Sunday, July 09, 2000

3 friends debut troupe, script

'Intense emotion' young group's goal

        “I love getting angry when I go to the theater.” That's what Pier Group Theatre Company co-founding member Brian Isaac Phillips says in the press release announcing Pier Group's debut.

        “Not just getting angry but feeling any intense emotion or being made to look at things in a different light! That's what I'm paying for the ticket!”

        Since Mr. Phillips has been and continues to be a core member of Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival's terrific young ensemble, Pier Group, and its upcoming Friday-through-Sunday only debut with the original The Big Bored invited further investigation.

        The three peers of Pier Group (Mr. Morehead, Elizabeth Harris and Matt Johnson) met as theater majors at Morehead State. “This is something we've been wanting to do for a couple of years,” explains Mr. Phillips. “This is a first attempt in the little bit of free time I have between (CSF) seasons.”

        Bored looks “at modern life and the consumer culture” and is “strongly suggested for mature audiences only.”

        “We tend not to pull any punches,” says Mr. Phillips. All three collaborators contributed to the script, which has more than 20 pieces of material woven together, Mr. Phillips hopes seamlessly enough that audiences won't always know when one ends and another begins. The sketches range from two to 30 minutes. “We've always been interested in original work — and you don't have to pay for rights.”

        “Pier” is a play on words. “Eventually we'd like to have a logo of the three of us on a pier fishing” — which, the trio hopes, suggests both friends having a good time and the concept of fishing for ideas, the unknown, the unexpected.

        The partners will perform Bored. Ms. Harris has worked with Theatre IV ArtReach and Ensemble. Mr. Johnson is living in Atlanta where he's worked with Alliance Theatre, Georgia Shakespeare Festival and Center for Puppetry Arts.

        “So far it's been a lot of fun,” says Mr. Phillips, enough fun that Pier Group has “already started playing with ideas for next summer.”

        Following its brief engagement at the festival space (719 Race St.), Bored goes back to Atlanta with Mr. Johnson and a performance there.

        Performances are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $10. For reservations and information call the CSF box office at 381-2273.

        Theater competition: Community theater veterans dominated last month's OCTA (Ohio Community Theatre Association) southwest regional competition, with four entries selected for statewide competition in Maumee Labor Day weekend:

        Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Footlighters, directed by Josephine Keenan; Damn Yankees, Cincinnati Music Theatre, directed by Skip Fenker; 1940s Radio Hour, Village Players of Fort Thomas, directed by Norma Niinemets; and Old Wicked Songs, Mariemont Players, directed by Ginny Weil.

        All in the Timing, Falcon Productions, directed by Tim Seiler and Ted Weil, selected as an alternate, was also invited to the competition, marking 2000 as the year of “the most we've ever sent to state competition,” notes ACT president John Wesseling. “This was a banner year for increasing quality in community theater productions.”

        For about a week it was looking like Wayne Wright would be doing double duty in Maumee, as the devil in Damn Yankees,and as the exquisitely drunken actor in Radio Hour. He's back to one role. Cincinnati Music Theatre has already pulled Damn Yankees from state competition, citing expenses.

        The talented Mr. Wright has no plans for the new season. “Nothing's coming up that interests me much,” he sighs. “If you're not Evita, what's the point, I'm too old for Oklahoma. It's OK.” Instead he'll devote himself to the house renovation he's been planning for the last couple of years.

        Now the busiest guy at state will be Ted Weil, directing Timing and playing Brick in Cat. (Yes, the directing Weils are related. That's mother Ginny and son Ted.)

        As to the quick Cincinnati Music Theatre pull-out from state competition, Mr. Wesseling sighed, “All groups should realize that if they are (entering a production) at the regional, they have to be willing to take it to state if they win.

        “There probably wasn't enough forethought given to what the actual cost would be to taking a large orchestra and a full cast to Maumee.”

        ACT-Cincinnati capped the two days of excerpts by handing out awards. Three community theater veterans were honored for lifetime achievement: Beth Boland, Joy Sharp and Dennis Murphy.

        Mr. Murphy, tapped for excellence in technical theater, will mostly be wearing his producer and director hats in 2000-2001.

        “I'm leaving myself open for the Carnegie,” he explains. Mr. Murphy is managing the slow return of the Covington space to the local scene.

        In the meantime, he directs The Road to Mecca for professional-track Ovation Theater, opening Friday at the Aronoff's Fifth Third Bank Theater (call 241-7469 for reservations and information) and will direct A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum next spring for Sunset Players.

        Writer showcased: It's nothing but good news for native Cincinnatian (and Ursuline Academy grad) Theresa Rebeck. Ms. Rebeck — who writes for the big screen (the upcoming Cat Woman), small screen (she's an NYPD Blue vet) and stage (Spike Heels) — was very much in evidence at South Coast Rep in Costa Mesa, Calif., last month. Her new play, The Butterfly Collection,had a reading on its way to a production at Playwrights Horizon in New York later this summer.

        South Coast Rep, not Humana Festival, is the mother lode for new American plays (more on that in an upcoming column) and loves Ms. Rebeck, offering her a commission for a new play before she flew home to New York.

        Good matinee seats: Looking for a good seat at Hot Summer Nights? Try a hot summer afternoon. The repertory season (A Chorus Line, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Oliver!) on the University of Cincinnati campus opened last week.

        The box office started with 17,480 seats. Now there are fewer than 2,000, the best selection available on Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. Call 556-4183.

        Juggling school: Leave your bowling balls, phone books and large, slimy dead fish at home. The Flying Karamazov Brothers will not be performing “The Gamble” as part of their upcoming engagement at Playhouse in the Park (July 19-30). (You bring the very strange item, they attempt to juggle it.)

        So learn to juggle and “gamble” with your friends! Playhouse will hold a free, hour-long juggling workshop July 21 in the theater rehearsal halls.

        My Nose Turns Red Theatre Company and The Club Club will use handkerchiefs and feathers to start Karamazov wannabes five years and older on the road to juggling madness. Quick learners may graduate to bean bags and conventional juggling balls. There will be door prizes!

        No reservations needed, but attendance may be temporarily limited by space and the availability of teaching tools.

        For more information about the workshop and the performance call 421-3888.

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


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