Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Thought provoking "The Sunset Limited" @ none too fragile

--> Cormac McCarthy, the author of “The Sunset Limited,” which is now on stage at none too fragile theatre, probes, in his script, the topics:   Why would someone want to commit suicide?  Why does one person turn to religion when angst-filled, while another rejects the concept of a deity?  Is traditional education a negative or positive influence in dealing with problems?  What is the meaning of life?  Can a person change from killer to saint?  It probes the decisions to end one’s life, as well as human suffering.

“The Sunset Limited” is a two-person character study centering on dialogue rather than being a traditional action driven play.  In fact, the real action of the play takes place before the initial lights come up.

The ninety-minute poetic drama takes place in a small inner-city project apartment.  It is a conversation between two unnamed men, “Black “ and “White,” whose identifications match their skin color.  The former is very large and speaks Black English, while the latter, sometimes addressed as “Professor,” is slender in build and obviously well-educated as represented by both his language, and the way he formulates his ideas.

As their histories unravel, we become aware that Black has been in jail for murder.  While there, he became an evangelical Christian, having found “Jesus.”  His world revolves around reading and believing in the “Bible.” 

Just before the duos’ entrance into Black’s apartment, White had attempted suicide by jumping off the platform in the path of The Sunset Limited, a train that travels from New Orleans to Los Angeles.  Black grabbed him and stopped White’s flight to death.

As director Sean Derry revealed in a conversation following the production, he needed to “cut a lot of the dialogue,” which, in form, “is really more novel than a play script.”  It is not by accident that the subtitle of the piece is, “A Novel in Dramatic Form.”

The script is filled with well-conceived, insightful written lines, such as:  “Education makes the world personal.”  “All knowledge is vanity.”  “The darker story is always the correct one.”  “You are walking around dead.”  “There is a lingering Scent of divinity.” And, “There is a hope of nothingness.”

The men sit at a table, share coffee and food, move into the living room area, constantly talking.  There are no physical battles, no strong display of emotional outbursts.  Not much physically happens, but ideas flow. 

Myron Lewis, as Black, is an imposing presence.  He creates a real person who comes across as someone with an honest bent on “saving” White, both physically and spiritually.  His is a nicely textured performance.

Richard Worswick, as White, also develops a believable being, filled with angst, overwhelmed by life, having few friends, and possessing little reason to live.  He makes us believe that he has rejected the basic human need for survival and is ready to depart from his earthly existence.

Capsule judgement: “The Sunset Limited” is a thought-provoking script, which gets an intelligent production at none too fragile.  It is a play that will hold the attention of those interested in a philosophical delving into life, religion, and the human condition.

Big news from none too fragile: The company will present “Possum Dreams,” a play they staged in June of this year in New York in March, 2015.  Watch for the official announcement!

“The Sunset Limited” runs through September 27, 2014 at none too fragile theater which is located in Bricco’s Restaurant, 1841 Merriman Road, Akron. For tickets call 330-671-4563 or go to http://www.nonetoofragile.com

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Martin Céspedes creates a delightful "Forever Plaid" at Beck

Do you like close-harmonic singing?  Are you harking back to experience the “good” old days?  Do you like to escape from the stressful world and just “yak” at comedy shticks and revel in the ridiculous?   Then the place for you to be is Beck Center where Cleveland’s multi-award winning choreographer, Martin Céspedes, has added “creative director” to his résumé. 

“Forever Plaid” is a quirky, fun script, which takes the audience back to the 1950’s, a time of innocence, songs with words you could understand and identify with, with an occasional rock-and roll ditty thrown in.  This was the era of close-harmony boy groups (e.g., The Four Aces,  Four Coins, Four Preps).  Each step and gesture were pre-planned and in hopefully in sync.  Costumes and hair styles all matched. 

Ever hear of the group, “Forever Plaids?”  Probably not.  They weren’t a real boy group, but an imagined one by Stuart Ross, who invented them as the center-piece of his musical review, “Forever Plaid.”   Ross shoehorned songs of the era, melodies such as “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “Undecided,” “Perfidia,” “Catch a Falling Star,” “Heart and Soul,” “Lady of Spain,” and “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing,” between far-fetched stories to develop one of the most commonly produced theatrical reviews.

The premise is that the clean-cut quartet, Jinx, Sparky, Francis, and Smudge, had finally landed their first big gig at an airport bar in 1964.  To mark the event they ordered matching plaid tuxedos.  Unfortunately, on the way to the event, the high school chums’ dream of success, including their envisioned first album, ended when a bus filled with Catholic schoolgirls, on their way to see the Beatles’ American debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” slammed into their car, killing all four boys.  All they wanted was to get their chance, to wear those tuxes, to appear on a real stage, before a real audience.  But, those dreams were all snuffed out.  But . . ..

The play starts as the Plaids wander onto the stage and realize that they have been given a chance to  “live out” their dream.  What follows is a series of well harmonized songs, references to stars of the day, including Perry Como, Eddie Fisher, Buddy Holly, Patsy Cline, and the Ames Brothers, and lots of high jinx.   There are instances when the boys wander into the audience and interact with viewers, even bringing one startled lady on stage to help them out and do a synchronized dance.  They tease with the audience, and reminisce about the 1950s.

One of the show’s highlights is the reenactment of  the Ed Sullivan show, complete with appearances by Topo Gigio, Señor Wences and Johnny the puppet drawn on his hand, The Great Plate Spinner, and the Bersoni Chimps.

The Beck show, under the creative direction of Céspedes, delights.  The multi-award winning choreographer shows great skill in envisioning not only a perfect depiction of boy band moves, but letting loose with shtick that would have made Borscht Belt performers proud. 

The performers are Brian Altman as Smudge, the oft-confused member of the group, Shane Patrick O’Neill as Frankie, the leader with a tendency to hyperventilate when he gets stressed, Matthew Ryan Thompson as Jinx, the shy tenor with recurrent nose bleeds, and Josh Rhett Noble as the lovable, eager, adventurous, often goofy Sparky.  All have fine singing voices and display good comic timing.

On opening night, many audience members were heard singing along with the group, yelling out the names of the characters in the three and one-half minute capsulation of the “Ed Sullivan Show,” and being willing pawns in the audience participation segments.

Musical Director Bryan Bird and his orchestra (Bill Hart on percussion and Kevin Aylward on bass) created the right moods as they flowed from ballads to folk songs to rock and roll with musical ease. 

Joseph Carmola’s lighting, Aaron Benson’s night club set design, Carlton Guc’s sound design, and Aimee Kluiber’s costumes, all added to the overall effect.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Director Martin Céspedes’s creative directing and choreography, the excellent talents of Shane Patrick O’Neill, Matthew Ryan Thompson, John Rhett Noble and Brian Altman, and the fine musicianship of Bryan Bird, Bill Hart and Kevin Aylward, all combine to create a most pleasurable theatrical experience in Beck’s “Forever Plaid.”  It’s a relaxing, fun filled, “you’ll enjoy” it experience.

“Forever Plaid” is scheduled to run through October 12, 2014 on the Mackey Main Stage at Beck Center for the Arts.  For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go online to http://www.beckcenter.org

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

KSU + Musical Theatre Project = "Babes in Arms"

There’s a new couple in town.  The musical Theatre Project and Kent State’s Musical Theatre program are joining forces to do a staged reading/sing-through of the musical “Babes in Arms.”

People familiar with “Babes in Arms” usually think of it as the “hey let’s us kids, put on a play.”  The 1939 wholesome movie starred Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney.  What might surprises many is that a 1937 theatre version preceded the film. 

