Sunday, December 22, 2013


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 2013 which I reviewed were considered.  With the exception of Best National Touring Production, selections were limited to locally produced stagings though actors, directors and technicians who were imported by local theatres for their productions were considered.  No community or educational theatre recognitions are included.  Actors are separated by gender, but not equity or lack of union affiliation, or leading or supporting roles.  Names are listed in alphabetical order, not in rank order.

COCK, Dobama
ON THE LINE, none too fragile
RICHARD III, Great Lakes Theater
THE ICEMAN COMETH, Ensemble Theatre
VENUS IN FUR, Cleveland Play House
WHITE PEOPLE, none too fragile


NEXT TO NORMAL, Lakeland Civic Theatre
SPAMALOT, Beck Center
SWEENEY TODD, Great Lakes Theater


Corey Atkins, COCK, Dobama
Joel Hammer, THE BIG MEAL, Dobama
Laura Keply. GOOD PEOPLE, Cleveland Play House
Laura Keply, VENUS IN FUR
Nathan Motta, TIME STANDS STILL, Dobama
Patrick Ciamacco, TWELVE ANGRY MEN, Blank Canvas
Sean Derry, ON THE LINE, none too fragile
Sean Derry, WHITE PEOPLE, none too fragile
Sharon Ott, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, Great Lakes Theater


Eric van Baars, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, Porthouse
Martin Friedman, NEXT TO NORMAL, Lakeland Civic Theatre
Scott Spence, SPAMALOT, Beck Center
Victoria Bussert, SWEENEY TODD, Great Lakes Theater


John Crawford, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, Porthouse
MaryAnn Black, SOUTH PACIFIC, Porthouse
Martin Céspedes, ANNIE, Beck Center
Martin Céspedes, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, Great Lakes Theater
Martin Céspedes, SPAMALOT, Beck Center

Andrew Gombas, COCK, Dobama
Brian Zoldessy, FREUD’S LAST SESSION, Actors’ Summit
Chris Richards, SONS OF THE PROPHET, Dobama
Jonathan Wilhelm, SORDID LIVES, convergence continuum
Lynn Robert Berg, RICHARD III, Great Lakes Theater
Matthew Wright, THERE IS A HAPPINESS THAT MORNING IS, Cleveland Public Theatre
Robert, Branch, ON THE LINE, none too fragile


Christine Howey, LIKE A DOBERMAN ON A QUARTER POUNDER, Cleveland Public Theatre
Derdriu Ring, THERE IS HAPPINESS THAT MORNING IS, Cleveland Public Theatre
Dee Hoty, RICH GIRL, Cleveland Play House
Heather Anderson Boll, TIME STANDS STILL, Dobama
Kate Hodge, GOOD PEOPLE, Cleveland Play House
Liz Conway, SORDID LIVES, convergence continuum
Tracee Patterson, MEDEA, Mamaí
Vanessa Wasche, VENUS IN FUR, Cleveland Play House


Chris Cowan, SWEENEY TODD, Great Lakes
Chris McCarrell, NEXT TO NORMAL, Beck Center/BW
Dougfred Miller, SPAMALOT, Beck Center
George Roth, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, Porthouse
Gilgamesh Taggert, ANNIE, Beck Center
Hershey Felder,  MAESTRO:  LEONARD BERNSTEIN, Cleveland Play House


Aimee Collier, NEXT TO NORMAL, Lakeland Civic Theatre
Aimee Collier, SHE LOVES ME, Beck Center
Anna  Barrett, ANNIE, Beck Center
Miche Braden, THE DEVIL’S MUSIC, Cleveland Play House
Rebecca Pitcher, SHE LOVES ME, Beck Center
Sara M. Brunner, SWEENEY TODD, Great Lakes Theater


Linda Buchanan, RICHARD III, Great Lakes Theater
Patrick Ciamacco, Andy Dudik and Noah Hibek, WORKING, Blank Canvas
Russ Borski, HOUSE OF BLUE LEAVES, Beck Center
Todd Krispinsky, THERE IS A HAPPINESS THAT MORNINGS IS, Cleveland Public Theatre
Trad Burns, NEXT TO NORMAL, Lakeland Civic Theatre
Wilson Chin, RICH GIRL, Cleveland Play House


Jennifer Korecki, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, Porthouse
Joe Korecki, THE DEVIL’S MUSIC, Cleveland Play House
Larry Goodpaster, SHE LOVES ME, Beck
Nancy Maier, NEXT TO NORMAL, Beck/Baldwin Wallace


Dana Duke, Big Twig Studio, Brian Caiazza, Brett Keyser, video/sound/photography, STRUCK, CPT
Shane Cutlip, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, Porthouse


