Saturday, November 28, 2015

Loush Sisters return to Cleveland Public Theatre with songs, booze and double entendres

It’s that time of year when local theatre offerings center on “peace on earth” and how each of us should be kind and better (e.g., Great Lakes Theater’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL), family holiday memories (Cleveland Play House’s A CHRISTMAS STORY), and musical escapes (Beck Center’s MARY POPPINS and PlayhouseSquare’s ELF). 

Then there is Cleveland Public Theatre’s tale of booze, sexual double entendres and holiday songs, packaged in a very slight story.  Yes, the Loush Sisters are back.  This time they’re getting guffaws in THE LOUSH SISTERS LOVE DICK’NS:  GREAT EXPECTATIONS.

The CPT rules are simple:  no kids, no up-tight elders, drink lots of wine and beer before and during the show, bring a group of friends along to share in the goings on, and leave your thoughts at home of what the traditional holiday play is about (see above paragraph).

As creator, director and “co-star” of LOUSH . . . DICK’NS, Beth Wood, tells us in her program notes, that the holiday show has been around, in one form or another, since 2003.  The Loush sisters are “not politically correct, they can be [are] offensive, they might [do] have substance abuse problems, “And yes, they believe that they’re the best thing since the end of prohibition [it never stopped for these ever-tipsy broads].

Now, again referring to Wood’s comments, the duo “don’t have a mean bone in their body” [except toward their brother and sisters], they kind of lose it when their sister, Butter Rum, “disappeared at the Republican Presidential debate last summer in Cleveland.”  Operating on their mama’s long standing advice, “always put yourself first,” the duo so become victims of their own boozing and attempts to control the rest of the family, that an intervention needs to take place.

This is an intervention filled with songs and ideas stolen from other holiday plays.  There are the tales told by the Ghost of Christmas Past and Christmas Present Yet to Come [it worked for Ebenezer Scrooge, so why not for Holly and Jolly?].  And, there is the great revelation:  the awareness that they were bad-bad-bad, and lumps of coal were going to be their only presents. 

The songs?  The score has been usurped from the likes of Irving Berlin, Burl Ives, and Leroy Anderson, and from real musicals like MAME, MEET ME IN SAINT LOUIS and PETER PAN.  Included are “Seasons in the Sun,” “That’s Why My Sister is a Tramp,” [whoops, “The Lady is a Tramp], “Here Comes Santa Claus,” “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” “We Need a Little Christmas,” “Side by Side,” “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” “Sleigh Ride,” “Eye of the Tiger,” and “What a Feeling.”

Hmm, wonder if the girls paid royalties to ASCAP for the rights to those tunes?

So, what’s the story about?  Story?  Come on now…this a pretext to tell slightly dirty jokes, give Dan Kilbane (Lolly) a chance to walk with a crutch and whine, “God bless us, every one!,” give Liz Conway (Jolly) and Beth Wood (Holly) a chance to draw attention to their abundant cleavage, let Sheffia Randall Dooley (Butter Rum) wail!, allow Jennifer Woda (Ghost of Christmas Past) a way to display her pretty singing voice, permit Caitlin Lewins to do some fun choreo, allow Edward Ridley, Jr. an opportunity to tickle the ivories, afford Brian Pedaci (Christmas Present) to wear an ugly gold lamé jacket, and give the audience a chance to scream, stomp their feet and clap in unison (and drink). 

The rest of the cast also has a chance to have some fun….Dionne D. Atchison, Rebecca Riffle-Polito, Hillary Wheelock, Teresa DeBerry and Megan Elk.
Capsule judgement: THE LOUSH SISTERS LOVE DICK’NS: GREAT EXPECTATIONS is a fun evening of escape from shopping, decorating and the pressures of life.  Sit back and let Jolly and Holly tease and taunt you and enjoy yourself as you realize that there is family “more dysfunctional than your own!”
LOUSH SISTERS LOVE DICK’NS:  GREAT EXPECTATIONS, runs through December 19, 2015 at Cleveland Public Theatre.  For tickets call 216-631-2727 or go on line to

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Production outperforms script at convergence continuum

Geoffrey Hoffman, in his directorial notes in the convergence-continuum program for BOB:  A LIFE IN FIVE ACTS, states, “Bob is an everyman . . .He is born with nothing and becomes a passionate adventurer—part myth, part reality, and completely legendary. . . For better or worse, he is the most memorable person you’ve ever met.” 

If Hoffman’s words were totally true, writer Peter Sinn Nachtrieb would have accomplished his goal.  As is, much of BOB:  A LIFE IN FIVE ACTS reminds of the Peanuts cartoon’s Charlie Brown, who is cute, but fails to learn that Lucy is always going to move the football and Charlie is going to wind up falling on his back with his errant attempts to kick the sphere.   He’ll never learn and never gain respect.

Bob is born in a bathroom of a White Castle restaurant by a mother who obviously has no use for him in her life.  She leaves him in the stall.  Bob is “adopted” by a restaurant employee, who goes on the run to avoid having to give up the child.  Bob leads  life as a precocious child who dreams of being a great man with a statue with a plaque paying tribute to him. 

He eventually morphs into the caretaker of a rest stop along the highway, an animal trainer, a winner of a large sum of money and gambling casino which he converts into a palatial home, and . . . his adventures go on and on for five overly written acts, with him never successfully kicking the football.

The opaque ending doesn’t help matters.  What message does Nachtrieb want us to gain from our time together?  As is, the play is a mash-up of many ideas, in search of a clear message.  Some place along the line Bob asks, “If I hadn’t been born would it have made any difference?”  Sounds like Arthur Miller asking, “is this the best way to live?” or Edward Albee’s existentialistic plea, “What is the purpose of life?”  Unfortunately Nachtrieb isn’t a writer with the abilities of either Miller or Albee.

This is not to say the theatrical experience is bad.  Hoffman and his gallant cast overcome lots of the writing problems by nicely packaging the play with absurdity.  The opening birth scene leads the audience to believe that this is going to be a “hoot” of a production.  The dances of luck, love, hope and other matters are appropriately ridiculous.  The characterizations are generally nicely exaggerated, leading to a farcical feel that often delights.  But the message never develops.

It’s almost worth seeing the production to revel in Eric Sever’s, “Jeeves the Butler” performance or to see the usually serious and focused Robert Hawkes in drag.  Nicole McLaughlin-Lublin and Katie Nabors are on target as they bounce in and out of various characters, and Doug Kusak is fine as the putty-faced Charlie Brown, oops, Bob.

Capsule Judgement:  BOB:  A PLAY IN FIVE ACTS, gets a con-con production, under the creative interpretation of director Geoffrey Hoffman, and the acting skills of the cast, that well exceeds the script’s development, purpose, and excessive length.

BOB:  A LIFE IN FIVE ACTS runs through December 19, 2015, at 8 pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at convergence-continuum’s artistic home, The Liminis, at 2438 Scranton Rd. in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood.  For information and reservations call 216-687-0074 or go to

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

KRIS KRINGLE THE MUSICAL in world premiere at Olmsted Falls Performing Arts

It’s that time of year when local theatres fill their stages with holiday cheer.  Yes, it’s the season of A CHRISTMAS CAROL, A CHRISTMAS STORY, A CHRISTMAS STORY: THE MUSICAL, WHITE CHRISTMAS, and ELF THE MUSICAL. 

If Maria Ciampi and Tim Janis have their way, after a Broadway run, there should be a new musical holiday treat available for production: KRIS KRINGLE THE MUSICAL, which will get its world premiere at the Olmsted Falls Performing Arts Center.  The staging will run from December 4 through the 13th.  

The story tells the untold tale of Kris Kringle, a jobless toy maker.  It reveals what happens when an evil toy company CEO crosses paths with a jobless toy maker whose family name carries a curse with the power to destroy Christmas.

It is based on Maria Ciampi’s screenplay and book, KRIS KRINGLE.

Marie Ciampi, the author of the book, is a legal author, law school professor and legal practitioner.  It is not surprising, therefore, that KRIS KRINGLE involves an ancient contract, and one of the world’s most famous lawyers, Daniel Webster.  Ironically, Ciampi was born on Christmas Day.

The music for the production is by Tim Janis, who has two #1 Billboard charting CD’s and has worked with top artists in the music and entertainment business, including Billy Joel, Paul McCartney, and Ray Charles.

Janis, in a recent interview, shared that, although he has written and performed classical and pop compositions, his “first love is writing musicals.”  His RUTH, based on the biblical book of the same name, played for two years at the Sight and Sound Theatre in Strasburg, Pennsylvania.  His musical movie, THE BUTTON GIRL, starring Dick Van Dyke, will aired this December on PBS.

His writing process?  He “reads the story, gets a vision in his mind, and then starts to write.”  Sometimes it’s the lyrics which come first, sometimes it’s the music.

How close is KRIS KRINGLE to being finished?  “It’s really never done until it opens.  There is always tweaking.”  He indicated that as of two weeks before opening, “the bulk is there.”  “I’ll be available for alterations as the rehearsals proceed.” 

