Monday, September 26, 2016

“Wouldn’t it be loverly” if all theatre was as enchanting as GLT’s MY FAIR LADY


MY FAIR LADY, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s award winning and universally praised musical, based on George Bernard Shaw’s play, PYGMALION, centers on Eliza Doolittle, an uneducated Cockney flower girl who, in an attempt to “become a proper lady,” takes lessons from professor Henry Higgins, a self-centered egotist.

MY FAIR LADY has been called “the perfect musical.”  Perfect in form, musical style, and audience appeal.  It follows of the blueprint of customs defined by Jack Viertel in his “The Secret Life Of The American Musical:  How Broadway Shows Are Built.”

Traditional modern musicals, from the time of Rogers and Hammerstein’s OKLAHOMA on, have had a developmental format.  For example, those that are successful have an “I want song,” a tune that clearly tells us what is wanted by the lead character(s).  This is presented early in the script and sets the course of the play.  In MY FAIR LADY, Eliza sings,  “All I want is a room somewhere, far away from the cold night air.”  Yes, and a little chocolate.  These “I want” desires set up the story line.

The scripts also include a “deal song,” a musical number which illustrates what will attempt to be accomplished and the steps to get to that desired conclusion.    In MFL Higgins will teach Eliza “proper” English, she will do her best to learn, and if he succeeds Higgins will win a bet with Colonel Pickering who believes he can’t accomplish the task of turning Eliza into a “proper lady.”  Without this tune and the “I want song,” there would be no plot.

Another format ingredient is that the “key to the romance,” if there is to be a romance.  This element centers on the inappropriateness of the couple.   In MY FAIR LADY, Higgins and Eliza are polar opposites.  How can any romance bud between them?  We are lead to watch and find out.

A musical’s structure also includes a “conditional song,” a tease as to whether a goal will be accomplished.   In this musical, after Higgins shows a bit of niceness after Eliza finally correctly speaks the difficult passage, “the rain in Spain stays mainly in the plane,” she fantasizes the possibility of accomplishing her ultimate goal as she sings “I Could Have Danced All Night.”  Normally the conditional love song is about the feelings toward a person, but here, it is aimed at the possible success for her hard work.

An “understanding song” allows the audience to comprehend a character.  In MY FAIR LADY, Eliza has several of these numbers.  “Just You Wait,” is a comic tirade, which displays the lady’s temperament in which she imagines her tormentor, Higgins, with his head on a platter and facing a firing squad.  “Without You” is a defiant declaration of independence.  In the case of Higgins’, his “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face,” reveals his feelings for Eliza, and our gaining the understanding that under his harsh exterior, there may be a tender underbelly.  His “A Hymn to Him” illustrates his attitudes toward women.

 “A triumph song” helps move the plot along.  Without that song, the plot comes to a standstill.  ”She Did It” is proof that Eliza has become a “proper lady.”  The song also illustrates the pattern of two-act musicals to end the first segment with a conflict that has to be resolved.  As Eliza dances with dances with Zoltan Karpathy we wonder if she will convince him as to her authenticity as a true lady.  Unless the audience comes back for act two, they don’t know if she has achieved her goal.

In this Lerner and Loewe show, “She Did It” also is a “changing the game song,” a lyric of realization.  Eliza, who now realizes that she is no longer an ignorant flower girl, challenges Higgins with a series of questions: “What am I fit for? What have you left me fit for?  Where am I to go?  What am I to do?  What’s to become of me?”  She is changed.  Now, what is going to happen as a result of that realization?

“The end song” allows an important character to expose an emotional core that brings the show to its conclusion.  In MY FAIR LADY, “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” allows Higgins to admit that he has feelings for another human being.  It is here that we realize his “love” or need for Eliza.  And, now the issue of the ending can be confronted.  Will she come back?  If so, under what conditions?  Or, will she use the skills she now has to move on?

The Great Lakes Theatre production, under the creative and focused direction of Victoria Bussert, who is celebrating her 30 th year with the company, is superb!

Bussert confronted the question of which of the various ending scenarios to use.  Will Eliza, now a “lady,” go forward with her life and accomplish her life goals?  Will she marry Freddie?  Will she come back to Higgins and tolerate his mode of control, because she “loves” and needs him?  Will she come back to Higgins on  her own terms.  (No spoiler alert here.  You’ll have to see the production to find the answer.)

Every aspect of the show is masterful.  From the cast to technical aspects to the musical sounds…there is a joining together of masters-at-work.

Jillian Kates transitions from flower girl to society lady with skill.  She alters accents and physical presence with ease.  She totally embraces the role of Eliza.   She is matched by Tom Ford as Henry Higgins.  Ford does not imitate Rex Harrison, who originally created the role.  He gives a nice twist to the role, being incorrigible while still being human. There is a faint bit of tenderheartedness which sneaks out in shy smiles and even a delightful laugh or two.  He sings instead of reciting the songs.  There is a nice chemistry between Kates and Ford.

Aled Davies is delightful as Colonel Pickering, as is M. A. Taylor as Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza’s conniving father.  His versions of “With a Little Bit of Luck” and “Get Me to the Church on Time” were show-stopping delights.

Colton Ryan added an endearing quality to Freddy Eysford-Hill, who is traditionally played as a colorless mamma’s boy.  Ryan presented a believable love-struck feel to the role.  His unique interpretation of “On the Street Where You Live” was endearing.

Strong performances were also given by Jodi Dominick (Mrs. Pearce), Laura Perrotta (Mrs. Higgins), and Lynn Robert Berg (Zoltan Karpathy).

Choreographer Gregory Daniels created visually pleasing and appropriate dance numbers that were well executed.  Joel Mercier’s song interpretations were nicely conceived and his orchestra performed well, supporting rather than over-powering the singers.

Jeff Herrmann’s scenic designs were nicely done.  There was adequate space for crowd scenes, dancing and ease of set changes.  The color tones worked perfectly with the costumes.

Costumer Charlotte M. Yetman outdid herself on this show.  The costumes were era correct, the women’s  millinery and gowns were compelling, especially in the Ascot scene.  It was nice to see a different approach…using light mauves and grays rather than the stereotypical black and white.  Paul Miller’s lighting added the right gel tones to accent the sets and the costumes.
    
