Friday, December 21, 2012


TIMES THEATER TRIBUTES--2012

Greater Cleveland is blessed with a vital theatre scene. It is the purpose of the TIMES THEATRE TRIBUTES to recognize theatrical experiences that, in the view of this reviewer, were excellent and deserve recognition.

Only shows performed in 2012 which I reviewed were considered.  Selections were limited to locally produced stagings, so none of the professional touring shows are recognized, though actors, directors and technicians who were imported by local theatres were considered.  Actors are not separated by gender, equity or lack of union affiliation, or leading or supporting roles.
           
2012 BEST DRAMATIC PRODUCTIONS
4000 MILES, Dobama (Director:  Joel Hammer)
OF MICE AND MEN, Blank Canvas  (Director:  Patrick Ciamacco)
PROOF, Lakeland Civic Theatre Civic Theatre (Director:  Martin Friedman)
THE NORMAL HEART, Ensemble Theatre (Director:  Sarah May)
THE VELOCITY OF AUTUMN, Beck Center for the Arts Center (Director: Eric             Schmiedl)
THE WHIPPING MAN, Cleveland Play House (Director: Giovanna Sardelli)

2012 BEST MUSICAL THEATRE PRODUCTIONS
BLOODY, BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON, Beck Center for the Arts (Director:  Scott Spence)
MY MOTHER’S LESBIAN JEWISH WICCAN WEDDING, Actor’s Summit (Director:  Neil Thackaberry)
SPRING AWAKENING, Beck Center for the Arts/Baldwin Wallace Musical Theater Program (Director: Victoria Bussert)

2012 BEST CHOREOGRAPHY IN A MUSICAL THEATRE PRODUCTION
Gregory Daniels, SPRING AWAKENING, Beck Center for the Arts/Baldwin Wallace Musical Theater Program
Martin Céspedes, ANNIE, Beck Center for the Arts
Martin Céspedes, BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON, Beck Center for the Arts

2012 BEST PERFORMANCES IN A THEATRE PRODUCTION
Brian Zoldessy, THE NORMAL HEART, Ensemble Theatre
Dorothy Silver, 4000 MILES, Dobama
Dorothy Silver, THE VELOCITY OF AUTUMN, Beck Center for the Arts
Elizabeth Conway, PROOF, Lakeland Civic Theatre
Patrick Ciamacco, OF MICE AND MEN, Blank Canvas
Russell G. Jones, THE WHIPPING MAN, Cleveland Play House

2012 BEST PERFORMANCES IN A MUSICAL PRODUCTION
Beachman, Kelvette, ONCE UPON A MATTRESS, Mercury SummerStock
Coleen Longshaw, THE COLOR PURPLE, Karamu
Dan Folino, BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON, Beck Center for the Arts
Jesse Markowitz, AVENUE Q, Cain Park
Lindsey Mitchell, MY MOTHER’S LESBIAN JEWISH WICCAN WEDDING, Actor’s Summit
Zach Adkins, SPRING AWAKENING, Beck Center for the Arts/Baldwin Wallace Musical Theater Program

SPECIAL RECOGNITION
Eric Coble for his creation of three plays that were produced in the Greater Cleveland area, THE VELOCITY OF AUTUMN, GIRL’S GUIDE TO COFFEE and A CAROL FOR CLEVELAND

Michael Bloom and the Board of the Cleveland Play House for the foresight to move the theater company into Allen Theatre complex on Playhouse Square 

Patrick Ciamacco, the heart and sole of Blank Canvas, the area’s newest professional theatre

Reuben Silver, for a career of outstanding work as producer, director, educator, and actor

Roe Green for her sponsorship of the Cleveland Critics Circle             clevelandtheaterreviews.com blog site

The Members of the Cleveland Critics Circle for the creation of             clevelandtheaterreviews.com, a reader friendly site for composite reviews of local critics

In addition, recognition to the following for making the 2012 theatre scene in the Cleveland area stimulating and memorable:

PLAYS/MUSICALS
A BRIGHT NEW BOISE, Dobama (Director:  Nathan Motta)
AVENUE Q, Cain Park (Director:  Russ Borski)
GOD OF CARNAGE, Dobama (Joel Hammer)
IN ARABIA WE’D ALL BE KINGS, Case/Cleveland Play House MFA Acting             Program (Director:  Ron Wilson)
LEGALLY BLONDE, Beck Center for the Arts (Director:  Scott Spence)
NEXT FALL, Blank Canvas (Director:  Pat Ciamacco)
THE MOTHERFUCKER WITH THE HAT, Dobama (Director:  Dianne Boduszek)
THE WORLD GOES ROUND, Porthouse (Director:  Shawn Morrissey)

PERFORMERS
Anderberg, Therese, IN ARABIA WE’D ALL BE KINGS, Case/Cleveland Play             House MFA Acting Program
Ari, Bob, RED, Cleveland Play House
Barnett, Dyrell, THE COLOR PURPLE, Karamu
Barrett, Anna, ANNIE, Beck Center for the Arts
Beachman, Kelvette, ALL SHOOK UP, Mercury Summer Stock
Belser, Andrea, THE BLUEST EYE, KARAMU
Bistok-Bunce, Amy, DEVIL BOYS FROM BEYOND, convergence continuum
Black, MaryAnn, DAMN YANKEES, Porthouse
Boukis, John Paul, AVENUE Q, Cain Park
Bush, Kimberly, LEGALLY BLOND, Beck Center for the Arts
Carrier, Donald, TEN CHIMNEYS, Cleveland Play House
Chervony, Margo, A GIRL’S GUIDE TO COFFEE, Actors’ Summit
Ciamacco, Patrick, HELLCAB, Blank Canvas
Cikra, Alex, AUGUST:  OSAGE COUNTY, Weathervane
Day, Brandyn Leo Lynn, THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED, Beck Center for the Arts
DeBoir, Katherine, ANYONE CAN WHISTLE, Lakeland Civic Theatre
Deike, Andrew, A BRIGHT NEW BOISE, Dobama
Elder, Maryann, STANDING ON CEREMONY:  THE GAY MARRIAGE PLAY, Cleveland Public Theatre
Elersich, Aaron, PROOF, Lakeland Civic Theatre
Espisito, Scott, THE NORMAL HEART, Ensemble Theatre
Fagan, Shawn, THE WHIPPING MAN, Cleveland Play House
Fields, Mitchell, PROOF, Lakeland Civic Theatre
Folino, Dan, ANYONE CAN WHISTLE, Lakeland Civic Theatre
Glavan, Michael, DAMN YANKEES, Porthouse
Glover, Jeff, NEXT FALL, Blank Canvas
Glymph, Avery, THE WHIPPING MAN, Cleveland Play House
Griffin, Zach, MY MOTHER’S LESBIAN JEWISH WICCAN WEDDING, Actor’s             Summit
Hancock, Todd, AVENUE Q, Cain Park
Harrison, Randy, RED, Cleveland Play House
Hart, Dana, ANTEBELLUM, Cleveland Public Theatre
Hart, Dana, STANDING ON CEREMONY:  THE GAY MARRIAGE PLAY, Cleveland Public Theatre
Hartley, Mariette, TEN CHIMNEYS, Cleveland Play House
Hinckley, Christa, IN ARABIA WE’D ALL BE KINGS, Case/Cleveland Play House MFA Acting Program
Hobbs, Lauryn Alexandria, ALL SHOOK UP, Mercury Summer Stock
Hoffman, Laurel, PROOF, Lakeland Civic Theatre
Kartali, Charles, A CAROL FOR CHRISTMAS, Cleveland Play House
Kendall, Jeremy, THE MOTHERFUCKER WITH THE HAT, Dobama
Kenderes, Joe, OF MICE AND MEN, Blank Canvas
Kennedy, Kyra, SPRING AWAKENING, Beck Center for the Arts/Baldwin Wallace Musical Theater Program
Kinsey, Sarah, THE MISANTHROPE, Case/Cleveland Play House MFA Acting             Program
LaShawn, Mikhaela, THE COLOR PURPLE, Karamu
Lockshine, Elliot, A CAROL FOR CHRISTMAS, Cleveland Play House
Markowitz, Jesse, ALL SHOOK UP, Mercury Summer Stock
Marshall, Brian, ALL SHOOK UP, Mercury Summer Stock
Marshall, William Clarence, LOWER NINTH, Ensemble Theatre
McEvoy, Anne, NEXT FALL, Blank Canvas
O’Byrne, David, THE MOUSETRAP, Great Lakes Theatre
O’Shea, Matt, 4000 MILES, Dobama
Patterson, Tracee, GOD OF CARNAGE, Dobama
Penca, James, SPRING AWAKENING, Beck Center for the Arts/Baldwin Wallace Musical Theater Program
Reilly, Caitlin Elizabeth, LEGALLY BLONDE, Beck Center for the Arts
Ring, Derdriu, GOD OF CARNAGE, Dobama
Ring, Derdriu, THE NORMAL HEART, Ensemble Theatre
Ruttle, Kelli, THE WINTER’S TALE, Case/Cleveland Play House MFA Acting             Program
Sniadak-Yamoloski, Dawn, MY MOTHER’S LESBIAN JEWISH WICCAN             WEDDING, Actor’s Summit
Spencer, Stephen, A CAROL FOR CHRISTMAS, Cleveland Play House
Spencer, Stephen, IN ARABIA WE’D ALL BE KINGS, Case/Cleveland Play House MFA Acting Program
Spencer, Stephen, THE MISANTHROPE, Case/Cleveland Play House MFA Acting Program
Sturgis, Nisi, IN THE NEXT ROOM, Cleveland Play House
Sweeney, Nicholas, ANTEBELLUM, Cleveland Public Theatre
Taggett, Gilgamesh, ANNIE, Beck Center for the Arts
van Baars, Eric, DAMN YANKEES, Porthouse
Woodward, Tom, A BRIGHT NEW BOISE, Dobama
Woodward, Tom, MIDDLETOWN, Dobama

