Sunday, October 14, 2018
Edward Albee, author of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” now in production at Beck Center for the Arts, 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 philosophical existentialism, which asks “what is the purpose of existence?”
Absurdist playwrights create instances in which the characters are caught in hopeless situations and repeat meaningless actions. The stories often highlight individuals who seem to have no purpose in life and are caught where their communication breaks down.
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 his hostile view of society and loving 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), which recently completed an award winning revival on Broadway.
Interestingly, his “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” considered 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. Rumor was that Albee’s open gay life style 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. It contains biting dialogue 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 (and “games”). Little do they know the verbal torture session that is about to take place.
Alcohol flows freely, secrets are exposed, and the 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.”
Written in 1962, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” has three fairly long acts.
The first act entitled “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 final stanza, “The Exorcism,” takes place through the evicting of demons and other spiritual entities from a person or area through an elaborate ritual. In this script, a ritual of verbal blood-letting.
The Beck production is superbly and sensitively directed by Donald Carrier. The staging, the pacing, the development of uncomfortable humor, and the acting, are all well-focused. The tension often gets nearly unbearable.
The audience laughs and wonders why they would be expressing such a positive emotion to such terrible verbal destruction. The ending leaves both the audience and the actors exhausted.
At the final blackout, the audience was totally quiet, in shock and fatigue. Finally, a first person clapped. Then the extended applause was thunderous.
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, that a separate cast played the matinees.
Having seen the original cast, on the first night of my honeymoon, no less, I can attest to not only the brilliance of Hagen, and her costar, Arthur Hill, but to the utter emotional high of the experience. (My wife, on the way home from the Beck performance said, “It’s been 55 years and I still can picture every instance of that production.”)
The role of George is usually a tirade of strong emotion. Michael Mauldin does not take that approach. He is like a sword fighter, jabbing and thrusting to take advantage of his opponent’s weaknesses. He is a stealth of power who puts on the role of George and never takes it off.
Derdriu Ring, one of the area’s premiere actresses, embodies the sexy boozed Martha. She spews venom, creating a Martha to be reckoned with. A viper whose every bite carries poison. This is an emotionally-injured-women who takes out her angst on everyone in her presence.
Handsome Daniel Telford is excellent as Nick, the young professor who was coerced into marriage by a “pregnant” Honey, she of wealth and beauty.
When Martha attempts to seduce him, in spite of his having “the physical potential,” Telford displays deep vulnerability due to his lack of ability to sexually perform.
Becca Ciamacco is appropriately emotionally and physically fragile as Honey. She performs well the role of the hypochondriac with obvious issues.
Aaron Benson‘s well-executed unkempt living room set helps enhance the psychological messiness of George and Martha.
Capsule judgment: Kudos to Don Carrier for his bullseye direction of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” This is about as perfect a production as the script could receive. If you have never seen the Albee masterpiece on stage, see it now! You won’t have another chance to experience such a wonderfully crafted piece of theater.
“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” runs Friday through Sundays through November 4, 2018 in Beck’s Studio Theatre. For tickets call 216-521-2540 or go to http://beckcenter.org/
Saturday, October 13, 2018
As Blank Canvas’s program notes states, “Before South Park. Before “The Book of Mormon. There was “Cannibal! The Musical!”
Yes, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of one of television’s cult shows and a long running musical, as college students, put their genius together and produced a three-minute trailer for a film class. They then raised enough money and produced the full-length black comedy horror musical, “Cannibal! The Musical.”
Originally a flop, after the success of their television and Broadway shows, the film became a cult-favorite.
Oh, if the film, turned into a stage show, was any way as clever as their later works! As is, it is holds a slight telescope to view the “sense of humor” of the duo.
The process of developing the project was written about in the book, "Shpadoinkle: The Making of Cannibal! The Musical," which chronicles all aspects of the creation and how the film became a cult phenomenon.
The tale it tells is loosely based on a true story of a man an accused of cannibalism (thus the title).
Alfred Packer, in “real life” led a group of five men from Bingham Canyon, Utah, through the Colorado Territory, in search of the city of Breckenridge, where gold had supposedly been found. Only Packer survived the trip. Supposedly, he made it by eating his fellow travelers.
The tale tells how Packer and his trusty horse, Liane, set off on what should be a three-week journey. The travelers include Shannon Bell, an aspiring Mormon priest; James Humphrey, who was forced by his father to go on the journey; Frank Miller, a cynical butcher; George Noon, a horny teenager hoping to meet girls; and Israel Swan, an optimist.
Getting lost, getting more lost, meeting up with some native Americans and a group of trappers, wandering in the Rockies, getting further lost, and Packer arriving alone in the town of Saguache without the rest of his party, and his eventual arrest for cannibalism, follows.
The show includes a series of scenes, with over-wrought dialogue, chopped together into a script with such musical numbers as “It’s A Shpadoinkle Day,” which gets an unneeded reprise, well, in fact, two reprises. Also included are “Don’t Be Stupid,” “When I Was On Top of You,” “Let’s Build a Snowman,” (yep it gets a reprise), “Swan’s Swan Song” and the ever popular, “Hang the Bastard.” Oh, and there’s “Packer’s Dream Ballet.” (Honest, I couldn't make this stuff up!)
Patrick Ciamacco, the Artistic Director of Blank Canvas states, ‘’I have been wanting to direct and produce this show for some time now.” (Oy, why?)
To his credit, Ciamacco has a wonderful sense of humor and has proven over and over his ability to take way-out material and make it at its best, hysterical, at its lowest level, palatable. He’s successfully staged the likes of “Debbie Does Dallas,” “Psycho Beach Party,” “Hellcab,” and “Silence, the Musical.”) He often selects scripts that no other theatre in the area would. He loves blood splatter-zones, ear shattering music, and ridiculous farce.
The cast tried hard, the band played with enthusiasm, but, unfortunately, with “Cannibal! The Musical,” Ciamacco appears to have met his unsaveable challenge.
Even with all the farcical shticks, double-takes, over-blown stylized acting, blood and urine sprays, bloody bodily pieces parts, including an erect penis and bloody testicles, the show is not funny, not even gross, just stupid.
(Side note: if you do attend, unless you want to leave covered with fake blood and urine, don’t sit in the first row yellow seats. A couple, whether intentional or not, wore white t-shirts and jeans and left in red and yellow attire! (It’s washable, but . . .)
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Blank Canvas pulls out all the stops in order to make “Cannibal! The Musical!” palatable, but from my stodgy old view-point, it just doesn’t succeed. Some of the theatre’s die-hard regulars, including the guy sitting next to me who clapped and howled throughout the goings on, may be thoroughly amused, but consider this: even the usual automatic standing ovation of CLE productions, was missing.
“Cannibal the Musical!” runs through October 28, 2018, in the Blank Canvas west side theatre, 1305 West 78th Street, Suite 211, Cleveland. For tickets and directions go to http://www.blankcanvastheatre.com/
Next up at Blank Canvas is irreverent, fun filled “Avenue Q,” running from December 7-22, 2018
Posted by Roy Berko at 3:16 PM
Monday, October 08, 2018
Great Lakes Theater has found a perfect combination of scripts to start its 57th season. The fun, escapist juke box musical, “Mamma Mia!,” had the audience excitedly on its feet for the extended curtain call. “Pride and Prejudice,” the epic story of class-stratification and misunderstanding feelings in 19 th century England, also had the audience on its feet at the end. This time, instead of dancing and singing, it was applause for a well-directed and performed staging.
Jane Austin, the author of the romantic novel, “Pride and Prejudice,” is noted for her abilities to write narration, create lush locations, present ideas in the form of letters exchanged by the story’s characters, and write long complex sentences. These all work fine in a novel, but cause major problems for anyone attempting to transform her works into plays.
Confronted with the task of adapting one of Austin’s most famous books, Joseph Hanreddy, who also serves as director of Great Lakes Theater’s production, built on the volume’s dynamic dialogue and simplified the need for many settings and costume changes by using a minimalistic approach. He did so masterfully. The play flows, the tale unfolds, the use of sliding panels and period furniture placed on stage through ingenious choreography, the simple addition of hats and shawls make the costume changes effortlessly simple.
The story centers on Elizabeth Bennet, the attractive, intelligent, out-spoken second daughter of Mr. Bennet of the Langbourn estate.
Bennet, the father of five daughters, finds himself in the position of being a member of the “upper” class, but almost impoverished because his property is “entailed,” meaning none of the girls can inherit it.
Five daughters with no dowries makes them undesirable pawns on the marriage market. Having a near hysterical wife, doesn’t make matters easier. Oh, what to do?
The 1813 tale, as is the case with many of the author’s works, looks at “the importance of environment and upbringing in developing young people’s character and morality.” It exposes not only the folly of the British class system, the error of making hasty judgments, the difference between superficial and essential, and the “lies in the depiction of manners, education, marriage and money in the British Regency period.”