Capsule judgement:  Victoria Bussert has staged a MY FAIR LADY that is as close to perfect as any musical can be. Everything about the production screams, “This is a special evening of theatre that has to be seen!”  If you only see one theatrical production this season, this is the show!  Bravo!!!


MY FAIR LADY runs through October 29, 2016  at the Hanna Theatre.  For tickets: 216-664-6064 or www.greatlakestheater.org

Saturday, September 24, 2016

LBJ historidrama compels at Cleveland Play House


Our nation is in the midst of a national election, and local theatres have responded with a series of plays that examine various foibles and stories of political intrigue.  Ensemble is staging former County Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones’ THE BLOODLESS JUNGLE  (September 15-October 2)  about a rising idealistic political star running for a pivotal Congressional seat.  The Musical Theater Project is featuring THE CRADLE WILL ROCK (September 21 & September 25), a play about Unionism with political undertones.  Cleveland Public Theatre is presenting 44 PLAYS FOR 44 PRESIDENTS (October 6-29), which showcases the life and times of the 44 Presidents of the United States,  featuring an all-female cast.  And, Cleveland Play House just opened ALL THE WAY (September 17-October 9), a Tony-Award winning drama that examines the power of one person to transform a country.

ALL THE WAY centers on the presidency of Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36 th President of the United States.  LBJ, was an accidental president, became commander-in-chief when John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. 

Johnson, who seems like a tragic figure out of a Shakespeare play, had unbridled ambition and an appetite for power, women and food.  He was consummate politician who believed that “politics is war.”  He fought that war with cunningness, slander, blackmail, charm, and intimidation.

Johnson was a brilliant politician, but a flawed man.  A man of great convictions, vicious temper, foul mouth.  In opposition to his southern roots, the Texan was compassionate about granting and protecting the rights of the poor and underrepresented, including the “Negras.”

LBJ was responsible for passing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which basically insured that Negroes would be assured the right to vote. He championed The Higher Education Act, which among things integrated colleges and universities.  He fathered the “Great Society” which expanded health care, arts and culture, the environment, immigration, poverty, and civil rights.  Much of this irritated Southerners and rekindled their attitudes of hated toward those who started The War of Northern Aggression (the Civil War), which deprived those from the Land of Dixie from continuing their patterns of slavery, control of the Negroes, and their “way of life.”  He was basically responsible for turning the south into red states after many years of their being solid blue Democratic. 

Yes, the Johnson’s re-election motto, “All the way with LBJ” resonates strongly in Robert Schenkkan’s ALL THE WAY, a compelling historidrama about Johnson’s first year office.  A year whose ramifications are still present today. 

As with any work which combines fact with interpretation, there is no way of knowing whether some of the speeches, characterizations and depictions are accurate.

The play was commission by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2012, opened on Broadway in 2014, and won the year’s Tony Award, with Bryan Cranston winning the Tony for Best Actor in a Play.  A television film was presented on HBO on May 1, 2016.

ALL THE WAY is the first of two plays by Schenkkan on the Johnson’s presidencies.  The other, THE GREAT SOCIETY, premiered at Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2014.

The Cleveland Play House’s production of the two-and-three-quarter-hour play (with intermission) develops well the author’s intention of producing a play about “morality of politics and power.”  It nicely illustrates his questions, “Where do you draw the line in terms of intentions and action?” and “How much leeway does a good intention give you to violate the law?”

Set designer Robert Mark Morgan follows the original play’s setting of “a semi-circular dais surrounding the central portion of the stage.”  This makes the space a coliseum for battle.  A battle that has Southern values, politics, politicians, the civil rights movement, and LBJ on trial. 

Dan Scully’s very effective projections changes the settings, adds historical footage and reinforces spoken ideas.  Michael Lincoln’s lighting highlights and focuses attention.

Unfortunately Jane Shaw’s sound design fails.  Even with microphones, due to the depth of set, the high ceiling, and weak projection, many lines were lost.  A check with people seated in various parts of the theatre confirmed this observation.

Giovanna Sardelli’s direction is focused and the visual effects of the staging work well.  The casting, which, in general, finds the personages, except for Steve Vinovich, who looks a lot like LBJ, not necessarily physically resembling the person’s they portray, has produced a talented company of performers.

Vonovich doesn’t portray Johnson, he is Johnson.  Jason Bowen doesn’t attempt to duplicate Martin Luther King, Jr. which may cause some to lose the powerful presence of the man, but MLK,Jr’s role in societal change are made clear.  LBJ’s  longtime top aid, Walter Jenkins, who caused a major stir when he was charged with disorderly conduct with another man in a public restroom in D.C., and caused a major problem for the Johnson administration, is efficiently portrayed by Chris Richards. 

To CPH’s credit, not only Richards, but Donald Carrier (Hubert Humphrey), Jeffrey Grover (Stanley Levison), Tracee Patterson (Muriel Humphrey), and Laura Starnik (Lady Bird Johnson), are area local professional actors in the cast.  Richards and Patterson are Kent State theatre graduates.
   
CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  ALL THE WAY is a well-written script that gets a strong production at Cleveland Play House.  In spite of some sound projection problems, the cast develops their characters and the themes of the play so well that anyone interested in good theatre and political history should be captivated.

ALL THE WAY runs through October 9, 2016, at the Allen Theatre in PlayhouseSquare.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to http://www.clevelandplayhouse.com.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

JERSEY BOYS, “Oh, What a Night” at the State Theatre


One of the big fears about touring Broadway big hit musicals that come back on the road for a return visit is that they will be short on star quality talent, have second rate technical aspects, and lack the vitality of the original show.

Fear not about the present repeat of JERSEY BOYS, the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, now housed at the State Theatre.  This is a top quality production.

The cast is dynamic and talented.  If anything, the reformatted staging, complete with dynamic electronic graphics, is terrific, the sound system is crystal clear, and the set is functional and attractive.  The direction by Des McAnuff keeps the show moving along and fresh.  Sergio Trujillo’s choreography is era correct and dynamic.

JERSEY BOYS is a jukebox musical, a compilation of formerly written songs shoehorned into a story line.  In this case, it is a fairly accurate documentary about the formation, success and break-up of the 1960’s rock ‘n roll group The Four Seasons, who went from delinquent “Joisy” boys to become members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The show, which opened in 2005 and will end its Broadway run on January 15, 2017, has music by Bob Gaudio, lyrics by Bob Crewe, and book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. 

