Sunday, August 19, 2001

New Edgecliff back to gritty roots

Director Shooner promises off-beat, provocative season

        Michael Shooner is excited. Somehow or other, New Edgecliff Theatre's last season drifted toward the romantic and comic.

        “We did start to get away from what we were trying to do in the first place,” muses artistic director Shooner.

        This season the theater will be back to the business of “off-beat, intense, provocative, powerful theater, things with teeth,” Mr. Shooner says happily.

        “That's what I want to do. Things with issues. And if it's gritty, that's fine.”

        Things get started with a classy holiday alternative, The Santaland Diaries/Season's Greetings (Dec. 13-23). NPR commentator David Sedaris came to fame with Diaries, his side-splitting tales of being a Macy's elf.

        New Edgecliff will return to the work of playwright Michael Folie with Slave Shack (Feb. 21-March 3), a long way from the corporate romantic comedy of his Naked by the River last season.

        Slave Shack is also office-based, but the action surrounds a guy who is set-up, down-sized and cracks up, taking an African-American female co-worker hostage.

        “It's a real edge-of-your-seat kind of show, it takes all our perceptions, assumptions and fears and throws them back at us,” reports Mr. Shooner.

        The final entry is Joyce Carol Oates' I Stand Before You Naked (April 25-May 5), a collection of monologues in which contemporary women in extreme circumstances (including an unmarried pregnant girl) talk about surviving the choices they've made.

        “I'm psyched!” says Mr. Shooner.

        New Edgecliff performs in the Aronoff's Fifth Third Theater. For more information call (513) 961-6534.

        New issues: This just in from the Cincinnati Institute of Fine Arts.

        The institute is always happy to take your money in the Fine Arts Fund drive and boasts of its arts advocacy role. After playing with the idea of inviting mayoral and city council candidates to state their positions on cultural issues (economic, community and educational) before a large audience of voters interested in the arts, they've thought better of it.

        While “we've decided it's time for us to be more actively involved in advocacy,” says spokesperson Beth Charlton, it probably won't be before the November election.

        Current thinking is to discuss issues that affect the arts after the election, in small controlled groups rather than involving the public. Who will be represented in those groups? “We don't know yet,” Ms. Charlton ventured, adding institute member groups, a not particularly diverse crowd, will likely have a strong presence.

        Those small groups could educate the newly elected on what the arts represent in terms of the local economy and, says Ms. Charlton, “what's going on in the community and how can we be a part of the solution.”

        Why didn't that conversation begin in April?

        “I honestly can't answer that,” says Ms. Charlton. “That's a question for Mary (McCullough-Hudson, institute exec director.)

        Alas, Ms. McCullough-Hudson refused phone calls, reporting through Ms. Charlton that she had “pressing matters” that prevent her from discussing the institute's position on private versus public meetings, and why the institute shouldn't participate in both.

        Among disappointed community members count the League of Cincinnati Theatres, whose leadership was pursuing the idea of a public forum when it was assured a month ago that the institute was going forward.

        League president Nicholas Korn said he hadn't been told of the change in plans and said that he'd still like to see a public session happen by October.

        It's “important,” says Mr. Korn “for candidates to see that there is a constituency and to face them, and for arts-loving voters to find out” if any of the candidates understand what Cincinnati's “incredible arts presence” means to the region.

        If, as a citizen, a voter and an arts lover you think you deserve to hear where candidates stand on an issue that's important to the entire community, call the institute at 871-2787 and cast your vote.

        New ETC schedule: It's all but a sure thing that Luther Goins will return to town in October with his Chicago award-winner Love Child, thanks to roof repairs at Ensemble Theatre.

        Most of the season is being re-shuffled, with the world premiere of Susan Miller's A Map of Doubt and Rescue being yanked from its October slot and moved to spring. This has caused date changes for all but one play on the theater's schedule starting in January.

        The switch left time for a short-term Off-Center series entry at the beginning of October, before serious repair work begins.

        Director/playwright Mr. Goins, credited with starting the theater program at Arts Consortium 20 years ago, left Cincinnati in the mid-80s and is managing director of Chicago Theatre Company.

