Sunday, October 24, 1999

Earhartdebut definitely women's work

Ensemble piece like 'giving birth'

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Earhart, playwright Kate Christianson's reverie about doomed aviatrix Amelia, is definitely Girls Night Out in its world premiere at Ensemble Theatre.

        First there's Annie Fitzpatrick in the title role. Then there's director Regina Pugh and stage manager Deb Girdler. Ms. Fitzpatrick's costume was created by Susan Kavalew, and her close-cropped Amelia wig by Kelly Yurko.

        After props queen and assistant designer Shannon Rae Lutz sustained an injury (two sprained ankles — get well soon!), Trisha Thelen took over the props while assistant technical director Jill Keller continued to drill holes and install holiday lights in the stage floor to emulate “a starry night.”

        Sara Smith is understudying Ms. Fitzpatrick (and will take the stage in the final performance Nov. 7, if not before).

        It is pure coincidence, they say, that a lot of them are redheads.

        The woman in charge of scheduling Earhart as part of the ETC 1999-2000 season is producing artistic director D. Lynn Meyers. She says the femme team is also a coincidence, although “I wanted something about a strong heroic woman (in the season) and I knew I wanted a woman to direct.”

        No offense intended, guys, but Ms. Pugh ventures that “maybe it has made a difference.” Getting new plays up on their legs, she notes, “can be stressful.”

        “We're giving birth,” laughs Ms. Girdler. “Women are good at that.”

        “And we can breathe while we're doing it,” quips Ms. Pugh. On a serious note, she adds, “There are a ton of female artists in town and not a lot of opportunities. When a good one comes up, we come out of the woodwork.”

        Ms. Fitzpatrick had a flying lesson early on, to add verisimilitude to her performance. “It was a Cessna something. It was a two-seater, the smallest plane possible.

        “We (the second seat was occupied by her instructor with his own set of controls) came up the runway and he said, "OK, take off.'”

        Ms. Fitzpatrick discovered that while the mechanics of flying are easy, her driving instincts kept leading her astray. She landed in one piece and the show goes on.

        Call the box office at 421-3555 (where you'll likely talk to box office manager Sandy Gray) for reservations and information. Ensemble is at 1127 Vine St.

        GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS: Michael Burnham has good news and bad news about his “world's largest no-budget movie” Conable, which he started filming last summer.

        If there's one thing that's true in a Cincinnati summer, it's that “no actors have jobs.” The good news for the actors and the bad news for Mr. Burnham last summer was that “they all had jobs.”

        More good news and bad news: The Chicago actress who took the title role got a gig doing Shakespeare in Prague. Good news for her, but bad news for Mr. Burnham.

        Mr. Burnham figures he has about one-third of his past-and-future underground railroad fantasy “in the can.” The rest will have to wait until next summer.

        Mr. Burnham is not twiddling his thumbs in the meantime. He's directing the epic The Grapes of Wrath that opens the season for College-Conservatory of Music's drama department at University of Cincinnati. The famous adaptation by Frank Galati (originally produced by Chicago's Steppenwolf) plays Thursday through Oct. 31.

        Call 556-4183 for reservations and information.

        IN THE FUTURE?: “Absolutely!” says Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival artistic director Jasson Minadakis. The question was, is he interested in R & J, the long-run off-Broadway hit that pares Shakespeare's original great big cast down to four male actors to tell the story of young lovers Romeo and Juliet.

        R & J is being released to a Chicago company this season, which suggests it may be more widely available next season. In the meantime, festival company member Chris Reeder, who adapted the extended drama of Henry VI into last season's The Wars of the Roses, is hard at work on adapting Henry IV, Part One for five actors.

        ONE-MAN AUDIENCE: They performed from Andramache, Lysistrata, St. Joan, Long Day's Journey into Night, all for the benefit of an audience of one.

        On Oct. 16 Nicholas Korn held five hours of open auditions for the remainder of the Stage First season at the Aronoff's Fifth Third Bank Theater.

        Artistic director Korn sat at a scratched table, a pad of lined paper at the ready. He chatted easily with the actors, and during down time he pondered the state of Stage First, which has completed the first two of its seven-production season. He's thinking about expanding the runs of shows next season (Tartuffe, he says, could have easily been extended for another week), and maybe coming down from seven to six titles.

        He and his board are talking about raising the budget enough to pay actors, as soon as next season. That, he thinks, would make more actors available to the young company. His new business volunteer Tom Smith (courtesy of the Cincinnati Institute of Fine Arts' program) is being assigned the job of strategic plan for the near- and midterm.

        Five hours in an empty theater is a good investment of time, says Mr. Korn. “Hopefully I see some new talent, I see people we've worked with before who want to work with us again” and he gets to start editing down the upcoming Long Day's Journey.

        Next up for Stage First is Eugene Ionesco's absurdist The Chairs, a two-actor tour de force featuring company faves Andy Gaukel and Regina Cerimele. Mr. Korn plans on carefully assessing box office. If there's good response to Ionesco it will be easier to push the envelope a little more next season. (Buy tickets!)

        The Chairs opens Nov. 11. Call 241-7469 for reservations and information.

        Jackie Demaline is the Enquirer's theater critic and roving arts reporter. Write her at Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati OH 45202; fax, 768-8330.


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