Wednesday, August 24, 2016

KINKY BOOTS gets better and better with each visit to the Connor Palace




When KINKY BOOTS played Playhouse Square in April of 2015, while still running on Broadway, it was a really good performance.  The show is back again and, believe it or not, it’s even better this time around. 

The Harvey Fierstein (book) and Cyndi Lauper (music and lyrics) award-winning musical is back by demand for a short run. 

KINKY BOOTS is based on the true story of a men’s shoe factory in England which, when the cheap, mass-produced Asian knock-offs invaded the market, wiping out the handmade products, transitions to producing for a niche market…cross-dressing men who needed a sturdy boot that the Asians can’t  produce.

The story, which was made into a 1999 British TV special, then a 2005 film, centers on Charlie Price, who is left a man’s high-end shoe company in Northampton, England, by his father, and Lola, a she-male who has a fascination with shoes, but especially has designs set on red, spike-heeled boots. 

The duo form a partnership when Charlie is faced with bankruptcy, causing the potential laying-off of his loyal employees, and Lola, a drag queen/entertainer who, along with her dancing Angels, keeps breaking the heels on their poorly made boots.  It’s a match made in heaven, except for the prejudices against Lola, and the financial and personal pressures pressed on Charlie.

Take the story, which stresses that to be happy in life you must “accept someone for who they are,” add some pop, funk, new wave music, lyrics that are perfectly drawn for each character, humorous situations, and dynamic choreography, and you have a show which was given 13 Tony nominations and garnered 6 Tony wins, including Best Musical and Best Score.

Handsome  J. Harrison Ghee  is every bit as good as Billy Porter, the show’s original Lola.   Ghee lights up the stage. He has a strong singing voice, and the charisma that makes Lola appealing, while showing vulnerability.   He is a master at extended farce and is drag queen extraordinaire.  His “Land of Lola,” sung with the Angels, is a dynamic showstopper. 

Adam Kaplan, as Charlie, displays a personal vulnerability and insecurity that perfectly fit the character’s underpinnings, yet, the strength to act with conviction when needed.  He has a strong singing voice and nicely textures Charlie into a real person.

Kaplan’s “Soul of a Man “ and “Not My Father’s Son,” his duet with Gee, are emotional tear-jerkers that carry two of the script’s messages. 

Tiffany Engen is adorable as Lauren, the girl who has a history of making bad dating choices as expressed the well sung “The History of Wrong Guys,” but may finally have found the right one in Charlie, if he can ditch his finance.

As Don, Aaron Walpole makes the transition from macho homophobe to charmer with ease as he takes to heart the idea of “accept someone for who they are!,” the centerpiece of Fierstein’s bid for tolerance and acceptance.

The costumes and sets are professionally done and the orchestra, though it gets a little out of hand once in a while, drowning out the singers, is in fine tune.

Director and choreographer, Jerry Mitchell, has paced the show well, created many exciting dance numbers including “Everybody Say Yeah,” and the curtain closer, “Raise You Up/Just Be.”

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  KINKY BOOTS is the kind of musical that seeing it once is just not enough. (I’ve seen it three times and look forward to more!)  The music, the storyline, the humor, the stage excitement makes this a very, very special theatrical experience.  This touring production of the show is as good as the last one through town and rivals the Broadway show.  This is one staging that deserves a standing ovation, not just the automatic polite Cleveland one, but a real, well-earned one.  Go! 

 
Tickets for KINKY BOOTS, which runs through August 28, 2016 at the Connor Palace, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or going to www.playhousesquare.org.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Scottish Play (Ma…th) holds forth at Ohio Shakespeare Festival





Theater people are very superstitious.  A light is placed center stage in many theatres, appropriately called the “ghost light,” to scare off the demons which inhabit many performance places. 

The phrase “break a leg” is the traditional well wishing greeting used before a production as it is considered “bad luck” to wish someone "good luck" in the theatre.

Never, never is the name of “M/A/C/B/E/T/H” spoken by producers, directors or casts of “that” script.  The term “The Scottish Play” is used instead.  Actors even avoid quoting lines from the script before performances, particularly the witches’ incantations. 

“If an actor speaks the name "Macbeth" in a theatre prior to one of the performances, he or she is required to leave the theatre building, spin around three times, spit, curse, and then knock to be allowed back in.”

“One version of this legend claims that it was the actor who played Lady Macbeth who died during the play's first production run and that Shakespeare himself had to assume the role.”

Obviously, one of the cast of the Ohio Shakespeare’s “The Scottish Play” must have stated the play’s name, or said a speech, before the recent Saturday night production of the show, which is onstage on the grounds of Stan Hewett Hall. For a few minutes after the lights went up to start the show, rain poured down, drenching the audience and the actors.  But, true to another theater tradition, “The show must go on,” and, so it did!

Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s shortest plays.  It is a tale of greed, the desire for power and the vile things that people will do to get what they want.  A gruesome tragedy, it tells the tale of an ambitious man, stirred on by his evil wife, who becomes king and holds on to his power via a reign of terror. 

As with all of Shakespeare’s tragedies, it is a tale which highlights the flaws of its protagonist, who, in this instance, is transformed from a noble war hero into a tyrannical murderer.

Macbeth is filled with often quoted lines, “If it were done when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well it were done quickly,” (Macbeth’s soliloquy on whether he should kill Duncan), “Out, damned spot; out, I say.” (Lady Macbeth’s speech reflecting her guilt for orchestrating many of the murders by or caused by her husband), “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more. It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury Signifying nothing.” (Words uttered by Macbeth after he hears of Lady Macbeth’s death).

The Ohio Shakespeare Festival, housed on the grounds of Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens, is now in its fifteenth year.  It is a professional theatre company dedicated to “articulating the inherently theatrical components of Shakespeare and his fellow playwrights throughout the ages in a manner that enables the collected imaginations of the artists to meet the collective imagination of the audience in a public celebration that transforms the world in which we live.”

You don’t go to OSF expecting the same quality of performance as you would at The Stratford Festival in Canada or The Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland where classically trained actors hold roost and massive amounts of money are spent to stage a production. 

You go to be enveloped in the beautiful Stan Hywet Hall gardens, forests, and buildings. 

You go for the delightful Greenshow, a pre-main production which comically blends together a Shakespeare tale with whatever pops into the minds of the director and his staff.  On the night I went there were segments of Les Miz and Man of LaMancha, and a tennis ball battle, meshed into the tales of old England stories. 

You go to see Shakespeare that is accessible to those who are aficionados of the Bard and those who are not!

OSF’s production of Macbeth is well-done, easy to understand (American pronunciation is used), and moves along at a comfortable pace.  The acting is uneven, as can be expected from a company whose performers are not all classically trained, but that does not distract from the overall pleasure of the evening.  Bernard Bygott, a graduate from CWRU/Cleveland Playhouse’s MFA program did a nice turn as Macbeth.

The rules:  If it rains have an umbrella or raincoat available for they seldom cancel a show.  If there is dangerous weather, the audience takes cover in the nearby Corbin Conservatory.  If the weather clears, the show will continue where it left off.

“Off” bug spray is available at the ticket and concession tents.

You can bring a picnic.  There are tables and lots of places to lay out your food and beverages.  If you prefer, there are snacks available at the concession tent.  

Exploring the grounds of Stan Hywet and the glorious gardens are encouraged.

The Greenshow starts at 7:30 and your can eat and watch songs, dances, parodies, sword fighting and general revelry. 

Capsule judgement:  Macbeth gets an appealing, audience-friendly production by OSF on the magnificent grounds of Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens.  The evening was enhanced by a delightful Greenshow before the main production. 

Macbeth runs through August 21 @ Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, 714 N. Portage Path, Akron.  For tickets call 330-673-8761 or 1-888-71-TICKETS.  For information go to http://www.ohioshakespearefestival.com/faq/

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Objectively/Reasonable (A Community response to the Shooting of Tamir Rice) is an emotional rollercoaster


 


On November 22, 2014, twelve-year-old Tamir Rice was shot at close range by police officer Timothy Loehmann outside the Cudell Recreation Center on Cleveland’s near west side.  Tamir died the next day. 

Soon after the incident, “a surveillance video was released which captured the officers drive-up, as well as footage of Tamir’s replica pistol (missing its orange toy-distinguishing cap) which generated the original 911 call.”  The grand jury declined to indict the officers on criminal charges.  In “April 2016, the city of Cleveland signed a $6 million settlement with the estate of Tamir Rice admitting no wrongdoing.”

Rice joined an ever-growing list of black tweens, teens and men who died at the hands of police officers. 

In describing the case, County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty used the phrase “objectively reasonable” to describe the officers’ actions.