        He started chatting with ETC artistic director D. Lynn Meyers last spring. That was before Love Child, a funny, poignant work about unwed teen-age mothers, won the annual Jeff Award for best new work.

        Baring unforeseen circumstances, the show is penciled in for an Oct. 5-15 slot, and would be running simultaneously with its Windy City revival at Chicago Theatre Company.

        Love Child is a much more expensive proposition than the typical Off-Center entry. Ms. Meyers says sponsors are being lined up.

        Another happy outcome of the revised schedule is that Carter Lewis' Women Who Steal will now overlap with its stage partner, the world premiere of Mr. Lewis' Rosenthal New Play Prize winner Men on the Take at Playhouse in the Park.

        The revised ETC schedule: Fully Committed, Sept. 5-23; The Adventures of Pinocchio, Dec. 5-30; Praying for Rain, Jan. 16-Feb. 3; Women Who Steal, Feb. 20-March 10; A Map of Doubt and Rescue, March 26-April 14; Cowgirls, May 1-19.

        For information and reservations call the box office at 421-3555.

        IF no longer iffy: IF lives! One of the best pieces of news for the upcoming season is that IF Theatre Collective, a tiny company with a huge talent, will live on.

        The future was looking worse than iffy with the departure of founder Benjamin Mosse. After much behind-the-scenes meeting, wife-and-husband team Dee Ann Bryll and Ed Cohen will step in as producers, with Mr. Mosse consulting from New Haven.

        Mr. Cohen and Ms. Bryll are known for high quality work in local community theater. Last season's Evita for Cincinnati Music Theatre was the uncontested hit of the community theater season and is a strong contender in state competition over Labor Day weekend. (Mr. Cohen has a second state entry in Drama Workshop's Pride's Crossing.)

        Mr. Cohen had already committed to directing the regional premiere of Israel Horowitz's provocative Liebensraum (which imagines the outcomes when Germany offers to make restitution for the Holocaust) in June at the Fifth Third Theater. It will now be produced under the IF banner.

        Mr. Mosse has chosen two other titles. Emily Mann's Still Life, a harrowing docudrama which explores how Vietnam affected three lives; Sam Shepard's crazy-like-a-fox Lie of the Mind is a disturbing examination of two families linked by a very bad marriage. Details TBA.

        Discover Mind: Reading series Theatre of the Mind housed at Ensemble Theatre has attached dates to its looks-darned-good-on-paper 2001-2002 season of Cincinnati premieres.

        The theme is “Discover America” and features the work of several contemporary playwrights whose work has never been seen in Cincinnati, along with a classic by a master which has unbelievably never been seen in Cincinnati.

        Series co-founder Norma Jenckes promises, “The issues are serious, but they all have a lot of humor. You'll find yourself laughing — in shock, in recognition, and very often just because it's funny.”

        The schedule:

        Oct. 22 — Three Hotels, a quietly chilling drama about down-sizing in corporate America by Jon Robin Baitz, directed by Roger Grooms.

        Nov. 26 — Candy and Dorothy by David Johnston (first recipient of the B.W. Morris Memorial Playwriting Residency at University of Cincinnati), brings Andy Warhol star Candy Darling and activist Dorothy Day together in the after-life, directed by Richard Hess. Mr. Johnston will attend the reading.

        Feb. 11 — A General from America by Richard Nelson re-visits the Revolutionary War and Benedict Arnold's treason with contemporary eyes, directed by Bob Rais.

        March 18 — Wings, Arthur Kopit's dazzling study of a woman recovering from a stroke, directed by Mary Tensing.

        April 15 — TBA

        May 20 — In the Blood, Suzan-Lori Parks' contemporary re-telling of The Scarlet Letter with an African-American welfare mother standing in for Nathaniel Hawthorne's heroine, directed by Rebecca Bowman.

        The readings are performed by local professional actors. Curtain time is 7 p.m. Mondays. Readings are followed by a reception and Q&A session. Tickets $5, subscriptions $25.

        The Mitchell S. Meyers and Jacqueline P. Meyers Foundation is again the series sponsor, but Theatre of the Mind is looking for sponsors for individual readings.

        For a brochure, reservations and sponsorship information call 421-3555.

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