Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Times Tributes--2002


Greater Cleveland is blessed with a vital theatre scene. Unfortunately, the local performers, directors and technicians often get little acknowledgment. It is the purpose of the TIMES THEATRE TRIBUTES to recognize theatrical experiences that, in the mind of this reviewer, were excellent.

No attempt is made to name the best in each classification. Actors were not separated by gender or leading or supporting roles. It is also recognized that I did not see all of the productions in the area, so only shows performed in 2002 that I reviewed were considered. Selections are limited to locally produced performances, so none of the professional touring shows are recognized, though actors, directors and technicians who were imported by local theatres were considered.

Thanks to the following for making the theatre scene in the Cleveland area vital and exciting.

A Times Theatre Tribute 2002 for an Outstanding Production to:
AVENUE X, Cain Park
LOVE, LANGSTON, Great Lakes Theatre Festival
MAN OF LAMANCHA, Halle Theatre
MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN, Great Lakes Theatre Festival
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, Great Lakes Theatre Festival
PARADE, Beck Center

A Times Theatre Tribute 2002 for Outstanding Acting to:
Miche Braden, LOVE, LANGSTON, Great Lakes Theatre Festival
Bernie Capenari, THREE IN THE BACK, TWO IN THE HEAD, Dobama
Donald Clark, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUKOO’S NEST, Porthouse Theatre
Derrick Cobey, AVENUE X, Cain Park
Yolanda Davis, CONSTANT STAR, Dobama
Vincent Dowling, MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN, Great Lakes Theatre Festival
Paula Duesing, WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, Actors’ Summit
Robert Ellis, THE LATE HENRY MOSS, Dobama
Susan Ericksen, BRIGHT IDEAS, Cleveland Play House
Annie Fitzpatrick,ONE FLEW OVER THE CUKOO’S NEST, Porthouse Theatre
Amanda Folino, WILL ROGERS FOLLIES: A LIFE IN REVUE, Berea Summer Theatre
Tom Fulton, MAN OF LAMANCHA, Halle Theatre
Tom Fulton, WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, Actors’ Summit
Keith Gerchak, THE MELODY LINGERS ON, Berea Summer Theatre
Keith Gerchak, Parade, Beck Center
Alltrinna Grayson, SMOKEY JOE’S CAFE, Beck Center
Thomasina Gross,ONCE ON THIS ISLAND ,Porthouse Theatre
Ann Guibert, WAVERLY GALLERY, Cleveland Play House
Anna Kitral, THE INTERVIEW, Halle Theatre
Mary Klaehn. BRIGADOON, Porthouse Theatre
Marty Lodge, McMurphy, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUKOO’S NEST, Porthouse Theatre
Andrew May, BRIGHT IDEAS, Cleveland Play House
Joyce M. Meadows, PROPOSALS, Beck
Kate Mulgrew, TEA AT FIVE, Cleveland Play House
Frederick Owens, LOVE, LANGSTON, Great Lakes Theatre Festival
Gary Walker, AVENUE X, Cain Park
Tyson Postma, THE LATE HENRY MOSS, Dobama
Kyle Primous, PARADE, Beck Center
Trinidad Rosado, SMOKEY JOE’S CAFE, Beck Center
Dorothy Silver, THE MAI, Dobama
Nan Wray. HOMEBODY/KABUL, Dobama
Jean Karzour, HOMEBODY/KABUL, Dobama
Ensemble cast: Lisa Black, Tracy Broyles, Kishiko Hasegawa, Holly Holsinger, Brett
Keyser, Amy Kristina, Karin Randoja, Sophia Skiles, Rebecca Spencer, and Chi-wang Yang, BLUE SKY TRANSMISSION: A TIBETAN BOOK OF THE DEAD, Cleveland Public Theatre

A Times Theatre Tribute 2002 for Outstanding Directing to:
Drew Barr, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, Great Lakes Theatre Festival
Loni Berry, adaptation and directing, LOVE, LANGSTON, Great Lakes Theatre Festival
Russ Borski, THE LATE HENRY MOSS, Dobama
Victoria Bussert, AVENUE X, Cain Park
Cleveland Public Theatre
Martin Cespedes, SMOKEY JOE’S, choreographer/director, Beck Center
Scott Spence, PARADE, Beck Center
Fred Sternfeld, MAN OF LAMANCHA, Halle Theatre
Sue Ott Rowlands, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUKOO’S NEST, Porthouse Theatre

A Times Theatre Tribute 2002 for Outstanding Choreography to:
Eric van Baars, ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, Porthouse Theatre
Martin Cespedes, MAN OF LAMANCHA, Halle Theatre
Jimmy Helms, THE LATE HENRY MOSS, Dobama, fight choreography

A Times Theatre Tribute 2002 for Outstanding Technical Achievement to:
John Ezell, set design, MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN, Great Lakes Theatre Festival
Michael Guy-James, set, BLUE SKY TRANSMISSION: A TIBETAN BOOK OF THE DEAD , Cleveland Public Theatre
Gina Leone’s lighting THE WILL ROGERS FOLLIES: A LIFE IN REVUE, Berea Summer Theatre
Don McBride, set design, PROPOSALS, Beck Center
Ron Newell, set design, THE WILL ROGERS FOLLIES: A LIFE IN REVUE, Berea Summer Theatre
Robin Ruth, costumes, ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, Porthouse Theatre
Robert Stegmiller, set design, OVER THE RIVER AND THROUGH THE WOODS, Actors’ Summit
Jeffrey Smart, costumes, THE WILL ROGERS FOLLIES: A LIFE IN REVUE, Berea Summer Theatre

A Times Theatre Tribute 2002 for Outstanding Musical Direction in a Musical
Marcella McElroy Caffie, THE AMEN CORNER, Cleveland Play House
Nancy Gantose-Maier, AVENUE X, Cain Park
Larry Hartzell, MAN OF LAMANCHA, Halle
Nancy Maier, ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, Porthouse Theatre
Danny McElroy, THE AMEN CORNER, Cleveland Play House
Charles Eversole, WILL ROGERS FOLLIES: A LIFE IN REVUE, Berea Summer Theatre
David Williams, SMOKEY JOE’S CAFE, Beck Center
Larry Goodpaster, PARADE, Beck Center

A Times Theatre Tribute 2002 for service to the theatre
ARACA, major contribution to Broadway theatre by a production organization with a Cleveland connection
Don Bianchi, Dobama, lifetime of achievement in Cleveland theatre
Hamlim El-Dabh, music composition, BLUE SKY TRANSMISSION: A TIBETAN BOOK OF THE DEAD , Cleveland Public Theatre
Fay Sholiton, author, THE INTERVIEW, Halle Theatre
TONY N’ TINA’S WEDDING, longest running show in Cleveland theatrical history

Sunday, December 15, 2002

Journey (Ohio Dance Theatre)

Lorain County's Ohio Dance Theatre at CPH

Denise Gula is a fascinating woman. She is not only a creative choreographer, but, fighting against the odds, she has become a very successful dance producer. Her Ohio Dance Theatre, which is housed in Oberlin, is taking a giant leap forward when it presents three performances of 'JOURNEY' at the Cleveland Play House. The piece, an original work of musical theatre, chronicles the historical, emotional and spiritual evolution of African Americans from slave days to the present.

The fact that this is a theatrical dance piece should be of no surprise to Gula’s many followers. From her years as a dancer and performer at Karamu House, to her North Ridgeville High School acting days, to her successful career as an actress, director and founder of the Lorain Community College dance program, and choreographing of many community theatre musicals, she has always combined her acting and dancing background in her work.

'JOURNEY' has been a four-year labor of love. As Gula says, “Like so many projects in this arts climate, it was born of necessity. Financial constraints compelled me to develop a piece using the only dancer I had, a dancer who happened to be black.” She goes on to state, “I thought of making a celebration for Black History Month. Brian Lankar’s photo book about black women 'I DREAM A WORLD' was the source of visual inspiration.”

Capsule judgement: The original piece was 35-minutes long. Now, it is a full-length production. And, it is a production of substance. As one reviewer stated, “this ia a fast-paced show that is worthy of being done on a national basis.” Knowing Gula, and her past history of confronting issues straight on, don’t be surprised if a national production doesn’t follow!

Radio City Christmas Spectacular (Playhouse Square Center)

Rockets high-kick in Christmas spectacular at Playhouse Square

How can anyone give a “bah-humbug” to a production with dancing teddy bears, parading wooden soldiers, performing Snowmen, flying reindeer, elves doing rap, singing poinsettias, dancing toys, a singing Santa Claus, falling snow, camels, sheep, a donkey and a preteen ballerina? And, to top it all off, the entire presentation is built around the high-kicking precision of the Radio City Rockettes. You’d have to be a total Scrooge to even suggest that there would be anything but smiles on the faces of the children of all ages who are flocking to Playhouse Square to see the 'RADIO CITY CHRISTMAS SPECTACULAR.'

The show which features such memorable segments as "The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" and "The Living Nativity," has added a wonderful visual song and dance sequence "Christmas in New York." These, along with “We Need a Little Christmas” (from the musical MAME), “Santa’s Gonna Rock And Roll” (a tribute to Cleveland’s Rock Hall of Fame), a wonderful new tap number, “The Twelve Days Of Christmas,” and “A Teddy Bear’s Dream (a ballet version of “The Nutcracker” featuring bigger than life teddy bears in tutus), lead to cheers of joy. It continues to be a professional, enthusiastically presented spectacular that is hard to resist.

