Saturday, September 14, 2019

“By the Bog of Cats,” a tale of Irish angst on stage at Ensemble





As “By the Bog of Cats” opens, “we see Hester, dragging a dead black swan across the snow and ice at the Bog of Cats. The Ghost Fancier has come to collect her but realizes that he is early as Hester is still alive. The Ghost Fancier exits and says that he will return at a later time.”  And, after an enveloping several hours, he returns.  By then, mystical and mythical elements, ghosts, curses, the role of motherhood, abandonment, betrayal and ethnic prejudice, and death have been revealed.

Ensemble Theater has chosen to start this, its 40thseason, with Mariana Carr’s play, By the Bog of Cats,” which is loosely based on Greek myth and Euripides’s tragic play, “Medea.”

Carr is generally recognized as being the greatest living Irish playwright.

In “Medea,” the female anti-hero, who has been cast aside by her husband, Jason, for a younger woman, seeks revenge.  To get back at him, she kills their two sons and his new bride, leaving Jason bereft.

Though the ending is quite different, there are “Medea” parallels in Carr’s script.  But the writing and performance elements are pure Irish, especially as it takes on the themes of displacement and disposition, elements not present in Greece of old, or that of its tales.

The play, which takes place in the Bog of Cats, a bleak, foreboding and frozen rural landscape in the Irish midlands, touches on Irish myth, but adds the well-known characteristics of Irish alcoholism, depression, greed and the outcome of living in a land of constant rain, clouds, gloom and doom.

By the Bog of Cats” is as much a character-study as it is a plot-driven script.

Hester Swaineis a forty-year-old woman who has lived on the bog her entire life. When she was seven years old, her mother, Josie, abandoned her. Hester has been waiting there for her mother ever since.  

Hester has a daughter, Josie, with Carthage Kilbride, a much younger man.  She is very resentful that Carthage has left her to marry Caroline, the daughter of wealthy landowner, Xavier Cassidy, so that he can inherit the Cassidy farm. 

During their relationship, Hester encouraged Carthage to have ambitions beyond his social class as a laborer's son, even giving Carthage the money to buy his first land.  

Josie is the same age that Hester was when her mother left her.  The girl is caring and loving.  She fore-shadow’s the horrific conclusion to the play by singing sad songs her mother has taught her.  

Carthage's mother looks down on Hester because Hester belongs to the “tinker class,” people, who, much like European gypsys, wander in search of odd jobs to make money, by using trickery and sexual favors.  Mrs. Kilbride, a self-centered, greedy person, constantly focuses on issues of social class and money and calls her granddaughter a “little bastard” because she was born out of wedlock.  

Xavier Cassidy is a wealthy landowner and father of Caroline, who “stole” Carthage from Hester.  In order to ensure his daughter’s happiness, and to rid himself of the guilt of having been responsible for driving off Hester’s mother, who he used for sexual pleasure, is determined to also rid the bog of Hester.

The cast is solid.  

Multi-Cleveland Critics Circle and Broadwayworld award winner, Derdriu Ring, gives another accolade worthy performance as Hester.  Ring, who was born in Ireland, and trained at The Gaiety School of Acting in Dublin, personally knows the ways of the Irish.  She doesn’t have to portray Irish angst; she lives it on-stage.  Her accent and realistic character development add a special quality to the production.

Though he can’t reach Ring’s levels, Daniel Telford gives a very credible performance as Carthage.

Julia Kolibab is properly repugnant as Mrs. Kilbride. She gives the kind of performance that encourages an audience to “boo” her character in the curtain call, while cheering the portrayal.

The fragmentary set and lighting, does little to really take us to the bog.  The significance of the up-stage knotted cloth streams seems unclear.

Celeste Cosentino nicely paces the work, tutoring the cast well on keeping the characters real, even in the fantasy scenes.

Capsule judgment:  Much in the tradition of Brian Friel and James Joyce, “By the Bog of Cats” is one of those Irish angst plays that shares the customs and folkways of the Emerald Isle.  The Ensemble production is nicely conceived, with a master class in performance skills by Derdriu Ring. 


By the Bog of Cats” runs through September 29, 2019 on Fridays and Saturdays @ 8 pm and Sundays @ 2.  Ensemble is housed in the former Coventry School, 2843 Washington Blvd, Cleveland Heights.  For tickets call 216-321-2930 or go online to http://www.ensemble-theatre.org

Sunday, September 08, 2019

“Hello!” “BOOK OF MORMON” delights once again in its return to Connor Palace


How many times can you see “Book of Mormon” and continue to be delighted?  I’m at #8 and counting! Yes, the Huntington Bank Series touring production of the irreverent look at religion, racism, Mormon up-tight piety and all things ridiculous, is back again, and, if you can believe it, better than ever.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the long-time writers of “South Park,” are satirical comics extraordinaire.  Their writing marriage to Robert Lopez, the co-creator of the Tony Award winning “Avenue Q,” is a union made in heaven (or at least in the Broadway version of heaven). 
 

“The Book of Mormon” is a satirical musical filled with lots of explicit language.  It lampoons organized religion and, in its own way, mocks traditional musical theater. 
 
The script tells the story of two naïve and optimistic Mormon missionaries (Elder Price and Elder Cunningham) who are sent to a remote village in northern Uganda to spread the Mormon religion.  

While the duo is trying to sell the locals on Mormon scripture, the people are more concerned with famine, poverty, female circumcision, war and AIDS, and a brutal warlord who is threatening the locals. 
 

Oh, what to do, what to do?  Do the more-pious-than-you have the answer?  

How did the duo get to Uganda? 


Elder Price (Liam Tobin) is the poster boy for the tall, hunky, Ken doll, clean cut, perfect teeth, face beautiful, striving for perfection, Mormon missionary.  His powerful singing voice makes the image of “sublime” even better.


Elder Cunningham (Jordan Matthew Brown, Cleveland area native who has a load of supportive relatives in the area) is a rotund, friendless nerd, who relies on half-truths and a vivid imagination to get by.  This is one talented kid who has a totally joyous time playing the comic role!
 
They were cast as a duo through total serendipity, an act of heaven, and some clever comic writers, to go out and ring the doorbells of the world.


As Elder Cunningham, who admits never having read the mythical Book, makes up fantastic tales, which, in reality, aren’t far from the actual imaginative tales of Adam Smith, Brigham Young, the golden tablets, and the migration of the Mormons from upstate New York to Salt Lake City, he wins over converts.  


After he baptizes the entire town, the church’s elders come to witness the miraculous success. 


The villagers share their understanding of the Cunningham version of their new religion in a reenactment, which parallels to “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” from the “King and I,” with illusions to “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” from “The Sound of Music.”  


Of course chaos results, but, as must happen in a take-no-prisoner’s musical comedy, everything turns out fine, and, after a standing ovation, the audience leaves the theatre singing, “I Believe.”


The touring show is spectacular.  It plays visually and emotionally on all the senses.  From its giddy opening number (think the “Telephone Hour” at the start of “Bye, Bye, Birdie,” to its mocking use of four letter words, to its bigger than life melodrama, to the over-the-top mythology (often paralleling the belief system to “Star Wars”), we are sucked into the idea that, as one of the words to the many delightful songs states, “tomorrow is a doper, phatter latter day.”  (I won’t even go into the concept of the song “Ma Ha Nei Bu, Eebowai!” [“F _ _ _You Heavenly Father”], you just have to experience it to experience it!) 


The settings, music, costumes, lighting effects, perfect comic timing of the cast, and creative choreography all work.


