Sunday, April 29, 2012

Gruesome Playground Injuries

Ensemble’s GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES good, but not all it could be

Last year Ensemble Theatre produced playwright Rajiv Joseph’s HUCK AND HOLDEN. It was filled with humor and creative storytelling. Those attending Ensemble’s newest venture into Joseph’s work, GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES, will experience the same type of storytelling, but will probably find the production less satisfying.

Joseph, who was born and raised in the Cleveland area, is a graduate of Cleveland Heights High School, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, and wrote the third season of TV’s NURSE JACKIE. He is the author of BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHDAD ZOO, which ran last year on Broadway, and starred Robin Williams.

GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES is a different kind of love story that examines the interlocking lives of two damaged people who are in psychological agony. We first meet the duo as eight-year olds in a parochial school infirmary. Kayleen is supposedly there because of a stomach ache. Doug has just ridden his bike off the roof of the school, resulting in numerous physical injuries. Before the 30 years of the play’s actions are over, the duo manages to physically slice, bloody, bruise and/or mutilate most of their bodies. In addition, they become more and more psychological invalids.

The obvious question is why they self-abuse. Kayleen, we find out, as the script plays out in various hospital rooms, a funeral parlor, and a mental institution, is the product of an emotionally absent father, has been abandoned at an early age by her mother, and has no friends. A depressive, she turns to hypochondria, self mutilation, and self-pity as her defense.

Doug, on the surface, seems like a daredevil, with little instinct control. In fact, though he comes from a positive home environment, he is hyperactive and lacking in both intellectual and social skills.

We see snippets of their togetherness, in non-chronological scenes, at ages 8, 23, 13, 28, 33, 23 and 38. We note that the duo’s relationship, though it remains mostly platonic, is filled with emotionally bonding need. These lost souls desperately need each other, yet never commit to a lasting relationship. Each bounces from person to person, but always returning, after a period of separation, for the healing that only they can provide for the other.

Even at the play’s ending, which caught many in the audience by surprise, there is a non-conclusion to their relationship. They remain floating in tortured space, needing each other, not fully understanding why, and probably popping up in each other’s lives sometime in the future.

The Ensemble production, under the direction of Fred Sternfeld, though interesting, often drags. Much of the stage time is spent watching each character change makeup to fit the injury or age they are about to present, or make complete wardrobe alterations. Thus, the actual time when we are hearing dialogue is limited. The long changing time slows down the flow.

It could be argued that there is a need for us to watch as each heals, removes the blood and signs of their injuries, but, in reality the healing is only superficial. Unfortunately, some of the impact of that message is lost due to the length of the transitions.

The acting is strong. Celeste Cosentino is filled with angst as the depressed Kayleen. She leads us on a path through her tortured life, deflecting true feelings by ranting, “shut up” and “you’re retarded” to protect herself from emotionally bonding with Doug. We clearly see she recognizes that Doug is the only person in her life who gives her any meaningful attention, the only human who is human to her.

Dan Folino, he of fawn eyes and mobile body, transitions from 8-year old to crippled 38-year old, with visual clarity. At times, there is some over-acting, but, in general, he is believable. By the end, his battered body becomes a clear symbol of the failed life of the duo, the crumpled mass of wasted humanity.

In addition to the constant makeup and clothing changes, the shifting of rectangle and cube blocks that are used to create the set, becomes tedious. All that movement is not needed. Like the clothing, suggestions of location might have sped up the flow and helped to hold the audience’s attention.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Ensemble Theatre again takes on a Rajiv Joseph script. Though, due to some staging decisions, it is not as audience engaging as it could be, GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES is a thought provoking concept, that is filled with pathos.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Carmen: Story of Passion


Verb Ballets is in the midst of a reinvigoration project. The company has added several much needed new male dancers. The results were positively displayed in their production of CARMEN: STORY OF PASSION, their entry in DANCEWORKS 2012.

CARMEN is a sensual ballet based on Georges Bizet’s four-act opera. The music is noted for its melody, harmony and emotionality. It creates the proper mood for compassionate dance.

Choreographer Richard Dickinson has created a short story piece which takes advantage of the quality of the music, Verb’s new male dancers, and its fine female corps. 