Janis will not be in Cleveland for rehearsals.  He’ll be in his recording studio, ready to make any changes needed.  The director and musical director will interface with the actors, and make suggestions of what, if anything, needs to be altered in the music or the words.

Janis, whose philosophy is, “Music can be more than entertainment,” has developed the Music with a Mission project, with the purpose of “encouraging an understanding and cognizance between different people and cultures.”  He brought Sinkithemba, the all-female HIV-positive South African choir to the U.S to raise awareness about the AIDS epidemic in that country, performed a series of concerts in China to bridge communication between the two countries, and is leading the Music In Our Schools volunteer program, which has had more than 30,000 children participating.  He also has worked with the Cleveland Clinic in their music therapy program.

KRIS KRINGLE will be directed by Pierre Brault, the co-founder and Artistic Director of Mercury Theatre Company, housed at Notre Dame College in South Euclid,  and Resident Director of Virginia Musical Theatre in Virginia Beach, VA.  Charles Eversole, the Artistic Director of Cleveland’s The Singing Angels, is the musical director. 

Equity cast members include Mack Shirilla, Amy Fritsche, Michael Mauldin, Maryann Nagel, Kristin Netzband and Greg Violand.

Interested in seeing KRIS KRINGLE in its local “before going to Broadway” showing?  Tickets can be purchased through the Olmsted Performing Arts Center by calling 440-235-6722.  To see the schedule of performances go to

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Existential AGES OF THE MOON at Ensemble

Sam Shepard, the author of AGES OF THE MOON, now on stage at Ensemble Theatre, is noted for writing plays that are frank and often absurd.  His language choice is gritty, the setting is the American west, and his characters usually self-destruct.  He sometimes includes in his stage directions the requirement that part of the set is to be demolished, much like the lives of the people about whom he writes.  The actions of the actors carry out these destructions.  AGES OF THE MOON is no exception.

 Shepard, who received the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his BURIED CHILD, is a “guys writer.”  His characters are like himself and his father, who he called “a dedicated alcoholic.”  In 2009 Shepard was charged with speeding and drunk driving in Normal, Illinois.  He pleaded guilty to both charges and was sentenced to 24-months probation and 100 hours of community service.  This raw escape from life is reflected in many of his characters who don’t seem to understand consequences that come from their self-destructive actions.

The one hour-and-fifteen minute AGES OF THE MOON is set in a wooded area, far from a city.  On stage is a cabin with a front porch and nearby is a rowboat.  It’s August, 2007.  

Byron listens as his pal, Ames, laments about how he destroyed his marriage by cheating on his wife.  The duo slugs down bourbon, argue, feel sorry for themselves, and reminisce. Ames declares that since his wife found a note from a woman who he had a “meaningless” affair with, he has been “banished…exiled.  Never to return no more.”   He called Byron, supposedly Ames’ best friend, for solace.  A friend he hasn’t seen for years.  A friend who doesn’t seem to have much more of a rudder on his life than Ames.

They talk about love, women, sex and their past.  They verbally and physically attacked each other and wait.  Wait, much like Samuel Beckett’s characters in WAITING FOR GODOT for the unknown.  Byron and Ames are waiting for an unusual eclipse, but, for what purpose?  What difference will it make in their lives?

As the play proceeds, we see changes…changes in the men, changes in the lighting that, like the men, fade into nothingness.   And, as existentialist writers often ask, the audience is led to ask, “What is the meaning of existence?”

Ensemble’s production, under the direction of Stephen-Vasse-Hansell, is well paced and effectively acted.  Both Allan Byrne, as the depressed Ames, and Allen Branstein, as the equally brain-frozen Bryon, create characters that are caught in life’s trap of frustration.  Neither seems to have a purpose in being.  They exist, but why?  For what purpose? 

The pair successfully draws us into their world which is about to experience an eclipse, something that is destined to happen without much purpose, no matter what, like the pattern of these men’s lives. 

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: AGES OF THE MOON is a typical Sam Shepard play.  The characters are well-etched, hard to love or even like, and leave us with a lesson of abject frustration as to why some people lead lives of little meaning or purpose.  It’s a script for those who like raw, well performed theater.

AGES OF THE MOON runs Thursdays through Sundays through  December 6, 2015 at Ensemble Theatre, housed in the former  Coventry School, 2843 Washington Blvd, Cleveland Heights.  For tickets call 216-321-2930 or go online to

To see the views of other Cleveland area theatre reviewers go to:

Friday, November 13, 2015

“So You Think You Can Dance” concert in PHSquare includes 2015 winner Gaby Dia

“So You Think You Can Dance” is a 13-time Primetime Emmy Award television dance competition show which has just completed its twelfth season.  Each year, after the winner has been named the top ten contestants go on an extensive national tour.  The tour lands in Cleveland on November 24th.

The show will include the season’s most popular routines as well as original pieces created specifically for the tour, and will reflect this season’s new format where dancers were divided into two groups of ten dancers each, Team Stage and Team Street.  Stage included those trained in such styles as ballet, modern, tap, contemporary, Broadway, jazz, disco, swing, ballroom and Bollywood.  Street dancers were those proficient in such formats as hip-hop, breaking, krump, stepping and waacking.

Avid viewers will be excited to know that the Stage dancers, Edson Juarz, Jim Nowakowski, Hailee Payne, Derek Piquette, and the competition’s winner, Gaby Diaz are scheduled to be here, as well as Street dancers Megz Alfonso, Neptune Eskridge, Virgil Gadson, JJ Rabone, and Jaja Vankova (the runner-up).  Also along will be  Moises Parra, Marissa Milele, Yorelit Apolinario and Aleia Meyer. 

A recent interview with Gaby Diaz revealed that she grew up in Miami, Florida, attended college for a semester but dropped out because she wanted to concentrate on dance.  Her training was at the Roxy Theatre Group in west Miami-Dade county working with Jillian Togas-Leyva.  She is trained mainly in tap, but has had experience in classical ballet and modern dance as well as some commercial hip-hop. 

A long time fan of the show, Gaby was formerly rejected for inclusion, but came back to try again.  Obviously, with positive effect. 

She thinks that in spite of the fact that tappers have been in the final four for the last three years, it is an under-rated dance form.  She indicated that many students start in tap, but due to its difficulty, they drop their training.  Tappers, she noted, tend to stick together and respect past history, especially the styles of the 30s, but that the form, much like other dance formats, is evolving.

Her personal favorite routines of the season were her hip-hop number, where she got to show her street skills, her contemporary presentation, and her tap duet. The latter was her big moment as it was her only chance to show that she was the only one of this year’s contestants who could perform proficiently in that style. 

The dancers were challenged weekly to perform a variety of styles, working with award winning choreographers.  “We needed to often work outside our styles which necessitated asking questions and not being afraid of the choreographers.”

How long do the contestants get to learn new routines?  According to Gaby, “its 
about 2 ½ hours the first day, a night to sleep on it, and then five hours the next day.  Hallway rehearsals are used by partners to practice beyond the studio time.”  Sleep?  “Sleep wasn’t that important…getting the routines down was.”

Gaby’s prizes for winning included participation in Jennifer Lopez’s Las Vegas show and $250,000.  She isn’t sure what she will be doing in the Lopez show yet.  “That will be taken care of after the tour concludes.”  As for the prize money, she indicated that she “is too young to make decisions about dealing with the money,” so she has hired a financial advisor.

Her future?  The 19-year old hopes to still be dancing or doing something related to dance in Los Angeles, where she plans to move after her Vegas gig.

Her advice to those who watch the show and dream of being Gaby Diaz?
“Don’t dream of being Gaby, show who you are, audition, it changed my life. You don’t want to wonder what would have happened if you didn’t audition.”

Want to see Gaby and the rest of the Season 12 top ten?  They will appear at the State Theatre, PlayhouseSquare Center, on November 24, 2015.  Tickets, which range from $10 to $75, with VIP tickets from $150-$750, can be obtained by calling 216-241-6000 or going on line to

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Kent State’s Musical Theatre program joins Musical Theater Project for ZORBA!

“I believe in grabbing at life.”  “Every minute is a new minute.”  Thus states Zorba, the lead character in ZORBA!, a musical that “captures of the spirit of Greece and celebrates a people who embrace love, life and death with equal passion.”

As a follow-up to its PERFECTLY MARVELOUS:  THE SONGS OF JOHN KANDER, the Musical Theater Project will be present an in-concert version of Kander’s ZORBA!, in coordination with Kent State University’s Musical Theatre program.

An adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel “Zorba The Greek” and the 1964 movie based on the book, the musical is set in Crete in 1924.   It centers on Zorba, a Greek who has a life-embracing philosophy, which he intends to share with Nikos, an uptight young student.  Nikos has inherited an abandoned mine in Crete which he wants to reopen.  A friendship develops between the very opposite men, and romantic relationships develop between the duo, a French woman and a local widow. 

The show, which premiered on Broadway in 1968, was nominated for Best Musical.  It has music by Kander, lyrics by his longtime writing partner Fred Ebb, and book by Joseph Stein. 