Alyah Chanelle Scott) is enchanting as Nabulungi.  Cory Jones is both hysterically funny and evil incarnate, as General Butt-F _ _ king Naked, the war lord.  Andy Huntington Jones excels as the “closeted Mormon with the door more than slightly cracked open, Elder McKinley). The rest of the cast also shines, with special recognition to the young Mormon missionaries, who sing, dance and overplay with the right levels of glee.)


Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker’s direction is spot on.  Farce, especially musical farce, is hard to accomplish due to its required spoken and sung controlled abandonment, but these guys guide their cast with laser perfection.  Nicholaw’s choreography is fun and well-executed.  Ever thought you’d see a dancing kick line of Mormons?


CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you haven’t seen “The Book of Mormon,” or need a new shot of irreverent satire which skewers anyone and everyone, this is an absolute go see production. If you are a language prude, religious fanatic, or aren’t in the mood for ridiculous delight, too bad, as you are going to miss one hell of a good show!  It’s everything a modern musical that is meant for pure entertainment, with a sip of philosophy, should be! 


Tickets for “The Book of Mormon,” which runs through September 15, 2019, at the State Theatre, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or by going to www.playhousesquare.org.

Saturday, September 07, 2019

“Stupid Fucking Bird” takes glorious flight at Dobama




The lights dim. Joseph Lyle Dunn, who we later learn is portraying Conrad, the play’s protagonist, comes stage center and says, “The play will begin when someone says: ‘Start the fucking play.’”  As if on cue, a member of the audience yells, “Start the fucking play,” and it does!

Yes, “Stupid Fucking Bird” is that kind of theatrical experience.  It’s funny.  It’s tragic.  And, it gets a marvelous production under the creative mind of Dobama’s Artistic Director, Nathan Motta, at Cleveland’s off-Broadway theatre, which is now starting its 60th season.

Of the play, Motta says, “Stupid Fucking pushes the envelope, takes risks, asks hard questions of its audience, and yet, it is chook full of love and humanity.  These are the things that motivated Don Bianchi to start a theatre in 1959 as evident in his lasting words, ‘Take the risk.  We’re all in this together.’”

To fully understand Aaron Posner’s brilliant play, with the subtitle: SORT OF ADAPTED FROM “THE SEAGULL” BY ANTON CHEKHOV, the author’s stage notes need to be examined. The instructions on performances states, “THE ACTING:  Should be very, very good: Emotionally grounded, deeply passionate, intention-driven and relatively realistic. Also funny. Pretty much like a really good Chekhov play. Only different... Everyone is grappling for the best way to express themselves all the time, to give words to their frustrations, and hopes, and rampant emotions. Therefore, words often come tumbling out before the thoughts are entirely formed.”

Posner continues, “The characters are real people. They are also characters in a play. They should all be fully invested in the reality of their lives in the play and the stakes are high and deadly serious. At the same-time they know that they are in a play, that there is an audience out there.”

At Dobama’s opening night, during the pre-curtain speech, a member of the audience asked the director if a knowledge of “The Seagull” is necessary for an understanding of the play.  Motta indicated that it wasn’t completely necessary.  (Note:  I would add.  It isn’t necessary, but it helps to understand the genius of Posner’s creative approach to make Chekov modern and relative.)


What’s it all about?  “Kind, hopeful Dev suffers from an unrequited love for Mash, who composes cleverly despairing songs on the ukulele. Mash is desperately in love with Con, a passionate playwright who is deeply in love with Nina, his beautiful, vibrant muse, and childhood friend. Nina seems to love him back, until she becomes entranced by Trig, a literary star who happens to be dating Con’s mother Emma, a successful actress who is hopelessly commercial, in the eyes of her son. With a dead bird, a gun, and a little help from the audience, Con might be able to win Nina’s heart again… or at least feed his own tentative, morbid creativity,” but, don’t bet on it.  


Sound like a 19th century melodrama?  Yes.  It was one of Chekov’s many plays meant to show the frivolous nature of the Russian upper class.  But, in the ingenious adaptation writing of Posner, it works as a modern angst tale.

The play ends as it began with a startling device.  As stated in the script:  Conrad [Pulling out a gun] “I shoot myself.”  [He puts the gun to his head. Leaves it there a beat. Poised to pull the trigger. Tense silence. Then he suddenly aims it at a light above stage, fires, the light explodes. The cast is freaked, screams, maybe.]  “I fucking shoot myself!” [The stage is tense...] “Or not.” [Quick beat] “Or...” [No one moves. They are bracing for a shot. Beat. Conrad turns to the audience]. “Stop the fucking play!” [Blackout]

The cast:  Joseph Lyle Dunn (Conrad), Sara Young (Mash), Laura Perrotta (Emma), Michael Regnier (Dr. Eugene Sorn), JP Peralta (Dev), Sarah Durn (Nina) and Josh Innerst (Doyle Trigorin) each in their own way, are excellent, creating clear “real” people, nicely texturing their performances and grabbing and holding the audience’s attention.  Well done!

The creative set design by Laura Carlson Tarantowski, lighting by Wes Calkin, projection design by T. Paul Lowry, sound design by Richard Ingraham, costumes by Tesia Dugan Benson, props by Venessa Cook and choreography by Casey Venema all greatly enhance the show.

Capsule judgement: As a person present at the very start of Dobama, I would say that Donald Bianchi, the theater’s founder, would approve and be delighted that “his” theater is still fulfilling “his” dream by producing the wondrous likes of “Stupid Fucking Bird.”  Kudos to the director, technicians and actors for launching this glorious flight.

The must-see “Stupid Fucking Bird” runs through September 29, 2019 at Dobama, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights.  Call 216-932-3396 or http://www.dobama.org for tickets.

Next up at Dobama is” Wakey, Wakey,” Will Eno’s new play which features a guy named Guy-a man who knows, like all of us on some level, that he is about to die. (October 18-Novemer 10, 2019).

Saturday, August 31, 2019

“Shakespeare’s R&J” is bard light at convergence continuum





In its off-Broadway production, “Shakespeare's R & J,” which is now on stage at convergence continuum, ran for a year, making it the longest running version of “Romeo and Juliet” in New York history. 

The piece was described as “Hot-blooded ... Wrenching ... pulsates with an adolescent abandon and electricity of which Romeo himself might approve.” It was recognized as being “an off-kilter tale, contains homosexual content, and is filled with sexual innuendoes.”

The story centers on “four prep school students, tired of going through the usual drill of conjugating Latin and other tedious school routines, who decide to vary their very governed lives.

After school, one breaks out a copy of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” and they all take turns reading the play aloud. The Bard’s words and the story itself are thrilling to the boys, and they become swept away, enmeshed in the emotion.”

As they become emotionally excited, underlying sexual desires emerge, with a romantic attachment becoming reality, as the youths playing Romeo and Juliet kiss and then have a sexual liaison. 

As written, this is a play about discovery.   Calarco states that this is no "sweet romance... the lovers are nuts.... when Romeo says, 'Come death, and welcome, Juliet wills it so,' that's insane... This is not Hamlet- there's no reflection; it's all blind action, blind passion."

Oh, if the con-con production could have reached those high levels of compelling audience involvement and high quality of performance.  But, though they try valiantly, expending full emotional physicality, the cast and director are simply not able to hit the lofty goals of the playwright.

To perform or direct a Shakespearean play takes a special level of training, education and experience.  It is not by accident that those who appear in the Bard’s plays spend years and years in learning their craft.  This is not just performing, it’s having a knowledge of Shakespeare’s writing, his rhythm and rhyming schemes, his language, as well as awareness of Elizabethan England. 

