Saturday, September 28, 2013


Ensemble’s ANIMALS OUT OF PAPER, a challenging look at how the folds affect life

Cleveland has several young and dynamic playwrights who are making a name for themselves on the national scene.  Eric Coble’s BRIGHT IDEAS had an off-Broadway presentation, after its Cleveland Play House run.  His THE VELOCITY OF AUTUMN, which had a staging at Beck Center, and starred Dorothy Silver, is readying for a Broadway production which will star Estelle Parsons.

Cleveland Heights native Rajiv Joseph, has been labeled “one of today’s most acclaimed young playwrights,” has the awards to back up the claim.  He’s received the Paula Vogel Award for Most Acclaimed Young Playwrights, the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Play of 2009, and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for Drama for BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHDAD ZOO, which had a Broadway run and starred Robin Williams.

Joseph, who has a "fascination with the power of language,” uses that language to probe “the origins of human artistic impulse and ask what they mean
for those enslaved to it.”

ANIMALS OUT OF PAPER is in production at Ensemble Theatre, which seems to act as Joseph’s home theatre.  The company, headed by long time Joseph friend, Celeste Cosentino, has done one of his plays in each of its last three seasons.

ANIMALS OUT OF PAPER centers on an unlikely trio of people.  Ilana, a world renowned origami artist,  has perfected the Japanese art of folding paper into decorative and representational forms, to the extent that she has written the second best selling book on the subject.  Andy is a math teacher, and Suresh, a troubled youth whose mother was recently killed in an accident.

Ilana has barricaded herself in her littered studio surrounded by origami creations, Chinese take-out boxes, and piles of unused paper.   She has not only lost her husband, but her three-legged dog has run off, and her will to fold has disappeared.  Her life is much like the crumpled papers that litter the floor.

Andy is a nerdy math teacher who has an artistic and physical crush on Ilana, as a result of meeting her at a national origami convention where he was a student in one of her seminars.  He writes of this obsession and views of life in a notebook.  He journals because he once opened a fortune cookie, which told him to “count your blessings.”  He comes to Ilana’s loft, not only to meet her in person, but to sell her on mentoring Suresh, one of his students who shows a natural talent for origami, as his mentor.

Suresh, in contrast to Ilana, and other well known origami artists, doesn’t sketch out his work to decide on the order of each fold.  Instead, he works by instinct.  He perceives that actions, rather than developing a step-by-step plan, is the way to create.  His inspiration is the rap music he listens to in his ever-plugged in headphones.  He is in conflict as his life requires order, which has eluded him, while his origami, which should be based on set patterns, doesn’t follow orderliness.

The plot deepens when Andy and Ilana entangle their lives, and Suresh develops a fascination for Ilana.   Each probes for how they can exist in the world.  Recognizing, to some extent that, “So much of what I am is what I’ve lost.”

Ensemble’s production, under the directorship of Celeste Cosentino, creates the play’s essence, but fails to dig deeply enough into the characters and their motivations to give full meaning to Joseph’s well crafted script.

Katherine DeBoer creates an Ilana into a real person, complete with outward and hidden angst. 

Geoff Knox is properly anxiety filled.  There are times when he falls back on a geeky speech pattern which somewhat distracts.

Andrew Samtoy, generally displays his inner conflict.  In several scenes, such as when he is creating rap songs, he fails to let lose and capture the meaning of the words.

Ian Hinz’s projection designs are excellent.  Using visual images, rather than real sets, helps develop the artistic nature of the work.

The many intricate origami creations used in the production were supplied by The Public Theatre in Maine.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ANIMALS OUT OF PAPER is an often amusing, thought provoking play about what happens when the lives of mismatched people collide in complicated ways that highlight hurt  and the challenges of individuals who don’t know who they are or how to be in the world. The Ensemble production doesn’t quite reach the quality of the play’s writing, but does hold attention and leaves the audience thinking.