An interview with Terri Kent, Head of the Musical Theatre Program at KSU and Producing Artistic Director of Porthouse Theatre, who will direct the concert, revealed that she and Bill Rudman, the Artistic Director of MTP, have developed a partnership to produce shows for TMTP using Kent State students.  Last year, they staged BABES IN ARMS.

In order to prepare for working with ZORBA!, which will focus on the text and music rather than the traditional staging, Kent probed into Greek culture, traditions and dancing.   Fortunately, she had a built-in resource in Effie Tsengas, the KSU College of the Art’s Communication and Marketing Director, who is Greek and is involved as both a Greek folk dancer and instructor at several Greek churches.  Kent also watched the movie, which starred Anthony Quinn. 

Kent indicated that since this isn’t a traditional production, the four dance numbers written into the show, which move the story along, will have to be creatively dealt with. 

The director is aware that when the show originally opened, reviewers commented that the “material was too dark,” and the “book was too heavy” for a Broadway musical.  She states, “Yes it is dark, but it is also a celebration.  The tone is set by the exquisite music.” 

Kent explains, “ZORBA! is hopeful.  It is about finding the joy in life.”   As philosophized by the lead character, “you can live life as if you are going to die tomorrow or you can live like you are going to live forever.  The latter makes you free.” “Zorba accepts things that are unacceptable . . . he takes ownership for what he does.  He is honest.  He is likeable.”   “Many people can’t live life being a Zorba, but it sure offers a lot to be admired.”

She also indicated, “When the musical opened in 1968 there had been few musical dramas.  Since then the likes of SWEENEY TODD [and other Sondheim musicals] have changed the musical theatre landscape.” 

The show is being developed on the Kent campus where tryouts were held earlier this fall.  Jennifer Korecki, an Assistant Professor of Musical Theatre, is preparing the music with the cast.  Nancy Maier, MTP’s musical director, will come in close to the production dates and the duo will polish the musical aspects of the performances.

The cast will include 17 people playing 53 roles, standing behind podiums with microphones.   KSU faculty member Fabio Polanco will portray Zorba and Jess Tanner, an MFA graduate student, will portray Hortense.

ZORBA! In-Concert Musical, will be presented Saturday, December 5 at 2 PM in the E. Turner Stump Theatre on the campus of Kent State University (tickets—General admission $18, Seniors/TMTP members $14):  330-672-2787 or and Wednesday, December 9 at 7:30 PM in the Mackey Main Stage Beck Center for the Arts (tickets—General admission $26, Seniors/TMTP members $21, Children 12 and under $10):  216-245-8687 or online at 

There will be post-show discussions with the performers, director Terri Kent and Bill Rudman.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

There’s a Cleveland atmosphere to Broadway theatre 2015

Last season over twenty performers with Cleveland area connections played on Broadway.  So far this season, the trend continues.  Chris McCarrell is in LES MISÉRABLES, Cassie Okenka will be in SCHOOL OF ROCK, Steel Burkhart appears in ALADDIN, Jill Paice stars in AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, Kyle Post kicks up his heels in KINKY BOOTS and Alex Wyse has a major role in SPRING AWAKENING.

I’ve reviewed many of those shows in previous trips to New York.  Here are my latest “quickie” comments about recent shows I’ve seen on Broadway.  To read the entire review of any show go to

SPRING AWAKENING—a brilliant, compelling, creative revival on Broadway which features Beachwood’s Alex Wyse

In its original Broadway production, SPRING AWAKENING was a smash hit.  In its re-imagined production, the marriage of spoken/sung sounds and American Sign Language adds to the overall captivating effect of a story of oppression and misunderstanding, not only of youth, but of the deaf world.  The production should be a clear candidate for a Tony Best Musical Revival!

SPRING AWAKENING is in a limited run through January 24, 2016 @ THE BROOKS ATKINSON THEATRE, 256 West 47th Street, New York

DAMES AT SEA—a happy flashback to the musicals of the 30s

DAMES AT SEA is a slight musical that delights.  The dancing is dynamic, the stage explodes with enthusiasm, the orchestra produces toe-tapping sounds. It’s an escapist type of production, though not a great Broadway musical, which will allow the audience to leave the theatre humming the music and adding a little dance gait to their exit out of the theatre.

DAMES AT SEA is in an open-run at the intimate 597-seat Helen Hayes Theatre, 240 West 44 th Street.

FOOL FOR LOVE a Manhattan Theatre Club gift to students and audiences

The Manhattan Theatre Club’s FOOL FOR LOVE is a powerful play that is well directed and performed.  It delves into the psychological weaknesses of people who find themselves unable or unwilling to move forward in a healthy way.  It is a good lesson for how not to live ones life for the numerous students who will see the production as part of the MTC mission.  As a side pay-off, anyone who can attend when the teens are in attendance will gain respect for the MTC program and the youth who are fortunate to be involved.  

FOOL FOR LOVE is being staged by the Manhattan Theatre Club in the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street, New York.  Its run has been extended through December 13, 2015

FOOL FOR LOVE is a Manhattan Theatre Club gift to students and audiences

Most Broadway theatre is based on the for-profit model.  Find or write a script, get backers to fund the show, hire a director and the necessary production staff, cast the show, rehearse, publicize the forthcoming production, sell tickets, place the show on a stage, and hopefully sell more tickets so that the funders make a profit.  It is a business model.

According to recent research on Broadway shows from 1994 to 2014,  “21 percent of musical shows recoup their costs, while 79 percent do not.”  Statistics on comedies and dramas are not as easy to find.

Yes, Broadway theatre is a for-profit business!  Well, almost all of it.

For the Manhattan Theatre Club, profit is not the issue.  MTC’s mission is “to produce a season of innovative work with a series of productions as broad and diverse as New York itself, to encourage significant work by creating an environment in which writers and theatre artists are supported by the finest professionals producing theatre today, to nurture new talent in playwriting, musical composition, directing, acting and design, and to reach out to audiences with innovative programs in education and maintain a commitment to cultivating the next generation of theatre professionals.”  Strong emphasis is placed on an intensive Development Program and an Education Program.

On the day I saw Sam Shepard’s FOOL FOR LOVE, the theatre was populated almost exclusively by students.  Conversations with some of the teens and the organization’s Director of Education indicated that the play had been read as part of class assignments and then discussed.   As became obvious during the show, and in the after-production question-and-answer session with the actors, these kids were not only well-mannered and attentive, but well-versed.   Their questions were probing and on target.

Sam Shepard’s FOOL FOR LOVE opened at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco in February of 1983.  It starred Ed Harris and Kathy Baker and was a finalist for the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  It opened off-Broadway in May of 1983 with the Magic Theatre cast, and then moved onto Broadway for an extended run.

The present Broadway production opened at the Williamstown Theater Festival in July, 2014 and transferred to The Samuel J. Friedman Theater in October of this year.

The play focuses on May and Eddie who have known each other since high school.  Their connection is toxic and often volatile.  May seemingly has found some sort of peace in a small Mojave Desert town, but Eddie shows up and invades her room in a run down motel, seemingly interested in reigniting their relationship. 

Eddie wants May to come with him to a trailer on a farm.  May refuses because she has gone through the destructive cycle before.  She has also started to develop a friendship with Martin, a shy local man. 

Who are these people?  Part of the answer is supplied by “The Old Man,” a ghost figure, who reveals that he led a double life and May and Eddie are half-siblings, with a common father and different mothers.   The Old Man was not only a philanderer, but an alcoholic.  Eddie appears to be a duplicate, drinking and secretly seeing a woman who May refers to as “The Countess.” 

In a series of rapid occurrences, the Countess shows up and torches Eddie’s car, Martin appears for his date with May, The Old Man becomes delusional, Eddie runs out followed by May.  Will they go together?  What’s to become of them? 

Shepard has written “fool” characters who appear to be doomed, together or apart.  It’s hard to feel any compassion for May or Eddie as they are caught in a maze, and can’t or won’t find their way out.   And, as is his habit, Shepard has created an “iconic father character—that disconnected, alcoholic father who can’t communicate.”

The MTC production is well directed by Daniel Aukin.  The show is nicely paced, holds the audience’s attention, has both the dramatic and comic elements stressed, and develops Shepard’s intent and purpose.

Nina Arianda, 2012 Tony Award winner for VENUS IN FUR, is fierce as May.  How she doesn’t have a body of welts and bruises is surprising.  This is not only a physical role, it’s emotionally exhausting.   Arianda doesn’t portray May, she is May!  Bravo!

Sam Rockwell, best known for his many screen credits, is properly maniac as the obsessed Eddie.  He intensely creates a man who works totally on emotion, with little logic being exercised.  The physical chemistry between Rockwell and Arianda is electric.

Gordon Joseph Weiss sits on a chair, slightly off the motel room set, and observes.  When The Old Man finally speaks, he compels attention with his drunken, mumbling cadence.  When he rises and displays his wrath, he continues to command attention. 

As Martin, Tom Pelphrey enters into the fray like a deer in the headlights. He shows complete confusion as he is manipulated by both May and Eddie.  He may be the only character who has any hope of getting out of the situation without being psychologically destroyed.

