Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Theatre of the Absurd…WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF @ Lakeland Civic Theatre

Edward Albee, author of WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF,  now in production at The Lakeland Civic Theatre, is one of the best known Theatre of the Absurd American writers.  This form of theatre, which was at its apex shortly following World War II is based, in part on existentialism, and asks “what is the purpose of existence?”  

Absurdist playwrights create situations in which the characters are caught in hopeless situations and repeat meaningless actions.  The plots may go beyond realism.  The stories often highlight individuals who seem to have no purpose in life and are caught in situations where their communication breaks down.  Any hope for rationalism gives way to illogical speech and leads to the highest form of dysfunction, silence.

Albee, who was adopted at an early age, led a life of luxury, but was seemingly denied love by parents who didn’t really know how to raise a child.  They gave him the opportunity to go to the finest schools, but never bonded with him.  His background is often credited with creating in him a hostile view of society and relationships.

Albee’s writing career has been filled with highlights.  He received three Pulitzer Prizes for drama—A DELICATE BALANCE (1967), SEASCAPE (1975), and THREE TALL WOMEN (1994).   Interestingly, his WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, considered by many theatre historians to be his greatest work, was not honored with a Pulitzer.  It was selected for the award by the drama jury, but the advisory committee, with no explanation, overruled the selection and gave no award that year.  Rumors for the action centered on Albee’s being openly gay, which was repugnant to the conservative board.   It is interesting that Albee, himself, states “I am not a gay writer.  I am a writer that happens to be gay.”

Albee’s WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF is a classic example of absurdist writing which probes the modern condition.  It contains biting dialogue by highlighting the dysfunctional relationship between two people who seemingly have only one purpose…the psychological destruction of each other.

The play centers on Martha and George.  He is a seemingly inept professor at the small New England college whose President is Martha’s father.  The duo has been married for many years, use alcohol to escape from their miserable existence and play word games to torture not only themselves, but anyone else who enters their chaotic home. 

One evening, after a faculty party, a young couple, Nick, a new Biology instructor, and his wife, Honey, are invited by Martha, to come over for drinks.  Little do they know the verbal torture session that is about to take place. 

Alcohol flows freely, secrets are exposed, and the end result is an emotional bloodbath.  Each horrific episode is keyed or ended with George and/or Martha’s repetition of the words, “who is afraid of Virginia Woolf” chanted to the tune of “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf,” from Disney’s THREE LITTLE PIGS.  

WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF has three acts.   “Fun and Games” lays the foundation for what is to come through a series of verbal, physical and emotional expository revelations.  “The writing of the first act is often hailed as some of the greatest in all of the American theatre.”  The second act, “Walpurgisnacht,” takes its theme from the night that witches meet and Satan appears.  In “The Exorcism,” the evicting of demons and other spiritual entities from a person or area through elaborate ritual, take place..

The Lakeland production, under the direction of Martin Friedman, is compelling.  The acting is excellent, the tension often gets unbearable.  The audience laughs and wonders why they would be expressing such a positive emotion to such terrible verbal destruction of others.  The ending leaves both the audience and the actors exhausted. 

The Lakeland cast is not alone in their high fatigue level.  Uta Hagen, who played Martha in the original Broadway production, indicated that playing the role of Martha was like having a nervous breakdown every night.  In fact, the strain was so much on the actors, a separate cast played the matinees.  Having seen the original production, I can attest to not only the brilliance of Hagen, and her costar, Arthur Hill, but to the utter exhaustion of the experience.

Greg Violand’s take on George is fascinating to watch.  The role often engenders ranting and raving.   Violand’s George is almost laid back.  He seldom raises his voice.  Instead, he thrusts and hits his target through textured underplay.  He puts on the role of George and never takes it off.

Molly McGinnis does a consistent interpretation of the sexy boozed Martha.   She does not spew the venom of Hagen, nor Elizabeth Taylor, who was in the movie version with Richard Burton, but McGinnis does create a Martha to be reckoned with.

Studly Daniel Simpson is excellent as Nick, the young professor who has been coerced into marriage by a “pregnant” Honey, she of wealth and beauty. Katie Nabors well develops Honey, the  hypochondriac with psychological issues.

Friedman, in the program notes, explains that the multi-level open platform setting, covered with what looks like dulled-down aluminum foil, is part of his philosophy to strip down a play’s physical trappings and inspiring the audience and actors to focus on the language and storyline of the play.  Normally, I might agree with him, but I think this particular play works best in a set in which the walls literally come in on the actors, causing a claustrophobic atmosphere,  a cage that screams there is no place to hide, no place to escape.  As is, the wide expanse of the Lakeland Community College theatre stage is so massive that some of the tension dissipates into the wings and fly gallery, and, at times, the voices get lost. 

Capsule judgment:  WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF gets a very credible staging at Lakeland’s Civic Theater.  The acting is of high quality.  Potential audience members should be aware that, though the show clicks along at a nice pace, this is a long three-act play with two intermissions.  It’s well worth a trip to Lake County to see this seldom produced classic.

WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF runs Friday through Sundays from September 18-October 4, 2015 at Lakeland Community College, 7700 Clocktower Drive, Kirtland. For tickets call 440-525-7134.

Please vote for Issue 8--which supports Cuyahoga County's Arts & Culture sector and is NOT A TAX INCREASE.  The continuance of your local theatre’s and other arts providers depend on this.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Emotionally draining, intellectually satisfying DEATH OF A SALESMAN @ Ensemble Theatre

Arthur Miller’s DEATH OF A SALESMAN, the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning drama, now on stage at Ensemble Theatre, is universally recognized as one of, if not the greatest modern American play.   Others that are recognized as top classic plays are LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT (Eugene O’Neil),  STREET CAR NAMED DESIRE (Tennessee Williams), OUR TOWN (Thornton Wilder), and WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF (Edward Albee).

Miller, the son of a wealthy Jewish manufacturer, watched as his father’s fortunes disappeared during the depression.  Because of this, much of his writing focuses on anxiety, insecurity, and personal achievement.  Constantly, Miller asks, “What is the right way to live?”  This theme is apparent in such works ALL MY SONS, THE CRUCIBLE and THE PRICE.

Arthur Miller is one of the few playwrights who has successfully spanned the post-World War II era into the late 20th century.

Critics often have difficulty classifying Miller’s writing.  The designations span such terms as social criticism, modern tragedy and psychological study. 

The University of Michigan graduate seldom gives answers, he asks questions.  As is the case with many Jewish thinkers and writers, based on years of being involved in the Talmudic tradition of education which asks questions rather than giving solutions, Miller presents and leaves it to the reader/viewer to answer and learn from the experience. 

Miller, who is well-versed in theater techniques as well as dramatic literature, often instructs on set and lighting factors, in how to  stage his plays. In DEATH OF A SALESMAN, he uses flashbacks, and advises set directors, when possible, to use scrim material, which allows characters to appear behind what appear to be solid walls, to enter the scene, but are still outside the action.  This way, past life and present life meet, but don’t collide.   Some technical directors, as is the case at Ensemble, attempt to use lighting effects to create that illusion.

It is interesting to note that in the script, Miller describes the setting to be a small house, surrounded by high apartments, which blocks out the sun from the residence.  It describes his Brooklyn boyhood home which was encroached upon by buildings.

Miller uses the concept of the modern tragedy in developing the story.  Willy, the central character, lives a life of illusions and lies to create a world of “success,” but, in the end, as with most of his life, he dies with a false dream.  The more Willy makes up his personal lies, and engages in illusion, the harder it is for him to face reality.  He exits as a tragic character who is to be pitied, not praised.

DEATH OF A SALESMAN places the spotlight on Willy Loman, an everyman who has eked out a living as a mediocre salesman by traveling his territory attempting to get merchants to buy his goods.   Living with the philosophy that people who are well-liked will be happy, he obsesses in his desire to teach his son, “Biff,” a proficient athlete, that he has to be a winner.   Much of Willy’s world disappears as Biff, through a series of bad decisions, based on the false beliefs taught by Willie, fails to achieve “greatness.”  Interestingly, as the play concludes, it appears that only Biff, not Willie’s wife, Linda, nor his son, Hap, has learned the futility of Willie’s life and death.

Like all classics, the themes in DEATH OF A SALESMAN still ring true today. Its harsh criticism of American capitalism may not be quite as shocking as it was when the play first premiered, but with the explosion of the housing bubble and numerous business shams, the concept still holds up.  His message of living with a set of false values rings clear.

The play’s requiem, takes place at Willy’s newly dug graveside.  Only the family and two neighbors are in attendance.   None of Willy’s supposed minions of business associates are there.

As the play reaches its climax, Biff encourages Hap to come west with him to start fresh lives.  Hap refuses, unable to grasp the reality of Willy’s false philosophy of life.  He declares that he will stick in New York to validate Willy’s life and death.  Linda, who has acted as Willy’s enabler, looks into his graves and asks him for forgiveness for being unable to cry, and wonders aloud why he has ended his life when, after she has made the last payment on their house, “We’re free and clear.”

