Sunday, December 16, 2007

Red{the orchestra}


Several weeks ago, Red {an orchestra} performed ‘A RED SOLSTICE.’ A classical orchestra with a twist, Red’s mission is to redefine, redesign and rediscover classical music. It offers a perfect venue to get those young and old, seasoned classical music lovers and neophytes who know nothing about the classics, to experience the sounds of the masters, emerging and emerged. All this with musical proficiency.

Johathan Sheffer, the artistic director and conductor, packages programs that excite and entice. Their solstice program featured the amazing veteran violin soloist, early-teenaged Caroline Goulding, not only playing Vivaldi’s “Concerto No. 4 in F minor,” but also a fast paced Irish fiddling tune. Also featured was 20 year-old Andrew Lipian, he of astounding countertenor voice, and soprano Jung Euh Oh in Heinrich Schultz’s “The Christmas Story.”

Pounding Nails in the Floor with My Forehead

Sean Derry gives tour-de-force acting performance at BANG AND CLATTER

As Sean Derry was literally pounding his head on the floor at the conclusion of ‘POUNDING NAILS IN THE FLOOR WITH MY FOREHEAD,’ now in production at The Bang and Clatter Theatre, I totally empathized.

For two acts I, and members of the audience, had been subjected to and immersed in a series of attacks and tirades using language that was vulgar, angry and outrageous. Almost all things political, social, moral and ethical had come under attack. Almost every foul word and image had been used to assault our senses.

Throughout I could not help but wonder what it felt like for Derry to go through a nervous breakdown nightly. Not only did he have hundreds and hundreds of words to memorize and spit out each night, but the emotional level of the one-person show allows for little time to relax. Almost every line is explosive, there is no calm within the storm.

Eric Bogosian’s ‘POUNDING NAILS IN THE FLOOR WITH MY FOREHEAD’ is a series of character studies, concentrating on men who range from the seriously troubled to those positively repugnant. The monologues were originally portrayed by Bogosian, himself. Since then, a number of actors have taken up the role. I doubt if any one them did a better job than Derry, Bang and Clatter’s co-artistic and managing director.

Bogosian is the writer of ‘TALK RADIO,’ a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He also authored ‘subUrbia,’ ‘GRILLER’ and ‘SEX, DRUGS, ROCK & ROLL.’

The opening segment, “Molecules,” finds a bum in a subway talking in detail about the molecules that infect others from his bodily excretions. It verbally slaps the audience into an awareness of Bogosian’s hateful reaction to the ills of this nation.

Other characters include a guilt-ridden suburbanite, a doctor prescribing the worst medicine in the world, and a “recovering male” who confesses his shame to fashion models in magazines because of the fantasies he harbors about them.

As a reviewer of a previous production stated, “Bogosian has deep-seated anger, and the author’s anguish swings between the longing for numbness and the desire to feel something. Monotony is never a problem in this show.”

Capsule judgment: The show is not for gentlefolk, definitely not for redstaters. It is, however, for anyone who wants to see an amazing performance, probably one of the best performances on local stages this year, and have their mental and physical senses assaulted.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Santa Land Diaries

‘SANTALAND DIARIES’ a pleasant holiday escape at CPT

David Sedaris, author of ‘THE SANTALAND DIARIES, which is getting its umpteenth local production, this time at Cleveland Public Theatre, credits his fame to the attention he got when he read his “SantaLand” essay on National Public Radio.

In 2001, Sedaris was selected to receive the Thurber Prize for American Humor and was named by Time magazine as “Humorist of the Year.” He is the author of the best selling ‘NAKED’ and ‘ME TALK PRETTY ONE DAY,’ both collections of his personal life experiences.

‘THE SANTALAND DIARIES’ is a one-man show which is supposedly a true account of Sedaris’ stint as an elf at Macy’s department store in New York. First read as an on-air essay on December 23, 1992, the material was reworked into a play in 1996 by Joe Mantello. It has since become a staple of the holiday season on both professional and amateur stages.

Under the direction of B. D. Bethune, Cleveland Public Theatre’s production, which stars Doug Kusak, is a pleasant evening of theatre.