The con-con actors (Zach Palumbo, Michael Emery Fox, Joe Soriano, John P. Cox) may be very capable of developing contemporary characters, but unfortunately, they just don’t have the acting chops and training to pull of the R&J beings.  There is much feigning of emotions, the fight scenes are automatically performed.  There is a lot of slamming things down and stomping. The youth are acting, not being. They are doing “let’s do a play” rather than “let’s tell a real story.”

The show is performed in a mock proscenium format.  The set is well designed, with a large mosaic window center stage.

Capsule Judgment:  Though the cast puts out full effort, con-con’s “Shakespeare’s Romeo & J” is Bard-light, leaving a lot on the page.

“Shakespeare’s R &J” runs through September 21, 2019, at 8 pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at convergence-continuum’s artistic home, The Liminis, at 2438 Scranton Rd. in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood.  For information and reservations call 216-687-0074 or go to http://www.convergence-continuum.org/

Next up at con-con: “Homos, or Everyone in America” Jordan Seavey’s comic, heart-on-its-sleeve examination of the moments that can bring two people together–or pull them apart.
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Tuesday, August 27, 2019

BWU’s Musical Theatre program and the Cleveland Orchestra create an enchanted evening


What happens when you meld together performers from the “top destination for any student who wants to study musical theatre,” one of the leading orchestras in the world, and a recognized classic of the American theater lexicon?  You get a production starring past and present Baldwin Wallace University’s Music Theatre program (supplemented by a few guests), the Cleveland Orchestra (under the baton of Andy Einhorn), and “South Pacific” by Rogers and Hammerstein.

As the huge audience at Blossom Center’s August 24th concert found out, the combination resulted in “Some Enchanted Evening.”

Baldwin Wallace University’s Musical Theatre program, under the direction of recent Cleveland Arts Prize winner, Victoria Bussert, has been nationally acclaimed.  It regularly has its students appearing on Broadway, off-Broadway, on national stages, and on cruise ships, while producing outstanding works on its own campus, Play House Square, Beck Center and Great Lakes Theater.  It is one of the area’s academic jewels.

The Cleveland Orchestra continually is ranked among the great orchestras in the world and its homes, Severance Hall and Blossom Center, have received national acclaim.

Multi-Tony winning “South Pacific,” composed by Richard Rogers, with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, and book by Hammerstein and Joshua Logan, is based on the Pulitzer Prize winning “Tales of the South Pacific” by James Michener.

As with other Rogers and Hammerstein musical works, “South Pacific” contains a strong progressive sociological message.  In this show it is a treatise on racism, as brilliantly illustrated by the show’s theme song, “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.”

“The plot centers on an American nurse stationed on a South Pacific island during World War II, who falls in love with a middle-aged expatriate French plantation owner but struggles to accept his mixed-race children.  A secondary romance, between a U.S. lieutenant and a young Tonkinese woman, explores his fears of the social consequences should he marry his Asian sweetheart.  Supporting characters, including a comic petty officer and the Tonknese girl's delightful mother, help to tie the stories together.”

The in-concert presentation, with only suggestions of costumes and no set, had a cast consisting of BWU students in supporting roles and professional performers, some with that school’s roots, combined for a wonderful evening of the score’s enrapturing, often delightful songs including, “Dites-Moi,” “A Cockeyed Optimist,” “Bloody Mary,” “There’s Nothing Like a Dame,” “Bali Ha’i,” “Younger Than Springtime,” and “This is How It Feels.”

The cast included Kailey Boyle (Nellie), Gordia Hayes (Billes), Elliot Madore (Emile), Loretta Ables Sayre (Bloody Mary), Ryan Silverman (Cable) and Hanako Walrath (Liat).
 



The show was directed by Victoria Bussert.

Side note:  If the orchestra is going to continue such collaborations, it needs to develop storyboards and a script of camera shots to fit the performance.  As is, the new, state-of-the-art, LED screen images were distracting as there was not coordination between who was performing and the images projected.  Overheard were many negative comments from the audience members about this aspect of the program.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:   The in-concert “South Pacific,” a combined work, presented by The Cleveland Orchestra and Baldwin Wallace Music Theatre Program, was an enjoyable experience, which both broadened the reach of the orchestra and gave the students a chance to experience working with theater professionals and performing with one of the world’ great orchestras.  The projected images created a negative impression.

The 2019 Blossom Music Festival concludes on August 30,31 and September 1 @ 7:30 with Star Wars Film Concert Series,” “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back,” the feature film with live orchestra.


Next up for BW: (November 12-24) KINKY BOOTS   Victoria Bussert directs the multi-Tony winning musical by Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein.  First amateur production of the still running on Broadway script.  For tickets call 440-826-2240 or go to  www.bw.edu/tickets

Saturday, August 24, 2019

“Lobby Hero” at Blank Canvas asks, “What is the moral thing to do?”


Kenneth Lonergan is noted for writing about decent people who are unexpectedly challenged by issues of ethics.  In his “Lobby Hero,” now on stage at Blank Canvas, the 2016 Oscar winner for “Manchester by the Sea” specifically asks, “What happens when emotions come in conflict with principles.”

The play premiered Off-Broadway in 2001, closed, and reopened on Broadway shortly after.  A revival launched on Broadway in 2018.

One reviewer said of the Broadway production, "Lobby Hero is a fantastic play but I'd be hard pushed to say why. You can tell it's good because, within about five minutes, any sense you have of being a member of the audience, sitting down and watching a group of actors perform on stage, has vanished.”   I agree!

In “Lobby Hero” we observe as Jeff, (Benjamin Gregg) a young security guard, who was discharged from the Navy because he was using marijuana, working the night shift in a New York apartment building.  Jeff seems rudderless, lives with his brother and sister-in-law, and his big desire is to rent his own place. 

The job is boring.  Jeff spends his time looking at porno magazines, napping and attempting to read books.  His only regular contact is with William (Darius Stubbs), his supervisor, and Bill (James Alexander Rankin), a married New York policeman who regularly visits a prostitute who lives in the building.  One night, Bill is accompanied by Dawn (Kelly Strand), a rookie cop, who Jeff immediately fanaticizes as a potential girl-friend.

A series of incidents causes the plot to unroll. 

William reveals that his brother has broken into a hospital to steal drugs.  He and his friends killed a nurse, the mother of three children, who attempted to thwart the robbery. 

William, a moral man, shares with Jeff that his brother is trying to prove his innocence by claiming he was at the movies with William.  William is not sure whether to be his brother’s fake alibi. 

Dawn reveals that she has beaten a drunk man outside a restaurant when he resists arrest.  She also shares that she is being sexually harassed by Bill. When she finds out that Bill is spending time while on duty, with the prostitute, she threatens to tell the authorities.  Should she?

Jeff, who tends to babble, reveals to Dawn that William has shared with Jeff that he was not at the movie with his brother.  Should Dawn expose Jeff’s secret?

Lonergan’s writing takes us easily along the path of discovering “how good intentions can be undermined by unconscious desires” and asks over and over, “What is the moral thing to do?”

The Blank Canvas production is nicely paced and the characters clearly developed by director Ann McEvoy.

The cast is universally strong, nicely texturing their performances, creating real people, rather than developing caricatures. 

Patrick Ciamacco’s set and cleverly conceived sound designs help develop the production.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: “Lobby Hero” is a well-conceived script that gets a superior production at Blank Canvas.

“Lobby Hero “runs through September 7, 2019 at Blank Canvas, 1305 West 78th Street, Suite 211, Cleveland.   For tickets and directions go to http://www.blankcanvastheatre.com/

Next up at Blank Canvas, from September 13 & 14, is “The Who’s Tommy,” a benefit concert based on the iconic 1969 rock concept album. It is the story of the pinball-playing, deaf, dumb and blind boy.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

none too fragile has new home—high quality of productions still the same!


