Lynn Meyers told me on Friday afternoon that she’s tired of waiting around for things to happen. Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, where she’s the producing artistic director, has announced plans to expand ETC’s physical plant, but money has to be raised and then the work has to be done. It’s probably another two seasons before we’ll see the results. But Meyers isn’t cooling her jets until then. Saying that her 2008-2009 season is “Here. Now,” Meyers has assembled another season of Cincinnati premieres, selecting plays and musicals that are award winners and by creators whose works need to be seen.
Meyers previously announced that she’d launch her season with Grey Gardens (Sept. 10-28), the unusual musical based on a cult documentary about a reclusive mother and daughter. Cousins of Jacqueline Bouvier (later Jackie Kennedy), they lived in a rambling mansion on Long Island. Their strange story, in the form of a musical, was nominated for 10 Tony Awards a year ago, and was named the year’s best musical. Meyers plans to direct this one.
Up next will be Conor McPherson’s The Seafarer (Oct. 15-Nov. 2), vying for a 2008 Tony for best play. It’s about a simple game of poker on Christmas eve, and it’s an ensemble of unforgettable characters who are tempted by a latter-day devil.
For the holidays, Meyers is dusting off another of Joe McDonough and David Kisor’s musical fairytales: It’s ETC’s third staging of Alice in Wonderland (Dec. 3, 2008-Jan. 4, 2009); it originated in 1998 and was revived in 2003. McDonough and Kisor always freshen their work; Meyers says their might be live music this time, rather than pre-recorded accompaniment.
Earlier this year, ETC offered a moving production of August Wilson’s Radio Golf, the final play in his “Century Cycle,” chronicling African-American life in the decades of the 20th century. It was a resounding success, and Meyers has decided to offer another Wilson script, the front bookend to the series, Gem of the Ocean (Feb. 4-22, 2009).
In this play, set in 1904, we meet Aunt Esther, whose presence haunts many of Wilson’s other tales, and we visit her home at 1839 Wylie Avenue (which was the crux of conflict in Radio Golf). Despite Wilson being one of America’s great playwrights, his works have been shamefully neglected by Cincinnati theaters. It’s great news that Meyers is taking up the torch to present his works to local audiences. Director Ron “OJ” Parsons, who staged Radio Golf, will return for Gem of the Ocean.
Meyers turns to a Cincinnati-born playwright for her next show: Theresa Rebeck’s Mauritius (March 18-April 5, 2009) comes from the woman who wrote Bad Dates, a hit locally at the Cincinnati Playhouse in 2004. (That script was one of the most produced plays at American theaters in 2004 and 2005.) Mauritius is about a young woman who discovers an exceedingly rare stamp among her dead mother’s inheritance. She has to navigate through scheming collectors, greedy dealers and her own sister. Rebeck, who keeps her writing current and fresh as a writer-producer for taut TV shows like Law & Order, CSI and NYPD Blue, creates plays that Meyers calls “wickedly smart.”
The biggest surprise that Meyers is announcing is the dedication of ETC’s final season slot to a show about to open during the Cincinnati Fringe Festival: Don’t Make Me Pull This Show Over: Dispatches from the Frontlines of Parenting (April 29-May 17, 2009) with music by Cincinnati native Richard Oberacker and lyrics by Oberacker and Robert Taylor. Meyers expects that the show’s Fringe incarnation is the first step; Oberacker’s show is likely to have another workshop between now and next spring, so if you see the show during the Fringe, it’s likely to evolve. Oberacker and Taylor were the creative team behind the Playhouse’s hit musical Ace in 2006, a show that is rumored to be headed to Broadway soon. It’s a real coup for Meyers to have this in her next season: “I like their work!” she exclaims. “It’s a show that lifts our hearts.”
Lines like that would sound corny coming from most people, but not from Meyers. She believes earnestly in the power of theater, and especially the works she selects for audiences at ETC. Season tickets for 2008-2009 are already for sale (a lot of subscribers have such faith in Meyers’ choices that they renew, sight unseen); single tickets will be available as of June 9. You can check out their Web site for more information or call 513-421-3555.
– Rick Pender