Elizabeth is twenty, witty and opinionated and full of unbending pride. She meets and verbally spars with the Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, a wealthy, seemingly distant, moody and prideful man. The two must confront their prejudices in order for their spiral into love for each other.
Surrounding Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s love story are others who fumble, through a series of almost Oscar Wilde-like overblown humorous, ridiculous situations related to love, family squabbles, and parental and societal stumbles.
Hanreddy’s fine directing keeps the play moving along at a nice clip, stressing the story while incorporating a light and laugh-filled attitude. What many could perceive as a dry meander through an “old time” trite tale becomes a fun-filled romp.
The cast is totally immersed in developing the balance between the almost melodramatic drama and high comedy.
It’s so nice to have Andrew May back in town doing what he does best—using his mobile face and wide range of acting skills to get laughs by overplaying roles with the right amount of farce. He steals the show as the put-upon Mr. Bennet.
Carol Healey comes close to matching May as his angst-ridden “daughters must get married at any cost” wife, who is always one step away from hysteria.
In the lead roles, Laura Welsh Berg (Mary Bennet), and Nick Steen, (Mr. Darcy), are character perfect.
Berg gives the role just the right amounts of disdain and sweetness, displaying the needed pride and prejudice. Steen has the correct levels of aloofness, but allows for his kindness to peek through. They both create characters who, by the end of the play, make the viewer happy for their bliss.
Other standouts are Jillian Kates (Elizabeth Bennet), Courtney Hausman (Mary Bennet), Daniel Millhouse (Mr. Bingley), Eric Damon Smith (Mr. Collins) and Lynn Allison, as the over-blown, pompous Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: The adaptation of novel-to-play is finely done. The directing is inspired. The acting is finely tuned. The technical aspects are outstanding. This is a must-see production which shines a spotlight on Great Lakes Theater at its finest.
Tickets for “Mamma Mia!” and “Pride and Prejudice,” which run in tandem through November 4, 2018 can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or going to http://www.greatlakestheater.org/
Sunday, October 07, 2018
(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)
It was apparent on reviewer’s night of “Hello Dolly,” which is starting its national tour in Cleveland, that many of the audience, which was awash in red clothing, had heard of the “wear David Merrick red” to productions of this script. David Merrick red?
Merrick was often referred to as the “Abominable Showman.” One of Broadway’s greatest producers, he often came up with gimmicks to get attention for his shows.
Supposedly, Merrick replaced the front curtain of the theatre in which his “Hello Dolly” was to play with a red one of a particular rouge hue. In addition, the lead character, Dolly, in her most spectacular scene of the show, makes an entrance coming down a staircase in the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant wearing a red gown, a dress which became the traditional costume choice for all future Dolly’s.
There have been lots of famous women who have played Dolly including Carol Channing, Pearl Bailey, Ethel Merman, Bette Middler, Ginger Rogers, Betty Grable, Phyllis Diller, Molly Picon, Eve Arden, Ann Southern, Michelle Lee, Lanie Kazan, Tovah Feldshuh and, even Betty White, who appeared in Ohio’s Kenley Players production in the summer of 1979. Barbara Streisand played Dolly in the film version of the show
The newest Dolly is Betty Buckley, who leads the staging in Cleveland, the starting site of the show’s newest reincarnation and the kick-off point for its national tour.
Buckley, won the 1983 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of Grizabelle in “Cats.” Her rendition of “Memories” is a classic of the American Musical Theatre. She also played Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard” and appeared in “Triumph of Love,” “1776,” “Pippin,” and “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.” For a number of years, she starred in the ABC-TV series “Eight is Enough.”
Buckley is so perceived to be such a national draw that her name appears in the program and advertisements above the title of the show, an honor rarely bestowed upon a performer.
“Hello, Dolly!,” which has lyrics and music by Jerry Herman and a book by Michael Stewart, is based on “The Matchmaker,” a 1954 play by Thornton Wilder, a rewritten version of his 1938 play “The Merchant of Yonkers.” The musical was first produced in 1964, winning the Tony Award for Best Musical.
Interestingly, though most think of Carol Channing as Dolly Levi, the role was originally written for Ethel Merman, who decided not to do the part. The role was then offered to Mary Martin, who also declined. Eventually, Channing was hired and made the role not only hers for life, but made the show an international hit.
You’d never know it due to its amazing long-running Broadway runs, revivals, and local and international productions, but the show had rocky out-of-town tryouts. Major changes were made to the script and score. Even the name of the show was changed. Originally entitled “Dolly, A Damned Exasperating Woman” and then,” Call on Dolly. “Merrick finally settled on "Hello, Dolly" and musical theater history followed.
The story centers on a meddlesome widow who, out of need for money, and her natural exuberance for controlling others and searching for a satisfying life, turns to matchmaker, striving to bring romance to others as well as herself.
The memorable score includes such hits as It Takes a Woman, Put on Your Sunday Clothes, Before the Parade Passes By, Elegance, and It Only Takes a Moment. It is filled with joyous dancing and lots of audience pleasing show-stoppers notably “The Waiters’ Gallop” and the title song.
The touring production, under the direction of Jerry Zaks, who directed the recent Bette Midler Broadway version of the show, is very enjoyable, with many highs and few okays.
The scenery, mainly colorful curtain drops, which are needed to facilitate easy moving from theatre to theatre on the tour, set the right moods. A full-operational massive horse and carriage and a locomotive brought extended applause.
Santo Loquasto’s costumes are period correct and spectacular, adding appropriate visual stimulation to the goings on.
Warren Carlyle’s choreography is creative, often spectacular, though, at times, seemingly a little repetitious with repeated dance movements.
From her first entrance, which was met with thunderous applause, Buckley “had” the audience. She delighted, playing much of the show toward the viewers, and waving and teasing people close to the stage apron. Her voice was strong, her movements appropriate for the choreography she was given.
Though at times Buckley seemed to show some signs of being tired, she went on singing and dancing. One can only wonder what will happen during the long, arduous city-to-city trek and multiple performances a week.
Lewis J. Stadlen, as Horace Vandergelder, the focus of Dolly’s matrimonial interest, was excellent in the role. He displayed just enough huff and puff and underbelly vulnerability.
Nic Roleau, who recently finished a long run in “The Book of Mormon,” delighted as Cornelius Hackl, the 33-year old boyish clerk in Vandergelder’s store. He has a lanky, free-moving, charming Tommy Tune-like image.
Many probably saw Jess LeProtto (Barnaby Tucker) on “So You Think You Can Dance.” He has a long theatrical resume including Broadway’s “Newsies” (in which I found him commanding many of the dance routines in the show). He sings, dances and clowns with infectious ease.
Analisa Leaming was charming as Irene Molloy, Vandergelder’s intended, who winds up with Cornelius. Kristen Hahn was adorable as Minnie Fay, Irene’s shop assistant.
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: The sold out opening night audience got what they came for: Betty Buckley, enthusiastic dancing and singing, spectacle in the form of wonderful costumes and special effects, some laughs, and lots of wonderful music! Not all theater is intended to tell philosophical and meaningful ideas. Sometimes it is just nice to go and enjoy, feel warm and happy, and appreciate the joys of life! See “Hello Dolly.”
Part of the Key Bank Broadway series, “Hello Dolly” runs through October 21, 2018 in the Connor Palace, in the PlayhouseSquare complex. Next up in the series is a newly conceived version of “Les Miserables” from October 30-November 18, 2018.
For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to www.playhousesquare.org.
Wednesday, October 03, 2018
August Wilson is considered one of the most prolific sources for documenting the twentieth century African-American experience. His ten-play cycle, basically set in Pittsburgh’s Hill district, started with “Gem of the Ocean,” representing the 1900s and ended with “Radio Golf,” shining the spotlight on the 1990s. “Fences,” which is now on stage at the newly renovated Jelliffe Theatre at Karamu, was the 1950s representative.
Like all of the "Pittsburgh" plays, “Fences” explores the evolving African-American experience and examines race relations, among other themes. The play won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play for its picture of damages to Black manhood as well as the conflicts which arise between family members based on the way they see the past and what they want to do with their future as well as the coping methods used to survive from being caught up in a cycle of stagnation.
Troy is a 53-year old a hard drinker, former convict, and one-time player in the Negro Baseball League. He never got to play in the Major Leagues because of the color barrier. He ekes out a living in a low paying barrel-lifter job because his race restricts his rise through the work ranks. Finally, as a symbol, he becomes the Jackie Robinson of the company when he becomes the first black truck driver.
Troy lives in his own home, with his wife Rose and son Cory. His brother Gabriel is a former soldier who was injured in the war and suffers from psychological damage. He lives in a rented room, but spends much time at Troy and Rose’s home. Troy also has a son, Lyons, the product of an earlier marriage, who is a some-time musician who weekly borrows money from Troy, and is a recipient of his father’s verbal abuse.
Troy and his work buddy, Bono, spend lots of time drinking and talking.
As the story evolves, infidelity, conflicts between the rigid Troy and frustrated Cory, the birth of a baby, a conflict between Rose and Troy, Cory’s leaving home, and death become a part of the fabric of the family.
