Thursday, January 09, 2020
Sword swallowing, escape from a vat of sand while being handcuffed, inserting a needle through the tongue, the shell game of trying to figure out which cup contains a hidden pea, card tricks, changing water to wine, putting a sword through a trunk while a woman contortionist is inside and remains uncut, and mind reading, are just some of the illusions, tricks or magic that are presented by the performers who make up the cast of “THE ILLUSIONSTS, LIVE FROM BROADWAY,” now appearing on-stage at the Connor Palace.
The production which features a rotating cast of magicians who present on stage illusions, escapology and comedy magic using not only their own assistants, but “volunteers” from the audience, is aimed to please audiences of all ages.
The show premiered at the Sydney (Australia) Opera House on January 12, 2012 and has gone on to appear in such places as Kuwait, Mexico, China, England, Dubai, much of Europe and on Broadway. The troupe is now on a nation-wide tour, with a 5-day stop in CLE.
The international cast includes Valentin Azema (The Elusive), Dizzy (The Trickster), Jonathan Goodwin (The Daredevil), Stuart MacLeod (The Delusionist), Florian Sainvet (The Manipulator), Sos & Victoria (The Transformationalists), and Steve Valentine (The Showman). Each has a magic specialty.
One of the highlights of the opening night performance took place when two pre-arranged for volunteers were brought on stage. At the conclusion of a delightful give-and-take between the master-of-ceremonies and the young ladies, one dropped to her knee, removed a small black box from her pocket, and, to shrieks of delight and affirmation from the audience, asked her companion to marry her. Of course, the answer was, “yes”
The engaged duo were not the only audience participants. By various means and schemes, audience members played the foils in many of the activities.
The stage actions were enhanced by the presence of camera close-ups projected onto a large on-stage screen, ensuring that card tricks and slight-of-hand activities were easy for everyone in the audience to see.
Capsule judgment: Though many aspects of the show were very entertaining, the over-all effect was under-whelming. It seemed in many segments, that the cast has done these same tricks over and over, and were on automatic pilot.
‘THE ILLUSIONISTS LIVE FROM BROADWAY” appears at the Connor Palace from January 7-11. For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to www.playhousesquare.org
Monday, January 06, 2020
Betty Comden (Basya Cohen) and Adolph Green were noted as one of the luminaire lyricist and script-writing teams of mid-20th century Broadway and Hollywood.
The duo, who were a creative partnership but not a romantic couple, met while they were studying drama at NYU. They formed a troupe called “The Revuers,” which consisted of Betty, Adolph and Judy Holliday and played at venues in Greenwich Village. Green’s good friend, Leonard Bernstein, often played the piano for the group.
The acts success earned them a movie offer, but their roles in the Hollywood flick were so small they barely were noticed. They quickly returned to New York.
Their first Broadway composing effort teamed them with Bernstein for ‘ON THE TOWN,” a critical and financial success. Unfortunately, their next two stage attempts were flops.
Discouraged, they left NY for Hollywood, this time to be lyricists, not performers. They found much success at MGM, which was noted for producing many memorable films during the era of the Golden Age of the Movie Musical. Included were Comden and Green’s "SINGIN' IN THE RAIN,” “GOOD NEWS,” and “THE BAND WAGON.”
Flush with success, they returned to Broadway where they found Great White Way praise with “TWO ON THE AISLE,” “WONDERFUL TOWN,” “PETER PAN,” ‘ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY,” and “BELLS ARE RINGING.” The latter show united them with Judy Holliday.
Their song creations included such classics as “The Party’s Over,” “It’s Love,” “Lucky to be Me,” “Make Someone Happy” “Never Never Land,” and one of the top hits of all time, “New York New York.”
Often referred to as Broadway’s “merry pranksters,” Betty and Adolph continually wrote about the witticism of life, of childhood, and how to escape from reality.
The Musical Theater Project will pay tribute to the duo in “MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY: THE SONGS OF COMDEN & GREEN.” The multi-media production will be hosted by Bill Rudman and Nancy Maier and feature Eric Fancher, Sheri Gross and Sara Masterson.
