Sunday, February 11, 2001

New look at Shakespeare's son nets

One-acts showcase Ensemble interns

        Love's fire heats water, water cools not love.

        It's the final line of the final poem (Sonnet 154) in Shakespeare's sequence of love sonnets, and it provides the title for Love's Fire, Ensemble Theatre's Off-Center/On-Stage Valentine.

        ETC's intern company will be showcased in the collection of seven short one-acts by seven famous contemporary playwrights reimagining Shakespearian sonnets.

        Reimagine? The show's opener, Bitter Sauce by Eric Bogosian, based on Sonnet 188, opens to a beautiful woman in a wedding gown explaining to her fiance that she's, well, been cheating on him.

    Last year's Pulitzer Prize winner Dinner with Friends will replace Love, Janis as Ensemble Theatre's next main stage offering. Play dates remain the same, March 14 through April 1.
    Recently cemented plans for a New York production of Love, Janis forced ETC to pull the Joplin revue from its production schedule. Artistic director D. Lynn Meyers says she's thrilled to be trading up to the New York hit, which has been on her wish list for a year.
    Donald Margulies' contemporary drama, which debuted at the Humana Festival for New American Plays, is about the effects of divorce on the friendship of two thirtysomething couples.
    ETC will refund or exchange Love, Janis tickets. Call the box office at 421-3555. The theater is at 1127 Vine. St.
        Ensemble Theatre's 16-member intern company is performing(and directing and stage managing) Love's Fire. Company members agree that what they like about the work is that while these playlets are based on love sonnets, love is never simple.

        Branan Whitehead says the common thread is “trying to express love and you don't know how to do it.”

        “The themes still apply, the feelings still apply,” says Carrie Ragsdale, whom audiences will recognize from the title role in The Countess earlier this season.

        Playwrights include Tony Kushner, Wendy Wasserstein and Ntosake Shange. Some of the short plays indulge in large casts, like Marsha Norman's 140 and John Guare's The General of Hot Desire.

        Those large numbers of characters and their youth make Love's Fire an ideal project for an intern company. Intern company director Bob Rais promises Love's Fire “will showcase some of the best young talent in the area.”

        Mr. Rais laughs, “They are about how love punches you in the head and in the gut. Call it an enlightened date night.”

        Performances are 8 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday. Tickets $10. Call 421-3555 for reservations and information.

        Marketing survey: If you're one of the expected 30,000 checking out this weekend's Cincinnati Bell Fine Arts Fund Sampler, you may spot some college kids with clipboards.

        They're grad students from University of Cincinnati's College of Business, and they're gathering demographics and patterns of participation among other things.

        “We want to know who comes and what they're looking for in Sampler and how else they participate in the arts during the rest of the year,” says Beth Charlton of the Fine Arts Fund's parent organization, Cincinnati Institute of Fine Arts.

        I hope the folks being surveyed tell the pollsters that next year the Sampler needs a different brochure layout. This year's is a real headache to puzzle out.

        And please put in a request for a Friday night arts sampling for grown-ups. Families with young children aren't the only audiences local arts need.

        Results of the marketing survey are expected before the end of the academic year.

        A national program: Cincinnati Institute of Fine Arts' Arts Services Office has good news for mid-sized and small arts groups. The National Arts Marketing Project is expanding to include 12 metro areas — 11 really big ones and Cincinnati.

        American Express provides the funding and the national Arts & Business Council provides the savvy for the three-year program with a mission of developing new audiences. It will provide local marketing workshops and a grant program ($25,000 each for two companies).

        “It's very cool,” says Heather Hallenberg, Arts Services Office director.

        Success stories from the program include Atlanta Shakespeare Company, which targeted young professionals via a local alternative rock radio station, and New York's Chinese Cultural Center, which revamped its look (murals, flags, window boxes) to make itself more appealing to potential visitors.

        Ms. Hallenberg says she'll have the program up and running “as fast as I can.” Look for the first workshop by mid-summer.

        Honoring Abe: Local actor Chip Smith started looking around for a project about three years ago. He looked in the mirror and he saw “a guy who's 6 feet 4 inches with a craggy face.”

        Thanks to his reflection on his reflection, the one-man show Mr. Lincoln will start previews Monday (Honest Abe's birthday) at the Carnegie Theatre in Covington (1028 Scott Blvd.)

        Mr. Lincoln will continue previewing for two weeks (which is as long as some local productions run) before a March 21 opening. Mr. Smith and his director David Edwards have booked the Carnegie through April 29 (on a week-by-week basis).

        At five performances a week, that's a lot of Mr. Lincoln, but Mr. Smith says that they're contacting schools (and are ready to add student matinees) and there's been good response from senior citizens' homes.

        Mr. Smith says that he and Mr. Edwards, both regulars with Mariemont Players, have been working on the project since November. Readying for a one-man show “is unbelievably more difficult than I thought it would be.”

        The reason for 10 preview performances, he adds, is to get a feeling for playing to an audience the way he normally would to another actor.

        Preview tickets $12, for reservations and information call 684-4722 or check out www.LincolnSmith.NET.

        Second chance: Second Chance Productions will resurface as dinner theater in Fairfield. You may recall that in 1998, Second Chance announced a season in the Aronoff's Jarson-Kaplan.

        Its calendar of plays, mostly locally written including work by its artistic director Dale Kelly, didn't attract sufficient audiences, and the start-up company shuttered before it completed the season.

        “A lot of people thought we had died,” says Mr. Kelly, who has had a dramatic past couple of years. He was diagnosed with renal failure, put on a dialysis regimen and even fell in love and was married.

        Now he's hoping to start a monthly dinner theater offering at Fairfield Banquet and Convention Center (74 Donald Drive). He'll again start with his own work, opening with a reprise of Pen Pals, which was presented during the Aronoff season. It will play at 8:05 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Dinner starts at 7 p.m.

        Second Chance will return in March with his new script, Girls Night Out, March 15-17. April and May weekend slots will be taken by the Maryland-based Repertory Theatre of America in The 1939 Murder Mystery and Last of the Red Hot Lovers.

        Mr. Kelly says he's interested in presenting guest companies through the remainder of the year. Contact him at 942-4670.

        Tickets $25, call the center at 829-8400 for reservations and information.

        A labor of love: Valentine's Day is a tough night to lure volunteer ushers. The Sorg Opera's volunteer house manager Paul Dirkes is hoping that 15 opera lovers will sign on for performances of The Marriage of Figaro Feb. 14, 16 and 17. High school and college students most welcome. Call the opera at (513) 425-0180.

        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; e-mail,


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