Realizing that not everyone can get to New York to see the show, in 1994 'THE RADIO CITY CHRISTMAS SPECTACULAR' broadened its schedule to encompass other markets. Since then over two million people a year have experienced the excitement. Besides coming to Cleveland, troupes are performing in Detroit, Chicago, Cincinnati, Branson(MO), Atlanta, and The Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville. That’s a lot of kicking and dancing!

The cast includes 22 rockettes, 14 singers and dancers, 4 little people, Santa and Mrs. Claus. More than 200 colorful costumes and 150 hats are used. Each outfit is designed specifically for the show. Nineteen teddy bears appear. Each bear is from a different part of the world and each costume weighs between 30 and 60 pounds. Two camels, 4 sheep and a 1 donkey appear in the nativity scene. It took over thirteen trailer trucks to deliver all the elements of the show to Cleveland.

Capsule judgement: The rockets show is quite a Christmas spectacular!

Monday, December 02, 2002

The Mai (Dobama)

'THE MAI' at Dobama Irish through and through

The Irish are known for their telling of tales which are often long in the relating, center on dysfunctional families, and wander into the maudlin. Think O’Casey, Beckett and Synge and you have a feel for Irish writing. Though Marina Carr, the author of THE MAI, now having its Ohio Premiere at Dobama Theatre, doesn’t consider herself to be in a direct line from all the great Irish playwrights of the past, her play does follow their traditions.

THE MAI is an examination of love and obsession. The play concerns a four generation Irish family who find themselves in constant angst, conflict, and fighting for a sense of self, while being consumed by passion. It takes the view that the greatest love is to be found in another, and supports the myth of finding a soul mate to whom one is completely and eternally bound. In order for that to happen, a person must be willing to let go of her own self. As in much of Irish lore, it is an all or nothing effect, with strong melodramatic underpinnings.

The main character, Mai is a woman consumed by her love of a philandering musician. The love defines her and it controls her. For five years she has survived in his self imposed absence. To entice him back she has built a beautiful home on the shores of Loch Owl. Here, her Robert can compose his music, inspired by her adoration and devotion. It will be a shrine to their love. He returns, but her dreams that he will never leave her again and will be eternally faithful are soon dashed.

Mai's sixteen year old daughter Millie recounts the story, which parallels an Irish legend of tragic lovers who once supposedly lived on the lake where the play takes place. Carr pits myth against reality, illusion against truth, and basic human need against desire. As is the case in most Irish tales, the ending is not one of happiness.

The play is long and has little in the way of emotional texturing except for the actions of Mai’s grandmother. The long speeches and lack of dynamic action are broken by cello interludes which help enhance the mood.

As Mai, Bernadette Clemens never quite convinces of her obsessive love toward Robert. The shadings needed to develop the character are on the surface rather than deep in the soul. Andrew May gives his usual competent performance as Robert. He has to dig to find depth in the character as the part is not written with the same quality as the author uses in developing her women. Sherri Britton and Mary Jan Nottage give fine portrayals as Mai’s aunts. As Millie, Tyler Postma gives a surface level performance.

Dorothy Silver is perfect as Grandma Fraochlan. Her drug induced scene with Tracey Field, who portrays Mai’s sister Beck, is hysterically delightful.

Capsule judgement: Silver, along with the marvelous cello interludes by the very talented Joshua Roman, are reason enough to attend the production.

Sunday, December 01, 2002

A Tune Christmas (Cleveland Play House)

'A TUNA CHRISTMAS/entertains at CPH

First there was GREATER TUNA, a delightful comedy exposing theatre audiences to the residents of Texas’ third smallest town, where the Lion’s club is too liberal and Patsy Cline never dies. Now, there is A TUNA CHRISTMAS. We meet all the town’s eccentric citizens portrayed by two actors playing all 24 characters.

The residents of Greater Tuna are full of holiday spirit, but can they cope with such traumas as a disaster-prone production of "A Christmas Carol" or a yard-decorating contest that's being sabotaged by a mysterious phantom?

The script skewers gun nuts, Baptists, old church ladies, pink-dressed diner waitresses, and just about every other Southern stereotype. This is a He-Haw laced comedy. How can you sit there and not laugh at lines like, “She sounds like white trash at a tent meeting,” “It almost makes me want to go back to school and get my GED,” “Get that out of your mouth, it’s not that kind of thermometer,” and “Even Baptists out to sin once in a while, that’s what the church is for.” Watch as two little old ladies try and kill bluejays with a sling shot and marbles, as a saleslady of weapons encourages everyone to carry guns, or as a pair of midgets stand behind a dutch door ordering food with only their hair in view.

National reviewers have heralded other stagings of the show with such comments as: "I wouldn't want to spend Christmas anywhere but Tuna, Texas,"
“The multiple stories are the stuff of biting comedy -- laced with poignant moments that take one's breath away," and, "A TUNA CHRISTMAS delivers a stocking full of laughs!"

The CPH production, under the guidance of Billy Bob Hoffman, doesn’t produce the delight of the productions starring Joe Sears and Ed Howard, two of the show’s writers and performers. In the local show Dana Snyder is delightful. His characters are each full-blown. He adds emotional nuances to the various men and women he portrays. Chuck Richie, on the other hand, is tentative and doesn’t make the necessary emotional and physical shades between the people he portrays. In his interpretations, pathos and comedy aren’t always separated. In general, the pacing of the production is quite slow, but this should improve as the duo interacts with each other and reacts to the laughs of the audience.

Capsule judgement: 'A TUNA CHRISTMAS' will delight audiences. In spite of some problems, it surely did opening night.

Monday, November 25, 2002

Gina Gibney & Creatch/Company (Cleveland Public Theatre)

DANCE CLEVELAND at Cleveland Public Theatre works well

Dance Cleveland needs a place to present its smaller visiting companies. Cleveland Public Theatre has the Bolton Square Theatre in various stages of restoration. They can use the added income from someone using the facility. CPT’s space lends itself perfectly to dance. It allows the audience to be close to the action. It has excellent lighting and a very danceable floor area. Dance Cleveland and CPT have formed a working relationship that works well for both organizations.

The most recent cooperatively presented works were Gina Gibney Dance presenting 'TIME REMAINING' and Creatch/Company staging 'STUDY FOR A RESURRECTION.' The companies were an interesting contrast. Gibney’s all women's group works for grace and emotional resonance. Creatch’s male ensemble strives for gymnastic, intellectual and powerful achievement to explore and celebrate the sensibility and energy of men.

Gibney’s evening length project centered on the power of time and how it erodes and is renewed. Based on the concept that there is a time for every purpose, the dancers moved in synchronized patterns, blending flowing movements and costumes. The performers created visual images of support, separation and motion. It is interesting that there is kind of charisma that gently demands attention. These are not big, powerful, audience involving movements. She creates a balance between dance and stillness when the body's lines grab the eye and allows the viewer to fill in meaning. Gibney creates exquisite, sensitive choreography.

As one critic has put it, "Gina Gibney has established herself as a poet of modern dance today.” The CPT/Dance Cleveland sold-out audience was very appreciative of the quality of the dancing and the creative talent of the choreographer.

Creatch/Company, a six men ensemble, employs a form of movement entitled contact dance. It uses the body to paint relationships between people. STUDY FOR A RESURRECTION incorporates 13th to 16th century sacred music sung by a fine male ensemble who set the mood for the piece and over look and later entwine within the dancers to create a unit of music and dance.

The brotherhood of dancers creates images of bible stories, art works and AIDS influenced images. Dancing in loose fitting costumes, and sometimes in the nude using gossamer cloth to enhance the visual look of the human form, much like Michelangelo did in his paintings and sculputures, the dancers intertwined by moving underneath, on top of, wrapping around, pushing, rolling together, staring at, jumping and catching each other.

Capsule judgement: The performance was well received by the audience, but repeating the same movements and sounds for over an hour, in spite of the quality of the dancing and singing, created monotony. The program would have been stronger if another form of choreography was introduced to parallel the contact dance.

Other People's Money (Ensemble)

'OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY' doesn't cash in at Ensemble

In these days of corporate greed, insider trading, Martha Stewart-like stock manipulation, Enron and Adelphia cheating, it is entirely appropriate that Ensemble Theatre chose to present 'OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY.'

Jerry Sterner’s black comedy centers on corporate raider Larry "the Liquidator" Garfinkle, who gobbles up companies faster than the doughnuts he keeps in his office and limo. He is pure predator; a gross troll in a classy suit.

Written in 1989, 'OTHER PEOPLE'S MONEY' turns on the conflict between good and evil, David and Goliath. It pits the bad guy Liquidator, who wants to acquire the New England Wire and CableCompany and to plunder its assets and shut it down, against Andrew Jorgensen, the company’s patriarch. It matches small-town business ethics against corporate America’s "Greed Is Good." How do we stave off Larry at the pass? Enter Kate Sullivan, the daughter of Jorgensen’s long time mistress. Kate is an attractive young attorney not above sexual politicking and muckraking. Can she convince Jorgensen that he needs to play the corporate take-over game? In the balance hangs the fate of 1,200 factory workers and the old-fashioned way of doing business.

Will Larry the Liquidator wipe out another nice guy from the landscape of free enterprise? As much as we’d like to think the answer is “no,” the real answer is, “sure.”

If only the production qualities had reached the script’s level. In the hands of the right director and cast, this play would be an audience pleaser. Ensemble’s production never catches fire. Except for Michael Raum portraying Garfinkle in a wonderfully evil, nebbish-not-a-real-nasty guy way, the cast seems to be walking through their performances. They never quite get emotionally involved. The situation is not helped by numerous line glitches, forgotten ideas, static characterizations, and some awkward staging. Everything from the costumes, to the set which doesn’t fit the script’s description, just miss their mark.