Divided into four sections, each designated by the name of a season, each segment is narrated by a different member of the musical group.  As the story chronologically unfolds, over 30 songs are presented.

Yes, every tune in their folio of hits is artfully staged including “Oh, What a Night,” “Earth Angel,” “Cry for Me,” “Sherry,” ”Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “My Eyes Adored You,” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”

The story, which tells for the first time the group’s history, reveals that some members of the group served prison sentences, which ran counter to the clean-cut image the quartet portrayed.  Included in their altercations was a stint in a Cleveland jail for skipping out on a hotel bill.

At the start of the show, Tommy DeVito explains the start of the band, “The Variety Trio,” which was composed of his brother Nick, and friend Nick Massi.  Later Frankie Castelluccio (Frank Valli) was recruited.  The tale rolls from there through many group name changes, the recommendation by Joe Pesci (yes, the Joe Pesci who later became a movie star) of Bob Gaudio, who became the main composer for the Four Seasons.

The show is filled with creative musical and visual moments.  Highlights were “Pretty Baby” and the finale, “Who Loves You.”

All of the cast is strong.  Aaron De Jesus stars as Frankie Valli.   He creates a real Valli, well duplicating the singer’s famed falsetto.  Matthew Dailey, as the often sleazy Tommy DeVito, Keith Hines as the frustrated Nick Massi, and Cory Jeacoma as the prolific, clean scrubbed Bob Gaudio, all shine.  Barry Anderson is a hoot as the effervescent Bob Crewe.

Opening night the State Theatre was mobbed.  Besides the show, comments were overheard about the newly redone and expanded bathroom facilities.  Ladies will be pleased to know that there are no long waiting lines anymore.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  JERSEY BOYS retreads and newbies will all have a wonderful time.  Oh, yes, “Oh, What a Night.”  You’ll be “Beggin’” to “Stay” for another curtain call!  You’ll leave the State singing and dancing down the aisle.
Tickets for JERSEY BOYS, which runs through September 25, 2016 at the State Theatre, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or going to www.playhousesquare.org.

Monday, September 19, 2016

RUTHLESS!, farcical romp at Beck, fun, but . . .



Adorable eight-year-old girls are supposed to play with dolls, be obsessed with the color pink, and gossip about their friends on a smart phone.   Right?  Wrong, if you are Tina Denmark.  She wants to be a theatrical star.  Now!  Not later, NOW!  (foot stomp!)  What will she do to get her dream?

As the curtain rises on the musical, Ruthless! (that title alone should warn you of what you are in for), we overhear a conversation between Judy Denmark, a bland housewife, and Sylvia St. Croix, a domineering, conniving “theatrical agent,” discussing Judy’s daughter, Tina.  Sylvia wants Tina to try out for Pippi in Tahiti, her elementary school’s play.  A play written and directed by a has-been, never-was theatrical star, the frustrated third-grade teacher, Miss Thorn.

After a short conflict, Tina gets to tryout but is not cast due to “school politics.”  Louise Lerman is given the lead, with Tina as the understudy.  That is, only after Tina, ever the manipulative actress, “begs nicely and says please.” 

But Louise’s star-power is not for long. 

As any eight-year-old who wants her way MUST do, Tina hangs Louise from the catwalk with a jump rope.  (“But, officer, I was born to play that part.”)  When the crime is discovered, Tina is sent to the Daisy Clover School for Psychopathic Ingénues.  (Are you getting the idea that this isn’t the social messaged, Les Miz?)

Enter Lita Encore, Judy’s adoptive mother, and, therefore, Tina’s grandmother.  (Well, kind of.)  She is a viciously negative theatre critic. (Are there any other kind?)  She hates musicals, and was responsible for the suicide of Ruth Del Marco, a Broadway star, who did herself in following a bad review by Lita.  (Sure, blame it on the critic.)

Fast forward---Lita takes in Ruth’s daughter, who turns out to be Judy.  When Judy finds out she is the offspring of a Broadway leading lady, she yells out, “I’m talented!  God help me, I’m talented” and immediately becomes a theatrical star, under the nom-de-plum, Ginger Del Marco.  (Pretty soon you’ll need a score card to keep track of all the characters.)

Tina is released and comes home to Ginger’s fabulous penthouse apartment. (A nice set design by Aaron Benson.)  Mother and daughter vie for the limelight.  Sylvia reveals that she is really Ruth Del Marco (the rumor of her suicide was fabricated by Sylvia).  A struggle follows.  Ginger is shot dead, Tina then shoots Eve and demands the lead in her mother’s next play.  They struggle and Tina is shot dead.  Sylvia comes back to life (hey, this is a farce and the authors needed to wrap this up) and shots Lita.  (Or, something like that happens…who can keep track and it really doesn’t matter anyway.)

Obviously, Ruthless!, which won the New York Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Musical, is a farce, a broad farce.  For the ridiculousness to work, the whole show needs to be bizarre.  The comedy needs to be overextended, overdone gestures, overdone makeup and costumes, every character bigger than life.  No realism here.  You have to laugh not only at the lines, but at the characters and their broadly done characterizations.   This is Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, not Spring Awakening.  It’s Something Rotten not New To Normal.  (BTW… Something Rotten is a must see laugh riot that is part of the 2016-2017 Key Bank Broadway Series.)

The Beck production shines on many levels.

Matthew Wright is a cross-dressing wonder as Sylvia St. Croix. (He has great legs which are highlighted by his/her high-heeled shoes.)  With makeup like Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard and over-extended gestures (circa non-talky movies), and a grating voice, he captures the right tone for farce.  We appropriately laugh with and at him/her. 

Calista Zajac delights as Tina. This is a tiny keg of dynamite who has potential “Broadway star” stamped on her forehead.  She can sing, she can dance, she can act.  She can!

The staging of the songs and dance numbers by Martin Céspedes are Borscht Belt correct (e.g., Danny Kaye, Zero Mostel, and Clevelander Mickey Katz).  He obviously understands farce and how to overplay reality into ridiculousness.

Some of rest of the show is a disconnect.  There are times when director William Roudebush seems to lose track of the need to overdo and things get “real.”  If the cast is not having fun, if the pace isn’t frantic, if the ridiculousness isn’t totally overdone, the mocking of such shows as Gypsy, The Bad Seed and All About Eve, become those shows, and that is not the intent of the authors, Joel Paley (book and lyrics) and Marvin Laird (music).

