, while McWethy effectively slips between a bewildered fish-out-of-water and a romantic idealist; a brilliantly staged musical interlude perfectly sets up their affection for one another. Meanwhile, Orsino is infatuated with the apparently man-renouncing Olivia (Abby Lee), and uses Viola as a go-between, whom Olivia falls in love with in her male guise. Viola’s brother (Patrick Earl Phillips) arrives, dressed in the same clothes, meets Olivia himself and is mistaken for his sister and–well, you get the picture. Lee is perfectly cast as Olivia, a difficult role which she fills with both wit and winsomeness.

Meanwhile, Olivia’s household adds the subplot and the broader humor. Her maid, Maria (Jennifer Joplin) and drunken cousin, Toby Belch (Billy Chace) scheme against her officious steward, Malvolio (Barry Mulholland) along with her fool Feste (Paul Riopelle), Belch’s cowardly friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Geoffrey Warren Barnes II), and Fabian (Jeremy Dubin) who in this version plays the bartender. This troupe plays up the comedy with exaggerated, physical humor, which flawlessly merges with the western scenario. The cast is rounded out by the ever-radiant Miranda McGee, who plays a saloon wench and later Sebastian’s friend and wanted outlaw, Antonia.

The comedy in this production is imbued with impeccable timing by director Austin Tichenor, who makes sure the audience misses none of the jokes despite the Shakespearian innuendo. His Twelfth Night is filled with all the fun trappings you would expect from a Western comedy, including the inevitable bar fight staged by CSC regular Justin McCombs (who otherwise gets a rest after his grueling turn in last month’s 1984). Here and there you will find nods to more contemporary sensibilities (I loved Viola’s and Sebastian’s occasional valley-girl “Wha-at? followed seamlessly with the rest of the line). There is country music and dancing (composed by Cary Davenport and choreographed by Darnell Pierre Benjamin) performed by a pop-up band (literally) including guitar, banjo, mandolin, washboard and harmonica (Davenport, Josh Katawick, and Sylvester Little, Jr, abetted by others in the cast). The set, by Vince Salpietro, is an inviting one to the audience, in more ways than one, as the Western saloon (aptly named “Just Shots”) becomes a working bar for theatre patrons before the show and during intermission, while the action on the thrust stage keeps the audience engaged. Finally, the costumes by Clara Jean Kelly were colorful, eye-catching and multilayered down to every hoop skirt and vest.

It is productions like these that I always find so emotionally rewarding, reminding me that Shakespeare’s wit, creativity and inspirational vision truly transcend any period or generation. I overheard one patron as he was leaving say, “I am usually a bit of a purist, but this worked”. Whether you are a Shakespearian purist who hangs on every Elizabethan word, or a newcomer to the bard who has never seen a Shakespeare play and is afraid of understanding all this old-fashioned language, this is a performance you will enjoy and treasure. So come on down to the Otto M. Budig theatre and have yourself a hootin’ and hollerin’ hootenanny of a good time.

Twelfth Night runs through December 8th; tickets can be purchased online at www.cincyshakes.com.

 

 

CCM Cast Show They’ve Learned Their Lessons Well in “Godspell”

Review by Liz Eichler of “Godspell”: CCM Musical Theatre

CCM’s “Godspell” is everything you’d want and expect from one of the country’s leading musical theatre programs. There is an abundance of energy, talent, great voices and dancing, and a richness of ensemble interaction that makes you leave the performance with not only joy for the message but joy for the school, too.

Director Katie Johannigman has modernized one of my childhood favorites and it works. The concept begins in a regimented Catholic school playground, where the high school kids are showing signs that the old ways don’t mix with their new spirit and questions about life and laws. A new “teacher” comes along who grabs their attention by allowing them the freedom to be themselves while living in community with others, explaining life’s laws in a language they can understand and own. AKA, Jesus joins the apostles, and teaches and empowers them to spread the Word. Word = Love.

Everyone in the ensemble gets a song or moment to shine. Alphabetically (well, it does start in a school!) Bryce Baxter owns the audience in “Turn Back, O Man” and Jack Brewer delivers a moving “All Good Gifts.” John Collins has fun with “We Beseech Thee” and has a a lot of great voices. Delaney Guyer brings the necessary quiet sweetness to “Day by Day” but can also go big in the parables. Jenny Mollet nailed “O Bless the Lord, My Soul” which is one of the most powerful numbers. Dylan Mulvaney has such an expressive face, awesome moves, and a great “Light of the World,” putting the exclamation point at the end of the first Act. Camila Paquet reaches hearts in “By My Side” and Madelaine Vandenberg helps us “Learn Your Lessons Well.” Madison Adams Hagler (John the Baptist/Judas) can juggle both roles, and has a mischievous smile that draws your eye and empathy, underlining that the real antagonist is society. Finally, Madison Deadman is a Jesus full of love, fun, and yet ultimately does the Father’s bidding, with a powerful voice, great moves, and commanding presence, shining bright throughout.

The set (CCM student Joshua E. Gallagher), costumes (CCM student Rachel Boylan) are simple and perfect for 2018. The set is the stone façade of St. Matthews School, under renovation, which provides the scaffolding the students use throughout. The clothing starts in uniforms, but then segue into Bohemian, quirky, a little goth, and personal, including an homage to an infamous green coat and the iconic Superman logo. Kudos. The lighting (CCM student Frank J. Viskup) is rock-concert active, effective, colorful, moody, and powerful. Steven Goers (musical director) turns it up to 11, guiding some beautiful vocals in many songs, including “By the Willows.” Johannigman also provides lively choreography expertly executed by the performers and exceeded expectations in “All for the Best.”

The show is barely 2 hours with an intermission (when the audience is invited to chalk up the playground) and it left me wanting more, wishing for a few more beats to savor the melancholy moments and feel more impact.

The next studio musical will be “Yeast Nation,” an area premiere by the creators of “Urinetown,”  April 25-27. Free tickets will be available starting April 1. Visit the CCM Box Office or call 513-556-4183 to reserve. Limit two tickets per order.