The major allegory in the plot is a fence. A physical barrier, built over many years, defines Troy’s property. In addition, in a telling speech, Troy fantasizes that death, in the form of the Grim Reaper is coming, and the fence is his defense against his demise. Troy also builds a psychological fence, cutting himself off from his sons.
The philosophical base of the play comes from such prophetic lines as such as, “What law says I have to like you?” “A man has a duty to take care of his family.” “I planted myself inside you.” “You got to take the crooked with the straight.”
Karamu’s production, under the astute direction of the organization’s President and CEO, Tony Sias, is compelling.
The acting is top notch. Darryl Tatum creates reality with his smoldering portrayal of Troy. This is a flawed man who creates angst for others through his rigid and self-protective view of life. Colleen Longshaw inhabits the role of Rose, clearly showcasing the strength and level-headedness of the woman.
Dyrell Barnett (Lyons) and Dar’Jon M. Bentley (Cory) give strong performances as the put-upon sons.
Prophet D. Seay, steals the show with his accurate portrayal of the physical and emotionally wounded Gabriel.
Peter Lawson Jones carries the weight of the world on his shoulders as Bono, a man stuck in a quicksand-life.
Young Logan Dior Williams was delightful as Raynell.
Capsule judgment: As is the case in all of August Wilson’s Pittsburgh cycle plays, “Fences” is both a revealing history lesson and a snapshot of the black experience in this country. It is a well-performed, important play, which deserves attendance by not only African American but also white audiences.
“Fences” continues through October 21, 2018 at Karamu, 2355 East 89th Street, which has a fenced, lighted parking lot adjacent to the theatre, and provides free parking. For ticket information call 216-795-7077.
Next up at Karamu is Douglas Turner Ward’s “Day of Absence” on stage from October 25 through November 18, 2018.
Monday, October 01, 2018
“Mamma Mia!,” now on stage at Great Lakes Theatre, as has been the case on Broadway and in its many local tour stops, is a thoroughly entertaining theatrical experience. The audience was on its feet for the extended curtain call, dancing, clapping, and singing.
BTW…don’t run for the exits as soon as you think the show is over. It’s not. There is a remix of lots of the songs, some new dance moves, and an interactive love affair between the dynamic cast and the audience.
“Mamma Mia!” is a unique script. Most story-line stagings have a lyricist, composer and book writer who work together to develop the script. This show doesn’t follow that pattern. “Mamma Mia!” is one of a genre of shows called a “juke box musical.” The songs were all developed before there was any thought of a musical play and then a story was written, incorporating the songs.
The music and lyrics, by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, with additional songs by Stig Anderson, were all originally performed by ABBA, the Swedish pop-rock group, in their concerts and albums. Catharine Johnson loosely wove a story around the songs. The surprising result is a delightful, basically well-integrated musical. The songs and spoken lines generally flow together to develop a cute “chick-flick” story.
For the few uninitiated: On an unnamed island in Greece, Sophie, a twenty-year-old, is about to get married to Sky. Her single mom, Donna, who owns a small island resort, has never revealed the identity of Sophie’s father.
Sophie unearths her mother’s diary from the year before Sophie’s birthday. Romances with three different men are revealed. Any of them could be “daddy.” Sophie wants to be given away by her dad, so, without her mother’s knowledge, she invites all three to the wedding, hoping to find out the sperm donor.
Other wedding guests include Tanya and Rosie, Donna’s former 60s girl-group members, and Ali and Lisa, Sophie’s buds.
Through humorous twists, pseudo dramatic instances, and some great music, The Winner Takes All. Along the line the audience is rocked with such songs and production numbers as "Dancing Queen," "Does Your Mother Know," "I Have a Dream," "Our Last Summer," "Super Trouper, "and "Voulez-Vous," leaving the audience shouting, "Thank You for the Music."
There is no way you aren’t going to leave the theatre without singing one or more of the score’s great songs on the way to your car.
Director Victoria Bussert has let out all stops, going for shtick and audience enjoyment. Bussert, head of Baldwin Wallace’s nationally recognized musical theatre program, has wisely peppered the cast with many talented BW alums and students.
Matthew Webb has his musicians well-tuned and keeps the high octane music rocking and wisely under control so that the singers are not drowned out.
Choreographer Jaclyn Miller does a nice job of reinterpreting the dance numbers, though a little more island moves and fewer contemporary dance routines would have been appreciated. The songs are well sung, with word meanings being stressed.
The cast is excellent. Pretty Kailey Boyle gives the right strong yet vulnerable image as Sophie. Shayla Brielle G. (Ali) and Amy Keum (Lisa) shine as Sophie’s best friends.
Jillian Kates makes Donna, Sophie’s mom, live. As her former girl group buds, Jodi Dominick (Tanya) is character right, while Laura Welsh Berg almost steals the show as the husband-seeking (Take A Chance on Me) Rosie.
Jake Slater (Sky) and the island guys, Warren Egypt Franklin, Mack Shirilla, Eric Damon Smith and Tré Frazier, sing and dance with playfulness and vigor.
Studly Nick Steen (Sam), Crocodile Dundee-like Alex Syiek (Bill) and, Eric Damon Smith as gay Brit, Harry, are excellent as the three candidates for “who’s my dad?” They are especially delightful in the curtain call.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: MAMA MIA! is once again an audience pleasing delight. If you haven’t seen it before, go! If you have, go again!
Tickets for “Mamma Mia!,” which runs through November 11, 2018 at the Hanna Theatre, in repertoire with “Pride and Prejudice” can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or going to http://www.greatlakestheater.org/
Sunday, September 30, 2018
Little did none too fragile’s Artistic Director, Sean Derry know that the day Matt Pelfrey’s play “Freak Storm” opened at his theatre, would be the date of the Senate’s hearings for possible confirmation of a Supreme Court judge.
The parallel of the stories is almost as eerie as the storm that rages outside the home of soon-to-be-married Adam and Lynn. The results are as befuddling and filled with future consequences.
The script’s author, Matt Pelfrey is noted for writing horror and thriller scripts for stage and screen. His plays have been produced around the country and overseas to critical acclaim and include “Cockroach Nation,” “Terminus Americana,” “An Impending Rupture of the Belly,” and the stage adaptation of “In the Heat of the Night.”
At the start of “Freak Storm” we are exposed to Gil (Benjamin Gregorio) and Ian (Brian Kenneth Armour) driving to Los Angeles. Their harried conversation reveals that something terrifying has happened with the potential to affect the upcoming wedding of Adam (James Rankin) and Lynn (Kelly Strand). Gil and Ian are Adam’s life-long friends. Why is the duo so angst-filled?
The next scene reveals Adam and Lynn in the troughs of pre-marital love making. Their phone keeps ringing. When they answer, they can hear breathing, but no spoken message. As the lights flicker and go out, Adam looks out the window and sees a figure of a woman, dressed in rags. Who is this mystery woman? Why is she outside their home?
As the dramatic morality play plays out, Gil and Adam have a tale to tell about the past. Someone or something from that past is coming for them all! Their relationship will never be the same.
Like the present Supreme Court judge candidate testimony, “Freak Storm” examines the scary, scruffy stuff of the macho world of some men and how their actions affect others.
To reveal more would ruin the emotional experience for anyone planning on seeing this play.
Director Sean Derry knows how to build tension. Marcus Dana adds angst with the lighting.
Sitting up close, as is the situation in none too fragile’s theatre in which no one is more than 15 feet from the stage, forces the audience to experience all the tension. It makes the dramatic experience totally encapsulating.
The cast is excellent. Each character helps build the tale. James Rankin is at his dramatic best. His self-revealing long monologue is riveting.
Brian Kenneth Armour is chauvinistic on target, using phases like “bitch hole” and other sexist comments, and swearing as if it is a natural part of speech, with upsetting ease.
Benjamin Gregorio stammers and displays realistic fear while developing a character with little obvious backbone.
The concepts of “everyone has something to hide,” “good people do bad things” and “we are a generation sliding toward adulthood” so parallel the present Supreme Court confirmation hearings that it is spooky.
Capsule judgment: “Freak Storm” is a well-written, topical play that gets an outstanding absolute must-see production. Wow! If all theater productions could be of this level, the world of theater-goers and reviewers would be one of wonder.
For tickets for “Freak Storm” which runs through October 13, 2018, call 330-671-4563 or go to nonetoofragile.com
None too fragile’s season closes with “Boogieban,” DC Fidler’s tale about Lawrence Caplan, a Vietnam War veteran who became a military psychiatrist. Caplan is asked to assess one last soldier. His patient insists that he is "good to go" back to his unit in Afghanistan. Caplan soon discovers, however, the soldier is tortured by nightmares and flashbacks. Unexpectedly, the soldier's story unveils Lieutenant Colonel Caplan's amnesia for Vietnam. Together, the two men launch on parallel journeys that will change them forever. (November 16-December 1, 2018)
Thursday, September 27, 2018
The theater usually presents challenging scripts which have small casts and require little or no sets. Artistic director Greg Cesear has followed this pattern again with his pairing two one-act plays into an evening of interest.
