Sunday, February 06, 2000

'Going to do it,' writer says as he takes the plunge

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Much admired local playwright Joe McDonough is taking the big leap. He's quitting his day job.

        “I'll still work part-time” at the publishing company gig, he quickly adds, but writing full-time has been on his mind for a while. When he noticed the landmark 2000 looming on his calendar he decided “I'm going to do it.”

        Everyone who makes the Ensemble Theatre holiday musical an annual outing with the family knows Mr. McDonough's work. He and composer David Kisor are the creators of The Frog Princess, Alice in Wonderland and Around the World in 80 Days. They'll also be doing the 2000 edition, although they don't know yet what it will be.

        Mr. McDonough does not specialize in children's theater or musicals, although one of the things he wants to do with his new-found time is market the well-received shows to other theaters nationally.

        His in-the-process satire The Age of Discovery, about a pair of scientists in search of personal and professional meaning, will have a reading at 8 p.m. Tuesday by Cincinnati Playwrights Initiative in the Aronoff's Fifth Third Bank Theater. Admission $5.

        He'll direct ETC faves Bob Rais and Sherman Fracher, along with local stage veterans Bob Allen and Scott Levy.

        Mr. Levy in turn will offer Mr. McDonough's one-act The Brain Doctor as part of a three-play bill at Launch Productions in May. The Brain Doctor was a 10-minute play contest pick at Actors Theatre of Louisville a few years ago. “It was a little more than 10 minutes then, and it's a little more now,” says Mr. McDonough, who adds “it's a one-act, it's just not a long one-act.”

        He's also been huddling with Cincinnati Shakespeare's Jasson Minadakis. Mr. McDonough could be writing something specifically for festival actors. That's exciting, he says, and can't wait to write with Nick Rose, Marni Penning and “the guys from Godot” (Giles Davies and Jeremy Dubin) in mind.

        Wife Lori, a fifth-grade teacher, is “really supportive,” about his choice and happily Mr. McDonough already has a steady income stream from his writing.

        He writes radio bits for Gary Burbank and a shortened version of Alice was picked up by ArtReach Touring Theatre. Alice is currently touring 12 states (“There are royalty checks every month') and has been picked up for the next academic year.

        Mr. McDonough is wrapping up an adaptation of Mark Twain's Celebrated Jumping Frog of CalaverasCounty that he's discussing with ArtReach.

        “There are just so many things I want to do,” says Mr. McDonough, who will admit only to being in his “late 30s.” “I want to do a lot more of everything.”

        PRODUCTION POSTPONED: Cincinnati Public Theatre has postponed and/or canceled (to be decided) this month's planned production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (a cast member dropped out in the 10th hour).

        What will it mean for the third year company, which has had a checkered production history? No decisions yet, but artistic director Don Wong also hasn't secured rights for the next announced production, Beautiful Thing in April.

        Watch for developments.

        KEEPING UP: As Cincinnati Arts Association again starts thinking about its future with the imminent departure of prez Elissa Getto, look here for a weekly check-in with board members.

        “I'd like to see a strong director come in,” says Howard Tomb, “someone who can lead, like an Ed Stern. The Aronoff needs to be a focal point, have people talk about it.”

        "STAGE BLACK': Amethyst founding member Sandra Watson moved on to Chicago long ago, but she still keeps local ties. Friend and director Luther Gibson moseyed up to the Windy City late last fall to see her in a show and it just so happened she was doing a reading and invited him along.

        He loved Stage Black by Lydia Diamond and now the comedy about characters in a dysfunctional family drama moving beyond the play wright's control will have its first full production Thursday through next Sunday at Arts Consortium (1515 Linn St.)

        Actress/playwright Ms. Diamond slipped in and out of town last week between snow falls to catch a rehearsal before she had to resume rehearsing back in Chicago.

        Now a resident playwright at Chicago Dramatists, Ms. Diamond always wrote plays “but I didn't know I was doing it. I wrote scripts for my Barbie dolls.”

        Stage Black rose out of an audition for a role “that every actress between 19 and 35 tried out for. And the role we were all clamoring for wasn't even flattering an ingenue in a dysfunctional family, and it showed a lot of skin.

        “We all sat together, and when it was all over I went home and thought how depressing it is that there's so little work for African-American theater professionals in Chicago.”

        She wrote the play at her temp job, and Stage Black went on to place well in national competitions, including a third place in the Theodore Ward Playwrights Contest.

        What Mr. Gibson likes about Stage Black is the way it breaks theatrical convention. “It's about the process of playwriting, it deals with the issue of theater audiences, it provides insight into family relationships,” he says.

        Performances are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. It's presented in conjunction with Amethyst Ensemble.

        Cast includes A.D. Davis, Deborah Brock-Blanks, Ebony England, Jinnerva Shelery, Yvonne Mace and Darryl Hinton.

        The production is recommended for mature audiences. For reservations and information call Arts Consortium at 381-0645.

        CHICAGO CULTURE: According to the Chicago Office of Tourism, Luther Gibson was one of the tourists who make live entertainment and cultural events more popular than sports among travelers to the Windy City.

        If you're planning a trip for late winter, be sure to consider Sears Theater Fever from Feb. 26-March 5. It starts with a free “sampler” day at six theaters on Feb. 26, including Second City and the new Chicago Shakespeare Theatre on Navy Pier.

        Sampler offerings will include Blue Man Group's “The Delicate Art of Marshmallow-Catching,” circus arts and a PlaySlam.

        The two weeks of Fever includes backstage tours, half-price tickets and even free performances from nearly 100 theater companies. Check out the League of Chicago Theatres Web site at or call (312) 922-7201 for information.

        NEW CO-STAR: Outdoor drama Tecumseh! has a new co-star in 2000. The show's producers will introduce Shakespeare on Sugarloaf on three Sundays, July 23, Aug. 6 and Aug. 20 when 30 members of the cast will trade in their buckskins for tights to perform A Midsummer Night's Dream.

        “Outdoor drama attendance across the country has been going down for the last five years,” says Scioto Society marketing director Joe Murray. “We're hoping this will rejuvenate interest in Tecumseh!”

        Whether there will be more Shakespeare on Sugarloaf in future years will depend on whether the Bard gets the job done in 2000. Call (740) 775-4100 for more information.

        Jackie Demaline is The Enquirer's theater critic and roving arts reporter. Write her at Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati OH 45202; fax, 768-8330.


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