Sunday, April 01, 2001

Stage First has fun in 'The Clouds'

By Joseph McDonough
Enquirer contributor

        Contemporary productions of Greek classics tend to be hit or miss. Either the actors have found a way to breathe life into a 2,500-year-old play, or the effort is dull and academic. The good news to report is that Aristophanes is still alive and kicking in Stage First's production of The Clouds at the Aronoff Center.

        The Clouds is the simple story of Strepsiades, a dimwit with many debts who goes to the great Socrates to learn the fine arts of logic and lawyering in order to cheat his creditors.

        Most of the dialogue in the play involves the skewering of higher learning in general and the sophist school of thought in particular. The comic notion is, of course, that there is fun to be had lampooning elitists with their heads stuck in the clouds.

        Much of the credit in this brisk 75-minute production goes to director Nicholas Korn whose crafty adaptation (under the fitting pseudonym Ella Mentry) updates the Greek satire with more current references and linguistic witticisms. All the while, Mr. Korn maintains the time-honored trademarks of Aristophanes comedy such as bad puns, slapstick and ribald humor (flatulence, phallic jokesí— you get the picture.)

        Added to this eclectic mix are several funny new songs by Allen Lindsey that break up the play in the tradition of the original Greek chorus.

        As the foolish Strepsiades, Jim Stump makes a grand buffoon. Decked out at various times in a striped orange suit or in bright red long underwear, Mr. Stump stumbles his way through Socrates Hackademy without learning anything.

        Local stage vet Bill Harnett is an eloquently self-absorbed Socrates. Daniel T. Cooley is agreeably lazy as Strepsiades' slacker son Pheidippides who finally learns a thing or two. Or does he?

        Particularly enjoyable are Kristen Burkhead, Aretta Baumgartner and Spring Starr Pillow in a variety of roles including Groucho Marx, Albert Einstein and a singing chorus of cloud girls.

        The actors romp across Deirdre Dyson's set, which is brightly painted like a cloud-filled sky.

        The Clouds is not perfect. Because the play basically moves from joke to joke, at times the energy sags only to be picked up again when the cast moves on to a funnier bit.

        But all-in-all, The Clouds gives Stage First a fine follow-up to last season's well-received version of Lysistrata.

        The Clouds, 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday through April 15, Stage First Cincinnati, Fifth Third Bank Theater, Aronoff Center, 241-7469.


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