Thursday, May 01, 2003

Sincerely Yours (convergence-continuum)

Outstanding production outshines script at convergence-continuum

In the late 1960’s and early to mid-70s the big thing in theatre were plays which investigated the “whys of being.” Often based on asking“why do we exist?” these often wordy, esoteric and thought-bending scripts were aimed at that fringe audience who wanted to go to the theatre to think, to be challenged, to experience the out-of the-ordinary. Such a script is Mac Wellman’s ‘SINCERELY YOURS’, now being staged at convergence-continuum.

Convergence-continuum is a small professional theatre tucked into a storefront in Tremont. ‘SINCERELY YOURS’ is its third production. Obviously Artistic Director Clyde Simon and Executive Director Brian Breth have decided that the likes of Neil Simon are not their thing and that Cleveland needs a totally alternative drama center. They intend to make convergence-continuum just that. They have assembled a talented group of actors who share their vision.

Mac Wellman, the most prolific writer you’ve probably never heard of is a former Clevelander. He grew up when this area was dubbed "The Mistake by the Lake." This Cleveland often populates Wellman’s writing, including his signature piece, “Cleveland.” The Poetry Project Newsletter said, "Mac Wellman continues his exploration. . .of a low-rent rural America, festering in the backwater pollution from the urban environment. Wellman's astonishing Ohio-like world has been tagged by some theatre-goers and critics as 'Macland,' a world peopled by cantankerous, wistful, confused and frightened people who have lost parts of their body, their minds and their souls to the perpetual machine of the American dream."

Wellman writes audaciously deconstructive and rambling text. It is often based on the concept that the whole modern view of the world lies in the illusion that the so-called laws of nature are the explanations of natural phenomena. He purports that “It is not interesting at this point in human time to portray the real world as it seems to be in its own terms; but it is interesting to unfold, in human terms, the logic of its illogic and so get at the nut of our contemporary human experience.”

Director Clyde Simon is creative in his staging, most of which takes place in the front seat of an old car, centered in the theatre’s 50-seat, 12 by 20 foot theatre. He is blessed with an outstanding cast. Nina Domingue, as JH--the stranger with a heavy suitcase, is amazing. Her long, curtain closing speech, is riveting. Brian Breth, Lara Mielcarek, Geoff Knox and Josh Spencer shine. The rest of cast is well-focused. Even the pre-show music by Eskimo Taylor is on-target.

The production of ‘SINCERELY YOURS’ is outstanding. It far surpasses the quality of the wordy play. This is a must see for people interested in experiencing fantastic acting, a creatively-staged show, and are willing to wade through a 90-minute intermissionless experience to get Wellman’s obvious message that society is all messed up.

For tickets to “SINCERELY YOURS’ which are a reasonable $12 for adults and $9 for students CALL 216-687-0074. Due to the small audience capacity, early reservations are encouraged.


The woman seated behind me leaned over to her companion about two-thirds of the way through the Cleveland Play House’s production of ‘THE BLUE ROOM’ and sighed, “This is tedious.” The luke warm applause at the conclusion of the production attested to her judgement. ‘THE BLUE ROOM’ David Hare’s adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s ‘LA RONDE’ lacked the spark, creativity and variance needed to keep the audience’s attention.

Through a series of vignettes, ‘THE BLUE ROOM’ tells a circular story of seduction in which ten different couples seek intimacy, love and connection. Each of their encounters, however, brings emptiness, unraveling their illusions and leaving them yearning for something more. Two actors play all of the roles which range from a prostitute to an actress, a cab driver to an aristocrat.

Schnitzler was strongly influenced by his friend Sigmund Freud who, in a 1922 birthday card wrote to Schnitzler, “Your preoccupation with the truths of the unconscious and of the instinctual drives in man, your dissection of the cultural conventions of our society, the dwelling of your thoughts on the polarity of love and death; all this moves me with an uncanny feeling of familiarity." If only Hare’s adaptation and Edward Payson Call’s direction reached those lofty goals.

Hare recognized the possible tedium of the concept when he indicated when adapting the story line that he felt challenged by the potential fatal flaw of the repetitiousness of scene after scene.

When the play opened it became an instant hit. A hit not based on the script or the production, but on the titillation provided of briefly seeing Nicole Kidman in the buff.

In the local production, Bradford Dover and Emily Frankovich perform their roles adequately well. They attempt to give different images to each of the people they portray. Accents, hairstyles, costumes, gestures, and facial expressions vary appropriately. The weakness of the production is not totally theirs.

Besides the same-old, same-old of the stories, Edward Payson Calls’ direction centers on finding a clever gimmick and then beating it to death. Each scene change, and the scene changes are many and long, is accompanied by humorous visualized messages about love, marriage and sex from the likes of Mae West, Bette Davis, Oscar Wilde, Willie Nelson, Dorothy Parker and Shakespeare. At first, this is clever. After a while I stopped looking up to the screens suspended above the stage. In addition, each sex act was accompanied by a slide telling the length of time it took for the coupling to take place. Again, ten time alerts was too much. The number of laughs decreased to silence before the last notification.

Capsule judgement: ‘THE BLUE ROOM’ brings to a close The Cleveland Play House’s mediocre season which was highlighted by two outstanding productions. Let’s hope that next season brings more of the likes of ‘DIRTY BLOND’ and “PROOF’ to the audiences of the nation’s oldest professional theatre. If not, in these times of economic tightness, CPH could be in serious trouble.