“Plath & Orion, Two One-Act Plays” is composed of Pulitzer Prize winning Lanford Wilson’s “The Great Nebula in Orion” and Cesear’s self-written “Plath, Sexton and the Art of Confession.”
Wilson, a Missouri native, was noted as one of the significant theater writers of the 20th century. “He was one of the first playwrights to move from Off-Off-Broadway, to Off-Broadway, then to Broadway and beyond.” His plays are commonly done by community theaters.
The Wilson script centers on an unscheduled afternoon social interaction between two women who were close college friends but have not seen each other for seven years.
Louise (Rachel Lee Kolis) is a successful fashion designer. Carrie (Amiee Collier), is a former activist who married into wealth and is now a Boston area socialite.
Louise, who is single, lives the life of a childless, Manhattan career woman, while Carrie does “all the right things” for a woman of her status—bridge, clubs, and mothering two children.
Both seem discontent as talk about former loves and college friends as they consume a large quantity of brandy at Louise’s Park Avenue apartment.
This is a character, rather than a plot centered script. It is well written and gives each actress a chance to show off her talent. And talent is abundant with these two fine actresses. Their characters are well-developed, with each performance completely realistic.
The second act, Greg Cesear’s “Plath, Sexton and the Art of Confession,” features Mary Alice Beck as M.A. and Julia Kolibab as Jane.
The duo is attending a scholastic conference. They exchange ideas, which mainly center on the works of Pulitzer Prize winning poets, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, who furthered the literary genre known as Confessional poetry.
The conversation between MA and Jane parallel the experience that Plath and Sexton had when they met at a seminar and their career work, combined with personal rivalry and affinity, caused them to be linked together.
The play presents such observations as, “To judge a poem you have understand it,” “image reflects image,” and the challenging concept of “What is art worth?”. It is an academic course in poetry, poets and Platt and Sexton.
As in the first act, the performances are excellent.
“The plays are companion pieces designed for audiences to focus on and identify with the character-driven narratives through inventive storytelling.” In both, “the women address their thoughts and comments directly to the audience, as well as to each other. Poignant, cutting, funny and poetic, their telling conversations reveal individual boundaries of hope and reality.”
Capsule judgement: Though some may find the show, especially the second act, obtuse and overly intellectual, Cesear’s Forum again displays that it doesn’t take a big budget, massive sets and ornate costumes to present effective theater, in this case, its exceptional performances.
“Plath & Orion, Two One-Act Plays” runs Friday and Saturday through October 27, 2018 @ 8 as well as Sunday, October 7 and 14 @ 3 in Kennedy’s Down Under. Enter through the Ohio Theatre lobby and go down the steps to the theatre. For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to http://www.playhousesquare.org
Saturday, September 22, 2018
Susan Hill, author of the book The Woman in Black, the source of the play of the same name now being staged at the Cleveland Play House, relates: “The Suffolk coast. Winter. The early Seventies. Behind the path giving onto the shingle beach and the North Sea, are marshes, mysterious places with narrow paths where reed-beds make a dry rustling sound in the low wind that moans across here. I rented a house for several winters to work and often walked the marsh paths. Once, I was making fast for home when dusk was closing in.
The blackened hull of a rotting boat lay low in the mud. The last geese squawked home in the darkening sky. I sensed ghosts everywhere, looked behind me as I walked faster. There was a strange, steely light glinting, and shadows. Easy to let your imagination run away with you there and the scene stayed with me, though it was another 10 years before I actually made use of it.”
The resulting “use of the experience” was a 1983 Victorian ghost story entitled The Woman in Black. The book was met with acceptable reviews, but hit its stride when, in 1987, it was transformed into a play by Stephen Mallatratt.
The London West End production, which opened in 1989 and is still running, has been staged over 11,000 times and is the second longest running drama in English theatrical history. It is only eclipsed by Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, which has had over 27,000 performances. It was adapted into a 2012 film starring Daniel Radcliffe.
The play is, in fact, a play within a play. Retired solicitor, Arthur Kipps, engages a young actor to coach him in how to deliver a public reading of a ghost story he has written, based on a real life experience.
The actor eventually takes over the role of Kipps and acts out, with the aid of Kipps, who portrays a number of parts, the tale of a mysterious spectra that haunts an English town.
The tale, as related, took place many years earlier when Kipps was a junior solicitor working for a Mr. Bentley. Kipps was sent to Crythin Gifford, on the north east coast of England, to attend the funeral of Mrs. Alice Drablow, a reclusive widow who lived alone in the huge, foreboding, desolate Eel Marsh House, separated from the town by a causeway. At high tide it was cut off from the mainland.
At the funeral, Kipps observes a woman dressed in black, surrounded by a group of children.
Upon arrival at Eel Marsh House, Kipps is confronted by unexplained noises, a galloping horse drawing a carriage, screams of a young child and a woman, and the appearance of the Woman In Black.
He finds papers which reveal that Mrs. Drablow’s sister, Jennet, gave birth to a child. Because she was unmarried, her sister and the sister’s husband adopted the boy with the understanding that Jennet was never revealed as his mother.
Jennet went away for a short period, but returned to take care of the boy. One day, a horse and carriage, carrying the boy across the causeway, sank into the marshes and the boy died. Jennet stood at a window helplessly watching.
Rumor had it that when Jennet died, she haunted Eel March House and the town of Crythin Gifford as The Woman in Black. According to local tales, a sighting of her presaged the death of a child.
Thus is laid the foundation for what happened to Kipps upon his return to London as it related to his own marriage and child.
At the end of his tale, Kipps finishes his reminiscence with the words, "They have asked for my story. I have told it. Enough."
It can easily be seen why the play had captured the minds of the London theatre goers. Unfortunately, the CPH production, under the direction of Robin Herford, is lacking. The visual image is not aided by designer Michael Holt’s oft-confusing and distracting set.
The production lacks intensity. Though some of the scary aspects of the script are present, the needed “jump for fear” factors and the “impending doom “is often missing.
Adam Wesley Brown is quite acceptable as The Actor. Bradley Armacost, however, as Arthur Kipps and other roles, is often difficult to hear due to a lack of projection. Therefore, some intricacies of the story are lost. Hopefully, as the show runs and the actors will get comfortable and increase the intensity of their performances.
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: At this pre-Halloween season “The Woman in Black” appears to have been a good choice. The success of this type of play is dependent upon the audience using its imagination, and the moments of shock-induced terror and the jumpy, scream-induced moments. These, unfortunately, are somewhat missing in this production.
“The Woman in Black” runs through October 7, 2018 at the Allen Theatre in PlayhouseSquare. For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to http://www.clevelandplayhouse.com.
Next up at CPH: (October 13-November 4, 2018) Lynn Nottage’s 2017 Pulitzer Prize winning “Sweat.” The capsule judgement of my review of the Broadway production was: “Theater represents the era from which it comes, and “Sweat” clearly and shockingly tells the depressing tale of what went on during the financial downturn of this country and the resulting hysteria and desperation by a group of people who felt they had been disenfranchised by big business, betrayed by their government, and sold out by their union and political leaders. It is an important play which fulfills the educational obligation of the arts.”
Saturday, September 15, 2018
God, or a facsimile thereof, in the form of Mike Polk Jr., who in his other life is a local comedian and Fox 8 personality, is appearing on the Beck Center for the Arts stage, in a mock spiritual conversation with his audience.
The script, which was written by David Javerbaum, and was adapted from his book, The Last Testament: A Memoir by God, is sure to offend some, and regale
everyone else in sustained laughter. In other venues it has been called "a gut-busting-funny riff on the never-ending folly of mankind’s attempts to fathom God’s wishes through the words of the Bible and use them to their own ends.
It starred both Jim Parsons (Sheldon on Big Bang Theory and Young Sheldon) and Sean Hayes (Jack of “Will and Grace”) in its two successful Broadway runs.
“God” shares with us, “Yea, I have grown weary of the Ten Commandments,” therefore, he “has come before us to expand the list. Or rather rewrite it, since some of the originals were too good to let go.”
God is not doing this task alone. He is accompanied by his two favorite archangels, compliant Gabriel (Brian Pedaci) who acts as God’s “yes” man, and the inquisitive Michael (Allan Byrne) who asks lots of probing questions, such as why God allowed the Holocaust and why children die of cancer, while also probing audience members to throw inquiries and barbs at the Almighty.
God doesn’t put up easily with Michael’s antics. The poor guy not only gets sent off the stage, but loses a wing for his impertinence.
Performed on a white-stepped modernistic set, such topics as circumcisions, Jesus, the difference between lies and liberties, believing in thyself, respecting children, who are the Muslims and Jews, the lack of “God” in China, and the new ten commandments, fits well the relaxed, stand-up comedy format.