Capsule judgment:  The Manhattan Theatre Club’s FOOL FOR LOVE is a powerful play that is well directed and performed.  It delves into the psychological weaknesses of people who find themselves unable or unwilling to move forward in a healthy way.  It is a good lesson for how not to live ones life for the numerous students who will see the production as part of the MTC mission.  As a side pay-off, anyone who can attend when the teens are in attendance will gain respect for the MTC program and the youth who are fortunate to be involved. 

FOOL FOR LOVE is being staged by the Manhattan Theatre Club in the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street, New York.  Its run has been extended through December 13, 2015.

Monday, November 09, 2015

DAMES AT SEA—a happy flashback to the musicals of the 30s

The musicals of the 1930s were tap-dancing, bright-lights, happy music, and slight plot-driven spectaculars.  Watching DAMES AT SEA is a flashback to that era.  But, to the surprise of many, the script is not as old as might be perceived.  DAMES AT SEA, with book and lyrics by George Haimsohn and Robin Miller, and music by Jim Wise, actually opened off-off-Broadway in 1966, and moved to Off-Broadway in 1968.  Though billed as a revival, it is now in its on-Broadway premiere. 

Another aspect of the present staging that might surprise is that there are no long lines of scantily dressed chorus girls or a tuxedoed kick line of studly young men.  There are only seven performers in the production.

Director and choreographer, Randy Skinner, a three-time Tony winner, has formed the septet into a joyful assemblage that sings, dances, and entertains for two-hours in a format of songs and dances hooked together by a hokey farcical slight story-line.

The musical, which is supposedly based on the “Gold Diggers” movies, starred Bernadette Peters in its original incarnation.  Others who appeared in the role were Bonnie Franklin and Pia Zadora.  A movie version, starring Ann-Margret, Anne Meara, Ann Miller and Dick Shawn was made in 1971.

The story-line centers on Ruby, fresh off the bus from Utah.  She wanders into a Broadway theatre where the rehearsal of a show is in progress.  She, of course, has a pair of tap shoes, and, since one of the show’s dancers has just quit, she displays her dancing skills and is hired. 

Add Mona Kent, the show’s temperamental diva, Joan, a chorus girl turned bosom-buddy, Dick, a sailor and aspiring song writer, who found Ruby’s lost suitcase and turns up at the theatre accompanied by his friend Lucky, add a wrecking ball that is about to knock down the theatre, a hysterical producer, the Captain of a ship who is Mona’s former lover, and you have all the elements needed to “put on a musical.”  At least a musical entitled DAMES AT SEA.

The score is catchy, full of toe-tapping rhythms, and includes “It’s You,” “Broadway Baby,” “That Mister Man of Mine,” “Good Times are Here to Stay,” and “Let’s Have a Simple Wedding.”

Though the original production had only 2 pianos and percussion, the present staging goes big time with a full orchestra of keyboard, woodwinds, brass and percussion.

The cast is talented, knows how to showcase farce, and are dancing machines.

Adorable Eloise Kropp lights the stage as Ruby.  The triple threat performer sings, dances and acts with playful “aw-shucks”ease.  Her renditions of “Sailor of My Dreams” and “Raining in my Heart” are endearing.

Mara Davi is a master at farcical quips and double-take looks.  Her Joan delights. 

Lesli Margherita is diva-delicious as the self-impressed Mona.   She sets the mood for the show with her “Wall Street.” 

Cary Tedder, in the manner of Donald O’Connor and Gene Kelley, is the All-American handsome leading man who is a master dancer and displays the right charmer qualities as Dick. 

Danny Gardner is spot on as Lucky both Joan and Dick’s second banana.

John Bolton as both Hennesey, the over-wrought producer and The Captain, is farce right.

Capsule judgment:  DAMES AT SEA is a slight musical that delights.  The dancing is dynamic, the stage explodes with enthusiasm, the orchestra produces toe-tapping sounds. It’s an escapist type of production, though not a great Broadway musical, which will allow the audience to leave the theatre humming the music and adding a little dance gait to their exit out of the theatre.

DAMES AT SEA is in an open-run at the intimate 597-seat Helen Hayes Theatre, 240 West 44 th Street.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

SPRING AWAKENING—a brilliant, compelling, creative revival on Broadway

The late eighteen-hundreds were dark years in Europe.  The times were noted for oppression, strong church controls, guilt, and sexual repression. 

Since the arts represent the era from which they come, Frank Wedekind’s SPRING AWAKENING is a mirror to reflect those dark times. 

Started in late 1890, and completed early 1891, the script did not get staged until 1906 due to German censorship regulations.   Subtitled A CHILDREN’S TRAGEDY, the play exposed the attitudes of the time by delving into homosexuality, rape, child abuse, suicide, abortion and erotic fantasies through vivid dramatization.  German productions of the play were protested, shut down, and banned.

The script was made into a silent film in 1929. 

On December 10, 2006, after a series of concerts, workshops and an off-Broadway production, the musical opened on Broadway. Containing alternative rock music infused with folk sounds composed by Duncan Sheik and with a book and lyrics by Steven Sater, the show, which starred  Jonathan Groff, Lea Michele and Skylar Astin, won 8 Tony Awards and 4 Drama Desk Awards.  The cast album received a Grammy Award.

The revival, a compelling re-imagining of the play, is directed by Michael Arden and choreographed by Spence Liff, and was originally produced by Deaf West Theatre.

Founded in 1991, Deaf West Theatre, located in North Hollywood, was the first professional resident sign-language theatre in the western part of the US.  Intended to serve the over one-million deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals in the LA area, it produces adaptations of classic, contemporary and original works.  The shows are presented in a marriage of American Sign Language with simultaneous English translation.  A speaking actor speaks and signs ASL, a deaf performer signs ASL and a speaking actor, usually standing behind the performer, provides their “voice.”

SPRING AWAKENING takes place in 1891and concerns a group of German teens who are becoming sexually aware and are fighting for independence from their parents and the repressive rules of their elders, including their teachers and the clergy.

The story centers on Wendla, Melchoir, and Moritz.  Wendla craves to learn more about herself.  She asks her mother to explain where babies come from, but her mother, as do the other mothers, fails to give the needed information.  In an era before sex education in the schools, the teens are left with little factual reproductive information.

Wendla and Melchoir fall in love and have an affair.

Moritz Stiefel, whose father insists on more learning than the boy can intellectually comprehend, gets in trouble at school, is defended by Melchoir, the smartest and most popular boy, who sees the weakness of the educational system and wants to change things.   He also explains to Moritz, in a written document, the physical aspects of the human anatomy and the sexual act.

Several of the girls report physical and sexual abuse on the part of their parents, while some boys act out acts of masturbation and reveal lively fantasies about sexual intimacy.

The repression, the secrecy, and the hypocrisy become apparent when, after being expelled, Moritz ends his life.  Wendla becomes pregnant and is taken to a fake abortion doctor with tragic results.  Melchoir is jailed for pandering obscenity.

The story is strong.  The story-advancing music includes such modern classics as “The Bitch of Living,” ”The Dark I Know Well,” “Don’t Do Sadness,” “Left Behind,” “Those You’ve Known,” and “The Song of Purple Summer.”

The mostly young cast is compelling in their portrayals.  Austin P. McKenzie, who is making his Broadway and theatrical debut, creates a Melchior who is sensitive, aware and determined.  He puts on the character and wears him with consistency and fine texturing.  His vocally led “Totally Fucked” was a show-stopping explosion of dance and song.

Daniel N. Durant, also making his Broadway debut, operating under the motto, “Striving to build bridges and spread the message that Deaf can!,” skillfully portrays Moritz, a young man overwhelmed by pressures from his father and the false expectations of his teachers.  His suicide scene is emotionally devastating.

Another Great White Way newcomer, Sandra Mae Frank, clearly establishes Wendla as a young lady intent on learning about the ways of life, but frustrated by her mother and teachers, who discourage curiosity and realistic learning.  Her “voice” is supplied by Katie Boeck. Their “Mama Who Bore Me” was beautifully conceived. 

Other strong performances are given by 2005 Beachwood High School grad, Alex Wyse as Georg and Andy Mientus (Hanschen) who recently appeared in LES MISÉRABLES and had a major role in TV’s “Smash.”  Camryn Manheim was at her nasty best as a vindictive teacher.  (At the performance I saw, Marlee Matlin did not perform.)

Dane Laffrey’s scenic and costume designs, Ben Stanton’s lighting design, Gareth Owen’s sound design and Lucy Mackinnon’s projections, all added to the overall effect.

Capsule judgment:  In its original Broadway production SPRING AWAKENING was a smash hit.  In its re-imagined production, the marriage of spoken/sung sounds and American Sign Language added to the overall captivating effect of a story of oppression and misunderstanding, not only of youth, but of the deaf world.  The production should be a clear candidate for a Tony Best Musical Revival!