Physically, the audience is seated in a formation that resembles a bull fighting ring. It fits the story of Carment, the fiery gypsy, who seduces men including Don José, a naïve soldier. In a fit of rage, Don José kills Escamillo, the glamorous toreador, who is another of Carmen’s lovers. The story highlights jealousy, immorality, lawlessness, seduction, sorrow, and revenge.

The entire company sets the proper moods. The audience is seduced into complicity as the dancers use empty chairs in the seating segment between exits and entrances.

The night I attended, Kara Madden, with flashing eyes and seductive moves, convincingly portrayed the hot tempered Carmen. Arthur Prettyman well danced Don José, Katie Gnagy portrayed Micaela, Don José’s jilted lover, with yearning tenderness. 

Brian Murphy’s take on Escamillo was refreshing. Usually the role is sung (in the opera) and danced (in the ballet version) with the egocentric disdain of an idolized toreador. Murphy, instead, gave a human quality to the characterization. Or Sagi, as Lieutenant Luniga, has a captivating stage presence which gives an added dimension to the male Verb presence.

Janet Bolick’s costumes fit the mood and era of the setting.

The missing element for many was the absence of the famous bull ring cape routine which is one of Verbs’ signature pieces. Though a wonderful visual image, it was wisely omitted. It would have distracted rather than added to the Dickinsonian image of the piece.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Fine acting featured in Two One-Acts Plays at Cesear’s Forum

Arthur Miller is considered one of America’s greatest playwrights. He, along with William Inge and Tennessee Williams, are often termed the fathers of American modern theatre.

An east coast liberal, he often is called “the social conscience of America.” He continued to probe social wounds of culture and exposed his personal issues for the sake of his art. He constantly strikes emotional chords as he probes, “Is this the best way to live?.”

His ELEGY FOR A LADY finds a distraught and seemingly grief-stricken man entering a gift store under the pretense of purchasing a present for his dying mistress. The woman has denied him involvement in her suffering and he apparently needs to share his feelings with someone. The owner of the shop encourages him to share his thoughts, thus serving as a surrogate confidante.

The play is filled with ambiguity and leaves the authenticity of the happenings in question. Miller is noted for his meticulous choice of words. Due to the unnatural flow of language in ELEGY FOR A LADY, one has to question whether this is an experience of surrealism rather than journey of realism.

Both Dana Hart as the man and Ursula Cataan as the shop owner are excellent in their presentations. The goings on are well paced and hold the audience’s attention.

THREE WOMEN is a tone poem by Sylvia Plath. Originally written as a radio drama in 1962, it is Plath’s only play. It was written about a year before the poetess died.

The epic traces three different views of pregnancy and childbirth. The traditional birth resulting in a healthy baby, a miscarriage, and a young woman who gives birth, but gives the baby up for adoption. Some of her thoughts must have been quite personal as after giving birth, she later had a miscarriage.

As with any piece of poetry, many of the ideas are abstract and require concentration to grasp Palth’s ideas.

Ursula Cataan, Kristen Levy and Katrina Melanie Walker all give credible performances, making clarity out of the numerous metaphors and motifs.

Capsule Judgement: Cesear’s Forum’s production philosophy centers on making social commentary while presenting experimental theatre. Though not a traditional type of production, the evening of one-acts is a good example of thoughtful theatre.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

God of Carnage

Hysterically funny GOD OF CARNAGE at Dobama

What’s more ridiculous, two tween boys having a fight or their parents trying to deal with the conflict?

The answer to that question can be found at Dobama Theatre where Yasmina Reza’s GOD OF CARNAGE is now on stage. It’s a comedy whose New York production was dubbed “a hysterical night of name-calling, tantrums and tears.”

The name-calling tantrums are the actions of the tweens in a playground tiff, right? Wrong! It’s their parents trying to deal “rationally” with Benjamin having knocked out two of Henry’s teeth with a twig. Before the meeting is over, there is a rolling on the floor hair pulling battle, taunting, a smart phone destroyed by a dunking in a vase of tulips, vomiting, some more vomiting, alcoholic consumption, constantly changing alliances, and insults about everything from the pastry being served to the belief systems of the participants. The topics of misogyny, racial prejudice, political attitudes, drug company misdeeds, and homophobia all rear their ugly heads. Rationality is replaced by riot!