None Too Fragile Theatre has a new home!  But fear not! If their production of “Woody’s Order!” is any indication, the high quality of the theatre company’s shows will not suffer.

None Too Fragile, in its short existence, has received many Cleveland Critics Circle and Broadwayworld.com recognitions for excellence in acting, directing and productions.  It has achieved this while appearing in an assortment of settings, including the back room of a restaurant.  Finally, the company has a new, and hopefully, permanent home…the former Coach House Theatre at 732 W. Exchange Street in Akron.

While sprucing up the building, which houses a proscenium stage, comfortable theatre-style seating and a big lobby, None Too Fragile’s co-artistic director, Sean Derry, is on the road with “Boogieban” which, last year, was one of the area’s most awarded shows with David Peacock and Travis Teffner, being chosen as co-winners of the Cleveland Critics Circle award as Best Actors in a Non-Musical. 

After a run in Chicago, which received rave reviews from Windy City critics, the NTF troupe will travel to the New York where they will attempt to prove that it is “The” place to produce new contemporary plays. 

In the meantime, Alanna Romansky, the company’s co-founder and co-artistic director, with the help of a determined group of theatre supporters, opened the new performance space with “Woody’s Order!,” a solo show written and performed by Ann Talman.  

Talman appeared on Broadway in “The Little Foxes” with Elizabeth Taylor, as well as in “The House of Blue Leaves” “Some Americans Abroad” and “The Women.”

An often emotionally tale of the decision that must be made by Ann, a professional actress/comedian who is torn between her Broadway career and being the sole caretaker for her nonverbal, cerebral palsied brother and Alzheimer-afflicted father.


At one point, she’s dividing her time between Los Angeles, New York, her brother’s nursing home in Allentown and her father’s nursing home in Pittsburgh

This is a tale of high drama with strong underlying comedy segments.

The play, which has also been made into a documentary, is finely directed by John Shepard who “makes this a deeply moving journey of pain, compassion and, ultimately, love.”

For the compassionate, this is not an easy play to watch.  But it is a performance well worth the discomfort.  



Talman is nothing short of amazing in telling her own tale and performing all ten or so characters in the script.  This is a master class in acting.

Capsule judgment:   None Too Fragile starts off its tenure in its new Akron theatrical home with a must see production!

For tickets for “Woody’s Order!” which runs through August 31, call 330-962-5547 or go to nonetoofragile.com

Up next: “These Mortal Hosts,” Cleveland Heights playwright Eric Coble’s tale of what happens when three lonely people band together as their lives and bodies herald events far beyond their comprehension.




Saturday, August 10, 2019

“The Lion King” roars mightily at State Theatre



There is an old adage in the theater that an audience should not leave a musical theater production whistling sets and costumes.  In other words, it should be the music and story-line that are most important.

Obviously, the person who dreamt up that line hadn’t been exposed to Julie Traymor’s costumes and puppets as well as her directorial and creative approach to transforming “The Lion King” from an animated film to Broadway musical.  

The integration of the technical elements of the touring production, as was true of the Broadway staging, is captivating.  The story, visuals and musical components are so beautifully stitched together that one cannot conceive any aspect without the other.

Since its 1994 creation, Walt Disney Studio’s animated feature film, “The Lion King” has become a cottage industry.  The film, the stage-show which is still running on Broadway and has numerous touring versions, including one revisiting the State Theatre, a film-remake that is presently in theaters, and products galore including DVDs, t-shirts, stuffed animals, and carry bags, have been produced and are on-sale in the theatre lobby.

With book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi, music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice, the tale of King Mufasa and Queen Sarabi, the rulers of the Pride Area, their son, Simba, and the King’s wicked brother, Scar, the tale has been well told.

The show’s music, which includes “Circle of Life,” “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” “They Live in You,” ”Hakuna Matata” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?,” is memorable.  BTW...don’t anticipate hearing “The Morning Report.”  The song was eliminated, from both the Broadway and touring productions, along with making other musical adjustments, to save about eight production minutes.

The stage show starts as Rafiki (a baboon who serves as a shaman to the royals of Pride Rock), calls for all to know that the circle of life will continue as a new cub, to be named Simba, will be announced at the gathering of the animals.

The theatre is soon filled with large puppet birds and animals, including an elephant, who march down the aisles and fill the stage. 

The tale continues as playful Simba, whose enthusiasm often overcomes his emerging logic, gets into one scrap after another, including going to the elephant burial ground and being involved in a wildebeest stampede in which his father is killed by Scar.
Scar convinces Simba that his father's death was his fault and tells him to run away, which the guilt-ridden boy does.


Scar claims the throne and allows hyenas to control the Pride Lands.  They willfully destroy the animals needed to keep the survival of the fittest in balance.  Hunger and desolation exist.
After running away, Simba collapses from exhaustion.  Vultures begin to circle, but are scared away by Timon, a mischievous meerkat, and Pumbaa, a warthog with gastrointestinal problems. 
Simba grows to adulthood and eventually he realizes that he must return and reveal himself. 
 

As in all good tales of good versus bad, Simba defeats Scar, who has destroyed the tranquility of the jungle.
 

With the battle won, Simba's friends come forward and acknowledge him as the rightful king. Simba ascends Pride Rock and roars out across the kingdom. The Pride Lands recover and the animals gather in celebration as Rafiki presents Simba and Nala's newborn cub, continuing the circle of life.
 

 “The Lion King” opened on Broadway on November 13, 1997.  It is still running to sold out houses.  The show has been seen nationally and internationally by over 100 million audience members.  It has received over 70 major theatre awards internationally, and is the 3rd longest running Broadway musical.

The touring show has most of the elements of the original Big Apple production.  Some of the scenic effects have been pared down so the show can be set up on various sized stages.  But, do not doubt that the show has the same effect as the original. 

The touring show is spectacular!

The touring cast is outstanding!  There is not a weak performer on stage. 
 

It should be revealed that this is not a tale for some children, especially young and/or sensitive ones.  The staging is filled with hyenas, numerous deaths, and there are scary dark scenes. “Cinderella” this is not!   A little boy, who was sitting in front of me kept covering his face and whimpering in the scary segments, and didn’t come back for the second act.  It is one thing to see the action in a movie, but in real life, things get much scarier.
 

Capsule judgment:  If you have not seen the stage version of “The Lion King” do it now!  Due to the complicated technical aspects, and exceptional puppets and costumes, no community theatre is going to be able to duplicate the production qualities.  Besides, these are difficult roles to sing, dance and act.  It takes professionals to pull it off.  Go!  Enjoy!  But, maybe leave the young and more sensitive kids at home.
 

“The Lion King” runs through September 1, 2019 in the State Theatre, as part of the Key Bank Broadway Series.  To purchase tickets, call 216-241-6000 or go to www.playhousesquare.org.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

“The Ladykillers” a lesser farce at The Shaw


Farce is a sub-genre of dramatic comedy with the intent of making an audience laugh.  The story line is the device that gets the amusement-reaction. The plot in a farce is likely to be improbable, and maybe even incomprehensible.  That’s part of the humor-inducing methodology.  Verbal humor runs the show.   An example of a classical farcical play is Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.”  Ken Ludwig’s “Lend Me a Tenor” is another.

The farcical genre sometime takes on the guise of low comedy when it goes beyond using language to get the desired laughs by adding slap-stick physical absurdity.  Examples of physical farces are “Noises Off,” ‘The Torch Bearers” and, the present off-Broadway hit, “The Play That Goes Wrong.”