Capsule judgement: To be successful Sterner's play requires a black-comic sensibility to fire the plot, Ensemble’s version lacks this. It’s worth attending 'OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY' to see Raum and gobble down a Gilly’s “Not Just Donuts” at intermission. (In the original play Dunkin Donuts was bannered. In Cleveland, it’s Gilly’s which is located in Little Italy which gets the eating honors.) Hopefully, as the rest of the cast gets more comfortable with the material, the production will blossom into a unit that brings full meaning to the play.

Sunday, November 17, 2002

Fall program 2002 (Ohio Ballet)

Ohio Ballet presents pleasing winter program

Ohio Ballet is presenting a very pleasant evening of dance as its FALL PROGRAM. It showcased in Cleveland’s Ohio Theatre on November 15 and 16. It will be repeated on November 22 and 23 at the E. J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall.

FRIENDS AND LOVERS, which consists of three pas-de-deux, examines relationships. It featured strong performances by all of the women dancers and exceptional partnering by Alicia Pitts and Brian Murphy. Young Eric Carvil is improving with each Ohio Ballet performance. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for William Hoppe who still needs to learn the necessary confidence and skills. The live musical accompaniment of Antonin Dvorak’s music was beautifully performed by Linda Nagy Johnston, Madelena Burle Marx and David Fisher.

CAPTURE, choreographed for the Diavolo Dance Theatre, was a fascinating piece. It featured a proficient Damien Highfield and the effervescent Amanda Cobb. Cobb entered and exited a segmented silver half-sphere into which Highfield was attached. The segmented globe rocked and twirled to Juliet Prater’s well-conceived original far eastern music creating a visual illusion of flow and movement.

PYGMALION & GALATEA, choreographed by Jeffrey Graham Hughes, was the weakest segment of the evening. The dance movements were often out of sync with the mood and cadence of the music. In spite of this, Jesica Salomon was wonderful. Unfortunately Dmitry Tubolstev didn’t get physically and emotionally involved in his dancing. He is talented, but his posturing creating overly affected moves and gestures to convey a surface level performance. He failed to emotionally connect with his partner.

SIXTY-EIGHT, choreographed by Leslie Cook, combined music of Simon and Garfunkel, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Buffalo Springfield into a series of dances. It paralleled the musical styles of 1968, the year the Ohio Ballet was created 35 years ago. The highlight was a jazz version of “Summertime” and was beautifully danced by Amanda Cobb and Damien Highfield. Brian Murphy, the company’s strongest and emotionally most involved male dancer, lit up the stage. Strong performances were also put in by Jesica Salomon, Larissa Freude, Kristin Knapp, Alicia Pitts and Mary Beth Hanson.

On Golden Pond (Cleveland Play House)

Selection of 'ON GOLDEN POND' at CPH questioned

Ernest Thompson’s ON GOLDEN POND is a play about aging, love, family and forgiveness. It was an instant hit when it opened on Broadway in 1979. The 1981 film version won Academy Awards for Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn. The present Cleveland Play House’s production is entertaining, eliciting laughs and some tears from the audience.

Why did CPH chose a show that is one of the most-oft done plays on the amateur theatre circuit? According to the show’s program Artistic Director Peter Hackett indicates that he chose it because the Associate Directors of Monomoy Theatre, Mike Hartman and Darrie Lawrence, where Hackett saw the show in the summer of 2000, were available to do the show at CPH. He indicates that he is delighted that they are reprising their roles. There are many in the local theatre community who question whether CPH, which proposes to be a major US professional theatre, should be produce such shows rather than stretching itself by appealing to younger audiences and doing more challenging scripts. That controversy withstanding, ON GOLDEN POND is appearing at CPH and needs to be reviewed.

ON GOLDEN POND centers on two elderly people, Norman and Ethel Thayer, returning for their 48th year to their summer home on Golden Pond in Maine. He has heart palpitations, failing memory and a caustic tongue. Chelsea, their emotionally distant adult-daughter comes to visit along with her “boy friend” Bill and Billy, his 13 year old son by a previous marriage. Billy stays behind as Chelsea and Bill go off to Europe on what turns out to be their honeymoon. We see a transformation in both Norman and Billy as they bond together. The summer ends. The Thayer’s are about to leave when Norman has an angina attack. Will they ever return to Golden Pond?

Carol Dunne’s direction is basically on-key. Mike Hartman is wonderfully endearing as Norman. Darrie Lawrence is fine as Ethel. Kate Levy does well as their daughter. Young Adam Siciliano doesn’t quite allow us to see the transition from a kid ripped apart by divorce who transforms before our eyes into a nice young man under the loving guidance of the irascible Norman. Bill Clarke has created an attractive and functional set. Those who attend ON GOLDEN POND will enjoy themselves.

Capsule judgement: Though a questionable choice for a theatre of the professional caliber, the production is quite effective.

Wednesday, November 06, 2002

South Pacific (Playhouse Square Foundation)

'SOUTH PACIFIC' pleasing but lacks spontaneity at the Palace

When, on March 31, 1943 the curtain came up at New York’s St. James Theatre, and a lone male voice sang out the words to “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” a new era in musical theatre was ushered in. Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein took the art form from an escapist vehicle to a new level when they conceived 'OKLAHOMA.' Most musicals since then follow the Rogers and Hammerstein pattern of the well-made play which is a story line into which the music and the dancing are integrated, a story line that has a beginning, a middle and an end.

They also developed the concept of having the first act end with a problem that will be solved in the second act. The viewer must come back or the solution to the dilemma won’t be know.

The duo also used a writing technique that was uniquely their own. In each of their shows they had a key song that carried a philosophical social message that was the key to the show. In 'THE KING AND I' the decision that had to be made about breaking with the past and moving into modernity was presented in “It’s a Puzzlement.” In 'CAROUSEL' the question of faith and courage was brought forth in “Never Walk Alone.” In 'FLOWER DRUM SONG' the challenge of breaking from cultural traditions was highlighted in, “The Younger Generation.” In what some critics think is their best musical, the 1953 Pulitzer Prize winning 'SOUTH PACIFIC,' the powerful “You Have to Be Carefully Taught,” confronts the subject of racism.

In spite of the brilliance of the script one might wonder whether the touring production of 'SOUTH PACIFIC,' now at the Palace Theatre, focuses on the play or its superstar Robert Goulet. From his solo first entrance, which was met with prolonged applause, to the spotlights which were always a little brighter on Goulet than anyone else, the staging seems to center on him. He is well-suited in voice, age and stature to portray Emile de Becque, a role he made his own in a 1987 revival of the show that toured the US and Canada. Unfortunately, it appears that he has so comfortably fit into the role that he is on automatic pilot. This attitude seems to have been picked up by the cast as they go through the motions of the show.

The tale centers on an island in the South Pacific during World War II. Two love relationships are threatened because of prejudice. Nellie, a nurse from Arkansas, falls in love with the mature French planter, Emile. Nellie learns that he has been married to now deceased islander and has two children. She reacts negatively to his liaison with a dark-skinned native. Lt. Joe Cable denies himself the love of a Tonkinese girl, with whom he has fallen in love, out of the same prejudices that haunt Nellie.

The show’s wonderful musical score includes: “Some Enchanted Evening,” “There is Nothing Like a Dame,” “Bali Ha’i,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out-a My Hair,” and “Honey Bun.”

Amanda Watkins makes a pleasant Nellie. She is attractive, has a fine voice and a nice vitality. Her scenes with Goulet, however, lack the intimacy necessary to make their love seem believable. Brian Noonan, who has matinee idol looks, has a powerful singing voice. His renditions of “Younger than Springtime” and “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught” were show highlights. Armelia McQueen is delightful as Bloody Mary. David Warshofsky needed more abandonment in portraying Luther Billis. The men’s chorus was outstanding.

The orchestra’s musical sound was fine. The choreography lacked creativity. The settings worked well.

Capsule judgement: This production of 'SOUTH PACIFIC' is not bad. It is quite pleasant, but, it lacks that extra spark that transposes a show from good to great.

Monday, October 21, 2002

Social Security (Cassidy Theatre)

Cassidy's SOCIAL SECURITY offers side splitting laughter

Cassidy Theatre is one of the oldest and strongest community theatres in the area, and they do not disappoint in the uproariously funny, 'SOCIAL SECURITY.' Andrew Bergman's script is not for the prudish - there is plenty of sexual terminology (not innuendo) in this one.

The story is of two adult daughters of widow Sophie. Barbara and David are art gallery owners in Manhattan, very wealthy and happy by all appearances. Her sister Trudy is a housewife who cares for her boring accountant husband Martin and her "difficult" mother in the suburbs. When Trudy and Martin declare they are visiting Barbara and David, which is very rare, they know something is wrong. Apparently, their Trudy and Martin's 18-year-old daughter, away at college, is in a "sexual crisis", described in vulgar detail by the timid Martin, and they need to leave immediately to help her. With mom in the car, they plan to drop her off for three weeks while they "save" their daughter. One thinks that Barbara is going to have a heart attack, as she has not lived with mom in "20 years", as she tells us. From the moment when Sophie noisily enters with her walker, we know that the lives of Barbara and David will never be the same.

What ensues is hilarity. There were times when you could not hear the dialogue as the audience was laughing so hard.

Sophie turns out to be a very interesting character, and Barbara introduces her to Maurice, a 98-year-old painter, who takes a fancy to Sophie. Bergman is a good writer, once crowned "the unknown King of Comedy" by New York Magazine in 1985.

With a good script and good casting by director Dan Harper, this play is great fun.

The set could was very sparse and could be dolled up to look more like a wealthy Manhattan loft, but the quality of the script and the acting far supercede any concern about the set.

