Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Shaw Festival--2012 preview

THE SHAW FESTIVAL announces its 2012 season

It may appear to be too early to think about it, but The Shaw Festival, which is located in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada, has announced its 2012 season.

Many Clevelanders take the four-hour drive up to The Shaw, as it is called by the locals, to participate in theatre, tour the “most beautiful little city in Canada,” shop, and eat at the many wonderful restaurants.

The upcoming season includes:
•Ragtime, Terrence McNally-Lynn Ahrens-Stephen Flaherty’s musical about the U.S. melting pot as it relates to immigrants, racism, and Euro Americans in the early 20th century. It is based on E. L. Doctorow’s ground-breaking novel.
•Present Laughter, Noel Coward’s farcical play which the author describes as "a series of semi-autobiographical pyrotechnics."
•His Girl Friday, John Guare’s “screwball comedy of politics and corruption,” which is an adaptation of the film, The Front Page.
•Hedda Gabler, Ibsen’s theatre of realism epic in which the lead character takes on society in her fight for women’s rights.
•The Millionaires. A seldom done Shaw comedy about the richest woman in the world, and the complications she discovers in her search for love.
•Trouble in Tahiti, Leonard Bernstein's jazzy opera of love and longing in U. S. America’s 1950s suburbia.
•A Man and Some Women, a world premiere by little known, but noted British playwright Githa Sowerby.
•Come Back, Little Sheba, William Inge’s story of a wife clinging to the past and a husband clinging to a bottle.
•French Without Tears, Terrance Rattigan’s longest running London show which is billed as “a sexy comedic romp set in the south of France
•Misalliance, a play about marriage, which author G. B. Shaw describes as a long debate in which “the curtain will be lowered twice. The audience is requested to excuse these interruptions, which are made solely for its convenience."
•Helen's Necklace (Le Collier d'Hélène), Carole Fréchette's poetic exploration which has been described as, “A play that is a metaphor of loss and suffering at different levels.
•The Shaw's Reading Series, which explores provocative contemporary plays from all over the world. Dates and details to be confirmed.

It’s a good idea to make both theatre and lodging reservations early, especially with the B&Bs on weekends. Our home away from home is the beautiful and well-placed Wellington House (, directly across the street from The Festival Theatre. For information on other B&Bs go to

The Niagara area is dotted with wineries, many of which, besides offering wine tastings and sales, have fine dining facilities.

There are some wonderful restaurants including the Dining Room located at the Niagara Culinary Institute ( And my in-town favorite, The Grill on King Street (905-468-7222, 233 King St.)

For theatre information, a brochure or tickets, call 800-511-7429 or go on-line to Ask about packages that include lodging, meals and tickets. Also be aware that the festival offers day-of-the-show rush tickets and senior matinee prices.

Go to the Shaw Festival! Find out what lovely hosts Canadians are, and see some great theatre!

Friday, September 23, 2011

A quick critique the Allen Theatre home of the CPH

The Allen home of the Cleveland Play House

I have been asked by inquisitive readers to make some comments about the new facilities.

•I find the new Allen warm and enfolding.

•I love that the designers kept the beautiful old world look of the lobby. The clever use of contemporary carpeting design, which is in the same tones as the ornate walls and decorations, was a stroke of genius to blend the new with the old.

•Inside the theatre, I like the use of metallic scrim to allow for seeing the decorative walls, but blocking them out once the show starts.

•I am disappointed in the seating. In the permanent seats section the rows are somewhat tight. Unlike the redone Hanna, you can’t walk to your seat without others getting up. Because of the shallow raking of the first set of rows, smaller people will have trouble seeing over those sitting in front of them. (My 4’ 10” wife had to sit on two folded coats in order to see the stage clearly.) More than one person complained of hitting their knees on the cup holders which jut into the rows, making for awkward dodging around fellow row members on exits and entrances.

•I did not park in the attached garage so I cannot comment on ease of traversing the walkway into the theatre.

The Life of Galileo

CPH inaugurates its new home with an intriguing look at Galileo

Cleveland Play House is basically all new. It has a new name--no The in its title-- and is housed in a marvelous new facility that blends the traditions of great opulent, old-age architecture with new age modernism.

First to the facility. The Allen Theatre was built to be a movie house. No theatrical trappings were included. It was a long skinny theatre. No attention was given to sight lines, backstage or wing space, or a fly gallery for scenery or set pieces. It was beautiful, but anyone who saw a theatrical production in the space quickly became aware that the acoustics, the ability to clearly see the stage from the hinterlands of the very deep seating areas, were lacking. All that has been changed.