The rest of the cast (Lindsey Mitchell (Judy Denmark/Ginger DelMarco), Kate Leigh Michalski (Miss Thorn), Brittni Shambaugh Addison (Louise/Eve) and Carla Patroski (Lita) are good.  They have the talent to be great, if they had been let loose to play it bigger than life, play it for laughs.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  Ruthless! will delight many. It is a fun farce.  This production gets it almost right.  With a little more letting loose and playing for laughs, it could have been great.

Ruthless! is scheduled to run through 2016 at Beck Center for the Arts.  For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go on line to http://www.beckcenter.org
Next at Beck:  Body Awareness, in its regional premiere, by Pulitzer Prize Winner Annie Baker, October 7-November 6, 2016. 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

THE LAST FIVE YEARS has an endearing musical score and a wonderful cast


As the lights come up on The Last Five Years, a musical by Jason Robert Brown, we find Catherine Hiatt (Neely Gevaart) sitting alone.  She sings “Still Hurting” in which she reveals the end of her five year marriage to Jamie. 

At the conclusion of that number, Jamie Wellerstein (Jason Leupold) bursts forth with “Shiksa Goddess,” the story of how a nice Jewish boy has fallen in love with Catherine, a beautiful non-Jewish girl.

Wait, these two are telling the same story, but from different times.  Yes, one of the most intriguing aspects of The Last Five Years, which is now on stage at Lakeland Civic Theatre, is that we are watching a relationship develop and disintegrate at the same time.  Also, this musical is told entirely in song. Yes, there are no spoken words.  In addition, the male and female in the relationship interact only once. 

Cathy tells the story in backward time, while Jamie relates the tale from the beginning to the end.

Though it may sound like the tale is hard to follow, it isn’t.  Once the audience catches on to the counter order, it becomes interesting to watch what happens and what happened, and why love crashes and burns in this emotionally fraught tale.  We realize that infatuation, new love, real life experiences, wants and needs grow and fade, frustration sets in, cross experiences emerge, and the pair each needs to move on.

Cathy and Jamie’s stories intersect halfway through at their wedding, which is the only time when the two characters interact.  

The tale, to a degree, actually follows Jason Robert Brown’s own life and failed marriage to Theresa O’Neill.  Interestingly, O’Neill threatened legal action on the grounds the story of the musical represented her relationship with Brown too closely.  Brown changed some of the script as a result.

In the stage story, the five-year relationship comes apart when the mid-20 year old Jamie’s first novel is published and he becomes an overnight sensation.  (Brown’s first Off-Broadway show was produced when he was 25.)   As Jamie’s fortunes soar, Cathy’s theatrical career never takes off.   

Through fourteen songs we see the coming together and problems arising (“See I’m Smiling”); the emergence of Jamie as a writing sensation (“Moving Too Fast”); an expression of love even in frustration (“I’m a Part of That”); a promise of support as each follows their dreams (“The Schmuel Song”);  a possibility of Cathy equalling Jamie’s success (“A Summer in Ohio”); a proposal and marriage (“The Next Ten Minutes”); Jamie’s almost giving in to temptation (“A Miracle Would Happen”); Cathy’s frustration (“Climbing Uphill”); marital squabbles and attempts to deal with them (“If I Didn’t Believe in You”); Jamie’s infidelity (“Nobody Needs to Know”); the lamenting of the now lost relationship (“I Could Never Rescue You”).

Brown wrote the Tony Award winning score for The Bridges of Madison County, Like Bridges, the score for The Last Five Years is outstanding.  Combining a number of musical genres, including folk, Latin, rock, Klemzer, classical, pop, and jazz, the sounds vary to fit the necessary changing moods.

Fortunately for Lakeland audiences, Jason Leupold (Jamie) and Neely Gevaart (Cathy) are not only wonderful vocalists, but are talented actors.  Without their abilities, the production could have been a disaster.  There is little action on stage, other than costume changes and the moving of large bookcase/closets around to indicate settings.  Bravo to Leupold and Gevaart!

Director Martin Friedman does a good job of keeping the ninety minute intermissionless show moving along.  He is aided by Jordan Cooper’s orchestra (Rachel Gante, Olivia Clark and Tim Keo).  Cooper is a solid pianist, but at times he gets too carried away with the louder passages and drowns out the singers.

The show is intimate and would have been better served by a smaller production space, something that the Lakeland Community College auditorium definitely is not.
Christina Pierce’s lighting design aids in developing the moods.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  The Last Five Years is a musical which many audience members, including myself, will like due to its structure, exquisite music, and the talent of the cast.   Don’t’ go expecting large production show stoppers and dance numbers as they are not part of this script or concept.

The Last Five Years runs through October 2, 2016  at the Lakeland Civic Theatre located on the campus of Lakeland Community College.  For tickets call 440-5256-7526 or go to http://lakelandcc.edu/web/about/lakeland-civic-theatre

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Bloodless Jungle examines the underbelly of politics at Ensemble


 
Many people know Peter Lawson Jones as an attorney, business consultant and former Cuyahoga County Commissioner.  Some even know that he is a member of SAG-AFTRA and Actor’s Equity and has appeared in films and network television as well as numerous Northeast Ohio and Off-Broadway plays.  What few probably know is that he is a published playwright.  His newest work, The Bloodless Jungle is now in its world premiere at Ensemble Theatre.

It is entirely logical in this season of politics and the background of the author that the play centers on the campaign of a young black idealistic man who first successfully runs for the State Senate and then is a candidate for the House of Representatives.

Having been actively involved in four successful campaigns by a candidate and then incumbent for the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as a candidate for County Commissioner, plus having worked at the White House for a year-and-a-half, I can attest to the shenanigans of campaigning and the role of the media in setting the tone of a campaign through the spreading of innuendoes, planting stories that incite the public to increase circulation of newspapers and viewership of television programs.  I can attest to the fact that Lawson Jones knows his subject matter. 

What appears in the play, at least the political process and the stress on the candidates and their families, is a fair representation of what goes on.

The story centers on Ethan St. John, a good-looking, poised, articulate young black man.  And though it is a positive trait in a fine human being, as St. John learns, his kindness and compassion are a vulnerability in politics. 