Spotlight on Eric Fancher:
Eric Fancher is well known to many CLE theatre-goers for his over 100 local theatre productions.
Originally from Detroit, the handsome and talented 31-year-old, who is noted for his well-trained singing voice and compelling stage presence, moved to this area in 1991.
The product of an “artsy” theatrical family, his father, a minister, was a collegiate theatre major and his mother is a music teacher.
How did he become involved in theatre? In a recent interview, Fancher revealed that in high school he was interested in a girl who was interested in theater. How to better win over the damsel then to try out for plays! Though the romance never developed, the theater connection did.
His favorite role: Harold Hill in “THE MUSIC MAN.” It was a role he played in a concert version of the classic at Cain Park under the direction of Joanna May Cullinan. It was Cullin, who is the Marketing Director at TMTP, who made the arrangements for Fancher to try out for roles at TMP. And, as the old saying goes, “The rest is history.”
Besides performing, Eric is the founder of The Cleveland Stage Alliance (http://www.clevelandstagealliance.com), which is a “website developed to expose local theatre to those who don’t know what’s going on theatrically in the area. It promotes any and all locally produced theatre.” As Fancher stated. “There is more theatre in CLE than most people know about.
For MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY, he will be singing 17 songs including “New York, New York,” “Once in a Life Time,” “Make Someone Happy,” “I Just Can’t Wait,” and Captain Hook’s Waltz” from “PETER PAN”.
What is the rehearsal process like for a TMTP concert? “There are one or two solo rehearsals with music director, a run through with cast and a tech rehearsal.” Yes, all that wonder is created in 4 rehearsals.
What does Fancher like about Comden and Green songs? “They are lyricists who are clever, funny, often beautiful, and each show has a different feel to it.”
Upcoming local gig for the talented singer/actor is TMTP’s “THE IMPACT OF CAMELOT,” to be staged in late May.
You can see Eric and his co-performers in MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY: THE SONGS OF COMDEN & GREEN at the First Baptist Church, January 24 @ 7 PM: General admission: $38, TMTP Members: $33, tickets: 1-800-838-3006 or www.MusicalTheaterProject.org or Hanna Theatre, January 26 @ 3 PM: General admission: $35-$55, TMTP Members: $30-$50, tickets: 216-241-6000 www.PlayhouseSquare.org
Sunday, December 15, 2019
On a blackboard, center-stage, a message is written. The words state, “You are one decision away from a completely different life.”
Ah, yes, think back to the climax points of your life. Did you say “yes” or “no” to a proposal, an opportunity, a vital decision that would have changed your very path of existence?
This “what difference did that decision make?” is at the heart of British playwright Nic Payne’s thought-provoking two-person script, “CONSTELLATIONS,” now closing the 2019 season of convergence-continuum.
Artistic director Clyde Simon looks for uncovered gems that “challenges the imagination and extends the conventional boundaries of language, structure, space and performance” that insights his loyal groupies. Sometimes he misses, but with “CONSTELLATIONS” he has hit the proverbial “home run.”
This is a quality script that gets an imaginative and proficient production under the focused eye of director Geoffrey Hoffman.
The performances of Max Elinsky and Laurel Hoffman are top quality. Each inhabits their role with clarity of purpose. They don’t’ act. They live their roles with complete authenticity.
The duo is aided by the multi-talented Bobby Williams live musical sound effects and underscoring music.
“In the beginning Marianne [a cosmologist] and Roland [a beekeeper] meet at a party. They go for a drink, or perhaps they don't. They fall madly in love and start dating, but eventually they break up [or maybe they don’t]. After a chance encounter in a supermarket they get back together, or maybe they run into each other and Marianne reveals that she's now engaged to someone else and that's that. Or perhaps Roland is engaged. Maybe they get married, or maybe their time together will be tragically short.”
“Marianne often waxes poetic about cosmology, quantum mechanics, string theory and the belief that there are multiple universes that pull people's lives in various directions. This is reflected in the play's structure as brief scenes are repeated, often with different outcomes.” It is the basis for the play’s title and the molecule/bee hive set decorations.