Particularly noteworthy are performances by Marcia Mandell as the incorrigible, "dumb as a fox" Sophie, Marybeth Orr as the neurotic Barbara, and Nancy Helmrich as Trudy, as the spartan, guilt filled caretaker, whose facial expressions were well crafted and sparse. Don Krosin as Maurice Koenig, the nearly 100-year-old painter, was charming as ever.

Capsule judgement: In Act II, Sophie says to Barbara, "there is no reason to analyze anything," as she listens to her neurotic daughter's analysis of every little thing. Go see this play, and don't analyze. As Sophie would say, "Just enjoy!"

'TOSCA' (Cleveland Opera)

Cleveland Opera's TOSCA Sizzles with Passion:

One attending the opera knows to leave their reality-based thinking at home. Opera is supposed to be entertaining, larger than life, a spectacle to behold, melodramatic or comic, but definitely schmaltzy.

Cleveland Opera's TOSCA fulfills those expectations in Puccini's TOSCA. From the moment the curtain goes up, we see the lavish and detailed sets borrowed from the Seattle Opera and hear the brilliant music of Puccini sung beautifully by the cast. It is simply an excellent production.

Based on historical fact and a play by Victorien Sardou, and libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, the story begins with an escaped prisoner from the Battle of Marengo, Angelotti, who seeks refuge in a church. He meets the painter, Cavaradossi, who is the lover of the opera singer, Tosca. Their conversation is interrupted by the passionate, beautiful and ever-jealous Tosca, and Cavaradossi agrees to meet her that night. He resumes plans to help Angelotti and hides him at his villa.

The Chief of Police, Baron Scarpia, is searching for Angelotti and uses Tosca's jealousy to find him and her lover, Cavaradossi. Scarpia wants Tosca for himself, and poor Tosca has to endure the screams of her lover being interrogated. She reveals the hiding place of Angelotti to save her lover, not knowing that Scarpia will kill him anyway. Scarpia invites her to save her lover by giving herself to him. She pretends to do so, but stabs him instead. Scarpia had promised to do a "fake shooting" of Cavaradossi, but secretly he decided to really shoot him.

Tosca had planned to live happily ever after with Cavaradossi, but realizing he is dead and she has been duped, is not given a chance to grieve as soldiers come for her after discovering she killed the Scarpia. Her last words before jumping from the parapet to her death are: "Oh, Scarpia, the Lord will judge."

Throughout the play, the church is always in the background, and sets up many of contrasts in the story. One audience ember told me that she is amazed by the contrasts in this opera.

In Act I, the contrast between the material life and the spiritual life is evident. Tosca is described as a pious woman who attends church frequently and at one point says to Cavaradossi "not in front of the Madonna" and a few minutes later is kissing him right there! Scarpia, who exudes selfishness, lust and greed from the moment we meet him, is seen lying prone on the ground during prayers at the end of Act I, an act of great piety, and an excellent directorial moment for Mr. Bamberger.

In Act II, when Scarpia is trying to bargain with Tosca for her body, lovely sacred music is heard in the background drowning out his negotiations. Another contrast: Tosca laughs after she kills Scarpia, then slowly walks to get the cross and candles to place by his dead body. Act III opens with beautiful, floating clouds and the clear, sweet soprano of a local shepherd, another contrast to the tragic ending.

One of the most painful moments for Tosca, and a reflective one for the audience, has to be when she is faced with giving her body to the evil Scarpia to save her lover, or to let him die. She prays to the Madonna, and begins to question her faith. "I lived for art. I lived for love.... why do you repay me this way." How many of us have asked God that same question when faced with a tough decision.

There are moments of comic relief, the most poignant one at the end of the play when Tosca is fantasizing about her life with Cavaradossi after the "fake execution" when she shows him how to fake falling after he is shot. Perhaps the author felt the audience needed laughter before the impending tragedy of the death of both lovers.

The performances of all the leads were strong, particularly Antonio Nagore as Cavaradossi, Victoria Litherland, who replaced Elizabeth Byrne at the last moment as Tosca, and Stephen West as Baron Scarpia. There were times when the orchestra drowned them out, but their performances and the music of Puccini allowed the audience to ignore the imbalance.

Capsule judgement: Mr. Bamberger knows how to create a spectacle, and Tosca leaves us wanting more great opera performed in Cleveland.

Sunday, October 20, 2002

Parade (Cassidy Theatre)

'PARADE' enlightens at Cassidy

Cassidy Theatre is noted as a community theatre which tends to play it safe. It produces the likes of Neil Simon comedies and pleasant Broadway hit musicals. That’s what its generally conservative audience wants, and the audience is composed of local taxpayers who financially support the theatre.

But every once in a while the theatre goes out on a wing. They are doing that now with the musical 'PARADE.' They are, in fact, one of the first nonprofessional theatres in the country to tackle this controversial piece. The show has two major blocks to success. The production requires a huge cast, in Cassidy’s case, over 35 bodies. The players must be talented enough to both act and sing their way through a script that requires high drama and good voices. Secondly, the story is very serious, not normally the basis for audience enjoyment.

In 1913, Leo Frank, a Brooklyn-born Jew living in Georgia, was put on trial for the murder of 13-year-old Mary Phagan, a factory worker under his employ. Though innocent, he is guilty in the eyes of everyone around him who. They don’t like that he is Jewish, a northerner, and rich. His only defenders are a governor with a conscience, and his assimilated Southern wife who finds the strength and love to become his champion.

'PARADE' tells the story pretty accurately, even including actual words spoken by the real-life characters. Its goal is to educate people about the tragedy of prejudice. It is successful in doing this. As one critic said, "I left the theatre shaking, horrified at what I'd just seen, moved to tears. Real life dramas are hard enough, but stories this tragic are just shattering." The show won two Tony Awards.

Cassidy is fortunate that its former artistic director David Jecman has returned to take on the production. Jecman has a clear sense of purpose for the staging. He also knows the limits of his amateur cast and has not sugar-coated the material. Don Irven portrays Leo Frank with well-measured compassion. Maggie Wirfel gives a polished performance as Frank’s wife. Jecman, in contrast to most directors, has paid much attention to the supporting players and the effort shows. The highlight of the show is the well-honed trial segment.

Is the production perfect? No, the choreography is weak, some of the acting is very amateurish, several performers over act, and the required southern drawls come and go. But this is a community theatre and an amateur production that has undertaken the staging of a tough show.

In spite of Jecman and the cast’s work, and the high quality of the script, some audience members vocally indicated they didn’t "enjoy" the production. This, of course, was not the universal reaction.

It is ironic that in the area of Cuyahoga county which has had much publicity regarding its lack of openness to minorities, some people would reject their being educated to the horrors of prejudice. People like the woman who vocally complained as she marched down the aisle at intermission, "I didn’t come to the theatre to see stuff like this," ought to realize that not all life’s experiences are meant to be "enjoyed!"

Capsule judgement: This is a show worth seeing!

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Gisselle (American Ballet Theatre)

American Ballet Theatre brings top stars to dance 'Gisselle'

My first exposure to ballet was seeing the Bolshoi Ballet Company dance 'GISELLE' in the Soviet Union. It is therefore, with great anticipation, that I look forward to the American Ballet Theatre bringing 'GISELLE' to Cleveland’s State Theatre from October 30 through November 3. The storybook ballet will be performed by ABT’s stop stars including principal dancers Nina Ananiashvili of Russia’s Bolshoi Ballet and Irina Dvorovenko, who performed with the National Opera and Ballet Theatre of Kiev, Russia. Xiomara Reyes, who danced with Cuba’s national Ballet and the Royal Ballet of Flanders in Belgium will be featured as Giselle.

To appreciate Ballet, the viewer is wise to understand that the first half of the 19th century in Europe was known as The "Romantic Movement" period. Painting, music and literature were swept up in Romantic ideals: questioning the rules of the past, stressing individual expression and experimentation, and moving away from classic themes to the inclusion of more local color, supernatural beings and melodrama.

Ballet was a latecomer to the Romantic style, led by 'GISELLE,' a ballet conceived by Theophile Gautier. The music was composed by Adolphe Adam. The ballet was first performed at the Paris Opéra in 1841. The piece was a success on all levels, gaining critical and public acclaim for the choreography, music, designs and the dancing of all. The strongest endorsement was the fact that a style of hat and a type of fabric were named after the ballet.

Capsule judgement: 'GISELLE' offered audiences an escape to a world of mystery, beauty, danger, and death, a vision that stirred the imagination. What secures its place as the apex of romantic ballet is that in place of the usual happy ending, in which virtue is rewarded, a tragic death followed by a ghostly resurrection is substituted.


Ohio Ballet opens seasonwith 'DRACULA'

When the Cleveland San Jose Ballet exited the Cleveland area it left a void in local dance. This is especially evident in full-length story ballet. Only touring companies such as American ballet theatre staged these often audience-pleasing pieces. Up stepped Ohio Ballet to fill the void. Last season they performed the delightful 'PETER PAN' followed by the less successful, but enjoyable 'HAMLET, THE BALLET.' Their 2002 2003 season started with 'DRACULA,' which turned out to be an inconsistent piece.

The ballet is based on the Gothic tale of Count Dracula, a blood-thirsty vampire which was written by Bram Stoker. The ballet is set to the music of Verdi, Rossini, Bizet, Rachmaninoff and Debussy and was conceived by Stuart Sebastian. It premiered in 1990 with a performance by the Dayton Ballet.