For some, the sensitivity to truth and having loyalty to friends and family can work.  This was true for the late Don Pease, the congressman for the then Ohio 13th district, who I assisted in his campaigns.  Seemingly, the electorate of his district agreed, as he never lost an election.  He was one of the lucky ones who held to his high principles and was a winner.  But it doesn’t work for many.  They either become jaded, can’t deflect the strain on themselves and their family,  or need to enter the political bloody jungle.

We watch as St. John, with the aid of Cyrus Templeton, his white boyhood co-football playing friend, fellow lawyer, and campaign manager, fight the media, try to counter the rumors, and spar with a long term incumbent congresswoman.  St. John confronts attempts to undermine his creditability by besmirching him because he aided a long time buddy (J. J. Jones) who went to jail for supposedly raping a young lady, paid his time, and is again falsely accused of another rape.

St. John’s campaign is supervised by H. Henderson Hill, a national political operative, who authored the best selling book, “Winning Ugly,” about how to run a campaign that wins at all costs.  He believes that “Politics is life in the jungle.”  He advises St. John that if he doesn’t withdraw his backing of J. J. he is bound to lose the election.   What will St. John do?

The campaign is made even more complicated since Templeton is having an affair with Laura Larkin, the political reporter of the largest local newspaper.

The tale itself is interesting.  Unfortunately, as often happens in plays in process, and this is a play that needs work, it is too long (almost 3 hours with an intermission), needs cutting and tightening up.  There are several scenes which could be shortened, some even eliminated.

Terrence Spivey’s directing is generally efficient, but some of the pacing is too languid, and several actors fail to project, making their lines impossible to hear, even in the small Ensemble Playground. 

Robert Hunter presents a realistic Ethan, nicely texturing the role.  Eva Rodriguez, as Ethan’s wife, is proficient, especially in a scene where she makes a major revelation.  Dean Coutris is physically correct and creates a well developed WASP persona.  Greg White stays pretty much on the surface.  He needs to be more ruthless to help develop a clear cut-throat, overpowering political hack. 

LaShawn Little is sincere as J. J. but is often impossible to hear, especially in the vital prison scene.   Anthony Lanier (Malik) and Santino Montanez (Tio) add some much needed comic relief.  Miranda Scholl could be more authentic in her characterization, being Laura, not acting Laura.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: The Bloodless Jungle presents an interesting political concept.  The surprise ending adds a nice touch of realism, saving the show from being a television soap opera.  This is a script in process which needs shortening and the addition of more humor and drama.  Interested in the political process and the behind the scenes machinations?  If so, you might enjoy this production.

The Bloodless Jungle runs Thursdays through Saturdays @ 8 and Sundays @ 2 through October 2, 2016 at the Playground performing space in Ensemble Theatre, housed in the former Coventry School, 2843 Washington Blvd, Cleveland Heights.  For tickets call 216-321-2930 or go online to http://www.ensemble-theatre.org

The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, Prevention Education, Outreach and Community Partnership department is hosting a FREE production of Bloodless Jungle on Sunday, September 25, 2016, at Ensemble Theatre in Cleveland Heights. The production and talkback will focus on decision making and consent for high school youth. To register youth for this free event go to:
www.clevelandrapecrisis.org/jungle   Be aware that this production contains adult language and subject matter and is not appropriate for children.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Cradle Will Rock, a product of the Federal Theatre Project, is next Musical Theatre Project staging


In 1929 the country was plunged into a financial collapse.  The result was a diminishment of funds for not only food and housing, but the collapse of the arts, including the film and theatre industries. 

Live stage productions had been diminished even before the crash due to the rise of  popularity of films and radio, so the financial crisis was literally the nail in the coffin to the near demise of commercial theatre.

In 1935, then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt enacted the New Deal with the intent putting the population to work on federal programs.  Included in that legislation was The Federal Theatre Project. 

The FTP was created as a relief measure to employ artists, writers, directors and theatre workers, as well as to give low to no cost entertainment outlets to the people suffering from the drastic change in their economic and aesthetic lives. 

A federation of local theatres was created to encourage experimentation in new forms and techniques, including encouraging millions of Americans to see live theatre for the first time.

Hallie Flanagan, the National Director of the FTP, tried to keep the program apolitical, promising “to lay the foundation for the development of a truly creative theatre with outstanding producing centers in each region of the country which would have common interests as a result of geography, language origins, history, tradition, custom, and occupations of the people.”  Unfortunately, the project ran into a buzz saw of controversy when conservatives contended that the productions were “left-wing political messages.”

One of the shows created by the FTP was Marc Blitzstein’s The Cradle Will Rock.  It started previews on Broadway on June 16, 1937, with elaborate sets and a full orchestra.  It was closed down four days later by a censorship board which declared it “too radical.”  The theatre was padlocked!

The production team rented the Venice Theatre and a sold out house saw a stripped down show (the costumes and sets were locked in the Elliott theatre, where the show was to be performed), with only Blitzstein at the piano (the musicians’ union refused to play unless they received their full salaries). The actors, in defiance of their union which had refused permission to allow them to appear on stage, sat in the audience and rose when they were to perform to recite lines and sing.  The result was a successful extended run.

The Cradle Will Rock, will receive several local productions under the partnership of the Musical Theatre Program of Kent State University and the Musical Theater Project. 

Directed by Terri Kent, with musical direction by Nancy Maier, the in-concert musical will feature Joe Monaghan and members of the KSU Musical Theatre program.

A recent interview with KSU Professor Kent, revealed much about the upcoming KSU/TMTP staging and her attitudes about the play.

Q.  Cradle was written was written in 1937.  Why do you think it is relevant today?

A. “We all struggle with times when we must choose between our principles and the powers that be.  Are we selling out, or protecting our well-being and families?  With the election on our heels, I think these questions are haunting our country on a daily basis.”

Q.   The show was part of the Federal Theatre Project.  Do you think today’s audiences will know anything about that project and why it was needed?

A.  “Bill [Rudman] and Nancy [Maier] and I are going to do a pre-show, multi-media presentation on the background and controversy of the show. So the audience will have a context in approaching our 60-minute version of Cradle. We think they will be hungry for it!  Bill has written the pre-show presentation, which is extremely compelling.  Working with Bill is like having a musical
theatre historian and dramaturge at every rehearsal.”