ANIMALS OUT OF PAPER runs Thursdays through Sundays through October 20 at Ensemble Theatre, housed in Coventry School, 2843 Washington Blvd, Cleveland Heights.  For tickets call 216-321-2930 or go online to

Of special interest:  Ensemble will be having a benefit performance on the October 4th, with a post show talkback with the director and the cast as well as a wine and desert reception which will be catered by Rajiv's uncle DAVID GAUCHAT, a well known pastry chef).  

Monday, September 23, 2013

Farcical BOEING-BOEING amuses at Lakeland

Farce is light comedy which contains exaggerated, extravagant and improbable situations.  It often contains slapstick incidents and lots of people ducking in and out of slamming doors.  Though farce was supposedly started in the 13th century, the modern tone for this format, which is highlighted by the works of the likes of The Three Stooges, The Marx Brothers, The Keystone Cops, Lucille Ball, Tim Conway and Carol Burnett, was etched by Molière, a Frenchman, and is best represented by his TARTUFFE.

It is therefore appropriate that one of the best of the modern farces, BOEING-BOEING, was written by Marc Comoletti, a Frenchman.  And though the play bombed in its initial Broadway debut, it was a smash hit in France and, according to the GUINNESS BOOK OF RECORDS, it is the most performed French play throughout the world.   The French seem to love the ridiculous, as can be recognized by their absolute adoration of Jerry Lewis.

BOEING-BOEING, which takes place in 1960, centers on Bernard, a bachelor who is engaged to three women at the same time.   His Paris apartment’s doors swing open and closed as the three stewardesses flow in and out of his life.  Bernard couldn’t be happier until his house of cards starts to collapse as all three women appear at the same time.  Aided by his timid friend Robert, who can’t remember who he has told lies to, catastrophe looms.   But, as always happens in this kind of format, there is an improbable ending and all’s well that ends well.

Most theatre people consider farce the most challenging format as it requires exaggerated actions, while appearing to be completely serious and realistic.

Martin Friedman’s direction is basically on point.  The audience laughs, the ridiculousness is present, and that’s what farce is all about.  The production would have been helped by a faster pace, a more furious series of opening and slamming doors, and more keyed farcical timing.

Brian Zoldessy, who has made a career out of playing nerds caught in the crosshairs of imminent disaster, succeeds once again.  His mobile face and ability to create the right level of believable ridiculousness, makes his Robert the laugh center of the show.

Jeffrey Grover serves well as the straight man for Zoldessy’s comic shticks.  Beth Lee holds her own as Bertha, Bernard’s maid, though her accent sometimes makes her difficult to understand.  Katie Nabors, Nancy Telzerow and Tess Elizabeth, as the bevy of beautiful stewardesses, each creates an identifiable character.

Capsule judgement: BOEING-BOEING is a light weight farce that receives what should be an audience pleasing production at Lakeland Community Theatre.

For tickets to BOEING-BOEING which runs through October 6, and is being staged in Lakeland Community College’s theatre, call 440-525-7134 or to go

TIME STANDS STILL, thought provoking, well conceived @ Dobama

Nathan Motta, in his first full season as Artistic Director of Dobama, not only selected a dynamic script to start his reign, but has conceived a production that is not only thought provoking, but well conceived.

TIME STANDS STILL by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Donald Marguiles, mesmerizes as it probes the meaning of life?  Why do each of us do the things we do?  How do we confront the past as we live in the present?  What about us is reflected in our worldwide view?

The horrific sounds and pictures of the Iraq war flash onto the windows of a Brooklyn apartment.  After the images disappear, we are left in darkness to ponder the visions of destruction and carnage. 

A door opens and Sarah comes hobbling in accompanied by James.  A photojournalist, she was injured by a roadside bomb.  He is her boyfriend and a war correspondent, who is guilt-filled for having to leave Sarah when he had an emotional breakdown. 

It soon becomes obvious that there is a tug-of-war between her career and his desire for normalness and a family.  This conflict is intensified when Richard, their editor, and his young girlfriend, Mandy, a party planner, announce they are pregnant.  Questions abound:  Will Sarah return to the war zone?  Will the duo remain together?  What is the value of the pictures and stories of war?  Will those images and words stop the violence?