Ensemble’s DEATH OF A SALESMAN is emotionally draining and intellectually satisfying.  Director Celeste Cosentino has honed a fine production that develops Miller’s intent and purpose.

Greg White creates a Willy who lives life as an illusion.   Some actors portray the character with strong emotional highs and lows, others with brooding rage.  White travels a path of consistent low-key almost depressed control.  Even in his strong emotional scenes, his voice never becomes a shout.  The interpretation is very affecting.

Keith Stevens nicely textures the role of Biff, showing both stubborn misguided pride and an evolving understanding of who he is and how he got there.  The scene where he finds Willy in a hotel room with a company secretary is heartbreaking.

Mary Alice Beck underplays Linda so well that it becomes clear that she is blind to Willy’s weaknesses and false delusions, and enables him out of unwavering love.  Her “honor must be paid” speech is compelling, as is her exposing Willy’s act of putting a hose on the natural gas line in the basement for a potential suicide attempt.

Steven Hood creates a ghost-like, compelling aura as Uncle Ben, the illusion Willy turns to in periods of despair.

Johnathon Jackson creates in Hap, Biff’s younger brother, a failed young man who has mainly been ignored by Willy, a playboy who, like Willie, is living false dreams.

Joseph Milan (Charley) and James Rankin (Bernard) nicely portray the real successful men, who contrast with Willy’s life of false illusions.  The scene in which Charlie reveals to Willy that his son, Bernard, is going to plead a case before the Supreme Court, is a shining example of the differences between Willy’s need to create importance by making-up hoped for dreams, and Charlie and Bernard’s quiet acceptance of what comes from life when you act, rather than fantasize.

Other than some confusing lighting effects, the technical aspects of the show are well executed.  Especially effective are the pictures of the apartment buildings surrounding and sucking the air out of the Loman residence.

Capsule judgment:  DEATH OF A SALESMAN is one of America’s great play scripts.  The classic gets an excellent production at Ensemble.  As the script gets few present-day productions, anyone who has never seen the play on stage, or those who need another viewing to evaluate their own philosophical life path, should definitely see this production.

DEATH OF A SALESMAN runs Thursdays through Sundays from September 18-October 11, 2015 at Ensemble Theatre, housed in the former Coventry School, 2843 Washington Blvd, Cleveland Heights.  For tickets call 216-321-2930 or go online to

Please vote for Issue 8--which supports Cuyahoga County's Arts & Culture sector and is NOT A TAX INCREASE.  The continuance of your local theatre’s and other arts providers depend on this.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Well-conceived THE SPITFIRE GRILL at Beck Center

Opening night of THE SPITFIRE GRILL was a special evening for the Beck Center for the Arts.  It was the start of the organization’s 82nd season and Scott Spence’s 25th anniversary as Artistic Director.

THE SPITFIRE GRILL, with music and book by James Valcq and lyrics and book by Fred Alley, which is based on Lee David Zlotoff’s 1996 film of the same name, is a combination of myth and folktale which takes place in Gilead, Wisconsin.

As described in a travel book which convict Percy Talbott is reading at the start of the play, the rural town is filled with “Autumn colors” and is located along the Copper Creek.  Ignoring that it is February, and the leaves have long been off the trees, Percy, upon her release from prison, makes her way to Gilead, where the streets are deserted, many of the storefronts boarded up, and there is a single place to eat, The Spitfire Grill, which has been for sale for years, with no buyers.

Percy reports to Joe Sutter, the handsome young local sheriff, who is to act as her parole officer.  She needs a job.  Old widow, Hannah Ferguson, has a bad hip and a caustic tongue, and a secret to hide.  She needs help in running The Spitfire, and, in spite of a conflicted beginning, Percy fits the bill.

As the story unfolds, we meet Effy Krayneck, the nosey, gossip-spreading post mistress, Caleb, Hannah’s nephew, who has lived his life in the shadow of Eli, Hannah’s “perfect” son who went off to the war with a hero’s parade but was “lost in action,” and Shelby, Caleb’s abused wife.   A mysterious man, who is left a loaf of bread each night by the outside wood pile, turns out to be the pivotal character of the plot.  Add a revealed murder, a raffle, the development of friendship, a budding relationship, the gaining of an appreciation for the simple things in life, and a reunion, and you have the elements of the plot.

In contrast to the many loud, over-sung and over-amplified musicals, Valcq has created pleasant country, bluegrass and pop ballad sounds into a twangy Americana score, played by a keyboard, violin, cello and guitar.  No loud guitar rifts, booming bass, and pounding drums here.

The lyrics, which are meant to be heard, and which help develop the storyline and create clear characters, picks up the tone and meaning of the story.

Interestingly, none of the songs stand out on their own.  No show stoppers, no big dance numbers, no top ten hits.  The tunes work, as does the script, to develop a  simple, soul searching tale with some of the same qualities of OUR TOWN.  It’s a tale which should make the viewer think of the values and purposes of life and what is really important. Even the humor is gentle.

Beck’s production, under the direction of William Roudebush, is well conceived.  Though the pace is a little languid at times, as the cast plays before audiences and hits a cadence that builds in laugh spaces and accommodates audience reactions, the pace should pick up.

The cast is universally excellent.  Neely Gevaart creates a Percy who, while crusty on the outside, is tender underneath.  Though a little difficult to understand at times due to flat articulation, her messages are well developed.  She has a fine voice and generally sings meanings rather than words.  She did a nice rendition of “Shine.”

Kate Leigh Michalski takes on the character of Shelby with clarity and purpose.  Her presentation of the beautiful ballad, “When Hope Goes” and the revealing “Wild Bird” are production highlights.

Dan Folino is acting and vocalizing terrific as the frustrated and haunted Caleb.  The conclusion of his “Digging Stone” was met with much deserved prolonged applause.

Lenne Snively balanced off the cantankerous nature of Hannah with well developed controlled underlying pain.  Her “Forgotten Lullaby,” was nicely sung, “Shoot the Moon” was a delight, and her rendition of “Way Back Home” was very effective.

No one plays gossipy overdone “very mature” woman better than Lissy Gulick.  By her third entrance, each succeeding appearance was met with anticipatory laughter.

Shane Patrick O’Neill was excellent as Sheriff Joe Sutter, the hometown boy longing to get on the next train out of town, but held back by an unidentified need.  He has a strong singing voice that was well displayed in “Forest for the Trees.”

Derrick Winger created the right presence as the mysterious Visitor.

Musical Director Larry Goodpaster did a nice job of constraining the musicians so that they underscore the singers, rather than overpowering them.  This is extremely important due to the Mackey Main Stage’s very poor acoustics.  Even so, though the cast wore microphones, some of the lyrics were lost.

Aaron Benson’s rustic wooden multi-level set created the correct mood, but due to a low hanging staircase, actors had to duck under the overhang causing awkward entrances and exits.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  THE SPITFIRE GRILL is a nicely honed script, filled with excellent music.  It gets a well-conceived, acted and sung production.  

THE SPITEFIRE GRILL is scheduled to run through October 18, 2015 at Beck Center for the Arts.  For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go on line to 

Next up at Beck?  ‘MOTHERS AND SONS,” Terrence McNally’s Tony nominated play in its regional premiere from October 9-November 15, 2015.

Please vote for Issue 8--which supports Cuyahoga County's Arts & Culture sector and is NOT A TAX INCREASE.  The continuance of your local theatre’s and other arts providers depend on this.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Broadway legend John Kander to attended Musical Theater Project’s PERFECTLY MARVELOUS @ Allen Theatre

Liza Minnelli once said, “The greatest thing about [John] Kander and [Fred] Ebb is you sing their songs and you feel good.”  She was referring to the multi-award winning Broadway writing team who gave the world such songs as, “How Lucky Can You Get?,” “Maybe This Time,” “All That Jazz,” “Cabaret,” and “But The World Goes Round.”

These, and other compositions, came from such Broadway shows as CABARET, THE RINK, THE ACT, WOMEN OF THE YEAR, AND THE WORLD GOES ROUND, KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN, FOSSE, CURTAINS, and THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS.  The duo also contributed to such movies as FUNNY LADY and NEW YORK, NEW YORK.

Kander and Ebb met in 1964.  Though it had a short-run, their first collaboration, FLORA THE RED MENACE, created a bond between the writers and Liza Minelli.  At age 19, she not only made her first Broadway appearance in the show, but was the youngest person, to that date, to win a Tony Award.

In 1966 the duo transformed the play I AM A CAMERA into CABARET, which went on to win seven Tony Awards.   The musical, about the decadence in Germany that helped lead to the rise of Hitler, was later turned into a movie, which again reunited Liza Minelli with Kander and Ebb.  She won a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Sally Bowles.

