Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Cleveland Plays: Part I, Migration

Dobama has nice idea, but script by committee doesn’t work

Cleveland is in the doldrums. The Cavs didn’t win the championship; the Indians can’t hit; foreclosures keep piling up; schools are in chaos; flight from the “Best Location in the Nation” continues, the on-again, off convention center/medical mart seems to be on hold.” My oh my, how can we perk the place up? I know, let’s put on a show!

And, that’s what Dobama decided to do, put on a show to build some pride in the city. Not one show, but a series is planned with the encompassing title of, ‘THE CLEVELAND PLAYS.’ They are now presenting ‘PART I: MIGRATION.’ Good idea. Unfortunately, like a lot of things in Cleveland town, the dreams worked better than the execution.

The script goes in too many directions and lacks a unified voice. Eric Coble, Nina Domingue and Eric Schmiedl are award winning playwrights. They know this city well. All of them have the best intentions, but never developed a thread to wind its way through the concept. Note, I did not use the word story, because there really isn’t a story.

There are a lot of local places mentioned: Solon, Slavic Village, Cleveland Heights, Mt Pleasant, Lakewood, Rocky River, Hough, Beachwood, Buckeye, East Cleveland, Euclid. There are Cleveland landmarks noted like Malley’s and Shaker Square. Even people’s names are thrown in, such as Manny Barenholtz, the developer of Walden in Aurora. There is a good general overview of how we got here, thanks to the confused Moses Cleaveland, who comes back to “lead us out of here” and complains because we misspelled his name.

Wait, why is Clevealand, who lead us into this area, leading us out? That’s never made clear. Also not made clear is why Lenny (George Roth) is spray painting the city. And, why is pregnant Nisha (Nina Domingue) so intent on photographing people and places in the area, with no means of support, refusing to move to Columbus, where her husband has been offered a job?

There are some good performances. Courtney Schloss takes on many roles with great success. George Roth looks and acts totally confused (is this great acting or the lack of coherent lines?), Nina Domingue is the usually competent Nina. On the other hand, Robert Williams (as Domingue’s husband) presents flat lines and Michael Regnier keeps changing accents and doesn’t really develop a clear characterization as Moses Cleaveland.

Steve Schultz’s projection design gives us some interesting views of the city and a lot of porches to observe.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Nice idea Dobama. Good attempt to get us out of our doldrums. Too bad it didn’t work…the Cavs still lost, the Indians still can’t hit, and the mortgage crunch continues. Maybe Part II will be better.