Kusak has a mobile face, a good sense of comic timing, nicely underplays the role and is generally delightful as Crumpet, the elf in green velvet smock and red and white stockings. He interacts well with the audience, without making anyone uncomfortable. His highlights are a Billie Holliday interpretation of “Away in the Manger,” and his compassionate final speech when he relates a tale of what may be his working with the “real” Santa Claus.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you are in the holiday mood, and can put up with another jolt of festive cheer, Cleveland Public Theatre’s ‘SANTA LAND DIARIES’ will entertain you.

Friday, December 07, 2007


‘A CHRISTMAS STORY’ delights audience

The gentleman sitting behind me at opening night of ‘A CHRISTMAS STORY’ at the Cleveland Play House, seemed to be an “expert” on all things “A CHRISTMAS STORY.’ Unfortunately, almost everything he was telling his companions in a very loud voice, was mainly incorrect.

According to the self-anointed expert the play “was written by a Clevelander” and “that’s why it is set in Cleveland.” Fact: The story on which the movie and play were both based was written by Jean Shephard who was a Chicago native. The play was written by Philip Grecian, a native of Topeka, Kansas. The play is not set in this area. It is located in the fictional town of Hohman, Indiana.

The “font of knowledge” went on to recount how the movie was made in Cleveland. Well, he was almost right on that one. Some of the scenes were shot in Cleveland, but due to a lack of big snows during January through March of 1983, when the movie was being shot, most of the filming was done in Canada. Yes, it was at 3159 West 11th Street in Tremont, where The Christmas Story Museum is now located, that some of the exterior hourse shots took place. (The interiors were filmed in a studio in Toronto.) And, yes, the parade scene was in front of the now closed Higbee’s Department Store in downtown Cleveland. The film makers had to make fake snow for those scenes.

He also said that the majority of the cast of the film were Clevelanders. Again, nope. The leads were Hollywood professionals, including Darren McGavin who played the Old Man, Melinda Dillon as the mother and Scott Schwartz as Flick. His information on the role of Ralphie was also off-base. He stated that Tom Hanks played Ralphie. No, Peter Billingsley played the role. Hanks did appear on stage in Cleveland as a member of Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival, but he was not in the movie of ‘A CHRISTMAS STORY.’ I guess if you count all the extras in the parade scene (including yours truly) and other street scenes (which also included this reviewer) he might be right on the number of Clevelanders in the film.

And then there was his final pronouncement: “The Chinese restaurant the Parkers went to for Christmas dinner is still in business here.” Wrong, again. The restaurant scene was shot in Toronto. (Some locals have dubbed the C&Y Chinese Restaurant on St. Clair as the present day stand-in for the play’s Bo Ling’s Chop Suey Palace).

With that out of the way, what’s the play about? It relates a delightful, warm and fuzzy 1950s tale, about a mom who knows best; a dad who is a lovable boob; young Ralphie, who wants "an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle, with a compass in the stock and 'this thing' which tells time"; and the adventures of Ralphie and his friends.

There are subplots concerning the major prize the Old Man wins, how Flick is “triple dog dared” into sticking his tongue to a freezing metal pole, Ralphie’s disappointed reactions to his “Little Orphan Annie Secret Society decoder pin,” how Ralphie finally stands up to the bully Scut Farkas, and the next door neighbors' hound dogs who create a worldly hell for the Old Man.

The CPH production, under the direction of Seth Gordon, is generally delightful. It is nicely paced and visually creates the right moods.

Charles Kartali, playing The Old Man for the third time in this venue, populates the role. His tirades, his over-reactions, his anti-Father Knows Best persona is one of lynch pins of the show. Local favorite, Elizabeth Ann Townsend is properly compassionate as Ralphie’s mom. Kolin Morgenstern is delightful as Flick. (He probably should have been cast as Ralphie.) Lily Richards as Esther Jane, the girl who has a crush on Ralphie and Naomi Hill as Helen, the class brainiac, are fine. Christopher McHale, in his third appearance as Ralph (Ralphie all grown up) is full of youthful spirit as the narrator.