Alan, Benjamin’s father, never gets off his cell phone, sharing intimate legal secrets about one of his drug client’s questionable compounds. Annette, his wife, who is a “management expert” tries to be above the fray. Well, at least at the start. Michael, Henry’s dad, who has just destroyed the family’s pet gerbil, enjoys talking about his “bad boy” days as a member of a suburban “gang.” Veronica, the “oh-so offended,” moralistic mother of the boy with the missing teeth, is a pseudo-intellect who fawns over art volumes while telling about her project of writing a book about the conflicts in Darfur. (She has never been to Darfur.) To add to the goings on, the phone keeps ringing with cries of distress from Michael’s Florida living senior citizen mother with knee problems.

The play, which opened in London in 2008, and moved to New York the next year, was originally written in French. Guess America isn’t the only place with adults who act more childish than their children.

The Broadway production starred Jeff Daniels, James Gandolfini, Hope Davis and Marcia Gay Harden. All were nominated for Tony Awards. The production received the Tony for Best New Play.

The script was the source for the 2011 movie CARNAGE, which was directed by Roman Polanski and starred Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Christopher Waltz and Kate Winslet.
Dobama’s production of GOD OF CARNAGE, under the adept direction of Joel Hammer, is a total delight. The show is well paced, the many laugh lines are cued for the right responses, and the author’s intent is well developed.

The cast is universally strong. Tracee Patterson is nothing short of perfect as Veronica. She embraces both the comedy and farce aspects of the role. Derdriu Ring’s Annette starts out controlled and competently builds into a vomiting, opinionated hellcat. Scott Miller effectively forms Alan, the smart phone obsessed lawyer, into an obnoxious bore.   John Hedges is both funny and pathetic as the gerbil destroying dad. The quartet plays well off each other and creates lots of laughs with good timing and farcical abandonment.

Laura Carlson’s scenic design makes for a perfect visual of an upper middle class suburban living room.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: GOD OF CARNAGE is a well written comedy that evokes constant laughter. It gets a top-notch production at Dobama. If you want an evening of totally delightful entertainment, to experience rationality being replaced by riot, this is a must go-see!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

In The Next Room (or the vibrator play)

VIBRATOR is stimulating on Cleveland Playhouse’s Second Stage

As reviewers and special guests came up to the media table in the lobby of the Allen Theatre, before the opening night performance of IN THE NEXT ROOM (or the vibrator play), they were given a bag of “goodies” supplied by the show’s sponsor, Ambiance, which bills itself as “the store for lovers.” Without going into detail about the gifts, the contents were a perfect hint of what was to come once the lights went up on CPH’s Second Stage.

During the late nineteenth century, terms like “hysteria” and “frigidity” were used to describe maladies associated with the “weaker sex.” Everyone, from Thomas Edison to Sigmund Freud to the medical profession, jumped into the fray trying to get women to transform into “their finer selves.”

Without knowing it, the men were acknowledging puritanical attitudes, which deemed that women were to be subservient to their husbands, and their duty was to make sure their husbands were satisfied. Male controlled views of life resulted in females not reaching emotional or sexual climax and, therefore, were in a state of constant frustration.

It is ironic that now, in the twenty-first century, women are still being controlled and demonized by a political system in which respect for the female body and the ability to control their own destinies are being subjugated by religious groups and a political party.

Sarah Ruhl’s IN THE NEXT ROOM (or the vibrator play) is an often funny, emotional and revealing tale which examines female sexual desire, motherhood, breastfeeding, jealousy, personal discovery and the rigidities of society.

The setting is a prosperous town outside of New York City in the 1880s. Dr. Givings is a young doctor who has a fascination with technology and believes through physical and mechanical vaginal manipulation he can cure women of their moodiness, hysteria and depression.

Catherine, Givings’ wife, has recently given birth to a baby, but does not have enough natural milk supply to satisfy the child. A wet nurse is hired. The baby bonds quickly with the caring, emotionally and sexually satisfied, Elizabeth. Catherine, not only is frustrated from a lack of attention from her husband, but is now in a state of having no outlet for her satisfaction of emotional and female needs.