Polk, who on opening night was obviously fighting a cold, has a nice presentational-style, that makes his “blasphemous” statements less stinging than if he “acted” God-like. He toys well with the audience, and laughs at himself and the deity he is playing in a non-attacking way. This is a wonderful unique performance which does not try to imitate either Parsons or Hayes.
Both Pedaci and Byrne are spot on as the archangels.
Director William Roudebush obviously has an understanding of the difference between comedy and farce, not forcing slapstick or overdone lines. The show’s pace allows for laughs, without begging for them.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: “Act of God” is one of those funny, funny irreverent scripts that, while it may offend some, gets a no–holds-barred, must see fine production at Beck Center for the Arts. You’ll be upset or leave with a smile on your face respecting a writer who can come up with a clever way to confront the ills of the world in a humorous way.
“An Act of God” is scheduled to run at Beck Center for the Arts through October 7, 2018. For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go online to http://www.beckcenter.org
Wednesday, September 12, 2018
Like much of the works of Stephen Sondheim, from the start, “Little Night Music” proves to be a different type of musical. Rather than a traditional overture, one-by-one, a quintet of singers, who will act like a Greek chorus throughout the production commenting on varying situations, introducing the audience to characters and clarify the plot’s goings on, enter, tuning up their voices. Eventually, they blend into an overture composed of different songs from the score.
Sondheim, an eight-time Tony winner, whose works are noted for their lyrical sophistication and musical complexity, is oft praised by critics and underappreciated by the general public.
His musicals abandon the romantic plots favored by Lerner and Loewe and Rogers and Hammerstein. This is ironic since, from the age of ten, Sondheim was mentored by Oscar Hammerstein II, the father of his boyhood friend.
His works tend to be dark, exploring the ironic, grittier and unglamorous sides of both present and past life.
He finds inspiration in the unlikeliest of sources—the opening of Japan to Western trade for “Pacific Overtures,” a legendary murderous barber seeking revenge in the Industrial Age of London for “Sweeney Todd,” the paintings of Georges Serrate for “Sunday In The Park With George,” fairy tales for “Into The Woods,” and a collection of individuals intent on eliminating the President of the United States in “Assassins.” Even his one true comedy, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” centered on slavery in ancient Rome.
“A Little Night Music,” with a book by Hugh Wheeler, was inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s film, Smiles of a Summer Night, and exposes the lives of several couples, including such topics as infidelity, verbal relational abuse, and birth out of wedlock. The play’s title is a literal English translation for Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik.
As is often the case with Sondheim, the score has elements not often found in musical theater. Its complex meters, pitch changes and high notes for both males and females present a challenge for performers.
The story “explores the tangled web of affairs centered around actress, Desirée Armfeldt, and the men who love her: a lawyer, Fredrik Egerman and the Count Carl-Magnus Malcom. When the traveling actress performs in Fredrik's town, the estranged lovers rekindle their passion. This strikes a flurry of jealousy and suspicion between Desirée, Fredrik, Fredrick's wife, Anne, Desirée's current lover, the Count, and the Count's wife, Charlotte. Both men – as well as their jealous wives – agree to join Desirée and her family for a weekend in the country at Desirée's mother's estate. With everyone in one place, infinite possibilities of new romances and second chances bring endless surprises.”
The show contains “A Weekend in the Country” and “Send in the Clowns,” two of Sondheim’s most well-known compositions. Also in the score are “The Glorious Life,” “In Praise of Women,” and “The Miller’s Son.”
The vocalizations in the Lakeland production are well performed, as are the musical sounds of the orchestra.
As has come to be expected, Trinidad Snider displays strong vocal abilities and acting skills as Desiree. Her “Send in the Clowns” was masterful. Singing meanings, not just words, she brought depth and clarity to the song.
Though his acting generally stays on the surface, Rob Albrecht (Frederick), sings well in “Now” and “You Must Meet My Wife.”
Talented Eric Fancher, another vocal and acting master, creates a properly self-loathing Henrik, Frederick’s son, who is hopelessly in love with his step-mother.
Meg Martinez masterfully interprets “The Miller’s Son.”
Ian Atwood is properly pompous as Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm, and Neely Gevaart shines as Countess Charlote Malcolm, his put-upon wife, who gets her revenge.
The rest of cast is also strong.
What’s missing is variance of performance tempo, and the charm and playfulness written into the script, but not translated onto the stage. This is surprising as director Martin Friedman, a Sondheim expert, has displayed over and over in Sondheim stagings, his ability to bring life into the writer’s works.
The scenic and lighting designs work well and Kelsey Tomlinson’s costumes are era correct. The choreography is serviceable, though not overly creative.
Capsule judgment: In spite of a talented cast, “A Little Night Music” is uninspired and not up to the usual high level of Lakeland’s Sondheim script presentations.
“A Little Night Music” runs Friday and Saturdays at 7:30 and at 2 on Sundays September 7 through 30 at Lakeland Community College, 7700 Clocktower Drive, Kirtland. For tickets call 440-525-7134. (The college is only 10 minutes from the 90-271 split!)
Sunday, September 09, 2018
Kenneth Jones, the author of “Alabama Story,” now on stage at Ensemble Theatre in its Ohio premiere, stated in an interview, “In May 2000, while reading the New York Times, I came across the story of Emily Wheelock Reed, the former State Librarian of Alabama who had been challenged by a segregationist state senator in 1959. Senator E.O. Eddins [of Demopolis, Alabama] demanded that a children’s picture book — Garth Williams’ The Rabbits’ Wedding, about a black rabbit marrying a white rabbit — be purged from the shelves of Alabama libraries on the grounds that it promoted race-mixing. Their conflict was reported worldwide. Before I finished reading the article, I knew this was an idea for a play.”
He went on to say about the play that resulted: “It’s a romance, a political thriller, a memory play, a workplace drama, a tearjerker, a comedy, a discussion about race, censorship and political desperation, and a rumination on the power of books. Most important, it’s a play about how we behave when we face terrible circumstances — how character is revealed in times of transition, change and crisis.”
He adds, “I hope that “Alabama Story” sparks a memory of a beloved book, the person who gave it to you and the day you realized that a turning of the page could be both terrifying and wonderful, and that — on some level, no matter what our differences — we all share the same story.”
The story takes place in still segregated Montgomery, Alabama as the civil rights movement is in its early stages. A no-nonsense female head of the State Library system makes book selections based on the National Library Association’s recommendations. A bigoted state senator, a true son of the south in political views and conservative religion, tries to impose his racist views upon all he touches. This includes the tomes on library shelves.
A parallel story evolves when two childhood friends meet by chance, as adults, the same year as the library incident. She is the white daughter of a wealthy cotton plantation owner, and he is the son of her family’s long time black cook. An incident between the girl and boy caused his mother and him to leave “the big house.”
Inspired by real events, “Alabama Story” touches on Civil Rights and censorship issues in the Deep South. Presently, in these days of rising bigotry fueled by the irrational tweets of an impulsive President, the play, which has been billed as “a humor-laced social-justice drama is a sort of vest-pocket cousin To Kill a Mockingbird,” which also was the target of campaigns to rid it from libraries, has real implications.
Ensemble’s production, under the well-focused direction of Kenneth Jones, is riveting, compelling and emotionally eye-opening.
The entire cast shines. Anne McEvoy portrays head librarian, Emily Reed, with conviction. This is a well-textured quality performance that presents a real person, speaking real language, in a totally believable way.
She is ably supported by Cody Kilpatrick Steele as Thomas, her assistant, Eugene Sumlin as Josh, the black man, Adrienne Jones as Lily, the white “rich” girl, and Craig Joseph in multiple roles. Though, at times, he overly postures thus creating a stereotype rather than a real person, Joseph Milan is properly pompous and hateful as Senator Higgins.
Walter Boswell’s set design, Ian Hinz’s lighting, and Tyler Whidden and Becca Moseley’s sound, all add to the production.
Capsule judgment: “Alabama Story,” a well written account of a real life incident is theater at its finest displaying excellent acting, an enveloping script and a technically complementing design. This is an absolutely, must see production!
“Alabama Story” runs from September 7-30, on Thursdays through Sundays at Ensemble’s Theatre, housed in the former Coventry School, 2843 Washington Blvd, Cleveland Heights. For tickets call 216-321-2930 or go online to http://www.ensembletheatrecle.org Ensemble’s next production is a staged adaptation of John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden.” It will appear in the theatre’s Mainstage Theatre from October 19-November 11.
Saturday, September 08, 2018
Dobama kicked off its 59th season with Dominique Morisseau’s three character, 90-minute play, about two generations of urban outlaws struggling to find their way through life by lying, stealing and often hiding their real feelings.
Morisseau became a playwright almost out of necessity. While working toward her degree in acting at the University of Michigan, she found herself frustrated over the lack of roles for African American women. She started to write plays from a feminist perspective that contained opportunities for female performers, especially black women.
The two-time NAACP Image Award winner was listed as one of the top “20 Most Produced Playwrights in America in 2015–16.”