Q.  The musical is a Brechtian allegory of corruption and corporate greed and includes references to societal figures of the day.  Is the concept too abstract to stage as a reading?

A.  “Not at all.  Yes, Blitzstein [the author] was influenced by Brecht. [Bertolt Brecht developed the concept of the Epic Theatre that proposed that a play should not cause the spectator to identify emotionally with the characters or action, but should self-reflect.  He had the actors directly address the audience, used harsh and bright stage lighting, used songs to interrupt the action, displayed explanatory placards, and had the actors speak the stage directions aloud.]

“Much of Cradle Will Rock, as Blitzstein said, is a ‘cartoon.’ And in doing it as a reading, we’re coming very close to what director Orson Welles [the play’s original director] did with it for its Broadway run: no sets, street clothes, simple lighting and the actors seated on stage.  It focuses attention on the stunning words and music.  Welles called it an ‘oratorio version.’”

Q.  How are you going to handle the references to the societal figures who are    unknown to present day audiences?

A.  “The satire is so clear for the actors in each of their scenes that no footnotes
are needed to enjoy it. But of course, the actors are googling all those references. The more they understand about the times, the more clearly they can tell the story.  Again, with Bill in rehearsal, we have a built in dramaturge!”

Q.  There is an operatic quality to the show. Are your students capable of pulling that off?

A.  “Though Blitzstein admitted he had written an opera, he wanted nothing to do with operatically trained voices.  He knew that would work against the piece.
Like Brecht and Kurt Weill in The Threepenny Opera, he wanted actors first,
singers second, and yes, our students will do full justice to this highly theatrical
score.”

Bill Rudman, the Artistic Director of TMTP in the publicity for the production states his belief regarding the purpose of the show that, “Cradle goes well beyond the theme of Unionism, challenging all of us to stay true to our principles no matter what the cost.”

The Cradle Will Rock (In-Concert Musical) will be presented on Wednesday, September 21, 2016 at 7:30 PM at the Beck Center for the Arts, Mackey Theatre. For tickets call 216-245-8687 or visit MusicalTheaterProject.org
Sunday, September 25, 2016 at 2 PM at Kent State University’s E. Turner Stump Theatre.  For tickets call 330-672-2787 or visit kent.edu/theatredance

Monday, September 05, 2016

Alan Wieder, former Clevelander authors an oral history about Studs Terkel



Roy Berko

Alan Wieder, Brush High School grad and former resident of South Euclid, is a renowned oral historian.  The author of such books as Ruth First and Joe Slovo in the War Against Apartheid,  Wieder’s newest volume is Studs Terkel Politics, Culture but Mostly Conversation.

As an oral historian, Wieder interviews the subjects of his books and/or those who knew them in order to address issues, themes, and time-periods through the lives/words of people who lived them. His goal is to let people tell their stories, or not tell their stories, as they see fit, so that the reader can get to know the real person.

 He became interested in oral histories in the mid-seventies when he was in graduate school and had no desire to do a traditional dissertation.  Instead Wieder interviewed Jews of his grandparent’s generation to tell stories of their educational & occupational aspirations and lives and how it influenced their children and grandchildren.  This led to an interest in relating the lives of people, ordinary, as well as the well-known.



As he read more and more about the process of oral histories, he came across the works of Studs Terkel.  As Wieder says, “I was blown away by Hard Times but even more by Division Street America.”

He relates, “Most of my recent work is different than Studs. The last book where I used first-person oral histories, vignettes, was Voices from Cape Town Classrooms.”

“I did interviews with teachers who fought the apartheid regime from various political perspectives – it was about progressive voices of what Studs called the ‘uncelebrated.’  During that project I was moved to do a book on one particular teacher/politico, Richard Dudley, who stood out as someone who taught  at a coloured school for 45 years and was the head of the Trotskyist organization in South Africa.”

Wieder explains, “I refer to the Terkel book as a narrative/oral history, not a biography.  He also shared, “Part of what I do leads to meeting and sometimes later becoming friends with people who are quite special – uncelebrated and celebrated.”



In the Acknowledgements to the Terkel book, Wieder states, “It was Studs Terkel’s books that made my work possible.”  He explains, “In the 1970s oral history did not have academic credibility, even in history departments and certainly not in educational schools. I think that my [advisory] committee was good with what I did because of Studs’ books.”

How is this book about Studs Terkel different from Tony Parker’s volume, Studs Terkel:  A Life In Words?   Wieder explained, “Tony’s book was straight interviews. My book is a collage combining the interviews I did, Studs’ radio interviews, his books, people interviewing him, as well as articles about him.” 


Studs relied on “scouts” to find people to interview for his various volumes. They were people that Studs either knew or someone put him on to who could introduce him to people and sometimes act as his guide.

How did Wieder find the sources to be interviewed?  He related, “Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers are Chicago people and they provided great contacts. From there I just contacted people. Interestingly, well-known people as well as those you’ve never heard of were keen to talk about Studs. For instance, people like Stephen Schwartz (author of the musicals Pippin and Working) and David Schwimmer (of television Friend’s fame) were thrilled to talk about Studs.  So was Ken Burns (award winning documentary film maker) and Christy Heffner (former Chief Executive Officer of Playboy Enterprises). A Chicago guy, Jamie Kalven, who Studs referred to as a ‘guerilla journalist,’ gave me great insights into Studs’ view that ‘democracy could only exist through conversation/debate.’” 

Wieder related several Studs “factoids” that he uncovered in his interviews.  Included were” “one word to describe Studs’ world view is ‘underdogism.’ He was a lifelong supporter of labor, and unbeknown to many, he fought against white supremacy his entire life.”  “When Barack [Obama] ran for the Senate he [Studs] was a vocal supporter. By the time he ran for President, Studs only thought that it was amazing that we would have a black President.”


What in Terkel’s background appears to have turned him into a rebel with a cause?


“The people who lived in his parent’s men’s hotel, Wobblies, were fanatics who argued and debated.   He listening to political speakers at Bughouse Square – Chicago’s orator’s place.  Other influencers were his father’s love of Eugene Debs (an American labor leader), the Depression, Bill Broonzy (Blue’s singer) and Mahalia Jackson (gospel singer).  Above all his wife Ida whom he viewed as his ultimate teacher.”

