Sunday, February 6, 2011

An Evening with ZZ's Pizza, Ensemble Theatre, and Friends

Neil and Eric were off again for a long afternoon and evening spill around northern Kentucky and Cincinnati, but I decided to stay home for a nap after it took Eric two days to find the starling I’d nabbed.  I scratched, I knocked over those character candles, and I ran back and forth by the French doors to the front porch to get their attention.  Ugh  - sometimes!!!!  Anyway, this is what they talked about when they finally arrived home.  I heard the car (yes, I figured that’s what it was called after Neil and Eric complained about the snow and dirt on them) and tore out to the back door to welcome them home.

      We were out for the night with Carole and Tom, and Marty and Michael, and it was a lively evening.  ZZ’s Pizza (2401 Gilbert) is back in business (well, it has been for over a year now) after Tom’s death and Bill’s retirement.  It’s still the home of the original gourmet flat crust pizza in Cincinnati.  Yes, the Walnut Hills neighborhood seems a little bleak, though it bustles, and yes the space is eccentric since it resembles the shape of a pie piece – though it’s symbolically appropriate for a pizza restaurant – and yes, its ambience is relaxed, a mix of sports bar lite and kooky neighborhood spot, and the staff make their customers feel that they’re auld acquaintances.  The prices are very reasonable – all three couples got out for about $35 including tax and tip and each had had a medium sized pizza, drinks, and desserts or salads.
 And, a more recent visit on April 17, 2011

ZZ's pie shaped location
     ZZ's is a very convenient stop before or after visiting a production at Playhouse in the Park, so we decided to pay them another visit a few weeks ago.  It was the same friendly neighborhood atmosphere and service that we've become accustomed to experiencing.  This time we shared the 12" gourmet pizza of the day which was a prosciutto and basil with sundried tomatoes on a sourdough crust.  We were seated next to the kitchen so we watched as our selection was prepared.  The size was perfect for the two of us and we both found it to be a nice combination of sweet and salty.  The ingredients are so fresh it would be hard not to like any of their offerings.  We then shared a slice of the piled high bananas that is a toast to the previous owner's mother that created their desserts.  It's a rich meld of banana filling and whipped cream on a buttery crust coated with a thin layer of chocolate.  If you are a fan of bananas, this is one dessert you will not soon forget!

Gourmet Pizza of the Day
Piled High Bananas

ZZ's Pizza Company on Urbanspoon

      Ensemble Theatre 
(1127 Vine) in Over-the-Rhine demonstrated its strengths in Next Fall.  The cast was a tight ensemble in a recent (last year) Pulitzer nominee.  The script deals with prejudice by both the right (Christian, somewhat homophobic, somewhat racist, fundamentalists) and the left (bohemian New Yorkers whose religious and political views are au courant with whatever the major newsweeklies or The New York Times espouse) in a life or death hospital waiting room crisis situation that depends upon a gay May-September five year relationship that hasn’t been revealed to the rightwing homophobic parents.  It’s a coming out suspense play merged with a hospital tearjerker:  
a dynamic combo.  

      Annie Fitzpatrick as the bohemian small business owner best friend of the gay couple and Regina Pugh as the formerly unstable but Christian mother of the accident comatose victim stood out.  Annie Fitzpatrick delivers a different character for every show in which I’ve seen her and that really means something.  We saw her in Rabbit Hole a couple of years ago and I cannot imagine Cynthia Nixon nor Nicole Kidman doing a better job with that performance.  Nicole Kidman, especially, though beautiful always seems remote.  There isn’t much warmth about her – she’s like Greer Garson (noble, ladylike), but sexier (we never saw Greer Garson with most of her clothes off and that was to her advantage and would have been to Nicole Kidman as well if times were different).  You’re never able to tell how old Fitzpatrick is  (33? 50?) and she uses that timelessness to her advantage.  She was both the raissoneur for the author and extremely touching as she diplomatically allowed both sides of the political spectrum to realize their opinions.  Regina Pugh has delivered such dead-on British characters – The History Boys was extraordinary because I could tell exactly which county in which that woman had been raised – that to see and hear her nail a contemporary Southern wild woman was a revelation.  Bruce Cromer was masterful as the homophobic, casually racist father.  He has the range to play that role or the older lover.  His Scrooge was psychologically penetrating in presenting a character who is mean because he is terrified that he has wasted his life.  Michael Bath was touching and funny as the older lover, but he is a ‘character’ actor who can only play one character.  His timing, mannerisms, and vocal tics are always the same, but they’ve mostly worked the times that we’ve seen him onstage.  Tom, Neil, and some audience members I overheard thought he seemed like Woody Allen and that’s his strength and shortcoming:  he can only be cast in a narrow range of parts and that worked in this case, though it took a suspension of disbelief that the darling young actor/waiter would immediately fall for him.  Yes, it happens, but only in fiction – unless you’re Woody Allen’s stepdaughter/wife.  Ryan Gilreath was playful and quicksilver stubborn as the younger lover.  At first, I wasn’t too sure about him because his body didn’t look that great for a New York actor, but it must have been the angle.  We were in the next to last row and the line of vision in the theatre is very sharp, it’s practically a 75-degree obtuse angle.  In the second act (with more of it revealed), his body was muscled and very credible.  Charlie Clark, who was unrecognizable from Grey Gardens, played a tightly wound self-hating closet case.  He played it well, but the first ten minutes of the play were disconcerting in that we were thrown right into it without exposition and it was difficult to connect the characters’ relationships.  Since he was shown immediately, it seemed like his character was more important than he actually turned out to be.
      The direction was clean and tight, Lynn Meyer’s specialty, but it also teased out unsettling and dangerous kinks in the script.  This is a sign of growth for her as an artist because in the past – I think of Mauritius from a couple of years ago – she has smoothed out uncertainties in themes that leave her audiences satisfied and ready to re-subscribe.  She’s a good businesswoman, a great philanthropist evidenced by her all-in commitment to Over-the-Rhine as a community, a dynamic leader for the Cincinnati arts community on a broader national stage (and she is rarely congratulated for this), but she has been a director of craft in the past.  With this, and her two productions of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, we can see the artist.  Two cavils:  I wish Todd Almond had played the actor/waiter/young lover and I wish the floor of the set hadn’t been so aqua. 

Next Fall has been extended through Feb. 19. 

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