On the surface, “Sunset Baby” focuses on Nina, a sensuous young black woman who goes through life with a chip on her shoulder and a “I’ll do anything to get through life” attitude. She, along with her “boyfriend” Damon, the father of a young boy from another relationship, sell drugs, scheme and pull guns when necessary, to “make it.”
Nina’s mother recently died, leaving her a packet of love letters that she had written, but never mailed to her husband, Nina’s father, Kenyatta, a jailed member of the Black Panther Party.
Kenyatta, an advocate for black rights, was an active member of the organization, founded by Bobby Seale and Huey Newton in the 1960s, which was identified by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover as "the greatest threat to the internal security of the country." Hoover supervised “an extensive counterintelligence program to undermine Panther leadership, incriminate party members, discredit and criminalize the Party, and drain the organization of resources and manpower.” Though the group did initiate violent reactions to police, they also instituted a variety of community social programs, including health clinics and food programs.
Kenyatta, who abandoned his wife and child because of his belief in the Black Panther cause, was put in jail, and became alienated from Nina (who was named after singer and Civil Rights Activist, Nina Simone).
When he attempts to reunite with his daughter, he is rejected. She wants nothing to do with him and refuses to let him even read the letters left to her by her mother, letters sought out by scholars interested in writing about the revolutionary ‘60s.
Kenyatta has difficulty expressing his emotions. Nina has no cap on her feelings of abandonment and disdain for her father. In utter frustration she rants, “I sell drugs and rob my own people, and my mother died an addict. And now here’s daddy coming back here to be sentimental.” She concludes with a withering epitaph: “Ain’t nothin’ sentimental about a dead revolution.”
Damon is adrift in his own tortured way. He blurts out about the mother of his child, “[she] making me out to be the bad guy, when I’m only half-bad.”
“Sunset Baby” is wisely directed by Justin Emeka. The frustrations and misunderstandings come out clearly. His cast is up to the task of bringing to life Morisseau’s often over-lapping, powerful, Ebonic-tinged speeches and sounds.
Mary-Francis Miller transforms herself into Nina. She doesn’t act, she is! Greg White, though sometimes hard to hear due to his controlled demeanor, is on course as Kenyatta. His final scene is emotionally wrenching. Ananias J. Dixon plays the smoldering “black man frustrated by life” with the proper attitude.
Scenic designer Laura Carlson Tarantowski has the unenviable task of trying to create the needed intimate, “distressed apartment in Brooklyn” in the long rectangular Dobama acting space. She doesn't’ completely succeed. The audience in the center areas of the theatre are close enough to feel included, while those in the side sections are too far away for the needed intimacy. The apartment is also too large, too “respectable” for the distressed. A more confined acting area would have added to the strangling feeling of the speeches.
The use of Nina Simone songs during the show were both a boon and a problem. They set the proper tone, but when they underscored spoken lines, even when the volume was low, they distracted from the speeches.
Capsule judgement: “Sunset Baby” is an unnerving, thought-provoking script which exposes the viewer to not only the black experience in this country, but forces them to think back to both the turbulent 1960s and the effect the political and societal problems of the day had on those who actively lived through those times. It is a well-conceived production worth seeing.
“Sunset Baby” runs through September 30, 2018, at Dobama, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights. Call 216-932-3396 or http://www.dobama.org for tickets.
Next up at Dobama: “John” by Annie Baker, the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright of the very successful Dobama production of “The Flick.” It will star Dorothy Silver, Cleveland’s Grande dame of theatre.
Wednesday, September 05, 2018
Charlotte Brontë’s book, “Jane Eyre,” is a gothic melodrama which centers on strong-minded Jane’s cruel treatment by her sadistic cousin and aunt, being shipped off to jail-like boarding school, departing to become a nanny for the ward of the wealthy but psychologically tortured Edward Fairfax with whom she falls in love, and the resulting angst of secrets revealed.
When the musical “Jane Eyre” opened on Broadway in 2000, it was classified, along with the likes of “Phantom of the Opera” and “Jekyll and Hyde,” as being a “tragic-poetic musical drama.” It was, as were the others, based on an important epic tale, was dark in mood and staging, had big sets, and had lush, over-drawn orchestrations.
In spite of being credited with having a “luxuriant score, haunting and memorable music, crisp and intelligent lyrics,” the Broadway show ran for only 209 performances.
Most reviewers agreed it, as was also the case with the other tragic-poetic musicals, they were over-staged. “Phantom” was noted for the crashing chandelier and rowboat floating across the stage, “Jekyll and Hyde” for the “two people in one” physical switches and Jekyll ending his life by impaling himself on a swordstick.
These shows were noted for too many performers and too much emphasis on sets and costumes, which visually drowned out the tale itself and the impact of the music.
Along came Miles Sternfeld, the artistic director of Cleveland Musical Theatre, “a non-profit professional theater company that produces newly developed and re-imagined musical theater, featuring Broadway and Cleveland artists with emerging talent.”
Sternfeld felt that many of the problems with “Jane Eyre” could be fixed by shrinking the production, reexamining the score, and reimagining some of the book.
In most ways, as evidenced in the well-directed, perfectly cast, beautifully choreographed, and impressively scored music, Sternfeld was right. The CTP’s “Jane Eyre” is special!
Gabriel Firestone’s simple, ever-changing set, focuses the action into a compressed proscenium within proscenium, forcing the audience to focus on the actions. Even simplifying the set more and depending more on subtle electronic graphics would help. Benjamin Gantose’s dark lighting and Sydney Gallas’s period-appropriate costumes enhanced the somber mood.
The talented cast is both period and style correct. Andrea Goss, has the right attitude and demeanor for the high-minded Jane, while Matt Bogart transitions beautifully from morbid to caring as Edward. They both have big Broadway voices and sing meanings rather than words, making the vocals carry the story.
The duo is aptly supported by Allison England (Mrs. Reed/Mrs. Fairfax) and Emma McClelland (Young Jane). The rest of the cast (Cody Gerszewski, Lauryn Hobbs, Emma McClelland, Genny Lis Padilla, Laura Perrotta, Fabio Polanco, Gregory Violand, Sydney Howard, Patrick Mooney, Nina Takacs) is superb, switching into various roles, attitudes and accents with ease.
The musical, without show stoppers, dream ballets or line dances, is greatly enhanced by choreographer Martin Céspedes’ masterful creation of moving tableaus by subtly altering bodily positions and movements to create meaningful stage pictures.
The real star of the production, besides Miles Sternfeld’s sensitive direction, is the musical score. Though it could have used a signature song, such as “The Music of the Night” (“Phantom of the Opera,”) Paul Gordon’s music, with additional lyrics by John Caird, seamlessly carries the message of Caird’s book, placing the instrumental and vocal sounds parallel to the spoken words.
The contributions of Nancy Maier (musical direction) Steven Tyler (additional arrangements), Brad Haak (music supervision/orchestrations), Conor Keelan (associate orchestration) and Alex Berko (music preparation) cannot be overlooked.
Capsule judgement: “Jane Eyre,” in its new form and format, is a musical that shows that a “small” production, in which care is taken with directing, casting and technical aspects can make musical theatre more captivating than big, splashy, over produced shows. With an additional “signature” song, the revised script seems ready for an off-Broadway, small theatre run.
“Jane Eyre,” runs through September 9, 2018 at the Rose and Simon Mandel Theatre located on the Cuyahoga County East Campus (4250 Richmond Road, Highland Hills). For tickets, $15 to $45, call 216-584-6808 or visit http://clevelandmusicaltheatre.org/.
Tuesday, August 21, 2018
CTE is a “neurodegenerative disease found in people with multiple head injuries.” It often occurs in athletes involved in boxing, football, wrestling, ice hockey, rugby and soccer, all activities that include the participants being hit in the head, often resulting in concussions.
“CTE cannot currently be diagnosed while a person is alive. The only known diagnosis for occurs by studying the brain tissue after death.”
In 2012, retired National Football League’s Junior Seau committed suicide. He shot himself in the heart. It is speculated that he made the conscious choice not to “blow out his brains” because he wanted his brain to be donated to Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist, who was doing research on CTE.
Pressure from the NFL management denounced Omalu’s professional ethics, qualifications and motives and pressured Seau’s son to withdraw his father’s brain from the testing. In 2013 the research was completed and “the brain pathology report revealed that Seau did have evidence of CTE.”
“Down By Contact,” now being performed on the campus of Gilmour Academy, appears to be broadly based on Seau, named Carson Busser in the script, and his deterioration into alcoholism, mood swings, paranoia, lying, behavioral problems, mood swings and cognitive thinking issues including financial irresponsibility. All of these are possible signs of CTE.
It is appropriate that the production is being co-produced by Playwrights Local and Dobama. “Playwrights Local is dedicated to supporting the dramatists of Northeast Ohio. As a playwrights’ development and production center, they foster diverse talents and present locally written works.”
