Saturday, March 04, 2000

'Carol' coattails lead her to 3 plays

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Regina Pugh doesn't mark time by her annual appearances in A Christmas Carol at Playhouse in the Park,but she could.

        Three Christmas Carols ago, Ms. Pugh and fellow cast member Dale Hodges started chatting about a joint project and came up with Skriker. The remarkable drama, by British playwright Caryl Churchill, became a highlight of that theater season when it premiered at Ensemble Theatre.

        Two Carols ago, Ms. Pugh had dinner between shows with fellow cast member (and children's playwright) Mary Tensing. She ended up commissioning Ms. Tensing to write a play for junior high and elementary school students at School for Creative and Performing Arts. (Ms. Pugh teaches drama to fourth through sixth graders there.)

        Last week, Tales of the Baba Yaga had auditions for a spring production. The Baba, explains Ms. Pugh “is a Russian witch whose house in the woods sits on chicken legs, and she feasts on small children.”

        This past Carol, fellow cast member Greg Procaccino mentioned that Downtown Theatre Classics was looking for directors. Ms. Pugh checked, but never got a call for an interview. Another Carol-er did, though, Mark Mocahbee.

        “He brought a copy of Wait Until Dark to rehearsal, and I snuck a look,” laughs Ms. Pugh. She told him she wanted to audition. She got the role.

        Now through March 19, Ms. Pugh is playing the blind heroine being terrorized by a psychopathic drug dealer (Mr. Procaccino). (This potboiler is most famous for its movie version starring Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkin.) For reservations and information call 241-7469.

        Part of Ms. Pugh's preparation took her to Clovernook Center for the Blind, where she worked with mobility specialist Cynthia Jackson-Glen to master aspects of being visually impaired — how to use a cane, how to carry herself, how to light a cigarette (called for in the play). “But what do I do with the ashtray? What are the subtle things that tell a sighted person someone is blind?” She leaned things as small as how to gesture when she's talking.

        While any kind of theater activity “revolves around my teaching schedule — it's a big struggle every year.”

        Ms. Pugh is making time to direct this month's reading in Theatre of the Mind's “Women's Writes” series.

        Tongue of a Bird by Ellen McLaughlin is a lyrical drama about a search pilot, her memories of her mother's suicide and her exhausting search for a missing girl. It will be read at 7 p.m. March 13 at Mercantile Library (414 Walnut St.).

        “It's the kind of play I like,” says Ms. Pugh. “It's a great story and very moving.” (Admission $5. Reservations: 961-2994.)

        IN THE FAMILY: A couple of months ago, Arny Stoller was thinking about trying out for Wyoming Players' production of Agatha Christie mystery The Spider's Web. He was reading the script the night before the audition and saw that the show also required a 12-year-old girl, of course with the requisite English accent.

        “I happen to know one of those!” thought Mr. Stoller. Thirteen years ago, his daughter Patti married Brit Simon Foster. Last July they and their three children moved back to Cincinnati. The role seemed made for 111/2-year-old Jennifer.

        Primarily a dancer until now, Jennifer attended the Royal Ballet School in Great Britain and danced over the holidays in The Nutcracker. This sounded like jolly good fun, and it has been, says Mr. Stoller.

        “We're spending a lot of time together,” he says happily. Until the move to Cincinnati, the families have had to settle for two annual visits. Now the Stollers see their grandkids a lot.

        Opportunities like the play, says Mr. Stoller, give him a chance to get to know the kids one-on-one. “Bonding is a buzzword,” he sighs, “but it's a fact.”

        Jennifer plays his daughter in Spider's Web, which Mr. Stoller defines as “not your typical Christie. No master detective and only one murder.” He and Jennifer play two-thirds of “a cozy little family that suddenly has a corpse to deal with.”

        Spider's Web plays at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through March 18 at Wyoming Middle School (17 Wyoming Ave.) Call 761-0041 for information.

        P.S. Mr. Stoller swears he didn't do it.

        HISTORY AT NKU: Jack's back. Multimedia performance Jack in the City, first performed here in 1997, returns for one performance at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Northern Kentucky University.

        A community oral history project exploring the urban Appalachian experience, it includes three women's stories: one of migration, one urban and one search for family.

        The final section will be an update. In the course of doing the show two years ago, someone came forward with enough clues for adopted Pauline Mullins to trace her family to Beattyville, Ky. She found two sisters, and last September she finally met her father. She's looking forward to telling the audience her story.

        The performance is part of a cultural identities initiative at NKU that includes educators' study guides and a 24-minute documentary on the original project. Tickets are $9. Information: 572-5464.

        DEBUT IN DAYTON: Richard Greenberg's wonderful Three Days of Rain gets its regional premiere at Human Race in Dayton starting Thursday. The production features Sherman Fracher, one of Cincinnati's best actresses.

        The play is about two triangle relationships, starting with sibling rivalry in 1995 then moving backward to 1960 where the details of a family mystery are both planted and played out.

        Human Race has added Thursday preshow happy hours and Saturday post-show cabarets. Call the box office at (937) 228-3630 for reservations and information.

        DOWNTOWN'S FUTURE: Cincinnati Arts Association board member Judy Green is looking to the future as she and her board colleagues explore what is to be done about CAA leadership.

        “I think downtown development should forget about shopping,” says Ms. Green. “Downtown is where people go for entertainment. Obviously we need somebody who's going to fill the Aronoff Center.

        “Years ago, it was suggested that there should be events all the time — lunch hours, after work. It should be open, accessible so people can drop in. Why not? We've been constipated in our ideas. If we can attract people who work downtown, they'll bring their families down for other things.”

        FUND CORNER: Fine Arts Fund beneficiary the May Festival spends March sending its 50-strong chamber choir into Greater Cincinnati communities with a series of free hour-long Sunday concerts, starting today.

        The idea, says the festival's Steve Sunderman, is to give people “who may not have experienced the festival” a chance to sample it.

        The schedule: today, 4 p.m., St. Francis Seraph, Over-the-Rhine. The May Festival Youth Choir will also perform. 7 p.m., Mason United Methodist Church.

        March 26, 4 p.m., St. Boniface, Northside; 7 p.m., Montgomery Baptist Church.

        As of March 1, the fund has reached $3,171,914 That's 35.7 percent of this year's $8,886,458 goal. The drive ends April 27.

        Jackie Demaline is The Enquirer's theater critic and roving arts reporter. Write her at The Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202; fax, (513) 768-8330.


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