Sunday, April 17, 2005

Ten Minutes to Cleveland (Dobama Theatre)

Cleveland's will delight in 'TEN MINUTES TO CLEVELAND’

It was with both delight and sorrow that I recently watched ‘TEN MINUTES FROM CLEVELAND’ at Dobama Theatre.

The delight was in being part of the world premiere of Eric Coble’s generally well crafted play about what it is like living on the North Coast, the Mistake By the Lake, the city whose river caught fire, the one city that has two different personalities, and the town where if you don’t like the weather you can wait five minutes and it will change. Ah, yes, Coble knows Cleveland well. It’s even more amazing that this young playwright who has pegged this city right on, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland and was brought up on the Navajo and Ute reservations in New Mexico and Colorado.

The sorrow is that this is the last major production to be staged in Dobama’s ex-bowling alley home in the basement on Coventry. Having been part of the company since its start as an actor and public relations director; having helped pull out the bowling lanes; having mourned the deaths of both Donald and Marilyn Bianchi, the hearts of Dobama; watching the production was painful. Yes, Dobama will live on, but with an entirely new aura.

Do you have to be from Cleveland to appreciate ‘TEN MINUTES TO CLEVELAND?” Well, let’s put it this way. If you don’t know about the failing conditions of the Detroit/Superior Bridge, who operates the stalls in the West Side Market, the foibles of RTA, the village within the village at Legacy Village, the size of the Cleveland Clinic, the attempts to gentrify Tremont, the frustration of being a Cleveland Indians’ fan, the folly known as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the goings on in the Flats...well, then you won’t get most of Coble’s in-jokes.

Each member of the cast, under the adept directing of Eric Schmiedl, plays multiple roles. They generally change characters, accents, attitudes, and costumes with ease. Nick Koesters, who goes ballistic when his West Side Market vendor parents decide to sell Lo-Carb pierogies, turns in a highlight performance. He is also wonderful as the drunken Indians fan, a resident of Legacy Village, and the Lakeview Cemetery spray paint artist. His attempts at dancing as he changes set pieces is worth the price of admission.

Nan Wray is alternately hysterically funny as a Legacy Village shopper who decides to live there permanently and a the wife of a Janis Joplin groupie who wants to have sex in the backseat of Joplin’s car which is now housed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She is touching as the daughter whose mission is to put flowers on her mother’s grave while saving the city from graffiti.

Mark Moritz hits a high note as the ex-Case physics professor who predicts that if one more bolt falls out of the Detroit/Superior Bridge, the structure will fall, and as the developer of the low-carb pierogi and the Joplin groupie. Unfortunately, he was much too literate as the Tremont owner of a garbage strewn backyard complete with a car up on cinder blocks.

Jimmy Woody hit emotional chords as the African American father holding two menial jobs which he gets to by riding the RTA. His scene with Sadie Grossman was the play’s dramatic highlight. He was less successful as a Clinic patient.

Kimberly Brown plays the perfect foil as the jogger who Moritz convinces that if she runs across the bridge it could fall down, is properly indignant as a Tremont urban pioneer and is perfectly harried as a Cleveland Clinic doctor with a quota to treat.

Sadie Grossman’s dull look as a drunken flat’s party-goer was the height of visual comedy.

Set Designer Todd Krispinsky’s inspiration was the well crafted painting “Cleveland in Motion for the Millennium” by local artist Hector Vega. It is a perfect choice. Each of the scenes is depicted in the painting, which is inscribed on the floor and walls.

Coble’s play is uneven. Parts were hysterically funny, others emotionally satisfying. However, several scenes such as the Cleveland Clinic and Rock Hall segments begged to be funny and the Flats segment tried but failed to develop a message. The play’s ending, with the snow falling and bolt cascading onto the stage, was priceless.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Every Clevelander, east or west sider, should see ‘TEN MINUTES FROM CLEVELAND.’ It is a trip through the city that even Lolly the Trolley won’t reveal. And you should attend to say goodbye to Dobama in the converted bowling alley that has been its home since 1964!