The new Allen is everything that the old Allen wasn’t, except for its initial beauty and the adjustments that have been made to transform the space into a warm, audience friendly contemporary theatre. And, to make things even better, shortly, there will be two more theatres added. This will give CPH something it has never had…flexible spaces that will allow for the selection of a broad range of plays which can be performed in an intimate proscenium, and a flexible black box which can be configured to the needs and wants of the director. Yes, theatre in the round, thrust theatre or any configuration needed. The audiences will be close to the action, the lighting and other theatrical necessities will be top notch and the newest in design. It’s a new beginning for America's first professional regional theatre.

CPH opens its inaugural season in downtown with a compelling production of THE LIFE OF GALILEO. Director Michael Donald Edwards pulled out all the stops to show off the new space. Actors rise off the floor thanks to the rigging system, the stage is displayed in its nude and set adorned modes, projections enhance the visual effect, the closeness of the audience to the stage is used as a device to get the viewers emotionally involved.

THE Life of Galileo, also known as Galileo, is a play by the twentieth-century German dramatist Bertolt Brecht. The play went through various versions from its 1937 beginning to its 1955 rebirth. The latter version became necessary in Brecht’s mind because of the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima, which, according to him, “transferred the positive aspects of science to became a study that was irrational and harmful.”

The story focuses on Galileo, known by many as the father of modern science. Galileo, who is short on cash, adapts “a queer tube thing,” which is being sold on the streets of Amsterdam, into a scientific tool which allows for viewing the stars. Of course, delving into the sciences is dangerous in any country under the control of the Catholic church. Copernicus attempted to explain the solar system in non-God centered ways and wound up being martyred. But, undeterred, Galileo goes forth. When challenged, he stands his ground, but eventually sells out to the church, much to the dismay of his loyal followers. Apparently old and broken, Galileo defies the church and gives one of his former students Two New Sciences, a volume containing his newest discoveries. The book is smuggled out of Italy, and into Lutheran Germany, and becomes the basis for a new age of science.

Though the script is long (about two and a quarter hours) and consists more of talk than action, the CPH production is excellent. The special effects add to audience interest. The high quality of the performances adds to the success.

Paul Whitworth makes for a fine Galileo. He develops a clear and believable character. He wraps himself in the personage of the person who was one of the world’s great thinkers. He elicits both humor and pathos.

Youthful Aric Generette Floyd is delightful and real as Andrea Sarti, a boy who becomes a faithful follower of the great man. Interestingly, he is far more proficient than Sheldon Best, who plays the role as a grown man.

Myra Lucretia Taylor is spot on as Andrea’s mother and Galileo’s trusted servant.

It is nice to see that CPH is using local talents in their new home, including Charles Kartali, Jeffrey Grover, Robert Ellis, Aric Generette Floyd, Eva Gil, Bob Goddard, Andrew Gorell, Dan Hendrock, Michael Herbert, Jeremy Kendall, Kim Krane, Christian Prentice, Jonathan Ramos, Kelli Ruttle, Yan Tual, and Thomas Weil.

Pandora Robertson has done an excellent job of adding both dance and creative movement into the production.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: THE LIFE OF GALILEO, a thought-provoking probe into the life of one of the world’s great scientists, gets a well developed, focused, creative, often funny production at CPH. It’s a fine opener for the inauguration of a wonderful new chapter in the theatre’s history.

Monday, September 19, 2011

You Got Nerve!

YOU GOT NERVE!, a work in progress at Karamu

In 1915, Russell Jelliffe and Rowena Woodham, a pair of Oberlin graduates, opened The Playhouse Settlement House at the corner of East 38th and Central Avenue. Little did they realize that besides getting people of all races and creeds to share common ventures, they were laying the foundation for what today is the oldest African American theatre in America. A theatre that has helped hone such luminaries as actors Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Robert Guillaume, Dick Latessa and Ron O'Neal, as well as playwright and poet Langston Hughes. Cleveland legends Dorothy and Reuben Silver served on the organization’s staff for 21 years.

The Playhouse Settlement was renamed Karamu, a Swahili word meaning "A place of enjoyment in the center of the community,” in 1941. It is indeed a place of enjoyment which has many community building traditions, such as members of the audience being personally thanked by the entire cast during a procession following each show. And, each show starts with a homey interaction between the vivacious Vivian Wilson, the organization’s Marketing Director, and the audience.

