From Cincinnati Fringe Festival to Broadway in Cincinnati, 2023 was a great year for theatre. Here’s my top five reasons why I #LoveCincyTheatre in Ariel’s 2023 Theatre Round Up:
#5 Ariel’s 2023 Theatre Round Up – Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grille
The Carnegie Theater, Directed by Darnell Pierre Benjamin, July 2023
Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grille tells the story of Billie Holiday as she shares her trials and tribulations around being a Black woman in the 1950s while performing some of her biggest hits starring Brandi La’Sherrill as Billie Holiday, Dev Marvelous as Jimmy and Popsicle as Pepi.
Set in Philadelphia at the Emerson Bar and Grille, audiences were taken on journey where the iconic singer explored stories of love, loss, addiction, and family.
La’Sherrill’s embodiment of Holiday through even the slightest of gestures is part of what made this a 2023 theatre highlight. In my review (link can be found here) I mention how she finds the humanity within Holiday’s moments of vulnerability and pain. Reflecting on this production, it’s clear that La’Sherrill poured her entire being into this role and that should be celebrated and recognized. Darnell Pierre Benjamin’s well thought out direction paired with La’Sherrill’s beautiful voice helped to bring to life a show worth seeing.
#4 Heart Ripped Out Twice and So Can You!
2023 Cincinnati Fringe Festival, Performer: Linnea Bond, June
Every summer the Know Theatre of Cincinnati puts on their annual Fringe Festival. Fringe Festival is where theatre meets at the intersection of unhinged and weird. Theatre creatives from all over the country (and world!) flock to Cincy sharing their art. In June, I attended a performance of Linnea Bond’s Heart Ripped Out Twice and So Can You! This one woman show examines the existential crisis of being a human. Taking on the role of a comical sale representative from Bardo, Bond attempts to convince audiences to consider a life as a human as though she’s selling a product. Before seeing this show, I wasn’t sure what to expect but by the end I found myself in tears.
Heart Ripped Out… starts out as a comedy where Bond utilizes the art form of comedic clowning but as the show progresses Bond begins to unpack how being a human can be exhausting; Particularly when you’re healing from open heart surgery while simultaneously having to deal with an emotionally rough breakup. Bond’s humor and beautiful storytelling is why I consider Heart Ripped Out Twice and So Can You! to be a 2023 theatre highlight. Click for 2024 Cincy Fringe announcements.
#3 Monsters of the American Cinema
Know Theatre, Director Tamara Winters, October 2023
During the month of October, Know Theatre of Cincinnati opened Monsters of the American Cinema. Written by Christian St. Croixwith direction by Tamara Winters, this two person play focuses in on the relationship between Remy Washington (Andrew Ian Adams), a Black queer man and Peter “Pup” Miller (Grant Zentmeyer), Remy’s 16 year white step son.
Remy and Pup both have a passion for film and bond over their shared love of monster movies. At the top of the show, it seems that they have a relationship with a bond unlike any other. Remy offers commentary on the world of activism and protest sharing the reality of being on the receiving end of LGBTQ based hate crimes. Slowly, we start to see a shift in Pup and how he interacts within his world. After Remy gifts Pup a camera, it comes to light that Pup has been harassing a queer student at his school and recorded it. In addition to that, we witness this 16-year-old white teenager using the N word.
Outraged and in disbelief, Remy attempts to make sense of everything that he’s experienced with Pup, from losing a loved one to the struggles of addiction and trying to raising a teenager as a single parent.
Monsters in America challenges audiences to consider who the true monsters are in our society and thus making it a 2023 theatre highlight.
#2 Ariel’s 2023 Theatre Round Up
Broadway in Cincinnati Series at The Aronoff Center for the Performing Arts
Dir. Rachel Chavkin
In Spring of 2023, the national tour of Hadestown made a stop in Cincinnati at the Aronoff Center. This smash hit musical centers around the greek mythology of Orpheus and Eurydice. In this version, Eurydice (Hannah Whitley) is a poor girl attempting to survive in a world devoid of hope and Orpheus (J. Antonio Rodriguez) is a singer-songwriter. Deeply in love with Orpheus and wanting a better life for herself, Eurydice makes the decision to sign her life away working in Hades’ factory within Hadestown.
When Orpheus discovers this, he makes his way down underground into the world of Hades (Matthew Patrick Quinn) to save Eurydice. By the end, he’s unsuccessful and forever loses his love.
Hadestown was (and is) a standout production. The originality of the story and soaring musical numbers tackles themes of love, loss, and hope while offering social commentary on capitalism, poverty, and politics thus making it a memorable 2023 show.
#1 of Ariel’s 2023 Theatre Round Up is:
Who All Over There?
Dir. Stori Ayers
My #1 show of the year goes to… Who All Over There?presented by Ensemble Theatre. Featuring direction by Stori Ayers and a script by Torie Wiggins, this comedy follows a young Black woman, Danya Martin (Maliyah Gramata-Jones) as she finds herself pursing a relationship with Dean Willis (Spencer Lackey), a white man who she eventually introduces to her family. On the surface, things seem perfect for this interracial couple however after Danya’s brother, Sebastian (Jay Wade) finds out Dean’s past, things begin to change very quickly and not for the better.
Danya’s family reacts very strongly after discovering she’s seeing a white man. When the family pushes back out of love, we see Danya struggle with doing what’s right for her. Wiggins’ comedic script addresses race and the challenges that come with interracial dating as a Black woman while offering commentary on Black culture and the joy that comes with it.
Who All Over There? pushes back against the notion that there isn’t an audience for Black theatre and puts Blackness front and center making it my #1 show of the year.
Thank you to the Cincinnati Theatre Community for sharing your talents and passion with the world. See you all in 2024, where I will keep sharing why I Love Cincinnati Theatre. Happy New Year!