The Broadway show and film CABARET also starred Tony and Academy Award winning Cleveland-born Joel Grey, who will appear on October 24 & 25 at the Allen Theatre in JOEL GREY UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL, as part of Cleveland Play House’s Centennial Celebration Weekend. 

Shows like THE HAPPY TIME, ZORBA, 70 GIRLS 70, and CHICAGO followed, and led to Kander and Ebb being anointed Broadway royalty.

Besides their three Tony Awards, the duo were recognized for their contributions to theater and music with the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors.

Ebb died in 2004, but Kander continues to create.  Last season THE VISIT, a work that the duo started in 1998, starred Chita Rivera on Broadway.

The 88-year old Kander will be the subject of The Musical Theater Project’s PERFECTLY MARVELOUS:  THE SONGS OF JOHN KANDER, which will be performed at the Allen Theatre on October 31 @ 8 PM and November 1 @ 2 PM.  

The TMTP concert will feature Tony Award winner Karen Ziemba, who attended the University of Akron, danced with the Ohio Ballet, and performed on the Great White Way in three Kander and Ebb’s shows.

Others in the TMTP multimedia concert will be Bill Rudman, The Musical Theater Project’s Artistic Director, musical director Nancy Maier, and performers Derrick Cobey, Katherine DeBoer and Matthew Wright.

For tickets to PERFECTLY MARVELOUS;  THE SONGS OF JOHN KANDER call 216-241-6000 or go online

On October 29, two days before Kander attends the PlayhouseSquare concert, he will be at Oberlin College, his alma mater, for a production of his 2011 musical, THE LANDING, which he wrote with Greg Pierce (nephew of David Hyde Pierce).  The script will be staged at the Apollo Theatre, 19 E. College Street.  Admission is free, but tickets are required.  To obtain tickets, call the Oberlin Central Ticket Service Box Office at 440-775-8169. 
JOHN KANDER: HIDDEN TREASURES, 1959-2015, a 2-CD deluxe collection with a 70-page booklet, including written notes by Jesse, Green, theater critic of “New York” magazine, and dozens of production shots and behind-the scenes photos of Kander’s musicals, will be released shortly.  Produced by Ken Bloom and Bill Rudman, the 49-tracks will include recordings from Kander’s student compositions at Oberlin, songs cut from CABARET, CHICAGO, and tunes released for the first time from Kander’s archives, as well as new recordings by Anita Gillete and Karen Ziemba.  It can be pre-ordered at

Sunday, September 13, 2015

World premiere of Ken Ludwig's A COMEDY OF TENORS delights @ CPH

The Cleveland Play House opened its 100th season in a lavish and theatrically exciting way.  An invitation only group of CPH financial supporters, politicians, and theatre enthusiasts, draped in tuxedos and high fashioned gowns, entered the beautiful Allen theatre lobby to have their pictures taken with the 2015 Best Regional Theatre Tony Award statue.  Guests were then escorted into the inner lobby where a cocktail party was in full swing.  

The crowd then assembled in the Allen Theatre for the world premiere of Ken Ludwig’s A COMEDY OF TENORS. 

Last May, the play had a reading as part of the New Ground Festival.  With Ludwig present to judge the quality of the script, as well as audience reaction, it became quickly obvious that the grand master of farce was well on his way to another big hit.  In part, as a result of the reading, A COMEDY OF TENORS was booked as the opening show for CPH’s second centennial season.

A COMEDY OF TENORS is the second in Ludwig’s look at the world of farcical classical musical stagings.  His first show on the topic, LEND ME A TENOR, is one of modern America’s best farces.  It received nine Tony award nominations, has appeared twice on Broadway, has been translated into sixteen languages and has been produced in twenty-five countries.

A COMEDY OF TENORS carries forth many of the madcap characters from LEND ME A TENOR.  There is Henry Saunders, the former Mayor of Cleveland, who is now a producer of operatic concerts.  His son-in-law, Max, now a recognized tenor, is still Saunders’ do it all man Friday.  Tito Morelli, (“Il Stupendo”) the temperamental, world famous Italian tenor and his ever put upon wife, Maria, are still bickering and threatening each other.  Add Carlo, the new heart throb tenor, who is having a secret affair with Mimi, Morelli’s daughter, Tatian Racón, Tito’s former lover, and a surprise guest, and hysterical chaos reigns. 
Farce, a light dramatic work with a highly improbable plot and exaggerated characters, is hard to both write and perform.   The writing must be so precise that the audience is led to laughter by the realism of the language imbedded in unbelievable situations.  The performances must be authentic, not beg for laughs, and the actions so broad that they require laughter.  Lots of door slamming, mistaken identifies, non-stop stage movements, and pure joy on the part of the audience are the keys to success. 

Laugh after laugh greets one improbable scene after another.  Ludwig knows no ridiculous limits.  There’s a talking deli tongue, lots of people in underwear, cast members diving off a balcony, sexual innuendoes that might shock, some Swedish put downs that are sure to bring groans, and making fun of death.   Even the curtain call is hysterical.

The cast has been melded into a unit by director Stephen Wadsworth that understands that, for farce to work, the actors must be totally real in their character development.  Their earnestness must come across.  These are “real” people caught in a series of ridiculous situations.  We laugh at what is happening to them, the outlandishness which is coming out of their mouths, but not at them per se.

Ron Orbach rants, raves and overplays Saunders to perfection.  He creates a producer who is walking on a tight-rope of hypertension.

Petite Rob McClure, he of unbounded energy and fine tenor voice, leaps over ottomans, dashes around putting out possible disasters, and sweetly allows us to share the wonder of the birth of Max’s son, with total glee.

Bradley Dean creates a Tito who is a hot-blooded Italian drama queen, an aging superstar on the cusp of his career, and a loving father and husband, with nice texturing.  He has a wonderful touch with comedic timing and a great singing voice.

Antoinette LaVecchia as Maria, Tito’s high strung wife, is his counterpart in displaying stereotypical Italian excitement, and gets her share of laughs. 

Handsome Bobby Conte Thornton charmingly cavorts around the stage showing off his gym-toned body in a pair of tighty-whities as he romances Mimi,  Tito and Maria’s daughter.   He, as the other tenors in the cast, has a fine singing voice.  His face slapping scene with Mimi, brought verbal gasps and laughs from the audience

Beautiful Kristen Martin is very believable as Mimi, while Lisa Brescia does a nice turn as Tatiana.

Charlie Corcoran’s plush, art deco set, is not only attractive, but well built as it stands up to the numerous powerful door slams.  William Ivey Long’s costumes are era correct, including the males’ high-waisted pleated pants, and the female courtier dresses.        

Last night Ludwig shared, in a conversation we had following production, the challenge of writing a farce.  The author, who loves Cleveland, has been in town during the rehearsals of the show and had been doing some rewriting the script.  That  tweeking continued until shortly before last night’s curtain went up.  His reaction to the CPH staging was on the personable Ludwig’s cherubic face, as he wandered the crowd, smiling, sharing stories, and graciously receiving a massive number of compliments from the assemblage.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Ah, what a night at CPH.  The viewing of their well-deserved Tony, a Ken Ludwig farce which will forever be listed as having had its world premiere beside the PlayhouseSquare chandelier, was a class act celebration of the theatre’s one- hundredth anniversary.  As for the play, if the opening night audience’s reaction is an indication of things to come, Ludwig should be well- off financially from the royalties to be garnered from the professional and amateur rights to the show.  If you love farce, if you go to the theatre to have a good time, you must see A COMEDY OF TENORS.

A COMEDY OF TENORS runs through October 3, 2015, at the Allen Theatre in the CPH complex at PlayhouseSquare.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to

Please vote for Issue 8--which supports Cuyahoga County's Arts & Culture sector and is NOT A TAX INCREASE.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Well acted, overly long IN A FOREST, DARK AND DEEP at none too fragile

Neil LaBute, the author of IN A FOREST, DARK AND DEEP, now on stage at none too fragile theatre, is noted for writing plays and movies filled with hatred, distrust and disdain for humans and human nature.  

His writing style, where characters hold supreme over the plot, are filled with terse, rhythmic and language-oriented speeches.  Much like his mentor, David Mamet, he also stresses relationships, political correctness and macho attitudes. 

LaBute is often accused of being an unforgiving judge of the ugliest side of human nature.  In each of his scripts, one or more of his characters often has a dark underbelly, and is self-absorbed. 

The author is usually brutally clear in delineating the bad guys in his plots and takes on topics that others avoid.  For example, in FAT PIG, he confronts the role of subtle and overt mistreatment of overweight women.  

He often has a surprise or shocking ending to his plays.  LaBute has been called “a moralist who seems to delight in depicting human cruelty and in hoodwinking an audience.”  IN A FOREST, DARK AND DEEP, both of these traits hold fast.  He pulls the rug from under the emotional feet of the viewer, by throwing in an ending that many couldn’t predict would be coming.