The story lends itself to a grand production. The OBT 12-member company made the production intimate. This “little” performance was even intensified due to the massive stage and auditorium space at The University of Akron’s E. J. Thomas Hall stage. It appeared that Barbara Pontecorvo who staged the production tried to compensate by having her performers give bigger-than-life gestures and movements. It caused the dancers, especially the males, to appear melodramatic and comedic rather than dramatic. This was especially true in the performances of Dmitry Tubolstev, William Hoppe and Eric Carvill. Damien Highfield danced very well, but lacked the evil and grandeur needed to convey the horror of Dracula. Brian Murphy was his usual excellent self, but one must question why the choreographer decided to make his madness look like monkey movements. Amanda Cobb, Kristin Knapp and Alicia Pitts worked as a unit as the Vampire wives. Mary Beth Hansohn, Jesica Salomon, and Larissa Freud danced well. Hansen’s toe-work was outstanding.

The massive amount of music was almost overwhelming. From requiem masses, to piano and organ solos, from nocturnes to preludes, the music changed constantly, yet the choreography often did not parallel the alterations. The fact that the music was recorded also caused ear-jarring changes as the modes and instruments altered.

Capsule judgement: Ohio Ballet needs to be praised for trying to offer the community full story-line ballets. On the other hand, they must be aware of the abilities of their dancers and the small size of the company.

Saturday, October 12, 2002

Laughter in Three Languages (Ensemble)

The Silvers shine at Ensemble

Dorothy and Reuben Silver are the crown jewels of Cleveland theatre. They recently donated their services for a series of benefit performances to raise funds for Ensemble Theatre. Their program LAUGHTER IN THREE LANGUAGES: ENGLISH, YIDDISH AND “YINGLISH” delighted the audience.

Capsule judgement: It was a unique and entertaining evening of reading by the master storytellers.

Man of La Mancha (Jewish Community Center)

'MAN OF LA MANCHA' gets a dream production at Halle

In the dark days of the Spanish Inquisition, the poet Cervantes created Don Quixote, his alter ego, an errant-knight who dares “To Dream the Impossible Dream.” Through the writing device of a play-within-a-play we watch as Quixote, aided by his sidekick, Sancho, and his "lady" Dulcinea, go forth on a quest “to fight the unbeatable foe, to reach the unreachable star,” and to see life, not as it is, but as it ought to be. During the play when questioned about his absurd valor Quixote replies, "I hope to add some measure of grace to the world." It is this premise that was used as the lynchpin by the musical’s script writer Dale Wasserman, musical writer Mitch Leigh and lyricist Joe Darion as the basis for the amazing musical MAN OF LA MANCHA.

The musical is a challenging task for any theatre to undertake. The music is difficult to play and sing, the cast is large, a strong men’s chorus is a necessity, the lead male must be outstanding, and fine technical features are needed to enhance the cast. The Halle Theatre production, under the masterful directing hand of Fred Sternfeld, the musical direction of Larry Hartzell, and the choreography by Martin Cespedes, is outstanding! Keith Nagy’s lighting and scenic designs and Alison Hernan’s costumes amplify the happenings.

The intimacy of the Halle Theatre aids the production. As in its original New York staging at the now-gone ANTA Theatre, the production is “right in your face.” It makes the happenings intimate and involving.

The Halle cast is generally strong. Tom Fulton leaves nothing to be desired in his performance as Cervantes/Don Quixote. His voice is powerful, his stage presence striking, his acting skills character-focused. David Robeano is delightful as Sancho, but his constant cuteness becomes wearing after a while. Tracee Patterson, who sings adequately well, fails to make a real harlot out of Eldonza at the start of the production, thus robbing the audience of the true depth of her transformation to the pure Dulcinea pictured by Don Quixote, a center theme of the story. R. Scott Posey displays an impressive singing range as The Padre. Scott Spence as the Barber and Kevin Joseph Kelly as the Governor/Innkeeper are also strong. The men’s chorus is vocally outstanding, as was the orchestra.

Capsule judgement: MAN OF LAMANCHA is a well-thought out, impressive production. This, along with the stagings of PARADE at Beck Center and Cassidy, give further evidence that the musical theatre is alive and very well in Greater Cleveland’s local venues.

Notwithstanding the excellence of this production one must ask, as the program notes do, “So what’s a theater with a mission of producing plays on Jewish themes doing opening its season with MAN OF LAMANCHA?” In spite of dramaturg Faye Sholiton’s well-written and impassioned attempt to explain, the question is not answered. Halle Theatre plays a role very different from other local theatres. It is subsidized by and is an important part of the Jewish community. It has an obligation to do what other local theatres do not do...present exclusively Jewish-themed plays. When they stray from that, they betray the mission of the theatre.

Saturday, October 05, 2002

Lost Highway (Cleveland Play House)

'LOST HIGHWAY' reveals Hank Williams at CPH

Fifty years after his death Hank Williams is still a country music icon. 'LOST HIGHWAY: THE MUSIC AND LEGEND OF HANK WILLIAMS' reveals his life and legacy, a legend which included such enduring hits as "Your Cheatin’ Heart," "Honky Tonk Blues," "Jambalaya," "Lovesick Blues," "Hey, Good Lookin’," and "Lost Highway." It was a life that included a dysfunctional marriage, alcohol and drug abuse, and a premature death at age 29. It’s a tale worth telling.

Authors Randal Myler and Mark Harelik have developed what might be called a review with dialogue that traces Williams from childhood through death. The play works well until the ending. As written, the script actually has three endings: Williams’ death, his musical resurrection with the song "Your Cheatin’ Heart," and then a tacked on "I Saw the Light." Why the duo decided to go beyond the logical ending is a mystery. They could have saved the two songs for a curtain call if they felt the audience needed to hear these two Williams hits.

Jason Petty, is not only a Hank Williams look-alike, but a Williams sound-alike. He totally captures the man. It is amazing to watch him physically transform himself from the young, dynamic Williams, to the conflicted, withered Williams. Petty is backed up by a gifted group of performers who not only effectively sing and play the instruments of his backup group, the Drifting Cowboys, but are also proficient actors. Cleveland favorite, Mike Hartman, clearly develops Williams manager. Michael W. Howell’s bass voice captivates as a blues singer who influenced Williams in his early years. Margaret Bowman is fine as Williams’ mamma. Only Tertia Lynch fails to develop a believable portrayal as Williams’ wife.

Capsule judgement: If you like Hank Williams you’ll appreciate 'LOST HIGHWAY.' The show is drawing a non-traditional CPH audience. Some attendees were decked out in cowboys shirts, hats and boots. Even some big-haired ladies appeared.

Groundworks at St. Peter Church (Groundworks Dancetheatre)

GROUNDWORKS DANCETHEATRE continues to grow its reputation

David Shimotakahara, the founder and Artisitc Director of Groundworks Dancetheatre, is one of the world’s truly nice people. He is also a genius choreographer and an equally proficienct dancer. He founded the company to "develop and present a new choreography that encourages collaboration with ohter art disciplines." He is also dedicated to bringing the dance to various settings and right in the face of the audience. Groundworks has no permanent home. Like the gypsys, it finds the right places to spread its art. Their latest performances were done at the magnificent St. Peter Church near downtown Cleveland. This is a church that has dedicated itself to a minimalist setting and a maximum purpose. The church stripped itself of ornateness and has become a community religious and arts center.

It is appropriate that Dancetheatre performs in such a venue. The audience sits close up...surrounding the stage, sitting from 3 to no more than 10 feet from the dancers. They experience the dance...hear the shoes squeek on the floor, experience the heavy breathing and see the sweat on the performer’s bodies. They are no passive viewers, they are active, involved.

Shimotakahara’s own choreography, and the guest dance directors that he has invited to particpate, lend themselves to this format. The stress is on dance and the blending of the physical with original music and creative lighting. Sets or costumes aren’t featured.

The recently completed program included four dances and two musical interludes. "Several Truths," danced by Amy Miller and Shimotakahara was a perfect blending of power, flexibility and emotion. The dancers intertwined, rolled, swirled, and gyrated in perfect sync with the atonal music. A metaphor for the many stages of sadness "Tristeza" featured the wonderous Amy Miller in a solo piece set to soaring music which was enchanced by the high domed cathedral. "The Garden," choreographed by Shimotakahara, was presented in its world premiere. Though rather long, the methaphor of the garden’s plants paralleling the creation of life, the wilting and disappearance of those growing flowers as three dancers became two, then one and finally none, worked well. Felise Bagley, Amy Miller and Xochil Tejheda de Cerda grew and departed as one. The piece was well lit by Dennis Dugan and the live music well played by Phil Curtis and Roger Zahab. The last dance segment, "Circadian," also choreographed by Shimotakahara, deals with "the rhythms associated with the earth’s rotation affecting our behavior and biology." The dancers, Mark Otloski , extremely slender and well over 6 feet tall and Felise Begley, petite and just barely 5 feet were, well matched. Their intertwinings and their contrasting sizes helped convey the feeling of free yet attached movements as they flowed in circles and patterns of separtness yet togetherness. The only problem, if there is one, is that all the dances have the same heavy feel. A little frivolity here and there would be welcome.

Capsule judgement: Groundworks Dancetheatre is a Cleveland treasure. They need your attendance at performances. They need your financial donations to keep the company afloat. We don’t want to lose this gem!

The Proudcers (Playhouse Square Center)

Touring version of 'THE PRODUCERS' convulses audience

If you like Mel Brooks’s comedic flair, if you love farce, slapstick, flashy dancing, creative staging and catchy music, you’ll love THE PRODUCERS THE NEW MEL BROOKS MUSICAL. Obviously New York loved the show. It won a record 12 Tony Awards and 11 Drama Desk Awards, and is still playing to sold out houses. Cleveland audiences anticipated loving it. Before opening night 80% of the tickets were sold. And love it they did. The intermission buzz indicated the audience was delighted. As one person yelled, "I’m having the time of my life. This is wonderful!"