In honor of its 97th anniversary, which is named “The Season of Joy and Perseverance,” Karamu Theatre, is presenting a world premiere of a play by its Playwright in Residence, Michael Oatman. A native Clevelander, Oatman, who is a member of the Playwrights Unit at the Cleveland Play House, has written a number of plays including LET IT BLEED, which was premiered at The New Work, New Ways Festival at the University of Nebraska, and BEFORE I DIE; THE WAR AGAINST TUPAC SHAKUR presented at CPH’s Fusion Festival. This year, he was the recipient of the Cleveland Arts Prize “Emerging Artist Award.”

The basic story of YOU GOT NERVE! centers on a group of inner city kids who hassle students at the Cleveland School of the Performing Arts, when the school’s campus is moved into an area that lacks safety. As a result of a fight which ensues, both groups are assigned to community service in the senior citizen’s home which was trashed as it became the uninvited host for the conflict.

As often is the case with the presentation of a new script, YOU GOT NERVE! needs further development. There are some nice moments, such as relating the history of such issues as the poll tax and the connection between the youth and the seniors, but it is definitely a work in progress. some of the language is not that used in natural speech. Lines often sound like written rather than oral language. There are just too many side topics that cause story to lack focus. Teenage love, homelessness, Alzheimer’s, inner city/suburban differences, the African American class system, youth-elderly lack of understanding, historical Black music and entertainers, all come and go within the play’s framework, with none completely developed. What’s the author’s intent and purpose? Specifically, what is he expecting us to carry from the theatre?

The large cast, many of whom are students at the School of the Performing Arts, puts out full effort. There are some nice performances, including those by Chelsea Anderson, who develops a consistent identity as Claire, a bright young lady who lives to sing; Brenda Adrine, as Ms. Adrienne, one of the home’s senior residents, has a nice grasp of the character; and, Antaune Rogers, though playing a character way beyond his years, correctly speaks ideas rather than just words.

On the other hand, there are overdone characterizations with the performers feigning the characters, rather than being the person. Many of the lines seem read, rather than spoken. There is a lack of projection by some actors, so ideas get lost. Director Terrence Spivey needed to work with the cast on realistic performance and idea development. Most of the cast are performers in training, and needed more assistance.

Capsule judgement: YOU GOT NERVE! is a work in progress, both as a script and a production. It’s nice to see Karamu using students from The School of the Performing Arts and blending them with community members to help them broaden their experience base.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Marvelous Wonderettes

THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES is an escapist delight at Beck

Last spring Beck Center presented the musical, JERRY SPRINGER THE OPERA. The production was met with pickets and much controversy. Beck need not worry about hullabaloo with their present production, THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES, unless there is a cat-fight between two audience members wearing the same cotton candy colored prom dress or your candidate for queen doesn’t get elected. (Hey, suggestion to the Beck public relation’s people… have a “wear your prom dress and get in free night.”)

THE MAREVELOUS WONDERETTES is one of those escapist review shows that features familiar music usually sandwiched between some spoken lines that attempt to tell a rather far-fetched story. No one goes to learn anything. It’s all about enjoying the songs and the musical sounds.

And, in this William Roudebush production, there are a lot of songs and musical sounds to enjoy. The voices are good, the costumes era correct, and there is enough humor to get the most stodgy member of the audience to tap his feet and sing along with the 1950s and 60s songs.

The review was the brain child of Roger Bean, whose mother was a varsity song leader, the precursor to the present show choirs (think Glee). The participants entertained at school functions and dreamed of becoming celebrities. A local Brush High School group, The Poni Tails, actually succeeded in having a number one song on the national charts, several more hits, and a brief career.

In 1998, Bean was asked to write a new musical. Supposedly inspired by his mother's past, he assembled a number of era songs and set them into a theme of best friends, singing at their prom, and the ensuing teen-age conflicts. Eventually, The Marvelous Wonderettes opened in New York City in 2008 where it ran until 2010.
Those of you who are old enough, think back to 1958. Those not old enough, this was the era of chiffon, prim and proper, and no worry about recessions or The Tea Party. Travel back to the fictitious Springfield High School prom where we meet the Wonderettes, four girls with crushes, hopes and fantasies as big as their crinoline skirts and hair! Don’t worry about the story line, it is incidental. Just focus on such songs as “Lollipop,” “Dream Lover,” “Stupid Cupid,” “Lipstick On Your Collar,” “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me,” and “It’s My Party.” And finish the evening off by moving forward 10 years, where the group is reassembled for their tenth class reunion.

The quartette consists of the zaftig, outspoken, sensitive Betty Jean (Amiee Collier); the pretty, boy friend-stealing Cindy Lou (Nikki Curmaci) whose dream in life is to be the prom queen; the prim and proper moral leader of the group, Missy (Theresa Kloos); and Suzy (Caitlin Elizabeth Reilly), a gum chewing cutie.