The play opens with Bobby, a carpenter, entering a cabin in disarray just outside of an unspecified college town.   He has been asked to come to help Betty, his older sister, the Dean of Liberal Arts, to empty out the place, as she wishes to rent it out now that the tenant has suddenly moved out. 

The duo is a classic example of sibling rivalry.  They had an overbearing father, a conflicted childhood, and long time differences concerning the purpose of life.  Betty, is married, with two children, educated and worldly.  Bobby, twice divorced, crude, quick tempered, outspoken, and seemingly not concerned over civil correctness. 

A storm rages both outside and inside.  As the duo bickers, their troubled history is revealed.  Truth and deceptiveness flow forth, with an unexpected ending.  The writer highlights, “the lies you tell yourself to get by.”

‘Nuff said.  Giving away too much of the plot would ruin the experience for those who will go see the play, so no spoiler alert is needed here.

In 2013, LaBute was named one of the winners of the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Awards in Literature. 

As much as I tend to like LeBute plays, IN A FOREST, DARK AND DEEP is not one of his best works.  Though I found the ending, much a like Jeffrey Archer or O. Henry surprise ending, enticing, the play is much too long.  LeBute needed to apply a red pencil to about fifteen minutes of the hundred minute no-intermission work.  After a while, enough of the bickering was enough. 

If LeBute didn’t cut the length of the script, then director Andrew Narten should have.

Both Sean Derry as Bobby and Leighann Niles Delorenzo as Betty were outstanding.  They sparred like fighters in a ring, feigning, attacking, hitting each other with verbal sledge hammers.   When the ranting and raving was over, not only the actors, but the audience was exhausted.

Capsule judgement:  Sean Derry and Leighann Niles Delorenzo light up the none too fragile stage in this battle of deception, lies, and false values.  Though overly long, Neil LaBute’s IN A FOREST, DARK AND DEEP still makes for an interesting evening of theater.

For tickets for IN A FOREST, DARK AND DEEP, which runs through September  19, 2015, call 330-671-4563 or go to

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Surprising OR, at Dobama

Dobama Theatre’s mission statement indicates that it is its purpose to “premiere the best contemporary plays by established or emerging playwrights.”  Why, then, are they opening their 2015-16 season with a play set in 1666-1670?

According to Nathan Motta, the theatre’s Artistic Director, OR, “is intrinsically intelligent, sumptuously sensual, persistently playful, full of frivolity, and is chock-full of surprises.”  That explanation, even though enticing, doesn’t answer the era question.  He goes on to say in the program, “It’s relevant.  This play is thought-provoking and addresses themes and issues that are as true today as they were in the 1660’s or the 1960’s.” “And,” he added in his pre-curtain opening remarks, “definitely today.”

The play does include some lesbian acts and free love content, but even so, there seems to be a stretch of the Dobama definition.  That said, the play is inventive, playful and funny.  It is cleverly written by American playwright, Liz Duffy Adams.   Using Restoration period language mixed with contemporary text provides there are enough twists and turns in the plot to keep the audience guessing about the outcome. 

Starting out as a drama, the script nicely morphs into comedy and then stretches into farce, complete with slamming doors, mistaken identities, sexual innuendoes, cross-dressing, and overblown characters and characterizations.

Duffy Adams received the “Women of Achievement Award” from the Women’s Project Theater, as well as being a recipient of the Lilly Award, which recognizes outstanding work of women in the American Theater.

The story centers on some real people, Aphra Behn, a former British spy and the woman credited with being the first female playwright in the Western world, Nell Gwynne, a famous actress of her day, King Charles II, who ruled over the restoration era which marked the end of the republican/Cromwellian rule of England, and Will Scott, a double agent who may or may not have been Behn’s lover and a conductor of a plot to kill Charles II.

Whether any or all of the actions of the play really took place is questionable, so this is not a history play, but probably historification.

Alphra wants to get out of the spy business and become a playwright.  She might succeed if she can finish the poetic play she is writing.  Unfortunately, she is constantly interrupted.  King Charles wants to make love with her.   So too does Nell Gwynne.  William Scott shows up, hiding out from Charles’s soldiers.

Questions arise:  Will Alphra finish the play?  Will Scott succeed in his plot against Charles?  Will Gwynne find true love with Charles, Alphra or both?  Who is the hyper-hysterical “woman” who appears to demand the play be finished immediately?  What role does Aphra’s maid have in bringing the plot to some sort of conclusion?

It might help the viewer to have some knowledge of the era, and the role of Cromwell, Charles’ pledge to the king of France that allowed him to regain the English thrown, and the role of the church at the time, but in the end, what Adams presents isn’t intended to teach a history lesson, but to entertain.

The Dobama cast, under the adept direction of Shannon Sindelar, does a nice job of keeping the intermissionless, ninety-minute comic romp moving smoothly along.  The farce works adequately well.  The double and triple identities achieved with some acceptable costume changes, aided by a cabinet which makes for quick wig and costume changes, and a little bit of forgiveness on the part of the viewers,  adds up to some belly laughing fun.

The beautiful Lara Mielcarek creates the right image as Aphra Behn.  She nicely textures the role, making her slight overdramatic performance an integral part of the playwright’s bigger than life image.

Natalie Green is adorable as the uninhibited Nell Gwynne, the actress, in an era when actresses were less than accepted members of society.  No acting here.  She is Nell Gwynne.  She also does a fun take on portraying Aphra’s stooped, cantankerous housekeeper.

Geoff Knox, who not only plays Charles, but William Scott, steals the show with his cross-dressing portrayal of the unnamed woman who is going to produce Aphra’s show.  His accurate machine gun delivery of a five-minute soliloquy, done without breathing, resulted in an ear-shattering round of applause as “she” made her exit.

Ben Needham’s plush set design generally worked well.  There were some effects which appeared to be more affect then effect, with fading of the lighting instruments at times when there seems to be no need.  Some of the sounds and music didn’t develop the mood, and, at times, drowned out the performers.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: OR, is an amusing and revealing historification take on the Western world’s first recognized woman playwright, and her supposed relationships with Charles II, the King of England, and Nell Gwynn, one of the most famous actresses of her time.  The Dobama production is long on farce and fine acting!  It makes for a entertaining evening of theatre. 
OR, runs through October 4, 2015 at Dobama Theatre.  Call 216-932-3396 or for tickets.

Dobama’s next production is Tanya Barfield’s THE CALL, October 25-November 15, 2015.


Sunday, August 30, 2015

The under-belly of politics well-explored at Ensemble Theatre; in memoriam

What could be more appropriate in this year, which leads up to a presidential election, than to examine the political hacks who run the campaigns.  Voilá,  for the start of its 36th season, Ensemble Theatre has chosen Beau  Willimon’s 2008 drama, FARRAGUT NORTH, which examines the lust for power among political hacks. 

The play is very loosely based on Willimon’s experiences with Howard Dean’s 2004 Democratic presidential primary election.

The plot centers on Stephen Bellamy, a wunderkind who entered the political fray as a teenager, and now in his mid-twenties, is recognized as one of the premiere speech writers and political operatives in the Democratic party.  He has hooked his wagon to an underdog presidential candidate who has due to the work of Bellamy, supposedly risen to the frontrunner just before the Iowa caucuses.  

Bellamy has used his charms to manipulate the likes of Ida, a reporter for the “Washington Times” newspaper, to place appropriate leaks into the press.   Things look rosy until he is contacted by Tom, the political operative for a rival candidate with an offer to switch candidates.  In the process Tom reveals that a manipulative plan in place that makes it appear that Bellamy’s candidate is in the lead, but, in fact, the opponent has used an underhanded scheme to make what appears to be true, not to be so. 

What does Bellamy do?  Out the scheme and tarnish the party?  Admit he met with Tom and show disloyalty?  Switch candidates?   Thus, the intrigue of FARRAGUT NORTH, is set.

The plot’s twists and turns are further developed by Ben, a political novice who wants Bellamy’s job, a couple of affairs centering on Molly, a smart and cute nineteen-year old intern, a drunken stupor, and a shot of underbelly political reality, which culminates with two revealing script quotes: “Don’t take this personally, it’s politics,” and “Trust over talent.”

If the plot sounds familiar, the play was retitled and became George Clooney’s 2011 Oscar-nominated film, THE IDES OF MARCH. 

Having been a public relations director and speech writer for successful congressional, county commissioner, and mayoral campaigns, as well as my own election to the Elyria Board of Education, I can assure that some of what appears to be dramatic manipulation in the play has strong validity.  The game of politics is often cut-throat, people with charlatans, and there are victims, sometimes even those who have the noblest of intentions.

The title refers to the Farragut North stop on Washington, DC’s Metro which is located near the White House.  For a year and a half I exited there to go to my position as the Public Relations Director for the Volunteer Office of the White House.  The short walk to the Presidential home was often filled with participating in and sometimes hearing conversations of politicians, interns, and staff workers exchanging gossip, campaign strategies and making “deals.” These were often people interested in satisfying their ravenous political appetites and search of power.