To add to the surprise, the original play had political overtones which delved into the concept of Nietzscheism, had a Communist character, and showcased two African-American youths who were victims of racism.   The play was redone in 1959 and was, as the publicity heralded, a “sanitized, depoliticized rewrite.” The script was again adapted in 1999 by John Guare. 

The score includes such classics as “The Lady Is a Tramp,” “Johnny One Note,” “I Wish I Were in Love Again,” and “My Funny Valentine.” 

An interview with Terri Kent, chair of the musical theatre program at Kent State shared some interesting information about the “Babes in Arms” production and the KSU program.

Kent State got involved in this project when Terri was contacted by Bill Rudman, Artistic Director of the musical Theatre Project.  The duo discussed several shows and honed in on “Babes In Arms” because many of the roles are populated by characters the ages of the University’s student body.  Besides the age parallel, Kent liked the idea that the show was set in the mid-thirties and “allows students to gain an understanding of the society of that time.”

Though Kent and Rudman had never worked together, she knew his work and “admires him as a musical theatre historian.”

The twelve students selected for the production tried out in three days of auditions which the KSU musical theatre program holds for all their main stage shows.  In addition to the students, four adults were cast to play the “mature” members of the story.  These are MaryAnn Black, Ron Thomas, Rudman and Kent.  The cast will be supported by musical director, Nancy Maier.

Kent has 85 musical theatre students.  This addition to the regular on-campus productions, and Porthouse Theatre’s summer program, the MTP involvement gives the future “professional theatre stars” a chance for more roles.  KSU grads have gone on to star on and off-Broadway, in cruise ship productions, work at such entertainment venues as Disneyworld, and have become school and college drama teachers and professors.

One of the emerging aspects of the KSU theatre offerings is the Returning Professional Program, in which college graduates, who have been involved in theatre productions, return to campus to finish their advanced degree. Ken Howard, Broadway  (“1776,” “Promises, Promises,” and “See Saw”), film (“The Country Girl,” “Strange Interlude, and “J. Edgar” and television  (“The White Shadow” and “The Thornbirds”), who went on to be president of the Screen Actors Guild, was the first participant in the degree program.  Graduates include Cleveland area performers Tracy Patterson, Greg Violand, and Mark Moritz.  Paul Floriano is now a student.

Kent is looking forward to staging the first student production of the new musical, “My Heart Is The Drum,” in February, 2015.    The show, which has an all Black cast, takes place in Ghana, and centers on Efua Kuti who flees her village when she is forced to marry, but wants to get an education.  It is filled with driving rhythms and rich vocal harmonies.  http://www.myheartisthedrum.com.     

“Babes In Arms” will be presented on September 18 @ Beck Center for the Arts, 8 PM and September 21 @ Stump Theatre, Kent State University, 2 PM.  For tickets call (Beck) 216-521-2540 X10 or visit http://www.beckcenter.org or KSU 330-672-2787, http://www.kent/edu/artscollege/

Monday, September 08, 2014

A Review of the Reviewer: Nicci Cassara, Choreographer

I just wanted to take a moment and introduce myself. We have never met in person but I have been reading your reviews forever and I believe you have seen some of my work. I just wanted to thank you for all you do. It's not an easy job but you help keep theater alive and thriving in Cleveland. It is much appreciated. Much continued success to you.always,
Nicci Cassara

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Spellbinding “Belleville” opens the 55th Dobama season

Dobama may be entering its 55th year (I was present the moment founding artistic director Don Bianchi declared its existence), but it is actually in its first season.  What?   Late last season, the Dobama board voted to change the status of venue to that of a full professional theatre.  This makes Dobama, like Great Lakes Theatre and Cleveland Play House, a stage where all actors are paid by equity standards and the production staff are members of the appropriate staging unions. 

The change in professional designation may be new, but as evidenced by “Belleville,” Amy Herzog’s compelling mystery-drama, the opening play of the 2014-15 season, Bianchi’s vision of producing relevant, well-crafted, important new plays is still on the theatre’s masthead.

“Belleville” is a spooky play, not in the sense of ghosts or spirits, but in the sense of taking the viewer to a place in the theatre landscape which is scary, penetrating into personal psyches, forcing the questions of “OMG what’s going to happen next?,” “who is fooling whom?,” and “is this for real?”

Pulitzer Prize winner, Amy Herzog, is one of today’s most esteemed playwrights.  Locals were exposed to her Chekov-like writing when Dobama staged “4000 Miles” several years ago.  Herzog, like Chekov, is noted for her naturalistic writing.  Her language is the pattern and style of real people, in real situations.  There is nothing theatrical about her characters.  The actors can’t act the roles she writes, they must live them.  They must listen to their fellow performers and react to what they say, not feign, but feel, think and present honesty.

Her plays revolve around secrets being revealed.  Her revelations emerge naturally, through pitch-perfect dialogue, rather than being imposed by the demands of plot.  Her written language is filled with intrigue as it explores what lurks in the world of relationships.  The audience gets rapped up in the naturalness of the characters and the tale they tell through a breathtaking intermissionless hour and three-quarters.

“Belleville” made its debut in 2011 at the Yale Repertory Theatre and was later performed off-Broadway.

The story revolves around newly married Americans, Zack and Abby, who are living in Paris, supposedly because Abby has always wanted to relive her parents wonderful experiences in the city of love.  The desire got stronger when Abby’s mother died.  The duo is renting an apartment in the multi-ethnic Belleville neighborhood, which is managed by a Muslim couple.

A series of small happenings escalate the tension between the newlyweds.   Questions arise about Zack’s MD degree from Johns Hopkins University, his employment in Paris as an AIDS researcher, why he can’t pay the rent and spends much time smoking pot, his laid back attitude and sudden maniacal mood swings.  Why has Amy dropped out of her French classes, become obsessed with her family back in the US, and the yoga classes she teaches but where no students show up?  What’s true?  What’s a lie? 

Dobama’s founding director, used to say that the playwright is the predominant voice in the room (the theatre).  Corey Atkins, the director of “Belleville,” learned this lesson well.  He understandings underlying motives of Herzog’s writing style, and has honed his actors to carry out the author’s intent and purpose.  The psychology of the characters, the mystery and danger of the plot, are all accented.  The realism required to make the lines live is present. 

Llewie Nuñez takes on the role of Abby and wears it with tenacity.  She is always just on the edge of falling off the high wire of rationality.  She clearly creates a fragile woman caught up in a life of potential stumbles and disaster.

Matt O’Shea follows up his performance as the co-star with Dorothy Silver, in Dobama’s production of Herzog’s “4000 Miles,” with another spell-binding portrayal.   His Zack is an obsessed young man filled with contradictions.  Is he a liar, abuser, game player, or a psychopath?  Whatever, O’Shea is totally convincing.

Robert Hunter (Alioune) and Carly Germany (Amina) are character correct as the bi-lingual Muslim couple who manage the building in which Abby and Zack live.  Each develops a real person.  Their spoken French is excellent.  Whether they speak the language, or were well honed by dialect coach Donald Carrier, they are believable.