Charlotte Yetman, SWEENEY TODD, Great Lakes Theater
David Kay Mickelson, BELL, BOOK and CANDLE, Cleveland Play House
Esther Haberlen, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, Great Lakes Theater


Marcus Dana, COCK, Dobama
Trad Burns, NEXT TO NORMAL, Lakeland Civic Theatre


Matthew Bourne’s SLEEPING BEAUTY


Trad Burns for continued excellence in scenic and lighting design

Cleveland Critics Circle for creation and support for

Roe Green for continued financial and participatory contributions to the Cleveland area theatrical scene (Cleveland Play House, Kent State University, Cleveland Critics Circle)

Sean Derry/none too fragile, continued excellence in selection of small format, thought provoking, well staged scripts

Miles Sternfeld and Sean Szaller for THE WHO’S TOMMY, Broadway Fights AIDS fundraiser

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

If you would like to read any of my reviews for the year, please go to, enter the blog and click on “2013 Reviews” or click on the name of the producing theatre and scroll through their performances. Reviews from previous years may also be accessed.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

"Alas For You," GOODSPELL is at Blank Canvas

GODSPELL is one of the biggest musical theatrical successes of all-time.  Based on the “Gospel According to St. Matthew,” the musical tells the story of the last seven days of Christ's life. The parables have been contemporized, and Christ's followers are free spirits who sing the likes of "Day By Day", "All Good Gifts", and "Turn Back, O Man."

The show is perceived to be the creative child of Broadway super-author and composer Stephen Schwartz, the conceiver of such hits as PIPPIN and WICKED.   ‘Taint so.  Schwartz was a late-comer to the project. 

The story goes that in 1970, while attending college in Pittsburgh, John-Michael Tebelak went to church on Easter Sunday.  A theology student before he decided he wanted to be a theatrical director, he found the service to be devoid of feeling.  Afterward the long-haired Tebelak was stopped by a policeman and searched for drugs.  (Remember, this was the era of student protests, hippies, draft card burning, and those “dangerous” peaceniks.)   Tebelak confided that this experience provided him the inspiration for GODSPELL.  He produced the show as his senior project at Carnegie Mellon University.

The original score consisted of a song written by a cast member and old Episcopal Hymns, played by a rock band.  To this point, Schwartz had nothing to do with the project. 

John Michael left school without graduating.  The show was eventually staged at the off-Broadway Cafe La Mama Theatre.  A producer saw the production and said he would finance it if it had a new score.  Enter Stephen Schwartz, who wrote all the songs in 5 weeks.  (The only tune to remain from the original production is "By My Side"). The newly conceived show  opened Off-Broadway on May 17, 1971.  Tebelak was 22 years of age!  GODSPELL moved onto Broadway where it ran for 2,124 performances.  Hundreds of professional and amateur productions of the show continue to be done.

Besides the Schwartz connection to the project, another fact that is generally overlooked is Tebelak’s Cleveland connection.  He is a Berea product.   As related by Bill Allman, the former producing director of Berea Summer Theatre, “John-Michael cut his theatrical teeth at Berea Summer Theatre where he acted, designed scenery and directed.  In 1980 he returned to his roots when he directed a revival production of GODSPELL.” 

The show’s other connection to the area is that in August of 1971, before it became a mega-hit, GODSPELL was produced at Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival, the predecessor to Great Lakes Theatre Festival, which, at the time was housed in Lakewood High School’s auditorium.   The show’s director was non-other than Tebelak, himself.   

The show is not without controversy.  It has been called blasphemous.  Religious leaders have stated, “Surely no Christian who believes the Bible would approve of the perversion of GODSPELL.”  The Wexford Pennsylvania School Board banned a production of it after “complaints about its religious message.”

Any director of GODSPELL has a number of choices to make.  First, there is no script for the show.  Everything is part of the score and there are no stage directions for staging the show.  It has been done as a series of segments in which comic characters are the center of attention.  It was staged as children in a Sunday school class.  It has been done as a religious sermon in a church setting.  Pat Ciamacco, Blank Canvas’s director, has opted for a dream sequence. 

Another issue is the tone of the piece.  Should the production center on the religious message, forsaking the humor or take Tebelak to heart and make this a production of joy.  Ciamacco tends to lead toward the serious side, overlooking many of the comic elements, though not forsaking all of them.

Usually Jesus is garbed in a Superman t-shirt and his followers clothed to fit the humor theme.  True to his more traditional theme in this production, Jesus is garbed all in white, his followers in various clothing, randomly picked off the costume rack.  He has updated some of the language and nonverbal gestures.

All in all, this is an acceptable production that avoids the peachiness that can come from the song and story development.  It conveys the message to “be careful not to make a show of your religion before man.”  It also invokes thought as to why some followers of Christ preach hatred against others instead of following the dictum, “Ye shall love thy neighbor as thyself.” 

