Taren in The Press



Ovation offers trio of satirical spoofs

By Joseph McDonough
Enquirer contributor

   From Page to Stage & Script to Screen is Ovation Theatre Company's evening of short comedies devoted to theater and the movies. Ovation's spirited production provides a great time with a trio of satirically silly scripts.

        First up is “Hidden in this Picture” by Aaron Sorkin. This 45-minute spoof is an early work by the creator of The West Wing that rambles and repeats itself for about 10 minutes longer than it needs to. Still, director Taren Frazier gets funny, focused performances from his cast members as they tell the story of a first-time movie director (an obsessed Dan Cooley) trying to film an elaborate “real time” scene. It's mayhem when three cows wander into the shot.

        Providing solid support are Brian Robertson as the director's calm screenwriter; Gary Anaple as the stereotypical number-crunching studio executive; and director Mr. Frazier as a clueless production assistant.

        Following intermission, Ovation artistic director Joe Stollenwerk directs the best of the three plays, Christopher Durang's “For Whom the Southern Bell Tolls.” Mr. Durang is a master of razor sharp satire (Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All To You, Beyond Therapy), and he doesn't disappoint with this hilarious send-up of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie.

        Judy Malone turns in the performance of the night as a perfectly deadpan Amanda Wingvalley. She frets and primps in genteel overbearing mother mode, all the while making hysterically bitter comments that the real Amanda would never say.

        In a twist on Menagerie, we have hypochondriac son Lawrence (Mr. Stollenwerk) introduced to a “feminine caller” (Emily Blocher) by gay son and Williams parody Tom Wingvalley (Brian Cade).

        If you know Menagerie, you won't stop laughing. Even if you don't, the cast milks every bit of Mr. Durang's caustic wit to great effect.

        The final piece, David Ives' “Speed-the-Play,” is ultimately the least satisfying. Mr. Ives (All in the Timing) skewers the macho style of playwright David Mamet by compressing four of Mr. Mamet's plays (American Buffalo, Oleanna, Sexual Perversity in Chicago and Speed-the-Plow) into one frenzied 10-minute ride.

        Mr. Frazier directs and gets the most out of his ensemble: Rochelle Halter, Mr. Anaple, Mr. Cooley, Susan Hill, Mr. Robertson, and Joanna Tyler.

        But Mr. Ives has too much happening too quickly for the play to be more than amusing. And those unfamiliar with Mr. Mamet will miss much of what is going on.

By Rick Pender

It's not often that British playwright Harold Pinter's works are seen locally. His comedy, THE DUMBWAITER (which premiered in 1960), is about two men in an abandoned room where a dumbwaiter delivers unintelligible messages, causes them to disagree and argue violently. You can see a local production at Northern Kentucky University's Black Box Theatre this weekend. It's directed by graduating senior NATHAN GABRIEL, who has worked professionally for the Shakespeare Theatre of Washington, D.C. After graduation he plans to remain in town to become an active participant in the local theater scene. As a first step in that direction, he has cast two of Cincinnati's best actors, MATTHEW PYLE and TAREN FRAZIER. Pyle is most often associated with the Know Theatre Tribe; Frazier has been active with the Performance Gallery.

CHASING THE WOLF, a new play by Nathan Singer (it's also the title of his new novel), was presented by the Performance Gallery from June 10-20. The show presented an intriguing piece of time travel: A painter (played with matter-of-fact conviction by Taren Frazier) from contemporary New York loses his wife in a tragic accident, then finds himself in 1938 Mississippi where he meets a young woman working as a maid in a boarding house who is hauntingly familiar (both roles are played with charm by Khrys Styles). Meanwhile, he crosses paths with Blues singer Howlin' Wolf -- and three otherworldly guys in pinstripe suits who monitor his every breath. The plot twisted several more times; the script felt a bit episodic, but it had some stylish writing and a racially diverse cast. Three cheers to The Performance Gallery (which presented a reading of Singer's script last September) for staging this interesting work. -- Rick Pender Grade: B

Sunday, July 14, 2002

Frazier does anything for opera

By Jim Knippenberg jknippenberg@enquirer.com 
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Things you do when you're the Supernumerary and Fight Captain for the Cincinnati Opera:

         Run around backstage making sure spear-carrying soldiers inNabucco don't accidentally impale each other.

         Teach Romeo and Juliet stars to beat up people without hurting anyone.