The Beck cast sings well, develops consistent characterizations, moves well and is delightful. Cast members get to vote for the prom queen and get selected to be a teacher heart throb or the French teacher.

The gym prom setting, complete with homemade crepe paper decorations, is perfectly created by Ben Needham. David Glowe’s costume designs are era correct. Caitlin Elizabeth Reilly’s choreography emulates the 50s and later the 60s—the twist, the pony, stroll, hand jive, monkey and the Madison. Musical director Larry Goodpaster has the girls in good voice and the orchestra in perfect tune…underscoring, rather than drowning out the voices.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Beck’s THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES is one of those feel good evenings of theatre that is slight on story and long on escapist entertainment. It makes for a delightful evening of nostalgia.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Grizzly Mama

GRIZZLY MAMA at Dobama, truth may be stranger than fiction

In George Brant’s GRIZZLY MAMA, now on stage at Dobama Theatre, the fictional Deb Marshall moves into the house next to Patty Turnback, an Alaskan Tea Party leader (think Sarah Palin) in order to destroy her. Deb is the daughter of the titular leader of the 20th century women’s movement (think Gloria Steinem) who has supposedly pledged, on her mother’s death bed, to get rid of the ultra-right Turnback. Turnback (note the “clever” play on words) has moved the women’s movement back into the dark ages, the days-of-old when women were homemakers and protected their young against wild animals (liberals). Yes, Grizzly Mamas.

Think the idea is preposterous? Well, think again. On September 20, a new book about Palin will be released by author Joe McGinniss. McGinnis has been studying Palin for three years. He even moved next door to her home to dig up dirt. His purpose? To destroy her by killing the lady’s reputation. So, truth can be stranger than fiction.

On the surface, Brant’s play seems like a farcical, overstated, unbelievable dark comedy of spiteful revenge. It rolls out as a script about murder, motherhood, moose and a bunny rabbit. A little mental digging reveals a study of the relationships between mothers and daughters and how they bond, conflict, love and betray each other.

Brants’ character’s are overdone. Deb is written as a divorced out-of-control suburban mom who reimagines herself as a righteous liberal avenger. Her motivations and actions seem unrealistic. Her daughter, Hannah, is an overdrawn self-centered texting teenager who gets wrapped up in the hunt when she becomes friends with the Grizzly Mama’s daughter. A daughter with a major problem, especially for the daughter of a religious ultra-conservative.

The script was commissioned by Dobama to compliment the political atmosphere in which we find ourselves and is about to explode even larger. It is filled with many clever lines and ideas. Daughter Hannah, for example, explains that she is going to a high school where she is taking an AP (advanced placement) course in Intelligent Design and is writing a required paper on Jesus and the Dinosaurs. Deb goes to a local gun store, where she is sold an Uzi-type gun and gets a free handgun thrown in. In order to stop her daughter from texting, Deb nukes the girl’s cell phone in the microwave, but Hannah’s fingers just keep texting away, even without the phone, assuming that the messages will get to her friends back home by cosmic energy. And, Laurel, Turnback’s daughter, complains because her chastity ring has gotten too tight for her finger due to her unwed pregnancy.

On the other hand, the characters don’t ring true, the lines are often forced, there are so many text message references that, as one member of the audience whispered, “If I hear one more omg, lol, or wuzup, I’m going on stage and strangle someone. (The program has a page listening texting terminology for those who are interested.) The logical bridges between scenes aren’t always clearly developed. One must wonder whether the author is aiming at high comedy, farce, or has some really strong message which gets lost because of the lack of a clear rudder.

There are some excellent performances. Erin Scerbak develops a clear Laurel. She is believable in being conflicted and vulnerable. She often develops meaning beyond what her lines say. Caitlin Lewins (Hannah) plays teenage angst and hysteria with ease. Heather Anderson Boll has some problems developing a consistent character as Deb, but much of that appears to be the lines she is given, not her acting.

Laura Kepley’s direction is generally on-target, but there are some lag times in the pacing.

Jill Davis’s log cabin house design gives the right feel and leaves lots of room for the characters to move with ease. Sound designer Richard Ingraham’s use of “I Am Woman” as background and scene change music, is a stroke of genius.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: GRIZZLY MAMA is not well written, but there is enough humor and nice acting to make it a pleasant evening of theatre that could incite some interesting going home discussions.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Ten Most Incrediblt College Theatres

Online Colleges,, has posted a visual and explanatory article featuring ten college theatres which they refer to as "incredible." It is quite informative.