Ensemble’s production, under the direction of Kyle Huff, in spite of some languid set changes and lighting effects, was very effective.  The script and the nicely textured character developments grabbed and held the sold out audience’s attention.

Boyishly handsome Nate Miller has the right personal charisma to make his Stephen Bellamy believable.  His nicely textured characterization had just the right degrees of cockiness and vulnerability.

Olivia Scicolone, nicely developed Molly, the intern with seemingly good intentions, but maybe with some underlying ulterior motives.

Both Chris Bizub, as Paul, Bellamy’s boss, and Ian Hinz, as Tom, the political operative for the opposing candidate, were deviously-correct.  They were the essence of backroom politicians who would do anything to win.

Ashley Bossard created in Ida the image of a reporter who would do what had to be done to get the story.

Tim Young as a waiter and Andrew Keller as Ben, the young hotshot after Bellamy’s job, were believable in their roles.  Keller, however, might have shown more victor’s pride in his last speech, showing the self-accomplishment of having not only accomplished his goal, but exceeded his fondest wishes.

The play has numerous settings.  Using a turntable was creative and made the process easier, but many of the changes were not prompt.  Some of the lighting cues were also languid, leaving actors in spotlighted frozen positions.  Both the intermission and closing lighting needed a quicker take.   The men’s clothing was not what is normally seen and worn on the election trail.  Political operatives dress in Brooks Brother suits accompanied by power ties.   None of these stumbles, however, ruined the production, but correcting them could have helped to improve the show.

Capsule judgment:  FARRAGUT NORTH is a well written script that gives the electorate an often uncomfortable view of the reality of those who plan and plot election campaigns.  Willimon’s writing gets a good production at Ensemble that is well worth seeing.
Note:  This production is being performed in the 50-seat Playground Theatre, so tickets are limited.

FARRAGUT NORTH runs Thursdays through Sundays from August 28-September 6, 2015 at Ensemble’s Playground Theatre, housed in the former  Coventry School, 2843 Washington Blvd, Cleveland Heights.  For tickets call 216-321-2930 or go online to

Ensemble’s next production is Arthur Miller’s classic, DEATH OF A SALESMAN, starring Greg White as Willy Loman, from September 18-October 11.

IN MEMORIUM:  Kyle Jean-Baptist

Former BW Musical Theatre student dies at age 21

The Broadway and local theatre communities are in shocked mourning.  Kyle Jean-Baptist, a charismatic, talented Baldwin Wallace musical theater grad, who was the youngest and first Black person to sing Jean Valjean in LES MISERABLES on Broadway, and who was to open shortly in the revival of the THE COLOR PURPLE, died when he accidentally fell off the fourth floor fire escape of his mother’s Brooklyn, NY apartment building. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

TEAR IT OFF, a romance novel comes alive at convergence continuum

Book buyers spend an estimated $1.08 billion dollars each year purchasing romance novels.  Since 1972 when Avon printed Kathleen Woodiwiss’s “The Flame And The Flower,” supposedly the first U.S. published book of that genre, almost 55% of all paperbacks sold in the U.S. have centered on romantic relationships with optimistic endings, whose covers usually feature a handsome buff man saving a helpless woman.  These types of stories also dominate E-book downloads.

The main plot of a romance novel usually revolves around two people as they develop a love for each other and work on developing a relationship.  In general, these writings reward characters who are good people and penalize those who are evil.

Who reads these books with such titles as “Dancing on Coals,” “Playing it Close,” “Chained,”  “Hearts of Paradise,” “The Flirting Games,” “Utterly Sluttily,” and “Pale Stranger?”  They are mostly consumed by females (84%), aged 30-54.

Local playwright Mike Geither has built on the interest in romance novels by writing TEAR IT OFF, a “romantic novel” within a “romantic play.”  Part true formulaic page burner, part melodramatic farce, the script is now being produced by convergence-continuum.

Beth, a widow, and Bridget,  her younger sister, are two ladies with obviously too much time on their hands.  They fill their hours adlibbing tales of adventurous lovers, scorned lovers, scarred lovers, reunited lovers, secret lovers, sudden lovers, royal lovers, jilted lovers, and, eventually, a real lover.

The duo records their actions and words as they act out the stories. 

Into their lives comes, Charles, a mechanic and jack of all trades.  Of course, Charles has a back story centering on his younger brother, Tim, who has recently been released from jail.  So, all the elements of the romance novel are set…two lustful ladies, an eligible male, and a bad guy.

As the tale proceeds, we find out that Charles writes children’s novels.  Wow…he can join the ladies in crafting their book.  Of course, in the process of acting out the scenes, Charles is continually required to take off his shirt.  Tim, as per the format of these books, does a bad deed—he steals a family heirloom coin--is caught, and repents.  In the meantime, both ladies lust for Charles, he beds one.  Therefore, there is another conflict, as per genre requirements.   You get the point.

TEAR IT OFF proficiently directed by Karin Randoja.  She has a nice sense of comic timing and the overly-dramatic.  The laughs roll along, the overblown characters are well developed, and the whole thing works well.

Lucy Bredeson-Smith, her big saucer eyes gleaming, makes Beth into a willing participant in the over-exaggerated tale.  Lauren B. Smith, with her dyed red hair shining, develops nicely into a lustful vixen. 

Though he lacks the stud body or sultry looks of the stereotype romance novel leading man, Terrence Cranendonk is excellent as Charles. (Maybe Randoja cast him because he doesn’t fit the mold, thus making the whole thing even more ludicrous.)  Beau Reinker makes for a believable slick con artist and, as the sound designer, adds some great effects to enhance the slight setting. 

Capsule Judgement:  TEAR IT OFF is no great theatrical script, but the premise and the way it is developed makes for a fun evening of theatre, resulting in a get-away from the “real world,” where goings-on are a little less formulaic.

TEAR IT OFF runs through September 5, 2015 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.

Next up at con-con is the regional premiere of THE HAPPY SAD, a comedy with songs, by Ken Urban. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Classic ‘OUR TOWN’ gets nice traditional read at Blank Canvas

I consider OUR TOWN, which is now being performed at Blank Canvas, to be one of the greatest plays of the 20th century. It not only won the Pulitzer Prize in 1938, it has become one of the most performed and studied plays in the English language.  It, along with Arthur Miller’s DEATH OF A SALESMAN, Eugene O’Neil’s LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, Tennessee Williams’ STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, and William Inge’s DARK AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS, continue to be listed as the best written modern American plays by theatre experts.

On the surface, the play appears to be a rendition of the daily activities found in small town America in the first third of the twentieth century.  In reality, it is a tribute to basic humanistic views of life.  Wilder’s stated intent is to make each person “become a personal witness to the everyday activities that we have seen before, read about before, even lived before, but often taken for granted.”

Each time I see, direct, teach or have appeared in OUR TOWN, I bask in the after-glow and find myself trying to understand and appreciate the potential of life. 

Playwright Thornton Wilder, who was brought up in Hong Kong and China, was imbued with an Asian perfectionist attitude. His education at Oberlin and Yale centered on the classics. These influences are deeply imbedded into the ‘OUR TOWN’ script. The stage manager represents the classical Greek chorus and the guide in Asian theatrical forms. The direct speeches to the audience create a theatricalism that stops the viewers from transferring their thoughts to the play’s characters and focuses the spotlight on themselves. He is exact in his descriptions of the sun rising and setting and where stores and houses are placed on the stage.

Wilder tells exactly where things are on stage, but they aren’t there…no drug store, no horse, just oral references to them.  He states that Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, where the play takes place, is located at 42 degrees, 40 minutes latitude and 70 degrees, 37 minutes.  Exact?  Hardly. That would not place the town anywhere near New Hampshire.  In another scene, Mrs. Webb and Mrs. Gibbs are stringing beans that have just been picked from the garden. Sorry, but beans don’t grow in New Hampshire in May. Why does Wilder do this? He wants the play to carry a universal message. This is not about the existence of those in Grover’s Corners, it is about all of us, all of our lives.

Wilder writes exact stage directions in the script. No real scenery, he instructs.  Usually two trellises, two ladders, some chairs, and 2 tables are used. The New England dialect is another specific device. The “ay yehs” and other area sounds are on the printed page.  

It is here that you must be alerted to decisions made by Blank Canvas’s director, Pat Ciamacco, who has thrown many traditional Wilder devices to the wind. In this production, no ladders, no trellises, no New England accents. 

Ciamacco has given the show a universal appeal by using clothing which doesn’t represent the era.  Speech patterns are a mix of a little flatlander, Ohio twangs, and even a little southern drawl is heard.  The stage manager is more a commentator than a town spokesman.   The pantomiming is representational, not presentational.  Normally in pantomime, actors realize that objects have weight, drinking vessels have liquid in them, opening windows takes effort…not so in this production.  They feign what they are doing, no attempt at reality.  Ciamacco gives us an understandable interpretation, which anyone except a Wilder devotee should find quite easy to watch and easily gain Wilder’s message.