Jill Davis’s French apartment design of a living room-kitchen, with sight into a bathroom and bedroom, is completely realistic.  Marcus Dana’s lighting design well highlights scenes, as well as adding tension through special effects.  Sound designer Tom Linsenmeier has added outside street noises, running shower water effects and other sounds, which enhance the action.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: ”Belleville” is a dark, draining play.  It looks at the limits of trust, truth, deception and dependency.  Dobama’s production is superb.  The writing, acting, staging and technical aspects all blend together to make for a compelling evening at the theatre.  It’s a must see for anyone interested in theatre and the limits of the human condition.
“Belleville” runs through October 5, 2014 at Dobama Theatre.  Call 216-932-3396 or http://www.dobama.org for tickets.

No bombs greet this version of "HAIR," just heat and a simulation of an era

Theatre is representative of the era from which it comes.  Seeing a play that reflects a specific time period can reveal the cultural attitudes of the people and society of that period.

Seeing HAIR, “The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical,” can give a film clip of the 1960s and early 70s in the U.S.  It was the era of the anti-war movement and rebellion against traditional societal patterns.  It was the time of sit-ins on college campuses, hippie communes, flower children, pot smoking, tie-dyed clothing, long hair, swearing and public nudity.  It was a period of rage against the military-industrial complex. It was the time of a clear generational divide.  If the young people could find a way to upset their elders, it was the “in” thing to do. 

Written by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, the show’s book was put to music by Galt MacDermot.  Its slim story was based on the authors’ personal experiences.   It centers on Claude, a member of the hippie community, who sells out and allows himself to be taken into the Army rather than burn his draft card or flee to Canada.

When the show first opened, it engendered strong protests.  Yes, protests about the protests.  On April 25, 1971, for example, a bomb exploded in front of Cleveland’s Hanna Theatre during the Age of Aquarius show’s run at that venue.

HAIR broke all sorts of theatrical traditions.  Members of the cast, known as the “tribe,” constantly jumped off the stage and interacted with members of the audience, invited patrons to dance with them, and they gave flowers and hugs to  the unsuspecting.  The U.S. flag was used as parts of costumes and burned.  There was full-frontal nudity and simulation of sexual acts.  There was an intentional ignoring of theater’s proverbial “fourth wall,” a separation of the stage actions from the audience.   This was a musical that broke from the tradition of the “nice” musical and took on controversy and started a trend in musical theatre of taking on contemporary and controversial issues.

This is not a well-written book musical.  The plot meanders, some of the songs don’t fit into the story, often do nothing to move the plot along.  Again, a break from the traditional musical of the day. Though often referred to as the “grand daddy of the rock musicals,” it’s a mélange of music and imagery.  The sounds change from rock to country to ballad to African American rhythms.

The highlight of action centers on Claude’s hallucinatory drug trip in Act II where a series of horrifying visions, loaded with historical figures, are presented in the oddest contexts. It’s a microcosm of the whole show, which essentially unfolds like a tune-filled acid trip that gives HAIR its distinctive period edge.

So, how does the show wear over all those years?  The times they have changed.  Reaction to swearing, smoking of pot, nudity, and protest are mundane by today’s standards.  Many of the references are beyond the knowledge of the younger members of the audience.  Unless you are an uptight conservative or an evangelical, who are not candidates to attend this show, the goings on won’t evoke much reaction.  Only the wonder of “what was all the fuss about?”

Some of the music has lost its luster.  Aquarius didn’t send me off onto a journey of effervescence.  Hashish, in this age of rampant drug usage, is just a song.  On the other hand, I Believe in Love, Easy to be Hard, and Good Morning Starshine, have held up due to their timelessness.

The Blank Canvas cast, under the direction of Patrick Ciamacco, was enjoyable, with two glaring flaws.  First, Ciamacco states in his director’s notes:  “I was drawn to produce “Hair” because I feel our country is going through a very similar movement as we did in the 60’s.”  Sorry, my naïve young man, since the you were not yet born when the anti-war demonstrations and flower-child rebellions were going on, you are not aware of the dynamics, power, and out-of-control motivations that lead to whole college campuses shut down due to sit-ins, and the take-over of buildings due the anti-war vehemence.  Nationally, buildings were burned, students were shot for civil-disobedience (e.g., the Kent State massacre).  There may be some uprisings and protests today due to individual events, but the 60’s movements were national events.  The portrayals by the young cast, not imbued with the true feelings the play reflects, were on the surface, acting what they thought their characters went through, but not identifying with the real motivations, therefore not feeling the actual angst.

Second, the small space, over sold-out audience, sweating actor’s bodies, real smoking, and 80+ degrees of heat outside, led to a sweltering theatre.  When the cast shed their clothing at the end of the first act, many in the audience were tempted to join them, just to get some personal heat reduction.  Either the theatre needs to find a way to cool the space more effectively, or change its schedule and avoid producing summer time shows.  Whew!

Brad Wyner and his band were excellent, wisely avoiding letting loose with the heavy rock sound and drowning out the singers.  Jessie Cope Miller’s choreography was creative, especially considering that she was working with a large cast on a postage stamp sized stage.  The moves on “Abie Baby” were, in era language, “mellow.”

Perren Hedderson’s projections added to the creation of visual realism.

Though the choral vocal sounds were mostly volume over blendings, there were both individual strong singing and acting performances.

Scott Esposito was well focused as Claude.  Who knew that this stalwart of local dramas (he gave a ”bravo” performance last season in Ensemble’s “The Normal Heart”) could sing so well?   Becca Frick (Jeanie) did a nice job with “Air,” Jessie Cope Miller, she of big and well-toned voice, wailed in “I Believe in Love” and “Good Morning Starshine.” Neely Gevaart (Chrissy) tenderly sang “Frank Mills.”  “What a Piece of Work Is Man” was the show’s musical highlight.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:   HAIR is a classic musical, which entered the theatre into an era of reflection of the turbulent era of the 60s and broke many traditional theatrical formats.  For those who want to relive the era, or who want to generally get an idea of what was going on during those times, the Blank Canvas staging gives an opportunity to take a seldom reprised trip through the times.  Due to a generation gap in understanding the true angst of the era, this isn’t a great production, but it is entertaining.
Tickets for HAIR, which runs through September 13, can be ordered at 440-941-0458 or www.blankcanvastheatre.com

Sunday, August 17, 2014

It’s a choppy RIDE with some interesting people @ none too fragile and avoid using the valet parking

Eric Lane is a prolific and prize winning playwright.  His plays include “Times of War,” “Filming O’Keefe,” “Floating,” and “Dancing on Checkers’ Grave.”  Never heard of them?  You are not alone.  In spite of his recognition for writing some episodes for TV’s “Ryan’s Hope,” his scripts are not on the list of the most published plays.

His “Ride,” which is now in production at Akron’s none too fragile theatre, is more of a performance device for three strong actresses, than a story that will grab and hold your attention.  In fact, the vignette writing format, in which there are more than ten scenes bridged together with music, often makes for a choppy sit.  An uneven ride, in this case.

The story concerns a young girl (Sam), her older sister (Carrie), and the sister’s fellow worker at a summer fruit stand (Molly). 

Sam, who is both brilliant and impulsive, and Carrie, are the children of a loving father, who died early, and a mother who is having trouble coping with her husband’s loss.  She works long hours.  She has daughters who are angst filled.  Sam has a fear of death and investigates all possible causes of demise…faulty tire brands, poorly working airbags, and non-healthy foods.  Carrie, who wants to go to college, is working at a summer fruit stand in order to make money to allow her to supplement her university scholarship.  She is concerned about how impetuous Sam will be able to survive with little parental supervision when Carrie goes off to college.