SPRING AWAKENING is in a limited run through January 24, 2016 @ THE BROOKS ATKINSON THEATRE, 256 West 47th Street, New York

Saturday, October 31, 2015

TALL SKINNY CRUEL CRUEL BOYS--Theater Ninja offers a thought-provoking scare-treat

Theater Ninjas, which bills itself as “the Food Truck of Cleveland Theater” due to its having no permanent home, but relishes its nomadic pattern of trying out “new and exciting spaces to perform,” is noted for rethinking what theater can be.  According to its Artistic Director, Jeremy Paul, the theater is “committed to making our region and our home a better place to live.”  The theater’s newest attempt to achieve its goal is a production of Cleveland native Caroline V. McGraw’s TALL SKINNY CRUEL CRUEL BOYS.

Paul and McGraw are long time friends.  They have known each other since high school.  When Paul acknowledges, “She was an incredible writer . . . and as we’ve both begun working in theater, I’ve occasionally asked her if she’s written any plays that would be good for Theater Ninjas.  With its dark humor, monsters and rhythmic, brutal language, TALL SKINNY CRUEL CRUEL BOYS is the perfect play for us.”  He goes on to state, “I’m honored to be able to produce the first professional production of Caroline’s work in her hometown.”

Yes, the script is a perfect fit for the Ninjas.  Paul and his artistic staff tend to pick plays or create stagings which stretch the limits and challenge the audience.  This is a thinking person’s theater in every sense of the word.  McGraw is their kind of writer.   TALL SKINNY CRUEL CRUEL BOYS is the odd-quasi-surrealistic play that should excite their niche audience.

Though the two-act script sometimes gets lost in its lack of a clear focus, and misses out on a clear dénouement, it does have its effect.

Brandy is a highly in-demand clown-artist who plys her craft on the children’s birthday party beat.  She’s a clown that not only entertains the kids, but their cheating fathers and teenage brothers with her sex acts.  She is a complicated woman who has demons in her life, including the monster who sleeps under her bed and rips and claws at her each night.  Is the “monster” real or a figment of Brandy’s guilt-ridden imagination?  Are the scars on her body the result of the “monster” or self-mutilation? 

Besides her own issues, Brandy has to deal with Reverb, a would-be clown collaborator.  Is he a stalker or a potential business partner?  Then there is Jack, a high school swimmer who shares Brandy’s bed on a regular basis.  Did she seduce him or is he a willing participant?  His girlfriend confronts Brandy.  Is she too, going to become a victim of the clown’s games?  Adding to the complications are the questions of what to do with the father she met at one of her clowning gigs who follows her to a gambling resort?  And what is to become of her constant liaisons with the mother from another of her birthday appearances?

Paul states, “A clown has to live in the same world you do, and this is why it can be so powerful:  clowns are honest. No lies.  No hiding.  Just simple human connection.” 

Paul requests, ”Please:  don’t be scared.”  Sorry Mr. director.  Brandy, with or without her make-up, costume and red rubber nose, is plenty scary!  And there are many Brandys out there, troubled people who ply on the weaknesses and desires of others, with or without their permission:  Priests and teachers who practice pedophilia;  a restaurant spokesperson who trades in child porn;  sexual predators on college campuses who don’t understand the need for “consent;”  drive-by shooters who don’t respect the lives of others.  “Brandy” and her duplicates do their part to make this a scary world.

The Ninja production is creatively staged and well-acted.  The intimate 50-seat theater space makes for an up-close-and-personal experience.

Though her clown act could be more creative and involving, Rachel Lee Kolis effectively develops the role of Brandy.   Bryon Tobin nicely textures the role of Jack, the high school student who has fallen under Brandy’s spell.  Valerie C. Kilmer is believable as Tash, Jack’s girlfriend.  Val Kozlenko is properly menacing as The Un, the under-the-bed “monster.”  Lauren Joy Fraley nicely fleshes out the pathetic Nina, a hanger-on from a Brandy gig.  Ryan Lucas does what he can with the vaguely written part of Reverb.

Eric M. C. Gonzalez’s original music helps underscore the plot development, and Susan Rothmann’s creation of the creature and puppets helps create the appropriate illusions.  Ben Gantose adds the right eeriness with his lighting.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  Though not for everyone, TALL SKINNY CRUEL CRUEL BOYS will be a positive experience for those who like “thinking” person’s theater.  It also makes for a positive Halloween season scare-treat.  What’s hiding under your bed?

TALL SKINNY CRUEL CRUEL BOYS runs through November 14, 2015 at Near West Lofts, 6706 Detroit Avenue, Cleveland.  For tickets go to

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

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Meticulously written, directed and performed THE CALL at Dobama

Tanya Barfield, author of THE CALL, which is now on stage at Dobama Theatre, didn’t want to write the play.  She stated in a December, 2012 interview, “Without realizing what I was doing, I pointedly and stubbornly refused. . . What I knew—what I was known for—were plays about the African-American experience through history.  I did not want to write a contemporary play, a play close to me, a play about adoption.”

She went on to say, “THE CALL is about adoption, yes.  It’s about race, midlife, Africa and marriage.  It’s also about taking a leap, as terrifying as it may be.  It’s about stepping outside your comfort zone and committing to something bigger than yourself.  It’s about recognizing the power of change and then actually doing it.  About being an active member of society—the global society—and improving upon it.  It’s about hearing the call to be something more, and then taking that call.  As uncomfortable as it may be.  I didn’t want to write this play.  But I’m certainly glad I did.”

From the comments heard following the opening night at Dobama, the assemblage certainly agreed.  Discussions ranged from the way the play ended, to the topics it contained, to the quality of the production.

What was all the fuss about?

Tanya Barfield is one of a new breed of contemporary playwrights who writes  well-crafted plays with naturalistic language.  The plays have a clear theme.  They have a structure of beginning, middle and end that exposes the audience to the topic at the start of the show, develops the conflicts and potential resolutions as the play goes along, and revisits the topic and resolves it at the end. 

The language is real.  The format reflects actual communication patterns.  Speeches overlap, language reflects modern day usage.  It’s like listening in on a family dinner, a friendship get-together.  The humor is natural, the emotional reactions real. 

The performers don’t act, they are actual living people, not created beings.  No feigning or “drama” here, the people are real, discussing real issues in real ways.

The topics in THE CALL reflect Barfield.  A bi-racial gay woman, raised in a loving home by a Caucasian mother and an African-American step dad, she always felt that “from the time I was a baby, ‘political’ was stamped on my forehead and became the fabric of my identity.” 

In THE CALL, Annie and Peter, a young White American married couple, have been trying for years to become pregnant.  Their natural and artificial attempts have led to no positive outcome, leaving Annie emotionally on edge.  They decide to adopt.  After much soul-searching, they set their sights on an African child, no more than eighteen-months old.   That way, they aid a child in need, get to form the child’s psyche, and avoid dealing with detachment disorder and the re-teaching of language and cultural attitudes.

Their friends, Rebecca and Drea, African American lesbians, based on their visit to Africa and life experiences, encourage the decision. The women even offer to help the couple by doing the child’s hair, thus avoiding the ”nappy-I-got-white parents hair” syndrome. 

Peter and Rebecca have known each other for a period of time as her now deceased brother and Peter once volunteered together in Africa.

As the couple works through the adoption bureaucracy, Annie is still recovering from depression from the years of miscarriages, fertility drugs and in-vitro-fertilization.  After the excitement of finally hearing that their adoption has been approved, complications enter when the child offered doesn’t fit their age requirements.

A series of confrontations with Rebecca and Drea, the revelation of the process of Rebecca’s brother’s death, and a young African moving in next door, who reveals vital information, add further wrinkles to the tale.

As evidenced by the buzz following the show, the conclusion should incite much conversation. 

Matthew Wright has meticulously directed the Dobama production.  Every aspect of the show is clearly articulated in design and performance.  The naturalistic writing style is adhered to, the entire play is realistic in sound and visual presentation.

The cast is perfection.  Ursula Cataan develops an Annie who is on-edge, hopeful, frustrated, and real.  She isn’t performing a role, she is Annie!

Area newcomer, Abraham Adams, is a welcome addition to the local stable of young and talented actors.  His textured development of Peter makes the character into a sensitive, intelligent man who wants to support his wife, but also has needs of his own that must be deal with.  The scene in which he tells Rebecca the “real” tale of her brother’s death is heart-wrenching.

Carly Germany, as has come to be expected from this talented actress, is character perfect as Rebecca.  Her love for Drea, her bitterness toward her brother’s death, her attempts to cover stress with humor, are all well developed.

Corlesia Smith has a wonderful way with humor.  She doesn’t force it, it just comes naturally.  Using vocal tonations, facial expressions and body language, she keys and emphasizes the right attitude to get the desired responses.  Her Drea provides the needed interjection of humor into what could be a drama-heavy script.

Nathan Lilly effectively creates in Alemu, the new African neighbor, a pivotal character whose presence makes a major impact on the play’s dénouement. 