Breakbeat Poet Kevin Coval calls Wieder’s book ”revelatory and beautiful” and his prose, “appropriate and stunning.” 

How did Wieder react to that praise?  He stated, “I was taken aback.  Sort of glossed over the words at first but then Joanie [his wife] said, ‘read this again.’  It made me like the book, my book, more than before as does the reaction from so many people, mostly in Chicago.”  




What does Wieder want readers to carry away from Studs Terkel Politics, Culture but Mostly Conversation?  He states, “I think the book accomplishes three things that are unique:
1.    A critical mass of Studs’ stories. Everyone who ever met him has a story but this is the first time they are in one place.
2.    His life long commitment to anti-racism – beginning as a teenager and ending when he died four days before Obama was elected.
3.    The marriage of conversation and democracy. For Studs, you couldn’t have democracy without conversation/debate.”

Wieder will discuss his book on Tuesday, September 20 at 7  PM at MacsBacks Books, 1820 Coventry Road, Cleveland Heights.  Admission is free, reservations are not required.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Funny, compelling THE MYSTERY OF LOVE AND SEX opens new season @ Dobama





Bathsheba Doran, author of The Mystery of Love and Sex now on stage at Dobama Theatre, stated of the script, “I had no plans for subject matter. I never do when I begin. As my play stormed out of me, unstoppable and violent, I was horrified. The experience was deeply unpleasant, emotionally. I was the most embarrassing of writers in the café where I worked: tears streamed down my face as I stabbed out the dialogue on my keyboard. I looked up once, just in time to see a nearby guy whisper amusedly to a girl: ‘Whoa, she’s really into it.’”

She continued, “Not only was I going through the torture of the writing. I was going through the torture of writing something I was convinced was unproduceable.  I believed this absolutely, that is how thoroughly I had absorbed homophobic wisdom about what is and isn’t acceptable material for a play. I persevered with the script only because it was obvious to me that the emotions in the play needed to be exorcised from my body. When the play was finished, I could trash it, and move on with my life.  That is what I told myself until I typed ‘the end.’”

How wrong Doran was.  The script is producible, the story compelling and illuminating, the over-all effect, at least on the Dobama stage, is attention holding due to its humor, drama and effective dialogue.

In many playwriting classes the instructors intone, “Write what you know about.”  The British Doran knows of what she writes.  The play has an underlying homosexual theme.  She, in real life, is a lesbian, and she exposes this well in her script, as well as the conflict of when to come out, to whom, and what can be the consequences of that revelation. 

It is more than a “gay play,” it  is a tale of discovery, facing demons, dealing with the backlash, confronting life and its inhabitants as a newly acknowledge person. 

Yes, Ms. Doran, “When you say something aloud it becomes true.”

The play, which is basically anchored in the American South, finds Charlotte and Jonny, who have been friends since they were nine, starting college.  She’s white and Jewish, he’s Christian and black. 

Are they on a path to having sex, living together, marriage?  Is this a love story that will blossom?  The start of the play looks like that’s the path.  Then, through a series of complications, surprises and a not-so-typical series of experiences and revelations by Charlotte, Jonny, her parents and indirectly, his mother, the play takes twists and turns that lead to an unexpected ending.

The epic play contains references to religion, sexuality, love, sex, and the mystery of ever-evolving relationships, leading to the provocative title. 

There is male and female full-frontal nudity, which helps highlight and intensify specific aspects of the author’s intent and purpose. 

To reveal more of the exact plot would be a disservice to those who will see it, so let’s leave it with the truth that the script has correctly been called “perfectly wonderful” and “a play with such compassion and wry wisdom I was warmed from within.”

Dobama’s production, under the direction of Shannon Sindelar who previously guided the Dobama productions of The Norwegians, Or and The Realistic Joneses, again displays her ability to key comedy, keep the action moving along, and aiding the audience to a complete theatrical experience.

Jill Davis has designed a minimalistic set with sliding back panels that allows for smooth shifts to the many indoor and outdoor settings.  The entire production is overhung with the limbs of a tree that plays a significant visual role in developing the intent of the play.   The set changes are smoothly handled by an efficient stage crew.

Marcus Dana’s lighting designs help set the right moods and pinpoint the active stage areas.

Tess Burgler, in her first Dobama appearance, does an excellent job of fully texturing Charlotte, who matures and develops from a conflicted young lady into a confident woman.

Wesley Allen, though he has some excellent moments, is inconsistent in his character development of Jonny.  He presents but doesn’t always live the character, sounds like he is expelling words, not creating meanings, and overuses a flat affect.

Scott Miller clearly makes Howard, a father, mystery book writer and frustrated New York Jew, into a man on a roller coaster of emotions. 

Heather Anderson Boll, who has strong Yale School of Drama training, and many New York and local appearances, shines as the cigarette/pot smoking, Jewish convert, conflicted Lucinda.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  The Mystery of Love and Sex is one of those special scripts that will appeal to the Dobama audience who comes to see contemporary professional scripts which look at society and its strengths and foibles.  Bathsheba Doran’s play gets a strong production that should delight and enlighten and deserves strong support.  It’s a “go see!”

The Mystery of Love and Sex runs through October 22, 2016 at Dobama Theatre.  Call 216-932-3396 or http://www.dobama.org for tickets.

Roy Berko
(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)

Bathsheba Doran, author of The Mystery of Love and Sex now on stage at Dobama Theatre, stated of the script, “I had no plans for subject matter. I never do when I begin. As my play stormed out of me, unstoppable and violent, I was horrified. The experience was deeply unpleasant, emotionally. I was the most embarrassing of writers in the café where I worked: tears streamed down my face as I stabbed out the dialogue on my keyboard. I looked up once, just in time to see a nearby guy whisper amusedly to a girl: ‘Whoa, she’s really into it.’”

She continued, “Not only was I going through the torture of the writing. I was going through the torture of writing something I was convinced was unproduceable.  I believed this absolutely, that is how thoroughly I had absorbed homophobic wisdom about what is and isn’t acceptable material for a play. I persevered with the script only because it was obvious to me that the emotions in the play needed to be exorcised from my body. When the play was finished, I could trash it, and move on with my life.  That is what I told myself until I typed ‘the end.’”

How wrong Doran was.  The script is producible, the story compelling and illuminating, the over-all effect, at least on the Dobama stage, is attention holding
due to its humor, drama and effective dialogue.