Wilder divided the play into three segments, each with a clear title: Act I: Daily Life, Act II: Love and Marriage, and Act III: Death.   When the late Frank Sinatra did a 1955 television play-with-music version of the script, he was the stage manager and opened each act with a song based on Wilder’s titles. 

The first act’s opening tune states, “You will lose your heart, I promise you in this, our two-by-four town, welcome-on-the-door-town, if you will make it your town too.”  This shares with the audience that the story is a universal tale, with personal implications.

Other songs in the television version were “Love and Marriage,” the preview to George and Emily’s love story.  (Paul Newman played George and Bowling Green grad, Eva Marie Saint, was Emily.)  “Look to Your Heart,” the show’s last song, highlighted that Wilder’s ideas were meant for each of us to consider.

Blank Canvas’s casts’ acting levels are inconsistent.  There are some very strong performances and some less proficient, but, because of Ciamacco’s directing approach, the production works without every cast member being exactly on target.

Strong performers are John J. Polk (Dr. Gibbs), Laura Starnik (Mrs. Gibbs), Lynna Metrisin (Mrs. Webb), Perren Hedderson (George), Makenna Weyburne (Rebecca), Becca Frick (Emily) and Lance King (Mr. Webb).

There are some excellent scene highlights.  The before the wedding breakfast conversation between Mr. Webb and George is delightful, as is the talk between Emily and her mother, when Emily inquires about whether she is pretty and finds out she is pretty enough for all “normal purposes.” 

The final act’s message segment when Emily’s request to return to earth after she dies, and the second act drug store scene are emotionally compelling.  Emily’s goodbye to earth speech evoked sobs from the woman sitting next to me.  It brings Wilder’s illuminating writing and his message when the now-dead Emily returns to earth to re-experience her twelfth birthday.  She quickly realizes that time goes so fast and people don’t look at each other and states, “Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do human beings ever realize life while they live it?”

The drug-store scene is a warm moment in the play when true love is recognized and realized.  Wilder has written it with tenderness and is not false or overly sentimental and highlights that love comes out of daily life. 

Harlowe R. Hoyt, in his review of a production of ‘OUR TOWN’ at the Jewish Community Center, stated in the April 25, 1958 Plain Dealer, “The burgeoning of love at the soda fountain between Ilene Latter and Roy Berko is one of the most delightful scenes of the play.” About the Perren Hedderson and Becca Frick’s enactment of the same scene I say, “ditto!”

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you haven’t seen the classic OUR TOWN before, or have seen it, but need a good shot of appreciation for life, go see the Blank Canvas production.  Director Patrick Ciamacco sets it out before you, plain and simple, doing nothing to get in the way of Wilder’s intent and purpose.  Nice job!
Up next at Blank Canvas….BAT BOY:  THE MUSICAL, which is horror-spoof and big-hearted satire on American prejudice.  It’s a love story with a wicked bite!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Cleveland Orchestra and Blossom make for a superb evening

There is probably no outdoor venue in the country that matches Blossom for sheer beauty and musical delight.  Wolf Trap in the Virginia countryside near DC, and Tanglewood, home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra are fine, but when you throw in the Blossom setting, and add the Cleveland Orchestra, nirvana has been reached.

Blossom, now in its 48 th season, was founded not only to act as a summer venue for audience entertainment, but to insure that the Cleveland Orchestra could attract some of the world’s great musicians by offering full-year, rather than seasonal contracts.  Obviously, both goals have been reached.

By Blossom also opening itself to not only classical concerts, but classic rock, country, pop, and Broadway concerts, and ballet performances, it has broadened its traditional mature audiences, to a younger attendance base.   Twenty percent of the Orchestra’s audience at Severance Hall and Blossom percent is age 25 and younger.  This is an achievement that is the envy of the world’s orchestras, many of which are facing financial problems.

The concert on August 8 delighted the large audience with a program consisting of Beethoven’s “Lenore Overture No. 2,  his “Piano Concerto No. 5” (“Emperor”), Opus 73, and Dvorak’s “Symphony No.  8.”

“Lenore” is a segment of Beethoven’s only opera, “Fidelio,” which highlights the writer’s belief in freedom from political oppression and the boundless power of human love.  The segment presented is one of three versions of the overture crafted by the writer.  The composition is so strong, some believe that it dwarfs the rest of the opera, thus making the remaining segments “superfluous.” 

The musicians flowed through the composition, with Gustavo Gimeno leading the assemblage with an extended hand and flipping wrist.  He highlighted emphasis by leaning forward and thrusting his baton at the appropriate instrumentalist(s). The finely crafted piece ended to extended applause.

The highlight offering was the forty-minute “Piano Concerto no. 5 in E-flat major, Opus 73,” commonly referred to as “The Emperor Concerto,”
because of its grand sound.  Consisting of three movements—the first with large orchestral chords and piano flourishes, the middle with melding the piano with the orchestra, and filled with lingering phrases, and the third, which included one of the most familiar tunes in classical music.

Pianist  Garrick Ohlsson, a Grammy Award recipient, was the winner of the Chopin International Piano Competition.  He has been hailed for his technical prowess and artistry.  The accolades were proven well deserved in this concert.  He blended well with the orchestra when that was required and also played compelling solo segments. 

“The Emperor Concerto” ended with a well-deserved standing ovation.

Though music during the 19 th century, moved from symphonic tones that were happy, toward sounds that had darker musical colors, Antonin Dvorák did not follow that trend.  He, much like Brahms, his friend and mentor, tended to avoid grappling with grave questions about fate and human life, and instead gave the audience happy feelings while still creating “serious” music.  “Opus 88,” the concert’s last piece, was a joyful music example of his style.

The Orchestra played with energy and successfully carried the audience to the piece’s masterfully strong abrupt finish. 

Beethoven once stated, “Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.  It is the wine of new creation.”  Listening to the Cleveland Orchestra one quickly realizes what he meant!
Future pop Blossom presentations include:

Aug 15-8PM--TCHAIKOVSKY’S VIOLIN CONCERTO, James Feddeck, conductor, Simone Lamsa, violin, playing Weber, Tchaikovsky, & Sibelius.

Aug 16-7PM—THE BRITISH INVASION, Michael Krajewski, conductor, an evening of great British hits…the songs of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who and more.

Aug 22-8PM—BACH AND MOZART, Nicholas McGegan, conductor, Mark Kosower, cello—Back, Haydn, Mozart.

Aug 29—8PM—JAZZ AT LINCOLN CENTER ORCHESTRA WITH WYNTON MARSALIS, the noted NY Lincoln Center musical group joins the Cleveland Orchestra, for an evening of Jazz

Aug 30—7PM—GIL SHAHAM PLAYS BRUCH. Edo de Waart, conductor, Gil Shaham, violin, join to play Bruch and Mahler. 

Sept 5 & 6—8 PM—THE MUSIC OF JOHN WILLIAMS, Richard Kaufman, conductor, tribute to Hollywood’s most legendary composer…”Star Wars,” “E.T.,” “Harry Potter,” “Jaws,” and Schindler’s List.”

For tickets to these and other Blossom concerts call 216-231-1111 or 800-686-1141, go the Severance Hall Ticket Office, or Blossom Box Office, or go online to

Saturday, August 08, 2015

2015 Fall Cleveland Theater Calendar

Though the weather is still warm, soon the leaves will be turning and the Fall 2015 theatre season will be upon us.  Here’s a list of some of the offerings from September through December.

You can track my reviews on, or contact me to get on my direct review list.  You can see a synopsis of the local reviewers’ capsule comments about the plays they see at


330-374-7568 or go to
Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 PM and Sundays @ 2 PM

QUILTERS (Oct. 8-Nov. 1, 2015)—A play with music, in which frontier women share their love, warmth, and lively humor while facing a life of adversity.

GUYS ON ICE (Nov. 25-Dec. 22, 2015)—Lloyd and Marvin brave the cold as they dream about catching the big one, while enjoying the pleasure of a fishing-pole and a warm snowmobile suit.

216-521-2540 or
8 p.m. evenings, 3 p.m. matinees

SPITFIRE GRILL (Sept. 18-October 18, 2015)—A play with music and lyrics about a feisty parolee Percy Talbott, as she takes a job at Hannah’s Spitfire Grill in rural Wisconsin with startling results. 

MOTHERS AND SONS (Oct. 9-Nov. 15, 2015)—Terrence McNally’s play about what happens when a mother, whose son has died of AIDS, visits the home of her son’s ex-partner and is forced to come to terms with the life her son might have lived.

MARY  POPPINS (Dec. 4, 2015-Jan 3, 2016)—An encore production of the local and Broadway award winning show that broke all Beck Center box office records last year.  Again starring Rebecca Pitcher, with choreography by Martin Céspedes.