It takes special directing and acting skill to get the desired effect of farce, especially the physical variety.  Special attention needs to be paid to getting the audience to laugh at the spoken word, not at the actors exaggerated presentational skills.  If over-done the ridiculous becomes so absurd that it is no longer funny, but stupid.

Graham Linehan’s “The Ladykillers,” now on stage at The Shaw, bills itself as a farce. It is of the physical variety, with lots of shticks and gimmicks inserted to get the audience to laugh not only at what is said, but for what is done. 

The slight plot concerns a sweet little old lady, alone in her house, who is pitted against a gang of criminal misfits.

Professor Marcus and his fellow robbers rent a room in the home of eccentric Mrs. Wilberforce.  The villains plot to involve her, unwittingly, in a supposedly well-conceived heist.

Their pose to the landlady is that they are musicians and need a place to practice.  A series of ridiculous events, including hiding the money from the heist in a bass case, killing each other off, playing a concert for a group of Mrs. Wilberforce’s friends, and trying to keep one-step ahead of the landlady and the police, gives open invitation to lots of ridiculousness.

“The Ladykillers” is a 2011 stage adaptation based on the film of the same name.  Those who saw the movie, which starred Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers and Danny Green, know what a delight it was.  The West End reviews of the play stated that it was a “perfect pitch performance,” "A joy from start to finish," and "An exuberantly inventive evening."

I wish I could say the same of the Shaw production. 

The script is not of the same quality as Wilde or Ludwig, but it is serviceable.

Unfortunately, though there were many funny and audience laugh-inducing moments, Tim Carroll’s directing begged the audience for laughs.  There were enough naturally funny moments in the play that would have brought laughter, without begging for the humor. 

Sight gags were repeated over and over.  The first time someone is hit in the head by a turning blackboard it was funny.  By the fifth time it was not.  How many times can we be induced to laugh by an off-kilter picture being straightened?  An actor’s over-expressed confusion may be amusing the first time.  When repeated over and over it becomes boring.  The same with the over-done parrot squawking. 

Judith Bowden’s clever turn-table set design was a nice visual addition as was Paul Sortelli’s original music. 
Chick Reid was delightful as Mrs. Wilberforce.  Damien Atkins was on-point as Professor Marcus.  Steven Sutcliffe nicely developed the role of the old-lady-hating Louis.  Ric Reid properly phumphered his way as Major Courtney.

Capsule judgment: “The Ladykillers” gets an over-done farcical production at The Shaw.  It will be of great glee to many, however, it would have been more amusing if the material had been allowed to develop its natural farcical level, without redundant shticks and over-done characterizations.
WHAT:  THE LADYKILLERS
WHERE:   FESTIVAL THEATRE
WHEN:  Through October 12

“Sex”—Mae West as you never thought you’d see her!


Many know Mae West as a sex symbol and purveyor of bawdy double entendre, as well as an advocate of sexual independence. 

Did you know that she was also a playwright? 

Yes, Mary Jane West, who many know only from her famous lines, “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough," "Too much of a good thing can be wonderful," and "It is better to be looked over than overlooked," wrote many play scripts including “Sex” which now is onstage at The Shaw Festival.

The pillar of sexuality had a seven-decade career as a performer in amateur shows and beauty contests, as well as vaudeville and Broadway productions.   She later moved to Hollywood where she gained fame and fortune on the silver screen. 

Her career was capped when The American Film Institute named her 15th among the greatest female stars of classic American cinema.

“When her cinematic career ended, she wrote books and plays and continued to perform in Las Vegas and in the United Kingdom, on radio and television, and she recorded rock and roll albums.”
West’s Broadway career started in 1926 with the play, “Sex,” which she wrote, produced and directed.  The production was panned by the critics.  One review stated, “The play is nasty, infantile, amateurish, and has vicious dialog.”  Another commented, “We were shown not sex but lust—stark naked lust.”


The city officials raided the theatre, arrested West and the entire cast.  She was prosecuted on morals charges and for "corrupting the morals of youth."

Instead of paying a fine, in a good publicity stunt, she chose to go to jail.  It is reported that “while incarcerated on Welfare Island, she dined with the warden and his wife; she told reporters that she had worn her silk panties while serving time, in lieu of the burlap the other girls had to wear. She served eight days with two days off for good behavior. Media attention surrounding the incident enhanced her career by crowning her the darling bad girl who had climbed the ladder of success wrong by wrong.”


Audiences loved the show and the arrest publicity and awarded it with good ticket sales for the 375 performance run.  The marquee boasted the bright, glittering word ‘SEX’ and posters were shouting “Sex with Mae West.”  


Eventually, “the guards of morality in New York had had enough.  After complaints from key religious and political figures permanently closed the show.”
What was the fuss all about?


The story centers on Margy LaMont, an ambitious prostitute, who, in search of a better life, travels from a Montreal brothel to a Trinidad night club to a Connecticut upper class dwelling.  The humorous and sex innuendo–loaded plot is filled with gangsters, sailors and society matrons while displaying both tongue-in-cheek and out-and-out humorous incidents and inciting language.
The production is cleverly directed by Peter Hinton-Davis.  Creative scene changes, inventive use of cross-dressing, and a key eye on the humorous, leads the audience on a fun-filled, often outrageous journey.


The cast is outstanding.  Diana Donnelly looks like Mae West, but wisely makes the role of Margy hers, not doing a West-like imitation.  She textures the lines, indicating not only a fine sense of comic timing, but the ability to wring meaning from the speeches.


Though it is sometimes hard to accept her as a him, Julia Course gives the correct illusions to the role of Jimmy, Margy’s wealthy young lover.


Fiona Byrne does a nice turn as Clara, the society woman caught in an act of deviance.


Jonathan Tan is touchingly brilliant as Agnes, a put-upon prostitute.


The costumes, set and lighting all enhance the production.


Capsule Judgment: “Sex” is a delightful surprise.  Besides getting a compelling production at The Shaw, it is an eye-opener into the life of an American sex symbol who not only fought censorship, but once quipped, “I believe in censorship. I made a fortune out of it.”  This is a must see show!

 
WHAT: “Sex”
WHERE:  Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre
WHEN:  Runs through October 13.

G B Shaw merrily mutilates, mystifies and maligns marital bliss in “Getting Married” @ The Shaw


George Bernard Shaw is noted for his stands on women’s liberation, religiosity and the British cast system. 

In his “Getting Married” the Irish curmudgeon is in full voice as he dissects, debunks, devalues and basically destroys the institution of marriage, while making his case for women’s rights and the ridiculousness of religious customs and practices.

Specifically, GBS “analyses and satirizes the status of marriage in Shaw's day, with a particular focus on the necessity of liberalizing divorce laws.”  And, where better to do this than on the day of a marriage.

Though generally considered one of Shaw’s lesser works, most critics agree that though it is short on action and some of the sharper barbs that are included in the Shavian lexicon, it is an excellent discussion on the foibles of the traditional Western world’s laws about marriage, divorce, having children and the role of women in the work world.

Shaw is noted for the preface to his plays where he often sets forth the views he is expressing in his scripts.  In “Getting Married” he takes the view that "Marriage remains practically inevitable.” 

“In a future society, he argued, there could be no practicable replacement for marriage, neither individually negotiated deals or unconstrained free love. Despite this, there was a very pressing question of improving its conditions. Shaw went on to argue for sensible divorce laws to protect the welfare of adults and children.”