In many playwriting classes the instructors intone, “Write what you know about.”  The British Doran knows of what she writes.  The play has an underlying homosexual theme.  She, in real life, is a lesbian, and she exposes this well in her script, as well as the conflict of when to come out, to whom, and what can be the consequences of that revelation. 

It is more than a “gay play,” it  is a tale of discovery, facing demons, dealing with the backlash, confronting life and its inhabitants as a newly acknowledge person. 

Yes, Ms. Doran, “When you say something aloud it becomes true.”

The play, which is basically anchored in the American South, finds Charlotte and Jonny, who have been friends since they were nine, starting college.  She’s white and Jewish, he’s Christian and black. 

Are they on a path to having sex, living together, marriage?  Is this a love story that will blossom?  The start of the play looks like that’s the path.  Then, through a series of complications, surprises and a not-so-typical series of experiences and revelations by Charlotte, Jonny, her parents and indirectly, his mother, the play takes twists and turns that lead to an unexpected ending.

The epic play contains references to religion, sexuality, love, sex, and the mystery of ever-evolving relationships, leading to the provocative title. 

There is male and female full-frontal nudity, which helps highlight and intensify specific aspects of the author’s intent and purpose. 

To reveal more of the exact plot would be a disservice to those who will see it, so let’s leave it with the truth that the script has correctly been called “perfectly wonderful” and “a play with such compassion and wry wisdom I was warmed from within.”

Dobama’s production, under the direction of Shannon Sindelar who previously guided the Dobama productions of The Norwegians, Or and The Realistic Joneses, again displays her ability to key comedy, keep the action moving along, and aiding the audience to a complete theatrical experience.

Jill Davis has designed a minimalistic set with sliding back panels that allows for smooth shifts to the many indoor and outdoor settings.  The entire production is overhung with the limbs of a tree that plays a significant visual role in developing the intent of the play.   The set changes are smoothly handled by an efficient stage crew.

Marcus Dana’s lighting designs help set the right moods and pinpoint the active stage areas.

Tess Burgler, in her first Dobama appearance, does an excellent job of fully texturing Charlotte, who matures and develops from a conflicted young lady into a confident woman.

Wesley Allen, though he has some excellent moments, is inconsistent in his character development of Jonny.  He presents but doesn’t always live the character, sounds like he is expelling words, not creating meanings, and overuses a flat affect.

Scott Miller clearly makes Howard, a father, mystery book writer and conflicted New York Jew, into a man on a roller coaster of emotions. 

Heather Anderson Boll, who has strong Yale School of Drama training, and many New York and local appearances, shines as the cigarette/pot smoking, Jewish convert, conflicted Lucinda.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  The Mystery of Love and Sex is one of those special scripts that will appeal to the Dobama audience who comes to see contemporary professional scripts which look at society and its strengths and foibles.  Bathsheba Doran’s play gets a strong production that should delight and enlighten and deserves strong support.  It’s a “go see!”

The Mystery of Love and Sex runs through October 22, 2016 at Dobama Theatre.  Call 216-932-3396 or http://www.dobama.org for tickets.

Monday, August 29, 2016

SELFIES AT THE CLOWN MOTEL confounds @ convergence continuum



Christopher Johnston is the coordinator of “The Playwrights Gym at Dobama, co-founder of The Dark Room, a new works development workshop at CPT and the Rauschenberg New Play Reading Series for convergence-continuum.”  His script, Selfies at the Clown Motel, is presently being staged at con-con.

Arthur Miller wrote plays centering on the philosophical concept of “is this the best way to live?”  Tennessee Williams, often using his own life, tells of his mother and sister as the basis for his scripts, women who found themselves in societies which they didn’t understand and whose inhabitants didn’t understand the women.  William Inge looked at the darkness in life, those events in the hidden corners that challenged his characters.

It is not apparent what Christopher Johnston uses as the fulcrum for his plays.  He states in his program notes of Selfies that it is a “rendezvous of two lost and lonely souls.”  So???

The play opens with a man and woman having sex.  Each apparently reaches satisfaction, there is a scream, and it becomes apparent that the male has died, with no apparent follow-up or latter plot reference to the event.

We become aware that the woman’s family owns the Clown Motel in Tonopah, Nevada, she is a wire-walking clown, is having an affair with a motorcycle-riding married man who has abandoned his family, has a mother (Agnes) and brother  (Skar) who are psychotic, that she probably had an affair with her brother, well, he’s not exactly her brother, they appear to have the same mother but different fathers, had an abortion, her older “lover” comes and goes, there are scenes of male nudity, S & M, expelling of gas, discussions of casual sex, orgasms, and . . . 

There actually is a Clown Motel in Tonopah, Nevada.  It is a small place that is noted for its decorative array of stuffed, mechanical, sculptures and paintings of clowns.  A Google search reveals that there are supposedly over 600 “collectable” clowns or facsimiles on the premises.

Selfies is a convoluted tale of perversion and a dysfunctional family, with little obvious purpose. 

The show’s saving grace are the two outstanding performances by the athletic, beautiful Leah Smith (Chloe), as the clown, and John Busser (Rob) as her older lover.  Both nicely texture their characterizations and create a duo of frustrated, rudderless people, who have little purpose in their lives.

The use of clowns to reset scenes is clever, but over done.  How many times can the circus performers arrange and rearrange the bedspread and pillows before the effect becomes worn out?

The title of the play comes from a continuous taking of smart phone pictures which appear on a screen imbedded into one of the walls of the set.

Capsule Judgement:  Selfies at the Clown Motel is a difficult play to sit through.  It’s lack of focus, purpose, even with several outstanding performances, leaves little to recommend it.

SELFIES AT THE CLOWN MOTEL runs through September 17 2016 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

convergence-continuum’s next show is  Like I Say, Len Jenkin’s comic play with stories within stories, weird puppet shows, and an Alpine Zombie resort, running from October 14-November 5, 2016.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 21, 2016

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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 20, 2016

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


 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Silk Road Ensemble enthralls capacity crowd at Blossom


Culture matters!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 08, 2016

GLENGARRY GLENROSS doesn’t close the deal at Blank Canvas



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Blank Canvas production has some high and low points.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Unsettling, haunting Sans Merci @ none too fragile



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

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

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

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

What brought about my reaction?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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