440-941-0458 or

BAT BOY THE MUSICAL (October 16-31, 2015)—A horror spook satire musical of a half boy/half bat discovered in a cave near fictional Hope Falls, Virginia, who is taught the “civilized” ways of society with disastrous results.

REEFER MADNESS (December 4-19, 2015)—a raucous musical comedy which takes a tongue-in-cheek look at the hysteria caused when clean-cut kids fall prey to marijuana, with the resulting outcome of listening to evil jazz music, and partaking in sex and violence.

Kennedy’s Theatre (entrance in the Ohio Theatre lobby)
216-241-6000 or go to

THE INVESTIGATION (Oct 16-Nov 14, 2015)—A documentary drama based on the verbatim testimonies from the Frankfurt Trials of 1963-1965, where survivors of Auschwitz face those in charge of the camp.

216-241-6000 or go to
7:30 Wednesday-Saturday, 2:30 Saturday and Sunday

A COMEDY OF TENORS (Sept 5-Oct 3, 2015)--The Tony Award winning CPH kicks off its 100t th season with the world premiere of Ken Ludwig’s farcical play about three tenors, three egos, and one stage!

THE CRUCIBLE (Oct 10-Nov 8, 2015)—Arthur Miller’s classic that uses the Salem Witch trials to put the McCarthy House Un-American Activities Committee and the American society on trial.

 A CHRISTMAS STORY (Nov 27-Dec 23, 2015)—It’s back!  Yes, its all there--Ralphie wants a Red Ryder b-b gun, he has to wear that pink-bunny suit, his dad wins a glowing-leg lamp, his friend gets his tongue stuck on a steel pole because of a triple-dog-dare, and the entire family has fun watching this holiday classic.

216-631-2727 or go on line to

WHITE RABBIT RED RABBIT (Oct 8-25, 2015)—An absurdist adventure by Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour, with a performance by a different actor each night.

TEATRO PUBLICO DE CLEVELAND (title to be announced)—(Oct 15-24, 2015)—an original show created and performed by the ensemble.

THE LOUSH SISTERS LOVE DICK’NS (GREAT EXPECTATIONS)—(Nov 27-Dec 19, 2015)—Join Holly and Jolly Loush (aka—The Loush Sisters) for a bawdy, boozy, over-the-top holiday cabaret.

FEEFER RISING (Dec. 3-19, 2015)—A devised solo performance that explores emerging sexuality and selfhood through the eyes of an adolescent girl.

216-932-3396 or
check the theatre’s blog for performance times

OR (Sept 4-Oct 4, 2015)—Liz Duffy Adams’ bawdy farcical sex comedy.

THE CALL (Oct. 23-Nov 15, 2015)—A politically charged story about a white couple who decide to adopt a child from Africa.

PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (Dec. 4, 2015-Jan 3, 2016)—A farcical musical  prequel to Barrie’s “Peter Pan” that is filled with madcap fun.

216-321-2930 or http://www.ensemble-theatre.comFridays and Saturdays @ 8, Sundays @ 2

FARRAGUT NORTH (Aug 27-Sept 6, 2015)—A timely story about the lust for power and the costs one will endure to achieve it.

DEATH OF A SALESMAN (Sept 18-October 11, 2015)—Considered one of Americas greatest plays, playwright Arthur Miller exposes the underside of success, happiness, and false dreams.

AGES OF THE MOON (Nov  3-Dec. 6, 2015—Sam Shepard’s gruff and funny play about the mutual desperation of two friends, which is put to a test at the barrel of a gun.

THE LION, THE WITCH, & THE WARDROBE (December 4-13, 2015)-- This new dramatization of C.S. Lewis’ classic, set in the land of Narnia, recreates the magic and mystery of Aslan, the great lion, his struggle with the White Witch, and the adventures of four children.

GREAT LAKES THEATER or 216-241-6000
Wednesday-Saturday @ 7:30, Saturdays @ 1:30, Sunday @ 3.

THE SECRET GARDEN (Sept 25-Oct 31, 2015)—Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon’s musical based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, tells the tale of 10-year-old Mary who returns to England to live with her melancholy uncle at his neglected estate.

KING LEAR (Oct 2-Nov 1, 2015)—Shakespeare’s classic brutal, exciting, terrifying tragedy.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL (Nov 28-Dec 23, 2015)—Great Lakes celebrates the holiday with its 27 th annual production of Gerald Freedman’s adaptation of Dickens’ classic tale.

mailto:interplayjewishtheatre@gmail.comor 216-393-PLAY
(staged readings are free at Dobama; performance cost at The Maltz Museum: members--$6, for non-members the performance is free with the purchase of an admission to the museum; reservations required.

HAPY ENDING (Oct 19-2 PM)—Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, 2929 Richmond Rd., Beachwood—A play about the power of denial by Iddo Netanyahu, playwright, author and physician.  Reservations at 216-593-0575 or visit

EXQUISITE POTENTIAL (Nov 8 & 9 @ 7 PM)—Dobama Theatre, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Hts—His dad thinks David Zuckerman, one of the characters in this play, is the messiah.  What do you think?  Playwright Stephen Kaplan, who will attend the Sunday staged reading of his show, will share his views in a talk back with the audience.

440-525-7134 or
evenings at 7:30, matinees at 2:00

WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF (September 18-October 4)—Edward Albee’s award winning drama examines the volatile marriage of George and Martha over one alcohol soaked evening…staring Gregory Violand and Molly McGuiness.

http://www.nonetoofragile.comor 330-671-4563
evenings at 7:30, matinees at 2:00

IN A FOREST, DARK AND DEEP (Aug 28-Sept 12, 2015)—Neil LaBute’s  110-minute fun, rug-snatching meditation on what is and is not true and the ease of rushing to misjudgment.

FIRST LOVE (Sept 9-24, 2015)—Charles Mee’s play about two people in their seventies who fall in love for the first time in their lives, but they work in fits and starts toward sabotaging their last chance for happiness.

TBA (Nov 6-21, 2015)

216-241-6000 or go to
See the website for specific dates and times

BULLETS OVER BROADWAY THE MUSICAL (Oct 6-18, 2015)—Musical comedy written by Woody Allen, with original direction and choreography by Susan Stroman, about a young playwright who, in desperate need of financial backing for his play, accepts an offer from a mobster looking to please his showgirl girlfriend.  (Connor Palace)

EVIL DEAD THE MUSICAL (Oct 16-18, 2015)—Combines the cult films “Evil Dead,” “Evil Dead 2” and “Army of Darkness” to make a crazy theatrical experience that allows the audience to sit in the “Splatter Zone” and get drenched from the onstage mayhem.  (Ohio Theatre)

GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE & MURDER (Nov 3-15, 2015)—A musical that tells the story of Monty Navarro, a distant heir to a family fortune, who sets out to jump the line of succession by eliminating the eight relatives (all played by one actor) who stand in his way.  (Connor Palace)

STEVE SOLOMON’S CANNOLI, LATKES, AND GUILT! (Nov 8, 2015)—The author/performer of “My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish and I’m in Therapy” continues the tale with this, his newest project.  (Ohio Theatre)

SOULMATE?  A True Love Story (Nov 14, 2015)—About a quirky boy who falls in love with the most popular girl in school and tries everything to get her to notice him until he realizes all he has to do is be himself.  (Ohio Theatre)

THE DUMBASS (Nov 21, 2015)—Najee Mondalek’s play about an Arab American community that centers on Im Hussein, her know-it-all husband, which deals with divorce, infertility, drug abuse, conflict between generations, welfare fraud and more. (Hanna Theatre)

THE WIZARD OF OZ (Dec 1-6, 2015)—A new production which contains all the beloved songs from the Oscar winning movie score plus new songs by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. (Part of the Star Performance Series)  (State Theatre)

ELF (Dec 29, 2015-Jan 3, 2016)—A modern day Christmas classic about Buddy, a young orphan who mistakenly crawls into Santa’s bag of gifts and is transported back to the North Pole. (Part of the Star Performance Series) (Connor Palace)

THE MUSICAL THEATER PROJECT or 216-529-9411 for tickets and information, except where indicated

PERFECTLY MARVELOUS:  THE SONGS OF JOHN KANDER (Oct. 31-Nov 1, 2015)—Oberlin Grad John Kander, who wrote the scores for “Cabaret,” “Chicago,” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” joins Karen Ziemba, who starred in three of Kander’s shows, join in this concert tribute to Kander and his writing partner, the late Fred Ebb.  (Allen Theatre)  For tickets to this Musical Theater Project show go to: 216-241-6000 or go to

Performance venues vary…see individual play listings

TALL SKINNY CRUEL CRUEL BOYS (Oct. 22-Nov 7, 2015)—This bold dark comedy about self-destruction, honesty, and finding what you really need centers on Brandy, a children’s entertainer, with some serious demons in her personal life.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

A Clevelander’s view of the Shaw Festival—2015

Jackie Maxwell, the Shaw Festival’s Artistic Director, states, “I have always found that theatre is at its best when the audience spans several generations – a guarantee that the story being told on stage is being taken in and reacted to in a variety of ways, enriching the experience for all.” 