TECHNICIANS
Boeman, Melanie, costumes, ANTEBELLUM, Cleveland Public Theatre
Bruns, Tradd, set design, BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON, Beck Center for the Arts
Burns, Tad, ANNIE, Beck Center for the Arts
Burns, Trad, scenic and light design, XANADU, Beck Center for the Arts
Burns, Trad, set and light design, ANYONE CAN WHISTLE, Lakeland Civic Theatre
Carlson, Laura, set design, 4000 MILES, Dobama
Carlson, Laura, set design, MIDDLETOWN, Dobama
Conley, Janet, scenic art work, ALL SHOOK UP, Mercury Summer Stock
Dana, Marcus, light design, A BRIGHT NEW BOISE, Dobama
Ferrell, Alan  Scott, scenic design, AUGUST:  OSAGE COUNTY, Weathervane
Herrmann, Jeff, set and light design, SPRING AWAKENING, Beck Center for the             Arts/Baldwin Wallace Musical Theater Program
Krispinsky, Todd, set design, THE VELOCITY OF AUTUMN, Beck Center for the Arts
Merckx, Ken, fight design, ROMEO AND JULIET, Beck Center for the Arts
Mickelson, David Kay, costume design, IN THE NEXT ROOM, Cleveland Play House
Nagy, Keith, scenic design, PROOF, Lakeland Civic Theatre
Needhmam, Ben, set design, LEGALLY BLONDE, Beck Center for the Arts
Pieritz, Terry and Russ Borski, with Larry Nehring, puppets for AVENUE Q, Cain Park
Raiford, Michael, set design, IN THE NEXT ROOM, Cleveland Play House
Scribner, Tiffany, set design, IN ARABIA WE’D ALL BE KINGS, Case/Cleveland             Play House MFA Acting Program
Swonger, James, seound design, THE WHIPPING MAN, Cleveland Play House

MUSICAL DIRECTORS
Buck, J. T., MY MOTHER’S LESBIAN JEWISH WICCAN WEDDING, Actor’s             Summit
Garrett, Ryan Fielding, SPRING AWAKENING, Beck Center for the Arts/Baldwin Wallace Musical Theater Program
Goodpaster, Larry and Yurich, Dennis, BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON, Beck Center for the Arts
Goodpaster, Larry, ANNIE, Beck Center For The Arts
Goodpaster, Larry, ANYONE CAN WHISTLE, Lakeland Civic Theatre
Goodpaster, Larry, LEGALLY BLONDE, Beck Center for the Arts
Goodpaster, Larry, XANADU, Beck Center for the Arts
Long, Kevin, THE WORLD GOES ROUND, Porthouse
Robinson, David, AVENUE Q, Cain Park
Swoboda, Jonathan, DAMN YANKEES, Porthouse

CHOREOGRAPHERS
Céspedes, Martin, LEGALLY BLONDE, Beck Center for the Arts
Céspedes, Martin, XANADU, Beck Center for the Arts
Crawford, John, DAMN YANKEES, Porthouse
Morrissey, Shaw, THE WORLD GOES ROUND, Porthouse

If any names are spelled incorrectly or there are errors in identifications please let me know so I can change the permanent record on www.royberko.info.

If you would like to read any of my reviews for the year, please go to www.royberko.info, enter the blog and click on “2012 Reviews” or click on the name of the producing theatre and scroll through their performances. Reviews from previous years may also be accessed.

Sunday, December 16, 2012


Delightful, thought provoking MY MOTHER’S LESBIAN JEWISH WICCAN WEDDING at Actors’ Summit

Where do you get information and inspiration to write a musical about a Jewish lesbian who gets married to a Wiccan?  If you are David Hein, you turn inward and write about you, your mother, your other mother, your father, and your grandmother.  Sound like a mindless piece or escapist theatre?  Well, it’s not!

MY MOTHER’S LESBIAN JEWISH WICCAN WEDDING is a unique, delightful, tune filled, charming, heartfelt exploration that takes a number of twists and turns as it explores self revelation, relationships, and the politics of marriage.  It’s been called “The most tuneful weapon you’ll ever find for advancing marriage equality.” 

MY MOTHER’S LESBIAN JEWISH WICCAN WEDDING should be required viewing for all the members of the U.S. Supreme Court before they act on the marriage case before them this term.

The musical review play, written by David Hein and his wife, Irene Carl Sankoff, centers on Hein’s real life memories of spending his teen years with his biological mother, Claire, and his other mother, Jane. 

The story starts as Claire divorces young David’s father and moves to Canada to accept a job as a university professor of psychology.  The moves is eased by Clarie’s finding an apartment in Michelle’s home.  Michelle, an outgoing lesbian, is part of a musical group.  Claire starts singing with the troupe, meets Dawn, a Wiccan therapist, they fall in love, and marry in 2005 after Canada becomes the fourth nation to legalize same sex unions.

The score, while not memorable, is filled with meaningful tunes which move the plot along.  Foremost of these is A Short History of Gay Marriage, which traces the frustration of gays in trying to get equal rights and allows members of the audience to literally participate in a protest march.  The song has been updated to include the recent election in which several more of the U.S. states approved gay marriage.  Some of the other vocal highlights are:  Feelings Are Important, Jew-ish, Five Mothers, and You and Me.  Quite funny is Hot Lesbian Action, Double Date and Romance 101.

Under Neil Thackaberry’s wise directing, the show moves along at a pleasant pace.  The music, under the direction of J. T. Buck, wisely supports and underscores rather than drowning out the singers. 

The performers are all excellent.  They sing well and the are natural in their characterizations.  Kevin Kern has a nice twangy voice, plays the guitar with gusto, and creates a real person as the older David.  Daniel Sovich is charming and shows a nice teenage sensibility as the younger David.  His side role as a cross dressing Hooter girl is fun and funny.  Lindsey Mitchell (Claire) makes for a charming mother, who grows and changes before our eyes.  She has a fine singing voice and a nice grasp of her character.  Keith Stevens creates in Garth, Claire’s former husband, a supportive father and real person.  Elizabeth Lawson Homes, (Michelle), is a hoot as Claire’s landlady and friend.  The Dawn Sniadak-Yamokoski (Jane) has a wonderful singing voice and is totally believable as Claire’s Wiccan girl-friend and then wife.  Megan Brautigam, Zach Griffin and Hope Caldwell are excellent in multiple supporting roles.

The multi-level set is cleverly festooned with the Human Right’s Campaign’s blue and gold striped pride insignia. 