Playwrights Local, the area’s newest theatrical group, is presenting the world premiere of Objectively/Reasonable (A Community Response to the Shooting of Tamir Rice, 11/22/14), a script and performance conceived by the theatre.

The authors of the script interviewed Cudell residents, legal experts, teachers, activists and mothers for their reactions to and thoughts about what happened. 

Playwrights Mike Geither, Tom Hayes, Lisa Langford, Michael Oatman and David Todd did the interviews to reflect the community’s responses, thus giving a voice to the “silent people.” They wrote the segments for the script, mostly monologues.  Todd, as the dramaturge, wove the drama together and the play’s director, Terrence Spivey, bridged the pieces with staging devices, including singing, dancing, electronic media and verbal and nonverbal sounds and actions.

The play created an emotional rollercoaster.  Mind-boggling “what ifs,” “why did that happen,” “why was . . .,” and “if only . . .,” thoughts and feelings resulted.

What if the police had stopped when they arrived, not shot within several seconds and tried to talk to the boy?  What would have happened if the 911 operator’s words had been clearly conveyed?  (The original caller had indicated the gun was “probably fake.”) 

If only the police had been trained in how to do non-confrontational actions, or the negative climate of young black male versus police wasn’t the community norm. 

If only Loehmann’s past record had been carefully considered before he was hired by the Cleveland Police.  It was reported that “he was rejected for a deputy Sheriff job in 2013, and was unsuccessful in getting jobs with the police departments in Akron, Euclid, and Parma Heights.  He resigned in 2012 from the Independence police department, after only a short time in the department, following a poor performance review.” 

In this era of high stress, why was a twelve-year-old even playing with a toy gun?

The cast (Ashley Aquilla, Kaila Benford, India Burton, Samone Cummings, Ananias Dixon, Kali Hatten, Jameka Terri, LaShawn Little, Brenton Lyles and Nathan Tolliver) each portrayed numerous characters with clarity of purpose.

A special spotlight must be focused on Ashley Aquila for her emotionally evident, but well controlled monologue of the words of Samaria Rice.  Tears flowing, she slowly textured Samaria’s words. 

(Little did most of the audience know that Mrs. Rice was in attendance.  Following the show, during the talk-back, the well spoken woman indicated that she would be calling upon members of the cast to perform their words as part of her efforts to insure Tamir’s legacy.)

Though a little long, especially with an audience sitting on hard church benches, the script holds the attention with sensitive, curious, straight forward, probing, and highly emotional speeches.  

Though repetition led to some redundancy, much of the material works.  If further productions are to be done, based on this presentation, the authors might want to consider some tightening of monologues and cutting of some speeches and the adjustment of the ending so that the audience is aware when the play is over.

The use of pictures and video to supplement the story helps add texture to the speeches.  When action was not presented on the screen, a picture of the Cudell cupola hung over the action as a sad reminder of the site of the horror.

The talkback which followed the presentation, moderated by former county commissioner Peter Lawson Jones, brought out a series of provocative points including that the police culture needs to be changed, a return to neighborhood policing needs to be undertaken, the probes as to whether Tamir would have been shot if he was white and if white members of the audience would like to go through life as an African American male.  Cleveland’s segregation pattern:  east-black, west-white, much like cities in the South, the drive-by shootings and murders, and the low quality of schools, were also topics discussed. 

Capsule judgment:  It is the purpose of the Playwrights Local to produce works of North Eastern Ohio writers.  If their future efforts produce anything like this painful to watch but well conceived play, their purpose will be well confirmed.  This is a must see experience for anyone interested in the real world around them, especially if they are not part of the African American community.

Playwrights Local 4181’s next production will be The 2 nd Annual Cleveland Playwrights Festival to be staged in November. For information go to:  http://playwrightslocal.org/

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Silk Road Ensemble enthralls capacity crowd at Blossom


Culture matters!

It was a soggy night at Blossom, but neither the rain nor the humidity dampened the enthusiasm of the crowd that filled the pavilion and covered much of the lawn for the Saturday, August 13 evening concert of the Silk Road Ensemble.

Anyone attending who thought they were seeing a traditional Cleveland Orchestra concert were immediately altered to “this is going to be something different” by the lack of the usual seating arrangement for the orchestra and a stage filled with Chinese gongs, as well as a tabla, kamancheh, Galician bagpipes, shakuhachi, pipa, sheng, and suona.  Don’t know what those instruments are?  Have never heard them played? That’s part of the purpose for the Silk Road Ensemble.

Silkroad was founded by Yo-Yo Ma in 1998 to explore how the arts can advance global understanding.  His purpose was to “connect the world through the arts.” He wanted to “promote cross-cultural education, business, and the arts” to transform the world.  “Silkroad is a connector and bridge builder; the Ensemble’s music is vitally reflective of our shared humanity and our global trajectories, and plays a natural role in the need for greater cross-cultural exchange.”

Ma, a Julliard School and Harvard University trained cellist, has led the group to commission more than 80 works, as well as a yearly annual tour and educational programs.

With an emphasis on celebrating differences and cultivating curiosity in exploring and sharing, the Blossom program presented fourteen compositions, divided into seven sections.  Included were musical modes and rhythmic sounds covering such global areas as the Yangtze River, the Czech homeland of Antonin Dvorák ,  West Africa, Ireland, Japan, sub-Arctic Scandinavia, Finland, the Bengali-speaking regions of the Brahmaputra River, New York, the land of the Roma gypsies, Spain, and Syria.

Silkroad intends to weave together the foreign and familiar into a new musical language, “which embraces our differences and celebrates the joy we find in one another.”  This is based on the belief that “art , in all its forms, opens windows on the world and offers new ways to connect in the face of fragmentation and friction.”

This was not a Yo-Yo Ma concert.  It was an exposure to music of the world, presented through solo and blended works of seventeen extraordinary musicians.  It is music that  has been highlighted in “The Music of Strangers,” a 2015 one-and-a-half-hour documentary from Oscar-winner, Morgan Neville, that captures five of the many individual journeys of Silkroad.

The group’s newest recording is “Sing Me Home,” in which Silkroad musicians reflect on the meaning of home, interpreting original and traditional folk songs.  Many of those selections were included in the recent Blossom concert.

Capsule judgment: From the opening “duel” between Christina Pato’s Galician bagpipes and Wu Ton’s suona (Chinese horn) to the creation of train sounds in the fascinating arrangement of “Take the ‘A’ Train” by percussion and pipa (four-string Chinese musical instrument marvelously played by Wu Man), and “Wedding,” the third and final movement of Kinan Azmeh’s 2007 Syrian composition for clarinet, oud (an 11 to 12 string pear-shaped instrument) and vocalization (the well-tuned singing voice of  Wu Tong), the program grabbed and held the audience’s attention.  Bravo!

Upcoming:  The 2016 Blossom season comes to a conclusion with:
“The Music of Led Zeppelin (August 20), Orpheus Plays Bach (August 27) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (September 3-4)

For Blossom tickets call 216-231-1111 or go to http://www.clevelandorchestra.com

Monday, August 08, 2016

GLENGARRY GLENROSS doesn’t close the deal at Blank Canvas



David Mamet, the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, and author of Glengarry Glen Ross, a play which is now on stage at Blank Canvas, is noted for his unique style of writing dialogue.  Dubbed “Mamet speak,” his vocal tone centers on precisely crafted street-smart narrative style.  His characters talk “real.”  They sound like the way people from the geographical area and societal level from which they come would really speak.  This is not “speech for a play,” it is actual people speaking, with vocalized pauses (“ums,” “you know,” and “things like that.” 

In his scripts, “he often uses italics and quotation marks to highlight particular words and to draw attention to his characters’ frequent manipulation and deceitful use of language.  His characters frequently interrupt one another, their sentences trail off unfinished, and their dialogue overlaps.”

Mamet tends to write “character studies,” not well-made plot-driven shows.

Glengarry Glen Ross is definitely not plot driven.  Instead, the razor-knife sharp tongued comedy, which won the 1984 Pulitzer Prize, centers on employees of a realty company that sell property, such as Glengarry Highlands, to reluctant buyers.

The salesmen are desperate, cut throat.  Men who cajole, wheel-and-deal to make “the board”--the list of who get prizes, such as new cars, for being the top salesman for the month.  They will do anything to get the “hot” leads, people who might be sold whatever property the salesman is pushing.

The play takes place in Chicago in a two-day span during 1980, and showcases four Chicago real estate agents, who display their ability to lie, flatter, bribe, threaten, intimidate and even turn to burglary in order to sell each other and their clients.

This is not a made-up story.  It reflects a period in Mamet’s life when he worked for a realty company and shared his time with Glen Ross-like salesmen.