         Babysit 60 non-performers who don't know their way around backstage, making sure they get from here to there before the fat lady sings.

         Get buck nekkid onstage in Dead Man Walking and let some guy pretend to kill you in front of 3,400 people.

        “This is a busy time of year for me, some days 9 in the morning to 11 at night, but it's a fun kind of busy,” says Taren Frazier, in his second year as captain of supers (non-singing extras who fill the stage and make grand opera a whole lot grander).

        But he's used to busy, says this 29-year-old unmarried Norwood resident. He's a 1991 School for the Creative and Performing Arts grad with a performing arts degree from The UC College-Conservatory of Music and a certified actor combatant, a hard-to-get title from the Society of American Fight Directors. Very busy indeed.

        Besides his opera job, he's a director with credits at Know Theater Tribe and Ovation Theatre, an SCPA substitute teacher who's going full time in the fall and one of the founding members of the Performance Gallery, an East Side performance space dedicated to “pushing the envelope and providing a home base for fringe projects.”

        But right now, it's all opera all the time.

        “The opera is a seasonal full-time job. We start in April with a supers casting call. My job is to see what's in the pool and compare it to a list of what we need, like how many minorities, male versus female, younger, older, tall, short, who looks good in tights, all sorts of physical notations.

        “I take Polaroids and get casting ideas, then see what's missing and start calling to fill roles, like I did for Madame Butterfly when we needed specific ethnic types.

        “Then I take my recommendations to the director for approval. Usually it comes through, but sometimes he'll say this one's too tall or that one's too young. Then I start over. Or I take the role myself.”

        Which explains his nudity in Dead Man Walking.

        “It's the prologue, set on a lover's lane where the murder and the rape take place. It's graphic, but extremely important to the journey of the show. I knew from the get-go how hard it would be to find a super willing to do nudity, so when it was suggested that I do it, I agreed.

        “For me, it has to do with artistic integrity and something that's been drummed into me in school — never be afraid to tell the story as it was meant to be told.”

        Once Mr. Frazier has cast approvals, the real work begins.

        Supers come from all walks of life — professionals, blue collar, students, homemakers, retired folk, the works. They need to be available about 40 hours for rehearsal and performance, usually about 10 sessions.

        “No matter what they do and no matter how dedicated to the opera, they're busy people. I give them the rehearsal and performance schedules and then worry myself sick that they won't make it because of other obligations.”

        This year has been particularly tough because, as he puts it, “schedules have been frayed. Because of illness or whatever, rehearsals have been rescheduled, which means I'm calling supers telling them I'm sorry, but Thursday morning moved to Friday afternoon and I hope you can make it.”

        Add to these a raft of other duties — make sure supers are fitted for costumes, get their wigs, learn stage makeup, keep track of props — and you've got one mighty busy captain.

        In between those duties, he's a street fightin' man. No, a stage fightin' man.

        As fight captain, his job is to run the fight call: “Once the director stages the fight scene, I start practicing with the actors. The idea is to make it look dangerous, but keep the actors safe. It's a strange kind of choreography.

        “I trained for this at SCPA and now I get certified three years at a time. The certification says I'm qualified for stage violence.”

        Hmmm. Sounds like a heck of a lot of opera for a guy who never liked it until he started the job.

        “I'm becoming an fan, but remember, I'm the MTV generation and a theater fan at heart. Still, there's something about opera, so expressive and evocative. I love the substance of it. It excites me to see its effect on the audience. It takes it out of the realm of a job and turns it into something that really fills your fountain.”

        Something else he hopes will fill his fountain some day:Edmond.

        “If I had unlimited time and money, I would direct David Mamet's Edmond. It's big, 22 scenes in one act, and I'd want to do it right. I've had a vision of it in my head since I read it at SCPA. It's full of strong language and strong themes about a guy who dumps his wife and lives on life's underbelly until he goes to jail and finds peace with a fellow inmate. I don't know if I'm experienced enough to handle it, but if I had the money, damned if I wouldn't try.”

        But not now. Right now, he's gearing up for a rehearsal, phoning supers about a schedule change and saying a silent prayer that they can make it.

        “Really, it's such a great job that it's hard for me to complain. When I do, it's about the machinery of theater — how it just keeps dragging you along at hyper-speed all the time.”

