Sunday, June 04, 2000

On Tony night, here's salute to local best


Theater's standout performances, plays

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        Tonight is Broadway's big night. New York commercial theater celebrates the end of its year with the Tony Awards. Check out the production numbers, the fashions, the winners' thank yous starting at 8 p.m. on PBS, switching to CBS at 9 p.m.

        I say there's plenty to celebrate right here in River City.

        What better time to take a look back at the best of what's been a remarkable season. As usual, here are the caveats:

        • In Cincinnati, it really is Playhouse in the Park and everybody else, so that's the way the categories are broken out (with a handful of exceptions where production quality is not an issue).

        • This list is limited to September through May openings.

        • Everything mentioned is a winner.

        • These are local productions only; Fifth Third Bank Broadway Series isn't included.

        • Companies reviewed (or seen) this season were (in alphabetical order): The Children's Theatre, Cincinnati Playwrights Initiative, Cincinnati Public Theatre, Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival, College-Conservatory of Music (University of Cincinnati), Downtown Theatre Classics, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, Human Race (Dayton), IF Collaborative, Janus Project, Know Theatre Tribe, Launch Productions, New Edgecliff, Ovation, Playhouse in the Park, Stage First and Theatre of the Mind.

Playhouse in the Park
        Playhouse continues to do things so right that it plays a dominant role in the entire arts scene. It even outpaces the Broadway Series in ticket sales.

        Last season was a bounty of memorable performances, ensembles and design. It was never a case of quality but of personal taste. My biggest quibbles were with artistic choices by some guest directors and a Shelterhouse season that was delightful, but in general, soft. That certainly won't be an issue next season.

        • Outstanding production: Wit.

        • Favorite twosomes: Patient Dale Hodges and nurse Sue Jin Song, Wit; Christa Scott-Reed and Don Burroughs as ever-quipping lovers Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing; dangerous lovers Raye Lankford and Kyle Fabel in Dead Eye Boy; morose Cris Groenendaal and tender Donna McKechnie as victims of bad timing in A Little Night Music; malevolent Irish mum Pauline Flanagan and spinster daughter Giulia Pagano in Beauty Queen of Leenane.

        • An additional outstanding performance: Jonah Marsh as fabulously inept June Sanders, Sanders Family Christmas.

        • Outstanding supporting performances: Alison Bevan, Daniel Britt, Funda Duyal, Michael Moore, Sara Schmidt, A Little Night Music; Heather Alicia Simms as an impressive array of women in Spunk; Lynn Milgrim as a twittering widow in The Last Night of Ballyhoo.

        • Outstanding ensembles: A Little Night Music. Every speaking/singing role was lustrous. Honorable mentions: Much Ado About Nothing, Spunk.

        • Technical achievement: Plays on the Marx stage consistently defined sense of place: The Beauty Queen of Leenane's cold and damp Irish cottage, set design James Wolk, lighting design Michael Philippi. The Last Night of Ballyhoo's visit to upper-crust Atlanta, circa 1939, provided by set designer John Ezell, lighting designer Kirk Bookman and especially costumer David Kay Mickelsen.

        Much Ado About Nothing brought Eden Park indoors (circa 1918), courtesy of set designer Joseph Tilford, costumer Elizabeth Hope Clancy and lighting designer Peter Sargent. In The Glass Menagerie, set designer Bill Clarke, lighting designer Jackie Manassee and sound designer Benjamin Emerson made you feel the rest of St. Louis was just steps away from the Wingfield family's fire escape.

        • MVP: Producing artistic director Ed Stern, who not only delivered a championship season but scored three big hits: Wit, A Little Night Music and Much Ado About Nothing, all rich in personal vision.

        • Kudos to: Director Charles Towers who managed to take Dead Eye Boy's cinematic, shock-filled but logic-impaired script and bring it to visceral life on stage.

Best of the rest
        • Outstanding production: Waiting for Godot, Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival. Honorable mentions: Private Eyes, Ensemble Theatre; The Secret Garden, College-Conservatory of Music (University of Cincinnati); Taming of the Shrew, CSF.