Mamet introduces the characters in three-short scenes set in a Chinese restaurant, downstairs of the real estate office.  The first scene finds Shelly Levene (Darrell Starnik), a past-his-prime agent trying to convince office manager, John Williamson (Daniel Scott Telford), to give him the names of some promising potential clients.  Bribery and threats are the order of the day.

Scene 2 centers on Dave Moss (Jeff Glover) trying to convince George Aaronow (Chris D’Amico) to break into the office and steal the prime leads list which can be sold to a competitor for a considerable profit.  Intimidation and playing on emotions highlights their conversation.

Scene 3 finds Richard Roma (Daniel McElhaney), the firm’s hotshot salesman, preying on the insecurities of James Lingk (Greg Mandryk), a man who Roma starts talking to in the restaurant.  Using his charm, Roma beguiles Lingk to invest in some property.  Charm, manipulation and careful “victim” analysis are center stage in this scene.

The long fourth scene (Act 2) shows the fallout from the office break-in, and puts the spotlight on the pressures under which the salesmen work, and how those pressures effect each person.

The play opened on Broadway in 1984 and ran for almost a year.  It was nominated for four Tony Awards.  It was later made into a major motion picture starring Al Pacino, Jack Lemon, Alan Arkin, Alex Baldwin, Jonathan Pryce, Ed Harris and Kevin Spacey.

The Blank Canvas production has some high and low points.

In order for a Mamet play to work, the characters must be real.  No acting here, no melodrama, no feigning realism, no fake gestures, no screaming without motivation, no overacting.  Unfortunately, several of the actors in the cast simply didn’t seem up to the task.  Whether it was opening night jitters, lack of understanding Mamet’s writing, or the lack of ability, is an unknown factor.

McElhaney’s Ricky Roma, showed the right balance of the character’s virility, ruthlessness and slick immorality.  He was clearly comfortable portraying the smooth talker with a tendency toward poetic soliloquies.

Greg Mandryk was spot on as the easily manipulated James Lingk who was cowed by Roma’s manipulative powers.

Chris D’Amico nicely created George Aaronow as a person lacking both confidence and hope, whose conscience stopped him from being manipulated into stealing the leads from the office by the overpowering Dave Moss (Jeff Glover who failed to texture his performance, shouting his way through almost all of his speeches).

Daniel Scott Telford as John Williamson, the young office manager who held his position due to paternalism, never quite established a clear character.  His opening scene with Darrell Starnik set a weak tone for the rest of the play.  Starnik, portraying  Shelly Levene, surface acted, failed to “talk real.”

Whether the lack of airflow was intentional or not, the overly warm theatre intensified the emotional level of the play.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Glengarry Glen Ross was the first David Mamet play I ever saw.  Fortunately, it was on Broadway where each of the characters was so real that it was easy to react to each as a person, not a character in a play.  Unfortunately, this was not the case in the Blank Canvas production.  Too bad.  The script can be mesmerizing.
Blank Canvas’s Glengarry Glen Ross runs though August 20 in its west side theatre, 1305 West 78th Street, Suite 211, Cleveland.   For tickets and directions go to www.blankcanvasthetre.com

Up next:  Blank Canvas Theatre’s 2016 Benefit on September 3.  For information check their website.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Unsettling, haunting Sans Merci @ none too fragile



When the lights went off to signal the ending of none too fragile’s production of Johnna Adams’ unsettling, haunting, thought-provoking Sans Merci, my immediate reaction was, “Oh, please fellow audience members, don’t clap!”

“Please don’t!  This experience needs a respectful silence.” Applauding at the end of this play was like cheering at the end of a eulogy.  It was a feeling that I’ve only had a handful of times in the theatre...Broadway’s Disgraced, The Bad Seed and The Father, come to mind.  This is a  play that deserves quiet thought, not raucous applause.

But, sure enough, either our of duty or shocked reaction, the cheers rung out and the assemblage leaped to their feet. 

Me?  I sat there in deep thought.  The fifty-minute ride home was done in total silence.  My mind was gone…stuck on the theatre’s stage, reliving what I had just seen and heard.  Now, twelve hours later, I am still in a state of suspended shock.

What brought about my reaction?

At the start of Sans Merci (which can be interpreted as “without mercy”), Kelly (Cassandra West) is tossing and turning on the aged couch of an unkempt apartment.  There is a knock on the door.  After several more raps, Kelly, walking with a crutch, hobbles to the door, opens it and reveals a mature woman who she does not know.   When the woman asks if she is Kelly, with some obvious concern, Kelly lets her in.

Within a short period we find out that the guest is Elizabeth (Harriet DeVeto), the mother of Tracy, Kelly’s college friend. 

Through a series of flashbacks it is revealed that Tracy (Miranda Scholl) was a college lit major with little confidence, and communication anxiety, which resulted in panic attacks when she was required to speak in class.  When Tracy has an attack in class, and runs out, she is followed by Kelly, who gives her sympathy and positive feedback.  Tracy goes back to class, finishes the presentation, gets an “A.”  Tracy and Kelly become acquaintances, and eventually lovers.

Kelly is an idealist who dedicates herself to good deeds to “save the world.”  She overlooks possible dangers, and is unrealistic about whether or not she is really actually solving problems.

She is going to South America to make a documentary about a native tribe whose historic lands include a mountain range which it considers to be sacred.  That land is desired by an oil company,  remove the “blood” from the land.  She wants to make a documentary illustrating the “rape” of the land by the petroleum firm.  The area is also a political hotbed where a civil war is being raged. 

That not withstanding she talks Tracy into going with her, with disastrous results.  Both young women are raped, Kelly shot, Tracy killed (“sans merci”).

Three years after the incident, Elizabeth has come to Kelly to get any possessions of Tracy’s that her former lover has, and to find out about how Tracy died.   Elizabeth and Kelly have never met.  It readily becomes apparent that the extremely conservative Republican Elizabeth and the overly liberal, often unrealistic Kelly, have only one thing in common--they both loved Tracy.

When Kelly reveals that she and Tracy were lovers, Elizabeth insists over and over that her daughter was “only going through a phase” and that if she had never become involved with Kelly, Tracy would not have gone on the mission and would still be alive.

Even though it is overlong and too talky, the script is dramatic, gripping and often riveting.  It nicely balances love and heartbreak.  The writer, whose tale includes many references to poetry, and the script which contains poetic material, is often poetic in form.

The none too fragile production, adeptly directed by Sean Derry and Brain Kenneth Armour, is well focused, if a little bit languid in pace. 

The performances are strong, but on opening night it was obvious that all of the performers, especially Harriet DeVeto, fell into the trap of assuming that since the NTF performance area is small, projection was not necessary. DeVeto, who displayed a stoic attitude,  as the angry mother of the dead girl, often fell into whispering, underplaying the role so much that fully half of her speeches could not be heard.  Too bad.  The words of the play are vital and deserve to be revealed.  Hopefully, as she becomes used to the space, her projection will increase.

Cassandra West nicely develops the idealistic Kelly, caught between causes and guilt for leading Tracy toward her death.  Miranda Scholl does a nice turn with anxiety and is generally sweet.  Her death scene is vivid and scary!

Be aware that there is female nudity, simulated lesbian sex, vivid language, and a gunshot during the play.  

Capsule judgement:  none too fragile continues to astound with the high quality of their productions.  They tend to pick meaningful scripts and give them very proficient staging.  Sans Merci insures a rollercoaster of emotion and is an absolutely must see!

 

For tickets for Sans Merci, which runs through August 20 (performances are Thursday, Friday, Saturday @ 8 and selected Sundays at 2), call 330-671-4563 or go to nonetoofragile.com

The next none too fragile production is Matthew Lopez’s THE WHIPPING MAN.  If you missed the Cleveland Play House’s spellbinding production of this script several years ago, this is your chance to experience this vital script.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

2016 Fall Cleveland Theater Calendar




Soon, the leaves will start to turn and many local theatres will be lifting their curtains to welcome  a new season.   Here’s a list of some of the offerings of local theatres through the fall season.  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 local reviewers’ comments about the plays at http://www.clevelandtheaterreviews.com

BECK CENTER 
216-521-2540 or http://www.beckcenter.org
8 p.m. evenings, 3 p.m. matinees

RUTHLESS!, September 16-October 16-- Ruthless! is a campy cult favorite musical about Tina Denmark, the greatest song-and-dance sensation to ever hit the third grade.

BODY AWARENESS, October 7-November 6--It's "Body Awareness" week on campus and Phyllis, the organizer, and her partner, Joyce, are hosting a guest artist in their home. Their family is quickly divided as Frank, a photographer famous for his female nude portraits, settles in.