The cast is mixed in their vocal and acting abilities.   Especially effective was Eric Thomas Fancher whose “Light of the World” was dynamic and the strongest vocal solo.  Kate Leigh Michalski, she of mobile face, did a nice vocal in “Learn Your Lessons.”  Shane Patrick O’Neill did a good interpretation of the meaning in We Beseech Thee.”  The vocal blends were often quite good.

Noah Hrbek has the handsome good looks of many of the paintings of Jesus.  He has a pleasant voice, but failed to develop the charisma that would be necessary to reap fanatic followers.  His “Save the People,” had a nice musical sound.

Isreal Spain failed to ignite the pivotal character of John the Baptist and often lacked clarity of idea development.

Lawrence Wallace’s musical direction was excellent, playing backup rather than drowning out the singers.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  It’s been done time and again, but with a good production  ‘GODSPELL’ can still be a fine theatrical experience, even if you aren’t into the religious message.  Blank Canvas’s production isn’t a sure winner, but it will hold your  attention and expose the audience to the quality of Tebalk’s creativity and Stephen Schwartz’s music.

(Thanks to John Nolan, theatre buff extraordinaire and a member of the 1980 Berea Summer Theatre “GODSPELL” cast for background material used in this review.)

The show runs through December 21, 2013 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

ANNIE again lights up Beck Center for the holidays

She’s Back! 

ANNIE, the redheaded comic strip heroine, is back at Beck Center.  The musical, which was showcased in the past at Beck, is making yet another appearance in Lakewood.

The show gives us cute orphans, a dog, a funny 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. 

It must be realized by parents that this is not a show filled with prat falls and the awe factors that will hold the attention of little ones.  Most children have never seen an ANNIE comic strip, there is no ANNIE TV program.  They know little about orphans and orphanages or the depression.  The show is filled with references well beyond the level of the children, and many adults.  Al Capone, J. Edgar Hoover, Gandhi and Calvin Coolidge are all 1930s personages.  The new deal, Communism, and politics aren’t part of a kid’s world.  Many of the words to the songs aren’t kid friendly. No prince and princesses here, or fast action.  This was clear with the amount of crying and restlessness of the youngsters during the Sunday matinee I attended.

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 1997.  It  was reprised this year and is running parallel to the Beck production.   The comic strip was cancelled in June of 2010.

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, they all live happily ever after.

For the show to work requires an adorable Annie who can sing, dance and act, and a cast who can play comic strip characters.  The Beck production stumbles a little on the comic book level, but, fortunately, the production, under the guidance of Scott Spence, is blessed with performers who can pull it off.

Anna Barrett, who has played the role before at Beck, has a nice singing voice, dances and moves well, is adorable and totally natural as Annie.  Riley-Marie Haley is delightful as Molly, one of the orphans.  Elise Pakiela, Jade McGee, Maggie Devine, Erin Eisner, and Natalie Welch all are cute as mature orphans. 

Lenne Snively has a wonderful time playing Mrs. Hannigan, as does the audience watching her. Molly Huey is fine as the airheaded Lily St. Regis, Rooster’s sidekick.  Matthew Ryan Thompson has calmed down his previously much overly exaggerated performance as Rooster, creating a more acceptable persona.  Sometimes actors must realize that more is not always best and subtlety can work.

Gilgamesh 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 fine FDR imitation.

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.  He has upgraded the well-conceived Easy Street and Hard Knock Life, insuring that each would be a sure show-stopper.

Larry Goodpaster’s band, especially the horns, had some difficulties with the overture, but did well backing up the singers.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: As corny and overdone as ANNIE is, with a good performance it can delight. With its tuneful music, strong cast and super choreography, Beck’s production makes for a nice theatrical experience, but maybe now it’s time for the theatre to move on and find a new holiday show.

ANNIE is scheduled to run through January 5, 2014 at Beck Center for the Arts.  For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go to

Monday, December 09, 2013

Compelling THE BIG MEAL @ Dobama

Dan LeFranc’s THE BIG MEAL is a ninety-minute comedy-drama about life, death, meeting, dating, marriage, child-rearing, the importance of casual comments and interactions, and the quickness of existence. 

Nicole is a waitress in a non-descript restaurant someplace in America.  Sam enters, they interact, go on a date in which she informs him that she isn’t into commitment and “I don’t really wanna’ know about your life, and I don’t want you to know much about mine.” 

Things quickly happen.  In less than five minutes of stage time, Sam produces a wedding ring, the non-commitment becomes a bonded relationship, they form a family.  We are set into a pattern of flow in which five generations of a family are revealed, from a flirtation to a final goodbye, in one setting…the restaurant in which Nicole and Sam originally met.   

The play is an extraordinary story of an ordinary family whose tale turns out to be events to which others can easily identify.  It’s pretty hard to watch without thinking of your family’s meals, who was there, and what went on.

