Sunday, May 21, 2000

Bard's political play first for area

'Coriolanus' opens Thursday

        Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival management thinks that when it opens Coriolanus on Thursday featuring two of the local theater scene's top talents, Giles Davies in the title role and Dale Hodges as his loving mom, that it will be a Cincinnati first.

        When you consider that Shakespeare is the most produced playwright in the world, you have to ask: Why the Coriolanus snub?

        It's a play that gets a bad rap, say local Shakespeare experts. University of Cincinnati's Yashdip Bains sighs. The title character “confuses people. They don't know what to make of him.”

        His suggestion: Think Col. Oliver North. Think Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

        Set in ancient Rome, Coriolanus is a great warrior who becomes a lousy politician, is banished from the Eternal City and sets out to go to war against it.

        Coriolanus, he says, “is the person you'd hate to have as your enemy. He's a leader of men who doesn't know when to stop fighting. He's highly principled — probably a lot like John McCain.

        “He's a man who has a soldier's code of honor, a member of the military elite, a man who doesn't want to have to prove himself when he's asked to explain himself. He's the kind of man who does better in war than peace.”

        Nobody really knows why the Bard was moved to write about this complicated man or these social-political issues, but Shakespeareans are glad he did.

        Coriolanus continues through June 11 at 719 Race St., downtown. Call the box office at 381-2273 for reservations and information.

        More Lanford Wilson: It really will be a festival!

        Last month, Playhouse in the Park announced it would devote next season's final main-stage slot in May 2001 to Lanford Wilson's magical Talley's Folley (to be directed, as was the original, by Marshall Mason). Within weeks, Ensemble announced its intention to present the regional premiere of Mr. Wilson's A Sense of Place, about friendships and relationships from the past trying to survive into the future.

        Last week, Ovation Theatre jumped on board with plans to do an evening of Wilson one-acts. Readers' theater Theatre of the Mind had already announced its intention to present a Wilson work as a season extra to its international-themed 2000-2001 season (Windows on the World), possibly his deeply moving exploration of adult extended family, Sympathetic Magic.

        Now more plans are afoot. Know Theatre Tribe and IF Theatre Collective are huddling. Know, with its multicultural mission, is looking at Redwood Curtain (which takes a Vietnamese-American girl to the Redwoods in search of her former soldier father). IF's Benjamin Mosse might direct.

        IF, meantime, is committed to the superb Burn This, with its beautiful language playing out like jazz in a hopeless and hopeful romance about grief, art and love.

        If you're scratching your head and wondering who this Lanford Wilson guy is and why are people doing a bunch of plays you've never heard of, consider: This many people who deeply love and produce theater can't be wrong.

        In more than three dozen plays written over the course of 35 years, the brilliant and compassionate playwright has explored America's heartland and the bruised hearts of Americans toughing it out in cold, hard cities. Along the way he's helped establish the character of off-Broadway.

        Hopefully there will be plenty of coordinated marketing next winter to get the word out. How about a festival ticket?

        Arts get radio slot: Finally, local arts returns to the airwaves. Thank WVXU-FM (91.7), which, beginning Monday, will devote an hour every weekday afternoon to some aspect of the arts.

        Tune in at 3 p.m. to Back stage with Mark Tipton. The show premieres with an interview with Terry Gross, host of Fresh Air which immediately follows Backstage. After the debut, Mondays will be devoted to theater, with Xavier University theater department head Cathy Springfield taking over programming duties.

        Summer Nights hot: “We're jazzed,” says College-Conservatory of Music's Carrie Throm. All it took was a little show called A Chorus Line to send Hot Summer Nights subscriptions soaring.

        With six weeks to go before the curtain goes up, subscriptions have already surpassed last year's total. In mid-August 1999, Hot Summer Nights counted 3,032 subscribers. Early this week, the popular series on the University of Cincinnati campus had sold 3,212.

        Rounding out the three-show package are Oliver! and the regional premiere of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Planning to subscribe? Better do it now. Call the box office at 556-4183.

        "Abracadabra' set: Magic lovers can mark this year's dates for annual Playhouse in the Park benefit Abracadabra. Performances are set for Aug. 18-20. (Aug. 18 is the gala.) Performers will be announced at a later date.

        Magic workshop AbraKIDabra is set for 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Aug. 20 prior to that day's Abracadabra matinee. Tickets go on sale June 5. For more information call the box office at 421-3888.

        Mosse going to school: If you're looking for Benjamin Mosse in June, you might try New York, where he's been accepted into the Lincoln Center Directors Lab. The intensive training session with some of the nation's best directors is a 12-hour a day, six-day a week program that runs all month.

        “We'll use A Midsummer Night's Dream as a reference point,” he says happily. “The thesis is revitalizing classical works, which is exactly what I'm interested in.”

        At least it's one of the things he's interested in. When he returns to Cincinnati in July, (“I'll literally get off the plane and go to campus”) he'll oversee a two-week high school certification program for College-Conservatory of Music's Prep department drama program. More teaching means he'll be able to produce more IF.

        In August, watch for an IF production of Craig Lucas' Blue Window, which comically looks at disconnections before, during and after a dinner party. It will play in rep with a still-to-be-decided title, probably at the University YMCA on Calhoun, where IF successfully staged (“we broke even”) last outing No Exit.

        (And if, after Blue Window you want another look at playwright Lucas, Know Theatre Tribe is promising an August run of his better-known Prelude to a Kiss, which brings together fairy tales and a nightmare straight from Jewish folk tradition.)

        Unified auditions: The League of Cincinnati Theatres has set its second annual unified auditions for June 16-18 at Playhouse in the Park.

        Equity's only auditions are scheduled for 4-7 p.m. June 16 and 10 a.m.-noon June 17. Non-Equity auditions are slated for 1-5 p.m. June 17 and 10 a.m.-1 p.m. and 2-5 p.m. June 18. During this time Playhouse will also audition children's roles (including A Christmas Carol and Inherit the Wind.)

        Make Equity appointments by calling the Playhouse, 345-2242. Non-Equity should send photos and resumes to the Playhouse before June 1. The Playhouse will call and set the appointment.

        Theatres from Dayton, Columbus, Louisville and Indianapolis, as well as Cincinnati, are expected to attend. Theaters interested in attending should contact D. Lynn Meyers at En semble, 421-3555.

        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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