Dobama, commonly referred to as Cleveland’s Off-Broadway theatre, has a mission of premiering the best contemporary plays by established and emerging playwrights.”
Les Hunter, the author of “Down By Contact” is a member of the Playwrights GYM at Dobama Theatre and on the Board of Directors of Playwrights Local. The author’s works have received over 40 productions across the country.
“Down By Contact” takes place in the mid-to-late 2000s, about the time that attention was being placed on the physical and mental problems of athletes. It is set in the Kaides’ mansion in the suburbs of a large, Midwestern city.
As the story unfolds, we observe as Carson communicates with the ethereal, Trypp, a close football buddy, reliving tales of the past. He is hyper and erratic in dealing with his wife and son, using escapist and avoidant language. More and more it becomes obvious that the Carson is paranoid and out of touch with reality.
Carson speaks of “stars exploding,” that “football is a game that runs on money,” and “that there is an enemy inside you.”
The topic of “Down By Contact” is current and relevant. The material has many strong scenes, but needs to be refined.
Some of the speeches are erratic in purpose and intent. Why the son appears in a Speedo bathing suit and dog collar is not clear. In several instances, on opening night, it was unclear if the actors were transposing lines or if that was the prepared dialogue. In addition, the audience seemed unaware when the play was over due to a lack of vocal and idea clarity.
The performance aspects, especially the character development of John Busser (Carson) were excellent. His quivering hands, stumbling walking and sometimes slurred speech created a realistic CTE survivor. The rest of the cast (Corin B. Self (Trypp), Liam Stilson (Tommy) and Margie Zitelli (Kelsey) were acceptable in their character development.
Capsule judgment: “Down By Contact” exposes the audience to an important present-day issue: the effects of head trauma on athletes. It also vividly shows the effects of CTE and how the National Football League tried to avoid responsibility for a lack of protection of the players. The script itself needs some refining and further development.
“Down By Contact” is being performed in the Tudor House at Gilmour Academy, located on SOM Center and Cedar Roads in Gates Mills. There is a parking lot immediately adjacent to the building.
All of the scheduled performances are sold out, but an additional staging has been added on Thursday, August 30 @ 8 PM. For information go to www.http://playwrightslocal.org/
Sunday, August 19, 2018
What does Steven Dietz, the author of “Bloomsday,” which is now on stage at none-too-fragile, have in common with Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee? Yes, they are all American playwrights, but, believe it or not, they are all tied for number eight on the list of the Top Ten Most Produced Playwrights in America.
Dietz, in contrast to the other two, who are each generally considered as one of the greatest modern American writers (the others are Arthur Miller, Willian Inge and Eugene O’Neil), has had the majority of his plays produced in regional theatres and has little general population name recognition. None of his works has been staged on Broadway, but his scripts appear regularly in community theatre and non-professional venues.
What makes his 34 political and comedic plays so popular? Dietz has the ability to examine personal betrayal and deception in a perceptive way that grabs and holds an audience’s attention. He is also noted as a “trickster plotter.” This writing device is at the very center of “Bloomsday.”
The story, which takes place in Dublin, is a tale of the past and now. Literally, it takes place in the past and the present, at the same time, basically a kind-of surreal time-travel experience.
We first meet Caithleen, a young twenty-something Irish lass while she is leading a group tour of James Joyce’s Dublin, pointing out the major sites described in “Ulysses,” the classic which Robert, one of the tour’s participants, refers to as “an under-read and overpraised piece of drivel.”
In the play, Robert warns Caithleen not to pay much heed to Robbie, a young American who will soon be on her tour. He relates what is going to happen between the duo. At first this is confusing, until we realize that the older Robert is the younger Robbie and the youthful Caithleen is Cait, who Robert also talks about.
The tale, with humor and drama, “embodies how one can, with age, make peace with lost opportunity — yet still feel pangs of regret.”
The title, “Bloomsday,” refers to June 16, on which the life of Irish writer, James Joyce, is universally celebrated. It was selected as it is the time of the writer’s first outing with Nora Barnacle, his wife-to be, and is named after the novel’s protagonist, Leopold Bloom.”
“Bloomsday,” is the kind of script that none-too-fragile does so well. The play, which has a challenging format, requires fine acting and directing to avoid being a confusing, abstract evening of theatre.
As is usually the case, n-t-f’s performance is masterful. Under Katia Schwarz’s well thought-out direction, and the well-textured performances of Derdriu Ring (Cait), Tom Woodward (Robert), Brooke Turner (Caithleen) and Nicholas Chokan (Robbie) are compelling.
Capsule judgment: “Bloomsday” is a provocative script which gets a fine production. It continues none-too-fragile’s reputation of being one of the best local theaters. This is a staging well worth seeing!
For tickets for “Bloomsday,” which runs through September 1, 2018, call 330-671-4563 or go to nonetoofragile.com
Up next: Matt Pelfrey’s “Freakstorm”
(November 16-December 1, 2018)
“On a rainy night in Los Angeles, a young couple get an abrupt visit from two old friends. They're not stopping by for pleasure, but to warn them that someone, or something, from their past that is coming for them all...”
Sunday, August 12, 2018
Here’s a list of some of the offerings of local theatres for the fall season (September-December, 2018). SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL THEATRES! You can track my reviews on http://www.royberko.info or contact me to get on my direct review list. You can see a synopsis of the members of the Cleveland Critics Circle comments about the plays they see at http://www.clevelandtheaterreviews.com/
BECK CENTER 216-521-2540 or http://www.beckcenter.org 8 p.m. evenings, 3 p.m. matinees
(September 14-October 7) AN ACT OF GOD—A comedy which attempts to give a new meaning to the phrase divine intervention.
(October 5-November 4) WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF—Edward Albee’s masterpiece of mind games and devastation.
(December 7-January 6, 2019) SHREK THE MUSICAL—The musical tale of a social outcast who takes an exciting journey to find out the real meaning of life.
BLANK CANVAS 440-941-0458 or http://www.blankcanvastheatre.com/ Thursday, Friday and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 7 pm
(October 5-27) CANNIBAL THE MUSICAL—From the co-creator of “South Park” and “The Book of Mormon,” comes the “All Singing! All Dancing! All Flesh-Eating” true story of the only person ever convicted of cannibalism in America. (Show will have a “splatter zone!)
(December 7-22) AVENUE Q--The Tony winning puppet-centric musical that addresses humorous adult issues. A cult favorite! CESEAR’S FORUM 216-241-6000 or go to http://www.cesearsforum.com/
Kennedy’s Theatre—enter from the Ohio Theatre lobby
(September 21-29 @ 8 PM)) PLATH AND ORION--Two one-act plays by Lanford Wilson concerning a chance meeting between two women. Their poignant, telling and poetic conversations reveal plainly their individual boundaries of hope and reality.
CLEVELAND PLAY HOUSE 216-241-6000 or go to http://www.playhousesquare.org 7:30 Wednesday-Saturday, 2:30 Saturday and Sunday
(September 15-October 7) THE WOMAN IN BLACK— Halloween comes early this year! Arthur Kipps never believed in the supernatural until he came face to face with evil!
(October 13-November 4) SWEAT A compelling portrait of pride and survival in the Rust Belt. To read my review of the Broadway production go to: https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=3114387099896190039 - editor/target=post;postID=638743968349909341;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=3;src=postname
(November 23-December 23) A CHRISTMAS STORY—Ralph’s back! One holiday wish. And a world that seems to be conspiring to make certain it doesn’t come true. “Be careful or you’ll shoot your eye out!”
CLEVELAND PUBLIC THEATRE 216-631-2727 or go on line to http://www.cptonline.org/
(October 4 – 6) ¡OBRAS EN EVOLUCIÓN 2018! A FESTIVAL OF NEW PLAY READINGS--written & directed by Teatro Publico de Cleveland Ensemble Members. In English & Spanish with bilingual supertitles.
(October 11-27) YA MAMA! The autobiographical story of a young Afro-Creole girl losing a mother, gaining a stepmother, and becoming a mother—all while being an artist. (Originally developed and produced by CPT in 2011.)
(October 20 – November 10) EVERYTHING IS OKAY (AND OTHER HELPFUL LIES)—the World Premiere of a hot mess musical, in which a group of close friends struggle to navigate the tragedies of life.
(November 8 – 11) Y-HAVEN THEATRE PROJECT--Created & Performed by the men of Y-Haven, a branch of the Greater Cleveland YMCA, a transitional housing facility for formerly homeless men recovering from substance abuse and mental health challenges. The Y-Haven Theatre Project captures an authenticity and emotional power as the cast shares their true-to-life experiences often hidden from the world.
(November 23-24) PINCH AND SQUEAL’S WIZBANG!--Two spectacular nights of absolute holiday madness filled with ridiculous acts, local circus performers, and professional misbehavers!
