Saturday, September 26, 2009

Ten More Minutes From Cleveland

Dobama moves into new home and presents a new play at a gala event

Dobama is fifty years old. The theatre company celebrated its birthday by moving into its long awaited new home on Lee Road in Cleveland Heights with a gala sold-out fund-raising event that found many of the area’s theatre people rejoicing in the birth of an arts venue.

As is befitting of Dobama, whose previous abodes have been a bar in a hotel, a converted bowling alley and nooks and crannies in various buildings, other theatres and churches, their new digs are the former swimming pool of an old YMCA building, which is connected to a library. It is a wonderful black box theatre that will serve this wonderful theatre well, thanks to yeoman work by a dedicated board, chaired by Bill Newby, Managing Director, Dianne Boduszek, Artistic Director Emeritus, Joyce Casey and Artistic Director, Joel Hammer.

There are many myths, many of them wrong, about how the theatre company came into being and got its name. Here’s the skinny…the real story. How do I know? I was there, the second that the idea came out of Don Bianchi’s mouth. I was there when the plan was further developed. I was there when the first production took form.

Spring, 1959. The setting? The gymnasium/auditorium of Euclid Shore High School, the home of Euclid Little Theatre. A rehearsal of William Inge’s ‘PICNIC,’ with Don Bianchi as the Director. Don left the practice to go before the ELT board with his proposal for the next season. Fifteen minutes later he came storming back. Don was livid. He came in shouting, “Okay, that’s it! We’re out of here! I’m going to set up a theatre where we don’t have to get permission to do any kind of play we want to do. We don’t have to have tryouts!” We sat down on the floor of the gym and started to toss out ideas. ‘PICNIC’ was presented and we never looked back. A meeting was held within the next several weeks in the Bianchi’s dining room and DO (Don), BA (Barry Silverman) and MA (Mark Silverberg), gave their names to the endeavor. No, Dobama doesn’t mean anything in Swahili or any other language. It was simply named for the artistic director, the key actor and p.r. guy, and the major financial backer. Some other people who were in on the formation include Shirley Singer, Marilyn Bianchi, Glenn Beurkel, Ivan Wolpaw, Rhoda Koret, Lee Zinner, Marv and Fran Buffington, and myself. We opened the first show at Chagrin Valley Little Theatre, moved to Quad Hall Hotel’s bar, and then to the bowling alley on Coventry. Then, the community became the theatre’s home. And, now, Nirvana!

As for the opening show at the new facility? It’s a farcical often self-loathing look at Cleveland, the city we love to hate. It’s our city, the city that award-winning playwright Eric Coble now claims as his home, and the setting for his latest script, ‘TEN MORE MINUTES FROM CLEVELAND.’

Coble offers a view of the city in 10 different venues, with each segment taking about ten minutes. He keeps the scenes glued together by concentrating on two characters. One, a life-long resident, who during the course of the goings-on, attempts to search for his Cleveland security, his “blankie” of remembrances…going back to his family’s Catholic church, visiting Patterson’s Fruit Farm the site of childhood pleasures, stopping in at the coffee shop at CWRU, his alma mater where he met his wife.

The other lynch pin of the play is a young lady who has recently come to town to house sit and work on a temp job assignment as a p. r. consultant. Since she is geographically challenged, she runs into all sorts of problems finding her way to her place of employment. In the process she finds out about all the rules and regulations of Shaker Heights, where she is living. (Did you know that you can get fined for front lawn grass over two inches and there are strict rules about what are considered recyclables and how to pack them?) Her ride on the Euclid Corridor HealthLine, with miles of Cleveland Clinic buildings, weird fellow passengers, and her attempt to find someone in the vast wilderness, void of people, which is known as Public Square, add to her frustrations. She runs into a group of perpetual tailgaters at the Municipal Parking Lot, finally arrives in Little Italy, where by some immaculate intervention she finds a parking space on Mayfield Road (now you know this is a fantasy/farce) and eventually gains an understanding of the “mistake on the lake,” “the best location in the nation,” and “the city on the burning river.”

The quality of the script is inconsistent. Some scenes are well written and delightful, such as “Shaker Heights,” “Little Italy” and “Cleveland Heights.” On the other hand, “City Hall,” and “Municipal Parking Lot” just don’t hold together well.

The acting is appropriately over-the-top. Joel Hammer lets his performers play around because as is his mantra, “This is only a play.” Realism has no place here.

Nick Koesters, is hysterical, as the man who searches for security after losing his job, and becomes more and more maniac as the “plot” unravels. Carly Germany is wonderful as the newcomer who exposes us to a view of the city from someone who hasn’t been taught to be happy in misery. Maryann Elder, Laurel Brooke Johnson, Nathan Lilly and Michael Regnier, add to the insanity.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you are looking for reality, a well-integrated script, and are uncomfortable by gross exaggeration, ‘TEN MORE MINUTES FROM CLEVELAND,’ isn’t going to be your thing. On the other hand, if you can just sit back, accept that this is a piece of writing that attempts to make fun of, while trying to explain why we, the locals, put up with the weather, the embarrassment of our athletic teams, and the flaws of our politicians, you’ll have a good time.