In the meantime, Sabrina Daldry comes to Dr. Givings for help. She transforms under the care of the doctor and Annie, a nurse-midwife. Sabrina and Catherine soon form an alliance to discover why their lives have been so angst filled. Part of the reason, they believe, includes that their “husbands creep quietly into their beds at night and only use the missionary position,” thus satisfying themselves but leaving their wives unfulfilled.

A free love painter, snow (the symbol of love), making snow angels, some level of awareness on the part of men of the needs of women, the binding restrictions of the female clothing of the era, use of the electronic device on a male, sage advice from a wet nurse, and a piano interlude, all come together to provide heightened awareness.

Though the play is a little too long, especially the protracted second act, and the staging of the ending is a big over the top, CPH’s production, under the direction of Laura Kepley is well done. The show is well-paced, the acting is top notch, the stage set by Michael Raiford is visually stimulating, Michael Boll’s lighting creates the proper moods, and David Kay Mickelsen’s costume designs, especially the women’s clothing, are era-correct and breathtaking.

Nisi Sturgis walks the fine line between angst and giddy with precision as Catherine Givings. Jeremiah Wiggins, as the educated yet clueless Dr. Givings, is excellent. Gail Rastorfer makes the uptight nurse, Annie, a symbol for the need for women to act on their impulses. Birgit Huppuch is delightful as Sabrina Daldry, transitioning perfectly from “hysterical” to freed from frustration. Donald Carrier is so very “proper” as Mr. Daldry. Rachel Leslie, as the Black wet nurse, Elizabeth, develops a character that clearly displays a satisfied woman who, relieved of the Victorian “white person’s” attitudes, responds to life on a real level. Zac Hoogendyk gives the right free-spirited attitude to painter Leo Irving.

Be aware that the play contains sexual reenactments, full male nudity, and explicit language.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: IN THE NEXT ROOM (or the vibrator play) is filled with laughter, views of the needs of women, naïve treatment of the “weaker sex” by men, excellent acting, and a beautiful set and costumes. This is a production well worth seeing.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

KSU's Roe Green Visting Director's Series


Local arts patron and activist Roe Green is at it again! Much of Cleveland theatre is stamped with the Roe Green tag. She’s the sponsor of the Cleveland Critic’s Circle’s She’s the fairy godmother to the Kent State University’s theatre program, as her foundation recently built their new theatre and dance center. She serves on the KSU Foundation, School of Theatre and Dance and Porthouse Theatre’s Advisory Boards. She serves on the board of The Cleveland Play House and has been the honorary producer for their Fusion Fest. She sponsored the theatre program at the Jewish Community Center for many years. She has also donated to other area theatres.

Her latest foray into the arts is KSU’s Roe Green Visiting Director’s Series which brings in a playwright to work with students and create an original theatre piece. This year’s director/playwrite is Ami Dayan. Dayan, who has studied and worked professionally in the U.S., Europe and Israel, was recently commissioned by The Denver Center Theatre Company and the Colorado Shakespeare Festival to craft new works. He is the president of Maya Productions, an independent theatre company (see

Dayan has adapted Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s 1779 literary masterpiece NATHAN THE WISE, one of the earliest pieces celebrating religious tolerance into a play with music. In actuality, it is a full-ledged musical drama. The script is a plea for religious tolerance between Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

The KSU production succeeds on many levels. It is entertaining, tells its tale in an audience involving mode, and has some interesting, if not memorable music. As is the case with any work-in-progress, it needs some tweeking.

The student cast members do a nice job of developing their roles. The singing is generally very good, the musical sounds enhanced the show supporting rather than drowning out the performers.

Again, thanks to Beachwood High School grad Roe Green for her continued support of the arts.

Up Cabaret

UP CABARET—a new entertainment in the Cleveland area

On Saturday, April 14 the lights went up on a new small entertainment stage in Cleveland area. The space, upstairs of the Cleveland Public Theatre, is the home of UP Cabaret, the brain child of Paul Hoffman.

CPT’s Artist Raymond Bobgan agreed with Hoffman that Cleveland could benefit from a regular Cabaret room. It’s a place where live entertainment night club acts will appear on a regular basis. For six weeks this spring, UP CABARET will light up the stage at 10:20 p.m. on Saturday night. (Doors open at 9:30) Cabaret tables, a cash or credit wine and beer bar, and local stars will be available for an entrance fee of only $5 (payable at the door).