Molly, the daughter of a wealthy and abusive father, who makes up for his physical abusiveness by buying his daughter “things,” such as a new expensive car, to amend for his actions, is mad at her mother for putting up with the abuse, and with her father, not only for his aggressiveness, but also for his infidelities.  Full of revenge, she wants to “destroy” her father’s mistress, who resides in Florida.

The fragile friendship bond between Carrie and Molly manifests into a ride to the Sunshine State, as planned by Molly, for which, for some unrevealed reason Carrie agrees to participate in, while dragging along Sam. 

As their ride to Florida progresses, the emotional sense of each girl somewhat emerges. 

More than a plot driven play in which depth of problems and story intricacies emerge, Lane has written character studies, which are acting exercises.   Fortunately, none so fragile has cast three superlative actresses.

Young Ireland Derry creates Sam into such a realistic person that not a bit of role playing is present.  She doesn’t act Sam, she is Sam.  Every line, every gesture, every intonation are Sam!   Wow!

Alanna Romansky has a complex acting issue with portraying Carrie.  She both must be “in the moment,” being a sister to Sam and being conflicted with issues regarding her widowed mother, and the death of her father, but also must be a narrator to the audience, developing what may be the major issue of the play.  She shares with the audience her observations about Anne Frank, who was the topic of a high-school composition.  She wonders “if everyone isn’t living in hiding in their own secret annex.”   She pulls off both levels of performance with believability.

Rachel Roberts creates in Molly a definite presence of a lack of mooring.  Blessed with an abusive father, and a enabling mother, Molly needs to be both angst-driven and impulsive.  Roberts creates a Molly who is both.

The play’s structure, many short vignettes, makes for a choppy ride.  This is not helped by director Sean Derry’s adding long musical bridges between each of the scenes, and then adding a long intermission between acts, thus chopping up the conceptual flow.  In spite of the fact that the music was well selected to introduce each scene, the production would have been much more compact and enfolding if there was less or shorter musical interludes and the play had been done as a long one-act, with no intermission.  Since realistic scenery is not a necessity, the many set pieces could have been eliminated, thus eliminating the intermission which served mainly as a time to change the set.

Capsule judgement: Eric Lane’s RIDE is more a character study than a well-structured play.  It is both the strength and weakness of the script.  Regardless of the message, or lack of message, or quality, or lack of quality of the script, it is worth going to see the production, to be exposed to the talented cast, especially to seventh grader Ireland Derry.  You will be one of the first to experience “a star being born,” in this, her theatrical debut! 

“Ride” runs through August 30, 2014 at none too fragile theater which is located in Bricco’s Restaurant, 1841 Merriman Road, Akron. 

Warning:  There is free valet parking offered.  I’d advise against using it.  When I went out to get my car after the production, the valet had gone home.  When I found my car, the motor was running, the doors unlocked!  The car could have easily been stolen.  Bricco’s manager attempted to “get off the hook,” by saying that the parking is not done by the restaurant employees, but by an outside company.  Sorry, it’s on Bricco’s property. Bricco’s supplies the service!  They are responsible!   After numerous complaints, I avoid the restaurant because of continued poor service.  Now I also have to avoid the valet parking.  Not good!

For tickets call 330-671-4563 or go to http://www.nonetoofragile.com

The theatre’s next production is Cormac McCarthy’s “Sunset Limited,” a play in which Black and White, debate the meaning of human suffering, the existence of God, and the propriety of suicide.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Cleveland Orchestra: August 10...a lovely night at Blossom

Sunday, August 10, 2014 was a lovely night at Blossom.  The temperature was pleasant, the lawn was filled with brightly colored blankets, a few candelabras, kids ran and rolled down the gentle hills.  The pavilion was nicely filled.  On stage was the Cleveland Orchestra, playing the beautiful sounds of Stravinsky, Haydn and Felix Mendelssohn.

Conductor Jerry Kahane quickly established a connective rapport with the orchestra with his quiet, but demonstrative conducting style.  Reaching out with a flat hand, palm down, he often grabbed the air and pulled in the sound of a specific instrument or section of the ensemble.  At other times his hands floated like free floating clouds to create a soothing flow of music.  His animated body often bounced with the music, keeping time to the rhythm.

Igor Stravinsky’s “Suite from Pulcinella” was ballet-like in its lilting melodies.  Traditional in its format, it contained some modernistic sounds.  Written for a smaller orchestra, the arrangement omitted clarinet and tuba, creating a light sound. The nine movement piece, as advertised, was “elegant and courtly,” with inserts of jolly interludes.

“Violin Concerto #1 in C major, was as close to perfection as could be expected of the F. Joseph Haydn composition.  Clad in a bright blue and black geometric patterned shirt, Peter Otto, the orchestra’s First Associate Concertmaster, like the orchestra, played his 1769 crafted G. B. Gaudagnini violin with crispness and precision.  In the high spirited composition, the orchestra often introduced a theme, which was then elaborated upon by the soloist.

Mendelssohn’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” is based on the composer’s long acquaintance with Shakespeare’s comedy, which young Felix supposedly read as a boy. Originally written when he was seventeen, he expanded the overture into a full set of music half a lifetime later by writing twelve short pieces based largely on themes from the earlier overture.  Containing sounds from a lullaby to a wedding march, the popular piece is both delightful and pleasant.

Mendelssohn’s “Symphony #4 in A major, Opus 90, was written while the composer was on a trip to Italy.  He called the composition, “the jolliest piece I have so far written.”  And, jolly it is.  From the extroverted opening movement, the composition delights.  Both the conductor and orchestra seemed to relish creating the encompassing sounds, especially the fourth movement, which echoed of Italian folk music.

Upcoming experiences at Blossom include Yo-Yo Ma (August 16) performing Edward Elgar’s “Cello Concerto.”  On August 23, the chorus, orchestra and soloists  perform Carol Orff’s “Carmina Burana,” and on August 30, Labor Day weekend welcomes kids to share the magical experience of Blossom and the orchestra with tunes such as “The Little Mermaid” and “The Wizard of Oz.”  Add to that family-friendly activities and a post-concert fireworks show.

For information and tickets to orchestra offerings go on-line to clevelandorchestra.com.

(Musical comments by Alexander L. Berko, Cleveland Institute of Music preparatory graduate, winner of the Baldassarre Competition, and composing  student at the Jacobs School of Music/Indiana University.)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

"Amazons and Their Men" script better than convergence-continuum staging

In 1932, Leni Riefenstahl attended a rally where Adolf Hitler spoke.  She was so mesmerized by his public speaking ability that she reported that she had an apocalyptic vision that included a stream of water touching the sky and shaking the earth.

She became a National Socialist, commenting about Hitler, “I felt very happy that such a man had come.”  She requested and had a meeting with Hitler, was hired to direct the movie, “Victory of Faith,” a propaganda film about a Nazi Party rally at Nuremberg in 1933.  This was the first of many films she would direct, funded by the Nazi Party, including “Triumph of the Will,” which was recognized as an epic, innovative work of propaganda filmmaking.

Riefenstahl was invited to film the Olympic Games in Berlin.  Her film, “Olympia” included technical and aesthetic achievements never before seen in sports filming, including slow motion shots and using multi-cameras to shoot a single scene.

“Amazons and Their Men,” a play by Jordan Harrison, which is in production at convergence-continuum, relates the tale of The Frau (as Riefenstahl was called), trying to make a film about Penthesilea, an Amazon queen who falls in love with Achilles during the Trojan War.