What could not be wonderful? There are a chorus line of old ladies dancing with walkers, flapping pigeons singing backup, spouting water fountains, smoke and light effects, a chorus line of convicts, and a wonderful cast. This is funny stuff concocted in the mind of a genius comedic madman.

The musical is based on Brooks’ Academy Award winning 1968 film, THE PRODUCERS. It centers on the fortunes of Max Bialystock, an unsuccessful theatrical producer, and Leo Bloom, a nebbish accountant. They dream-up a scheme to raise money, produce the world’s worst musical staged by the world’s worst director, close the show quickly, and run off with the profits. The problem? Their choice, "Springtime for Hitler" turns out to be a smash hit and they wind up going to jail. "Springtime for Hitler?" That title’s offensive! Well, the entire production can be offensive if you don’t have a sense of humor. Brooks’ has written a play that is an equal opportunity political correct nightmare. He insults everyone...gays, Jews, Swedes, old ladies, World War II vets, hillbillies, blacks, and the Irish, just to name a few. But, it’s all done with overdone comedy and is hillarious.

Capsule judgement: Don’t be afraid that Cleveland is getting a "second rate" cast on the tour. People who saw and loved Nathan Lane and Mathew Broderick in the original cast say that Lewis Standlen and Don Stephenson are every bit as good, if not better. Standlen, who has a long history of being one of the best known of the "unknown" stars of Broadway, has appeared in many hits. Stephenson has an equally impressive record. They are good, very good.

Monday, September 23, 2002

Homeland Security or Charlton Forget You Gun (Habitat For Insanity)

Improve inconsistent but fun at Habitat for Instanity

Habitat for Insanity has recently opened its second comedy revue HOMELAND SECURITY BLANKET OR CHARLTON FORGET YOUR GUN. The two-hour show combines original written sketches and songs dealing with issues such as religion, terrorism, gun control, and America's obsession with itself, along with an improvisational segment.

Comedy is hard to do. Improv is hard to do. There are very few equals to CAPITAL STEPS.
Highlights of the show include a funny and tender segment about a duo attending a Star Wars and Star Trek convention, a wondrous takeoff on the songs from HAIR, a hysterically funny segment by the Big White Rapper, and a minor league baseball broadcast which turns into a sex tryst.

Highlight performers are Ed Ackerman, Jeff Etters, Doug Rossi, Jim Faith and Gretchen Thomas. Adam Brooks does an excellent job of musically underscoring the festivities.

Capsule judgement: Even SECOND CITY has off nights. So, when attending comedy performances and improv you have to stay loose and realize that every minute is not going to be enthralling. In the case of 'HOMELAND SECURITY' go knowing that the material and performance are generally pleasant, some miss the point, and some are even side splitting.

Sunday, September 15, 2002

Homebody/Kabul (Dobama)

Dobama's 'HOMEBODY/KABUL' is a long sit

Tony Kushner is noted as being a political playwright. He has charted German social democratic impotence in A BRIGHT ROOM CALLED DAY. In SLAVS, he probes the death of the Soviet Union. In his most acclaimed work, the two-part, nine-hour epic ANGELS IN AMERICA, he examines personal suffering and betrayal in the worlds of disease, homophobia, and reactionary politics. In all of his plays he uses lots and lots and lots of words.

At the beginning of PERESTROIKA (part two of ANGELS IN AMERICA) a character asks, "The great question before us is: will the past release us?" He continues to probe that question in his rambling new play HOMEBODY/KABUL, which is getting its midwestern debute at Dobama Theatre. Ironically, Kushner wrote the play before 9/11/2001. This makes the work, which is set in Afghanistan, rather remarkable and a little eerie. He talks about places and topics that most Americans weren’t even aware of before that fateful date.

Our journey starts with an hour-long monologue in which Homebody, a middle-aged British matron, offers glimpses of the pain of a loveless marriage as she conjures a stream-of-consciousness vision of an ancient land and culture, a place of "strangeness and beauty." A place from which history dawns and is the burial sight of Cain, the killing brother of Bibical history.

Homebody leaves home to visit Afghanistan and disappears. What happened to her is the mystery that her husband, an uncommunicative communications expert, and her daughter, a neurotic, alienated young woman, strive to discover during the next two acts. Was she killed by a mob offended by her apparent flouting of Muslim female propriety? Is she still alive? Has she taken the veil and married a Muslim doctor? As is his habit, Kushner layers this narrative with fascinating historical facts and observations. In this case, on western and Afghan culture.

Some scenes are powerful such as when a rejected Afghan wife's rage at the West's complicity in bringing the Taliban to power. Some are seemingly meaningless bits of information. In reality, the play could have ended with the conclusion of the first act and been satisfying.

In spite of some brilliant dialogue and philosophical importance, Kushner does not seem to head the adage, “The mind can absorb what the seat can endure.” The major topic at both intermissions on opening night was on the interminable length of the show.

Dobama’s production is well staged. Nan Wray is nothing short of brilliant as Homebody. Robert Hawkes, is properly emotionally challenged as the very linear husband. Scott Platte is effective in his role as an undefined diplomat. Bernadette Clemens is often too strident as the daughter. Jean Zarzour gives a special dimension to the Muslim doctor’s shunned wife.

Capsule judgement: Director Joel Hammer should have been aware that modern-day audiences, even the intellectual ones who generally attend Dobama productions, are not going to cotton to a play that clocks in at 3 hours, 45 minutes. If Kushner wouldn’t cut the script, Hammer should have. Sections could have been red penciled without destroying the message, probably enhancing the meaning.

'CATS' (Playhouse Square Center)

'CATS' claws its way back into Allen Theatre

What more can be said about the musical CATS? The records just keep piling up. CATS is the longest continuously running touring show in U.S. history. It is the longest running music ever in both London, where it is still running, and in New York, where it opened in 1981 and closed on September 10, 2000. It has been presented in 26 countries and over 300 cities and has been translated into 10 languages. But, there may be some new facts to share: the set of CATS consists of 2,500 oversized props, three writers tried to set words to the music for the show’s biggest hit song, “Memory” before Trevor Nunn (the show’s director) wrote the lyrics himself. “Memory” has been recorded by over 150 artists, from Barbra Streisand to Johnny Mathis to Liberace. Barry Manilow’s rendition was a Top 40 hit. The play generated the most jobs in Broadway history. It also generated over $3.12 billion into New York’s economy during its run. Also, did you know that for the Broadway opening, the Winter Garden Theatre was gutted and the roof replaced to accommodate the trip of Grizabela, who sings “Memory” to the Heaviside Layer to be reborn?

The show, which is based on T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, and has music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, has been called “purrfection.” It is credited with being a “marvelous accomplishment.” It won seven 1983 Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best book of a Musical, Best Lighting and Best Costumes.

CATS seems to be the kind of musical that people absolutely love or hate. I don’t quite hate it, but put me in the “I’d rather see a musical with a plot that has more than one hit song” category. That’s not to say that I didn’t find the production appearing on the stage of Allen Theatre in Playhouse Square entertaining, I did. I just don’t see what all the fuss is about. I don’t think CATS compares with WEST SIDE STORY, CHORUS LINE, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, MY FAIR LADY, or CAROUSEL as a great musical. Yes, the costumes are fun. The idea of cats clawing their way around the theatre and playing with the patrons is cute. And, “Memory” is a great song, in fact, probably one of musical theatre’s greatest songs. But, does the show deserve all the accolades? I say, “nope.”

The touring production does the script it’s service. Though they lack some of the intensity of previous productions, the human felines generally are catlike in their actions. The voices are excellent. The sets and costumes are as good as touring shows get.

Capsule judgement: The show was advertised as a format for a whole new generation of theatre-goers to experience the show. By the audience at opening night, the ads keyed in on the right group. The theatre was filled with youngsters. And, yes, the did get an experience. They squealed with delight when a cat sat on the arm of their chairs, they petted the animals when they leaned toward them. One adorable little girl who was very dressed up in her best pink and white dress who was sitting next to me kept up a running commentary comparing the live version to the video she has at home. She was favorably impressed with seeing the show in person. What more can be asked for?

The Amen Corner (Cleveland Play House)

'THE AMEN CORNER' well-conceived at Play House

When it opened on Broadway, terms used to describe James Baldwin’s THE AMEN CORNER included honest, wholly rich, profoundly poignant, vivid, and rich in humanity. These qualities all flow forth in director Chuck Patterson’s well-conceived production at the Cleveland Play House.

James Baldwin was the first of nine children of a clergyman and a factory worker. Born in 1924, he was brought up in New York’s Harlem and became a store front preacher at fourteen. Disillusioned with religion, and then the race relations in America, he moved to Paris and started to write. By the mid 1950’s he was well on his way to being the voice of Black America through novels, plays and essays. He returned to the US in 1960 and became politically active in support of civil rights. His play THE AMEN CORNER was first produced in 1955 at Howard University, the country’s foremost African American institution.

THE AMEN CORNER is based on places, events and people that Baldwin knew well. In fact, it is proposed by literature experts that the character of David is Baldwin’s alter-ego.

The story concerns a store-front Harlem church in the 1950s. The church is presided over by the strong-willed Sister Margaret who sets high standards for her parishioners as well as herself in her attempt to hide from the reality of her past and uncertainty of her present. When her former husband appears, her congregation turns skeptical, her 18-year old son plummets into an identity crisis, and Margaret is forced to deal with a host of personal demons.

The play, typical of 1950 scripts, is overly-long, consisting of three acts and two intermissions. Patterson does not allow the show to slide so the time goes quickly and the audience involvement is high.