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  MY MOTHER’S LESBIAN JEWISH WICCAN WEDDING is a meaningful musical production which has a solid message enforcing the need for equal rights for all, while also being totally delightful.  This is a must see show!

For tickets to MY MOTHER’S LESBIAN JEWISH WICCAN WEDDING, which runs through December 23, call 330-342-0800 or go to actorssummit.org.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


THE SECRET SOCIAL holds special meeting at Cleveland Public Theatre

“As a member of the Secret Social, your presence is requested at a special meeting.  Attendees must believe in the power of myth, true love and sacrifice.  Suggested attire includes your most prized pair of shoes.  Bring your friends, neighbors and coworkers (and your secret handshake).” 

Thus, audiences are invited to attend the latest of Cleveland Public Theatre and Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant lively evenings of musical entertainment, light supper of paesano bread, farmers’ cheese, kielbasa and borscht (Eastern European beet soup), and uninhibited goings on.  

The goings-on, which are presented in a theatre arranged at cabaret tables, offers “friends who pay together stay together” and free bottles of wine for groups of 8 or more.  If you don’t’ come with someone, you’ll be seated with other “friendless” people who will quickly become your best “buds.”

Obviously, this is not traditional theatre fare.  The evening is loosely based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, The Twelve Dancing Princess, sometimes called The Worn-Out Dancing Shoes, and/or The Shoes that were Danced to Pieces. 

The story centers on twelve pretty princesses, each more beautiful than the other, who sleep in twelve beds in the same room.  Every night the door to their room is locked, but each morning their shoes are found to be worn through.  The perplexed king promises his kingdom to any man who can discover the tale of the shoes.   But, beware, those who try and fail will be put to death.  (How far are you willing to go to get the kingdom?)

Parallel to the story, each member of the audience is led on a path where each discovers the bedroom, sees the shoes, and proceeds to participate in the development of the story.  Watch your footwear, be careful what you volunteer for, and if you are a prude, don’t watch guy who runs through the goings-on sans garments.  On the other hand, you might have a positive experience, as did the woman at our table who yelled out, “Wow, he has a cute tush" [a diminutive of the Yiddish word for the human posterior].

Many of the cast are back from last year’s CPT/Connie’s Avant Garde Restaurant extravaganza.  The cast has fun, the audience has fun, the entire evening is meant for enjoyment, and enjoyable it is. 

BTW—there is less food this year, which is just fine, as this is not dinner theatre.  The grub is there as part of the story.

Capsule judgement:  THE SECRET SOCIAL is not traditional theatre.  No plot, no social message. All in all the goings on are intended for  fun.  That is, if you are in the mood to be uninhibited, and just have a great time.  It also helps if you and half the audience are looped and let loose with rude and creative comments. 

THE SECRET SOCIAL runs six nights a week through December 23 at 7:00.  For tickets call 216-631-2727 or go on line to www.cptonline.org.  Be aware that some evenings are sold out.  You can find this information on the website.

On December 15 at 7, Opera Per Tutti presents AMAHL AND THE NIGHT VISITORS at CPT.  Admission is free with a donation of warm clothing or outerwear or a monetary contribution.  Call the theatre for more information.

Monday, December 10, 2012



ANNIE lights up Beck Center for the holidays

This is the time of year that theatres are looking for productions to attract large audiences in order to bring some extra money into the coffers.  BECK, for a number of years did BEAUTY AND THE BEAST for their holiday show.  This year they opened the classic ANNIE. 

The show gives us cute orphans, a dog, a hysterical orphanage director, con-men, a billionaire, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Christmas.  And, yes, lots of memorable songs including Tomorrow, Hard Knock Life, Little Girls, I  Think I’m Going to Like it Here, N.Y.C., Fully Dressed, and I Don’t Need Anything Else But You.

ANNIE, with book by Thomas Meehan and lyrics by Martin Charnin, is based on Harold Gray’s LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE comic strip.  The strip debuted in 1924, became a radio show in 1930, films in 1932 and 1938, and a Broadway musical in 1977.  It  was reprised this year and is running parallel to the Beck production.   The comic strip was cancelled in June of 2010.  During its run, Annie, her dog Sandy, and Daddy Warbucks, her adopted father, targeted organized labor, the New Deal and communism.

ANNIE, the musical, centers on eleven year-old Annie who was left at the Municipal Girls Orphanage in New York by her depression-poor parents.  The orphanage is run by the alcoholic Mrs. Hannigan.  Annie longs for the return of her parents.  She runs away, saves a dog (Sandy) from the animal warden, is caught by the police, is returned to the orphanage, is taken to the home of billionaire Oliver Warbucks for a Christmas visit, the two develop a loving relationship, she has a scare when her “real” parents show up, but, as happens in all good musicals about kids, a dog and billionaires, live happily ever after.

For the show to work requires an adorable Annie who can sing, dance and act, a cast who can play comic strip characters with realism so they become caricatures the audience can identify, love and laugh with.  Fortunately, the Beck production, under the guidance of Scott Spence, is blessed with the performers who can pull it off.

Anna Barrett has a nice singing voice, dances and moves well and is totally natural as Annie.  Giovannna Layne is adorable as Molly, one of the orphans.  Elisee Pakiela, Jade McGee, Maggie Devine, Erin Eisner, and Natalie Welch all are cute as the other orphans. 

Lenne Snively has a wonderful time playing Mrs. Hannigan, as does the audience watching her.  Matthew Ryan Thompson is overly farcical as Rooster, but his dancing and showmanship compensates for it. Molly Huey is fine as the airheaded Lily St. Regis, Rooster’s sidekick. 

Cilgamesh Taggett is picture perfect as Daddy Warbucks.  Caitlin Elizabeth Reilly sings well and gives the right air to Grace, Warbucks’ assistant.  Leslie Feagan does a nice FDR imitation.

It’s hard to determine who got more “ewes’ and “ahs”, the orphans or Buckley Collier, the well trained dog portraying Sandy.

The highlight of the show is the dancing.  Choreographer Martin Céspedes integrates tap, probation era steps, stylized hand moves and air punches to accent Charles Strouse’s jazzy music.  The well conceived Easy Street and Hard Knock Life each stop the show and demand reprises.

Larry Goodpaster’s band well interprets the music.

The only flaw in the proceedings is the problematic Mackey Theatre sound system.  The squeals and pops, along with the unbalanced microphones, was extremely distracting.   The theatre should either invest in a new sound system if that’s the issue or teach the sound technicians how to use the equipment.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: As corny and overdone as ANNIE is, with a good performance it delights. With its tuneful music, strong cast and super choreography, Beck’s production makes for a fine night at the theater.


ANNIE is scheduled to run through January 6, 2012 at Beck Center for the Arts.  For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go to http://www.beckcenter.org

Sunday, December 09, 2012




Dorothy Silver and strong cast takes audience 4000 MILES at Dobama

There is an air of an impending explosion about to happen in Amy Herzog’s 4000 MILES, now on stage at Dobama Theatre.  Interesting, though the artillery never goes off, the 90-minute play captivates and absolutely holds attention. 

4000 MILES is a companion piece to Herzog’s AFTER THE REVOLUTION, a political family drama.  Both scripts center on Vera Joseph, a tell-it-like-it-is 91-year old grandmother.  She’s a communist who has outlived two husbands and all of her friends.  She lives in a rent-controlled apartment in New York, and is gradually losing it…her keys, glasses, false teeth, hearing aid, checkbook and ability to remember whether she has locked the door.  What she hasn’t lost is her sense of commitment to life.

As is the case with Herzog’s writing, 4000 MILES is a series of character studies rather than a plot driven vehicle. 

The play was developed as part of Lincoln Center’s LCGT3 series, a developmental lab for new works.  Intended for a short run, the 2011 production received such strong critical reviews that it was extended.

Twenty-one-year-old Leo, a self-proclaimed “hippie” arrives, unannounced, in the middle of the night, at his grandmother’s New York apartment.  The feisty Vera doesn’t ask the obviously distraught boy many questions, but knows something is wrong.  In baby steps, Leo relates that his best friend (Micah) was killed by a truck while the duo were on a 4000 mile cross-country bike trip.  He also eventually tells her that his original intent to stay with his girlfriend, a student at NY university, was thwarted when she refused to allow him to move in.  She, it is later revealed, was confounded that Leo did not come to Micah’s funeral, but continued his bike trek alone.