Sound confusing? It’s not. Hoffman has clearly chosen to present the series of non-connected scenes in such a way that we know this is not a linear story. Every major event is clued by light changes (kudos to Eva Nel Brettrager’s light designs), and sounds that alert us to “pay attention.” The actors seamlessly go back and forth, repeating lines, inventing connections that, while sometimes confounding, meld into a logical tale.
Though the presentation appears to be razzle-dazzle and abstraction, it never gives a feeling of leading the audience on through tricky writing and staging. There is gentle humor, enough pathos and irony to grab and hold the attention.
The play’s 2012 London debut was met with strong positive reviews.
The subsequent limited-run Broadway production starred film-star Jake Gyllenhaal in his Broadway debut and Ruth Wilson, who won the 2015 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play.
Capsule Judgment: “CONSTELLATIONS” is one of con-con’s best stagings. It combines a well-conceived script, superb acting and well-focused directing. It’s a must-see experience!
“CONSTELLATIONS” runs through December 21, 2019 at 8 pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at convergence-continuum’s artistic home, The Liminis, at 2438 Scranton Rd. in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood. For information and reservations call 216-687-0074 or go to http://www.convergence-continuum.org/
Saturday, December 14, 2019
Watching “IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE” is a family viewing tradition for many families. The sappy, sentimental fantasy was produced and directed by Frank Capra. It was based on “The Greatest Gift,” a Phillip Van Doren Stern short story.
The film which starred Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey and Henry Travers as Clarence, has become one of the most beloved in American cinema. Interestingly, was a financial flop at the movie box office. Only years later did it become required Christmas TV watching.
The tale centers on George Bailey, a man who has given up his dreams to help others, and whose imminent suicide on Christmas Eve brings about the intervention of his guardian angel, Clarence. The bumbling angel, who has been angling to get his wings for a hundred years, succeeds when he shows George all the lives he has touched, and how different life in his community of Bedford Falls would be if he had never been born.
It is almost impossible to watch the film and not ask yourself, “What a difference have I made in my lifetime?” It’s probably why so many people find the story endearing.
A stage version, adapted from the film, is now being performed by Theatre in the Circle.
The University Circle theater bills itself as the only professional theater in the country housed in a senior retirement facility. Though the producer and director are residents, the performers are not residents, but professional and amateur actors from the CLE community.
The script was written by TITC’s Bill Corcoran and Dudley Saunders.
It was originally performed in 1989 at the Derby Dinner Playhouse in Clarksville, Indiana, one of the oldest and largest operating professional dinner theatres in the United States, where Corcoran was the music director.
The script was revived once and then went into hiatus.
Corcoran and his husband, Mark are the duo in charge of Theatre in the Circle. They decided that it was time for the script to come out of hibernation and are now staging it.
Well, reviving and revising it. The original cast had 20 characters. The new version has nine, with many characters playing multiple roles. The producers also needed to adapt the orchestrations to fit the acoustic and space requirements of the Judson Mannor’s Ballroom, where the show is being performed. They also had to adjust to the postage stamp proscenium/thrust stage, with the audience up-close and personal, and operating on a shoe-string budget which limited the ambiance of the costumes, sets and lighting.
There was little they could do about the hokey story line which is actually what makes the schmaltzy tale so enduring to many.
In attending a Theatre in the Circle production, it must be realized that, even though there are some professional actors on stage, the general production values, are much like many community theatres—lots of very good intentions and enthusiasm, with often moderate success. And that’s not all bad. There is a nice folksy feel in the company’s productions that fits the setting and the intentions of the producers. This is not intended to be competition for the Key Bank Broadway Series, nor Dobama or Cleveland Play House.
Michael Snider has the right touch as the do-gooder, put-upon George Bailey. He has a solid singing voice and makes us believe that George is a down-home real nice guy who has only the best intentions for the people of Bedford Falls. His rendition of “Wonderful Life” makes for a nice moral conclusion to the show.