Hopefully Elizabeth Van Dyke’s voice holds out through the run of the show. Though her characterization of Sister Margaret is clear and focused her projection is excessive through much of the performance. She is especially strong near the end of the show when she starts expressing meaning through changing line nuances rather than just shouting.

LaShawn Banks (David) has an appropriate undertow of torment throughout. His final speech seems to be Baldwin’s personal statement on who he needed to become and why he had to leave the culture he knew but questioned. When David states, “Maybe I could say something, say something in music,” it is the same statement Baldwin might have asked about his going out and creating literature.

Diane Weaver was capable of developing a vivid character by underplaying the role of Margaret’s older sister. She well showed how screaming can be over-shadowed by nuance.

RaSheryl McCreary (Sister Moore) is very effective as the holier-than-though virgin and conniving trouble-maker.

Cecelia Antoinette and Glenn Turner are strong as the husband and wife team who aid in the final fall of Sister Margaret.

The choral work and gospel presentations, under the musical direction of Marcella McElroy Caffie and Danny McElroy, are sensational. The renditions had the audience clapping and reacting throughout.

Technical aspects were outstanding. Felix Cochren’s two level set was practical and effective though the height of the second level sometimes caused the sound to get lost in the fly space. Myrna Colley-Lee’s costumes were era and purpose perfect. William Grant III’s lighting design was effective, especially considering he had to work with lighting a double level set which is very difficult.

Capsule Judgement: 'THE AMEN CORNER' is a play which is appropriate to the lives of all people, not just African Americans. Though it speaks with the Black voice, it asks the universal question of how we should live our lives, what we do when the world becomes too difficulty for us to face dead on, and how we react when reality hits. This is not a play about race or racial intolerance, it is a play making statements and asking questions about how to live one’s life.

Friday, August 30, 2002

Flanagan's Wake (Irish Rodeo Clowns)

Irish wake can be fun at the Powerhouse

Their advertisements read “Come shed a tear, sing a song or two and share a few pints in this wildly funny and irreverent Irish Wake.” ‘Tis true. Much like TONY N’ TINA’S WEDDING and SECOND CITY, FLANAGAN’S WAKE is an interactive experience that makes for a delightful evening.

The premise is the celebration of the life and death of Flanagan in the mythical town of Grapplin, County Sligo, Ireland. As the audience, who are the “mourners” enter they are confronted by a casket and members of the cast greeting you and asking your name. Every person is given a name tag...all men, true to Irish tradition, are emblazoned with “Patrick” as a middle name. All the women’s first names are, of course, “Mary.” You’ll be called by your new name all night. We meet Flanagan’s long time fiancee, his priest, his mother and others who knew the deceased. As attenders you might be asked to sing one of the deceased’s favorite songs. Or, you might be called on to share a story of an experience you had with Flanagan. Don’t go with the idea of being a passive bystander. It will probably be impossible as the cast members sit next to you, wander around the hall, and engage you in conversation. They do everything except buy you beer, which is available at the bar all night.

The show has been performed for eight years in Chicago. It opened in Cleveland in 1996 at Kennedy’s in Playhouse Square, later moving to the Flats. The local production is performed by the Irish Rodeo Clowns who are a “merry band of actors and actresses who share a common vision to honor the greatest treasure God graced the Irish with, a deep passion for life and love.” Expect to hear blasphemist Catholic statements, many by the “priest.” Expect to hear the unexpected, lines such as “they don’t make Jews like Jesus anymore.” It’s all part of the experience. The more you are prepared to just relax, participate, and have a good time, the more you’ll enjoy yourself. As the program states, “the play may be a bit bawdy or a touch irreverent on occasion, but it is all in good fun.”

The cast list includes 20 performers though only eight appear nightly. As cast members differ greatly in their improv abilities, the show varies greatly according to who is performing the evening you attend.

On the night I attended stellar performances were presented by Gene Foster, who portrayed the mayor, Michael Mueller, adlibbing through the role of Mickey, the brother of Flanagan’s long time fiancee, and John M. Regan as the priest. All seemed comfortable, involved, and quick with the improvisations. Kira Pilat as Tara, the pianist, masterfully ad libs on the ivories to fit the mood of the presentation and fill in with appropriate songs, such as “Danny Boy.”

Capsule judgement: The show ends with the plea, “If you like us, tell 100 or 200 of your friends. If not, shut your mouth.” You’ll probably be telling many of your friends. This is a fun, if not spectacular evening of entertainment.

Thursday, August 29, 2002

Araca Group (Feature Story)--2002

Three Cleveland area "kids" makig it big on Broadway

Little did I realize seventeen years ago as the director of 'THE MUSIC MAN' at Huntington Playhouse that two of the three young men I cast would become the “wunderkinds” of present day Broadway producers. Matt Rego had the first line in the production, Hank Unger the second. Matt’s brother, Michael, who by some flaw in the process I didn’t get cast, worked back stage. Today, the three make up the Araca Group, a four-year-old independent production company which has three hit shows running simultaneously on New York City stages.

In a reunion meeting at Starbucks in Playhouse Square, the day that their 'VAGINA MONOLOGUES' was to open for a second run in Cleveland, the trio recounted their local backgrounds and the road to their present day success. Matt and Michael are members of the family who founded the Rego supermarket chain. They are from Rocky River. Matt graduated from the Western Reserve Academy in 1988. Mike is an ‘86 St. Ignatius grad. Bay Village’s Unger, went through the Bay schools and graduated in 1986. They indicated that whenever they need to get away or when it’s holiday time, they come back to their roots.

They all got their theatre shoes wet at the Beck Center’s Children’s School under the direction of Ted Siller. They also appeared on stage at Lakewood Little Theatre, Berea Summer Theatre, Huntington Playhouse, and Bay, Magnificat and St. Ignatius High Schools. Local people one or all pay homage to include Bud Binns (former producer and director at Huntington), Jerry Masick (a teacher), Jerry Friedman (a Lorainite who was formerly the Managing Director at the Great Lakes Theater Festival) and the late Josephine Abady of the Cleveland Play House.

Were they always interested in theatre? Unger recounts that he used to perform magic shows in his backyard. Even then he had entrepreneurial instincts, charging the neighbors for attending his epics. There was also the production of the 8 mm “Magic Movie” and the numerous horror movies and romantic comedies the trio shot with a video camera.

The Araca Group’s name is not a series of secret letters. It was the surname of the Rego’ s grandfather, Charlie, a Sicilian immigrant. Like the trio he was a gambler who parlayed $300, which he won in a game of craps, into a supermarket chain. The young men are not only gamblers, but have lots of guts. With limited initial success for their theatrical ventures they continued to plot and plan and have succeeded beyond normal expectations.

The road to success started with problems. 'FUGUE,' a 1992 Cleveland Play House production never made it to New York. They then revived 'CLOUD NINE,' a critical success but financial flop. At this point they left show biz. Mike went to law school, Matt went for an MBA and Unger did, as he puts it, “survival jobs.” In 1997 they decided it was time to try theater again. They founded Araca and produced 'SKYSCRAPER,' which didn’t make any money. Then things turned around. The trio met success with 'THE LARAMIE PROJECT,' then 'THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES' and then 'URINETOWN.' 'URINETOWN,' despite its name, is not a “gross out” piece. It is about two kids who fall in love in a city with a water shortage. In a mad attempt to regulate water consumption, the government has outlawed the use of private toilets. The citizenry must use public, pay-for-use amenities. Anyone who refuses to pay is hauled off to Urinetown. What is Urinetown? Nobody knows, for those who are sent there are never heard from again. The show went on to win 2002 Tony Awards for Best Direction of a Musical, Best Score, and Best Book. Many thought it should also have been selected as the Best Musical. Clevelanders will get to see a touring production presented at one of the Playhouse Square theatres during the 2003-2004 season.

Their newest Broadway entry is the critically acclaimed 'FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNE' starring Stanley Tucci and Edie Falco. It is a romance about two people looking for love. Coming up next is 'DEBBIE DOES DALLAS,' which they call “a funny and satirical play based on the porn film of the same name.”

I asked whether based on 'VAGINA MONOLOGUES,' 'URINETOWN' and 'DEBBIE DOES DALLAS' they were concerned about being known as the producers of sensationally titled shows. Their response? “Not if the shows are a hit!”

What is it like producing on Broadway? They describe their present activity as “putting on shows. It as not much different than producing on the local scene.” Lots of frustrated and broke producers wouldn’t agree. Our heros omitted that it takes the talent to be able to spot the right show, mount it in the right way, and have lots of luck!

It’s always exciting to read about Clevelanders making it in the competitive business of show business. May Matt, Michael and Hank continue to reign as successful producers. But, almost more importantly, may they continue to be the very nice people they are, unaffected by success, and still be “hometown guys.”

Saturday, August 24, 2002

Tea at Five (Cleveland Play House)

Kate IS Kate at Play House

Every once in a while a theatre-goer has a special encounter. It usually takes place when a play or a performer so enraptures the senses that the viewer loses track of watching a performance and becomes enmeshed with the happenings. This is the case of experiencing Kate Mulgrew transform herself into Katharine Hepburn during The Cleveland Play House’s staging of 'TEA AT FIVE.'