Troupe earns an ‘A’ 
for ‘alternative’ 
Trio directs edgy one-acts by three 
top U.S. playwrights

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Know Theatre Tribe gives real meaning to the term ‘‘alternative theater’’ this month with a pair of very different options. Catch the Tribe on tour at bookstores, libraries and galleries in its free program Shine: Women’s Perspectives, a celebration of Black History Month.

At its Over-the-Rhine home base, the Tribe kicks off its season tonight with a trio of one-acts set in a New York subway car, a Los Angeles S&M parlor and a Kentucky horse ranch. It’s a harrowing night of theatrical confrontation by three of America’s best modern playwrights: Amiri Baraka (then writing as LeRoi Jones), David Henry Hwang and Lanford Wilson.

Mixed Blood marks the first time directors Michael Burnham (Eukiah), Taren Frazier (Dutchman) and Matthew Pyle (Bondage) work with Know. They recently sat down together to talk about the evening.

Question: What came first, the titles or the directors?

Mr. Pyle: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) was originally in this slot and (Know artistic director) Jay Kalagayan was looking for a director. I recommended Taren.

Mr. Frazier: I didn’t think Complete Works could be cast quickly in Cincinnati, so I declined. But Jay asked, ‘‘What if I flipped the season?’’ (The season was flipped andComplete Works is now scheduled for June.)

We kicked some titles around and Jay said, ‘‘What about Dutchman?’’

Written in 1964, Dutchman helped establish the militant black theater movement. It’s about what happens when a white woman (Tara McGuilfoil) decides to attempt to seduce a decent young black man (Lyle Benjamin) on a subway.

Mr. Frazier: Every time I read it, it keeps raising more questions. I like it being a mystery.

Mr. Burnham: It’s shocking, that it’s still pertinent. You could see the beginnings of the conversation on a Cincinnati street corner today.

Mr. Frazier: Baraka is a poet. It’s abstract, a metaphor. That’s what makes it as powerful today as when he wrote it.

Mr. Pyle: After Dutchman was chosen, Jay was struggling to find other titles and directors. He called me again and asked, ‘‘Have you ever heard of Bondage?’’ (He laughs.) I said it sounded interesting.

In Bondage, Mr. Hwang uses the relationship between a dominatrix (Sarah Mann) and her longtime client (Michael Heekin) to explore what we hide behind the masks we wear.

(Mr. Pyle laughs again.) How could I pass up a show where I get to have somebody spanked with a riding crop onstage?

It is a story about a relationship between a man and a woman — a long-standing relationship — where they’ve never seen each other’s faces. It strips away the courtship aspect and what you have is a power struggle.

Mr. Burnham: When Lanford Wilson came to Cincinnati last year, he saw a rehearsal of Burn This. Several of us — Matthew, (director) Benjamin Mosse, the rest of the cast — sat outside talking to him after.

I asked him, ‘‘Have you ever had a brilliant idea for a play you couldn’t write? And he admitted the play existed.

Matthew went and found it —

Mr. Pyle: — and I fell in love with it, it became a complete obsession —

Mr. Burnham: — but he needed a director.

(Because Eukiah is just 10 minutes long — it debuted at Humana Festival of New American Plays in 1993 as did Bondage — Mr. Burnham was able to squeeze the project between his duties on the faculty at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and directing Othello for Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival, opening later this month.)

Mr. Burnham: We’re not going to talk about what happens, people need to see it — but it’s not a conversation you’d be hearing at the water fountain.

Q: Both Know Tribe and Ovation Theatre have scheduled evenings of one-acts in coming months. Are we seeing a revival of the short form?

Mr. Burnham: One-acts were written when there were places for them to be done. In the ’50s and ’60s, playwrights got their start writing plays at the length they needed to be.

I think that’s coming back. I hope that’s true.

Q: When Mr. Wilson was in town last spring, he talked about a value of one-acts being that if you don’t like one, you might like the next.

Mr. Frazier: I’m part of the MTV generation, and my attention span is one act. I can relate to the quick story. Pop! That rhythm speaks to me.

(Mr. Frazier will be directing Speed-the-Play, part of Ovation’s one-acts evening in March.)

Mr. Pyle: We do have to build a generation of audiences at the same time that we try to build our own careers. We’re already seeing more short plays, there are 10-minute and 30-minute play festivals, although they’re still not being presented as nights of theater outside New York.