Clarence is supposed to be the comic escape for the story. Though he over-does it sometimes, Robert Kowalewski has the charm, voice and flexible face, to make the role audience-pleasing.
Pert Natalie Green uses her well-developed vocal abilities for “Bein’ Bad” and David Munnell (a Gomer Pile look, sound and act-alike) does a good turn as Uncle Billy. Stephen Morse is nasty enough as Mr. Porter, the town bad guy that he got “boos” in the curtain call, but could have been even more Simon Lagree-nastier to help showcase George’s goodness.
The rest of the cast Mason Stewart, Molly McGinnis, Erin Burke ad Braelin Andrzejewski all put out full effort.
The pleasant music, which includes two tangos and a couple of ballads, is not memorable, but helps develop the tale.
Musical director Evie Morris and her band do an excellent job of underscoring rather than overpowering the singers.
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: If you are a fan of the movie “IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE” you will like Theatre in the Circle’s stage version. Go knowing that it’s the same overly sentimental and hokey tale set to music. It’s a nice break from the usual holiday shows that are repeated over and over at some local theatres.
All TITC performances are staged at the historic Judson Mannor, 1890 E. 107th St, Cleveland, OH 44106. Curtain times are Thursday, Friday and Saturday @ 7:30 pm and Saturday and Sunday @ 2 pm. Ticket cost: Adults $20, Seniors $18, Judson/South Franklin Circle residents $15, Students $12. For tickets call 216-282-9424 or go to theatreinthecircle.com. There is free parking.
Wednesday, December 11, 2019
Greater Cleveland is blessed with a vital theater scene. It the purpose of BROADWAY WORLD.COM-PROFESSIONAL CLEVELAND THEATER TRIBUTES (BWW-CLE Theater Tributes), to recognize theatrical experiences and theater personnel that, in the subjective view of this reviewer, deserve distinctive mention.
Special recognition to:
•Terri Kent (director) and Martin Cespedes (choreographer) for their creative and outstanding productions of MAN OF LA MANCHA (Porthouse) and HAIR (Kent State University)
•Baldwin Wallace Music Theatre Program for staging the Collegiate Premiere of KINKY BOOTS and its sensational production under the direction of Victoria Bussert with Gregory Daniels (Choreography) and Mathew Webb (Musical Direction). As well as their continually praised Senior Showcase in New York, where students earn their gateways to Broadway productions, and their production of ONCE in coordination with Beck Center.
•Set designs of NATIVE GARDENS (Jason Ardizzone-West) and TINY HOUSES (Arnulfo Maldonado) @ Cleveland Play House
•Costume designs by Leah Piehl, THE TAMING OF THE SHREW @ Great Lakes Theater and Inda Blatch-Geib, AIDA @ Karamu
•Co-production of THE IMPACT OF SHUFFLE ALONG by Karamu (Tony Sias) and The Musical Theater Project (Bill Rudman) for placing a spotlight on the story of the first all African American written, produced and performed hit Broadway musical
•Playwrights Local for its important production of LIVE BODIES FOR SALE, playwright Christopher Johnston’s tale of sex trafficking in the Cleveland area
•Patrick Ciamacco for staging the outstanding production of KISS OF THE SPIDERWOMAN @ Blank Canvas featuring a sensitive performance by Scott Esposito
•Clyde Simon for presenting the intriguing HOMOS OR EVERYONE IN AMERICA @ convergence-continuum with a bravo performance by Kieron Cindric
•Tarah Flanagan for her compelling solo performances in both AN ILIAD and EVERY BRILLIANT THING at Cleveland Play House
•Sean Derry of none-too-fragile for staging TWO with award-winning performances by Derdriu Ring and David Peacock
•Celeste Cosentino of Ensemble for her staging of THE PENELOPIAD starring the power-house performance of Amy Fritsche, as well as BY THE BOG OF CATS starring the incomparable Derdriu Ring.