Disney’s THE LITTLE MERMAID—December 2-31-- Based on the classic fairy tale and film, the musical begins under the sea where Princess Ariel is fascinated by the forbidden land above. After saving Eric from stormy waters, she begins to discover her love for the human prince.

BLANK CANVAS  

440-941-0458 or http://www.blankcanvastheatre.com

2016 BENEFIT—September 3—A concert dedicated to raising money for the theater.  Hors d’oevres and music from 7-7:50 PM, followed by an 8:00 PM performance by some of Cleveland’s most talented actor-singers!  Limited seating!

SILENCE!  THE MUSICAL—October 21-November 5—A parody of The Silence of the Lambs which has been called, “irreverent, filthy and funny.”  Of course, this show contains adult language and content.

CABARET—December 2-17—Yes, the Kander and Ebb, “Maybe This Time,” musical where your table, Sally Bowles and the Emcee are waiting.

CESEAR’S FORUM
216-241-6000 or go to http://www.playhousesquare.org

TAKE 5—September 23-October 29—Kennedy’s Theatre (entrance off the lobby of the Ohio Theatre)—An evening of five short plays by Lanford Wilson about the concerns of black Americans.

CLEVELAND PLAY HOUSE  
216-241-6000 or go to http://www.clevelandplayhouse.com
7:30 Wednesday-Saturday, 2:30 Saturday and Sunday

ALL THE WAY—September 17-October 9 (Allen Theatre)—A Tony-Award winning drama that is a mirror of our time, the play reflects the power of one person and one vote to transform our country.

SEX WITH STRANGERS—October 22-November 13 (Outcalt Theatre)—Takes on the ever-blurring line between public and private in our digital age as a steamy romance erupts at a remote B&B.

A CHRISTMAS STORY—November 25-December 23 (Allen Theatre)—It’s back yet again-- Ralphie, Randy, the Old Man, the triple-dog-dare, the glowing leg-lamp, the pink-bunny suit, and the bee-bee gun!

CLEVELAND PUBLIC THEATRE
  216-631-2727 or go on line to http://www.cptonline.org

44 PLAYS FOR 44 PRESIDENTS—October 6-29—Showcases the life and times of the 44 Presidents of the United States, featuring singing, dancing and an all-female cast!


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CERLEBRANDO THREE YEARS—October 6-8—The world premiere of an original work and community event as presented by Teatro Publico de Cleveland.

Y-HAVEN THEATRE PROJECT—November 3-6—An original theatre project performed by the men in the Y-Haven traditional housing facility for homeless men recovering from substance abuse and mental health challenges.

LIGHT THE LIGHTS, OL’ MOSES CLE!  (A WILD HOLIDAY ROMP)—November 25-December 18—A vaudeville-inspired evening of holiday folly, mischief and merry-making, CPT style.

THE SANTALAND DIARIES-- December 1-18--(Outcalt Theatre at PlayhouseSquare)—A joint CPT-PHSq production of David Sedaris’ story of Crumpet, a jaded and out-of-work actor who takes a job as a Macy’s Christmas Elf!

convergence continuum
convergence-continiuum.org or 216-687-0074
Thursday-Saturday @ 8

SELFIES AT THE CLOWN MOTEL—August 26-September 17—The world premiere of Chris Johnson’s play.

LIKE I SAY—October 14-November 5—A structurally bizarre play of stories within stories, weird puppet shows, and an Alpine zombie.

THE KNIFE IS MONEY, THE FORK IS LOVE—December 2-17—Jonathan Wilhelm’s world premiere comedy about Tobias, a young man enamored by radio serials and pulp fiction, who is on a search for the members of a secret society.

DOBAMA
216-932-3396 or http://www.dobama.org
check the theatre’s blog for performance times

THE MYSTERY OF LOVE & SEX—September 2-October 2—The Midwest premiere of Bathsheba Doran’s tale about Charlotte and Jonny, life-long friends…she’s white and Jewish, he’s Christian and black.

AN OCTOROON—October 21-November 13—The Obie Award winner for best New American Play explores the 1859 plantation relationship between a handsome white man and a beautiful octoroon.

PETER AND THE STARCATCHER—December 2-30—A return engagement of last year’s critically well-received Peter Pan prequel.

ENSEMBLE THEATRE
216-321-2930 or http://www.ensemble-theatre.com
Fridays and Saturdays @ 8, Sundays @ 2

MARGIN OF ERROR (or the Unassailable wisdom of the Mouse and the Scorpion)—September 30-October 23—The regional premiere of Cleveland Heights’ playwright Eric Coble’s tale of Harold Carver, the greatest political strategist the nation has ever known and the night he is stuck at Gate C19 at Cleveland Hopkins Airport amidst four possibly doomed campaigns.

THE BLOODLESS JUNGLE—September 15-October 2 (with a possible week extension)—Terrance Spivey directs former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones’ script about a state senator and rising political star who is running for a pivotal seat in Congress.

THE NIGHT THOREAU SPENT IN JAIL—November 18--December 11—Clevelander Jerome Lawrence and Elyrian Robert E. Lee, authors of INHERIT THE WIND and AUNTIE MAME, tell the tale of Thoreau being jailed for refusing to pay taxes as a protest against a war of aggression in Mexico, his relationship with Emerson, and his romance and friendship with an illiterate cellmate.

GREAT LAKES THEATER

http://www.greatlakestheater.org or 216-241-6000
Wednesday-Saturday @ 7:30, Saturdays @ 1:30, Sundays @ 3

MY FAIR LADY—September 23-October 29 (Hanna Theatre)—The Tony Award-winning Lerner and Loewe musical, based on George Bernard Shaw’s PYGMALION, about the relationship between a linguistics professor and a Cockney flower girl.  Songs include:  “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” and “The Rain in Spain.”

TWELFTH NIGHT—September 30-October 30 (Hanna Theatre)—Shakespeare’s bewitching comedy about a violent shipwreck off the coast of Illyria, an exotic island, which is turned topsy-turvy by love, false identities and misguided lovers.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL—November 26-December 23 (Ohio Theatre)—It’s back again!  The Dickens’ “bah,” “humbug,” classic tale of Tiny Tim, Scrooge and the true meaning of Christmas.

INTERPLAY JEWISH THEATRE
%Dobama  Theatre, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights
interplayjewishtheatre@gmail.com or 216-393-PLAY
(Play readings at Dobama are free, but reservations are required.  Presentations at the Maltz Museum are fee based)

U.S. V  HOWARD MECHANIC—September 18—(Dobama Theatre, 1430 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights)—A staged reading of Faye Sholiton’s play about Shaker native, Howard Mechanic, who was falsely arrested on charges that turned him into a fugitive for 30 years.

KARAMU HOUSE
216-795-707)  or www.karamuhouse.org

BLUES IN THE NIGHT—September 9-October 2—Sheldon Epps’ Tony nominated compilation of 26 hot and torchy blues tunes is a musical commentary on three women’s relationships with one snake of a guy.

RASHEEDA SPEAKING—November 4-20—A dark comedy of the realities of what happens when two co-workers, one black, the other white, are driven apart by the machinations of their boss.

SISTER ACT—December 2-30—A musical which relates what happens when a lounge singer witnesses her boy friend commit murder and she is relocated to a convent to the frustration of the Mother Superior and the delight of the audience.

LAKELAND CIVIC THEATRE
440-525-7134 or http://lakelandcc.edu/academic/arts/theatre/index.asp

THE LAST FIVE YEARS—September 16-October 2— Told almost completely through song, this Jason Robert Brown’s Drama Desk Award-winning musical, is an unconventional glance into love-and-life-compartmentalized.

none-too-fragile theatre
330-671-4563 or http://www.nonetoofragile.com

THE WHIPPING MAN—September 23-October 8—The Civil War is over and throughout the South soldiers are returning home.  Caleb DeLeon, a young Jewish Confederate officer finds his family's home in ruins and abandoned, save for two former slaves who wait for the family's return.

ANNAPURNA—November 4-November 19—A dark comedy that examines what happens when two damaged people get caught in the emotional whirlpool of not being able to live with or without each other.

PLAYHOUSESQUARE
216-241-6000 or go to www.playhousesquare.org.
See the website for specific dates and times

JERSEY BOYS—September 20-25 (State Theatre)—The musical tale of how four blue-collar kids became one of the greatest successes in pop music history.  Hear “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Oh What a Night,” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.”

