It’s been an exciting ride seeing a theatre that’s almost 100 years old not be content to rest on its laurels and reimagine itself. Even though they’ve been in their new home for almost a year, the changes aren’t done yet.
To complement their move downtown, CPH decided it was the perfect time to makeover their renowned FusionFest, which had celebrated its 6th year last season. To recognize their new facilities and a greater focus on new theatre pieces, the festival has now received a much more fitting name: the New Ground Theatre Festival.
Starting May 3rd and running through the 12th, Cleveland Play House will present a variety of new work from nationally recognized artists. From a show that will have Cleveland literally buzzing, to a unique collaboration with the Cleveland Orchestra and a handful of new play readings, the most difficult part for me will be deciding on what I want to see.
The centerpiece of this showcase is Cleveland Play House’s Mainstage production of Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room, or the vibrator play. At the dawn of electricity, patients diagnosed with “hysteria” are being given a radical new treatment – arriving troubled but departing delighted with the assistance of the doctor’s “little helper.” Inspired by actual 1880s medical science, In the Next Room tenderly explores how we connect – both emotionally and physically – with our loved ones.
Although the New Ground Festival doesn’t start til May, you can actually see In the Next Room starting today (April 13). Due to advance audience demand, Cleveland Play House extended its run from now through May 13.
Another festival highlight that I’m particularly excited about is their production of Tom Stoppard’s Every Good Boy Deserves Favor: A Play for Actors and Orchestra. I have been a big Stoppard fan since high school and I’ve been kicking myself ever since missing a production of this play when I lived in Philly.
With music by André Previn, Every Good Boy Deserves Favor is the only play ever written that includes an orchestra as central to the action. This witty satire on state-sponsored repression focuses on 2 cellmates, both named Alexander Ivanov. One’s a political protestor, the other a madman who ‘conducts’ an orchestra that only exists in his head.
Because you need an orchestra who’s up to the challenge, Every Good Boy Deserves Favor is not staged very often. Fortunately, Cleveland is lucky enough to have the Cleveland Orchestra.
The CPH production runs for only three performances – May 3, 4 and 5 – and features a cast of 6 actors and 38 Cleveland Orchestra musicians. In my opinion, this unique collaboration between 2 of Cleveland’s most exciting cultural institutions is reason enough to go.
In addition to In the Next Room and Every Good Boy Deserves Favor, the New Ground Theatre Festival will include a public reading of a new play by Quiara Alegría Hudes, the winner of CPH’s first annual Roe Green Award. Awarded to a nationally recognized playwright, the prize included $7,500; a week-long residency including rehearsals; a Master Class with CPH Playwrights’ Unit, Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland State University students; and a public reading of a new play.
On May 5, Hudes will workshop her new play as part of this award.
Rounding out the line-up are performances by solo artists Lauren Weedman (BUST) and Baba Brinkman (The Rap Guide to Evolution), as well as readings of new plays including one written by CPH’s own Artistic Director Michael Bloom:
- BUST is Lauren Weedman’s semi-autobiographical play built around her experiences working as a volunteer advocate in a Southern California prison for women. With one foot in Hollywood and the other in jail, the former Daily Show correspondent careens wildly between the two worlds, taking the audience on a hilarious, poignant, and completely unforgettable ride. (May 10-12)
- A novel species of theatre combining the wit, poetry and charisma of a great rapper with the accuracy and rigor of a scientific expert, Baba Brinkman’s The Rap Guide to Evolution uses hip-hop as a vehicle to communicate the facts of evolution while illuminating the origins and complexities of hip-hop culture with Darwin as the inspiration. (May 11- 12)
- Written by CPH’s Artistic Director Michael Bloom, The Fagin Effect is a pastiche of Oliver Twist in which “ghosts” of the original characters are used to tell a new story that takes place in London, 1850. As entire neighborhoods are demolished to make way for the first underground railway, the appearance of a young man in the ‘shop’ of one Julius Fogel presents an opportunity for some of London’s dregs to turn their lives around with the assistance of a real estate developer named Whitelaw. (May 12)
Tickets for the New Ground Theatre Festival are on sale now, and if you can’t make up your mind, you’re in luck because discounts are available when you purchase tickets to more than one show. Call 216-241-6000 or visit www.clevelandplayhouse.com for more info.
After being impressed by my first FusionFest last year, I’m glad to see that although the name has changed, CPH has put together a lineup that rivals if not surpasses their previous festivals.
(Note: Images courtesy of Cleveland Play House)