        • Favorite twosomes: Giles Davies and Jeremy Dubin, Waiting for Godot at Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival; Wild West Kate and Petruchio Lesley Bevan and Jeremy Dubin, Taming of the Shrew, CSF; hilariously hostile mum and son Dale Hodges and Gary McGurk in Ensemble's The Cripple of Inishmaan; crazed Mineola Twins Myra and Myrna, (quick-change artist) Marni Penning, Human Race; Michael Shooner and Melanie Wilson, The Woolgatherer, New Edgecliff.

        • Other outstanding performances: Adulterous and vulnerable wife Sherman Fracher, Private Eyes, Ensemble; Andy Gaukel, absurdist in The Chairs, Stage First; Aaron Lazar as the Man of LaMancha, CCM; Gary Sandy as a Side Man, ETC.

        • Outstanding supporting performances: John Bokelman, a ringer for James Dean in In Rebel Country, Know Theatre Tribe; Blake Bowden, a religious man with a dark secret in The Scarlet Letter, Ovation; faithful Indian sidekick Giles Davies, Taming of the Shrew, Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival; Angela Gaylor, a sad and lovely ghost and Liz Pearce as a lonely little boy, The Secret Garden, CCM; Nicholas Rose, Waiting for Godot, CSF; Joe Stollenwerk as an Indian god and tourist guide in The Perfect Ganesh, Ovation.

        • Outstanding ensembles: Waiting for Godot, Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival; Private Eyes, Ensemble; The Maiden's Prayer, Playhouse in the Park's MFA acting company.

        • Outstanding direction: Aubrey Berg, The Secret Garden, CCM; Michael Haney, Private Eyes, ETC; Jay Kalagayan, In Rebel Country, Know Theatre Tribe; Deborah Ludwig, The Scarlet Letter, Ovation; Jasson Minadakis, Waiting for Godot, Cincinnati Shakespeare; Mark Mocahbee, The Maiden's Prayer, Playhouse MFA acting company; Barbara Pinolini, The Taming of the Shrew, CSF.

        • Technical achievement: The endless, other-worldly elegance of The Secret Garden, set by Thomas Umfrid, costumes Dean Mogle, sound Eric Cronwall and lighting James Gage.

        • Sidenote: The Umfrid/Mogle team and former and current CCM costume students provide Cincinnati's closest connection to this year's Tony Awards. They work regularly at Utah Shakespeare Festival, which takes this year's regional theater Tony.

        • Honorable mention: No shivers in Wait Until Dark without Susan Terrano's flawless lighting design, Downtown Theatre Classics; R. Chris Reeder's demented scenic and costume designs for The Comedy of Errors, CSF.

        • Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival's new, expanded playing area, unveiled at season's end in Coriolanus (through next Sunday). MVP: Dale Hodges. Since the new year, she's anchored Playhouse's breathtaking Wit and helped define standards of excellence at smaller companies. After a show-stealing, tiny comic turn at ETC in Cripple of Inishmaan, she's exploring militant motherhood in Coriolanus at Cincinnati Shakespeare. • Honorable mentions: Giles Davies has delivered a season of dazzling characters for Cincinnati Shakespeare and Ensemble's versatile Bob Rais continuously impresses. Mr. Rais also did fine work in readings for Cincinnati Playwrights Initiative and Theatre of the Mind.

        • Local playwrights making good: Kevin Barry, In Rebel Country; Nicholas Korn, Lysistrata (adaptation), Stage First; Joe McDonough, The Age of Discovery, Cincinnati Playwrights Initiative.

        • Most welcome local premiere: Wit (Playhouse).

        • Most improved: Know Theatre Tribe pulled itself together at season's end with an impressive production road tripping In Rebel Country. If Know can maintain this standard into the future, they've got something.

        • Welcome addition: Terrific readings, including Lee Blessing performing his own Chesapeake for Ensemble and the Theatre of the Mind series that brought several scripts by contemporary American women playwrights to Cincinnati this season.

        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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