FUN HOME—October 2-22 (Connor Palace)—Cleveland is the launch-point for the national tour of the 2015 Tony Award winner for Best Musical.  Based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir, written while she was a student at Oberlin College, we see her at three different ages as she explores her own lesbianism and her father’s homosexuality.  (Part of the Key Bank Series)

FINDING NEVERLAND—November 1-20 (Connor Palace)—A prequel which tells the story behind J. M. Barrie’s meeting four young brothers and their mother, which gives birth to the make believe adventures of Peter Pan.  (Part of the Key Bank Series)

AVENUE Q—October 27-November 6 (Allen Theatre)—Cleveland State University stages Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx’s musical tale of Princeton, who moves into a shabby New York apartment and discovers a neighborhood filled with unique characters.

DR. SUESS’S HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS:  THE MUSICAL—December 6-11 (Connor Palace)—Visit the whimsical world of Whoville to learn the true meaning of the holiday season.

THE MUSICAL THEATER PROJECT
http://www.MusicalTheaterProject.org or 216-529-9411 for tickets and information
(productions staged in review format with narration)

THE CRADLE WILL ROCK—September 21 (@ 7:30, Beck Center for the Arts) and September 25 (@ 2 PM, Kent State’s E. Turner Stump Theatre)—Marc Blitzstein’s pro-union musical gets a staged reading directed by Terri Kent featuring Joe Monaghan and members of the Kent State University Musical Theatre program.

CURTAIN UP AT THE COTTON CLUB—October 15 (@ 3 PM, Lakeland Community College) and October 16 (@ 2PM, Stocker Center, Lorain County Community College)—The multi-media concert, which played to sold-out performances last year, is back by popular demand.  Featuring the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, the Joe Hunter Trio, John Morton, Treva Offutt and Evelyn Wright.

ALMOST LIKE BEING IN LOVE:  THE SONGS OF LERNER AND LOEWE—November 20 (@ 2 PM, Hanna Theatre, PlayhouseSquare)—The remarkable music of two men who saw the world in the same way and told the tales of the perfect time, perfect place and perfect love story in MY FAIR LADY, CAMELOT, BRIGADOON and GIGI.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

FOOTLOOSE leaves them on their feet, yelling and applauding at Porthouse



The 1984 movie Footloose became a cult movie among teens and young twenties, not only because it showcased a rebel with a cause standing up for his rights, and displaying victory over misguided-adults, but because of the performance of Kevin Bacon as Ren McCormick.

Rumor says that the then 26 year-old Bacon was so intent on making his portrayal of a small town teen realistic that he enrolled as a student in a public high school to observe the students.  His charade only lasted until mid-day, but, obviously created enough credibility to make Bacon a generational icon, similar to James Dean (Rebel Without a Cause), Tom Cruise (Risky Business) and Matthew Broderick (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off).

In 1998, a musical, based on the film’s motifs of book burning, a fatal car crash, anti-dance regulations and Bible Belt beliefs, became a reality.  Footloose:  The Musical opened on Broadway on October 22, 1998  to mixed critical reception.  The general consensus was that the script was weak but the music and the production were top notch.  It ran for 709 performances and was nominated for four Tony Awards.

Footloose: The Musical, with music by Tom  Snow, with additional songs by Kenny Loggins, Sammy Hagar, Jim Steinman and Eric Carmen, and lyrics by Dean Pitchford (except, “Footloose” which was co-written by Pitchford and Kenny Loggins), and book by Pitchford and Walter Bobbie, is now in production at Porthouse Theatre.

The musical, like the film, follows the move of Ren and his mother, Ethel, following their abandonment by their father and husband, from Chicago to the small town Bomont.  (As one of his Chi-friends moans, “Where in the hell is Bomont!?”).  Bomont, where his conservative aunt and uncle have offered the destitute duo a place to stay. 

The mother and son attend a church service and encounter minister Shaw Moore, the town’s authority figure, where they learn that dancing, the reading of certain books, and defying of the word of the minister, is prohibited. 

Of course, since this is a musical that needs a conflict to establish its purpose in being, Ren becomes obsessed with defying authority, falls for the preacher’s rebellious daughter, inspires wrack and ruin among his new pack of followers, and sings and dances up a storm. 

The play’s “moral” is spotlighted as Ren gives an impassioned speech to the Town Council to change the rule regarding dancing, is voted down, goes to talk to Reverend Moore, and “brings forth a miracle.”  That, of course is a change of heart by the Reverend, and explodes into a wild version of “Footloose,” leaving the audience stomping, clapping, and on its feet, which transitions into a standing curtain call ovation.  (What, you were expecting something else?)

The Porthouse production, under the joyful direction of personable Terri Kent, delights the audience.  She knows her crowd and she gives them all they want…a hokey story with a nice moral, dynamic dancing (thanks to the creativity of choreographer MaryAnn Black), swing musical sounds (created by the talented orchestra lead by Jonathan Swoboda), nice vocalizations, an ever-moving and captivating set (bows to Nolan O’Dell), appropriate costumes, including 1980s formal clothes that are a visual hoot, created by costume designer Anne Medlock, and some nice lighting effects by Yu (Leo) Lei.

Studly Paul Schwensen, who was mobbed by tweens after the show for autographs, mooning over his big blue eyes and sparkling white teeth, created a very credible Ren.  His Joffrey Ballet training was well put to use.  His renditions of “I Can’t Stand Still,” and “Dancing Is Not a Crime” were well presented.

Pretty, recent Kent State grad, Lindsay Simon, created Ariel Moore, the Reverend’s daughter and Ren’s girlfriend, with the right amount of rebel and conflicted daughter.  The Ren/Ariel ballad, “Almost Paradise” was tenderly sung. 

Simon was nicely supported by her girl friends, Urleen (Emma Wichhart) Wendy Jo (Katey Sheehan) and Rusty, Solon High grad, Kristen Hoffman, who vocally wailed and whose frustrating relationship with the shy Willard (portrayed to comic perfection by Dan Gettler) was well-developed.  Gettler’s “Mama Says” stopped the show.

Other show stoppers were “Still Rockin’,” “Holding Out For a Hero,” “Let’s Hear It For the Boy,” and “I’m Free/Heaven Help Me.”

In adult roles, the always portrayal-right Tracee Patterson (Ethel McCormack), Bernadette Hisey (Vi Moore, the Reverend’s wife, whose “Can You Find It In Your Heart?” was a vocal performance highlight) and Rob Albrecht (Reverend Moore) all developed clear characters, though Albrecht could have created more empathy when he finally “saw the light” if he had developed a more embittered man, early in the production.

Kudos to the often overlooked musicians:  Jonathan Swoboda, Alex Berko, Craig Wohlschlager, Ryan McDermott, Erin Vaughn, Don T. Day, Sean Young and Scott Thomas for supporting rather than drowning out the singers and creating the right sound for the show.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  Artistic Director Terri Kent knows her Porthouse audience, and her show selection, casting, choice of support staff and directing all lead to a very happy full-house exiting the theatre on opening night of Footloose.   And, what delights will next season bring?

Footloose runs until August 14, 2016 at Porthouse Theatre.  For tickets call 330-672-3884 or go online to www.porthousetheatre.com.  Curtain times are 8 PM Tuesdays through Saturdays and 2 PM Sundays. The picnic grounds at Porthouse open 90 minutes prior to curtain time.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Nicely conceived A WOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE pleases at The Shaw


Oscar Wilde is one of Britain’s best known turn of the century authors.  He is the writer of the theater masterpiece, The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) and the much praised, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890).

Wilde satirized English upper class society.  Often filled with biting satire, his writings also concerned decadence, duplicity and beauty.

His A Woman of No Importance showcases his talent as a writer of comedy and tragedy.  It parallels, in some ways, Wilde’s own life.  A lover of young beauty, especially youthful males, he idealized the best of society.  He loved being the center of attention, whether through sporting fancy clothing or being seen with beautiful people. 

Because of losing a lawsuit which centered on his contending he was slandered when the Marquess of Queensberry, the father of Wilde’s lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, accused him of gross indecency with men, he went to jail for two years, lost his societal standing and wealth, and eventually died a pauper, almost forgotten, at a young age.

A Woman of No Importance
, referred to as Wilde’s “weakest play,” because of its structure.  The first act-and-a-half reflects witty conversations of members of the upper-class, and the drama, the message of the play, is shoe-horned into the last half of the second act. 

The play was written to take place in “the present,” 1894.  Eda Holmes, Shaw’s director, chose to set it in 1951, the year that, in Britain,  the Conservatives ousted the Labor government.  Both the late 1800s and the 1950s were periods that were highlighted by society having “the power to make or break the individual.”  As it mattered little to the meaning of the play, her choice may have been nothing more than to give a chance to showcase the Dior styled costumes that populated the stage.