Vera doesn’t make many demands on the young man other than that he act like a civilized human being…taking showers, cleaning up after himself, and reporting accurately on the tap of money to which she has allowed him access.  She feeds him, does his laundry, and speaks her thoughts aloud.  They lightly battle, Leo continues to brood, and they reach a point of underlying affection toward each other, and live in a state of suspended harmony, smoke some pot together. and even get through Vera’s interrupting a potential sexual liaison between Leo and a girl he has somehow picked up.  Eventually, the big “reveal” takes place and the play comes to a quiet close.

The script’s style is that of a new, modern playwright.  The language is 21st century, the inclusion of technology and the differences between generations marks this as the work of a contemporary, rather than modern playwright.  This is Neil LaBute and Doug Wright, not Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller.

Dobama’s production, under the direction of Joel Hammer, maintains our interest, though it is a little slow at times.  This should correct itself as the cast adjusts to audience reactions.

Dorothy Silver, the first lady of Cleveland theatre, wears the role of Vera and becomes the woman.  She doesn’t portray Vera, she is Vera.  Silver, as always, gives the impression that the role was written specifically for her.

Matt O’Shea (Leo) is impressive in his Dobama premiere.  Like Silver, he makes the performance seem effortless. 

Both Rachel Lee Kolis (Bec) and Kat Bi (Amanda) are effective as the two women in Leo’s life.

Laura Carlson’s set well reflects a rent-controlled Village apartment of a little old lady, complete with vintage knickknacks and dated electronics.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  4000 MILES is a “nice” play, which gets a “nice” production at Dobama.  It will not shock, it will not compel, but it will hold your attention and may take you back to examine your relationship with your grandmother and/or grandchild and share a peek at both youthful and aging angst.

4000 MILES runs through January 6 at Dobama.  Call 216-932-3396 or www.dobama.org for tickets.

Dobama’s next production is GHOSTS OF WAR, a one-person play starring George Roth.

Thursday, December 06, 2012


A CAROL FOR CLEVELAND, a world premiere holiday play, at CPH
   

Roy Berko
(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)

What do the Cleveland Play House, Les Roberts and Eric Coble have in common?  They are all integral parts of the Cleveland arts scene and co-participants in the development of A CAROL FOR CLEVELAND, a new holiday play, which is getting its world premiere.

The Cleveland Play House, which is producing A CAROL FOR CLEVELAND, was founded in 1915 as the first permanently established professional theatre company in the country.  Its move last season to PlayhouseSquare, into the newly refurbished Allen Theatre, was a major addition to the heart of the city and has been a very positive change for the company, with attendance skyrocketing in their new three-theatre setting.

Les Roberts, who is past president of the Private Eye Writers of America, moved to the area in 1990 after a long and successful career in Hollywood.  While in tinsel town, he wrote and produced more than 2,500 television segments including scripts for THE LUCY SHOW, THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW and HOLLYWOOD SQUARES.  He has written 23 novels, with his series about Milan Jacovich being his most famous.  Jacovich is all Cleveland…born in a Slovenian area in the inner city, a Kent State football player, American Vietnam vet, has an old aunt in Euclid, lives in Cleveland Heights, frequents a neighborhood bar, and solves local area crimes. One of his short stories is the basis for A CAROL FOR CLEVELAND.

Eric Coble, who is another area transplant, is on a roll.  Not only is he the author of CPH’s holiday show, but he wrote, THE VELOCITY OF AUTUMN, which was produced by Beck Center earlier this year, with Cleveland legend Dorothy Silver in the lead.  The play is scheduled for a Spring, 2013 Broadway production starring Estelle Parsons and Stephen Spinella.  A member of the Playwrights’ Unit at CPH, his GIRLS GUIDE TO COFFEE, was produced at Actors’ Summit in February and MY BARKING DOG ran last season at Cleveland Public Theatre.  Numerous productions of his plays are being done throughout the country this season.

A CAROL FOR CLEVELAND, which is told in flashback, is all North Coast.  The street and area names, winter weather notations, lake effect snows, references to Public Square and the flats, visual images of The Higbee and May Company department stores, references to the Browns and Steelers rivalry, all set the show squarely in “The Best Location in the Nation.” 

Yes, it’s Cleveland in the late 1970s.   The steel belt, with LTV and the other plants closing and the city in recession.  Not the best time to move to the area, but Ed Podolak, from a small town in Pennsylvania, who has lost his job, his hope and dignity, and maybe even his family, takes a Greyhound into the area on a snowy day, proceeds to slip on black ice outside the bus station, and winds up living at a fleebag motel.  For a year he lives hand to mouth, picking up odd jobs, and, on Christmas eve, goes to see the holiday lights at Public Square, steals some money from a Salvation Army kettle, is caught by a boy who befriends him, and, as is the custom in holiday tales, learns a lesson that makes for a major attitude and life style change.

Coble’s script, based on Roberts’ short story, is typical holiday escapism.  The story line with its obvious happily every after conclusion, is sometimes humorous, a little emotional, and filled with presents, trees, sad tales and visual pleasure.  Lacking in high humor or much action it is dependent upon stimulating the holiday spirit that encompasses most people this time of year. 

There are no tongues sticking to frozen lamp posts, no danger of “shooting out eyes” with a b-b gun, no bullies threatening the kids, like in A CHRISTMAS STORY, but there is a crippled kid, and a dad carrying him on his shoulder, as in A CHRISTMAS CAROL.  The cleverest bit takes place before the curtain opens when carolers warn of no texting, turning off phones, 90-minutes with no intermission, and encourage the unwrapping of candy before the show starts.

The CPH production, under the direction of Laura Keply, has some nice highlights, though its pacing is languid and begs for some more action, humor, excitement.

Charles Kartali, as he did when he starred for many seasons as The Old Man in CPH productions of THE CHRISTMAS STORY, plays Ed Podolak to the hilt.  He is totally believable as the frustrated, down on his luck guy who finds life almost too much to bear. 

Stephen Spencer, as This Guy, who at the play’s conclusion, has a secret to share, is wonderful.  He has a nice dynamic Cleveland attitude and embraces the role.

Young Elliot Lockshine becomes Charlie, the boy who teaches Ed a major lesson of life.  He doesn’t act the part, he is Charlie.

The rest of the large cast, which includes former county commissioner Peter Lawson Jones, is up to their parts and, hopefully, as the show runs, they will pick up the pace, let loose verbally and emotionally, and make the production more enfolding.

Nice visuals, snow falling, the lights in Public Square, and images of the area in the 1970s help set the right mood.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  A CAROL FOR CLEVELAND, is a pleasant holiday diversion, written by local playwright Eric Coble, based on a short story by Cleveland mystery writer Les Roberts, which is getting its world premiere at CPH.  It is a look at how recessions cause frustrations, the importance of family, and how an accidental incident can make a  difference.

A CAROL FOR Cleveland runs through December 23 at the CPH’s Allen Theatre.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to www.clevelandplayhouse.com.

Review of Reviewer's Reviews--Connie Swary






 Thanks Dr. Roy...what would we do without your timely news and updates on the theater world?  I've come to look forward to your emails more than most of all my others on any subject!

Connie [Connie Swary]

Wednesday, December 05, 2012


Winter, 2013 Cleveland, Ohio theatre offerings

Don’t just hunker down during Cleveland’s upcoming season of discontent and snow, support the local theatres.  BTW…tickets or gift cards to local theatres make great holiday presents!

CLEVELAND PLAY HOUSE
216-241-6000 or go to www.clevelandplayhouse.com

January 11-February 3
BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE
A classic comedy in which a beautiful and sexy witch, who is frustrated by a lack of romance in her life, is smitten by her handsome neighbor.

February 15-March 10
THE DEVIL’S MUSIC:  THE LIFE AND BLUES OF BESSIE SMITH
This soulful musical takes place in a private parlor in Memphis, circa 1930, where sexy and sassy Bessie Smith takes center stage.

February 27-March 9
IDENTITY THEFT
(A CPH/CWRU MFA Acting program production)
Asks, “who am I” by examining seven lives filtered through the ideas of August Strindberg.