It is always dangerous to critique the performances of children. But, since CPH is a professional theatre, which can draw its cast from the entire country’s theatre community, the level of expectations has to be maintained, no matter the age of the performers. So, here goes. Though Billy Lawrence was generally acceptable as Ralphie, he is a little long in tooth to be playing the role. He is more a teenager than a child in size and mannerisms. Some of his performance was robotic, making the audience aware that he was acting, not living the role. Justin Montgomery Peck (Schwartz) had some nice moments, but his poor articulation made it almost impossible to understand his lines. Cameron McKendry (Scut Farkas) was not menacing enough to be playing the bully. He showed good acting presence and would have been better cast in another role.

Capsule judgement: ‘A CHRISTMAS STORY’ is the perfect holiday production to which to bring children and introduce them to the world of live theatre. Unless you’re a theatre critic, the few flaws with the show should not bother you, and all should leave with a warm feeling of life in the “good old days” before Iraq wars, Fox news and the concern over terrorist attacks. Oh, for the street cars on Euclid Avenue and downtown with shopping at Higbee’s and May Company, and being able to have lunch at Mills Cafeteria.

Monday, December 03, 2007


‘PULP,’ a reliving of lesbian fiction of the 1950s, gets a good production at CPT

‘PULP,’ now making its Ohio and regional debut at Cleveland Public Theatre, is a parody of lurid lesbian fiction of the 1950s which centered on the “love that dare not speak its name.” The script, which was written by Patricia Kane, concentrates on the themes of many of those fictions novels: the outsider, the tough broad, the siren and the hyper-sexuality of a renegade sub-society, all of which take place in a gritty urban setting.

The play’s outsider is Terry Logan, a butch woman from Texas, just discharged from the Women's Army Corps. On a train bound for Chicago during a hot summer in 1956, she meets Pepper who figures out that Terry is a kindred spirit and invites her to The Well, a Chicago (gritty urban setting) lesbian nightclub where she works. The club, which features drag performances (women dressing as men) is owned by Ms. Warren, the ice princess (the siren). Terry lets her libido draw her initially to Eva (the hypersexual). As a plot developing device, several other characters have hidden or misguided loves, but by the time the lights go out after 90-minutes of sexual innuendos, sexual explicity, and sexual trysts, three couples have been formed and, if fairy tale endings are your thing, you’ll accept that they will live happily ever after.

An original score of period-sounding songs, with music by Andre Pluess and Warren, are performed with various degrees of proficiency as nightclub numbers. The score sounds familiar, but careful listening will reveal, like pulp novels, that the songs contain strong, overly ripe lyrics. Lyrics like, "Lips that taste of tears lose their taste for kissing."

The script, which is a combination of melodrama, farce and musical review, lends itself to an over-the-top production. How can a play which repeats and repeats and repeats the line, "I'm a lesbian plain and simple. I don't make any bones about it," be done seriously?

Fortunately, for those who will venture to CPT, director Scott Plate uses asides, over-exaggeration and physical underscoring to accomplish the generally well-done production.

Plate keeps the goings centered. The laughs come from the overdrawn characters and the way they are over-played. The cast, with the exception of Maggie Arndt (Terry), are excellent. Arndt is not macho enough, not sure enough, not cocky enough to make us believers. She has an underbelly of vulnerability that is off-setting. Her singing also leaves much to be desired.

Sheffia Randall Dooley, the only Equity member of the cast, and purely the audience favorite, overdoes the role of Eva/Bing, with appealing certainty. She effectively wails her musical vocals.

Allison Garrigan as bar owner Viviane, develops a clear and convincing character as the rigid appearing ice princess. Her opening musical number sets the right mood for what’s to come.

Kimberly Lauren Koljat is consummately sweet as the bartender who befriends Terry. Her crush on Sarge/Winny, one of the drag entertainers who is also an excellent marksman (hey, what did you expect, this is a lesbian-centered script), is tenderly developed. Elizabeth Wood is convincing as Sarge/Winny.

Butch Marshall, the Music Director, plays one mean piano to back up the cross-dressing devas.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: CPT’S ‘PULP’ takes an appropriately contrived script, and makes it into a well planned over-the-top production that generally works well, in spite of a weakly portrayed linchpin character. Will non-lesbian audience members enjoy the show? The very conservative will not. They will probably be uncomfortable with all the same-sex kissing and touching and sexual innuendos. Those of the more liberal ilk probably will appreciate the cleverness for what they see and hear.