Sunday, April 01, 2001

Spend lucky 13 weeks playing around

        It didn't feel like it earlier this week, but winter is over. I know this not just because my clock has sprung forward but because it's time for a quarterly list of theater recommendations — 13 weeks of spring theater recommendations.

        “Milestone” may be too strong a word for this set, but it's certainly cause for celebration. This is the first time there has been enough theater in June to be choosey. We're officially a year-round theater town.

        One special recommendation: Take advantage of the unofficial Lanford Wilson festival that runs for six weeks starting in late April.

        Playhouse in the Park's revival of the breathtakingly beautiful Talley's Folly (April 29-June 1) is the centerpiece. But no sooner was it announced than other members of the League of Cincinnati Theatres were signing on with his work. Mr. Wilson, son of the Midwest, is one of the great defining playwrights of the second half of the 20th century — and the beginning of the 21st.

        Week one: Art (through April 20), Playhouse in the Park, 421-3888. Yasmina Reza uses contemporary art to reflect on the nature of friendship in a Tony Award-winning boulevard comedy. I've never had so many people admonish me for a critical review. I say, go see it and decide for yourself. Part of the wonderful nature of art is how we look at the same thing and each come away with something different.

        Week two: Lovers and Executioners (through April 22), Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival, 381-2273. Festival founding member Marni Penning returns to play a 17th-century wife who disguises herself as a man to take revenge on a husband (Giles Davies). He had left her to die on a desert island so he could find a wealthier spouse. The comedy was named best new play in Washington, D.C., in 1999.

        Week three: Our Country's Good (April 18-22), University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, 556-4183. One of the great plays of the last 15 years, the dark comedy tells the true story of Australia's first theatrical performance when, in 1789, an officer at a penal colony decides to stage a play to celebrate the king's birthday.

        Director Nick Mangano has gotten raves for his work in the New York Times. Relatively new on the CCM faculty, this is Greater Cincinnati's first chance to see his work on the main stage.

        Week four: The Mystery of Irma Vep (April 7-May 6), Playhouse in the Park Shelterhouse, and Saturday Night (April 26-28), CCM Studio Theatre. What's not to love in this goofball send-up of gothic and horror movie genres?

        What's that baying in the night? Dead Irma? The creepy housekeeper? The resident ghoul or the virginal new wife? All these characters (and many more) are played by two actors in a quick-change tour de force.

        Saturday Night is the night Sondheim fans have been waiting for. It's the long-lost work from the beginning of his career (1954) that made big headlines in a Chicago production in 1999.

        The action is set on three consecutive Saturday evenings in 1929 with glamorous Wall Street losing out to the comforts of Flatbush Avenue. It's free in the CCM Studio series.

        Week five: Talley's Folly (April 29-June 1), Playhouse in the Park, and A Sense of Place (May 2-20), Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, 421-3555. There is no American playwright quite like Lanford Wilson, who writes about the heartland and New York low-life and Los Alamos and growing up and growing older.

        For more than 35 years he has been the most eloquent theatrical diarist of the baby boom generation. Start with these two, and see if you don't search out the rest of the minifest.

        Week six: The Piano Lesson. (May 11-12), the Children's Theatre, Taft Theatre. 569-8080. August Wilson won his second Pulitzer Prize for this family drama about choosing to embrace African heritage or turning away from it. Rocky Carroll, who was a Tony nominee for the original Broadway production in 1990, will direct and take a supporting role.

        Week seven: Lanford Wilson One-Acts (May 11-19), Ovation Theatre Company, Fifth Third Bank Theater, and Burn This (May 17-26), IF Theatre Collective, University YMCA, 961-7434. Another Lanford Wilson double-header.

        It's rare indeed to find an evening of one-acts on a Cincinnati stage, and that's almost enough to recommend the program. The content is a wonderful survey of Mr. Wilson, starting in 1963 (The Madness of Lady Bright) through 1990 (The Moonshot Tape) with a couple of entries from the '80s sandwiched between them.

        Clifton's hot young IF has been highly watchable in challenging work all season. Now they take on Wilson master work Burn This, a spellbinder about the complexities of friendship, love and art. It plays like a great piece of jazz with words instead of notes.

        Week eight: Henry IV: The Heart of a Man (May 3-27), Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival. Brian Phillips is Prince Hal and Nick Rose returns as Falstaff (he started the season as the errant knight in Merry Wives of Windsor) in an adaptation that turns two-part Henry IV into a single evening of theater for five actors.

        Week nine: The Laramie Project (May 23-June 3), Playhouse in the Park. The regional premiere of Gross Indecency playwright Moises Kaufman's look at the death of Matthew Shepard.

        In October 1998, the gay University of Wyoming student was kidnapped, robbed and beaten by two men. Project is the result of 200 interviews conducted over 18 months with police, prosecutors, friends, family, teachers and even strangers whose lives were changed by his death. Performed by the Playhouse M.F.A. Acting Company.

        Week 10: A Chance of Lightning (June 7-24), Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival. The festival embarks on its play commission program with a dark comedy by local playwright Joe McDonough. A scientist in Cincinnati is wanted by terrorists and the feds for the contents of his test tube.

        Week 11: Track and Field (June 15-30), Know Theatre Tribe, Gabriel's Corner. 871-1429. Another chance to support your local playwrights. Know's resident scribe Kevin Barry offers a new play about — a play. A conservative, middle-aged drama professor's attempt at playwriting reveals his secret desire for a young, female athlete (to the consternation of his wife and her boyfriend). Based on last year's premiere of Mr. Barry's In Rebel Country in the same slot, Track and Field should be worth a look.

        Week 12: Hedwig and the Angry Inch (June 6-23), ETC. Don't you hate it when an operation goes wrong? Cult rock musical Hedwig tells the sorry story of young Hansel/Hedwig, whose dream of becoming a rock star takes him from Communist East Berlin to a Kansas trailer park with a little something lost along the way.

        Week 13: Bluebeard's Castle/Erwartung (June 28 and June 30), Music Hall. 241-2742. Grand opera also makes for grand theater thanks to Nic Muni. Cincinnati Opera's summer season can be counted on for some of the most memorable theater the region sees.

        This double-bill is a don't miss with visionary Canadian director Robert LePage interpreting the stories of a pair of ladies lost in the dark. Starring are Alan Held, Susan Parry and Inga Nielsen.

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