The eight actors play all of the reincarnations of members of the family that ultimately grows from the union between Sam and Nicole.

The average theatre-goer usually knows little about the format for scripts or the challenges that directors face in staging certain plays because of the dictates of a play’s author.  Usually, this maters little.  In the case of THE BIG MEAL, now on stage at Dobama, having this knowledge adds to the appreciation of what director Joel Hammer and his talented cast confronted in performing the play.

Play scripts are usually vertical pages onto which the name of a character is printed followed by his/her lines.  Then another character’s name, followed by her/his lines.  The format continues throughout the script with the assumption that one line will follow another.  That works for most plays.  It doesn’t work for THE BIG MEAL.  LeFranc has two, three or more characters talking at the same time.  That’s a normal life pattern, especially at mealtime.  The flow here is not one speaks, another speaks.  It’s usually lots of people talking at the same time. 

The problem for LeFranc was how to indicate these constant overlaps on paper to clue the director and actors.  A man of the 21st century, he turned the page on the side, used a spread sheet, and had the names of the characters along the top of each column and their lines below.  Sounds easy?  Yes, to format, but the challenge for director Joel Hammer was, “How do actors know when to speak, how to react to the cacophony of words, how to convey that they are often a person who in one scene was a daughter or son and is now the son or daughter or mother or father of the person he/she just was?”

Hammer and his cast miraculously found the key.  The process is so natural, so well conceived and developed, that the play becomes a series of reality scenes rather than theatrical stagings.

Hammer also needed to clue audiences as to when one character died without having death scenes.  He eliminated the use of all food, except in rare instances.  The “angel of death” delivers real food meals only to a person who is about to die. 

The cast is universally excellent.  Bob Goddard is exceptional portraying all the older men.  He is especially effective as Sam, now in advanced stage dementia, staring off into space with blankness on his face and unresponding eyes.

Anne McEvoy clearly develops each of the older women. As the aged Nicole, we emotionally experience her meeting her newest great grandchild before succumbing to life’s final stage.

Tom Woodward is clear in his two incarnations, texturing each to make for clarity of characterization.

Ryan Vincent and Emily Kenville each are given the difficult the task of portraying all of the children…from young, through tweens and teens.  Each does so with complete professionalism and realism.

Derdriu Ring portrays each of the mid-range women with conviction and clarity of character.

Geoff Know and Llewie Nuñez, the original Sam and Nichol, transfer personages effectively making it clear that they have taken on new personas.

Scenic designer Laura Carlson’s restaurant set works well.  Rob Peck’s lighting design helps isolate scenes and helps move the plot along. 

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  THE BIG MEAL is one of those special theatrical events when the script, the directorial concept, and the acting effectiveness all blend together to make for a “must see” theatrical experience.  BRAVO!

THE BIG MEAL runs through January 5, 2014  at Dobama Theatre.  Call 216-932-3396 or for tickets.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Wonderful WICKED wows 'em again at the State

How good is the production of WICKED which is now appearing at the State Theatre?  In 2009 when I took my then 14-year old grandson, known as the Kid Reviewer because I take him along to give the teen/tween view of shows, he gave it a 9.5 out of 10 on his “rate the play scale.”  Why only a 9.5? He said he’s reserving the 10 for the most unbelievable show he’s ever seen. But, he indicated “’WICKED’ was GREAT!” Why? “It had everything. Great story, outstanding production qualities…sets, costumes, lights, special effects. The music and the performances were awesome.” His advice: “Go see this show! It’s appropriate for kids and their parents.”

It’s 2014 and the kid reviewer is an 18-year old multi-award winning composer.  His evaluation of this, the 2nd National Tour of WICKED?  He gave it a solid 9.75!  Yes, he thinks it was even better than when he saw the show “as a kid!

‘WICKED,’ an alternative view of the ‘WIZARD OF OZ,’ tells the “true” story of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch, and her relationship with Glinda, the Good Witch. It has all the elements of the original tale, but packages them in a different way. We find out about how the Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin man came to be. How Dorothy got the red (in this version silver) slippers. And, most importantly, what really happened to Elphaba. (Ah, yes, in a quirky ending, there is a happily-ever after story.)  We also become aware of the power of gossip and rumors.

The music and lyrics, by one of my favorite theatre composers, Stephen Schwartz, includes such beautiful and delightful songs as “Popular,” “I’m Not That Girl,” “Defying Gravity,” “As Long as You’re Mine,” and Alex’s favorite, “For Good.”

The production qualities of this touring show are outstanding and impressive. There is a dragon hanging over the proscenium arch that has a wingspan the same as a Cessna 172 airplane. They use 200 pounds of dry ice every show for smoke effects and enough power in a single production to supply twelve houses with electricity. There are 175,000 pounds of scenery. This is not a stripped-down touring show, it’s a full-blown Broadway extravaganza.