Laura Carlson Tarantowski creates a series of sets on the small Dobama stage that helps create the proper mood for the play’s setting and actions.  Yesenia Real-Rivera’s props help flesh out the needed reality.  Zachary Hickle’s costume designs are era and character correct.  The mood of the play is set from the start by the use of African-style music as the curtain-raiser and scene bridges.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  THE CALL is one of those special theatrical performances that encourages thinking and contemplation, while adding just enough humor to avoid depression.  The topic is contemporary, the script is meticulously written, the production well staged, the acting of the highest level.  This is a must see production!

THE CALL runs through November 15, 2015 at Dobama Theatre.  Call 216-932-3396 or for tickets.

Dobama’s next show is PETER AND THE STARCATCHER from December 4 through January 5, 2015.  Tickets for the show are selling quickly.  If you intend to attend, call for seats now.  To read my review of The Shaw Festivals’ production of the show, go to

Friday, October 23, 2015

What is THE HAPPY SAD at convergence continuum?

Tyson Douglas Rand, director of THE HAPPY SAD now in production at convergence-continuum, in his program notes for the show, states, “What is THE HAPPY SAD?  Well…it’s a play with music – but it’s not a musical.  It’s a funny play about romance and relationships – but it’s NOT a romantic comedy.”  He goes on to state, “It’s not a series of problems and solutions.  It is a journey of discovery.”

Rand’s explanation points out both the strengths and weaknesses of Ken Urban’s script.

The play centers on seven New York twenty-somethings in a cross-section of what they refer to as “relationships.”  That is, if relationship means bouncing from bed to bed with various people, many of whom seem in sexual confusion as to whether they are straight, gay, bisexual, or monogamous.  Or, who are in open “relationships.” Or, who are in angst-filled connections.

Annie is “going with” Stan, but she breaks up to go with David, has a fling with Alice, and comes back to Stan.  Maybe.  Stan spends a lot of time watching porn, questioning his sexuality, and has first-time male sex with Marcus who he found in a Chat Room.  Marcus and Aaron are in a “committed relationship,” but both have sex with others.  David and Annie are together, then apart, then he hooks up with someone else, has a breakdown, tries to drown himself in a fish tank, goes into rehab.  These connections go on and on…

Yes, this is a play with music:  “If You Could,” “The Greeting Card Song,” “Lost at Sea,” “Let There Be Time,” and “All My Days.”  (They can be heard and downloaded at

The question is, What purpose do the songs fulfill?  They don’t fit neatly into the flow of the play and push the plot along, or give us a clear insight into the motives of the characters.  In fact, the goings-on are interrupted by what the show’s publisher advertises as, “Magical moments when we see the inner lives of the characters.” The songs are pleasant enough, but they don’t seem to accomplish the intended goal.

There are some funny moments, some tender moments; but, more than not, these are a series of snapshot scenes of needy people.  Why should we care about them?

The play ends, much like it began, with questions about what any of the characters learned in their probes to find out “what accommodations people make to hold them together.”

The con-con director and cast have given the script a better production than it probably deserves.  The pacing is good and each actor develops a consistent characterization.  There are some highlight scenes and tender moments.

The opening segment in which Annie (Hillary Wheelock) breaks up with confused Stan (Nate Miller), who has just brought her flowers and a drawing she likes as a token of his affection, is delightful.  It gives us hope for what might be coming.

The scene in which Marcus (Ryan Edlinger) and Aaron (Jack Matuszewski) speak to each other on their cells from different rooms in their apartment creates a tender moment where their relationship seems ready to move to a new level of connectedness.

A section of chaos, when all the characters converge on one another in a NY subway stop, is nicely staged and illustrates the interlinking nature of their relationships. 

Too bad Urban didn’t write more scenes like these and clearly connect them.

Attractive Hillary Wheelock is excellent as Annie, a teacher who doesn’t seem to have a clear idea of who or what she wants from life.  Her nude sex scene with Stan is convincing.

Nate Miller, he of puppy dog eyes and gym-developed body which he shows off numerous times, is properly confused as Stan.

Ryan Edlinger nicely creates a Marcus who seems to have a rudder to steer him through life, but doesn’t appear ready to be either in a relationship with Aaron, or a relationship at all. 

Jack Matuszewski is properly insecure as Aaron.  Ellie St. Cyr nicely develops the role of Mandy, a teacher with a conflicted family history. 

Monica Zach effectively textures her portrayal as Alice, a lesbian in search of “something.”  Ryan Christopher Mayer’s character of David is weakly written, leaving the audience unclear about why he “loses it” during a stand-up comedy act.  His dive into the fish tank was properly upsetting and laugh-invoking. Mayer does the best he can with the lines he is given.

Capsule Judgement:  Con-con straddled itself with a weakly developed script that leaves the director and the actors fighting for dramatic credibility.  In spite of this, some nicely textured performances, and some creative directing renders an acceptable theatrical production.
THE HAPPY SAD runs through October 24, 2015 at 8 pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at convergence-continuum’s artistic home, The Liminis, at 2438 Scranton Rd. in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood.  For information and reservations go to or call 216-687-0074

Next up at con-con is BOB:  A LIFE IN FIVE ACTS, Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s comic story of Bob, born and abandoned in a fast food restaurant restroom and how he embarks on an epic journey in search of the American Dream.  The Cleveland premiere runs November 20-December 19, 2015.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Farcical BAT BOY THE MUSICAL is a blood-sucking “hoot” at Blank Canvas

In June 23, 1992, if you believed the supermarket tabloid, “Weekly World News,” you’d have accepted that a “large-eyed, fanged human child” was found in a southern West Virginia cave. 

According to the now defunct tabloid, their story was factual.  The “half human, half bat” was examined and confirmed by scientists and US government officials. It was reported that the original scientist who found him was “Dr. Ronald Diller.”  The existence of the bat boy was “confirmed by Matthew Daemon, S.O.S. (Seeker of Subcultural Supernaturals.)”  Several times the creature was captured but managed to escape so he couldn’t be viewed by the general public.

“The original front-page photo of the bat boy, showing his grotesque screaming face, was the second-best selling issue in the tabloid’s history” and has since evolved into a pop-culture icon.

As it turns out, the story was concocted by the tabloid’s editor, but the urban legend does not cease.  According to various sources, “Bat Boy,” as he is now officially known, has evolved from a 2-foot, nineteen pound boy to a five-foot tall  “animal person.”  He ran for California governor in 2003.  In October, 2008, he endorsed John McCain for President, but in the course of the election cycle, he switched to Barack Obama.  In November, 2008, Bat Boy allegedly was seen protesting the passage of California’s Proposition 8.

In 1997, the Bat Boy became observable when he emerged as the leading character in BAT BOY, THE MUSICAL.  The music and lyrics are by Laurence O’Keefe, with  book by Brian Flemming and Keythe Farley. 

An off-Broadway production ran from mid-March until early December of 2001 and won the Lucile Lortel Award for best Off-Broadway musical.

The musical has the Bat Boy learning to speak, thanks to his adoptive family.  He yearns to be like other humans, suffers hatred and violence from the local town folk, is the victim of jealous rage, and comes to a tragic end.

The story begins when three teenage spelunkers discover Bat Boy in a cave.  One of the teens, Ruth, is bitten by the “thing.”  Eventually, Bat Boy is captured, and taken to the home of Dr. Parker, the local veterinarian, while Ruthie is admitted into the hospital. 

The doctor’s wife, Meredith, takes a liking to the creature and is determined to transfer Edgar, the name given him by Meredith and her daughter, Shelley, into a well-mannered human.  Aided by British English audio tapes, Edgar not only learns to speak with a British accent, but to control his bat urges. 

Meredith and Shelley are  unaware that Dr. Parker has been feeding Edgar blood, the only food source Bat Boy can absorb, thus keeping him in a bat-like state.

The townspeople are concerned because their cows keep dying off.  When Ruthie dies, after being given poison by Dr. Parker, who is jealous of the attention Edgar is getting from Meredith and Shelley, the town turns on Edgar as the cause of their problems.

Shelley, in the meantime, has fallen in love with Edgar, and the duo, with the guidance of Pan, the Greek god of the wild, have a sexual liaison.  When Meredith finds out about the relationship, she reveals a closely guarded secret about Edgar’s identity.

Chaos results and, much like any tragedy, even farcical ones, the play ends with the stage littered with dead bodies. 

The musical, which is a fantasy-farce, does contain some serious themes, including prejudice being shown toward those who are different, the effects of rumor-mongering, the consequence of seeking revenge, and the power of scapegoating.

Director Patrick Ciamacco has a way with staging the bizarre.  BAT BOY is his cup of tea.  Okay, cup of blood.  The goings-on are a “hoot.” 

The cast plays for reality, a requirement for making farce work.  They allow the audience to laugh at the outlandishness of the material.  The cross-dressing, a highlight device of some of Ciamacco’s shows, works to add to the ridiculousness. 

Slight, compact Pat Miller is outstanding as Bat Boy (Edgar).  Complete with fanged teeth and eerie contact lenses, he prowls, hangs from the rafters, attacks, and sucks blood with compelling ease.  He has an excellent singing voice and creates a completely believable character.