The series opened with Cabaret Smack Down
featuring Lora Workman and Monica Olejko. The rest of the spring series will be:

April 21--SOLE MATES starring Nicole Mclaughlin, singing about her love of shoes.

April 28--NOT MENOPAUSE, featuring Tina Stump, Jean Zarzour, Paula Klein Messner, June Lang, Maryann Nagel, and Dyan Beder, the original cast of the local production of MENOPAUSE. Ton Bonezzi serves as the Musical Director.

May 5--Adina Bloom and Paul Hoffman entertain in THE TWO OF US, a show about relationships in 5 sighs and 15 songs. Heidi Hertzog will be the musical director.

May 12--Laurel Held and company (Wendy Morgan Cove, Michelle Moye, Isabell Tuma and Ayeshah Douglas star in SONG BIRD, MUSIC OF EVA CASSIDY.

David Dettloff is the musical director.

May 19--Donnie Long explains I SLEPT WITH MY MOTHER ON HER 70TH

BIRTHDAY with David Dettloff as the musical director.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Romeo and Juliet

Juliet shines in Great Lakes Theatre’s ROMEO AND JULIET

ROMEO AND JULIET, the tale of star-crossed lovers, is considered one of Shakespeare’s great plays. Filled with unbridled love, beautiful illusions, conflict, plot twists, and an emotional ending, it has all the elements of audience appealing theatre.

Interestingly, Shakespeare did not invent the plot for the play. Poet Arthur Brooks is credited with writing a tale of Romeus and Juliet in what is often referred to as a “long plodding poem.” Many of the story threads in the Bard’s version, including the lovers meeting at a ball, their instant love and secret marriage, Romeo’s fight with Juliet’s cousin, the sleeping potion, and the eventual suicides, are all “stolen” from Brooks. In Shakespeare’s hands, however, the tale is not plodding.

The story centers on a feud between the families Capulet and Montague in the city of Verona. The play starts with a battle between servants of the families and concludes with the end of the grudge.

In short, Romeo is in love with Rosaline. Rosaline deflects his attention. Benvolio, Romeo’s friend invites the melancholy youth to accompany him to a feast in order for him to relieve his depression. There Romeo sees the fair Juliet, instantly falls in love, his affections are returned by the lovely teen and, thus, a tale of forbidden love and senseless, yet poetic and dramatic deaths follow.

Great Lakes Theatre’s production of ROMEO AND JULIET, under the direction of Charles Fee has many high points. Betsy Mugavero is luminous as Juliet. She perfectly develops the child/woman qualities needed. She is as irrational as a youth should be, hits the right level of being impetuous and head strong, and makes Juliet totally believable.

Laurie Birmingham successfully textures the role of Nurse. It becomes readily apparent, due to Birmingham’s interpretation of the role, that Juliet is the product of Nurse’s constant devotion. The portrayal is filled with compassion and humor.

Lynn Robert Berg nicely develops Friar Laurence into a wise and understanding sage, helping the young lovers in their plotting. J. Todd Adams, is excellent as Mercutio, Romeo’s friend. He has a nice flair for comedy and the ironic. Laura Perrotta is correctly passionate as Lady Capulet, Juliet’s mother, avoiding the common mistake of some American actors of overplaying Shakespeare.

The sword fight scenes, under the guidance of Ken Merckx, are exciting, filled with acrobatics and clever movements, including participants hanging from the scaffolding. Star Moxley’s costume designs were appropriate and the women’s garb elegant. There is some nice plot heightening underscoring music. The pacing keeps the story flowing.

On the other hand, Fee, infuses verbal and nonverbal sexual innuendos that distract from the plot line. With a large number of students coming to production, the titillation, which is unnecessary, seems inappropriate.

Aled Davis, as Juliet’s father, screamed his way through the role. There was little texturing, mainly unbridled volume. In addition, the important final scene of the play, in which the Friar summarizes the Bard’s message, was drowned out by the overdone wailing of Melissa Owens, Romeo’s mother.

Yes, Romeo is supposed to be melancholy, but Christian Durso, so underplayed the character, that the youth was almost devoid of personality. There appeared to be no real passion between him and Juliet. Even the kisses were tepid.

