Monday, October 07, 2002

Stars of 'Lintel' and 'Lentils' light up stage

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati theater lovers are in for a treat for the next three weeks as two of the area's best performers do solo turns on stage at Ensemble Theatre.

        It doesn't matter that you don't recognize the unlikely titles of regional premieres Underneath the Lintel and A Bed Among the Lentils. What matters are that both pieces invite tour de force performances from their players, Bruce Cromer and Dale Hodges, respectively.

  • What: Underneath the Lintel/A Bed Among the Lentils
  • When: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday through Oct. 27. No performance Oct. 25. Additional performance 7 p.m. Oct. 13.
  • Where: Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, 1127 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine
  • Tickets: $28, $25 students and seniors. 421-3555.
        There's no need to introduce Ms. Hodges to Cincinnati audiences, who've been dazzled by her performances in Wit and King Lear at Playhouse; Seascape, Going to St. Ives, The Illusion and The Skriker at ETC; and Coriolanus at Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival. In the brief Lentils by wonderful British playwright Alan Bennett, Ms. Hodges portrays the disaffected wife of a thick-headed minister.

        Be prepared to be equally dazzled by Mr. Cromer, a Dayton-based actor who will be center stage in Cincinnati for the first time in Lintel.

        He's delighted to be here and sees parallels in the two monologues. “They're both lonely people, struggling with the Big Questions, and one of them is, "Is there a God and if there is, why is he doing this to me and the world?' ”

        And, he adds, there's such humor in the telling of both these tales that they invite the audience to ponder along with the characters.

        Mr. Cromer is no stranger to the Cincinnati stage. He has been delightful for six years as Bob Cratchit in Playhouse's annual A Christmas Carol, and he was compelling as the noble Duke of Albany in King Lear last season.

        But his juiciest roles regionally have been at Human Race in Dayton, where last season's turn as Macbeth earned him an Enquirer Theatre Award as outstanding actor in a lead performance.

        In Lintel, Mr. Cromer plays a librarian who finds a book that's returned after being 113 years overdue. The character sets off on an eccentric investigation to discover the book's history for the last century.

        “When I read it, I fell in love with it,” he says. “It's that scary word - literate. It's witty. It asks the audience to think about things. I like how it takes seemingly unrelated clues, facts, historical oddities and ties them together. There are these digressions, and it invites the audience to take time out and think about them.”

        Like his character, Mr. Cromer was quite the itinerant player before he settled his family in Yellow Springs in 1990.

        He was born in Columbus where he took up the actor's life in junior high school.

        “I was the shy nerd. One day my English teacher said, "I think you should audition for this show.' It was The House at Pooh Corner and I was cast as Christopher Robin.

        “I was running track at the time, and I missed a practice and explained I had rehearsal. The coach said, "Do you want to wear knickers and have fake spots on your face or do you want to run hurdles?'

        “I realized I like (acting) - even with all the crap I had to take.”

        After graduating with a degree in theater from Wright State University, he spent seven seasons at Alabama Shakespeare Festival before he followed artistic director Martin Platt to his new project Sante Fe Stages for another four years.

        He and wife Carol went on to Los Angeles where he decided to supplement his income by teaching, so he asked his former professors for letters of recommendation. They recommended he take a faculty post at Wright State. He joined them for two years, moved briefly to Seattle and returned to the area when his father was diagnosed with cancer.

        His career, he judges, has been “about life circumstances” but he's not complaining. “The universe is taking care of me.”

        The Cromer family, which now includes three children, remains charmed by the bohemian ambiance of Yellow Springs. Mr. Cromer has been teaching at Wright State for 14 years and manages to perform in three or four plays a year.

        Mr. Cromer had to take a quarter's sabbatical from teaching to do King Lear so he's particularly grateful for

        “9-to-5” theaters like Ensemble and Human Race, “which realize actors have to have a day job and rehearse at night.”

        And, yes, he would love to make a full-time living from acting. “And then I realize that a lot of people I know who are at it full-time - I have as many roles in a year as they do.”

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