Sunday, July 16, 2000

DEMALINE: 'Road to Mecca' shows fine line

Community actors at a high level

        This week's Road to Mecca by Ovation Theatre again invites questions about the fine line between community and the growing number of semi-professional theaters in the region.

        Athol Fugard's magical drama about the artist in society stars Ellie Shepherd, a much-admired local actress on the community theater scene. It's directed by fDennis Murphy, widely regarded as one of community theater's best directors.

        “It's not an easy answer,” says Ovation managing director Deborah Ludwig. A lot of professional theaters, including Ensemble, “have used actors whose roots are in community theater,” she points out.

        “So I would venture to say that it's the atmosphere that communicates professionalism. We hope that's conveyed by the talented actors on stage, the creativity and ability of the technical staff to execute the technical requirements seamlessly, the venue in which we perform (the Aronoff's Fifth Third Bank Theater).

        “I don't think the average theatergoer cares if the actor is Equity or non-Equity as long as that actor gives a stunning performance. I think Ellie will do that and I believe Dennis will deliver a dynamite product.”

        They usually do.

        Mecca plays at 2 p.m. today and 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Tickets $12, students and seniors $10. For tickets call the box office at 241-7469. For information call Ovation at 369-1544.

        No-shows: On the subject of community theater, it wasn't just the cost, or the work that caused Cincinnati Music Theatre to decline a trip to state competition with Damn Yankees, sighs the show's producer Lynn Worpenberg.

        Community theaters from six regions will compete for state honors in Maumee over Labor Day.

        CMT was among the chosen in southwest regional competition in June. Then five cast members (of an ensemble of 18) announced they wouldn't be available and three weren't sure. Nobody mentioned a problem until after Damn Yankees was named one of the winners.

        “The "staffing' issues carried as much, if not more, weight in our decision-making process,” she says.

        CMT's 2000-2001 productions are Evita, Nov. 10-19 and The Wizard of Oz, April 27-May 5 in the Aronoff's Jarson-Kaplan Theater. Series tickets are now on sale at the Aronoff box office, 621-2787.

        Fairy godmother: It should be some Cinderella, with Eartha Kitt as the fairy godmother. Best known to a generation as the campy Catwoman on TV's Batman, she's fresh off a vamping turn in Broadway's The Wild Party.

        Ms. Kitt, last seen on national tour as the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz, will replace the previously announced Diahann Carroll in the Fifth Third Bank Broadway Series entry playing the Aronoff Feb. 20 through March 4.

        If you can't wait that long for a dose of the kitt-enish Eartha, you can hear her voice in The Emperor's New Groove, Disney's animated entry for the holidays. It's scheduled to hit screens Dec. 9.

        Still no word on who'll take the title role in the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, played on TV by Julie Andrews in 1957, then Lesley Ann Warren in 1965 and finally Brandy in 1997.

        For more information call the Broadway Series at 241-2345.

        Puppets delayed: Saw Theater has dropped its plans for local August performances of Account Me Puppet before it takes the multimedia puppet epic, drawn from Milton's Paradise Lost, on an East Coast tour. Local dates will now be Oct. 19-Nov. 11 at Saw's performance space, 2823 Massachusetts Ave.

        Early in 2001, Saw will start devoting itself to a new project, And the Movement of Hearts Came at Me Like a Storm, thanks to a grant from the Henson Foundation.

        “We've done sketches from it in public,” says Saw's Mark Fox, “But none of them will be in the final piece.”

        Using Walt Whitman's Against Nature as a departure point, the ever-brooding Saw will examine “a man who rejects the society around him in search of his ever-elusive sense of beauty,” explains Mr. Fox. “He finds it and gets trapped there.”

        The plan is to have Movement finished by May 2001. Saw already has an invitation to perform at the International Puppetry Conference in Tampa next summer. Movement will probably be the piece that goes to Florida.

        Mr. Fox also exuberantly reports that he has gallery representation for the first time, Linda Schwartz Gallery on Fourth Street.

        For more information about performances in Philadelphia, New York, Atlanta, Detroit — and Cincinnati — call Saw at 541-0872.

        Radio show: Launch Productions invites you to be part of a live audience (free!) for its latest endeavor — radio drama. Or, more accurately radio comedy.

        Local actor, WNKU deejay and Launch founder Scott Levy re-teams with former Monkeytime Comedy Troupe partners Billie Felix Jeyes and Dan Luebbe in writing The Adventures of Secret Agent 3.14159 Rock Band.

        Two adventures — The Rome Affair and The Instanbul Affair — will be taped at 8 p.m. Aug. 12 in Kelly Auditorium, Alter Hall at Xavier University.

        There's no radio gig for Rock Band yet, the show will be taped for release on CD. “I'm hoping maybe it will spark some interest,” says Mr. Levy.

        No, Launch is not giving up the stage, assures Mr. Levy. “Launch takes things in small bites,” he says. “We're going to try this and see if we can get a few more people involved.”

        You may recall that Launch debuted last August with the mission of promoting the work of local playwrights. First up was Mr. Levy writing, producing and starring in the noir spoof Mystery of the H-Note. A follow-up production in spring included a piece by Mr. Luebbe.

        If Mr. Levy manages to raise funds for another production, he promises it won't be written by himself or Mr. Luebbe.

        Rock Band will feature Nicole Collins, Greg Dastillung, Bill Keeton, Mr. Levy and Mr. Luebbe. Mr. Dastillung, Showboat Majestic music director and former Monkeytime member, and Chris Carraro will provide music.

        For more information call Mr. Levy at 961-7921.

        Star-crossed lovers: Shakespeare Under the Stars makes its annual appearance Thursday through July 30 at Antioch University in Yellow Springs with Romeo and Juliet.

        Performance artist and Antioch theater department head Louise Smith directs, envisioning a “multi-leveled and multi-racial approach.” That translates to a production that takes place in both Elizabethan and contemporary time and presents both Shakespeare's story and the outside reality of the actors preparing to go on the stage.

        The range of visual effects will include masks, puppets and projections. Original live music is by area jazz composer Tucki Bailey.

        The 34 cast members include professional and semi-professional actors and students from Antioch, Wright State and Wittenberg.

        Curtain is 8 p.m. in the Miles Budd Goodman Amphitheater on the Antioch campus. Tickets $6. For reservations call (937) 754-6736.

        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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