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A Close Look at Theater in Columbus

Why would you ever leave Ohio? Lenita D. Williamson profiles Columbus' three major theater organizations.

By Ohio
Jon Farris and Bruce Hermannin CATCO's Sleuth(Photo by Jeffrey A. Rycus)
Jon Farris and Bruce Hermann
in CATCO's Sleuth
(Photo by Jeffrey A. Rycus)
Despite its superior funding and support for both the fine and performing arts, Columbus is probably more widely known as the die-hard red and white sports town. A growing city, it has quite an appeal for the theater, dance, art, or music lover. A slew of jazz, art, and dance festivals marks the summer months, to be followed by some intriguing performing arts seasons beginning in the fall.

Three organizations have consistently managed to pull patrons away from the popular appeal of sports, opening their eyes to the wonderful world of theater through productions that renew our love for the classics and whet our appetite for the contemporary. More and more patrons are seeing the light at the end of the red and white tunnel, recognizing the quality theater experience that Columbus has to offer.

Here is an overview of the three major theater organizations in the Columbus area and their 2000-2001 seasons. These are great places for neophytes to start their theatrical journey or for seasoned theater lover to feed their passion.

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Contemporary American Theatre Company

Over the past 16 years, CATCO has offered classic American plays ranging from the 1920 thriller The Bat James Thurber's A Thurber Carnival, Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie, Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes, and Arthur Miller's All My Sons. CATCO's acclaimed production of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men sold out for almost all its four-week run in 1994. Last season, its production of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun won the Columbus Dispatch Sunny Award for Best Play.

Housed in the Verne Riffe Center on High Street, CATCO has produced high quality theater that is, in the company's own words, "dramatically different." Currently on the boards is the classic murder mystery Sleuth by Anthony Shaffer. It will be followed by Neil Simon's immortal comedy of ill-manners, The Odd Couple; The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen's Guild Dramatic Society's production of A Christmas Carol, adapted from Dickens by David McGillivray and Walter Zerlin, Jr.; Charles Fuller's A Soldier's Play; Frank Galati's stage adaptation of Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath; St. Nicholas, a one-man show written by Conner McPherson that played to critical acclaim in London and New York; Edward Albee's Off-Broadway hit Three Tall Women; and The Big Slam, by Bill Corbett. Here are the dates:

Sleuth, July 18-August 26
The Odd Couple, September 12-October 21
A Christmas Carol, November 21-December 31
A Soldier's Play, January 16-February 24
The Grapes of Wrath, March 27-May 5
St. Nicholas, October 24-November 19
Three Tall Women, February 27 - March 24
The Big Slam, May 8-June 10

[For more information on CATCO visit www.catco.org]

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The Fifth Third Bank Broadway Series

Entering its 13th year, the Broadway Series allows Ohioans to enjoy some of New York's best Broadway shows. This year's season has a show for everyone, with Fiddler on the Roof and The Scarlet Pimpernel set to take us to the depths of emotion, romance, and revolution. (Winner of nine Tony Awards, Fiddler was the longest running Broadway show of its day.) Meanwhile, patrons of all ages can lose themselves in the enchanting fantasy of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella and the enduringly popular story of America's favorite little redhead, Annie. In June, the Aggies come to town in Carol Hall's The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

Dance fans get a double dose of joy this season via Fosse and Swing!. And Kathleen Turner will be wowing Columbus audiences in a special pre-Broadway performance of Tallulah, playing the famous Miss Bankhead to the hilt.

The Broadway Series normally presents its shows at the beautiful Palace Theatre. First opened to the public in 1926, the theater seats 2,827 and was designed by architect Thomas Lamb to resemble the Palais de Versailles! Here is the series' complete seasons schedule:

Annie, October 3-8
Fosse (Ohio Theatre), October 17-22
The Scarlet Pimpernel, February 13-18
Tallulah, March 6-11
Cinderella, April 10-15
Fiddler on the Roof, May 20- June 3, 2001
Swing!, June 12-17
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, June 26-July 1

[For more information on the Broadway Series, visit www.broadwayseries.com]

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Red Herring Theatre Company

This is a semi-professional organization whose mission is to produce an innovative and engaging theater experience; you'll leave Red Herring ready for dialogue about the striking issues presented in its productions. This season's slate of shows includes William Mastrosimone's Like Totally Weird, a powerful drama that examines the effect of gratuitous cinema violence on young people: Two teenage boys kidnap and hold a famous Hollywood producer hostage while acting out violent scenes from the movies he created. In similar mind-gripping fashion, Herring will stage Anna Weiss, an intense psychological drama about a hypnotherapist who has helped a young woman recover repressed memories of an incestuous relationship with her father. The play examines the validity of hypnotherapy and the expression of affection between a father and daughter.

Before all of that angst, the season opens comically as Death Defying Acts takes the stage. A compilation of three quirky comedies by David Mamet, Elaine May, and Woody Allen, Death Defying Acts presents the experiences of an angry hooker on the brink of suicide, a lying lawyer, and a demented, upwardly mobile couple. Irony confronts us head on in Dimly Perceived Threats to the System by Jon Klein. The play concerns Marlys, a management consultant whose home is falling apart: Her husband is having an affair even as he's developing a film on "the American family in crisis," while their daughter calls on the spirit of her dead grandmother for support.

Adding to the power of its eighth season, Red Herring will have a new home in which to engage audiences: the newly christened Short North Playhouse, located at 736 North Pearl Street. The company's 2000-2001 schedule is as follows:

Death Defying Acts, September 9-30
Dimly Perceived Threats to the System, October 19-November 12
Like Totally Weird, January 11-February 4
Anna Weiss, March 8 - April 1

[For more information on Red Herring Theatre Company, visit www.redherring.org]


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