March 22-April 14
GOOD PEOPLE
Margie Walsh, in this funny 2011 Tony nominee, wants to escape from Southie, a Boston neighborhood where a night on the town means a few rounds of bingo and lots of beer.  She may have found her exit route when an old flame, now a big success, comes back.

April 19-May 22
RICH GIRL
A take on THE HEIRESS, this comedy about women and their relationships finds a sheltered girl falling in love with a starving artist, but, her mother, doesn’t approve.

DOBAMA
216-932-3396 or dobama.org

December 7 - January 6
4000 MILES
A drama concerning 21 year-old Leon, who comes to his feisty, 91 year-old grandmother (portrayed by Dorothy Silver, the Grande dame of Cleveland Theatre) for solace.  In a single month they infuriate, bewilder, and ultimately reach each other.

February 22-March 17
SONS OF THE PROPHET
In this comedy/tragedy, Joseph, a distant relative of Kahlil Gibran, author of THE PROPHET, desperately tries to keep his Pennsylvania Lebanese-American family from breaking apart. 

PLAYHOUSESQUARE
216-241-6000 or go to www.playhousesquare.org.

January 15-27
PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT
An outrageous tune-filled musical which tells the story of a trio of uninhibited friends who find themselves on a battered old bus in the middle of the Australian outback.

February 5-17
YOU SAY TOMATO, I SAY SHUT UP, A LOVE STORY
Real life partners/actors/comedians/writers probe what happens when two people in a thirteen-year marriage suddenly decide that “we’re just not that into us.”  (Not recommended for children.)

February 5-10
LES MISERABLES
A return visit of the 25th anniversary production of the legendary smash musical based on the Victor Hugo novel.

February 12-17
THE BLUE MAN GROUP
The wildly popular show, appropriate for all ages, combines makeup, comedy, music and technology.

February 22-March 22
JOSHUA SETH’S BEYOND BELIEF
Award winning Joshua Seth returns for a one-man show, called “amazingly captivating,”  featuring laughter, mind-reading and magic.

March 5-17
SISTER ACT
A musical based on the movie SISTER ACT, tells the story of a wannabe diva whose life takes a surprising turn when she witnesses a crime and hides out in a convent!

April 9-21
WAR HORSE
The amazingly staged World War I story of a horse, a boy and the meaning of loyalty.  A must see experience!  The puppetry and special effects are breathtaking.

BECK CENTER
216-521-2540 or http://www.beckcenter.org

December 7 - January 6
ANNIE
The comic  book inspired musical of a spunky Depression-era orphan determined to find the parents who abandoned her on the doorstep of a New York City orphanage.

March 1-April 21
NEXT TO NORMAL
The Tony Award-winning pop rock musical that examines a suburban family dealing with the traumatic effects of mental illness.

March 22-April 21
THE HOUSE OF BLUE LEAVES
John Guare’s Drama Critics’ and Obie Award winning play about an aspiring songwriter who wants to escape the life he despises and pursue a musical career.

Actor’s Summit
330-374-7568 or go to www.actorssummit.org

January 17-February 3
FICTION
A drama which centers on two successful writers whose passion for life, literature and artful prose leads to asking, “What is real?” and “What is the meaning of truth?”.

February 21-March 10
FREUD’S LAST SESSION
Investigates a fictional London meeting, on the day England enters WWII, between Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis and C.S. Lewis, the author of THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, which cleverly probes God, love, sex, and the meaning of life!

May 16-June 2
MANNING UP
A comedy probing male bonding which finds two men preparing for a manimar (seminar), while fearing that they are becoming too sensitive as they practice their tales of manliness.

CLEVELAND PUBLIC THEATRE
216-631-2727 or go on line to www.cptonline.org

January 4-February 4
WATERWAYS (PART 1 OF THE ELEMENTS CYCLE)
Focuses on humans’ deep connection to water and the local proximity to Lake Erie, the production incorporates music, dance and other performance forms.

February 21-March 9
EARTH PLAYS (PART 2 OF THE ELEMENTS CYCLE)
Explores past, current movements, and future dreams, in order to highlight the relationship of humans to the ground on which they walk.

March 21-April 6
NICK & JEREMY
Reveals secrets of the universe by way of conspiracy theories, group hypnosis, coin flips, narcotic cocktails, idealistic propaganda, cynical detachment, desperate hope, and puppets.

March 21-April 6
STRUCK
The moving tale of one woman’s journey into her own mind and its recovery after a stroke.

May 2-May 18
TENDER NAPALM
A portrait of passion, destruction and examination of how love leaves a person shipwrecked, deeply burned and unquenchable.

May 9-25
THERE IS A HAPPINESS THAT MORNING IS
After engaging in an extreme display of public affection on the lawn of a college campus, two professors must apologize or justify their behavior to students and the college administration.

My 23-June 8
RUSTED HEART BROADCAST
After a pandemic destroys most human life on the planet, one group of Clevelanders look for the way to stay alive.

LAKELAND THEATRE
440-525-7526 or http://www.lakelandcc.edu

February 1, 2, 8, 9, 15, 16
NEXT TO NORMAL
The 2008 Tony Award-winning musical addresses grieving a loss, suicide, drug abuse, and ethics in modern psychiatry as a mother struggles with her worsening bipolar disorder.


ENSEMBLE THEATRE
216-321-2930 or http://www.ensemble-theatre.com

January 25-February 17
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JAMES
Probes the tensions between memoires as an African American and a white recount their experiences regarding the 1930 racial crimes in Marion, Indiana.

March 7-24 (performed in repertoire)
THE COLUMBI  NEW PLAY FESTIVAL
(COCOPELLI by Stuart Hoffman, LIZARD PLAY by Carol Laursen and ONE ON ONE by Ed Walsh & Robert Noll)

April 19-May 12
THE ICEMAN COMETH
Eugene O’Neill’s monumental morbidly funny drama about the homecoming of Hickey, a charismatic traveling salesman, by a group of drunks and dreamers.

GREAT LAKES THEATRE
http://www.greatlakestheater.org or 216-241-6000

February 22-March 10
BLITHE SPIRIT
A spook-tacular comedy classic about the aftermath of a “spirited” séance gone wrong resulting in a writer coming face-to-face with his dead wife and her disdain for his present wife.

March 29-April 14
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
Shakespeare’s comic battle of wits and wills which centers on a scorching exchange of insults, and an attempt to save true love.

May 1-19
GUYS AND DOLLS
The American classic musical, based on the “New Yawk” stories of Damon Runyon, with a score by Frank Loesser, that concerns gamblers, the Salvation Army, showgirls, and lots of toe-tapping fun and romance. (Produced by Great Lakes Theatre as part of the Key Bank Broadway series)

none-to-fragile
www.nonetoofragile.com or 330-671-4563

February (dates tba)
A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE
A dark comedy exposing the obsessions, prejudices, madness, horrors, and above all, the absurdities that crawl beneath it.

convergence continuum
convergence-continuum.org or 216-687-0074

March 22-April 20
SORDID LIVES
When Peggy, a good Christian woman, hits her head on the sink and bleeds to death after tripper over her lover’s wooden leg in a motel room, chaos erupts in Winters, Texas.

To see a composite of the reviews of members of the Cleveland Critics Circle, go to www.clevelandtheaterreviews.com

Monday, December 03, 2012


Not one, but two NUTCRACKERS danced the same weekend in downtown Cleveland

Roy Berko
(Member, Dance Critics Association)

It’s that time of year.  Local theatres are staging all sorts of holiday fare.  Tiny Tims, Scrooges, elfs and Santas are traipsing their way across the boards.  And true to form, THE NUTCRACKER is marching and dancing. 

Since Cleveland no longer has a professional ballet company, venues bring in the holiday necessity from other sources.  The same weekend, The Moscow Ballet presented its 20th anniversary GREAT RUSSIAN NUTCRACKER for two performances at the Music Hall, and The Joffrey Ballet and the Cleveland Orchestra played for four performances with THE NUTCRACKER at the State Theatre.

The major question from those who knew I had seen both versions was, “Which production was better?”  Let’s examine the venues, the story lines, the sets and costumes, the music, and the level of dancing.