A major visual and audio problem was created by scenic designer Gage Williams’ set. Because of the large mid stage heavy wall, and the small size of the gate-entrance into the death vault, those audience members seated stage right and left could neither see nor hear the important scene between Romeo and Paris, just before the play’s conclusion. A high school student sitting behind me whispered to her friend, “What’s going on back there?” That’s definitely not a good sign. The set and blocking should serve the play, not obliterate important scenes, especially the climactic ones.

Capsule judgement: ROMEO AND JULIET gets a credible performance at GLT, highlighted by an enchanting performance by Betsy Mugavero as Juliet, good pacing, and some fine supporting acting, but the production does have some problematic elements.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Iphigenia 2.0

IPHIGENIA 2.0 assaults the senses at Cleveland Public Theatre

In IPHEGENIA IN AULIST, which was written by Euripides, the classic ancient Greek writer of tragedy, Agamemnon, the leader of the Greek coalition is about to enter into a battle during the Trojan War. In order to appease the goddess Artemis, and encourage his troops to go into the battle in honor, he sacrifices his daughter, Iphigenia. Euripides uses tragic irony, a writing device in which the audience knows the tragic hero is making a mistake, even as the character is making it, to envelop the viewers in the action. We know he is making a mistake but are powerless to stop him.

In IPHIGENIA 2.0, which is now in production at Cleveland Public Theatre in collaboration with Oberlin College, writer Charles Mee offers a reconsideration of the Euripides’ tale.

Mee, using free-wheeling lyric prose, asks many philosophical questions about honor, war, the forgotten lessons of history, and life. His device is to parallel the Greek wars and those of the modern middle east conflicts.

Though he doesn’t state it in the script, Mee might have been asking, when George Bush, Dick Cheney and the rest of the old white male neo-cons committed this country to the Iraq war, what were they personally willing to sacrifice? Did they offer to give the lives of their daughters for a cause they believed in? What were the personal consequences of their drive for confrontation? Were they really tragic heroes or just tragic?

On one level, the story concerns Agamemnon, who convinces his troops that the war they are embarking on is worth the sacrifice of many lives. The troops, in turn, ask their leader to give something up, something of personal value in exchange. Agamemnon sacrifices Iphigenia, his beloved daughter, to show his conviction. When his wife Clytemnestra finds out about the plan she becomes frantic. Iphigenia, upon discovering the plot, offers herself as a statement of purpose of a meaningful life.

The other side of tale offers some vague references about the Middle Eastern war. Unfortunately, Mee leaves the parallel somewhat vague. Ideas are hinted at, even lightly said, by not made totally clear. The audience really has to dig to make the stories analogous.

Mee claims he doesn’t write “political plays.” In my mind, that’s the problem. If he had drawn a clearer parallel between the decisions made by Agamemnon and those made by Bush/Cheney, or any other leaders who commanded conflict, but gave little beyond words as their sacrifice, the script would have been more meaningful.

The production, under the direction of Matthew Wright, is generally absorbing. The staging, which is done in a runway format, in which the audience is on both sides of the playing area, with the actors in between, provides involving visualizations. The visual ideas are well developed through good blocking. But, unfortunately due to the high ceiling and poor acoustics in the Gordon Square Theatre, lots of words get lost.

The hearing problem is made even worse because the actors tend to show strong emotions by screaming lines, often with poor diction. In addition, some of the cast, mainly the male soldiers, speak very rapidly in harsh muted voices, thus obliterating their words.

Tom Woodward does a nice job of developing the conflicted Agamemnon. Aaron Profumo makes for a physically right Achilles, Iphigenia’s betrothed. Marina Shay is fine as Iphigenia. Though her seduction scene of Achilles is convincing, Heather Anderson Boll, with distracting hair flopping over her face, is generally out of control as Clytemnestra, failing to texture her lines. She has one level of idea development--yelling.

Holly Handman-Lopez’s choreography of the fight and wedding scenes were well planned and executed. Inda Blatch-Gelb’s set, vertical banners and a floor covered with pictures and symbols, was visually appropriate. Richard Ingraham’s musical selections were excellent, but, due to the poor acoustics, maybe body microphones should have been considered.