TIME STANDS STILL opened off-Broadway in 2010 and had such strong positive critical reviews that it was moved to Broadway.  

Margulies’ dialogue is absorbing.  It’s as inciting and timely as today’s headlines.   Motta’s focused direction and the talented cast, who bring every line to life, command engrossed attention.

Heather Anderson Boll is outstanding.  She wraps herself in the role and becomes a believable Sarah, taking the audience on an emotional journey.  David Bugher creates in James, a real person who makes his PTSD and transformation from dedicated journalist to a man needing a non-stress inducing life.  Peter Aylward as Richard is completely believable.  Llewie Nuñez marvelously walks the performance tight-rope between creating a Mandy who is perceived as a mindless twit but morphs into a person who has an instinct for humanness.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:   TIMES STANDS STILL is a thought-provoking, well-directed and acted drama, with comic interludes, that mesmerizes and challenges the viewer to think beyond the story and look into their own beliefs, attitudes and life choices. Dial the phone or get on the internet and purchase one of the few remaining tickets for this show! This is an absolutely must see production!

TIMES STANDS STILL runs through October 6, 2013 at Dobama Theatre.  Call 216-932-3396 or for tickets

Saturday, September 21, 2013

SHE LOVES ME, a marzipan musical at Beck

Marzipan, is a confection that consists mostly of sugar and honey, with a little solid blended in to give it some body.  This, too, describes the musical SHE LOVES ME.  It’s sweet to the viewing and a delightful treat, with little substance.

SHE LOVES ME, a version of which is now on stage at Beck Center, has a fascinating history that has led to its often being dubbed, “The most charming musical on earth.” 

It started as the 1930’s comedy THE PARFUMERIE, written by Miklos Laszlo.  It morphed into the 1940s movie, THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER.  In 1949 it became a Judy Garland, Van Johnson film with the title IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME.  In 1963 Joe Masteroff, Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock wrote the presently titled SHE LOVES ME. 

The first Broadway production starred Daniel Massey, Barbara Cook and Jack Cassidy.  It ran 302 performances.  (This was the same year of such smash musicals as BRIGADOON, OLIVER! and PAL JOEY, so when I saw it I dubbed it as “escapist fluff.)  In 1998 the idea was revived as a Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan smash movie, YOU’VE GOT MAIL. 

The major plot line centers on Georg Nowack and Amalia Balash, two unmarried salespeople in a Budapest perfume shop.  They each are searching for love and turn to lonely-hearts ads (the Craigslist of their day).  Each develops a relationship with a pen pal (present time email buddy).  Unbeknownst to each of them is that they are each other’s own “dear friend.”  From the song “Good Morning, Good Day” until “Twelve Days to Christmas,” there are bumps in the road.   And, of course, there is a fairy tale ending.

The old fashioned musical, with its schmaltzy score, contains such songs as “Days Gone By,” “I Don’t Know His Name,” “Will He Like Me,” “Dear Friend,” “Vanilla Ice Cream,” “Grand Knowing You,” and, the title song, “She Loves Me.”  Come on, with a list of song titles like that, don’t expect the power and message of Bock and Harnick’s FIDDLER ON THE ROOF.  It’s more like the writing team’s TENDERLOIN, a “nice musical.”

Audiences should like Beck’s SHE LOVES ME.  There is the love story, complete with a love-hate relationship.  There is a scoundrel, several comic subplots, good singing voices, a well-tuned orchestra (thanks to Larry Goodpaster who generally keeps the instrumentalists under control and support rather than drown out the singers), and some creative choreography by Martin Céspedas.

Scott Spence keeps the action going smoothly, cues the laughs, and helps the actors develop clear characterizations.  Trad Burns has created a workable set, which is difficult to do in the Mackey Theatre due to its lack of fly gallery and wing space.  The wall design of the perfumerie somewhat distracts due to the bold pattern. 

Rebecca Pitcher, with her well trained operatic voice, and well-honed acting skills, creates a strong Amalia.  Jamie Koeth sings and performs well as Georg. 