It’s 1908. Edith, youngest daughter of Bishop Bridgenorth, is about to be married. Her uncle will give her away, as he has all her sisters. As at all the other weddings, he proposes to Lesbia, the bride's aunt, who refuses him for the "tenth and last" time. Lesbia wants a family, but not a husband who smokes and is as untidy as the General.  The General is soon shocked to find that his disreputable brother Reginald will be at the wedding. Reginald was recently divorced by his wife for assaulting her and for his adultery with a prostitute.  


Thus is laid the foundation for a battle over marriage, divorce, family values, the reproduction of children.  A pamphlet about the dangers of marriage, which is being read by both the potential bride and groom, adds to the angst.  


An attempt to write “new” rules for marriage just adds to the frustration.  Such matters as disagreement over rights and responsibilities about medical, religious, and financial matters, and how to get divorced emerge. 


As must happen, for this is a dramatic comedy, the young couple gets married, several other problematic relationships get solved, and everyone dances in the curtain call.

The Shaw’s nicely paced, often whimsical production, under the direction of Tanja Jacobs is delightful, especially the first act.

Many patrons thought the play had ended when the initial act curtain descended, only to be told there was more to come.  The second act, which brought about the final denouement, was not as fun-filled as the first.  In fact, cutting out much of it would have not left much of a hole in the writer’s intent and purpose.

The cast, which was both racially and age inclusive, sometimes with confusing results, was mostly excellent.  Standouts were Damien Atkins, Martin Happer, Stephen Sutcliffe, Graeme Somerville and Chick Reid. 

The technical aspects of the show were excellent.

Capsule judgment:  George Bernard Shaw is the master at skewering social, religious and political actions and concepts with which he disagrees.  His sharp, satirical and comedic language is put to good use in the delightful and pointed “Getting Married.”

WHAT: “Getting Married”
WHERE: Royal George Theatre
WHEN:   Runs through October 13

“Rope”—a treatise on Nietzscheism and religious questioning masquerading as a mystery


When theatrical mysteries are thought of the works of Agatha Christie (“The Mousetrap”), Anthony Schaffer (“Sleuth”), Tim Kelly (“The Butler Did It”), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (“Sherlock Holmes”) and Tom Stoppard (“The Real Inspector Hound”) come to mind. 

These shows build tension and suspense, leave the audience grasping at clues to solve “who did it” or what twist and turn will reveal the villain.

Patrick Hamilton’s “Rope,” which is now on stage at The Shaw’s Royal George Theatre, unfortunately wouldn’t make the well-made mystery list, as it suffers from poor concept development and a weakly conceived production. 

The British play is set on the first floor of a house in London in 1929.  The story, centers on Wyndham Brandon and Charles Granillo, two young university students who have pulled off what they perceive to be the perfect crime, that of murdering a fellow student. 

Much like in the real Leopold and Loeb murder of young Bobby Franks, their reason centers on the belief that they can get away with the act because of their supposed intellectual superiority, a very Nietzschesque concept.

Friedrich Nietzsche proposed an ethical relativism philosophy in which superior men ignore the concept of good and evil and, because they are super beings, transcend the morality of the herd.  He stated, “Man is a rope, fastened between animal and Superman—a rope over an abyss.”

It is from this quote that the play’s title emerges.

As the play opens, in a dimly lit room, we see the duo carry in a body and dump it into a chest center stage. 

In a bizarre twist, the young men host a party at which the locked chest, which contains the corpse, is used to serve a buffet.  Included in the guests is the father of the dead student.

“After the party, one guest, a former professor of the murderers, returns and contrives to open the chest. He is shocked and ashamed that they have acted in response to his own declarations of amorality. The play ends with this quandary unresolved.”

The play was first an experimental BBC show, then an Alfred Hitchcock film.  The latter contained many changes to the stage play.  (Changes it appears should have been considered for this production.)

The script which, in the Shaw program is compared to Meyer Levin’s “Compulsion,” is neither as well-written or intriguing as that masterful play. 

Some of the characters are weakly developed, others seem to have no place in the tale, and the plot lacks the needed twists and turns to grab and hold the audience.

As for the production, director Jani Lauzon does what she can to breathe life into to it, with little success. 

Joanna Yu has done a masterful job of creating a multi-level set which allows us, through the use of a scrim back wall, to see people ascending and descending a staircase.  The lighting, however, did little to enhance the production.

Capsule judgment: “Rope” is a weakly written script which fails to compel or demand attention.  One can only wonder why the powers that be decided that it was worth the time and effort of the cast, crew and audience.

WHAT:  ROPE
WHERE:  Royal George Theatre
WHEN:  Runs through October 12

Audience-pleasing “Brigadoon” at The Shaw



The Golden Age of the American theatre, which is generally identified as from 1943 to 1975, starting with “Oklahoma” and ending with “Chorus Line,” were highlighted by a combination of songs, spoken dialogue and dancing contained in a story which had a clear structure, emotional content, and whose components were integrated together.

The shows that followed “Oklahoma” generally followed a format.

An important aspect of the musicals was of a two-level plot.  The first consisted of a love story, the second a tale of comic relief.  (e.g., Curley and Lauri—love story, Will and Ado Annie—comic relief, in “Oklahoma.”)

The script generally also included an opening number that set the emotional mood for the story (e.g., “Comedy Tonight” from “Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”).

There was an “I Want Song” in which the lead character told what they want from life (e.g., “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” from “My Fair Lady.”) 

Other elements were a conditional love song that set up the romantic tale (e.g., “If I Loved You” from “Carousel.”  And, a “noise” song, a show stopper in each act intended to “wake up” the audience (e.g., “Bloody Mary” and “There is Nothing Like a Dame” in “South Pacific.”)

Though there were many successful Golden Age writers, probably the kings of the movement were the duos of Rogers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Loewe.

The former centered most of their shows on exploring community and social messages (e.g., “The King and I” and “Flower Drum Song.”)  The latter duet of writers, including their “Camelot” and “Brigadoon,” looked at the perfect time, the perfect place and the perfect love story.”
 

“Brigadoon,” which is now on stage at The Shaw Festival, tells the tale of two men, who, following World War II, while vacationing in Scotland stumble upon Brigadoon, a magical and mythical place that appears for only one day every 100 years. 

As must happen in any good romantic musical, Tommy, one of the tourists, falls in love with Fiona, a young woman from Brigadoon.  Problems abound as he is engaged, the wee village only has a short period of presence based on a deal made between the town’s pastor and the powers-that-be, and Tommy needs to stay forever or return to a life in New York sans love.   Added to the problems is the tale of a young Scottish lad, frustrated that the love of his life has been given to another, threatens to leave Brigadoon, thus breaking the spell, leading to its disappearance, forever.
 

From the opening number, we see and feel that “the mist is on the gloamin', and all the clouds are holdin' still,” that we are going to “go roamin' through the heather on the hill.” 

Love is in the air and we are aware from the “Vendors Call” and Fiona’s I wish song, “Waitin’ for My Dearie,” that song and dance are going to take us on a “wee” wonderful journey in which “Almost Like Being in Love” will become a reality.

“Brigadoon” is filled with enchanting and endearing songs.  It’s almost impossible to leave the theatre not humming such standards as “Almost Like Being in Love,” “From This Day On,” and “There But For You Go I.”

The Shaw production is an audience pleaser.  The story is clearly told, the almost cartoonish set illuminates the lack of reality of the goings on, and the music, in most instances, is well sung and interpreted.

As illustrated by Agnes DeMile’s dynamic original choreography for the Broadway production, the dancing in the Shaw staging is a little too controlled, needing more spontaneity and dynamism.  This was especially true in the “The Chase” in which the danger of the very existence of Brigadoon should be apparent, and “The Sword Dance” which needed to highlight the strong emotional feeling of impending doom.

