Saturday, November 29, 2008
CPT’s ‘BOOM’--not your usual holiday fare
The stated mission of Cleveland Public Theatre, which is now staging Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s ‘BOOM,’ is to “develop new work and support emerging artists.” The company “seeks plays that challenge audiences and offer unique theatrical experiences.”
‘BOOM’ fulfills CPT’s mission well.
The play, according to its author, is about "this gay marine biologist who posts a Craigslist ad for what seems like casual sex, and what happens when a female journalism student answers the ad." What appears to be a casual date evolves into something far more momentous which includes Pampers, a baster, a broken leg, fish, Tampons, drums and chains.
The concept of Nachtrieb writing a play about this subject comes naturally. He had the unusual double-major of biology and drama. And the subject is real. As the writer says, "The scientist character is based on experiences I had off the coast of Panama, as a research assistant to a marine biologist. "We were on this spit of sand in an archipelago that's one of the least-populated places in the world. We just watched fish spawn for four months."
The format of the play is unusual. The audience finds themselves in a “museum” observing the acting out of a “play.” Barbara, the “stage manager,” who manipulates the entire experience, makes some changes in the format and the goings-on thrust out of a normal pattern. The question arises as to the reality or lack of reality, the truth or fiction of what we are viewing.
There is an almost science fiction feel. And, after the Bush/Chaney administration which appeared to be centered on leading the nation to doom, maybe the “do we have any control over our lives” is more real than we’d like to believe.
Reviews of the New York and Washington, DC productions used such phrases as, “grandly whacked-out apocalypse fantasy;” “literate, coarse, thoughtful, sweet, inappropriate;” and “wracked by existential anxiety.” One reviewer called it "essentially a dark-themed, light-toned allegory of survival and change."
The CPT production, under the direction of Beth Wood is as good as possible. The cast is excellent and the pacing is right, though the 90-minute intermissionless presentation seems much longer due to the talky script.
Kelly Elliott, she of mobile face and great vocal variety, is delightful as Barbara, She has a wonderful way of being both confused and “in charge” at the same time. Skinny and gawky Doug Snyder, is a born nerd! His Jules is pure scientist who doesn’t have the social graces to realize he is totally off-key to the rest of the world. Laurel Johnson, though often shrill, carries off the role of the Jo, the female reporter trapped in the play’s fantasy, with realism.
Capsule judgement: In spite of the critical raves of previous productions, this is not a play for everyone. The script contains too many words and too little action. It is abstract and leaves one asking, “What is this all about?” If you like Theater of the Absurd , this is for you! If not, go see David Sedaris’ ‘The Santaland Diaries’ which is being staged in CPT’s other theatre.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Exciting theatre season in the Cleveland area
This is the time of year when shopping, party-going and entertainment is at its peak. The local theatres are filling their auditoriums with many holiday goodies.
Cleveland Play House
‘A CHRISTMAS STORY’
November 28 - December 21, 2008
A Cleveland Play House tradition in its 4th year! Based on the movie filmed in Cleveland in 1983, this classic holiday comedy is a funny and sweet tale of growing up in the 1940s suitable for ages 5 and up!
Cleveland Public Theatre
‘THE SANTALAND DIARIES’ by David Sedaris
November 28 - December 20
The elf is back by popular demand! ‘THE SANTALAND DIARIES’ is told from the perspective of a 33-year-old slacker who takes a job as Crumpet, a Macy's Christmas elf.
‘BOOM’ by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb
November 28 - December 20
In this hilarious new work, a female journalism student finds herself surrounded by bourbon, fish tanks and a bunch of scary levers. It's the end of the world as we know it and this is the date to end all dates!
‘CRUMBLE (LAY ME DOWN, JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE)’ by Sheila Callaghan
December 4 - December 20
A quirky new comedy about an old house and Janice, a 12-year old girl with an unusual Christmas list.
Tickets for all CPT shows: 216-631-2727, x501
State Theatre, Playhouse Square
‘RADIO CITY CHRISTMAS SPECTACULAR’
December 4-28, 2008
Features the Rockettes with their signature high kicks and precision choreography in multiple show-topping numbers including the legendary "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" and "New York at Christmas."
Tickets: 216-241-6000 or go on line to www.playhousesquare.com.
December 5, 2008 – January 4, 2009.
Based on J.M. Barrie's tale, this is a high flying musical story of Peter Pan, Wendy, John, and Michael and their adventures in Neverland. Good for audiences of all ages.
44820 Middle Ridge Road
Now through December 14.
A church Christmas program spins out of control in this farce about squabbling sisters, a surly Santa, a vengeful sheep and a reluctant Elvis impersonator.
28601 Lake Road
Bay Village, Ohio
‘MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET’
November 28-Decemberber 21.