Aimee Collier lights up the stage with her comic and vocal talents as Ilona, whose search for love takes her into bad romances.  Solon High School junior Brett Castro is charming as Arpad, the delivery boy turned salesman. 

Jonathan Kroenberger stands out as the timid Ladislav.  Matthew Wright sings and well interprets the role of Maraczek, the perfumerie’s owner.  Brian Altman is properly snarly as Kodaly, while Richie Gagen has a cute several moments as a bumbling waiter. 

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If your are a fan of old fashioned, escapist musicals, with pleasant music, performed by a talented cast, you’ll love SHE LOVES ME.

SHE LOVES ME is scheduled to run through October 20 at Beck Center for the Arts.  For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or

Thursday, September 19, 2013

WOODY [GUTHRIE] SEZ, a dang good 98th season opener at CPH

Even before the official start of WOODY SEZ, the cast of four set the melodic and emotional mood by playing music and interacting with the audience.

As the music driven WOODY SEZ:  THE LIFE & MUSIC OF WOODY GUTHERIE unfolds, we are exposed to Guthrie, the man, his life and his music.

From early on, until his death from complications of Huntington’s disease in 1967 at age 55, Guthrie acted as a spokesperson for the poor, the disenfranchised, and the union and non-union members who were taken advantage of by company stores, big business, acts of nature, and politicians.  His emotional and purposeful vocals, his twangy guitar, harmonica, mandolin and fiddle playing, reeked of down home Okie ideals.  They highlighted his experiences in the Dust Bowl era and Great Depression and help teach a solid history lesson of the era.

His strong political views earned him the “honor” of being blacklisted, investigated by the FBI, and censored in his media appearances.

Guthrie’s outspoken nature and obligation to speak out cost him three marriages and solid relationships with his eight children.  One of his sons, Arlo, took up his mantle and became a renowned folk musician.

He is credited with inspiring and mentoring a generation of new folk musicians, including Ramblin Jack Elliott and Bob Dylan.

Guthrie is noted for such songs as “So Long it’s Been Good to Know Yuh,” “This Train is Bound for Glory,” “Pastures of Plenty,” “The Ballad of Tom Joad,” and  “Nickel, Nickel.”  He wrote what many consider the country’s spiritual anthem, “This Land Is Your Land.”

The Cleveland Play House production, under the adept direction of Nick Corley, who co-devised the script, wraps the audience in music, tales and morals.   There is an easy, comfortable pace and mood to the two-act, hour and a half show that is enhanced by the intimacy of the Allen theatre.  This ability to create closeness highlights yet another reason why the CPH move to downtown was a wise choice, as the old theatre spaces didn’t offer such a venue.

The simple set, consisting of a series of shipping cases, serves as places to store the multitude of guitars, fiddles, harmonicas, autoharp, Appalachian dulcimer, double bass, mandolin, banjo, pennywhistle, jawharp and soup spoons, which were played by the performers.  They also served as places for individual cast members to sit when they were not performing.

David Lutken, who authored the piece, inhabits the personage of Guthrie so well that it is easy to forget his is not the man himself.  Lutken obviously knows Guthrie, his music, his mannerisms, and his sense of humor.  He is a multi-talented musician who well creates the thoughts, desires, and wisdom of the “Dust Bowl Troubadour.”

David Finch, Helen Jean Russell and Leenya Rideout are all outstanding musicians and performers who well portray many people who affected and influenced Guthrie’s life and beliefs.  Pleasurably, none of the cast or their instruments are encumbered by microphones, so there is a natural, not artificial sound to the music and the singing.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  If your definition of a musical is an orchestra in the pit, dancing, and a plot in which the songs perfectly fit into the story line, WOODY SEZ: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF WOODY GUTHRIE isn’t for you.  If, however, you get off on learning about a real person, and sharing his music and philosophy, presented by an engaging note-perfect cast, this is the show for you.  CPH has opened its 98th season with a sure audience pleaser!

WOODY SEZ runs through October 6, 2013 at the Allen Theatre in PlayhouseSquare.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to