Capsule judgement: IPHIGENIA 2.0 is a thought provoking, emotionally insightful piece of theatre that assaults the senses. It may be too abstract for some theatre-goers. Since I saw a preview performance I can only hope that the projection problems and some over-the-top acting will be reigned in as the run continues.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Addams Family

ADDAMS FAMILY at Playhouse Square generally entertainment

I saw the first preview performance of THE ADAMS FAMILY A NEW MUSICAL COMEDY in Chicago. The production was long, extremely long. Many in the audience left at intermission, most had left when the final curtain fell.

I understand there was a great deal of rewriting before the show opened on Broadway. In spite of a cast featuring Nathan Lane as Gomez and Bebe Neuwirth as Morticia, when the 2010 Great White Way production opened, the critics reacted with attacks on the music, the script and the cast.

Fortunately, the touring production , now on stage at the Palace Theatre, while not the greatest evening of theatre, is humorous in parts, has lost lots of its unnecessary bulk, is a reasonable length, and is generally entertaining. Most importantly, the cast is quite good and though there was some fleeing at intermission, much of the audience came back and gave the show a standing ovation. But, let’s be honest, it was a Cleveland automatic standing O that is mandatory for everything from a kindergarten show in which the scenery falls down to an amazing production like last season’s NEXT TO NORMAL.

THE ADDAMS FAMILY, with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa and book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, who were responsible for THE JERSEY BOYS, is based on the cartoon characters of Charles Addams. Yes, it depicts the ghoulish, eccentric, macabre family chronicled in the single-panel epics that were darkly humorous and had unbelievably strange characters. These were the same persons who were in the two season-television show, several animated cartoons, and three motion pictures.

The show’s North American tour began in September of 2011. Before it went on the road, more rewriting took place. It appears that those adjustments helped make the show more entertaining.

What goes on in this off-beat take on 19th Century Gothic? Wednesday, the family’s ghoulish daughter has fallen in love with a sweet, smart young man from a respectable family. Of course, no good can come from this, as we watch family ghosts come out of the cemetery to join Uncle Fester, Grandma, Pugsley and Lurch, bedazzle and confound us.

The music, none of which has hit song potential, helps develop the moods, especially the theme song which had the audience clapping on cue. Not being a well-integrated musical, some of the song and dance numbers could be cut with no loss of story line continuity. One Normal Night was clever, But Love was cute, and Uncle Fester (Blake Hammond) stopped the show with The Moon and Me.

This is a full-scale production. The sets are complex, the large pit orchestra excellent, the costumes well-conceived. Floating people and a moon landing, special effects, and puppets help create the fun.

Douglas Sills gave a Gomez interpretation that stuck with the original concept of Charles Addams, rather than making the role into a series of shticks, which was the case with Nathan Lane. Blake Hamm

ond was a total delight as Uncle Fester, as was Pippa Pearthree as Grandma. Cortney Wolfson was acceptable as Wednesday.

Clevelander Patrick Kennedy, who many in the audience may have seen in such productions as SECRET GARDEN at Near West Theatre, has a nice singing voice and made for a cute Pugsley, the kid who loves to be tortured. Tom Corbeil could have been a little stiffer and more exaggerated as Lurch, but displayed a nice singing voice. Crista Moore was a hoot as Alice, Wednesday’s boyfriend’s mother.

The only real cast disappointment was Sara Gettelfinger as Morticia. Maybe it’s the way the role is written because Bebe Neuwirth didn’t do much with the part either.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Don’t go to see THE ADDAMS FAMILY expecting to see great theatre, it isn’t, but, based on the response of the opening night audience, most people should enjoy themselves.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Great Lakes Theatre Shakespeare Composing Contest

GREAT LAKES THEATRE celebrates Shakespeare’s birthday with music

April 23 is the anniversary of William Shakespeare’s 448th birthday. That gala date will be celebrated by Great Lakes Theatre, Cleveland’s classic company, in grand style. In cooperation with WCPN 90.3 FM, the announcement of their 2012 songwriting contest winners will officially be announced.

The competition was open to junior and senior high school soloists or bands. The assignment was to submit new, original music inspired by ROMEO AND JULIET, which will be in production at GLT on the Bard’s birthday.