Amiee Collier uses her fine acting to develop Meridith as a compassionate but frustrated woman.  She displays a well-trained singing voice. 

Brian Altman sings admirably and makes playing evil look easy as the despicable Dr. Parker.  Stephanie Harden has a nice singing voice and does a fine transition, taking Shelley from a hater to a lover of Edgar.

The rest of the cast are quite convincing in their portrayals.

Highlight musical numbers include “A Home for You,” “Show You a Thing or Two,” “Let Me Walk Among You,” and “Inside Your Heart.”  The explosive choreography for “A Joyful Noise” made it a showstopper.

Katie Zarecki’s choreography was generally creative.  Jenniver Sporano’s costumes, Cory Molner’s lighting, Noah Hrbek’s animations, and PJ Toomey’s special effects all added considerably to the production.

Lawrence Wallace and his band (Rachel Woods, Ernie Molner, Zach Davis and Jason Stebelton) played well and generally do a nice job of underscoring, rather than overpowering the performers. 

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: BAT BOY, THE MUSICAL is a farcical show, which gets an entertaining production at Blank Canvas under the creative direction of Pat Ciamacco. To truly appreciate the show you have to go with the attitude that you are going to put aside reality and have a fun-filled time. It’s worth seeing the show, if for no other reason, to observe the wonderful character development by Pat Miller as the Bat Boy.
BAT BOY THE MUSICAL runs through October 31, 2015 in Blank Canvas’s near west side theatre, located at 1305 West 78th Street, Suite 211.  Get directions to the theatre on the website.  Once you arrive, go around the first wing of the building to find the entrance, enter, and then follow the signs to the second floor acting space.  For tickets and directions go to

Blank Canvas’s next show is REEFER MADNESS (December 4-19, 2015), a raucous musical comedy based on the 1936 cult film of the same name.  As the production’s advertisement says, “It will go straight to your head!”

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

Monday, October 19, 2015

Cesear’s Forum’s THE INVESTIGATION is an excruciating personal experience

As the actors lined up for the curtain call of Cesear’s Forum’s THE INVESTIGATION, Peter Weiss’s play about the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials of 1963-65, I was on an emotional trip far, far way.

The summer of 1959 found me in England, the Scandinavian countries, Russia, and Poland on an international exchange program.  On July 29, based on the request I had made, our white Volkswagen bus, with its ten passengers, pulled into the city square in Lomza, Poland.  Lomza, Poland, the “shtetl” in which my mother, had been born, and she, her mother, her aunt and uncles, and my great-grandparents had left in 1908.  My grandfather fled from the army in 1904, had come to America, made enough money to bring over his child, wife and in-laws.  Left behind was his extensive Orthodox Jewish family.

By some act of serendipity, Paul, my interpreter, found a man whose father had been the caretaker for my grandfather’s family.  The man took us to the place where the family home, the yeshiva (a training school for rabbis which had been founded by my great-uncle), and the synagogue had stood before the war.  He related that a few of the family had left for the United States before the wars, another small group had left for Israel, but the majority had been “taken away.” 

Several hours later I was at Auschwitz.  The concentration camp had not yet been “sanitized” and made to look like a museum, as it did 20 years later when I returned.  It still smelled of burned bodies, the barracks had not been painted to make them look like summer camp dorms, and the hair, shoes, and suitcases of the dead had not yet been placed into their air tight storage chambers. 

I walked through a corridor emblazoned with the names of the cities, towns, and “shtetls” from which the Jews, Gypsies, Gays and political prisoners had been brought to this place of murder.  There, clearly etched, was the title, “Lomza.”  Below were lists of names of those who had been murdered at this horrible place.  All of a sudden, the words, “they had been taken away” struck horrible reality.  (Many years later, after an extensive search, I ascertained that well over 100 of my relatives were victims of the Nazi cleansing.)

As I sat in my seat at the conclusion of THE INVESTIGATION, even though the actors (Tricia Bestic, Brian Bowers, Zach Griffin, Michael Johnson, John Kolibab, Michel Regnier, Jeanne Task, Valerie Young and Lee Mackey) deserved my accolades, I could not applaud.  How do you applaud the deeds of liars, murders and inhumanity?  I was emotionally drained.

As for this review,  I could comment on the overly long script, the distracting movement of chairs, the inappropriate attempts at humor by the pre-performance cleaner of the stage and comments he made which were off-setting for the mood and intent of this script, and the meaningless and ridiculous singing act, insulting to the memory of the dead, which also preceded the actual play. But, in reality, though off-setting, none of these are totally relevant. 

I could praise Max Bruno the superb violinist who played inter-scene musical bridges, and the “chutzpa” (courage) of Greg Cesear in picking a script of a story that must be told, but is so upsetting that it may not attract large audiences. 

What is most relevant to me is that the audience, the night I saw the show, was populated by  a large contingent of high school-aged students.  If they learned of the horrors of the Holocaust, then it was worth my personal angst.  If the people in the fourteen West and East German cities where the play was premiered in October of 1965 learned of the horror they and their countrymen had participated in and swore to never do such deeds again, then the play achieved its purpose.  If Holocaust deniers and those who are not fully aware of the horrors that were perpetuated see the show, then that, too, would make the writer, the cast, and the director’s time worth while.

Capsule judgement:  My ride home after Cesear’s Forum’s THE INVESTIGATION was done in silence.  I sit here now, trying to write a review, with welled eyes.  Oh, the inhumanity of man.  
For tickets to THE INVESTIGATION, through November 14 in Kennedy’s Down Under, call 216-241-6000 or   The theatre is entered from the lobby of the Ohio Theatre in PlayhouseSquare.

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

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Mesmerizing production of Arthur Miller’s THE CRUCIBLE at Cleveland Play House

Arthur Miller, the author of THE CRUCIBLE, which is now in production at the Cleveland Play House’s Outcalt Theatre, was one of the most important modern American playwrights.  Credited with being the developer of the contemporary definition of the American tragedy, he would have been 100 this year.  Ironically, this is CPH’s one-hundreth birthday, as well.

Miller’s plays, such as ALL MY SONS, DEATH OF A SALESMAN and VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE often appear on lists of the finest modern English language scripts, along with LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT (Eugene O’Neil) and A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (Tennessee Williams.)

Miller, noted as a moralist, asked in his writings, “Is this the best way to live?”

In THE CRUCIBLE, Miller writes of the Salem witch trials in 1692 and 1693, but, in reality he is alluding to the McCarthy-era witch hunt for Communists.  Like the Salem times, McCarthyism was based on gossip, innuendo, and fanaticism.

The country in the late 1940s was in a frenzy over communism.  In 1947, The House Un-American Activities Committee held hearings into “red” influence in the arts, specifically in Hollywood’s motion picture industry.  People called before the committee were often ostracized as the result of the hearings.  Among others, those blacklisted were Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, and Paul Robeson.

Arthur Miller was subpoenaed to appear before the committee in 1957.  Miller asked that he not be required to reveal names.  The panel agreed.  He revealed his political activities, but then the chair asked him to identify others who had carried out similar actions.  The minutes of the hearing state that Miller said, “I could not use the name of another person and bring trouble on him.” 

As a result of his stand, Miller was found guilty of contempt of Congress, sentenced to a $500 fine or thirty days in prison, blacklisted and disallowed a US passport.  In 1958 his conviction was overturned because Miller had been misled by the chairman of the HUAC.

The strain of his experience brought about changes in his attitudes and work.  The first play to reflect this was THE CRUCIBLE in which he uses the writing device identified as “historification,” in which the author writes about a historical event to lay the foundational comparison for the modern message of the play.  

The script illustrates Miller’s expanded concern for the physical and psychological well being of people, especially the working class. 

THE CRUCIBLE is set in the Puritan New England town of Salem, Massachusetts.  A group of teen girls are caught by Reverend Parris, a local minister, dancing in the woods.  In order to cover up for their misdeed, Abigail Williams, the group’s ringleader, hatches a cover up.  The girls swear that they were taken over by the devil.  The hysteria grows and many lies, rumors and innuendos fester, resulting in a search for  witches and those possessed by the devil, including the local midwife, Rebecca Nurse, Elizabeth Proctor, and her husband, John Proctor, a man who Abigail has had sexual relations with and still desires. 

An “expert” on witchcraft, Reverend John Hale, is brought in.  At first he believes the girls’ stories, then he recants when the circumstantial evidence is obviously false and results in over a dozen hangings and stonings. 

Abigail, caught in her lies, steals money and runs away.  Hale attempts to plea with the survivors to admit their guilt and save themselves.  Many, including John Procter refuse. 

Proctor’s concluding speech has become a classic model for standing up for one’s principals.  He verbally admits his sins, but then refuses to sign his name to the document which will be hung on the church’s door.  Why?  “Because it is my name!  Because I cannot have another in my life!  Because I lie and sign myself to lies!  How may I live without my name?  I have given you my soul; leave me my name!”  He is taken to the gallows. 

In the end, the witch trials, as were the McCarthy hearings many years later, are proven to have been injudicious.