•T. Paul Lowry for his continued excellence in Projection Design (NETHER,
33 1/3, STUPID FUCKING BIRD, WAKEY, WAKEY)
•Nicole Sumlin for her over-arching performance in LADY DAY AT EMERSON’S BAR & GRILL at Beck Center (musical direction by Ed Ridley).
•Additional attention-demanding productions: Seat of the Pants--THE END OF THE TOUR, Great Lakes Theatre --WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION, THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, JULIUS CAESAR; Cleveland Play House—SHERWOOD--THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, NATIVE GARDENS, and PIPELINE, Dobama--NETHER, STUPID FUCKING BIRD and WAKEY, WAKEY, none-too-fragile—WOODY’S ORDER!, Karamu—AIDA, Cain Park--RAGTIME
If any names are spelled incorrectly, or there are errors in identifications, please let me know so I can change the permanent record of these citations.
If you would like to read any of my reviews for the year, please go to www.royberko.info, enter the blog and click on “2019 Reviews” or click on the name of the producing theatre and scroll through their performances. Reviews from previous years may also be accessed.
Saturday, December 07, 2019
Billed as a “play with music, “THE OLD MAN AND THE OLD MOON,” which is now on stage at Dobama, tells the tale of an old man who has kept his post as the sole caretaker of the moon for as long as he or his wife, the Old Woman, can imagine.
Unfortunately, his wife disappears and the old man must abandon his duties of filling up the moon with liquid light to cross the seas to search for her.
The journey takes him to the sea, to a war, and like the Biblical Jonah, into the belly of a giant fish. Ghosts, animals and an assortment of other oddballs accompany him on a trek that is sometimes comical, sometimes melancholy, sometimes tedious. Eventually, the old man and his wife are reunited and the moon continues to shine.
Don’t confuse this script with “The Man in The Moon,” the Robert Mulligan film, Earnest Hemingway’s tale, “The Old Man and the Sea,” or the R.E.M. music video, “Man on The Moon.”
This musical was conceived by the PigPen Theatre Co., a group of former Carnegie Mellon School of Drama students, who have been creating their unique brand of theatre, music and film since 2007.
This story can be staged in as many ways as it can be imagined. The music, the puppets, the sound effects, the very world of the play, can appear and disappear in an instant without hiding anything from the audience. The sound effects - from the filling of the moon to the lapping of the waves on the shore are created live in full-view of the audience.
Dobama’s production takes the advice of the author and creates a world which will enchant many but confound others.
Though told in linear format, it is telling a fantasy legend, not a reality tale. This means that not all the actions are logical. There are spoken lines, sung lyrics, puppets and shadow emblems. This is not traditional western theatre, but combines formats from Asian and historical tale-telling.
Appreciation requires the viewer to let the production qualities carry you where the actors and musicians will you to go as they follow the inventions of the directors, in this case, Nathan Motta and Melissa T. Crum.
Don’t assume that, since this is a type of fairy tale, it is appropriate for children. The material is sophisticated, often abstract and, though generally inventive, probably will not grab and hold a young person’s attention.
The script was originally meant to be performed in 90-minutes without intermission. The directors’ decided, probably unwisely, to make this into a two-act with an intermission. There were times when cutting of movement, music and effects, especially during the shipboard segment, would have helped. As is, there is a degree of tediousness.
On many levels, the production is creative. The blending of lighting, sound, and visual elements intrigues.
The cast is outstanding. They sing, play musical instruments, and create sound and visual effects. They use cloth to create boats and water. They use flashlights to spotlight people and actions. They dance, move and act as people, animals and illusions.
Gabe Reed, Kieran Minor, Treva Offutt, Tim Keo, Jourdan Lewanda, Emmy Brett, Josh Innerst and Amy Bransky each play multiple roles and musical instruments with proficiency. (Applause, applause!)
Capsule judgment: Dobama’s “OLD MAN AND THE OLD MOON” creates a world which will enchant many and confound others. In order to truly participate in the experience, you must combine your inner curious child and let loose of your inhibitions and expectations of the format for traditional theater. It’s worth seeing if just to immerse yourself in experiencing what “non-traditional” theatre can be, realizing that this is not theater for everyone, especially children.