Hired by Macy's for the holidays, Kris Kringle believes he is Santa Claus. As events unfold, a small girl's belief in Santa and the magic of the season are at stake.
Great Lakes Theatre Festival
‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL’
November 28 through December 23.
Dickens’ classic tale of Scrooge and Tiny Tim performed at the Ohio Theatre.
Tickets: 216-241-6000 or www.greatlakestheater.org
2355 East 89th Street, Cleveland (free enclosed parking)
December 5 through December 28.
Langston Hughes’ gospel musical is Cleveland’s oldest theatrical holiday tradition.
‘SANDERS’ FAMILY CHRISTMAS’
December 4, 2008 through December 21, 2008.
A heartwarming old-time country musical for the holiday season.
Tickets: 330-342-0800 or www.actorssummit.org.
Posted by Roy Berko at 6:36 PM
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Masterful acting highlights ‘TALKING HEADS 2’ at Beck
Dorothy Silver, who is appearing in ‘TALKING HEADS 2’ at Beck Center, is the reigning grande dame of Cleveland Theatre. Robert Hawks, who is also appearing in the show, is a competent actor. The duo are superb in this production.
Alan Bennett, the author of the Tony Award winning ‘THE HISTORY BOYS,’ which recently had a successful production at Beck, is also the author of ‘TALKING HEADS,’ a series of dramatic monologues written for the BBC. It has also been adopted for live theatre.
‘PLAYING SANDWICHES’ centers on Wilfred, a reformed pedophile living under a false identity and working as a much-praised maintenance man in a public park. However, as a superior begins to pressure him for bureaucratic historical information to include in his personnel file, the pressure causes Wilfred to resume his old ways with horrifying results. Incarcerated, he contemplates his condition, remarking, “It's the one part of my life that feels right... and that's the bit that's wrong.”
Robert Hawkes, who stars in ‘PLAYING SANDWICHES,’ is well directed by Curt Arnold. Hawkes sucks us in as we watch him fight against his tendencies, making us believe and even hope that he will be able to control his desires. As his resolve breaks down, however, we watch as Hawkes’ face and body virtually collapse. This is an excellent performance.
In ‘WAITING FOR A TELEGRAM,’ Violet, an elderly woman in a nursing home has been told she will soon be receiving a telegram from the Queen in honor of her one hundredth birthday. This news triggers in Violet a memory of a telegram which brought news of death on a battlefield, the death of her young lover. Violet gets even more confused when she finds out that her favorite nurse, a gay man has recently died of AIDS. Violet’s present is bleak, her future is bleaker.
Under the adept direction of Reuben Silver, Dorothy Silver completely captivates. This, and her performance earlier this year as Golda Meir in Actors’ Summit’s ‘GOLDA’S BALCONY,’ are two of the finest local female acting gigs of the year. Silver doesn’t act Violet, she is Violet. She brushes wisps of gray hair off her face, displays obstinacy as the world around her becomes frustrating, holds imaginary hands with her male nurse, pounds on the radiator with a spoon when she becomes confused. This is a superb performance.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘TALKING HEADS 2’ is one of those special evenings of theatre. In 90 minutes, including intermission, Hawkes and Silver give a lesson on what good acting is all about! This is a must see!
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Cutesy ‘LEGALLY BLONDE, THE MUSICAL’ entertains at Palace
Some shows are just meant to be entertaining…no great message, no deep thoughts, nothing but joyous fluff. ‘LEGALLY BLONDE, THE MUSICAL,’ is such a script.
The musical, like the movie on which it is based, centers on Elle Woods, a blonde, seemingly ditsy California wealthy sorority girl whose fashion sense far exceeds her common sense. Well, that’s the illusion she gives off. When Warner, her boyfriend, dumps her for someone who is ‘serious,” Elle goes into action, and gets admitted to Harvard Law School (that’s where Warner is enrolled). Her eventual success, both in the classroom and the court room, are foregone conclusions. The lightweight plot takes us on her journey from blonde bimbo to blonde valedictorian.
Okay, maybe there is an underlying belly to the show…be true to yourself, stand up for your rights, and just because you are blonde doesn’t mean you are dumb.
The show was nominated for seven 2007 Tony Award nominations.
The touring production is directed and choreographed by Tony award-winning Jerry Mitchell (‘HAIRSPRAY’). The composer and lyricist are Laurence O'Keefe (‘BATBOY’) and Nell Benjamin (‘SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL’). The book was written by Heather Hach (‘FREAKY FRIDAY’).
The score, which includes “Ohmigod You Guys,” “Chip On My Shoulder,” and “Find My Way,” is catchy. Sprinkled in are some authentic show-stoppers including “The Harvard Variations” and “Bend And Snap.”
