Sunday, November 10, 2002

The Arts

Busy playwright's `Holiday' is on stage


It was February 1993 and playwright Mayo Simon was in Pittsburgh getting a play ready to open. Mr. Simon got sick. "I never get sick, and I really never get sick during rehearsals."

A doctor diagnosed the flu. It turned out to be cancer. "Lymphoma," says Mr. Simon. "Treatable but not curable. They gave me five years."

For Mr. Simon, whose long Hollywood career included co-authoring cult sci-fi hit Westworld, being diagnosed with cancer was "a galvanizing experience." It lends life an urgency, he said over pizza late last week. It made him think about what he wanted to do, and that was write plays. Even though the cancer is in remission, Mr. Simon continues to write at an eye-popping pace.

One of the latest is Greek Holiday, which will have a staged reading at 7 p.m. Monday at Ensemble Theatre (part of ETC's Theatre of the Mind play-reading series) by a student cast from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music drama department.

Mr. Simon is the Winkler playwright-in-residence at UC through November. As part of his visit, Greek Holiday will continue to be rehearsed and have a free lab production at CCM's studio theater Dec. 5-6.

Like most of Mr. Simon's stage work, including Humana Festival entries Elaine's Daughter and An Old Lady's Guide to Survival, Greek Holiday is a wry comedy.

Mayo Simon
Mayo Simon
"Twelve years ago," he recalls, "I went to Greece with my then-wife and our daughter and her husband."

Maybe for the first time, there were no money worries in the Simon family and "all the tensions we'd been suppressing through all those hard times just exploded. It was a horrible time. Nobody behaved well, including me." Mr. Simon and his wife separated shortly thereafter.

Greek Holiday isn't the story of the family vacation, but it's inspired by it. "Writers recycle," he says. "You don't forget or throw away."

Holiday is about a young couple trying to reconnect, but looking back on his own life Mr. Simon still marvels that such bad things could happen in such a beautiful place. "The sky was so blue, the flowers - so intensely red and yellow. The light so penetrating."

Playwriting, notes Mr. Simon, "is cheaper than analysis and sometimes you make money off it."

Greek Holiday will officially premiere at the Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey in the spring and "I'm waiting to hear about a second production in L.A. in fall 2003," Mr. Simon reports.

Mr. Simon has also found time to write a book, The Audience and the Playwright, that will be released by Applause Books in the spring.

For reservations to and information about Greek Holiday and the Theatre of the Mind series call Ensemble at 421-3555. Admission $5.

Slogan contest: Cincinnati arts slogans are pouring in - and please keep them coming. (E-mail me at the address below). We'll have a vote in a couple of weeks.

Inspired by the Fine Arts Fund's arts marketing campaign slogan for next summer, "Go ahead, take it all in," I'm inviting readers to come up with a slogan bragging about Cincinnati's arts, not just for next summer but for the long-term. (There will be a prize. I'm still working on it.)

What would say it all on a T-shirt? A refrigerator magnet? A bumper sticker? What do we want the region, from Columbus to Louisville to Indianapolis to Pittsburgh to think when they hear "Cincinnati"? Arts are this answer.

Here's food for thought from reader Andy Arkin, who offers a summary of a study done for Heinz Endowments on how people relate to the arts. (Read along and decide how next summer's official slogan meets these criteria):

Discovery: The idea of finding something new and unexpected, gaining a new perspective.

Energy/Stimulation: The idea of feeling energized, experiencing emotional and physical stimulation, feeling refreshed and renewed.

Relaxed/At Peace/Content: The idea of experiencing feelings of serenity, calm and satisfaction, feeling free from anxiety and stress.

Self-esteem: The idea of feeling proud, confident or secure.

Hope this inspires your arts smarts. And be sure to have fun with it.

Budget matters: Here's the latest on the upcoming city budget and the arts. Mayor Charlie Luken tells me that he's recommending $2.6 million in arts capital improvements dollars over the next two years (or $1.3 million per year, not the $2 million advocates were hoping for) with half the money pre-committed to the Taft Museum of Art and Cincinnati Opera.

So keep that letter-writing campaign going. Include your ticket stubs (Broadway in Cincinnati is good, but please let elected officials know you support local theater, too) and it will help make the case for the arts in real terms.

Search for leaders: Americans for the Arts and The United States Conference of Mayors are seeking nominations for the 2003 Government Leadership in the Arts Awards in local, state and Congressional categories.

I mention this not to suggest that we have local candidates but to ask why don't we? Why aren't we encouraging our elected officials' interest in the contributions of arts and culture by giving out commendations at a local level?

For the national awards, contributions to the arts are based on these criteria:

The nominee's specific role in achieving chance and advancement for the arts.

Measurable impact on the arts and/or arts education.

The nominee's philosophical commitment to make the arts central to citizens' lives.