The cast is strong.  No, it’s not the unbelieveable Idina Menzel (Elphaba), Christine Chenoweth (Linda) and Clevelander Joel Gray (as the Wizard), but, realistically, who can top that amazing trio?  (BTW—Menzel is on the way to Broadway in IF/THEN, which I saw in an-out-of-town preview in DC.  The show needs cutting, but Menzel is her usual mesmerizing self).

In the touring production, Jennifer DiNoia glows gloriously green as Elphaba. She hits the vocal high notes with ease and creates a clear characterization. Haley Podschun is properly bubbly as the “popular” Glinda.   She sings beautifully and carries the role well.  David Nathan Perlow is excellent as the self-centered Fiyero, who falls in love with Elphaba.   BTW…did you know that Adam Lambert, the AMERICAN IDOL runner-up and actor on GLEE was the understudy for Fiyero in the Los Angeles production of WICKED?

Alex Wyse is character-right as Boq.  If the name sounds familiar, it should.  Wyse is a very talented Clevelander who showcased his talents on local stages for many years.

Talking about Clevelanders, besides Gray and Wyse, the name ARACA on the program should ring some bells.  ARACA, ( the theatrical production company founded by Michael and Matthew Rego and Hank Miller, all Clevelanders, are the producers of WICKED.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  When asked what I should write in my capsule judgement Alex said, with enthusiasm, “Tell them if they didn’t see WICKED yet, go see this show!  If they did see it before, “Go see it again, it’s that good!” Grandpa totally agrees!!!!

WICKED runs through January 5 2014 at the State Theatre in downtown Cleveland.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to

Friday, December 06, 2013

A CHRISTMAS STORY somewhat disappoints at Cleveland Play House

 In January of 1983, as the on-air entertainment reviewer for Continental Cable, I was assigned to interview Peter Billingsley, the lead child actor in a forthcoming movie which was being filmed in Cleveland. 

I not only did the interview, but stood in as an extra on Public Square with fake snow being sprayed because the real stuff didn’t fall in the two weeks of filming in this area, was a grouchy man on the porch of a house on Cleveland Street (really West 11th) a couple of addresses down from what is now known as “The Christmas House,” and took Peter (Ralphie), his mother and Scott Schwartz (Flick) on a tour of Cleveland because the producers of the film hadn’t made any arrangements for anything for the kids to do between shooting their scenes.

The front porch scene was left on the cutting room floor, and after a dozen viewings I still can’t find myself in the crowd scenes, but the memories remain and the  interview was aired.

Like so many other Clevelanders, I consider A CHRISTMAS STORY to be “our” film.  In reality, most of it was shot in Canada, the city in which it is set is in Indiana, and the house and backyard which have been created into a shrine, was only used for a couple of outside shots.  But, who cares.  The weakly reviewed film has become a movie classic and when friends come in from out of town, they ask to see where Ralph almost shot out his eye, and where his friend’s tongue got stuck to the pole. 

Who am I to break the illusion?  It’s part of Cleveland lore, like the mayor who set his hair on the fire,  the river that went up in flames, and the horrors of being a local sports fan.

Unless you don’t have a television which displays the movie version over and over this time of year, you know the tale of A CHRISTMAS STORY. 

A newly envisioned stage version of A CHRISTMAS STORY is now at Cleveland Play House’s Allen theatre.  A new cast, set, and director are on display.

Based on the short stories and semi-fictional anecdotes of author, story teller and radio personality, Jean Sheperd, the movie, play and musical are based on his book IN GOD WE TRUST, ALL OTHERS PAY CASH, along with some ideas from WANDA HICKEY’S NIGHT OF GOLDEN MEMORIES. 

Narrated by “grown up” Ralph, we revel in the story of nine-year-old Ralphie, who dreams of getting a “Red Ryder BB Gun with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time.”  It’s in the era before television, computer games, smart phones, ipods and ipads, which might be a culture shock to the children who attend. 

Ralphie sets out to convince the world that the bb gun is the perfect gift.  But, along the way he runs into opposition from his parents, his teacher and even good ‘ol Santa Claus.  We meet little brother, Randy, who oinks like a piggy when he eats, the school bully, Scott Farkas, The Old Man, a pack of wild dogs who hound poor old dad, clinkers in the furnace, and new-old cars that don’t start.  We are exposed to the “triple-dog dare!,” learn why Ralphie should “drink his Ovaltine,” why he loathes lifeboy soap, and what happens when he realizes the consequences of, “Only I didn’t say ‘Fudge.’ I said THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the F-dash-dash-dash word!”   

It’s a cute story filled with childhood nostalgia for those of the “mature” generation, and a chance to experience the “olden days” by the younguns.