In an unusual move, while the show was running on Broadway, and before it went on tour, an MTV version of a taped live production from the Palace Theatre in New York was aired. The show reached more than 12.5 million viewers in its debut weekend. Carrying the connect with MTV further, a talent competition was held to find a replacement for Elle on Broadway. Several of the contestants are in this touring production.
The show has strong Cleveland connections in that Gina Vernaci, the Vice President of Theatricals for Playhouse Square, was involved in the evolution of the production. In addition, a group of ten local women partnered together to invest in ‘LEGALLY BLONDE, THE MUSICAL.’ They attended the Broadway opening of the show.
The touring production is nicely paced. The choreography is good. The sets and costumes are fine.
Becky Gulsvig, who plays Elle, and was the understudy on Broadway, is good, but the part requires more….more sparkle, a fuller voice, a more compelling presence. She isn’t bad, but not up to the level of controlling the show. Jeff McLean has the right pompous attitude as Warner and sings well. Natalie Joy Johnson is delightful as Paulette, the manicurist turned Elle’s friend. D. B. Bonds is top-notch as Emmett, who helps Elle succeed and eventually wins her love. Ken Land, who portrays Professor Callahan, isn’t swarmy enough as the lecherous instructor.
The real stars of the show, at least based on the amount of applause they received, are Frankie (Chihuahua) and China (bulldog), two dogs that were rescued from shelters. (BTW…each of the pooches has an understudy!)
The orchestra often gets carried away and drowns out the singers. That’s a shame as the words to the songs are well crafted.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you like light-hearted musicals with excellent music and some good singing and dancing, you’ll be pleased with this touring production of ‘LEGALLY BLONDE, THE MUSICAL.’
Outstanding ‘A RAISIN IN THE SUN’ at Play House
It seems ironic that the week that this country elected its first African American President, the Cleveland Play House opened ‘A RAISIN IN THE SUN, considered by many to be America’s number one Black-themed play.
What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up Like a raisin in the sun?
This segment of the poem A Dream Deferred by Clevelander Langston Hughes is the underlying theme for Lorraine Hansberry’s ‘A RAISIN IN THE SUN.’
On March 11, 1959, ‘A RAISIN IN THE SUN’ opened on Broadway. The play had already negotiated a long and troubled road just to find its way to the opening. It was the first major on-Broadway play by a Black female author. It thrust many of its rookie Broadway cast members into major entertainment roles including Cleveland-born Ruby Dee, and future superstars Sidney Poitier and Claudia McNeil.
No one could foresee that the play's imminent triumph would mirror the changing role of Blacks in this country and the role the play’s themes would play in African American culture in the years that followed. Though the restrictive covenants have been eliminated, even with Obama’s election, the hatred in the voices and words of some at the McCain-Palin rallies, still warns of racial hatred.
The New York Drama Critics Circle named the Hansberry play the best American play of 1959. Ironically, the play failed to receive either a Pulitzer Prize or a Tony for Best Play.
‘A RAISIN IN THE SUN’ relates the story of the Youngers, a Southside Chicago family trying to survive in cramped ghetto quarters. When Mama gets a $10,000 check from her husband's life insurance, they consider moving to a house in a white suburb. A suburb in which the residents warn that they don’t want a Black family as their neighbors.
A RAISIN IN THE SUN’ is somewhat autobiographical. Chicago, where Hansberry was born in 1930, was self-segregated along racial lines at the time. As a child, Hansberry's family became one of the first blacks to move into a white neighborhood. When their neighbors rebelled, both with threats of violence and legal action, the family defended themselves. The case went all the way to the US Supreme Court where the Hansberrys prevailed, thus changing segregation in housing laws.
The Cleveland Play House’s production, under the watchful eye of director Lou Bellamy is superb. He delves into each deep corner, carefully guiding his cast to not over-play their roles. The production hits all the right notes. The humor and the pathos run in parallel lines. The mood is right…serious, but not depressing.
Franchelle Stewart Dorn is wonderful as mamma. She walks the fine line between family matriarch and mother figure with precision. Erika LaVonn is totally believable as Ruth. Young Aric Generette Floyd, who has recently given some excellent performances, continues to impress! This is one very, very talented kid! David Alan Anderson has the difficult task of playing Walter Lee. This is a part that can so easily be over-done. Anderson keeps his emoting in check. His drunk scene is masterfully done. Bakesta King gives a realistic quality to Beneatha. The rest of the cast is equally impressive. The only negative were some problems with projection and slurring, which caused some speeches to be unintelligible.