“OLD MAN AND THE OLD MOON,” runs through January 5, 2020 at Dobama, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights. Call 216-932-3396 or http://www.dobama.org for tickets.
Next up at Dobama: SKELETON CREW, a Dominique Morrisseau play, in its Cleveland premiere from January 24-February 16, 2020.
Thursday, December 05, 2019
Just because it basically takes place in a high school, don’t expect “MEAN GIRLS,” now on stage at the Connor Palace as part of the Key Bank Broadway series, to have the emotional impact of “DEAR, EVAN HANSEN.”
Does this mean “MEAN GIRLS” doesn’t make for an entertaining evening of music? No, it’s a general audience pleaser. But, since the latest shows in the Broadway series (“DEAR EVAN HANSEN”, “COME FROM AWAY” and “THE BAND’S VISIT”) have been musical dramas, the audience needs to shift its psychological gears and get ready for glitz and gigantic musical numbers, rather than a story-line centered experience.
OMG! Think back to high school, specifically the cafeteria, at lunch time. Horror of horrors! There was the table of Show Choir geeks. Another of drama kids. The testosterone-laden jocks held out over there and the cheerleaders were right next to them. Then there was the queen bee and her small swarm of drones. The mean girl and her attack team. They are perfectly coiffed, expensively dressed, spoiled, lacking in empathy, are anorexic, and devour the weak and vulnerable.
With that in mind, you are now ready to immerse yourself into “MEAN GIRLS,” the stage-show with music by Jeff Richmond, lyrics by Nell Benjamin, and a book by the queen of television comedy, Tina Fey.
The musical is based on Fey’s popular 2004 film which was inspired by Rosalind Wieseman’s book, “Queen Bees and Wannabes.”
Fans of the movie should be relieved that nothing important has been purged from the story. Those who went through the horrors of slam/shame books, bullying, harassment, verbal abuse and general “hell” at the hands of the mean girls at their high schools will be happy to know that, in this musical, the queen and her swarm get their stingers removed. (Yeah, revenge for the high school “odd balls!”)
In the musical, Cady, fresh from a life in Kenya, is the new girl in town. She is taken on a tour of her now educational institution, an Illinois high school, and exposed to the ways of its pecking order, by “good guys,” Janis and Damian.
The J and D duo have taken the attitude of not being affected by self-selected school royalty and nasty-girl. Queen Bee, Regina George and “the Plastics,” her lackey hangers-on. They caution Cady to be careful in deciding where she belongs in the school’s social fabric.
And, wonder of wonders, for an unexplained reason, Cady is invited to sit with “the Plastics” on a one-week trial. (Hmm…what do the terrible trio have in mind?)
Everything goes well for Cady until she meets “dreamy” Aaron in honors math class. She falls for him. But, horror of horrors, Aaron has recently broken up with Queen Regina. (You know this is going to make life for Cady a horror show.)
In order to “keep” Aaron’s interest the super, bright math whiz Cady, plays dumb, turning to him for “extra” help (and some personal time).
A school bus accident, a Burn Book which slams students by commenting on their weight (“hips like a Hippo”), parents’ infidelities (“the only reason he made the team is that his mother slept with the coach”) and eating habits (“Vegan freak”), Cady taking over Regina’s place as Queen of the plastics, Cady being elected Spring Fling Queen and her surprising act of sharing the crown, all lead to a happy-ever-after feel-good ending. (Hey, this is a Tina Fey written high school Broadway musical, what did you expect?)
Though it received 15 Tony nominations, “MEAN GIRLS,” as evidenced by the fact that it won no statues, is not a great musical. It is, however, enjoyable and it has caught on and has developed its cult following.
The serviceable score, the Tina Fey sharp-tongued satire and one-liners gave a positive vibe to the goings on.
“Where Do You Belong” stopped the show.
The cast is strong. Eric Huffman was delightfully endearing as the flamboyant Damian. He was nicely balanced by Mary Kate Morrisey as Janis, his side-kick and outspoken bud. Their opening song, “A Cautionary Tale,” set the right mood for what was to come.