CPH’s production, under the direction of John McCluggage, doesn’t quite have the charm and dynamics of past stagings.  It’s just “too Hallmark bland,” lacking the needed texturing and farcical overtones.  The Old Man isn’t as angst filled.   Scut Farkas isn’t as fearsome as could be.  Even Schwartz getting his tongue caught on the metal pole isn’t drama-filled.  Randy’s wails that he has to go “wee-wee” aren’t pathetically funny.  

Everything is okay, but the missing edge that makes the whole thing farcically funny isn’t there.   Overplay, rather than underplay is needed to make the production zing along on its merry way. 

Especially disappointing is the Higbee’s Santaland set.  With all the attention being given to the flexibility of the Allen’s new stage, the cheaply assembled igloo, without the visible long slide and Higbee holiday trees and decorations, just doesn’t cut it. A bucket of coal to scenic designer Robert Mark Morgan.  He seemed so obsessed with playing with his revolving stage, that he forgot the needed visual wonderment of the pivotal Santa scene.

The cast is pleasant.  Jeff Talbott is spot on as Ralph, showing the right levels of enthusiasm and nostalgic recreating.  Matthew Taylor is cute as Ralph, Carisa Tanner is adorable as “love struck” Esther Jane, Cameron Danielle Nelson is a proper know-it-all as Helen, Cole Emerine is the strongest of the boys as the much maligned Flick, and Maggie Lacey does a good imitation of a bland Donna Reid as Mother. 

Michael Hentzman is acceptable as The Old Man but needed to overplay rather than underplay the role in order to get the farcical responses.  Laura Perrotta is fine as Miss Shields, but could have used a little more school-marmish dynamics.  Cute Lee Greene needs to project more as Schwartz as most of his lines were left at the edge of the stage.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: A CHRISTMAS STORY holds a special place in the hearts of many Clevelanders.  The present staging, under the direction of John McCluggage, while engaging, misses out on some of the farcical and endearing dynamics needed to make this a totally wonderful holiday present.  It’s not bad, just not everything that it could be or has been.

A CHRISTMAS STORY runs through December 22, 2013 at the Allen Theatre in PlayhouseSquare.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to

Monday, December 02, 2013


216-241-6000 or go to

Jan 10-Feb 2—Allen Theatre
Based on Isaac Bashevis Singer's short story YENTL THE YESHIVA BOY it is a tale of a young woman who defies convention and the laws of her people to fulfill her dream.

February 14 - March 9--Allen Theatre
Based on the life of African-American tenor, Roland Hayes, this musical tale of faith, hope, and family traces a remarkable journey from rural Georgia to Carnegie Hall and Buckingham Palace.

March 21 - April 13--Allen Theatre
A follow-up to RAISIN IN THE SUN, this feisty and funny play asks, “Neighborhoods change, but do people?”

April 25 - May 18--Second Stage, Thrust Configuration
Based on a true story, the play takes us into the personal and national debate about science vs. belief and whether our DNA is our destiny.

May 30 - June 22--Allen Theatre
Tap dance legend Maurice Hines stars in this celebration of his life as the premiere tap dancer of his era.

216-932-3396 or

Jan 24 – Feb 23
A modern day WAITING FOR GODOT, this award winning play is a compassionate meditation on art, friendship, loss, and a generation of young Americans trying to find their place in the world.

March 7 - April 6
Esther, a savvy sales rep, and Barry, a buyer for a manufacturing company, finally meet to “seal the deal” after months of negotiating over the phone. They begin a cat and mouse game that falls into dangerous territory.

April 25 – May 25
Traveling great distances and spanning many years in the lives of its nine characters, KIN is a love story between Anna, an Ivy League poetry scholar, and Sean, an Irish personal trainer – an unlikely but somehow perfect match.

216-241-6000 or go to

Jan 7-12—Palace Theatre
The “All That Jazz” award winning Kander and Ebb musical about the Prohibition age, with such songs as “Me and My Baby,” “Mr. Cellophane,” and “Razzle Dazzle.”

Jan 14-Feb 2—Hanna Theatre
A musical parody, with tunes from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s of four women at a lingerie sale with nothing in common but a black lace bra, memory loss, and host flashes.

Jan 17-Feb 1—Second Stage Theatre
The sketch comedy troupe with a terrible name brings their unique mix of live and taped sketches, songs and audience interaction back to Playhouse Square.

Jan 24-25—The Palace
A five-time Tony winning feel good story which features 28 classic rock tunes in a show about dreaming big, playing loud and partying on!

Feb 4-16—The Palace Theatre
This re-envisioned Broadway production of the Gershwins' classic operetta includes such legendary songs as "Summertime,: "It Ain't Necessarily So," and "I Got Plenty of Nothing," played by a 23-piece orchestra.