The “noise” songs, “The Love of My Life” and “My Mother’s Wedding Day,” needed more abandonment and clearer diction to ensure that the humor of the musical tales could be understood and enjoyed.

The cast was generally strong.  Lovely Alexis Gordon was charming as Fiona MacLaren, the romantic lead.  She has a fine singing voice as was well illustrated in “From This Day On.” 

Handsome George Krissa created a totally believable Tommy, Fiona’s “Heather on the Hill” partner.  His “There But For You Go I” was a production emotional highlight.  He and Gordon displayed a nice interpersonal connection.

Mike Nadajewski was generally pleasing as Jeff, but both he and pert Kristi Frank as the seductive Meg, needed to have more dynamism as the comic reliefs.

The costumes, musical sound, lighting and sound all enhanced the production.

Capsule Judgment: “Brigadoon,” which is a classic example of one of the great American musicals, gets a very credible, audience-pleasing performance, at The Shaw. 

WHAT:  BRIGADOON
WHERE:  Festival Theatre
WHEN:  Through October 13

“The Glass Menagerie” shimmers at The Shaw


The modern era of theater was highlighted by the writings of Arthur Miller, William Inge and Tennessee Williams. 

Miller, the sophisticated Jewish easterner, who as a social philosopher, asked in his writings, “Is this the best way to live?”

Inge, reflecting on his Mid-western sensibilities and Christian moralism, plus his guilt over his homosexuality, viewed a world peopled by solitary protagonists encumbered with strained sexual relationships.

Williams, writing in a style referred to as “Poetic Realism,” was a man born of the south.  His messages and symbolism reflected his family and its influences as he wrote of those fighting to retain their dignity, find their lives unsatisfactory, often doomed to go unnoticed while being overwhelmed.  His lead characters are often crushed by the world around them, specifically the women who found themselves living in worlds which they didn’t understand and which didn’t understand them.

His “The Glass Menagerie,” now in production at The Shaw, is probably the best example of pure Williams.  It premiered in 1944 and catapulted Williams to theatrical prominence.

A memory play, a biographical treatise which centers on his mother, sister, himself and his absent father, it reveals all of the author’s digging for his devils, including alcoholism and homosexuality.  This is Williams probing for his “why,” his issues and his writing style. 

The play opens with Tom (the compelling Andre Sills) stating to the audience, “Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion."

This line, the key to understanding Williams use of symbolism throughout the script, is heightened by Sills having interacted with the audience before the start of the show, doing sleight of hand coin and scarf illusions.  A device added in this production, not prescribed in the script.

The setting is a dingy St. Louis apartment.  It’s the home of Amanda Wingfield (extremely well-portrayed by Allegra Fulton), a middle aged woman with remembrances, real and illusionary, of her days as a Southern belle.  A time when she supposedly danced at cotillions, had beautiful dresses and numerous gentlemen callers.  A time before she married a man who abandoned the family, out of frustration and personal need. 

The other occupant is Laura, Tom’s sister (sensitively portrayed by Julia Course).  She is a woman with a limp as the result of a bout with polio, who is socially challenged, is basically an agoraphobic who has made an escape world for herself populated by crystal figurines, her glass menagerie, and a set of records left by their father. 

Amanda yearns for the comforts and life she lived as a girl, worries extensively of what will happen to Laura when she is left alone, with her fears of the outside world and her reactions to the abandonment by her husband and the possibility of Tom departing and leaving Laura and her. 

Her constant nagging for Tom to bring home a gentleman caller for Laura, with the plot of getting him to marry the girl, finally is satisfied when Tom asks a fellow worker at the shoe warehouse where he is employed. 

Unknown to Tom is that Jim, the gentleman caller, (sensitively portrayed by Jonathan Tan), casually knew Laura in high school and called her "Blue Roses", when she returned to school after a bout of pleurosis.   Also unknown is Laura’s crush on Tom when the two were in school.

Amanda’s plans for Laura and Tom are dashed when, after being kind to the young woman, Tom reveals that he is engaged. 

And so the drama spirals to a sad conclusion, as Tom leaves, in an ingeniously staged exit march around the stage, to  seek a way to satisfy his yearnings and Laura blows out the candles leaving her and Amanda to live out their lives in a veil of darkness and unrequited dreams.
The characters and story mimic Williams' own life more closely than any of his other works.  It spotlights Williams (whose real name was Thomas), his mother, Amanda, and his sickly and mentally unstable older sister, Rose.


Williams learned in 1943 that, in his absence his sister had been subjected to a botched lobotomy, leaving her incapacitated (and institutionalized) for the rest of her life.
With the success of “The Glass Menagerie,” Williams gave half of the royalties to his mother, designated half of the royalties from his play “Summer and Smoke” to provide for Rose's care, arranging for her move from a state hospital to a private sanitarium. Eventually he was to leave the bulk of his estate to ensure Rose's continuing care.  Rose died in 1996.

The Shaw production, under the adept and creative direction of László Bérczes is magical.  The clarity of many of Williams’ symbolic radiate.  The theatre in the square stage is effectively used.  The characterizations are cleanly-etched and the performances are nicely textured. 


Tom’s need to escape, while feeling a need to fill in for his absent father, is obvious.  


Amanda is pathetic, not crazy, a woman caught in a time and place she does not understand.  

Laura is maimed, not crippled.  Maimed by having to live with a delusional mother and a slight impediment, made larger by her mother’s unrealistic expectations for her.  

Jim is sensitively interpreted.

Capsule judgment:  The Shaw’s “The Glass Menagerie” is a masterfully staged show of one of the finest dramas in the American theatrical lexicon.  This is an absolutely must see production!  Huzzah!


WHAT:  THE GLASS MENAGERIE
WHERE:  JACKIE MAXWELL STUDIO THEATRE
RUNNING THROUGH OCTOBER 12

Shaw Festival Reviews--2019



As I walked down the main street in Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario, Canada, I had several people look at my black t-shirt with the white letters which stated, “I liked Cleveland before it was cool” and make positive comments or give a thumbs up.

The Shaw Festival is often like being in downtown Cleveland on game day.   Lots of 216/440 residents migrate North for a day, days or a week to visit “the most beautiful little city in Canada.” 

They purchase peaches, cherries, and nectarines, tour the wine country, play golf,  and attend plays at The Shaw.  It also doesn't hurt that the present exchange rate is $1.32 American for the Canadian dollar.  (For the non- mathematical—Americans get a little over 30-cents back for every dollar they spend. Use credit cards to get the highest exchange rate.)

The Shaw Festival is a tribute to George Bernard Shaw, his writing contemporaries, and plays that share Shaw’s provocative exploration of society and celebration of humanity.  


 

It’s a good idea to make both theatre and lodging reservations in advance, especially with the B&Bs on weekends. Our home away from home is the beautiful and well-placed Wellington House (http://www.wellington.house@sympatico.ca), directly across the street from The Festival Theatre, within easy walking distance of all the theatres, where the breakfasts are great and the furnishings lovely.  Unfortunately, this is the last year that the proprietors will accommodate new guests.  So, if you’d like to stay there, reserve for this year, now! For information on other B&Bs go to www.niagaraonthelake.com/showbedandbreakfasts




There are some wonderful restaurants.  My in-town favorites are The Grill on King Street (905-468-7222, 233 King Street) and Niagara’s Finest Thai (905-468-1224, 88 Picton Street).  There is also Gingers (905-468-387, 1390 Mary Street) a short ride out of the main square.  The Epicurean is a nice place for a seasonal food lunch.