It is a shame to invite a quality dance company into the Music Hall in the Convention Hall complex.  Shame on the city of Cleveland and the county for allowing the facility to deteriorate as it has.  The once beautiful Music Hall, part of the Cleveland convention center complex, is now a tired venue with worn out carpeting and seats, moisture textured walls and ceiling, out of date lavatories, and a ripped front curtain with a hanging lining.  It is in this setting that the Moscow Ballet performed. 

Since 1993, Moscow Ballet has gone into local areas and offered ballet students, from ages 7 to 16, the opportunity to audition, rehearse and perform with the professional company.  The students portray party children, mice, snowflakes, angels, and perform in the “around the world” segments.

The sparse evening audience at the Music Hall, consisting mainly, it appeared from the bouquets they were carrying, relatives of the child dancers, witnessed a very traditional version of the piece.

Entitled the GREAT RUSSIAN NUTCRACKER, it featured more traditional dancing, with Masha receiving the nutcracker prince from Uncle Drosselmeyer, but finds it destroyed by Fritz, her brother.  Distraught, she falls asleep, only to have a vision of the Mouse King and his fellow rodents fight the Nutcracker and his soldiers.  After the soldiers’ victory, Masha and her prince go on a wonderful adventure including a tour to the Snow Forest, and the Land of Peace and Harmony.   This version features much dancing by Masha and the Nutcracker prince, highlighted by the famous Grand Pas de Deux.

The Moscow Ballet’s version featured rather tired drop background drops and much used costumes.  But, what it lacked in visual beauty, it more than made up for with superb dancing by the lead performers.   

The recorded music of the enchanting Tchaikovsky score sounded rather tinny in the vast space, with its outdated sound system. 

The children were cute, sometimes in step, but received oohs and ahs from their relatives, and had the memorable experience of performing with an excellent company.

What can be more glorious than hearing the world class Cleveland Orchestra playing THE NUTCRACKER?  Usually nothing.  As expected, the orchestra, under the baton of Tito Munoz, was in fine tune, but those who are used to hearing them on the open Severance Hall stage, may have been dismayed by listening to the muted sounds coming from the under-the-stage orchestra pit.  That, added to the usual sound difficulty for those sitting on the first floor beneath the balcony-overhang, made for a less than thrilling experience.

The State Theatre is a visually glorious setting for the opulence of the Joffrey production.  Special effects included snowflakes dancing on the curtains before the production, a snow storm, gliding sleigh, a Christmas tree which grew before the wondering eyes of the audience from the stage level to the fly area, gorgeous costumes, full sets, and special lighting.  It all added up to making for a wonderful sight, but some might in the near sold-out audiences might question the sometimes languid pace of the performance.

Joffrey’s account, based on THE NUTCRACKER AND THE MOUSE KING by E.T.A. Hoffman, with choreography conceived by Robert Joffrey and supplemented by Gerald Arpino, is the traditional version to which American audiences have been exposed.  This edition takes place in a Victorian Parlor in the 1850s, moves to the Magical Battleground, the Land of Snow, the Kingdom of Sweets and finally back to the parlor. 

The dancing was quite good, but with limited performance opportunities for Clara and the Nutcracker Prince, the show lacked some of the real ballet experience of the Moscow version.  The Joffrey segment where the dolls from around the world come to life was well danced and intriguing, with the children well integrated into the scenes. 

The use of the children in the Joffrey version, and the quality of their performances, was far superior to the Moscow group.  Bravo to Willy Shrive, the Children’s Ballet Master, for his work with the youngsters.

While viewing these productions, older locals were probably drawn back to the glory days of Dennis Nahat’s Cleveland Ballet superb version, with the then wunderkindt’s Raymond Rodriquez and Karon Gabay in the starring roles.

Capsule judgement: It’s too bad that Cleveland doesn’t have a professional ballet company but has to invite groups from other places to provide the yearly THE NUTCRACKER holiday fix.  That negative was balanced by an opportunity for local dance aficionados to have the chance to view two entirely different versions of the Tchaikovsky composition.


REVIEW OF THE REVIEWERS REVIEWS--Sam Nalla

Another great review [DEBBIE DOES DALLAS @ Blank Canvas].  Thanks..

Sam Nalla

Saturday, December 01, 2012


DEBBIE DOES DALLAS, not for prudes at Blank Canvas

Roy Berko
(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)

What does an airheaded, “good” girl from Beaverton Jesuit High School do when she wants to be a Dallas Cowgirl professional football team cheerleader, and she gets accepted, but doesn’t have the money to get from Oklahoma to the big city?  She and her cheerleading friends, of course, turn to prostitution.  That, at least is the premise of the classic porn flick DEBBIE DOES DALLAS, as well as the musical based on that flick.  The latter is now on stage at Blank Canvas.

DEBBIE DOES DALLAS is a 1978 porno film which starred the infamous Bambi Woods, she of well endowed mammary glands and long blonde hair. The flick was one of the most important releases during the “Golden Age of Porn,” and remains one of the best-known films of that genre. 

Ironically, Woods tried out for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, in real life, but was cut during auditions.  

Starting at the New York Fringe Festival, the musical, which has a book by Susan Schwartz and music by Andrew Sherman, Tom Kitt and Jonathan Callicutt, was optioned by Araca, the New York producing firm headed by Clevelanders Mathew and Michael Rego and Hank Unger.  The trio also produced URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL, WICKED, FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIRE de LUNE, and ROCK OF AGES.  

DEBBIE opened off-Broadway in 2002, became a cult hit, and has been produced in Australia, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

In the musical, we find Debbie Benton yearning to fulfill her life-long dream of wearing the white and blue star and fringe covered brief uniform of her beloved Cowgirls.  Debbie enlists her cheermates to get jobs to help her get enough money to go to Dallas.  But, of course, with a two-week deadline, and only minimum wage jobs available, they are quickly frustrated.  Debbie’s boss, Mr. Greenfelt, advises her and the other girls to transfer their Teen Services “business” into a “sex for hire” operation.  As happens in all good porn flicks, the girls hit the jackpot!

For the pure at heart, as is common with productions of this show, there is no actual sex or full nudity.  Well…there is enough suggestion that the opening night audience, mostly twenty-somethings, whooped and hollered during the towels-only locker room scene, male flashing, the several simulations of oral sex, the female-on-female clothes on orgy, female frontal penetration with a banana, a wet t-shirt car wash, the horny football players attempts at teenage groping…okay, there is enough going on that the Romney/Ryan folk headed for the doors about fifteen minutes into the 90-minute intermissionless show.

Wisely, director Pat Ciamacco has the cast playing real, rather than broadly over acting.  This technique makes the obvious story line, with its sexual innuendoes, properly ridiculous.  No, this is not Shakespeare or Noel Coward, but low farce, intended to offend the purist, and delight the lecherous.

Musical Director Lawrence Wallace and his band play well, but the music, like the script, is not meant to be great.  Come on, the quickly forgettable songs have such titles as Bring It, Pep Rally, The Locker Room Orgy, Ten Dollars Closer, God Must Love a Fool, and Dallas…I’m Coming (and, yes, that’s sung in a high pitched vocal frenzy!).  This is not the likes of I Am What I Am, What I Did for Love, or We Go Together.  Though the intent may be somewhat the same, the effect is different.

Leslie Andrews looks and sounds like the air-headed “good” girl Debbie.  She has a nice singing voice and the right vacant look.  Tasha Brandt is slut right as Lisa.  Ashley Conlon is fine as the geeky, uptight Tammy. Becca Frick is right on track as Roberta, the blonde bimbo, and Jordan Renee Malin does justice to the role of Donna.  Doug Bailey, Pat Miller and Bill Reichert, in and out of their clothes,  play all of their multi-roles as hormone hopping football jocks and the men in the lives of the cheerleaders, with the right farcical air and mustaches falling off, to the delight of the viewers.

The production lags due to long set and costume changes, and languid pacing, but the overall effect, at least judged by the opening night audience, is positive.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  DEBBIE DOES DALLAS is the kind of show that will entertain some, irritate others, titillate some, offend others.  The script, the production, and the concept has all the makings of a cult musical (think—THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW), mainly aimed at a young, hip audience.