March 4-16--
Palace Theatre
Retelling the Biblical story of Joseph, his eleven brothers and the coat of many colors, this magical musical is full of unforgettable songs including “Those Canaan Days,” “Any Dream Will Do” and “Close Every Door.”

March 5-15—The Helen Theatre
Case Western Reserve University/Cleveland Play House MFA Acting Program’s production of G.B. Shaw’s tale of a rich young woman who catches a pair of burglars in her bedroom and takes them on a course of self-discovery.

March 14-15—Ohio Theatre
A dantesque celestial journey from hell to Paradise is filled with funny characters and wit and wisdom.

March 19-22--
Direct from Israel, eleven deaf-blind actors take the audience on a magical tour of the districts of the inner world, the world of darkness, silence and bread.

March 27-28—The Palace Theatre
Tyler Perry’s newest play centers on his belief that, “You can’t score a woman and think you’ve achieved accomplishment.” 

April 1-13--Palace Theatre
Tells the inspiring and unforgettable story of Alex Owens, a Pittsburgh steel mill welder by day and bar dancer by night with dreams of one day becoming a professional performer.

May 6-18--State Theatre
The story of how four blue-collar kids became THE FOUR SEASONS, one of the greatest successes in pop music history.


216-521-2540 or

Feb 7-March 9
(In collaboration with the BW Musical Theatre Program)
A gripping tale of Carrie, the product of an overprotective mother, who is a misfit at school.  She discovers she has a special power and, if pushed too far, she is willing to use it!

March 21-May 4
‘NIGHT MOTHER—Studio Theatre
Marsha Norman’s 1983 Pulitzer Prize play will star Dorothy Silver and Laura Perotta.  It explores the last hours of the life a woman who has decided that life isn’t worth living.

May 30-June 29
SEMINAR—Studio Theatre
A biting comedy in which four aspiring novelists sign up for a writing class that results in their fighting over their writing, their relations and their futures. 


330-374-7568 or go to

Jan 16-Feb 2
Biology, ethics, women’s equality, anti-Semitism…all play a role in this true story about Rosalind Franklin who may have missed receiving the Nobel Prize because her standards were too high.

Feb 20-March 9
William Inge’s tale about a group of travelers who seek shelter in a diner in the middle of a snow storm.

March 27-April 13
A new comedy about a young woman from Israel, who, while desperately trying to find her grandmother, finds love.

May 1-May 25
Johnny Cash’s life story, his songs, and struggles are played out with “A Boy Named Sue,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “I Walk the Line,” and, of course, “Man in Black.”

216-631-2727 or go on line to

January 9 - January 25
A one-person staging of the personal story of noted Cleveland actor, journalist, and theater critic Christine Howey (formerly Dick Howey). 

January 30 - February 15
 (Part Three of the Elements Cycle)
Explores the powerful effect humanity has had, and can have, on the very air we breathe.

March 6 - March 22
Shakespeare rolls over in his grave as his bloodiest, most horrifying script gets a total makeover as a rock musical.

March 27 - March 29
SISTERS (workshop)
A workshop/reading that envisions Shakespeare's witches before they encountered "The Scottish King."

April 10 - April 26
A staging by Dog & Pony DC, a quickly rising ensemble company from Washington DC, known for their quirky and wild productions that involve everyone in the fun.

April 17 - May 3
Alice, Bessie and Margaret surface from the still waters of their bathtubs to deliver their post-mortem testimony and tell how they were wooed, wed, insured, and murdered.

May 2 - May 3

When Kurt Weill fled Nazi Germany and settled in New York City in the early 1930s, his American musicals proved nearly as provocative, tackling the most serious of social and political issues.  (Co-produced with The Musical Theatre Project)

May 15 - May 31
Imagines a black playwright trying to write a play about white people.  The problem is that the characters seem to have minds of their own.

May 15 - May 31
A devised documentary performance about people who have memorial tattoos for suicide victims.

May 22 - June 7
Tells stories of heritage, sisterhood and overcoming adversity by combining traditional and original songs with spoken-word poetry and movement to remind of those who came before and the power of possibilities for the future.

216-321-2930 or

January 31st - February 23rd
A fictional account inspired by the actual events surrounding the 1928 marriage of W.E.B. Du Bois’s daughter Yolande to one of Harlem’s great poets, Countee Cullen.

April 18th-May 11th
This winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama explores what happens when two men love the same woman and the compromises each will make to have her.

GREAT LAKES THEATRE or 216-241-6000

Feb 21-March 16—Hanna Theatre
When a Broadway playwright struggles to overcome a dry spell that’s resulted in a string of flops his fortunes turn when one of his students shares a brilliant new script.  He conceives of a trap to snare the script and take credit for its creation.