(November 29-December 22) CONNI’S AVANT GARDE RESTAURANT: A SNOWBALL’S CHANCE--This hilarious musical performance includes crazy cabaret, comedy, dancing, game show competitions, violence, and a five-course meal. The performers cook and serve the feast, using fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. World Premiere.
convergence continuum convergence-continiuum.org or 216-687-0074 Thursday-Saturday @ 8
(October 12-November 3)—THIS MUCH (OR AN ACT OF VIOLENCE TOWARD THE INSTITUTION OF MARRIAGE)—Gar can’t decide between the man who plays games and the man on one knee with a ring. Everyone wants answers, but nothing lives up to the image he has in his head. Ohio premiere.
(November 30-December 15)—RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN—an unflinching look at gender politics.
DOBAMA 216-932-3396 or http://www.dobama.org check the theatre’s blog for performance time
(September 7-30) SUNSET BABY—Ohio premiere of Dominique Morisseau’s tale of a tough, independent woman in Brooklyn, who is visited by her estranged father, a former revolutionary in the Black Liberation movement, who seeks to mend their broken relationship.
(October 9-November 11) JOHN—A young couple struggling to stay together, stop at a bed and breakfast. They encounter a cheerful innkeeper, her blind friend and an eerie world crammed with toys and one very odd American Girl doll.
November 30-December 30) ELLA ENCHANTED—Based on the best-selling novel, this modern Cinderella story is filled with delightful music, beautiful puppets, high adventure and plenty of girl power.
ENSEMBLE THEATRE 216-321-2930 or http://www.ensemble-theatre.com Fridays and Saturdays @ 8, Sundays @ 2
(September 7-30) ALABAMA STORY--A black rabbit marries a white rabbit! — stirs the passions of a segregationist State Senator and a no-nonsense State Librarian in 1959 Montgomery, Alabama, just as the civil rights movement is flowering. Another story of childhood friends — an African-American man and a white woman, reunited in adulthood in Montgomery that same year — provides private counterpoint to the public events of the play.
(October 19-Noveber 11) EAST OF EDEN—A staging of John Steinbeck’s tale of Adam Trask, who is determined to make a new start in California’s Salinas Valley. But family history, sibling rivalry, and the impending danger of World War I will threaten their little piece of paradise.
(November 30-December 16) AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS—A world premiere staging of Jules Verne’s tale of Phileas Fogg, and his new French valet, attempt to circumnavigate the world in 80 days.
GREAT LAKES THEATER http://www.greatlakestheater.org or 216-241-6000 Wednesday-Saturday @ 7:30, Saturdays @ 1:30, Sundays @ 3
(September 28-November 11) MAMMA MIA! —ABBA’s music set into a tale of love, laughter, family and friendship. Hanna Theatre
(October 5-Novemer 4) PRIDE AND PREJUDICE –Jane Austin’s classic novel comes to the stage. Hanna Theatre
(November 30-December 23) A CHRISTMAS CAROL—Charles Dickens’ classic tale of one man’s ultimate redemption. Ohio Theatre
INTERPLAY JEWISH THEATRE firstname.lastname@example.org or 216-393-PLAY (Play readings at Dobama are free, but reservations are required. Presentations at the Maltz Museum are fee based)
(September 16 @ 7 PM) Jazz violinist AARON WEINSTEIN presents
V I O L I N S P I R A T I O N! --Dobama Theatre, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Hts.
A dessert reception follows the performance.
A minimum $10 donation per person will be collected at the door.
RESERVATIONS are required, including all names in your party. Contact email@example.com; or call 216 393-PLAY and leave a message.
KARAMU HOUSE 216-795-707) or www.karamuhouse.org
(September 20-October 14)—SASSY MAMAS—back by popular demand we relieve the experiences of three longtime girlfriends who find themselves single and ready to ensnare much younger suitors.
(October 25-November 18)—DAY OF ABSENCE—A one-act satire about an imaginary Southern town where all black people suddenly disappeared.
(November 29-December 30)—BLACK NATIVITY—Langston Hughes’ famed retelling of the Nativity story with an entirely African-American cast, performed in gospel style!
LAKELAND CIVIC THEATRE 440-525-7134 or http://lakelandcc.edu/academic/arts/theatre/index.asp Performances at Lakeland Community College
(September 7-28) LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC—Stephen Sondheim’s Tony award winning musical about unrequited love, beautiful melodies and a total lack of misunderstanding amongst all the characters. Musical highlights include “A Weekend in the Country.”
NEAR WEST THEATRE 216-961-6391 or nearwestheatre.org
(September 21-30) NEWSIES—Youth cast, ages 9-15—a musical based on the Disney film.
(November 16-December 9) CARNIVAL—Intergenerational cast, ages 7 and up—The “Love Makes the World Go ‘Round” musical in which Lili, a lonely orphan, is enchanted with a traveling carnival. She gets to join the troupe and ends up working with the puppet act and two men fall in love with her.
none-too-fragile theatre 330-671-4563 or http://www.nonetoofragile.com
Thursday, Friday and Saturday @ 8, select Sundays @2 and select Mondays at 8
(September 28-October 13) FREAK STORM--Mark Pelfrey’s macabre comedy tells the tale of a young couple who get a visit from two old friends who tell them that someone, or something from their past is coming for them all!
(November 16-December 1) BOOGIBA--Explores the lasting effects of war upon two soldiers of different eras.
OHIO SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL www.ohioshakespearefestival.com (Winter and Spring Home: Greystone Hall, Akron) Thursdays-Saturdays @ 8, Sundays @ 2
(September 28-October 14)—TREASURE ISLAND: AN ADVENTURE WITH MUSIC—a new play by Terry Burlger, based on the novel by Robert Lewis Stevenson. World Premiere.
(November 30-December 16)—SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE—Young Will Shakespeare has writer's block... the deadline for his new play is fast approaching but he's in desperate need of inspiration. That is, until he finds his muse – Viola. This beautiful young woman is Will’s greatest admirer and will stop at nothing (including breaking the law) to appear in his next play.
PLAYHOUSESQUARE 216-241-6000 or go to www.playhousesquare.org See the website for specific dates and times
(October 2-21) HELLO DOLLY—The national tour starts here! Betty Buckley stars as Dolly in the Tony Award winning musical based on Thornton Wilder’s THE MATCHMAKER. Songs include: “It Takes a Woman,” “Put On Your Sunday Clothes,” “Before the Parade Passes By,” “Hello Dolly” and “It Only Takes a Moment.” Connor Palace
(October 30-November 18) LES MISÉRABLES--“Les Miz” is born again. A new staging of Boubilil and Schonberg’s Tony Award-winning musical phenomenon, based on the Victor Hugo novel. Songs include: “One Day More” and “I Dreamed a Dream.” Connor Palace
(November 27-December)—CHICAGO--Huntington Bank presents a touring production of one of the longest running American musicals in Broadway history. Connor Palace
BROADWAY BUZZ--Get the inside scoop on Key Bank Broadway shows from host, Joe Garry, one hour before performances. Please check event schedule for exact dates and times. Broadway Buzz Pre-Show Talks are held in the Upper Allen, accessible through the Allen Theatre lobby.
PLAYHOUSE SQUARE TOURS—Nearly 100 years after our historic theaters first opened, Playhouse Square has become the largest performing arts center outside of New York City and hosts nearly 1,000,000 guests and 1,000 curtains each year. Each of the theaters has its own story to tell. Our tours are a great way to learn about the history and community impact of one of Cleveland’s most important cultural institutions. 1 st Saturday of each month, 10-11:30 AM, every 15 minutes a 90-minute tour leaves from Key Bank State Lobby. No reservations needed for groups of 10 or fewer.
THE MUSICAL THEATER PROJECT http://www.MusicalTheaterProject.org or 1-800-838-3006 for tickets and information (productions staged in review format with narration)
(September 17-- The Music Box Supper Club @ 6:30 PM)—MARVELOUS PARTIES—The songs that make shindig sizzle—featuring Eric Fancher, Laura Lindauer, Nancy Maier and Bill Rudman. 12:18 PM Tickets—800-838-3006
(October 19--First Baptist Church of Cleveland @ 7 PM) (October 21—Mixon Hall, Cleveland Institute of Music @ 3 PM)—SILVER LININGS, THE SONGS OF JEROME KERN—a lecture/performance of the melodies of the human heart.
(November 14—Solon Center for the Arts @ 7 PM) (November 18—Hanna Theatre, Playhouse Square @ 3 PM)—JUST FOR LAUGHS—A celebration, through explanation, live performance and video clips of what makes us laugh at a song in a musical featuring Bill Rudman, Nancy Maier, Douglas F. Bailey II, Ursula Cataan and Sherri Gross.
(December 14 @ 8 PM, December 15 @ 2 PM—Stocker Arts Center) (December 16 @ 7 PM and December 17 @ 7 PM—Nighttown)—A CHRISTMAS CABARET--“Winter Wonderland,” “White Christmas,” “Let It Snow” and about every other holiday song from Irving Berlin. Featuring Bridie Carroll, Nancy Maier, Joe Monaghan and Bill Rudman.