"A lot happened," Brian Isaac Phillips observes about 2002. Last year's actor to watch has become this year's writer/actor/director to watch, in that order. He finished the year by being promoted to associate artistic director of Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival, which saw seismic change as the new year dawned.
If you want to check out Mr. Phillips' writing chops, book a ticket for Beowulf, playing today and next weekend at the Festival. The new adaptation by Mr. Phillips and Matt Johnson employs a contemporary spin - and many masks - as it looks at myth and asks the age-old question (or the New Age question): Who do you believe? The people who lived history or the people who tell you what to think about it?
It's a partnership that had to be, Mr. Johnson says, laughing. "We're both toy geeks, comic book geeks, attracted to masks and stylized theater."
As for Mr. Phillips the actor, he's said goodbye to Hamlet (at least temporarily) as the festival schedule underwent a complete revision. He and Mr. Johnson will play twin servants both named Dromio in February's mistaken identity riot The Comedy of Errors. He'll also be playing the great comedy role of Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
The hat switches again as he directs Mr. Johnson in the title role of Tartuffe this spring and season closer Lanford Wilson's The Gingham Dog - a play which he selected as associate artistic director, with duties that include overseeing the Festival's Studio series.
The Pittsburgh native arrived in Cincinnati five years ago as an Ensemble Theatre intern and joined the Festival the following season. He's spent the last few years trying to recruit Mr. Johnson for the Festival, luring him here from Atlanta.
With fellow Morehead College alum Elizabeth Harris (director of Moon Over Buffalo opening this week at Rising Phoenix) they make up Pier Group Theatre, which to date hasn't made the radar screen here, although they spend a few weekends every summer performing their Civil War musical Some Day in a Georgia state park.
Pier Group's mission statement, written years ago on a now-wrinkled scrap of paper that stays in Mr. Johnson's wallet reads "Big Fun = Establish a Theatre Tradition. Resident company of professional actors (multiplied by) reciprocal relationship with the community."
With Beowulf opened, Mr. Phillips and company (or companies) has plans. "Just wait," he laughs.
- Jackie Demaline
ARTS PLAYERS, A YEAR LATER
Pop music: Bright blowing through third CD
Classical music: Bespalko keys on Bach and a baby
Theater: Phillips grabs two new roles
Visual art: Versoza has a one-man show
Theater: CCM's Gaylor on Broadway
Visual art: Show time for Buddendeck
Film: Morehart lands his 'dream job'
Classical music: Thompson is going for Baroque
Pop music: Venneman adds his voice to fine guitar
National bands to play at Cammys
Get to It: A guide to help make your day
ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
Arts Notes: 'Moon Over Buffalo' is 'all worth it'
Film Notes: Two chances to see BBC biography about Kissinger
TV Notes: Jimmy Who? You laugh now ...
Beethoven opera 'Fidelio' comes to life under Jarvi
'Triumph' falls short of a total success
'Beowulf' previews future for Festival
DAUGHERTY: We know what game 'football' players play
Playful dachshund best of her collection
Family leaves nest, stays part of the network
Meet-and-eat sessions nibble at differences
Best chili-cheese dip? It's Skyline
Serve it this week: Escarole
Celebrate Chinese New Year with food