The majority of the first act centers on Lady Caroline Pontefract and American visitor, Hester Worsley, gossiping, learning that Lord Arbuthnot, a powerful political figure, may be appointing Gerald Arbuthnot as his secretary, and discussing that Lord Illingworth wanted to be a foreign ambassador.  Gerald offers to take Hester for a walk, Lady Hunstanton and Lady Stutfield share observations about Hester’s background and wealth.  You get it…much ado about nothing.  But, due to Wilde’s way with words, the goings on are fun.

The wrinkle in the fabric comes when Mrs. Arbuthnot sends a note that she is coming to the party.  A question comes as to who she is.  The response, “A woman of no importance.”

But, of importance she is, as we find out that Mrs. Arbuthnot is Gerald’s mother, and Gerald is the illegitimate son of Lord Illingworth. When it is revealed to Gerald who his father is, he insists it is the duty of Mrs. Arbuthnot and Lord Illingworth to get married.  And, we finally have the dramatic segment of the script which leaves the audience to consider whether the marriage will take place.  Fear not, Mrs. Arbuthnot decides that Lord Illingworth is a “man of no importance.”

The story is weak, but Wilde’s writing is not.  The dialogue is filled with bon mots.  Included are:  “Nothing spoils romance so much as a sense of humor in the woman.”  “To get into the best society, nowadays, one has either to feed people, amuse people, or shock people - that is all!”  “The happiness of a married man depends on the people he has not married.” “No woman should have a memory. Memory in a woman is the beginning of dowdiness. One can always tell from a woman's bonnet whether she has got a memory or not.”  And, one of the most quoted lines from the script, “Duty is what one expects from others, it is not what one does oneself.”

The Shaw production is nicely conceived.  The sarcasm, the wit, is present, the pacing such that the attention is kept, and the fact that the tale is shallow becomes secondary to the writer’s cleverness, which flows from his characters.

The Dior costumes are elegant, the incidental music helps set the mood, and the acting excellent.

Capsule judgment:  Though A Woman of No Importance is not of the quality of some of Irish playwright Oscar Wilde’s other comedy of manners plays which satirize English upper society, such as The Importance of Being Earnest, there is enough going for this production, including quality acting, nicely timed laughs, beautiful costumes, and original music, to strongly recommend it.

 
A Woman of No Importance
is presented in the Festival Theatre through October 22 at The Shaw Festival and is a tribute to George Bernard Shaw and his writing contemporaries.  The Shaw has been dubbed “One of the great repertory theaters in the English-speaking world.”

For theatre information, a brochure or tickets, call 800-511-7429 or go on-line to http://www.shawfest.com.

ALICE IN WONDERLAND, a visual must-see delight at The Shaw



There have been straight plays, movies, television shows, and of course books. Now there is a musical version of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland being showcased at The Shaw Festival of Canada.  

Yes, Alice in Wonderland, the Victorian tale of a young girl who “falls” down a rabbit hole and has a series of adventures.  In other versions, she falls asleep, in some steps through a looking glass.

The surface tale concerns Alice who, in the Shaw version, is floating in a boat, on a lovely pond.   She follows the Rabbit into a hole, falls down and down, finds herself in a hall with lots of doors, finds a key, is too tall to go through the door, drinks a potion, shrinks enough to go through, and then is thrust into a series of adventures including being surrounded by a sea of tears she shed while she was full-sized, attends a tea party with a strange group of characters, fantasizes about a huge Cheshire cat, plays a rule-less game of croquet with a “real” flamingo as her mallet and hedgehogs as balls, attends a trial of the Knave of Hearts, listens to a mock turtle sing a melancholy song about turtle soup, is attacked by a deck of cards, gets bigger and smaller as a result of eating cake, then mushrooms, then more liquid.  “Oh, what is one to do?”

There have been many attempts to explain the Lewis Carroll’s story.  Alice encounters numerous puzzles in her adventures, with each having no clear solution.  Like most of us, Alice expects answers to such frustrations as what are the rules and meaning of the Queen’s croquet game? What is the answer to the Mad Hatter’s riddle? What is the cause of the constant hurry of the White Rabbi?   Why does Alice keep changing sizes?

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the man known as Lewis Carroll, was a precocious child, who showed an early interest in writing and mathematics.  He grew up to be an eccentric who wrote tales to entertain, edify and enlighten.

An advocate of freedom and wisdom for children, his tales amused, but often were not totally understood.  His awkwardness around adults caused him to spend a great deal of time with children.

As a logician, the author knows there are no answers to many of life’s conundrums, and that may be his very point, that life is filled with frustrations, expectations and situations that resist interpretation and can’t be solved.


The Alice stories were supposedly written for the amusement of Alice Lidell, the young daughter of the Dean of Christ Church.  They started out as an oral tale, which eventually he wrote down. 

The morals to be gained from the tale: An inevitable loss of childhood innocence as one grows up and confronts the reality of the real world, and that life is a puzzle and filled with underlying menace and inexplicable experiences.

The Shaw production, under the creative direction of Peter Hinton, who also adapted the material for stage, is visually enchanting due to the electronic effects created by Beth Kates and Ben Chaisson.  William Schmuck’s costumes and Kevin Lamotte’s lighting designs enhanced the visual delight.

The huge cast is excellent, many transforming themselves into believable fantasies such as a French Mouse, Queen of Spades, Eagle, Duck, Owl, Monkey, Woodpecker, Chipmunk, and Lobster. 

Special hurrahs to Ben Sanders as the White Rabbit, Jennifer Phipps (Cheshire Cat), Graeme Somerville (Mad Hatter and Mock Turtle), Moya O’Connell (Queen of Hearts) and Patty Jamieson (Dormouse).  The appearance of the multi-peopled Caterpillar brought extended applause.

Capsule judgment:   The technical aspects of The Shaw’s Alice in Wonderland are outstanding.  Compelling projections, magical costumes, dancing lobsters, a talking rabbit, an ever-smiling bigger than life Cheshire cat, a beautiful river with a floating boat, and ever-growing and shrinking Alice, all combined to make this a must see production.   (BTW---reputation not withstanding, this is not a show for young children.)

Alice in Wonderland
is presented in the Festival Theatre through October 16 at The Shaw Festival, a tribute to George Bernard Shaw and his writing contemporaries.  The Shaw has been dubbed “One of the great repertory theaters in the English-speaking world.”

For theatre information, a brochure or tickets, call 800-511-7429 or go on-line to http://www.shawfest.com.

MRS. WARREN'S PROFESSION misses the mark at The Shaw


At the start of The Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession we are told that we are in the London [England] New Lyric Club.  It is Sunday, 5 January, 1902.  The reason the play is going to get a staging at the club, rather than in a theatre, is that the Lord Chamberlain, Britain’s official theater censor, has banned the G. B. Shaw play.  As such, it cannot be performed in a public venue.  Thus, the use of the private men’s club. 

The play, which was written by Shaw in 1893, was taboo, due to Mrs. Warren’s Profession—prostitution.  Because she had a good head for business, she ran a series of brothels.

Mrs. Kitty Warren was driven into what was considered then, and still is regarded as a degrading line of work, by the limited number of opportunities available to women.  Besides getting married and being taken care of and the serving as the property of her husband, females had few opportunities for gainful employment.  Being a nun, a nurse or a barmaid, headed the list.

The tale centers on the relationship between Kitty and her daughter, Vivie, who has no idea how her mother was providing the money to support her journey through residential private schools and college.  In fact, as the play opens, we are apprised that the young lady, who has just graduated from university, has come home to become acquainted (not reacquainted) with her mother.

When Kitty, in a telling and well-presented, underplayed compassionate speech, reveals her profession, and what led her down that occupational path, she exposes Shaw’s thesis of the hypocrisy of British nineteenth and early twentieth century attitudes toward women, the limited opportunities available to females in Victorian Britain, and the general hypocrisy of the society regarding sex and prostitution, in particular.

The daughter, a modern young woman, with an honors degree in Mathematics, rather than being interested in a suitor, desires to be a business woman and fend for herself rather than being the chattel of a man.

In spite of her daughter’s desires Mrs. Warren, who is not married, in spite of using the “Mrs.” title, arranges a meeting between Vivie and Mr. Praed, a handsome and desirable architect.  Things get complicated when Sir George Crofts, who is 25 years older than Vivie, wants to take her for his wife. Frank Gardner, who is romantically interested in Vivi, is revealed as being after her only for her money, and the married Reverend Samuel Gardner, Frank’s father, is revealed as Vivie’s out-of-wedlock father, making Frank Vivie’s half-brother.

The tale comes to its conclusion when Vivie takes an office job, ends her relationship with Frank, and disowns her mother.

Shaw supposedly said that he wrote the play to shine the light on “the problematic double standard of male privilege and deeply entrenched objectification of women,” which he saw “pervading all levels of Victorian society down to the most basic nuclear element, the family.”