DEBBIE DOES DALLAS runs though December 22 in its west side theatre, 1305 West 78th Street, Suite 211, Cleveland.  Get directions to the theatre on the website.  (My GPS was of little help).  Once you arrive at the site, go around the first building to find the entrance and then follow the signs to the second floor acting space.  It’s an adventurous battle. For tickets and directions go to www.blankcanvasthetre.com

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


MIRACLE & WONDER, a StageWrights script, on stage at Ensemble

Every Wednesday night, a group of wanna-be playwrights and their followers meet at Ensemble Theatre “to develop new work through critical evaluation, discussion, pointed questioning, laughter, more discussion, agreement, disagreement, seemingly endless cups of coffee and sometimes a round of sincere applause.”

The first of the group’s efforts to make it to full production is Jonathan Wilhelm’s thought provoking script, MIRACLE AND WONDER.  It is dedicated to Majid Brown, who Wilhelm describes as “the most opinionated person I’ve ever met and I [Wilhelm] mean this in the best way possible.”  He goes on to say that “everyone should be blessed with someone in our lives who is able to be so honest.” 

MIRACLE AND WONDER takes place during the present holiday season, in a suburban city in Midwest America.  The scenes, and there are many of them, occur inside and outside of a house, in a gay bar, a hospital room and a living room. 

Wilhelm’s script doesn’t clearly develop his message, but there are enough hints so that anyone interested in spirituality, mysticism and holiday cheer will glean its wonder, based on miracles, or whatever miracles are.

The cast of characters includes a compulsive school teacher, an alcoholic drag queen, a guardian angel (who switches from being a rabbi to being a viola teacher to being a philosopher), a former Latin teacher who has been estranged from her sister for many years, a African-American tween who as adopted by a Jewish parents, and another youngin’ who is being raised by a gay man who was her deceased father’s lover.  Throw in some holiday miracle, a little wonder, Bette Davis movies, mistaken identities, Midrash parables, Jesus having a bad day, and you have the ingredients of the bizarre Wilhelm’s script.

The Ensemble production is often entertaining, sometimes confounding, and very choppy.  The latter is the result of the playwrights having written a piece requiring many set changes and a director who doesn’t seem to know that having a new realistic set for each new place is not necessary.    It appears Ian Hinz has never heard of suggestive settings or multi-levels.  Even though the idea of having the set changers sing carols as they worked, after a while, even they go bored with the whole concept and just dragged stuff where it needed to go.  He also needed to work with increasing the tempo.

The cast generally carries through on each character’s concept.  Lissy Gulick is delightful as ditzy Noreen.  Anne McEvoy is properly frustrated as Ruth, Noreen’s estranged sister.  Why one of the sisters, who were each “reared” in the same area, has a southern drawl and the other a definite mid-western twang is
unclear, but their bedtime confession scene is a production highlight.

The acting highlight belongs to Tim Tavcar as Malcolm/Polly Esther, a drag queen who gives new meaning to “not passable.”  Though we never get the pleasure of actually experiencing his/her night club performance, we get enough of a view to know that this is not a top of the hill act.

Curt Arnold, as Luke, has some line problems, but basically develops a real person.  John Busser’s Rabbi, prophet, angel is on target, as are the performances by Katie Wilkinson, Lauryn Hobbs and Agnes Herrmann.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  Ensemble’s Stagewright’s concept is an excellent means for local playwrights to try out their writing skills, get constructive feedback, and hopefully get their works staged.  Congratulations to Jonathan Wilhelm for developing the often delightful MIRACLE & WONDER.  Though it needs some refinements, and a more clearly directed concept, it is both entertaining and thought provoking and a change from the usual holiday theater fare.

MIRACLE & WONDER runs Thursdays through Sundays through December 2 at Ensemble Theatre, now housed in Coventry School, 2843 Washington Blvd, Cleveland Heights.  For tickets call 216-321-2930 or go online to www.ensemble-theatre.org

Monday, November 19, 2012


A look behind the scenes at Inlet’s marvelous evening of dance

Roy Berko
(Member, Dance Critics Association)

Every once in a while a reviewer has the opportunity to not only see an enthralling dance performance, but to experience it from the inside.  I accomplished both when I not only saw Inlet Dance’s recent evening of dance, but sat in on a rehearsal.

Inlet Dance Theatre’s sold out November 16 performance at the Hanna Theatre consisted of two world premieres. 

The opening number was a ten-minute excerpt from CHAKRA, choreographed by Kapila Palihawadana.  Kapila is a Sri Lankan born dancer/choreographer/founder and artistic director of nATANDA Dance Theatre of Sri Lanka.  He is one of five international artists who are participating in a three-month stay in the area through the Cleveland Foundation’s Creative Fusion International Artist-in-Residence Program.  Kapila has spent his time working with Inlet dancers and engaging in sharing his talents throughout the community.  The culmination of his residency will be the full unveiling of CHAKRA at Cleveland Public Theatre’s Danceworks ‘13. 

CHAKRA, with mood-right lighting by Trad Burns, flowing costumes designed by Kapila, Ivan Leccaroa Correra and Kristin Wade, and an original acoustic drum score by Sean Ellis Hussey, was emotionally involving.  The athletic piece, with strong leaps and powerful interactions, represented a traditional healing ceremony.   The short excerpt insured pleasurable anticipation of the forthcoming staging.

From 2006 through 2008, Inlet Dance participated in the Ohio Arts Council’s International Artist Exchange Program.  Artistic director Bill Wade travelled to Easter Island to select an artist from the island to come to Cleveland.  The next year Akahanga Rapu Tuki came to Cleveland  to teach the Inlet dancers five traditional dances from Rapa Nui.  In 2008 seven Inlet dancers travelled to Easter Island to complete the artist exchange.   They spent two weeks performing, teaching and exploring and forming a “family” with the island residents. 

The results of these exchanges inspired CENTER OF THE EARTH (TE PITO O TE HENUA).  Developed in small segments, the final melding of the parts became public at the Hanna Theatre presentation.  It will be repeated at the International Performing Arts for Youth Conference in Philadelphia during its January session.

The results of the years of effort was obvious to the enthralled audience.  CENTER OF THE EARTH is a tour de force.  The first segment, Hotu Matua, explores the idea of a healthy interdependent community centering on the journey of the people coming to Rapa Nui on canoes.  The water, the waves, the cooperative movements were all vividly apparent. 

Three women and then three men next illustrated the clear gender specific roles and dances of the residents.  Exploring the island left an impression of the physical environment and was illustrated in the fourth segment, Lave Tubes, with the dancers forming visual images of the topography, the needed dexterity to transverse the land, and how cooperation was required to be successful. 

Wind, created by whipping and interweaving with heavy ropes, gave a clear vision of the ever present “voice” in every experience on the island.  It incorporated the history, sense of ritual and the breath of life of the Rapa Nui people.

Underwater World, a metaphor for uniqueness and diversity, unearthed visions of turtles and other underwater sea life.  The ocean is always there, always present in the life of these island people. 

REPRISE was a repeated capsule of the entire program.  It was a reinforcement that illustrated that the work was image based choreography, rather than the traditional dance step based choreography.

I had the privilege of observing a rehearsal of the Hanna program at the Idea Center on PlayhouseSquare.  The marvel of Inlet is its total dedication to collaborative works, in an engaging example of a functional family.  Both Bill Wade, who is a master at working interactively with his dancers, much as he did when he taught at the Cleveland School for the Arts, and Kapila Palihawadana, sought out input and integrated the views and ideas of the dancers.  This technique is not usual in the dance world.  Most commonly, the choreographer develops the movements and implants his ideas on the dancers.  Most often this is done through knowledge of traditional dance vocabulary and historically developed movements.

Since there is no vocabulary for the types of dances being developed for these programs, not only were movements being created, but a vocabulary was developed.  According to the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis of communication, if  something has no name it does not exist in any form other than a quick illusion.  To create permanency, and the ability to repeat and perfect the ideas, they needed to be named.  This was evident in the idea development as the interactive dances were created.

It was fascinating to watch how almost fifteen minutes was spent developing the exact hand placements for an instantaneous segment.  Not once did the choreographer tell the dancers what to do.  The dancers suggested, practiced, worked it out, as Wade blended his views with the “family.”  It was a lesson in true cooperative creation and the building of trust.  What a lesson for others to learn of how to create without letting ego and power be the rule of operation.  It was a true lesson on the building of community, an important aspect of not only the motto of the people of Easter Island, but of Wade, himself.