Vicki Smith’s scenic design adds to the era-correct feeling of the play. On the other hand, Mathew LeFebvre’s costumes are much too numerous and grand for a family living on the border of poverty.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Combine Hansberry’s superb script with a well thought out production, and the result is an impressive evening of theatre. If you haven’t seen ‘RAISIN IN THE SUN’ before, this is THE production to see. If you have, a return visit is well worth your time. Go! (Be aware that the production is close to three hours in length.)
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Lar Lubovitch Dance captivates, Verb Ballets needs to ask itself some questions
Within the last several weeks, Cleveland’s dance enthusiasts were given several opportunities to see major dance companies. Lar Lubovitch Dance is one of America’s most highly acclaimed dance companies. Verb Ballets is recognized as a leading local company. They both danced at the Ohio Theatre a week apart.
Lar Lubovitch, the founder of the company which bears his name, is generally recognized as a staging super star. He has choreographed more than 100 dances for his New York based company, as well as directing Broadway shows. His background as a painter carries over into his choreography. He uses the bodies of the dancers to paint fascinating pictures. He also directs the costume designers and lighting technicians to enhance his visual images. The overall effect is captivating.
The program, sponsored by Tri-C Performing Arts and DANCECleveland, was performed to a near sold-out house. Their enthusiastic applause and verbal responses attested to their delight with the evenings’ offerings which included a mélange of ballet, modern, contemporary and ethnic dance.
“Allegro,” the opening segment of “Concerto Six Twenty-Two,” was a composition of flowing bodies costumed in white which incorporated lines and circles with a gymnastic center and humorous inserts. “Adagio,” which examined friendship, was totally charismatic. It featured the powerful lifts and intertwining of the bodies of Jay Franke and George Smallwood. “Rondo” had a wonderful “aw shucks” attitude.
“Jangle” was a brilliant interpretation of four Hungarian dances complete with hand slaps, bottle dance-like movements and other ethnic moves. There was a perfect parallel between the musical sounds and the movements.
“Dvorák Serenade” was a balletic interpretation of the music of Antonin Dvorák. Consisting of four segments, it captivated the audience with flowing movements and the creation of attractive visual images. Strong dancing by Mucuy Bolles and Scott Rink, a long-time company member, made the piece captivating.
Capsule judgement: Lar Lubovitch presented a wonderful evening of dance. This is a world class company. It can only be hoped that Tri-C and DANCECleveland will bring back this exciting ensemble.
As exciting as Lar Lubovitch was, that’s almost how disappointing Verb Ballets has been in their recent concerts. Verb has been one of my favorite local companies. In the past I’ve raved about the creative direction of the company. Unfortunately, in the last year or so, I’ve seen a deterioration of energy and creativity. There are seemingly multiple causes. The loss of two strong male dancers who were not replaced has led to the lack of a strong male presence. Company members seem distracted, not displaying enthusiasm, not excited by what they are dancing. The corps has traditionally danced in sync. There was a precision to the movements. This, too, has not been maintained.
“Verb Ballets All Stars!” was an interesting concept. The combining of three Ohio dance companies. The results was a pleasant, but not captivating evening of dance.
The opening piece, danced to Leonard Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms,” was staged by Hernando Cortez, Verb’s artistic director. A strong solo by Brian Murphy, one of the company’s strengths, was the highlight of the piece. The flowing movements, accented by flowing hands and tilted bodies, centered on the religious use of body positions which created illusions of the cross.
‘UNRESOLVED’ was a short piece by the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, which examined conflicted lovers. The piece, which had a strong emotional center, was well received by the audience.
“RUBIES, originally choreographed by George Balanchine, was performed by the Cincinnati Ballet. It was a pleasant piece whose movements did not always parallel the music.
“AFTERIMAGE,” was choreographed by Verb’s Hernando Cortez. It was an investigation of being human and was performed by combination of Verbs Ballets and the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company members. The first segment, “Afterimage,” was adequately danced by Sydney Ignacio, but lacked dynamism and precision. Brian Murphy gave a strong and controlled performance in “Dark Wood.” Hershel Deandre Horner III of the Dayton Company, was very effective in “A Moment More.”
The final segment, 'VESPERS, was performed by Verb Ballets and choreographed by Ulyssses Dove and restaged by Dawn Carter. It was danced to the music of Mikel Rouse. The physically exhausting piece, was generally well danced. The fast movements from chair to chair paralleled the passions and spirtuality of women who have a faith and belief in God that allows them to race physically and emotionally from place to place, life problem to life problem. The only weakness was the consistent breakdown of timing from the middle of the straight lines. One of the dancers was always too early or too late in her movements, thus causing a lack of visual unity.
Capsule judgement: The idea of bringing three major Ohio dance companies together was an excellent scheme. It would be a good idea to duplicate this effort in the future. As for Verb Ballets...it appears that the company’s leadership needs to ask itself how it can regain its past path, because lately the magic is gone.