Having just returned from the Festival, I offer these capsule judgments of some of the shows:

SEX-- “Sex” is a delightful surprise.  Besides getting a compelling production, it is an eye-opener into the life of an American sex symbol who not only fought censorship, but once quipped, “I believe in censorship. I made a fortune out of it.”  This is a must see show!

THE GLASS MENAGERIE--“The Glass Menagerie” is a masterfully staged show of one of the finest dramas in the American theatrical lexicon.  This is an absolutely must see production!  Huzzah!
 

THE LADY KILLERS--“The Lady Killers” gets an over-done farcical production at The Shaw.  It will be of great glee to many, however, it would have been more amusing if the material had been allowed to develop its natural farcical level, without redundant shticks and over-done characterizations.
 

BRIGADOON-- “Brigadoon,” which is a classic example of one of the great American musicals, gets a very credible, audience-pleasing performance.
 

ROPE--“Rope” is a weakly written script which fails to compel or demand attention.  One can only wonder why the powers that be decided that it was worth the time and effort of the cast, crew and audience.

GETTING MARRIED-- George Bernard Shaw is the master at skewering social, religious and political actions and concepts with which he disagrees.  His sharp, satirical and comedic language is put to good use in the delightful and pointed “Getting Married.”  See this one!
To read the complete reviews of the shows I saw, go to:  http://www.royberko.info
 

Other festival shows are:
THE HORSE AND HIS BOY, THE RUSSIAN PLAY, CYRANO DE BERGERAC and VICTORY.  The holiday season offerings are HOLIDAY INN and A CHRISTMAS CAROL.
 

For theatre information, a brochure or tickets, call 800-511-7429 or go on-line to http://www.shawfest.com.  Ask about packages that include lodging, meals and tickets.  Also be aware that the festival offers day-of-the-show rush tickets and senior matinee prices.

 

Go to the Shaw Festival!  Find out what lovely hosts Canadians are and see some theater! 

Don’t forget your passport as it’s the only form of identification that will be accepted for re-entry into the U.S.  Figure in time to get through customs at the U.S.-Canadian border.

Saturday, August 03, 2019



I am often contacted concerning my teaching schedule.  As of now, I am scheduled to teach the following classes for Fall of 2019.  

(Please DO NOT contact me about registration.)

Jewish Community Center


    CURTAIN UP:  THE AMERICAN MUSICAL THEATER


Dr. Roy Berko, one of Cleveland's leading theatre critics, using facts, stories, videos and anecdotes, will take you on a journey from THE BLACK CROOK, the first American musical, to HAMILTON and other present-day productions.  Topics include:  the effect of Jewish lyricists/composers/script writers on the American musical, how examining the musicals and plays of an era allows for an understanding of that era, the formats of musicals, and the role of the writers, lyricists, composers, producers, directors and performers of America’s major contribution to the theatre lexicon.
    Wednesdays--September 4 through October 16

             11:30 AM-12:30 PM
    Jewish Community Center, Mandel Classroom
    Information:  Jan Rutsky 216-593-6248 or jrutsky@mandeljcc

ILR-EAST
    YIDDISH AND JEWISH THEATER AND THEIR INFLUENCE ON AMERICAN DRAMA, COMEDY     AND MUSICALS


Under the guidance of Dr. Roy Berko, with the use of videos, stories, facts and discussion, explore the history of the Yiddish/Jewish theater, in Europe and America, and those whose creative talents gave birth to not only American theatrical dramas and comedies, but the American musical theater.   Class is limited to 44 students.
    Tuesdays--October 15 through November 19, 2019

              11:00 AM-12:45 PM
    Temple Emanuel, Pepper Pike
    Information:  https://www.bw.edu/alumni/organizations/ilr-east/

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Sunday, July 28, 2019

Pleasurable “Music Man” at Porthouse


Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man” is one of American musical theatre’s most produced shows.  Professional, community and educational theatres stage the show on a regular basis.  The songfest, which is as American as apple pie and a Fourth of July fireworks display, is now on stage at Porthouse Theatre.

The show’s march to popularity was not an easy one.  After many years of trying to convert Willson and Franklin Lacey’s hokey story into a musical, trying to shoehorn almost 40 songs into the score (twenty-two were eventually cut), more than forty script drafts, and a change of producers, the show finally opened on Broadway on December 19, 1957.

Opening night reviews were sensational, calling the production, “a marvelous show,” “rooted in wholesome and comic tradition,” and “a whopping hit.”  It went on to win five Tony Awards, including winning Best Musical recognition over “West Side Story.”  Praise was heaped on original cast members, Robert Preston, who reprised his title role in the 1962 screen adaptation, and Barbara Cook.

Willson wrote the book “But He Doesn’t Know the Territory” about the trials of getting the show to Broadway. 

Stories include that Wilson’s interest in the story was inspired by his boyhood experiences in Mason City, Iowa.  In addition, it is revealed that the song, “Ya Got Trouble,” was originally spoken dialogue about the serious woes facing River City parents, but during the developmental process it was realized the words had a sound to it that was ideal for a “patter song,” so music was written to underscore the cadence.  

We also become aware that in “the original production (and the film), the School Board was played by the Buffalo Bills, the 1950 International Quartet Champions of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBSQSA).”

And, “Robert Preston claimed that he got the role of Harold Hill despite his limited singing range because, when he went to audition, they were having the men sing "Trouble." The producers felt it would be the most difficult song to sing, but with his acting background, it was the easy for Preston.”

As for the story, “the plot concerns con-man, Harold Hill, who poses as a boys' band organizer and leader, selling band instruments and uniforms to naive Midwestern townsfolk.  He promises to train the members of the new band.  Harold is no musician, however, and plans to skip town without giving any music lessons. Prim librarian and piano teacher Marian sees through him.  When Harold helps her younger brother overcome his lisp and social awkwardness, Madam Librarian changes her tune.  And, of course, as happens in all good musical comedy love stories, Marian falls in love and Harold risks being caught to win her hand. As the lights go out all are assured that the duo will live happily ever after.

Though pleasant, the Porthouse production is not without its flaws.

The strengths of the production, under the directorship of Terri Kent, are the enthusiastic large cast, the high quality of the musicianship under the baton of Jonathan Swoboda, the creative set by Nolan O’Dell, the quality of the sound as designed by Parker Strong, where the music and voice balance make for easy hearing of the lyrics, the high quality of singing voices, and some of the performances.

Thom Christopher Warren does a nice job of setting up Harold Hill.  Though he could have been a little more hard-sell in his con-man approach, he is charming enough to be believable as a sham salesman.  He has a good singing voice and his ability to do patter is excellent, as displayed in “Ya Got Trouble.”

Though there seems to be little emotional connection between her and Warren, Emma Sohlberg is properly uptight as Marian, the librarian.  Her “Goodnight, My Someone,” sung with adorable Mai Renard (Amaryllis) was charming.
 



Mason Henning does a nice turn as “bad boy” Tommy and the Quartet--Tim Culiver, Sam Johnson, Morgan Thomas-Mills and Jay White--were pitch-perfect.  Bernadette Hisey, as has come to be expected from this talented actress, was delightful as Mrs. Paroo.  Rohn Thomas nicely “phumphered” his way as Mayor Shinn.

The dancing, which was enthusiastic and creatively designed, lacked precision.  Maybe after the show runs for a while the movements will look less labored and more polished.

The show would have been aesthetically aided by era-correctly costumes.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: “The Music Man” is a staple of the American musical theater genre.  It makes for a wonderful summer escape.  The Porthouse production is not without its flaws, but all in all, the end result is a pleasurable experience.

“Music Man” runs at Porthouse Theatre through August 11, 2019.  For tickets call 330-672-3884 or go online to http://www.porthousetheatre.com/.