The Frau used to direct beautiful films for a fascist government. Now she's trying to make a film that's simply beautiful. She casts herself in the lead role of the Amazon queen, Penthesilea.  To portray Achilles, she recruits a male (The Man)  from the Jewish ghetto. Her own sister (The Extra), plays all the nameless Amazons killed in the background.  The Extra also moves scenery and props.  She casts a beautiful young telegraph youth (The Boy) to play a young Trojan.  Complications set in when The Man and the Boy fall in love.

The movie hits a further snag when the Minister of Propaganda, who has been footing the bills for the filming, pulls his support and financial backing due to the eminent start of the Second World War.
Jordan Harrison, the playwright, has written a number of plays, but is probably best known for his writing of the Netflix hailed series, “Orange is the New Black.”

 “Amazons and Their Men, has been called “a brash play,” “a dramatic masterstroke,” a play “filled with dazzling wordplay.”  It is, in fact, a well written, creative, often funny script.  In a good production it would not only grab and hold the audience’s attention, but educate about an era of film and history, little known to many.

Unfortunately, con-con’s staging is not an effective production.  Actors stumble over lines; characterizations are not well developed; the contrast between the stylized acting needed for the scenes of the film, and the realism for actors in real life, is not well developed; the scenic design and special effects don’t always work; accents are inserted at odd places; the costumes fail to complete the images they are intended to create. 

Jack Matuszewski as The Boy, portrays his role as it should be.  His acting in the “film” is stylized, contrasting with his realistic “real” speeches.  He also physically fits the role.

Clint Elston (The Man) is generally unbelievable in his scenes.  He failed to texture the character and did not separate his “film” acting from his “real” self. 

I saw the staging on opening night, and maybe that was why usually rock-solid Lauri Hammer seemed to be having line problems as the Frau.  Hopefully, as the run goes on, this problem abates.  The stumbling made it impossible to evaluate how she will develop the role.  As presented, she did not grab and hold the characterization.

Jaclyn Cifranic did a nice job of playing multiple roles as The Extra.  Her film scenes tended to have the right stylized acting, which separated those characters from those in which she portrayed The Frau’s sister.

Capsule Judgement: Jordan Harrison’s “Amazons and their Men” is a well written play that tells a fascinating and revealing story of filmmaking and Nazi Germany.  Unfortunately, the convergence-continuum production does not live up to the potential of the script.
“Amazons and their Men,” runs through August 30, 2014 at 8 pm 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.

Con-con’s next show is “The Pillowman,” a dark dramatic comedy of a writer who is accused of violence against children.  It the runs September 26 through October 18 .

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Fall 2014 Fall Theatre Calendar

The Greater Cleveland area has a vital theater scene.  Though they are usually exciting, there is more to experience on stage than the Broadway series.  Listed are some of the offerings that will be staged from September through the end of December, 2014.  SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL THEATRES along with the big Broadway hits!

--> 330-374-7568 or go to www.actorssummit.org
MAKING GOD LAUGH (October 9-November 2)--Home is where the heart AND the laughter is!

HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (November 26-December 21)--A mystery/comedy adapted from Arthur Conan Doyle's novel about an ancient curse and the inimitable Sherlock Holmes.
216-521-2540 or http://www.beckcenter.org

FOREVER PLAID (September 12-October 12)—Musical revue centers on four singers killed in a car crash on the way to their first big concert, but are revived to sing once again!

BABES IN ARMS—IN CONCERT (September 18)—Kent State University’s Musical Theatre students sing the score from Rogers and Hart’s “lets put on a show” musical.  Also at KSU’s Stump Theater on September 21.

[title of show] (October 10-November 16)—A musical comedy about two guys writing a musical comedy about two guys writing a musical comedy!  (For mature audiences)

MARY POPPINS (December 5-January 4, 2015)—The supercalifragilisticexpialidocious musical in its local premiere.


440-941-0458 or www.blankcanvastheatre.com

HAIR (August 29-September 13)—The American Tribal love-rock musical which examines the tumultuous 1960s search for truth, peace and love, featuring such hit songs as “Good Morning, Starshine,” and “Aquarius.”

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (October 17-November 1)—eight people spend a terrifying night where the dead rise to feast on human flesh, complete with a now-famous Blank Canvas splatterzone!

2014 BENEFIT (November 7 & 8)—A concert version of a musical whose name is yet to be announced…raffle, music, food and ?????????

HIGH FIDELITY, A MUSICAL (December 5-20)—A sexy rock musical that examines the intricacies of life and music which is not just told with music, but entirely is about music.

 216-241-6000 or go to www.clevelandplayhouse.com

THE LITTLE FOXES (September 12-October 5)--Lillian Hellman’s drama of ambition and greed warns us to keep our friends close and our relatives closer.

HOW WE GOT ON (October 24-November 16)—A lyrical journey of dreaming big and discovering your voice.

 216-631-2727 or go on line to www.cptonline.org

SHE’S WEARING WHITE (October 9-25)—An interactive performance art installation that investigates purity, ideal femininity, and sexual role playing on a virgin bride’s wedding night.

SPIRITS TO ENFORCE (October 9-25)—Twelve superheroes take up residence in a secret submarine to hold a fundraising drive for their upcoming production of “The Tempest.”

TEATRO PUBLICO DE CLEVELAND (October 16-19)—A new original performance based on the stories, dreams and musings of Cleveland’s Hispanic community (title TBA).

THE NEIGHBOR’S GRIEF IS GREENER (October 23-25)—In partnership with the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, CPT presents The Visual Theatre of Emmanuelle Amichai’s production, a macabre visual performance that takes place in an archetypal suburban kitchen.

CLAIRMONDE (October 31-November 1)—A world premiere opera which combines fiction, fantasy and magical realism in a classic tale of the supernatural as performed by Opera Per Tutti.

AMERICAN FALLS (December 4-December 20)—A drama about eight people in a small town—six are living and two are dead.

CONNI’S AVANTE GARDE RESTAURANT (December 4-20)—A musical performance of cabaret, comedy, dancing and game-show competitions within a five course meal.

convergence continuum
convergence-continiuum.org or 216-687-0074

THE PILLOWMAN (September 26-October 18)—In the totalitarian state of Katurian, a writer of short stories, which depict violence against children, has been arrested by detectives because some of his stories resemble recent child murders.

TERMINUS (November 21-December 20)—Singing serial killers, avenging angels and love sick demons are part of the goings on when three people are ripped from their daily lives and catapulted into a fantasy world.

216-932-3396 or dobama.org

BELLEVILLE (September 5-October 5)—A Hitchcock-inspired suspense play by Pulitzer Prize winner Amy Herzog.

THE NORWEGIANS (October 24-November 16)—A profane dark comedy about some really nice Norwegian hit men, and the women who hire them to whack their ex-boyfriends.

A CIVIL WAR CHRISTMAS:  AN AMERICAN MUSICAL CELEBRATION (December 5-January 5, 2015)—A musical that weaves together characters, story lines and pieces of music about hope, joy, and the beauty of human spirit.

216-321-2930 or http://www.ensemble-theatre.com

ANNA CHRISTIE (September 26-October 19)—Eugene O’Neill’s love story which is played out against the tempestuous sea.

THE GREAT GATSBY (November 14-December 14)---A self-made millionaire passionately pursues an elusive woman in Simon Levy’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s  Jazz Age classic.

 http://www.greatlakestheater.org or 216-241-6000

THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR (September 26-November 2)—William Shakespeare’s raucous domestic comedy re-imagined by director Tracy Young.