Maxwell’s belief is well-developed in the Shaw Festival’s 2015 season.  “Peter and the Starcatcher” is a magical adventure for people of all ages.  “The Lady from the Sea,” invites the serious mature theater-goer to revel in one of the first realistic plays ever written.  Tony Kuschner’s “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures” is a provocative exploration of society and celebration of humanity.  And the list goes on.

The  Shaw is one of two major Canadian theatre celebrations, the other being The Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario.  Both are professional, high quality venues.

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

Many Clevelanders take the four-hour drive up to “The Shaw,” as it is called by locals, to participate in theatre, tour the “most beautiful little city in Canada,” shop, and eat at the many wonderful restaurants.

   You can even play golf and go on a rapid ride on the Niagara River.

It’s an especially good year to go, as I found out on my recent visit.   The U.S. dollar value is high against the Canadian currency, making the trip, at the time I went, about one-quarter lower than might be.  And, this season’s offerings are generally excellent.

It’s a good idea to make both theatre and lodging reservations early, especially with the B&Bs on weekends. Our home away from home is the beautiful and well-placed Wellington House (, 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.  For information on other B&Bs go to

There are some wonderful restaurants.  My in-town favorites are The Grill on King Street (905-468-7222, 233 King Street) and Ginger Restaurant (905-468-3871, 390 Mary Street).

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

“The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures”—runs through October 10--Director Eda Holmes has honed “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures” into a  well acted, well staged production that grabs and holds an audience’s attention.  This is a thinking person’s play, not aimed at the “I go to the theatre to have a good time and get away from my troubles and that of others” crowd.  (Be aware that it is a 4-hour show.)

“Light Up The Sky”--runs through October 11--Recognizing that at its best, the theatre can elevate and maybe even change the beliefs of an audience, “Light Up The Sky” is filled with farcical slapstick, ironic comedy, great character sketches, and funny twists and turns.  As a script it is moving as well as funny and to add to the mix, it gets a superlative production at The Shaw.

“Peter and the Starcatcher”—runs through November 1--“Peter and the Starcatcher” is a delightful fantasy of imagination and  growing up that gets a farcical, creative and wonderfully enjoyable production under the direction of Jackie Maxwell and scenic design by Judith Bowden.  It’s  a must see for anyone, child or adult, who can turn themselves over to experiencing the wonderment of imagination.

“Sweet Charity”—runs through October 31-- Most of the audience, who may be unaware of the style of Bob Fosse, of the brash New York attitude needed for shows like “Sweet Charity” and “Guys and Dolls,” will probably find the Shaw production a source of entertainment. For those in the “know,” the production is just too nice, too bland, lacking in “cheek.”

“The Divine”—runs through October 11--“The Divine” is a well-constructed and compelling play that gets a first rate production.  The cast is universally strong, the technical aspects well-conceived, the pacing attentio- grabbing and holding, which adds up to a must see, standing ovation, theatrical experience.

“The Lady from the Sea”—runs through September 13--“The Lady from the Sea” gets an extremely strong production at The Shaw.  For those who like serious thinking person’s theater, and are interested in seeing a show that is a forerunner of the  modern day contemporary realistic play, the staging is definitely worth seeing.

“You Never Can Tell”—runs through October 25--“You Never Can Tell” is a disappointing production which spends way too much time begging for laughs and too little time developing the social messages that Shaw alludes to in the script. Those who are interested in laughing at ridiculous will probably enjoy the show.  Those interested in fidelity to the intent and purpose of the author will be less than delighted.

“The Twelve-Pound Look”—runs through September 12--“The Twelve Pound Look” is a perfect device to prove that with a focused purpose and a clear outline, it doesn’t need to take hours to make a statement.  The meaningful script gets a delightful and well conceived production.  What a lovely way to spend a  35-minute lunch break.

To read the complete reviews of these shows go to:

Shows I didn’t see, but are part of the season are:  “Pygmalion”—May 31-October 24 and “Top Girls”—May 23-September 12.

For theatre information, a brochure or tickets, call 800-511-7429 or go on-line to 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 great theatre! 

Don’t forget your passport as it’s the only form of identification that will be accepted for re-entry into the U.S.

Must see ‘Hairspray” leaves ‘em dancing in the aisles Porthouse Theatre

The farcical yet message-loaded “Hairspray” is the type of musical that in a bad production falls flat, but in a good production leaves the audience energized and dancing in the aisles.  Fortunately the must see production at Porthouse Theatre is dynamic, creative, full of joy!

The stage musical based on the 1988 John Walters movie with music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman, and book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan is a cry for integration in 1960s segregated Baltimore. 

The story focuses on “zaftig” Tracey Turnblad, who has three desires in life:  dance on the “Corny Collin’s Show” (think Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand”), have “every day, Negro day,” and meet Link Larkin, the show’s “stud” male.

Tracey keeps getting sent to detention at her school because of her well-sprayed huge hair (the Jackie O signature style of the era) .  The detention room is populated by African Americans who expose the liberal-minded Tracy to “black” dancing.  After Tracy gets selected to be on the show, against the wishes of Velma von Tussle, the show’s prejudiced producer, she launches a campaign to integrate the show.  

Of course, all hell breaks loose including picketing, a riot, a jail lockup, a jail breakout, white kids singing and dancing in 'Balmur’s all black North side, the coming out of Tracy’s agoraphobic, plus-sized mother, love affairs between Link and Tracy as well as that of Penny, Tracy’s white best friend and Seaweed, the son of black dj and vocalist, Motormouth Maybelle. 

The 2002 Broadway production won eight Tony Awards, ran over 2500 performances, has had numerous foreign and community theatre productions, and was made into a film in 2007.

Director Terri Kent has molded a group of professional and college students into a mighty musical theatre force.  The audience was rockin’ and screamin’ from the first song, “Good Morning Baltimore,” through the closing infectious “You Can’t Stop the Beat.”  The reprise of that song found the sold out performance on their feet, dancing, singing, clapping and screaming for more.

Katey Sheehan, she of chunky cheeks, darlin’ dimples, big voice, and dancing feet, was Tracy-terrific.  She has an infectious stage presence that well fit the role.  Talia Cosentino, who has “a Broadway future star” written all over her, was “Gidget”-cute as Tracy’s best friend Penny.  Chuck Richie (in drag) was endearing as Tracy’s mother and Rohn Thomas was charming as Tracy’s dad.

Sandra Emerick was evil incarnate as the prejudiced, self-centered Velma von Tussle, and Lindsay Simon was mini-evil incarnate as Velma’s daughter, Amber.

On opening night, Colleen Longshaw (Motormouth Maybelle) almost achieved the impossible deed of stopping the show for a standing ovation after her wailing, infectious rendition of the gospel-rock “I Know Where I’ve Been.”  The ovation was cut short by too quick a light fade and musical interlude.  (I understand that this was adjusted by the second night and Longshaw was properly rewarded!)

Jimmy Ferko was appropriately affected as Link Larkin, but got a little too automatic at times.  Jared Dixon’s Seaweed was a dynamo of dancing and singing perfection.  Bria Neal was delightful as the full spirited dynamo, Little Inez.  Ian Benjamin was good, but could have been a little more over-the-top as Corny Collins.  Dance captain Kirk Lydell “killed” with his dancing skills!  Shamara Costa, Alex Echols, and Eveena Sawyer were song and style-right as a Supremes-like trio.

Song highlights were:  “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now,” “Velma’s Revenge,” ”Welcome to the ‘60s,” and “Big, Blonde & Beautiful.” 

In “I Can Hear the Bells,” the singing was fine, but I couldn’t hear the bell sounds, as instead of bells, lame special effect lights were used.

“Run and Tell That” displayed choreographer, John Crawford’s, creativity in using a small space with great effect.

Audience favorites were “You’re Timeless to Me,” which got a reprise, and “I Know Where I’ve Been.” 

Musical Director Jonathan Swoboda, and his band, Alex Berko, Jennifer Korecki, Dave Bans, Jean Wroblewski, Craig Wholschlager, Jim Lang, Ryan McDermott, Jeremey Poparad, Don Day and Bill Sallak rocked the sounds, but wisely underscored rather than drowned out the singers.   That is a difficult task as the music lends itself to be blasted.

The costumes were generally fine but the women’s wigs needed better selection and attention.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  Director Terri Kent pulled out all the stops, added tons of shticks and gimmicks, has a rocking band, creative and well performed choreography, and a focused cast, which  resulted in a wonderful, “this you must see” theatrical experience.  

“Hairspray” runs July 30-August 16, 2015 at Porthouse Theatre. Curtain times are 8 PM Tuesdays through Saturdays and 2 PM Sundays. The picnic grounds at Blossom open 90 minutes prior to curtain time.  For tickets call 330-672-3884 or go online to