Sunday, September 03, 2000

Season's quantity matched by quality

        This theater season is looking choice, so much so that recommending one play a week isn't the hard part. It is recommending only one play.

        If you're new to theater or just can't make up your mind, this list previews what looks like the must-sees through November.

        Be sure to circle Oct. 9 on your calendar, head for Playhouse in the Park from 5:30 to 7 p.m. and party with the League of Cincinnati Theatres for their first launch-the-season soiree. Seventeen member theaters will showcase the fall season. Enjoy light refreshments and entertainment and maybe win free tickets. It's a free party.

        Then you're invited to attend a reading of the Janus Project's first Minerva Play semifinalist (title TBA) in the Shelterhouse. That's free, too.

        Week One: Inherit the Wind, Playhouse in the Park (Tuesday-Oct. 6). Yesterday's news? Read today's headlines. Legislative debates about the theory of evolution's place in science curriculum is heating up in the heartland. This Scopes Monkey Trial re-visit gets extra credit for casting Playhouse favorites Philip Pleasants and Joneal Joplin as the combative lawyers, on stage together for the first time in 20 years. 421-3888.

        Week Two: Glimmer, Glimmer and Shine, Ensemble. (Sept. 13-Oct. 1). Last season, ETC scored by starting off the season with 1999 Tony Award winner Side Man. Now playwright Warren Leight follows up with another jazz tale. This will be the new play's first full production. 421-3555.

        Of note: Stage First opens its third season with Alexander the Great, Part II, the second part of an ambitious trilogy about the live fast, die young Macedonian conqueror by the theater's artistic director Nicholas Korn. Part I was a hit with audiences last season. Fifth Third Bank Theater (Sept. 14-Oct. 1) 241-7469.

        Week Three: The Merry Wives of Windsor, Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival. (Thursday-Oct. 1). The ever-surprising, endlessly energetic young festival opens its season with amorous Falstaff getting a lesson or two from a pair of merry (and faithful) wives. 381-2273.

        Of note: Reading series Theatre of the Mind kicks off its global theme at 7 p.m. Sept. 18 at Ensemble with Athol Fugard's Playland. The reading previews the South African dramatist's Sept. 25-26 appearance at the University of Cincinnati. 421-3555.

        Week Four: Musical double-header at the Aronoff Center! Fosse, Fifth Third Bank Broadway Series, Procter & Gamble Hall. (Sept. 26-Oct. 8). Hey, Big Spender!, Downtown Theatre Classics, Jarson-Kaplan Theater. (Sept. 29-Oct. 15). 241-7469.

        The Broadway Series opens its season with a salute to the man who never heard a song that wouldn't be better with a slither. Cocked hats, gloves and bumping, grinding bodies will abound.

        Downtown Theatre Classics delivers a world premiere revue of sometimes Fosse collaborator Cy Coleman (Sweet Charity), an homage to his lifetime of Broadway hits.

        Week Five: Shakespeare's R&J, Playhouse in the Park. (Sept. 23-Oct.22). Major hot ticket. The conceit is that a foursome of prep school boys are assigned to study the Bard's classic and begin to exuberantly act it out. R&J had a lengthy off-Broadway run. 381-2273.

        Week Six: The King Stag, Aronoff Center Procter & Gamble Hall, Oct. 17. It's not The Lion King, but it is the show that established Julie Taymor's national reputation more than a decade ago. The Italian fairy tale gets a distinctly Asian interpretation with lots of masks and life-sized puppets. It's being revived by American Repertory Theatre (of Cambridge, Mass.) for a national tour. It's directed by acclaimed Andrei Serban designed and choreographed by Ms. Taymor. 241-7469.

        Or: Spend the week in Columbus. The Wexner Center for the Arts on campus at Ohio State University opens its season with the Gate Theatre of Dublin in a Samuel Beckett double bill of Krapp's Last Tape and Waiting for Godot (Oct. 10 and 11); The King Stag, (Oct. 13 and 14); and, capping the week, a live appearance by the Buena Vista Social Club. (They tend to sell out coast-to-coast, don't delay ordering tickets to this one.) Think about renting Wim Wenders' 1999 documentary film to put yourself in the mood.

        The Wexner is a national treasure; take advantage of it being just up Interstate-71.

