Sunday, September 17, 2000

DEMALINE: Emery's doors may open soon

Fund-raising plans take new approach

        Thank a spring-appointed strategic planning committee for getting plans for the Emery Theatre back on track.

        Ashland Oil's Richard Thomas is chairing, with Joe Head, David Pease, Buck Niehoff and Lee Brewster contributing to the brain trust. They came up with several suggestions that were adopted by the Emery Center board early in September.

        For starters, the fund-raising campaign will be phased, instead of going after $18 million in one lump sum.

        That's common sense planning, because some of the highest priced items in the Over-the-Rhine theater renovation were to accommodate the potential needs of Cincinnati Opera and Cincinnati Ballet. Both organizations are a long way from stating their own long-term plans and (great) need for a mid-sized theater.

        This way, Emery Center can put itself on the performing companies' time line. Should boards and long-range planning align, there will be strength in numbers.

        Cincinnati Preservation Association executive director Beth Sullebarger, who is the Emery renovation point person, says the first phase — $1 million for exterior renovation — has been completed, compliments of University of Cincinnati.

        The second phase is well under way with an estimated cost of “$2-$4 million to open the doors.” That means the Emery likely will be back in business in the near future.

        “We don't want people to forget us,” Ms. Sullebarger says.

        Again, very smart. It's easier to raise money for a theater with a high presenting profile than one that has fallen off audiences' radar screens.

        The whats and whens of a programming calendar are to be determined, but Ms. Sullebarger is more than hopeful.

        A $125,000 grant from Greater Cincinnati Foundation in early September will help make the theater operational through winter, with new sprinklers and heating bringing it up to code.

        The strategic planners are back to huddling, and Ms. Sullebarger is entertaining phone calls from potential producers. “We'll know more of what we're doing in December,” she says, after the board has gathered for its next quarterly meeting.

        Information: Call Ms. Sullebarger at 721-4506.

        Theater life: Old pros Joneal Joplin and Phil Pleasants took a break from creating theatrical fireworks at Playhouse in the Park to chat about a life in the theater. They are appearing as opposing counsel in the big courtroom drama Inherit the Wind.

        Mr. Joplin and Mr. Pleasants are familiar faces here — Mr. Joplin is Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, Mr. Pleasants is well known for shows including The Woman in Black and Someone to Watch Over Me. Back when the show's casting was announced, the Playhouse crowed that this would be their first time onstage together.

        True, Mr. Pleasants assented benignly over coffee.

        Mr. Joplin's memory proved to be better. It turns out that 20 or so years ago “when we both had considerably more hair,” Mr. Joplin smiles, they were onstage together in St. Louis in The Little Foxes. The company also included the late Alan Mixon, Playhouse's original Scrooge.

        The ever-urbane Mr. Pleasants was, for once, abashed. “I didn't remember!”

        One of the lovely things about regional theater, they agree, is the long-standing acquaintances. A conversation takes many delightful side trips and detours as they reminisce.

        Mr. Pleasants plays liberal-thinking Drummond in the play, Mr. Joplin performs the conservative Brady. The characters are fictional stand-ins for the real legal titans who argued the Scopes Monkey Trial, Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan.

        Mr. Joplin is particularly pleased with his role because there are juicy challenges to “taking on the mantle of someone dramatically opposed to one's own views. You have to find areas that aren't foreign.”

        They're both intrigued to be performing Inherit the Wind so close to a presidential election.

        They also cordially agree that they are delighted with their long careers in regional theater. “These are the days,” laughs Mr. Joplin. “We've outlived our competition.”

        Mr. Joplin is based in St. Louis and will return to work there after this year's Carol.

        Mr. Pleasants is a longtime company member of Alabama Shakespeare Festival and will go into rehearsals for the repertory season in January. He, too, is a veteran Scrooge, but “I'm not Carol-ing this year.” He'll be Barrymore-ing. Several regional theaters are interested in the role he created at Playhouse last season.

        Reservations and information: 421-3888.

        "Summer' replaces "Sound': The Sound of Music is out and Summer of '42 is in at Dayton's Victoria Theatre. Late casting changes (L.A. Law's Corbin Bernsen out, The Brady Bunch's Barry Williams in, with Helen Reddy also joining the company) delayed the tour's start.

        Victoria Theatre grabbed an opportunity to showcase a new musical version of the summer movie blockbuster from 1971, a coming of age hit about a 15-year-old's World War II era summer in a seaside town and his relationship with a war bride.

        Tony-nominated Idina Menzel (Maureen in Rent) plays the lonely young wife.

        Summer of '42 was developed at Goodspeed Opera House, home of Annie and 14 other Broadway shows. It's by newcomers Hunter Foster (book) and David Kirshenbaum (music and lyrics). Goodspeed is looking for Summer of '42 to be their sweet 16th transfer to New York.

        Play dates stay the same, Oct. 10-22. If you remember the movie, you'll know there is some adult language and content and it isn't appropriate for children. Box office: (937) 228-3630.

        "Hemingway' in Oxford: Erv Johnson has lived in Oxford for eight years, but he's originally from Idaho, the Ketchum-Sun Valley neighborhood the Hemingways called home. Author-bullfighter-war correspondent-big game hunter-patriarch Ernest took his life there in 1961.

        So when Mr. Johnson decided to write a one-man show almost 20 years ago, Papa Hemingway was an obvious subject. Mr. Johnson even had Hemingway friends and family close at hand to provide insight.

        E. Hemingway debuted in Sun Valley and was so well received Mr. Johnson toured it for three years in the West. He put it away in 1986, but now he's pulled it out again for a series of performances as a fund-raiser for Oxford Area Community Theater.

        The OxART board, in turn, will donate the proceeds to the proposed Oxford Community Arts Center, to be located in a renovated Oxford College.

        E. Hemingway will give audiences a sneak peek at the future arts center. The show will be staged in the ballroom of the Oxford College building Fridays and Saturdays Sept. 22-30. Curtain time is 8:15 p.m. Come early for a tour.

        Mr. Johnson, a veteran of several OxACT productions, promises a surprising profile of Hemingway. “He wasn't an alcoholic — he never drank when he worked — and he wasn't the womanizer people think.”

        Hemingway did “travel in circles we all wish we could travel in” and there will be lots of anecdotes about the likes of Clark Gable, Marlene Dietrich, Gary Cooper, along with sagas of the author's own extraordinary adventures.

        Reservations and information: (513) 523-6228.

        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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