The nominee's unparalleled leadership, both professional and personal, in promoting heightened visibility of the value of arts and arts education.

Wouldn't putting the spotlight on local governmental support of the arts be a great way to help kickoff the arts "season" annually in September or October? Particularly in election years?

If you have nominations for the official Government Leader Arts Awards, submission deadline is Nov. 25. You can complete the nomination form online at

If you'd like to see something like this happen locally, cast your vote by e-mailing me.

Issues with art: Last call: The most talk-aboutable shows of the 2002-03 season to date are both at Cincinnati Shakespeare and are wrapping up their runs this week.

Jesus Hopped the "A" Train and The Gimmick stand in our face and invite us all into a larger conversation about racial issues, urban issues, the criminal justice system - a lot of the subjects that matter here - punctuated by some first-class performances.

If you think you know Cincinnati Shakespeare, now's the time to be taken by surprise. If your first choice of entertainment are movies at the Esquire and Mariemont, this is theater that will probably resonate for you, too.

Jesus plays at 2 p.m. today and resumes Wednesday-Sunday. (There will be talk-back sessions after both Sunday matinees, and they've been rowdy to date.) The Gimmick completes its run at 7:30 p.m. tonight through Tuesday.

Be there or...miss out on enjoying and supporting the kind of theater that should be an option in a big league city. Take your favorite student(s) for $10. Call 381-2273.

Sinatra songs: I stand corrected. Last Sunday I listed the most produced plays in the U.S., pointing out that Cincinnati is an almost perfect model of the current mainstream theatrical pulse, only missing an occasional beat.

It turns out Cincinnati isn't missing anything. Jon Vater reminds me that while I was on vacation last summer, Showboat Majestic offered the regional premiere of My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra.(No. 8 on the list.)

"The show was still so new the creators were still tweaking and sent us a completely revised version less that two weeks before we opened!" Mr. Vater e-mailed.

Holiday show: Remember the musical version of the Frank Capra holiday screen classic It's a Wonderful Life? It spent two holiday seasons in the Jarson-Kaplan Theater in the late '90s before Downtown Theatre Classics folded.

After much more revising, and with a new writing credit for one-time Downtown Theatre Classics artistic director Jerry Lowe (who departed DTC before the theater's final season), Wonderful Life returns to the region as the holiday entry at LaComedia Dinner Theatre in Springboro.

The holiday perennial is about George Bailey, whose guardian angel makes a timely appearance to show him what the lives of the people he loves would be like if he'd never been born.

Mr. Lowe judges that after years of work (since 1997 for him, and 1991 for his collaborators) "it's a very sellable piece." They are all hoping for interest from the East Coast dinner theater circuit and for a nibble from a play publisher.

The LaComedia production, continuing through Dec. 31, features Chris Couch as George. Charles Goetz, makes his 40th appearance at the theater and Joan Harrah her 24th. The cast also includes former Ensemble Theatre intern Katy Hackney, Mason native (and Greater Cincinnati community theater regular) James Burton and Lebanon's Ernie Rowland.

Box office: (800) 677-9505.

On Broadway: College-Conservatory of Music grad Michelle Pawk is garnering rave reviews for her work on Broadway in Hollywood Arms, co-written by Carol Burnett and her daughter Carrie Hamilton.The New York Times' Ben Brantley wrote Ms. Pawk's performance "may well be the best on Broadway now, Edie Falco's included." (The Sopranos star has earned raves for her work in the revival of Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune.)

When she was performing in Seussical, Ms. Pawk told me she decided to enroll at CCM after she saw grad Pam Myers in the original production of Company.

In Broadway-bound casting news, Playbill reports that CCM's best-known grad, Faith Prince, will join the cast of Stephen Sondheim's Gold, which will premiere next summer at Chicago's Goodman Theatre and be directed by Hal Prince.

Dog days: Attention TV-Land fans. Mackenzie Phillips (One Day at a Time) and Adrian Zmed (T.J. Hooker, Dance Fever and, currently, daytime soap Passions) co-star in Same Time, Next Year at the Victoria Theatre in Dayton. The romantic comedy opens Tuesday and continues through Nov. 24. Call the box office at (937) 228-3630.

If you're in the neighborhood, Ms. Phillips, Mr. Zmed and their dogs (hers is Max, the Chinese pug; his is Kubby the Akita) will be making an appearance this Tuesday morning at Complete Petmart, 2322 Far Hills Ave. in Oakwood shortly after the store opens at 9 a.m. Goodies are promised for all canine fans who attend.


Conductor generates electricity
Church concerts tune in to the tango
Magician's monsters lurk in his `dungeon'
Writer-activist won't give up the fight
`Adoption Diva' shows the way
KENDRICK: Alive and well
Dance world gives standing ovation to Ballet Russe
Celebrity isn't overwhelming Mayer
Where to eat on Thanksgiving
Serve it this week: Blue Cheese
Get to it!