LES MISÉRABLES (October 3-November 9)—Based on a Victor Hugo novel, the musical of the French Revolution which features Fantine, Cosette, Jean Valijean, and Javert and “One Day More.”

A CHRISTMAS CAROL (November 29-December 23)—For the 26th year, the Charles Dickens story, as adapted by former GLT’s Artistic Director Gerald Freedman, with new costumes, sets and upgraded lighting and special effects.

 216-795-7077 or www.karamuhouse.org
IT AIN'T NOTHING' BUT THE BLUES (SEPTEMBER 19-OCTOBER 12)--A musical revue of over 50 blues and blues infused songs.

ONE MONKEY DON'T STOP NO SHOW (October 31-November 23)--A comedy which centers on a baptist preacher, clinging tenaciously to his position in a local black elite church.  

LEAP OF FAITH (December 5-December 28)--The Ohio premiere of a musical by eight-time Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken which tells the tale of a Reverend, who, in fact, is a con-artist. 


440-525-7134 or http://lakelandcc.edu/academic/arts/theatre/index.asp --AUGUST:  OSAGE COUNTY (September 19-October 5)—The Weston family are all intelligent, sensitive crates who have the uncanny ability of making each other miserable.

www.nonetoofragile.com or 330-671-4563

THE SUNSET LIMITED (September 12-27)—Two nameless characters, identified by their skin colors, debate the meaning of human suffering.

IN  A FOREST, DARK AND DEEP (October 10-25)—Neil LaBute’s tale of a sister and brother, who have little in common, explores the dark territory of “the lies you tell yourself to get by.” 

TOP DOG UNDER DOG (November 14-November 29)—Chronicles the lives of two African American brothers, Lincoln and Booth, as they cope with women, work, poverty, gambling, racism, and their troubled upbringings.

EXACT CHANGE (December 12 & 13)—Cleveland theatre critic Christine Howey’s one-person story of her gender transition!

 216-241-6000 or go to www.playhousesquare.org.

EDWARD ALBEE’S OCCUPANT (September 19-October 25 @ Kennedy’s Cabaret Theatre @ PlayhouseSquare)—A tribute to American sculptor Louise Nevelson, the biographical play examines self-determination, starring local performers Julia Kolibab & George Roth.

MOTOWN (October 3-19)—The musical journey of Berry Gordy, from featherweight boxer to heavyweight music mogul who launched the careers of Diana Ross and Michael Jackson.

EVIL DEAD--THE MUSICAL (October 21-22)--Toronto's long running musical tells the outrageous story of five college friends spending the weekend in an abandoned cabin in the woods after accidentally unleashing an evil force that turns them all into demons.
DISNEY’S NEWSIES (November 4-16)—A high energy explosion of song and dance! 

IRVING BERLIN’S WHITE CHRISTMAS (December 2-14)—The classic movie comes to the stage for the whole family.


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

BABES in ARMS (September 18 @ Beck Center for the Arts, 8 PM), (September 21 @ Stump Theatre, Kent State University, 2 PM)—The “Hey-let’s us-kids-put-on-a-show”

ETHEL MERMAN--Loud but honest! (October 12---2 PM @ Stocker Arts Center, Lorain County Community College)—The belter, who was the most important vocalist of the 20th century, gets center stage attention with songs from Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Jerry Herman and others.

MARY MARTIN—America’s Sweetheart (October 26—2 & 7 PM @ Mixon Hall, Cleveland Institute of Music)—The “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” Broadway star is center stage.

A CHRISTMAS CABARET (December 12 @ 8 PM, December 23 @ 2 and 8 PM—Stocker Center, Lorain County Community College, December 14 @7 PM, December 16 @ 7 PM, December 17 @ 7 PM—Nighttown)—Holiday songs from Irving Berlin.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

"The Philanderer" trumpets Shaw's views on women' rights

To truly understand, and to go beyond just enjoying a George Bernard Shaw play, it is required that you are aware that the Scotch/British writer was known as “A Theatrical Terrorist.”  He wrote realistic plays, much in the style of Henrik Ibsen, which attempted to change the actions and thoughts of the public. 

Shaw’s naturalistic style put his characters in real situations that could be used as the basis for illustrating the ills, or Shaw’s perceptions of the ills of society.  He took on the medical profession, the upper classes, conservative governmental attitudes, the educational establishment, and the attitudes of lesser beings.  He was a rebel writer with a cause, in fact, many causes.

His “The Philanderer” takes on the cause of the subjection of women, awareness of social problems and criticism capitalist behavior.  The Shaw has found the play such an audience pleaser that it has staged it four other times.

Written in 1893 as one of three plays Shaw published as “Plays Unpleasant,”  it was so controversial that the British Censorship Board refused to allow it to be performed until 1902.  The script was ahead of its time.  Shaw was looking at the newness and changes taking place in society.  The staid British, reluctant as they are to change, were resisting the alterations.  Changes that eventually led to the rise of socialistic views, the advancement of universal health care, respect for woman and minorities, and the advancement of scientific research. (In the present day U.S., the restrictive attitudes would be parallel to that of the Tea Party.)

Shaw, in his manuscript, writes of the start of the play, “A lady and gentleman are making love to one another in the drawing room of a flat in Ashley Gardens in the Victoria district of London.”  As it turns out, the lady is Grace Tranfield, a young widow.  The man is Leonard Charteris, noted as being a philanderer and carrying on with many women at the same time.  When caught, he falls back on the idea that he is not at fault as “half the women I speak to fall in love with me.”

Shaw once wrote, “A philanderer is a man who is strongly attracted by women.  He flirts with them, falls half in love with then, makes them fall in love with him, but will not commit himself to a permanent relation with them, and often retreats at the last moment if his suit is successful—loves them but loves himself more—is too cautious, too fastidious, ever to give himself away.”

Throw in multi-dalliances, a supposed illness, a drama critic, mixed messages on marriage, a woman who shocks others by dressing as a man, a doctor named Paramore, a disproven cure for an illness, and a controversy over whether a philanderer can be a fit husband, and you have the makings of a delightful and meaningful play.

Interestingly, many early critics disliked the play. This was only Shaw’s second play.  Still open to considering criticism, he subsequently rewrote the ending, added a third act, and the play took on a different meaning.  (Apparently, there is some value to theatre critics.)  The present Shaw production uses the “new” third act.  The result is a less sentimental and more purposeful play.

The play foreshadows Shaw’s beliefs about the role of “powerhouse women” as highlighted in many of his future plays. 

The acting is universally strong.  Gord Rand reeks philanderer in the title role…suave, beguiling, and devious.  Moya O’Connell as Julia Craven and Marla McLean as Grace Tranfield are on target as “womanly women.” Jeff Meadows is properly flustered and cowed as Dr. Paramore.  Michael Ball (Cuthbertson)  and Ric Reid (Craven) delight as the “older” characters. Harveen Sandhu is character perfect as Sylvia, a “manly woman.”

The sets, the costumes, the musical interludes all help enhance the production.

Capsule judgement: The Shaw production of “The Philanderer,” under the creative direction of Lisa Peterson, is filled with farcical interludes, melodramatic acting, and slapstick, while bannering Shaw’s many political and social causes.  All in all, it is both an enlightening picture of the past, carries implications for the present, and totally entertains.

Shaw's "When We Are Married," is an audience pleasing farce

John Boynton Priestley is a master of writing audience pleasing overblown farce, with underlying political messages.  He is also noted for his “time-slip” writing style that allows him to link past, present and future in interesting ways without following a time order sequence.  This time usage is clearly shown in “When We Are Married.”