April 4-19—Hanna Theatre
Shakespeare’s romantic comedy in which a clandestine, gender-bending courtship results in changing unexpected lovers in this timeless and transcendent romantic comedy.

none-too-fragile or 330-671-4563

February, 2014
Delves into the combative nature of seduction between strangers, age and the lies people tell themselves and others.

March/April, 2014
Neil LaBute unflinchingly explores the dark territory beyond "the lies you tell yourself to get by."

May/ June, 2014
Plunges the audience into a deceptively simple situation -- a parent teacher conference. However, this encounter is anything but simple.

KARAMU or 216-795-7077

Jan 31-Feb 23
Lonnie Elder’s poignant story of a family in 1950s Harlem.

March 14-Apirl 6
A serious-minded comedy about wrestling, geopolitics and raisin bread.

May 23-June 15
A revival of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel and 1985 film, is an inspiring family saga of a woman who, through love, finds the strength to triumph over adversity.


440-941-0458 or


Sunday, December 01, 2013

Sam Shepard's FOOL FOR LOVE at convergence-continuum

Sam Shepard, the author of FOOL FOR LOVE, which is now in production at convergence continuum, described the script as “a very emotional play and in some ways embarrassing for me to witness but somehow necessary at the time.”  The time was shortly after breaking up his marriage to be with another woman. 

Much like the other plays in his Family Trilogy series, which is actually a collection of five plays (BURIED CHILD, CURSE OF THE STARVING CLASS, TRUE WEST, A LIE OF THE MIND, and FOOL FOR LOVE) Shepard creates an allegory for his own loss and love, complete with a manic depiction of ill-fated passion.

His characters often reflect his family and personal life.   He started to work on a ranch as a teenager to support his mother and brother when his father lost their farm.  The father Shepard described as “a drinking man dedicated to being an alcoholic.” His dysfunctional relationship with his father is often front-and-center in his writing.

In FOOL FOR LOVE, which takes place in a run-down motel in the Mojave Desert, May is hiding out.  She has fled from Eddie,  her childhood friend, old flame and half-brother.  Theirs is a love-hate relationship in which they are bound to each other out of desperation. (May knowingly shouts at Eddie, “you are like a disease to me.”) May left their trailer home and proportes that she wants to start a new life,  A life without Eddie.  But, they simply cannot break their destructive cycle.  As they conflict, their father watches over them, commenting on the actions, challenging the stories told and their interpretations.

As is true in most Shepard plays, the characters, rather than the plot, is of greatest importance.  There are no issues that will be resolved, no happily ever after solution. In fact, as the play ends, Martin, May’s new “guy” watches out the window as Eddie’s truck and horse trailer go up in flames and May flees, but there is no clarity as to where or from what?

Watching a Shepard play is an experience in emotional tumult where identity is vague, truth and lies blur, and the characters pasts haunt their present.  Memories are altered to suite the needs of the dreamer telling the tale and are often idealized.

FOOL FOR LOVE had its off-Broadway premiere in 1983 and moved to a Broadway theatre later that year with a cast of Ed Harris and Kathy Baker.  A 1985 film version starred Shepard himself with Kim Basinger.

Shepard is extremely prolific.  He won the Pulitzer Prize for BURIED CHILD, an Academy Award for Best Supporting actor in THE RIGHT STUFF, a Tony Award in Playwrighting for BURIED CHILD, and an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in DASH AND LILLY.

The fifty-five minute con-con production, under the direction of Amy Bistok Bunce, creates a surface level glance at Shepard’s world. Shepard has said of his characters, and this is true in FOOL FOR LOVE, that he doesn’t expect an audience to identify with his characters.  These are not real people, they are unidentifiable fragments of Shepard’s life and imagination.

Rachel Lee Kolis is believable as the almost psychotic May, who finds herself unable to come to terms with reality and move to save herself from a life of chaotic frustration.

Clint Elston stays close to the surface as Eddie, never totally encompassing the nuances of the character. 

Robert Hawkes rocks away on his chair, drinking booze, on a platform overlooking the action, and comments with ease on the machinations of May, Eddie and his own life.

Stuart Hoffman well develops Martin, May’s possible suitor, as an innocent-simple who gets overwhelmed by stepping into a situation beyond his understanding.
Capsule Judgement:  Sam Shepard is noted for taking audiences on illusionary trips.  FOOL FOR LOVE is yet another example of con-con asking the audience ”to extend the conventional boundaries of language, structure, space and performances that challenge the conventional notions of what theatre is.”  It’s a production steeped in Shepard writing Shepard, which is missing some of his intended nuance.

FOOL FOR LOVE runs through December 21 at 8 pm Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at convergence-continuum’s artistic home, The Liminis, at 2438 Scranton Rd. in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood. For information and reservations call 216-687-0074.