“The idea of the songwriting contest is to connect musically talented students to classic works of literature appearing on the Great Lakes stage,” said the theatre’s Education Director Daniel Hahn. “Shakespeare has inspired countless artists, and since his plays are often musical and lyrical, we wanted to see how student composers might respond to his work.”

“We had over 75 students enter the contest this year, far and away the most ever,” said Hahn, “and the entries were so good we actually added a fifth grand prize winner, after originally planning for just four.”

The grand prize winners were: Alex Berko (grade 10, Solon High--pictured above), Lexi Clegg (grade 7, Laurel School), Maria Bernadette DiDonato (grade 12, Normandy High), Keifer Wiley (grade 11, Orange High), and the band “InTandem,” featuring Wil Birsic (grade 12, Elyria Catholic), Brett Diederich (grade 12, Elyria Catholic), Zach Gunelach (grade 12, Elyria Catholic), and Caitlin Terrell (grade 12, Medina High).

Music submissions of all styles and genres were accepted. Each grand prize winning entry received a $250 cash prize, a professionally engineered recording, commemorative CDs and a radio broadcast of the song on a special edition of WCPN’s Around Noon. Winners were interviewed by Dee Perry, the host of the program. In addition, winners received tickets for a production of ROMEO AND JULIET.

Broadway Series 2012-13 announced


There was no doubt while Gina Vernaci, the Cleveland Play House Square’s Senior Vice President of Theater Operations was announcing the 2012-13 Key Bank’s Broadway series in the Westfield Insurance Studio Theatre, that something special was happening. The applause continued to get louder and louder as Vernaci added one pleasing offering after another.
The series opens with ANYTHING GOES which received the 2011 Tony Award for a winning revival. The Cole Porter 1934 musical will be staged by director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall. The production will rehearse in Cleveland for its tour and will open here. Performances are set for October 2 through 14.
The touring production will star Rachel York as Reno Sweeney, who was present for the Key Bank preview. The dynamic York played Fantine in LES MISERABLES on Broadway, and Marguerite in the second Broadway version of THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL. Her other Broadway productions include CITY OF ANGELS, VICTOR VICTORIA, SLY FOX and DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS.
In a one-on-one interview, York, who declares that she is a perfectionist, finds that touring, and living out of suitcase is going to be a challenge as she is a new mother and will be bringing her child on the tour. She finds that every opening night in each city is a major challenge. The different audiences and new venues presents an interesting challenge.
Following ANYTHING GOES will be a new staging of Disney’s Beauty & the Beast from November 6 through 18.
The Bette Midler produced PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT, which won a 2011 Tony Award for costumes, will disco into town from January 15-27. This is a quirky show of a troupe of cross-dressers traveling Australia in a rocking tour.
Another super star, Whoopi Goldberg, is the producer of SISTER ACT, based on her 1992 movie. The feel good musical, which has been called “ridiculously fun” will be on the local stage from March 5-17
My review of WAR HORSE, which I saw on stage at Lincoln Center ended with the statement: “Filled with amazing puppetry, stirring music, a riveting story, compelling graphics, and fine acting, WARHORSE is mesmerizing theatre. It is a once in a lifetime theatrical experience. To be honest, I never expected the show to tour…there are just to many technical wonders to reproduce. I’m so excited to see how the masters who created the show pull it off. You may have seen the movie, but it was a light-weight compared to the stage production. See Handspring Puppet Company of South Africa’s amazing puppets in action from April 9 through 21, 2013.
GUYS AND DOLLS, Damon Runyon’s sit down your rockin’ the boat musical will be a joint production with Great Lakes Theatre. It will be staged in the intimate Hanna Theatre from May 1 through June 23.
The season climaxes with THE BOOK OF MORMON, Broadway’s hottest ticket. My review of the show was, “THE BOOK OF MORMON is one fun ride that takes on religion, the Broadway musical, life and strife, and comes out the winner. It’s a precious laugh delight.” Unfortunately, the Trey Parker/Matt Stone hilarious musical will only be at the Palace Theatre for three weeks, so the odds of getting tickets will probably necessitate buying a season ticket. With the quality of what’s scheduled, that should be a no brainer.

Find details at