Matthew Lombardo’s portrait of stage and screen legend Katharine Hepburn is being showcased at CPH before its planned New York opening. Though the subject matter is supposedly well researched, one wonders how accurate it really is. Because of Hepburn’s private nature, her granting few interviews and making few public statements the public doesn’t know the real Kate. Yes, facts reveal that she was born May 12, 1907 in Hartford, Connecticut, the daughter of wealthy, progressive parents. Her movie and theatrical career was filled with many highs and lows, including her being nominated for a record twelve Academy Awards and the winner of four. She was almost killed in a car crash in 1984, a center point of the play’s second act. She was a woman of great determination with clear goals as demonstrated by her statement, "When I started out, I didn't have any desire to be an actress or to learn how to act. I just wanted to be famous." Her trip toward fame started in 1932 when she starred in her first film, 'A BILL OF DIVORCEMENT.' Her final film appearance was 'LOVE AFFAIR' in 1994. Now 95 she lives in her family home in Connecticut.

Questions abound about Hepburn. Even though she married, was she a lesbian? What was the real story behind her twenty-seven year dysfunctional relationship with Spencer Tracey, her tempestuous equal? How deeply was she scared by her family’s history of suicides, including the death of her fifteen year old brother? Is she presently the victim of short term memory loss and non-responsive? Was she really caustic and abrasive? The play hints at some of the answers, leaves others untouched. Those who are interested in the real dirt will not find everything that inquiring minds want to know from 'TEA AT FIVE,' but there is enough to satisfy most appetites.

Mulgrew, herself, has a long illustrious professional career. Probably best know for her role of Captain Kathryn Janeway on 'STAR TREK: VOYAGER,' she also had leading roles in TV’s 'RYAN’S HOPE,' 'KATE COLUMBO,' 'MURPHY BROWN' and 'CHEERS.' Her list of film and theatre performances is also impressive.

Ms. Mulgrew’s performance as Hepburn far surpasses the quality of the material. Presented as a conversation with the audience, there are often forced moments and missing links. Mulgrew storms right through these flaws. Her voice is Hepburn’s, high pitched, with the familiar crackles in the first act, deeper and well modulated in the second. Her gestures, movements of her cigarette holding hand, her head tilts, her hair flips, her mouth pursing, the Parkinson disease tremors in her speaking and moving are right on target,. She traverses the emotional highs and lows with ease. This is one talented actress giving a tour-de-force performance.

Unlike Hepburn, Mulgrew is “unbelievably lucky in encountering this man (candidate for governor Tim Hagen) whom I love so deeply and admire so much.” The couple split their living time between their Olmsted Township home and an apartment in Manhattan. She states she is “hoping for a home in Columbus next year after my husband is elected governor.”

Capsule judgement: Tickets for 'TEA FOR TWO,' which had a record-setting pre-opening sale, are scarce, but making the effort to obtain ducats is worth the endeavor. Not only is Mulgrew wonderful, but the production values are high. Storm clouds, rain, snow and a complete rebuilding of the Hepburn house between the first and second acts grace the stage.

Thursday, August 22, 2002



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Friday, August 16, 2002

Vagina Monologues (Playhouse Square Center)

VAGINA MONOLOGUES poignant, funny, thought provoking

Many plays entertain. Others make important social psychological points. Still others help bring about change. Eve Ensler's 'THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES' does all of those. The most important side-journey for the play has been the establishment of V-Day, a non-profit organization that has raised over five million dollars to be used in stopping violence against women.

The play is a series of first-person vignettes, some hilarious, others heartbreaking, which illuminate women's lives. Ensler said she was inspired to write 'THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES' after being shocked by how a friend described her body in a discussion on menopause. Drawing on more than 200 interviews, Ensler chronicled how women felt about their intimate anatomy and turned these narratives into "poetry for the theater."

"Let's just start with the word 'vagina,'" the first monologue begins. "It sounds like an infection at best, maybe a medical instrument: “Hurry, Nurse, bring me the vagina.” It doesn't matter how many times you say it, it never sounds like a word you want to say. It's a totally ridiculous, completely unsexy word."

As the narration continue the audience quickly realizes that they are laughing but sometimes through tears. Some parts of the script are humorous such as when an actress moans the various types of climaxes...the Aretha Franklin moan, the baby moan, the Southern Woman moan, and the machine gun moan. Other parts are disturbing, such as a Bosnian refugee recounting the horrors of rape in war. "Not since the soldiers put a long thick rifle inside me," the passage states. "So cold, the steel rod canceling my heart. Don't know whether they're going to fire it or shove it through my spinning brain."

Is the material intentionally sexual? Is it meant to titillate and offend for the sake of selling theatre tickets? No, it is an attempt to make the female human body a reality, not something of which to be ashamed. It is meant to talk about the problems of women in a non-secretive way. Does that mean it will not offend some? The narrow minded, those who don’t understand that the words are words which express ideas and physical sensations, will probably walk out. Several did on opening night. Too bad, they probably were the ones that needed to hear the message.

The production concept is simple. There are three women, sitting on stools, dressed in nondescript clothing, reading their lines with the use of note cards. The importance of THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES is what is said, not how it is performed. That’s not to say that the cast is not excellent, it is. We just don’t need sets, costumes and special lighting to make the point...the dialogue does it all.

The Cleveland performances features Margot Kidder from August 13th to 18th. Dee Perry of National Public Radio’s Cleveland affiliate WCPN-FM will step in for the remainder of the run. Kidder is probably best known for her Lois Lane role in the 'SUPERMAN' films which starred Christopher Reeve. Kidder uses her husky voice and facial expressions well. She ad libs to late enterers, the men in the audience, and responds humorously to the concept of having sex with Superman, the man of steel! Also appearing in the show are New York actors Starla Benford and Kristen Lee Kelley, the touring production anchors who are both very proficient and obviously emotionally involved in the production.

Capsule judgement: 'THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES' is an important play to see and experience, whether you are a female or male. It’s message is universal. And, by the way, if you want a reverse version of this production watch out for 'MY JOHNSON SPEAKS!' by Dave Goodman, a celebration of maleness, which is supposedly a hysterical male answer to 'THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES' and may soon be presented at a local theatre.

Sunday, August 11, 2002

Quills (convergence-continuum)

convergence-continuum, new professional theatre premiers with 'QUILLS'

It’s rough to build a new theatre, develop a company, set a clear agenda for what is going to be accomplished, and stage the first show. This is even more nerve-racking when you have your entire life savings invested in the adventure.

This is the case with Clyde Simon, the Artistic Director and Brian Breth, the Executive Director of convergence-continuum, Cleveland’s newest theatre company. The duo met while at Kent State. They went their separate ways for a while. Simon moved on to a New York theatre career. Breth acted in various local theatres while holding a day job. They finally came together and decided it was time to offer the North Coast a new view of theatre. They contend that their purpose is to present plays that none of the local theatres are doing. They will also run from Spring to Fall, which is a season when most other serious theatres take a break. The fact that their new facility, The Liminis, located in the Tremont area, is air-conditioned gives them the luxury of this unusual timing.

Simon and Breth created The Liminis theatre by purchasing a home that was built in 1860, renovated it into a personal living space, two smaller apartments, and a theatre that will seat 40 to 60, depending on the seating configuration.

As the duo states in the program notes for their first production,“We have long felt that theatre in Cleveland was the equivalent of comfort food. Familiar, bland, and safe. We longed for more challenging fare, theatre that forces us and our audiences out of our comfort zones--both by what is presented and how.” To preview their goals they selected the controversial 'QUILLS.' The show does yell “not traditional fare.”

As Doug Wright's Obie Award winning play warns, “You are about to embark on a gothic tale of virtue and vice, of comedy and terror, of love and shocking erotica, of brutal censorship and, ultimately, the uncrushable spirit of the human imagination.” It continues, “ Be forewarned. This is the imagined story of the final days of the Marquis De Sade, the writer, rebel and sensualist who explored the darkest, even criminal impulses of human passions and was proclaimed at once among the most devilish monsters and the freest spirits the world has known.”

The Marquis De Sade, from whose name sadism comes, was banished to the Charenton Asylum for the Insane by Napoleon in an attempt to quiet his “vile” writings and to "cure" him of his wicked desires. The play, as did the movie version which starred Geoffrey Rush, allows us to glance into the Sade's cell and experience how he was befriended by the progressive young asylum director Abbe Coulmier, a priest who believed in treating his patients humanely and providing means for creative expression. In this atmosphere, the Marquis found it easy to strike up a friendship with the comely young laundress Madeleine, who helps him to smuggle out his prolific writings. The play recounts how the writer’s pen was silenced through a series of hideous acts that rivaled those created by De Sade himself. On an intellectual level, it examines the conflicts between art and censorship, libido and inhibition, morality and brutality, passion and persecution.

Though sometimes hard to watch, this play is both seductive and thought-provoking. Potential audience members should be aware that full male nudity, what some would consider repugnant language, sexual narration and heinous physical acts are contained in the presentation.

Convergence-continuum’s production is uneven. Though it lists itself as a new professional, non-equity theatre, the acting levels were often not at a professional level. Simon, who has the looks of a character actor, built well into the role of the Marquis. The handsome, boyish-looking Breth was excellent as Abbe de Coulmier. Unfortunatley, much of the rest of the cast was not up to level of the leading actors. Supporting performers often lacked clear characterizations. The use of accents and overacting were distracting. Laughs were often the result of stressing titillation rather than meanings. The production was also very long with the audience being confused as to when each act ended.

There is an old saying in the auto business that one should be aware that as a new car comes on the market adjustments will need to be made. The same needs to be understood with new theatres. Be aware that convergence-continuum, Cleveland’s newest theatre model did present a thought-provoking play that many local theatres wouldn’t produce. The major performers were proficient. The new theatre space is intimate and well-suited for scripts that larger theatres can’t accommodate. Now we wait for adjustments to be made to correct the flaws.

Capsule judgement: Welcome convergence-continuum. May you have many years of success and quickly mature into a Cleveland landmark performance venue.