The story centers on three couples who were married on the same day, twenty-five years ago.  It is now September, 1908 and they gather to celebrate their silver wedding anniversaries.  As the evening proceeds, through a series of bizzare experiences, they find that since the young vicar who presided over their ceremonies was not authorized to perform marriages, they are, in fact, not married.  Of course, these uptight, very Brit Brits, are hysterical since they have been “living in sin.”  What to do? 

 This is a chance to reevaluate their commitments.  Each couple examines what the consequences would be of their not being married.  Throw in an inebriated cook, a drunk photographer, a noisy reporter, an ADD afflicted housekeeper, and the result is a hysterically funny theatrical experience.

Besides the fun, the play has serious undertones.  Such topics as the aloofness of the British upper class, the self-absorption of these people which is assumed without considering those who they exploit, and the reluctance of the aristocracy to change, all get their due from Priestly.

To fully understand these attitudes it must be noted that the writer is known for his strong left-wing beliefs, which brought him into conflict with the British government.  He is credited with influencing Britain’s march toward becoming a Welfare State. 

Each member of the cast carries out their assignment with the right level of farcical underplay, while retaining the needed realism. 

Jennifer Dzialoszynski, as Ruby, the maid, darts around the stage like the comic book character “The Road Runner,” causing chaos.  Mary Haney delights as Mrs. Northrop, the drunken cook.  

Peter Krantz , as photographer Henry Ormonroyd, quickly established himself as an audience favorite with his inebriated actions.  Each member of the “married” couples, Claire Jullien and Thom Marriott as the Helliwells, Patrick Galligan and Kate Hennig as the Soppitts, and Patrick McManus and Catherine McGregor, as the Parkers, establish clear characterizations, enhancing the farcical style.

Capsule judgement: The Shaw’s “When We Are Married” is a total delight. The laughs run throughout.  The farce is extremely well-keyed by Director Joseph Ziegler. The comic timing is excellent, the exaggerations done to the point of ridiculousness without going overboard.  This is a perfect example of what British farce is all about and how it should be done. 

"A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur" isn't Williams at his best

From the mid-nineteen forties until the mid-nineteen fifties, Tennessee Williams was at his theatrical peak.  His plays, many carrying traces of biographical information and characters, were highlighted by his portrayal of women.  Women caught in the headlights of living in a society which they didn’t understand and which didn’t understand them.  High strung Southern women, often showing signs of mental illness, demonstrating delusional tendencies.  Blanche in “Streetcar Named Desire,” Amanda in “The Glass Menagerie,” and Maggie, in “Cat on the Hot Tin Roof,” all were well-defined William’s protagonists.

Though his writing style and subject matter had changed, by the seventies, near the end of his writing career, ironically, the lead female character in “A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur” seems like a kissing cousin to Blanche, Amanda and Maggie.  

“A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur” premiered at the Spoleto Arts Festival in 1978 to praise.  The production, which starred Shirley Knight and Jane Alexander, was called, “tender, poignant and measurably human,” though it was noted that the play was “a work in progress.”

The final version of the play is now on stage at The Shaw Festival’s Court House Theatre.

Set in 1935 St. Louis, with many references to Williams’ life, including one to the shoe company which is the same as that referred to in “Glass Menagerie,” and where Tennessee worked.  The plot centers on Dorothea, a school teacher, who shares an apartment with her elderly friend, the slovenly, hard of hearing, Bodey.  Upstairs lives a frazzled German-speaking neighbor, who is mentally ill and is afraid to be left alone.

Dottie, as she is called by Bodey, lacks a clear sense of self.  She fantasizes about her “relationship” with Mr. Ellis, her school’s principal, who seduced her in the back seat of his car.  He could be her way out of her present life.

Bodey wants her to date and get married to her twin brother, Buddy.  In order to further their relationship, Bodey has arranged for the trio to go on a picnic to Creve Coeur Park.  Dottie delays going as she anxiously waits for a call from Mr. Ellis.

A haughty fellow teacher, Helena, with motives all her own, wants Dorthea to move out of the “squalor” of her present apartment and move into an upper-end apartment with her.  As part of her manipulation, Helena has brought along a copy of a newspaper, which reveals that Mr. Ellis has recently announced his engagement to another woman.  Dottie is crestfallen.

Will she move in with Helena?  Will she go on the picnic with Bodey and Buddy?
Will she realize that she can be a whole person without having a man in her life?

The play, though it is not the quality of Williams’ earlier works, does have some substance and provokes looks at such topics as female dependence on having a male to complete them, the definition of “friendship,” ethnic stereotypes, and how does one go on after suffering a life-altering experience?

Blair Williams, director of the Shaw production, has developed a watchable, if not encompassing production.   Is the problem Williams staging or the script itself?

Cameron Porteous has designed a claustrophobic set that perfectly fits the mood and uncomfortable living area required.

The cast is quite good.  Deborah Hay moves well through her roll as Dorothea, but to develop a “full blown” Williams woman, she could have been more fragile and desperate.  She seemed to take her rejection and walk toward a wrong solution to her life problems with too much pluck.

Kate Hennig is right on character as the well-meaning, earth mother, Bodey.

Kaylee Harwood portrays the manipulating and overbearing Helena, with just the right level of aloofness.

Julain Molnar is a little over the top as the psychotic Miss Gluck, but the lines Williams gives her allow for little else.

Capsule judgement: “A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur” is not one of Tennessee Williams best plays.  The script just doesn’t have the depth of his major works, and imitates much of the concepts better written about in “Streetcar Named Desire.”  The Shaw production gives the script a credible, but not compelling staging.

Shaw's "The Cabaret" brilliantly staged, but the ending confounds

When “Cabaret,” with book by Joe Masteroff, and music and lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb, opened on Broadway in 1966, audience members were fascinated by the lack of a stage curtain blocking their view beyond the proscenium arch.  Instead, a huge convex mirror was placed center stage.  As each person walked down the aisle to their seats, their distorted figures reflected back at them. 

The musical, based on John Van Druten’s play, “I Am A Camera,” and stories by Christopher Isherwood, showcases the Nazi rise to power in Germany.   Hal Prince, the director, not only wanted to tell that story, but also to make each member of the audience aware that what happened in that time period could happen to their society as well.  To do this, he used the “distancing effect” made famous by Bertolt Brecht, which centered on the theatrical techniques of “historification,” “alienation” and “epic.” 

“Historifiction” centers on presenting a story illustrating some action that has happened in such a way that the audience is aware of it also being applicable to their lives, to today. 

“Alienation” centers on using staging techniques, such as the convex mirror, to stop the audience from losing themselves completely in the play’s narrative.  It forces them to be conscious, critical observers, realize that they are in a theatre watching a play.  Actors speak directly to the audience, viewers see the lighting fixtures, and view the exposed back wall of the theatre.

“Epic” refers to the topic being discussed being bigger than ordinary, not just everyday happenings.  What the play is about is an important issue.

Most musicals of that day started with an overture.  Prince added to the distancing by staging “Cabaret” with a drum roll and symbol crash leading into the opening number.  Social commentary was inserted between scenes and songs to alert the audience to the issues being illuminated.  The unexpected was present, such as having a gorilla and the master of ceremonies do a soft shoe dance, while illustrating a poignant Nazi issue, equating Jews with being animals, not humans.

The musical takes place in 1931 in the seedy Kit Kat Klub, an entertainment venue for gays, prostitutes and the “slumming” Berliners, whose entertainment is presided over by the Emcee.  That character speaks and sings directly to the audience, serving much like a Greek chorus, to comment on what is happening.  