The Shaw production, under the direction of Eda Holmes, develops the Shavian intention, but there are staging decisions and performance instances which are problematic.

We are told at the start of the play that the action will take place in the London [England] New Lyric Club’s main hall.  That we will be using our imagination to “see” the cottage garden, inside the cottage, and the Rectory garden.  Fine, we are prepared.  Why then, were the furniture and adornments of the room changed during the production?

Though Mrs. Warren’s speech to her daughter regarding her profession was well done by Nicole Underhay, why did she so overact other dramatic segments, especially the final scenes?  She lost the reality of the role by her melodramatic speech and action patterns.   The same could be said for Shawn Wright who stayed on the surface, feigning a character as Reverend Samuel Gardner.

The physical differences between the petite Vivie (Jennifer Dzialoszynski) and the hulking Sir George Crofts (Thom Marriott) were so dramatic that it made their joint scenes look like a farcical illusion. 

Acting honors go to Jennifer Dzialoszynski (Vivie), Wade Bogert-O’Brien (Frank) and Gray Powell (Praed).

Capsule judgment:   Mrs. Warren’s Profession is classic Shaw, filled with a critique on the economic system, the double standards applied to men and women, the objectification of women, the British family system, marriage, and parent-child relationships.  Unfortunately, the well-conceived script gets a less than stellar production due to some questionable directing decisions and a disappointing performance in the title role.

Mrs. Warren’s Profession
is presented in the Royal George Theatre through October 16 at The Shaw Festival and is a tribute to George Bernard Shaw and his writing contemporaries.  The Shaw has been dubbed “One of the great repertory theaters in the English-speaking world.”


For theatre information, a brochure or tickets, call 800-511-7429 or go on-line to http://www.shawfest.com.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Shaw’s Uncle Vanya, an example of realistic theater at its finest



European theater in the mid-1800s centered on escapist comedies, entertainment for the upper classes.  Little which appeared on stage centered on the problems of the people. 

In the late years of the century Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg and Anton Chekhov started writing “slice of life” plays which showcased the issues of the people.  The movement of these three seminal figures was dubbed “modernism.”  Alternate titles for this “new” type of play were “theater of mood” and “submerged life in text.”

Anton Chekov, the author of Uncle Vanya, which is now in production at The Shaw Festival, was a Russian who wrote four major plays, each considered a classic.  He also wrote a series of pieces of short fiction and some minor theatrical works.

Interestingly, Chekov was trained as a medical doctor, not a writer.  He once said, “Medicine is my lawful wife, and literature is my mistress.”   His medical practice funded his playwriting.

Chekov’s first major play, The Seagull, was panned by critics when it was staged in 1896.  But, it was revived in 1898 to great acclaim.  The difference, it seems was where it was staged and who directed it.  The latter production was performed by the Moscow Art Theatre, which subsequently staged his Uncle Vanya, as well as Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard, all staged by Constantine Stanislavski.

Quotes from Chekov explain the concept of theatrical realism—“slice of life,” “Life must be exactly as it is, and people as they are.”  “Let everything on the stage be just as complicated, and at the same time just as simple as it is in life.”  His use of language is often soliloquies to which no one on stage listens, punctuated by silence pauses and stillness.

When challenged for upsetting audiences by showcasing that the lives of upper-class theatre goers were a “wasted life,” Chekov insisted that “the role of an artist was to ask questions, not to answer them.”  He also felt that the arts were a means for change.  Since his plays foreshadowed the major changes that were about to take place in Russia, he is sometimes dubbed, “The literary father of the Russian Revolution.”

Uncle Vanya centers on the visit of an elderly professor and Yeléna, his beautiful young second wife, to an estate that supports their urban life style.  Vanya, brother of the Professor’s first wife, manages the estate and keeps it going.  Angst sets in when the Professor announces that he intends to sell the estate, thus setting Vanya, the staff and his family adrift.

The script showcases the frustrated hopes and the “wasted lives” of the characters.   It also looks at the outside forces affecting society.  The plays’ speeches about destroying the forest and the disappearance of birds and beasts is one of the first recorded theatrical passages about ecological problems.

The Shaw script was adapted by Annie Baker, working with a literal translation by Margarita Shalina from the original Russian text.  It updates that language introducing such modern terms as “creep,” “guys,” “women’s liberation,” “climate control,” yet maintaining Chekov’s intentions of illustrating such concepts as “hopelessness, waste, boredom and suffocation, ” within a dialogue sprinkled with comic commentary.

The Shaw production , directed by Jackie Maxwell, is well paced.  The cast is universally excellent.  Patrick McManus as Astrov, Neil Barclay as Vanya, Moya O’Connell as Yelena and Marla McLean as Sonya all deliver textured performances.

Sue LePage’s representational set uses the small Court House Theatre’s thrust stage effectively.  Rebecca Picherack’s lighting enhances the production

Capsule judgment:  Jackie Maxwell’s direction of Chekov’s classic tragicomedy, Uncle Vanya, is filled with a focused  reflection of the hopelessness, waste, boredom and suffocating world of Russia in the late 1800s.   The quality cast and technical crew set the right tone for the required realistic aspects of the script.

Uncle Vanya is presented in the Court House Theatre, through September 11, 2016.

For theatre information, a brochure or tickets, call 800-511-7429 or go on-line to http://www.shawfest.com.

Engaged, a Victorian farce, is escapist delight at The Shaw


W. S. Gilbert is best known as the “word man” of the Gilbert and Sullivan duo who wrote such delightful comic operas as Pirates of Penzance, The Mikado, and H. M. S.  Pinafore.  He is less acknowledged as a playwright of comedies.  An example of his escapist satires is Engaged, now on stage at The Shaw Festival’s Royal George Theatre.

Engaged is seldom done and is not well known.  Why?  It has little redeeming value for a modern day audience, except as an escapist experience.

Gilbert wrote the script as a social satire which skewers the social order and capitalist imperative, while making fun of marriage.  As a period comedy it is filled with sight gags, ridiculous situations, exaggerated language and Victorian nonsense.

The author shares his belief that the pursuit of money is the basis for decision-making, whether it is for life, in general, or marriage.   In a typical speech, a character states that  she will not marry a man because, “business is business, unless I can see some distinct possibility that your income will be permanent.”

The 1877 show was staged in New York and London.  An English review of the day noted, “the laughter was almost incessant.”

The Shaw production, directed by Morris Panych, hits all the right notes.   It follows the dictate of the author that “It is absolutely essential to the success of this piece that it should be played with the perfect earnestness and gravity throughout.  There should be no exaggeration in costume, make-up, or demeanor; and the characters, one and all, should appear to believe, throughout, in the perfect sincerity of their words and actions.”   

The farcical nature of the work, complete with its poetic, satirical and romantic language, is properly over-done to make it clear that this is a comedy of manners and not realism. 

Gray Powell as Cheviot, the unrequited lover who pledges his love to every woman he meets, is delightful.  As a stand-in for the author he relates, “Marriage is a risky thing; it’s like Chancery, once in it you can’t get out of it, and the cost are enormous.  There you are—fixed.  Fifty years hence, if we’re both alive, there we shall both be –fixed.  That’s the devil of it.  It’s an unreasonable long time to be responsible for another person’s expenses.  I don’t see the use of making it for as long as that.  Besides—one never knows—one might come across somebody else one liked better.”

Julia Course as Maggie McFarlane and Martin Happer as Angus are endearing as “innocent Scottish rustics” who, true to Scottish tradition, put money ahead of all else and gladly throw over romance in favor of monetary gain.  Mary Haney delights as Maggie’s mother.  The rest of the cast is equally character-correct.

The second act opened to extended applause for Kent MacDonald’s glorious rose covered set, complete with a settee constructed of huge flower petals and walls painted with huge blooms.

Capsule judgement:  If you are in the mood for a Victorian romp, filled with physical and verbal slapstick and shticks, Engaged is going to be your “thing.”  Don’t expect a realistic moral, profound wisdom or thought provoking insights.  But you might ask yourself between laughs, “Why did I do it?”

Engaged is presented in the Royal George Theatre, through October 23 at The Shaw Festival and is a tribute to George Bernard Shaw and his writing contemporaries.  The Shaw has been dubbed “One of the great repertory theaters in the English-speaking world.”

For theatre information, a brochure or tickets, call 800-511-7429 or go on-line to http://www.shawfest.com.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Thought-provoking THE ADVENTURES OF A BLACK GIRL IN HER SEARCH FOR GOD compels at Shaw



George Bernard Shaw’s views on religion may be summarized by his statement, “People believe anything that amuses them, gratifies them, or promises some sort of profit.” 