Danielle Wade transitioned from curious newcomer to Queen Bee with charm and appeal. Her reprise of “Fearless” was well sung, as was “Stupid with Love.” “More is Better,” sung with heartthrob Adante Carter (Aaron), had the female teens and tweens pining for more.
Megan Masako Haley and Jonalyn Saxer are character-perfect as “the Plastics,” while Mariah Rose Faith is bitch-correct as Regina George.
The choreography, as designed by director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw, is typical Broadway dynamic.
Capsule judgment: “MEAN GIRLS” is filled with music, characters and Tina Fey-satire that will appeal to audiences.” Go, see, enjoy, but don’t expect “DEAR EVAN HANSEN” or “COME FROM AWAY” greatness.
Saturday, November 30, 2019
If you saw ‘AN ILIAD” at Cleveland Play House earlier this year, you are aware of the brilliance of actress Tarah Flanagan. She is a master at interacting with an audience and creating empathy and reality onstage. Fortunately for CLE audiences, Artistic Director Laura Kepley has found another vehicle to showcase the extraordinary talents of Ms. Flanagan.
Duncan MacMillan’s “EVERY BRILLIANT THING” is a humorous, joyous, tender, emotional play about depression, suicide and living life, solo-piece, with active audience participation.
Words like joyous and humorous usually don’t appear in the same sentence with depression and suicide, but in the hands of a fine playwright and a brilliant performer, they meld nicely.
First produced by Paines Plough and Pentabus Theatre Company at Britain’s Ludlow Fringe Festival in 2013, the script later was later broadcast on HBO. The television performance was fine, but this hour-long show is best experienced live, where the audience can be up-front and participating in the experience.
CPH again illustrates why it moved from its previous home in the Hough area to Cleveland downtown. The show, which is being performed in the Helen Theatre is the perfect intimate black box space for “EVERY BRILLIANT THING.” On a proscenium stage the emotion of the piece would be lost, as it was on the television screen.
As they enter, many theater-goers are given slips of papers, or are whispered to by the stage manager or the performer. The slips hold numbers and words and phrases. The whispers share information that audience members will need to know when they are called on to engage in the production.
For the shy…don’t worry. You will not be embarrassed or put on the spot to perform against your will. The entire concept, as developed by the writer, performer and director (Laura Kepley) is relaxed and non-threatening. The communal sharing, as is the case in self-help suicide and depression support groups, allows an anonymous crowd to become theatrical comrades, an ad hoc ensemble united by a total stranger’s story, while learning the value of sharing grief and fears and working toward mental health awareness.
The numbered slips contain terms such as “ice cream,” “water fights,” “staying up past your bedtime,” and “being allowed to watch TV.” The terms are part of a list, born out of a child’s fantasy for rescuing her/his mother from her suicidal depression. The whispering helps some of the participants to help the performer as his/her father, intimate friend, counselor, professor.
Her/his? Depending on which production you see, the role is played by either Flanagan (a female) or Alex Brightwell (a male). [Since I saw Flanagan, my comments will be about her performance.]
As the performer shares with us, “There are so many reasons to want to live, if only my mother’s clouded mind could be awakened to everyday delights.” How better to do this than to illustrate all the wonders of the world. Thus, the list.
To be effective in the roll of the child, later the adult, requires quick thinking, ad lib skills, a warmth and supportive caring nature. Flanagan has all of these qualities in spades. This is an amazing actress with natural charisma.
Kudos also to Maryann Morris, the stage manager and Nick Drashner, the sound designer.
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: “EVERY BRILLIANT THING” is a brilliant and absolutely must-see production. Mental illness and its impact on a family, mortality and existential despondency are central themes. These are heavy subjects but, ironically, the approach is almost frolicsome and totally mesmerizing.
“EVERY BRILLIANT THING” which runs ninety-minutes without an intermission, can be seen in CPH’s Helen Theatre through December 22, 2019. For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to http://www.clevelandplayhouse.com.