The story centers around a 19-year old English cabaret performer, Sally Bowles, who develops a relationship with Cliff Bradshaw, a young American writer.  A subplot involves a doomed romance between Cliff’s landlady, Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, a Jewish fruit vendor. 

The Broadway opening in 1966, ran for 1655 performances, with Clevelander Joel Grey as the Emcee, Jill Haworth as Sally, Bert Convey as Cliff, and Bertolt Brecht’s wife, Lotte Lenya, as Fräulein Schneider. 

The 1968 London show used basically the same script as the Broadway show.

The script was changed considerably for the 1993 London revival. The Emcee morphed from the asexual character as portrayed by Grey, to an edgy, highly sexualized Alan Cummings, bare-chested, clad in suspenders slung around his crotch and red painted nipples. Songs were sexually charged and the music took on a sharp and often grating synthesized sound.  “Money,” “I Don’t Care Much,” “Mein Herr” and “Maybe This Time” were added to the score.  The latter two were taken from the multi-Academy Award winning movie which featured Joel Grey and Liza Minnelli.

The Shaw Festival’s “Cabaret,” a cross between the original and revival script, is brilliantly staged by Peter Hinton, though his choice for an ending confounds.

Michael Gianfrancesco’s stylized, metal tinker toy, multi-leveled, contemporary set, placed on a revolving turntable, is both a work of art and ingenious.   It allows Hinton and choreographer Denise Clarke to twine bodies into various sexual and compelling positions.  The flow of characters on the various flat and step levels provides for a texturing to the story and the interweaving of relationships. 

Clarke’s choreography is excellent, often compelling.  The only flaw might be the decision to have the Gorilla in “If You Could See Her” pick its nose and scratch for bugs.  This distracts from the serious intention of the song and adds misleading humor.

Paul Sportelli’s musical arrangements help build the play’s underbelly. “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” Kander and Ebb’s “Nazi National Anthem,” are downright scary.  (Yes, that song was written for “Cabaret,” it is not a historical Nazi song.)

The cast is excellent.  Juan Chiorann, though he might have been more sensual, develops a clear characterization as Emcee.  Deborah Hay fortunately does not do a Liza Minnelli imitation as Sally.  Hers is a unique characterization.  Her interpretation of the song, “Cabaret,” adds a foreboding dimension to what many don’t perceive as a strong message song.  She is totally believable as the angst driven, conflicted Sally.

Gray Powell develops a convincing Cliff, a young American trying to escape from his sexuality and his nation’s traditions against it, by entering into a world of decadence, but who still has scruples.  Corrine Koslo as Fraulein Schneider and Benedict Campbell as Herr Schultz each create an authentic person.  Her “What Would You Do,” is a clear message of the personal conflict of non-political Germans as they face the reality of the power of the Nazis and the implications for not giving in to Hitler’s intimidation.  Herr Schultz’s naivety of believing because he perceives he is a German first, and a Jew second, and that he, and his fellow religious community will be spared by Hitler, is highlighted.

Hinton’s decision to end the production as he did ruined what was, until then, a completely amazing production.  As presented, the production ended as Cliff was leaving the country.  A body was revealed hanging in the midst of the steelwork.  Blackout!

A discussion at our B and B table the next morning revealed that most people did not see the body.  Those who did didn’t understand its presence.  Others wondered why the play had “No message ending.”  It was explained that in the newer versions of the play, the Emcee and gay Kit Kat male dancers, with pink triangles attached to their costumes, and Herr Schultz and others with gold stars of David attached to them, were dragged off stage in the opposite direction of Cliff.

That ending brings full circle the use of the “distancing effect” and highlights the intent of the authors.  It would have given the audience the needed message that, as Cliff says to Sally, “If you’re not against all this, you’re for it,” and emphasizes each person’s responsibility, as explained in philosopher Edmund Burke’s concept, “All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

Capsule judgement:  “Cabaret” is one of the American musical theatre’s greatest scripts.  The Shaw production is technically and musically extremely well done.  The production loses its compass as the conclusion leaves issues unresolved, with the shock value eliminated.  Audiences who want entertainment should be very satisfied, those wanting clarity of purpose will be frustrated.

"The Philadelphia Story" delights at The Shaw Festival

When the title “The Philadelphia Story” is mentioned, most people knowledgeable about movies think of Katharine Hepburn.  What they aren’t aware of is the depth of Hepburn’s stamp on the play and the film versions of the script.  The play was written specifically for Ms. Hepburn.  The language, the speech cadence, the style of presentation were direct reflections of one of the theatre’s and Hollywood’s most identifiable and legendary stars.

Philip Barry’s 1939 stage comedy tells the story of socialite, Tracy Lord, whose wedding plans are complicated by not only the arrival of her ex-husband, but an attractive journalist.  The Lord part was inspired by Helene Hope Montgomery Scott, whose sexual and personal hijinks were well known.  She married a friend of Barry’s, and thus,  the facts of her often bizarre life were known to him.   Hepburn loved the script so much that she agreed not only to star in it, but to financially back it by foregoing any salary in return for a percentage of the play’s profits.  She starred in the Broadway production with Joseph Cotton, Van Heflin and Shirley Booth.

The film rights were bought by Howard Hughes, who gave them to Hepburn as a gift.  It was adapted into a film in 1940 and starred Cary Grant, Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart.  It was adapted in 1956 into the MGM musical, “High Society,”
which featured Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra and had music and lyrics by Cole Porter.

“The Philadelphia Story” is an American drawing room comedy which parallels the tone and style of a Noel Coward British humorous investigation and expose of the upper privileged classes.  

Tracy Lord, of the “Philadelphia Lords,” is headstrong and spoiled.  What Tracy wants, Tracy gets!  She is divorced from C. K. Dexter Haven, and is now engaged to George, an uptight, obsessive compulsive snob.  The duo is about to get married at the Lord family’s estate.  This is an era of newspapers reporting on the upper classes, so a reporter and a photographer (early day era paparazzi) are present for the coverage of the impending wedding.  Tracy becomes interested in the reporter and goes skinny dipping with him in the estate’s pool.  The next morning George smugly forgives her actions, but Tracy, now seeing George’s shallowness, breaks off the engagement just as the wedding is to take place.  What happens next?  In order to get the answer you need to see the play, get a copy of the script, or rent the movie! 

After a slow first act, the second act of the Shaw production picked up the pace and became a delightful, cheery, smile piece.

Moya O’Connell, complete with red hair, not only looks like Kathryn Hepburn, but has some of same vocal inflections and mannerisms.  Though imitation is often considered the highest form of flattery, but the lowest form of art, in this case it works well.  The role was written specifically for Hepburn’s speaking cadence and emphasis patterns.  Reinventing the character would not have been wise, so the duplication works.

Thom Marriott makes George so very, very uptight.  Patrick McManus makes Mike into a man of compassion.  Gray Powell is endearing, and makes one wonder why Tracy ever divorced him.  The rest of the cast is excellent.  They each create an individual character that is consistent and caricature correct. 

The sets are eye appealing and appropriate to the era and the opulence of such an estate.  The clothing styles are well designed to fit the mood and reflect the characters. 

Capsule judgement: The  Shaw’s “The Philadelphia Story,” under the able direction of Dennis Garnhum, is a delightful theatrical experience, much in the mood of a Noel Coward drawing room comedy, set in the United States. It is well staged, well acted, and nicely paced.