He showcased his anti-organized religion and doubt of God in his The Adventures of a Black Girl in Her Search for God, a novella he wrote after returning from five weeks in Africa in the winter of 1932.  He imagined a young black girl roaming the “darkest of Africa” in search of God.  It was intended to be read, not staged.  Some would call it a “closet drama.”  But, in production it is, as part of the Shaw Festival’s lunch-time theater, in an adaptation for the stage by Lisa Codrington.

It basically tells the tale of an African girl who has been abandoned by her missionary for asking too many questions.  Questions about God, religion and philosophy that the missionary couldn’t answer.   The Black Girl sets out on her own mission to find God, since she has been taught, “Seek and you shall find me,” which she takes to mean, “seek out and actually speak to God.”

Unfortunately, she is confronted by want-to-be gods, pseudo-gods and false prophets.  Eventually we, like the Black Girl, come to the conclusion that, “There are a lot of old men pretending to be gods in this forest [the world].”

When Shaw published Black Girl in 1932, it was so controversial that, probably much to his delight, he was decried as a “blasphemer.” 

Black Girl was published with a companion essay that disclaimed the supernatural origin of the Bible, a book without divine authority.  He did admit that he viewed the Bible as important for its ethical messages and valuable as history.

There have been a number of responses to the work, including The Adventures of the Brown Girl (companion to the Black girl of Mr. Bernard Shaw) in her Search for God (1933), The Adventures of Gabriel in his Search for Mr. Shaw (1933), The Adventures of the White Girl in Search for Knowledge (1934), and The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for Mr. Shaw (1934).

In the Shaw essay, which becomes a play, the Black Girl meets a vengeful deity of the early books of the Bible, a philosophical version as exposed in the Book of Job, and two versions of Jesus…a kindly but ineffective young man and another posing for an artist who is depicting him on the cross. 

She also meets an atheist-behaviorist, and others who explain that the speculations about God are passé.  She finally is confronted by an elderly man who persuades her to abandon her quest and settle down “with a red-haired Irishman and rear a charmingly coffee-colored family.”  (Note:  at one point in his writing career, Shaw started a general furor by proposing intermarriage between blacks and whites as a solution to racial problems in South Africa.)

The a-little-less-than-one-hour staging is illuminating, delightful and was the recipient of a long, standing ovation.

Natasha Mumba (Black Girl) displayed a fine sense of comic timing as she fully textured her presentation, clearly becoming the protagonist. 

The rest of cast, Guy Bannerman, Tara Rosling, Ben Sanders, Kiera Sangster, André Sills, Graeme Somverville and Jonathan Tan were up to the comic challenges of the show. 

Ravi Jain’s creative directing and staging sharpened Shaw’s attacks to the delight of the audience.  Camellia Koo’s design was creative and definitely added to the over-all effect.

Capsule judgment:  The commentary,  The Adventures of a Black Girl in Her Search for God, is one of the most compelling hour productions that has been staged at The Shaw.  Ravi Jain’s direction and Natasha Mumba’s performance make this a must see production.  Bravo!


The Adventures of a Black Girl in Her Search for God is presented in the Court House Theatre, through September 11 at The Shaw Festival and is a tribute to George Bernard Shaw and his writing contemporaries.  The Shaw has been dubbed “One of the great repertory theaters in the English-speaking world.”

For theatre information, a brochure or tickets, call 800-511-7429 or go on-line to http://www.shawfest.com.

Clevelander’s invade Canada for the Shaw Festival—2016


Walking down Queen Street, the main shopping boulevard in beautiful Niagara-on-the Lake, during the third week of July, was like being in downtown Cleveland.   Cav championship t-shirts and Indian’s garb were worn by many of the strollers.  Our Toronto friends shared that in almost every play they attended, their neighbors on one or both sides of their seats were from the Cleveland area.

Why the population shift?  According to some, they wanted to escape the hordes of “foreigners” who were invading the area lovingly called 216/440 (the local area codes) because of the Republican convention.  Others contended that “flower-wise” this was “the” time to be in “the most beautiful little city in Canada, as Niagara-on-the Lake is often called.  Some liked that this was the height of the fruit season in the area allowed them to purchase peaches, cherries, and nectarines.   Others were pleased with the offerings in Artistic Director Jackie Maxwell’s last season at The Shaw.

Several mentioned that this is an economically wise year to go north.  The U.S. dollar value is high against the Canadian currency, making the trip a bargain.  At the time I went, the exchange rate gave Americans a 30-cent advantage on each dollar (e.g., a $100 (Canadian) purchase cost around $70).

The theatre season, entitled “Curiouser and Curiouser,” intended to highlight “a great diversity of work,” including many of Maxwell’s favorite plays.



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.  


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 (http://www.wellington.house@sympatico.ca), directly across the street from The Festival Theatre, within easy walking distance of all the theatres, where the breakfasts are great and the furnishings lovely.  I also like the Two Bees B&B (1-289-868-9357).  For information on other B&Bs go to www.niagaraonthelake.com/showbedandbreakfasts


There are some wonderful restaurants.  My in-town favorites are The Grill on King Street (905-468-7222, 233 King Street) and Ginger Restaurant (905-468-3871, 390 Mary Street), with Old Winery, (2228 Niagara Stone Road/905-468-8900), a worth while very short ride.

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

Engaged by W. S. Gilbert, through October 16, is a comic look at love, marriage and money.
Capsule judgement:  If you are in the mood for a Victorian romp, filled with physical and verbal slapstick and shticks, Engaged is going to be your “thing.”  Don’t expect a realistic moral, profound wisdom or thought provoking insights.  But, if you are married, you might ask yourself between laughs, “Why did I do it?”

A Woman of No Importance by Oscar Wilde, through October 15, is a social commentary which states, “Men marry because they are tired; women because they are curious.  Both are disappointed.”
Capsule judgment:  Though the script is not of the quality of some of Irish playwright Oscar Wilde’s other comedy of manners plays which satirize English upper society, such as The Importance of Being Earnest, there is enough going for this production, including the quality of the acting, nicely timed laughs, beautiful costumes, and original music, to strongly recommend it.

The Adventures of a Black Girl in Her Search for God
, adapted for the stage by Lisa Codrington from a short story by G. B. Shaw, through September 11, illuminates, “There are a lot of old men pretending to be gods in this forest.”
Capsule judgment:  The commentary labeled The Adventures of a Black Girl in Her Search for God is one of the most compelling hour productions that has ever been staged at The Shaw.  Ravi Jain’s direction and Natasha Mumba’s performance make this a must see production.  Bravo!

Mrs. Warren’s Profession, by G. B. Shaw, through October 16, offers the author’s view that “There are no secrets better kept than the secrets everybody guesses.”

Capsule judgment:  Mrs. Warren’s Profession is classic Shaw, filled with a critique on the economic system, the double standards applied to men and women, the objectification of women, the British family system, marriage, and parent-child relationships.  Unfortunately, the well-conceived script gets a less than stellar production due to some questionable directing decisions and a disappointing performance in the title role.

Uncle Vanya, Anton Chekov’s script adapted by Annie Baker from the original Russian text, through September 11, carries that author’s message that, “What still gets me is beauty.  I’m not indifferent to beauty.”
Capsule judgment:  Jackie Maxwell’s direction of Chekov’s classic tragicomedy is filled with a focused  reflection of the hopelessness, waste, boredom and suffocating world of Russia in the late 1800s.   The quality cast and technical crew set the right tone for the required realistic aspects of the script.

Alice in Wonderland
, adapted for the stage by Peter Hinton, with music by Allen Cole, and based on the book by Lewis Carroll, through October 16, follows Alice down the hole in pursuit of the white rabbit because, “I’ve never seen a rabbit with a pocket watch before … or a waist-coat pocket to take it out of, for that matter.”
Capsule judgment:   The technical aspects of The Shaw’s Alice in Wonderland are outstanding.  Compelling projections, magical costumes, dancing lobsters, a talking rabbit, an ever-smiling, bigger than life Cheshire cat, a beautiful river with a floating boat, and ever-growing/shrinking Alice, all combine to make this a must see production.   (BTW---reputation not withstanding, this is not a show for young children.)

Master Harold . . . And the Boys
, Athol Fugard’s examination of apartheid in South Africa, through September 10.
Since this show is in previews, though I saw it, I am not allowed to review it.  However, I don’t think the powers that be will be upset by my comment to a friend that I “found the production to be compelling, thought-provoking and of the highest quality.  The cast was superb, the directing spot-on.”

I did not see Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street A Musical Thriller, Our Town, or Dance of Death.

To read the complete reviews of the shows I saw, go to:  http://www.royberko.info




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

Go to the Shaw Festival!  Find out what lovely hosts Canadians are and see some 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. and figure in time to get through customs at the U.S.-Canadian border.