The play is filled with themes including that of intolerance.   Dissent in that theocratic society was unlawful.  And, as the head of the court states, “a person is either with this court or he must be counted against it.”  That sentiment is parallel to McCarthy-era belief that if someone did not cooperate with the “court” they were guilty of being a communist or a communist conspirator.

Hysteria is another theme.  Hysteria tears the community apart.  Again, much like during the “witch hunts” of the HUAC, by creating fear from the results of being castigated by the committee, the right wing caused hysteria and won control.

Other themes include the roles of reputation, empowerment, accusations,  confessions and paranoia.  The latter can clearly be seen in America in the 1950s, with the excessive zeal and disregard for the rights and reputations of individuals. 

The oft-stressed Miller question of “Is this the right way to live?” becomes paramount in understanding why he wrote the play.

The CPH production, under the direction of Laura Kepley, is mesmerizing. Choosing to the do the play in the Outcalt Theatre, with its theatre-in-the-round stage, was a stroke of genius.  Forcing the audience to be close to the action, with no place to psychologically hide, makes the uncomfortable actions of the court and the hysteria of the characters vivid.  Here is yet another reason why abandoning the theater’s old building and its three proscenium stages was a wise decision by the Play House board.

Though some may complain that because of the theatre-in-the round staging, some lines were lost.  This argument pales, in my opinion, when acknowledging the emotional impact on the viewer of the breaking of the emotional third wall and forcing close-up-and-personal participant in the production.

The cast is universally excellent.  It was nice to see a blend of local and national professionals joining together on the CPH stage. 

Some of the local performers, who clearly developed meaningful major roles include Donald Carrier as Reverend Parris, the paranoid, self-pitying, egotistical church leader who was one of the leaders of the witch-hunt, Dorothy Silver, the first lady of Cleveland theater, as Rebecca Nurse, the wise, sensible, upright woman who was willing to give her life for her reputation, Tracee Patterson, as Ann Putnam, who lost seven children in childbirth and is the main accuser of Rebecca Nurse, Fabio Polanco as Thomas Putnam, who uses the witchcraft trials to cheaply buy the land of those who have been convicted, and Chuck Richie, as Francis Nurse, the husband of Rebecca Nurse.  

Other cast standouts are Ben Mehl, who creates in Reverend John Hale, a character whose gradual transition from accuser to denier is completely believable.  John Herrera is totally convincing as the high minded deputy governor.  Rachel Leslie is correctly compassionate as Elizabeth Proctor.  Mahira Kakkar is compelling as Mary Warren, who helps reveal the trickery by Abigail and the other girls.   Esau Pritchett gives an impressive and finely textured performance as John Proctor.

Kudos to the local school students and members of the CWRU/CPH MFA Acting Program who helped enhance the production.

Lex Liang’s costume designs, which mixed 1700 with 20th century styles and fabrics, helped create the reality needed for the authenticity of the past but with the spotlight on the near-present. Mary Louise Geiger’s lighting added to the grotesqueness of the happenings  Scott Bradley’s multi-sets helped develop clear spaces for what was happening.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  THE CRUCIBLE is an important American classic which gets a fine production at CPH under the directorship of Laura Kepley.  There are important lessons to be gained from seeing this script.  It is doubtful that local audiences will get another opportunity to see a better staging.  This is a definite must be seen!!

THE CRUCIBLE runs through November 8, 2015 at the Outcalt Theatre in Allen Complex of PlayhouseSquare.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to

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

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Shakespeare’s epic tragic KING LEAR at GLT is a moving experience

In his program notes for Great Lakes Theater’s production, director Joseph Hanreddy states, “KING LEAR, with its titanic range of emotional, vast physical landscape, dark ironic humor and snarl of mysteries, contradictions, ambiguity and paradoxes, render it one of the theater’s greatest challenges to realize in performance.”  To his credit, Hanreddy creates a production which lives up to the challenge. 

He develops a staging that clearly showcases how, “every character from monarch to lunatic beggar, is set on a struggle for sanity and survival in a ravaged kingdom.”

The story centers on Lear, an aging King of Britain, who takes the bold move of abandoning the throne and plans to divide the land he owns between his  three daughters.  In an act of ego, he requests each of his children to tell him how much she loves him.  The oldest two, the conniving Goneril and Regan, both give grandiose flattery.  The youngest, Cordelia, his favorite, refuses to play the game and states she has not words to describe her love.  Lear, misunderstanding her intent, disowns Cordelia, leaving her unmarried and penniless. 

This turn of events starts Lear into a downward spiral toward despair and a mental breakdown, causes intrapersonal, inter-family and inter-country conflict.  Goneril and Regan fight for power, Lear flees to a heath during a great thunderstorm, accompanied by his Fool and Kent, a loyal nobleman.  As happens in Shakespeare tragedies, all does not end well. 

Filled with such motifs as the role of political authority, family dynamics, mental instability, betrayal, betrayers who turn against each other, reconciliation, and blindness (real and figurative), KING LEAR is a brutal play filled with human cruelty, madness and death.  It asks, “Can there be justice in the world?”  The answer is a terrifying uncertainty as the evil Goneril, Edmund and Regan die, but so does the good (Cordelia). 

The script has one of the most tragic endings in all of literature.  At the final curtain, the stage is littered with dead bodies, and no clear “winner” emerges in the life conflict.

The play is character and author driven.  Shakespeare defined Elizabethan tragedy.  Such plays as HAMLET, OTHELLO, MACBETH and ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA follow his pattern.  The tragic hero must be of high status, he must have a flaw, must cause the central conflict of the play, he must become aware of his flaw, and he and/or the families, and the political structure must be destroyed.

Lear’s basic flaw is his valuing appearance above reality and flattering words over true love.  Though Lear finally understands Cordelia’s love and tries to save her, his efforts are too little and too late.  He does become a humble and caring individual, but is incapable of regaining his throne and reigning again as a powerful and respected king.  His family and country are left in chaos as a result of his actions.

An examination of the play’s major characters aid in understanding the plot.  Cordelia is a devoted, kind, honest beauty who, in contrast to her sisters Goneril and Regan, who are neither honest nor loving, refuses to manipulate her father for personal gain.  She becomes a victim to a heartless and unjust world.

Hanreddy’s directing centers on his taking a classic play and giving it present day interpreting, without changing the language.  Though the dress is updated, it’s clearly a Shakespearean era tale, but with modern sensibility.   It is amazing how the Bard, before the development of modern psychology, was capable of crafting many characters who fit into the present day classifications of modern mental illness, complete with the cultural underpinnings of those societal deviances.

The GLT production is well acted and nicely paced.  From the “impending doom music, to the serving of Kentucky Fried Chicken during the dinner following hunting, the technical aspects were visually and emotionally outstanding. 

Martha Hally’s costumes set the proper modern/traditional moods. Paul Miller’s lighting created storms and illusions that build the ever maddening mood. Sound designers Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen effectively assaulted the ears during the storm scenes.  Linda Buchanan created a set which looked imposing and solid with large panels of opaque material set inside sliding doors.  As Lear disintegrated so did the set.

Unfortunately, the Friday evening I saw the show, just as the action was racing toward its stormy climax, an announcement informed us that there was a technical issue and there would be a five-minute pause.  Several minutes into the void, two large pillars, center stage, fell dramatically, creating a mighty roar. It can only be assumed that these were to fall as the lightening and thunder roared and Lear descended into further mental angst and psychological destruction.  Of course, the pause took much of the power out of the final scene. 

The performances were excellent.  Aled Davies built the character of Lear through texturing and nuance, so that his ride from monarch to madness was like a roller coaster ride with highs and lows, and a minimum of over dramatization, which is a tendency of many actors who play the role.

Laura Perrotta and Robyn Cohen were evil incarnate as Goneril and Regan, Lear’s oldest daughters.  They are matched in their wickedness by Dustin Tucker, as the Duke of Cornwall, Regan’s husband, and Jonathan Dyrud as Edmund, Gloucester’s bastard son who is a Machiavellian character willing to do anything to gain land and power.  Edmund has many of the characteristics of Shakespeare’s other clever and evil villains, such as Iago in OTHELLO.

Cassandra Bissell realistically developed Cordelia, Lear’s youngest daughter, as compassionate and well intentioned who, even in banishment, does not reject her father.  

The scene in which The Earl of Gloucester’s eyes are plucked out by Cornwall is often over-done, causing much audience repulsion.  As masterfully performed by David Anthony Smith, with the aid of some effective special makeup effects, the scene was agonizing, but not repulsive.

Tom Ford nicely develops Lear’s Fool into a figure of both humor and compassion.
Capsule judgement:   As he emerges from prison carrying Cordelia’s body, Lear  howls in despair ranting, “heaven’s vault should crack” because of his daughter’s death. It does not, and are we left with no answers.  It is this lack of unexplained horror that makes KING LEAR such a powerful, maybe even excruciating play, and a classic example of Shakespeare at his finest.  Joseph Hanreddy, his cast and crew make this a fine GLT offering.  

KING LEAR runs through November 1, 2015 at the Hanna Theatre.  For tickets: 216-664-6064 or