Capsule judgement:  The Inlet Dance Theatre program was an experience that anyone interested in community, healthy family relationships, ethnology and sociology, let alone dance, should experience.  When the program is repeated in other local venues, GO!  This is an absolutely MUST SEE experience!
Next up:  CHAKRA at Cleveland Public Theatre’s Danceworks ’13, April 11-13, 2013.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Weakly conceived pacifist script produced at none too fragile

There is a reconstructed theatre company in the area, none too fragile, which  bills itself as “Akron and Northeast Ohio’s home for kick-a** theater!.”   It has just opened it’s second show in its new venue.

Formerly affiliated with Bang and Clatter, Sean Derry and Alanna Romansky have reconstituted the performance company and, after a short tenure in Cuyahoga Falls, has settled into a space in the rear section of Bricco’s restaurant.  Derry, who has built no less than six theaters, swears “this is the most permanent and final one.”

Karen Sunde’s HOW HIS BRIDE CAME TO ABRAHAM is billed as a pacifist tragedy, which is timely and  haunting.  If you consider a bias toward the Arabic cause to be acceptable, the play fits the definition of “pacifist.”

Sunde sets out to create a modern myth in which a wounded male Israeli soldier (Abraham) and a female Palestinian terrorist (Sabra) find themselves in Southern Lebanon, at night, in a cave-like enclosure.  Strong tension and mistrust are present.  They spar over homes and rights and threaten each other with death.  She tells horror stories about what was done to her family by the Israelis.  He tells stories about his grandmother and the Holocaust.  Voices and sounds invade their interactions.  Eventually, through a series of questionably motivated writing maneuvers, the duo has a sexual liaison.  The motivation of how “love” has blossomed between the duo is as illusionary as the premise of pacifism.

Sunde, in an interview, states, “I am a story-teller.  Life fascinates me, so I portray it in any form it seems to call for.”

I found the play filled with propaganda, couched in the form of the stories.  It is a diatribe of horrors that Israelis committed, with little balance of the history of the Arab inspired attacks against the Zionist state. 

As emotionally moving as the play may be, biased views do not a pacifist tale make.  If anything this furthers the cause of hatred.

The play, which was originally published in 2001, and officially premiered in January of 2004, is in the process of being made into a movie sponsored by the IDOC/NORTH AMERICA.  The organization “deals with contemporary and recent historical issues that relate, on a perspective from the individual to the global, to the concerns of opinion-makers and public policy-making groups in the United States, and, where possible, abroad.”  They propose that “The Abraham Project is intended to highlight the need to reconcile Israelis and Palestinians, and to dissolve the death-grip in which each is held by the other.” 

Though that mission is noble, HOW HIS BRIDGE CAME TO ABRAHAM is not the kind of vehicle to develop that goal.  It is too biased, not well written, and too unclear in objective purpose.

The none too fragile production, under the direction of Sean Derry is often compelling.  Performed in a sand covered area, dust flies, conflict is evident, the acting good.

Both Gabriel Riazi and Leighann Niles Delorenzo form meaningful characters, stretching beyond the limits of the script.  In spite of their excellent acting, the overall supposed message is missing.  Nowhere do we get what the author says is her purpose, “a distinct work that will help, and will answer ‘What can I do?’ in a world and a time that needs all of our best efforts.”  The author further states that she set out on a mission, “So they [the audience] could leave that space with new hope, new compassion, and a fresh determination to resolve their peoples’ conflict.”  Again, where she perceives this in her script is a mystery.

Capsule judgement: In spite of good acting and an intense production, HOW HIS BRIDE CAME TO ABRAHAM has such a biased development that it fails to live up to the stated goal of educating the audience on hope and compassion as it relates to a pacifist attitude toward the Israeli/Arab conflict.


HOW HIS BRIDGE CAME TO ABRAHAM runs through December 8 at none to fragile theater located in Bricco’s Restaurant, 1841 Merriman Road, Akron.  Use the free valet parking, as car space is limited.  For tickets call 330-671-4563 or go to http://www.nonetoofragile.com

Saturday, November 10, 2012



Powerful, enlightening THE WHIPPING MAN shines at Cleveland Play House


Even before it opened, due to strong ticket demand, the Cleveland Play House announced a week’s extension for the run of Matthew Lopez’s THE WHIPPING MAN.  The theatre’s foresight was as insightful as the play.

Every once in a while an audience is exposed to a perfect production.  It requires a well written and purposeful script, a strong message, a director who clearly understands the playwright and his/her purpose in penning the work, and a cast who live, rather than act, their roles.  THE WHIPPING MAN is such an experience.

On the surface, THE WHIPPING MAN is a tale set at the close of the Civil War in which Caleb DeLeon, a Confederate soldier returns to his Richmond, Virginia, palatial home, now a charred wreckage, to find his family missing and two former slaves, Simon and John, still there in spite of the their now being free men.  Caleb is badly wounded.  The former slaves take care of him.  As the story unfolds, an examination of friendship, faith and the meaning of freedom are revealed as there is a probing of the question asked each year during the Passover Seder, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”

Caleb, bitter, disillusioned and haunted by secrets has turned from his religious teachings.  Simon is an elderly negro man.  He is waiting for the DeLeons, who left with Simon’s wife and daughter, to return from hiding and collect the money he was promised by Mr. DeLeon.  Money that will allow him to buy some property and build a small house and live as a free man.  John, a young man about Caleb’s age, frustrated and bursting with dreams, he wants to flee to New York. 

Little known to many was that there were about 50,000 Jews in the South on the eve of the Civil War.  Though only a tiny number owned plantations, those who could afford it owned house slaves, much in the manner of their non-Jewish neighbors.   In THE WHIPPING MAN, the DeLeon family was one of those slave owners.  They, as revealed in the plot exposition, brought up their slave family in the ways of Judaism, complete with holiday celebrations and Jewish dietary laws.

In an interview, Matthew Lopez, a self-described “foxhole Episcopalian” from the Florida panhandle, the son of a Puerto Rican father and a Polish-Russian mother, was asked how he came to write a play about a Jewish Confederate solider and two former slaves celebrating Passover together.   His responses centered on his parent’s interest in the civil war, his being bullied as a gay teenager who felt discrimination, and his constant self-probing for who he was and what he’d do next.  

He also was drawn to the subject after viewing the movie, GLORY, about a regiment of black troops during the Civil War, which raised the question of how someone who was a slave all his life, would act when he became suddenly free.  “How do you make that psychological change?”  As one of the play’s character asks, “What do I do now?”  He saw a parallel to the Jews leaving Egypt and later being freed from the concentration camps following the Holocaust.

While reading an autobiography of Frederick Douglass, Lopez fumbled on a reference to the fact that in 1865, the Passover observance began the day after Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.  Thus, the time setting of the play, which parallels the time of the Exodus from Egypt and the freedom of the slaves in the United States.

CPH’s THE WHIPPING MAN is a finely conceived production under the expert direction of Giovanna Sardelli.  It is well paced, clearly focused, and expertly supported by the sound, light and setting dimensions.  Era correct costumes and props further enhance.  But, the highlight of the show are the razor honed performances.

Shawn Fagan, as Caleb, who spends most of the play lying down due to a battle induced injury, conveys anguish and frustration with his voice and flashing eyes.  Pain and angst blast from him.  This is a man tortured by several secrets that eat away at his very being and are revealed in several breath-gasping scenes.

Russell G. Jones is gripping as the elderly Simon.  Spouting forth Jewish Biblical pronouncements, Jones clearly creates a man who understands himself, his purpose and his loyalties to his family and former owners.  The closing scene, when he literally and figuratively strips himself, is compelling.

Avery Glymph doesn’t portray the emotionally wound-up John, he is John.  John of panther quickness and determination.  John who was sent to the whipping man for his constant outbursts, but, as later revealed, for being someone who he shouldn’t have been.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: THE WHIPPING MAN is one of the finest theatrical productions of this theatre season.  It is required viewing by anyone who wants to experience theater at its finest.  This is one show that deserved a standing ovation.  Wow!

THE WHIPPING MAN runs December 2 through  at the Allen Theatre.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to www.clevelandplayhouse.com.