        Week Seven: Everything's Ducky, Playhouse in the Park. (Oct. 17-Nov. 17). This one looks like the season's sleeper hit. A new (Broadway bound?) musical based on “The Ugly Duckling,” it comes with impeccable pedigree with music by Henry Krieger (Dreamgirls), lyrics by Bill Russell (Side Show) and book by Mr. Russell and the endlessly clever Jeffrey Hatcher (Scotland Road, Three Viewings). Ducks rule! 421-3888

        Of note: Actor's Repertory Theatre debuts in Middletown (2 N. Main St.) with another musical fairy tale, Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods. Pam Myers stars, Carmon DeLeone will conduct. (513) 727-9361.

        Week Eight: The Weir (Oct. 12-Nov. 5). It's a great time of year for a ghost story, and there's never a bad time for an Irish ghost story, but it's the cast that sets this one apart. Cincinnati Shakespeare has wooed Michael Burnham back on stage. (Mr. Burnham usually helms some of the town's most interesting work.) Also guesting with the CSF ensemble will be New Edgecliff's artistic director Michael Shooner, who's intense onstage energy is a sight to behold. 381-2273.

        Of note: ETC's annual Off-Center/On-Stage series debuts with controversial Bash, Neil (In the Company of Men) LaBute's contemporary collection of monologues that catch the human soul at its darkest and most desperate. (Oct. 26-30). 421-3555.

        Week Nine: Marisol, Studio Theater, College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati. (Nov. 2-4). This is the region's introduction to playwright Jose Rivera — and this workshop production is free. The 1993 Obie winner is an apocalyptic urban fantasy which The Village Voice called “a cry from the poet's heart.” This season, UC drama shows a real commitment to diverse, contemporary American voices. Catch them all. 556-4183.

        Week 10: I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, Playhouse in the Park. (Nov. 4-Dec. 23). Playhouse fills its traditional Shelterhouse holiday slot with off-Broadway l-o-n-g run about the modern mating game. 421-3888.

        Week 11: My One and Only, Corbett Auditorium, College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati. (Nov. 16-19). Originally a vehicle for Tommy Tune (and Twiggy!), this is charmer of a musical is about an aviator who falls in love with a swimming star to a Gershwin score. 556-4183.

        Week 12: The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged), Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival. (Nov. 16-Dec. 17). The festival gets an early start on holiday fare with the Reduced Shakespeare Company hit that takes the Bard's entire canon and blows it to smithereens. (You have to love the three-minute Hamlet.) Festival fans will get a particular tickle as the theater sends up some of its own past productions. (I hope they start with The Tempest.)

        Week 13: Post-Thanksgiving, we're officially in holiday territory. Not. At least, not completely. Among the alternatives to dancing sugarplums consider:

        • The free workshop production of Myths and Hymns in CCM's Studio Theater (Nov. 30-Dec. 2). Passionate musical theater fans will be lining up by late October to see this rare sing-through of a new work by Adam (Floyd Collins) Guittel. 556-4183.

        • Cincinnati Shakespeare is looking to Harold Pinter to provide something completely different in Betrayal, about a failed affair that moves backward through time, from end to beginning. The festival is experimenting with Sunday-Wednesday performances for this one. (Nov. 26-Dec. 13). 381-2273.

        • And modern absurdist Harry Kondoleon's Christmas on Mars gets played by NETPlay (New Edgecliff and Xavier Players in collaboration) at the Fifth Third (Nov. 30-Dec. 5). It's about a very peculiar foursome looking to an infant for redemption. 241-7469.

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

- DEMALINE: Season's quantity matched by quality
More theater, on the road
Theatre season a packed house
University companies lead way to diversity

Drivers may help explain why officer, boy died
In lieu of a town square . . .
Maps don't tell where danger lies
Parents aren't always to blame
High-stakes state tests raise stress, controversy
Buses' brakes to be inspected
Electronic classroom offers curriculum via the Internet
Luck, chance and modern medicine save man
Riverfront ready to rock
Tower jumper hung up on sport
AK Steel to celebrate 100th year
Artwork the ticket for transit center
ATVs added to township's law-enforcement arsenal
Boat driver charged in girl's drowning
Breath test oft refused
CBS outmaneuvers NBC in TV games
A matter of opinion
Delta's hub at N.Ky. airport targeted in smoking complaint
Kinder, gentler jail of the future?
Marketing firm closes amid state investigation
No wrongful imprisonment
Ohio a battleground state again
Report: Ethics tangled
SAMPLES: Taking prayer to the streets
Survey: Increase parkland
BRONSON: Aarrrgh
CROWLEY: Handicapping political races
DAUGHERTY: Justin is already living with his 'real parents'
Get to it
Pig Parade: Slide of Ham
Tristate A.M. Report