Saturday, March 31, 2018

Humorous ‘The Oldest Profession” at convergence continuum

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Paula Vogel, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of “The Oldest Profession,” now on stage at convergence-continuum, is noted for her witty and compassionate prose.  

She writes with warmth about subjects which are often the object of repulsion.   In probably her best play, “How I Learned to Drive,” which was recently staged at Cleveland Play House, Ms. Vogel took on the subject of child sexual abuse and incest.  

As Vogel states, “I only write about things that directly impact my life.”  She adds, “If people get upset, it’s because the play is working.”

“The Oldest Profession” isn’t going to upset many, if any of con-cons patrons.  It should incite some laughter, a dash of titillation, and a lot of head nods.  It does have some clever lines such as “Any girl can stand in the alley and end up a madam” and “We need to get the AARP mailing list.”

The play’s description summarizes it all: “As Ronald Reagan enters the White House, five aging practitioners of the oldest profession are faced with a diminishing clientele, increased competition for their niche market, and aching joints.”

Vogel illustrates the obstacles and angst of the five women of the street.  (Well, actually, they don’t hang out on the street, they work out their living spaces or visit the clients).   The major problem centers on the issue that their source of income is drying up as the ladies of a certain age have a clientele that is dying off or is too infirm to “perform.”

They’ve migrated from New Orleans to Manhattan under the guidance of their “madam,” the forgetful Mae (Marcia Mandel). 

Ursula (Lucy Bredeson-Smith), the financial brains behind the group, wants to take over as she thinks the operation isn’t being run for the highest possible returns.  She pesters the “na├»ve” Lillian (Jeanne Task), who often gives services with no financial reward. 

Mild-mannered, timid Vera (Jeanne Madison) concentrates on what she is going to make for dinner and tries to make “nice” to all. 

Edna (Valerie Young), the most beautiful and probably the most successful of the group, just wants to keep the business going and not get wrapped up in the politics of prostitution.

Not much happens through much of the play other than the oft-humorous bickering and revelations about their geriatric clients.

The production, under the direction of Amy Bistock, leisurely flows along.  The cleverest part of the staging is each woman’s final exit, which consists of a burlesque-inspired swan song (performed to the piano music of Moss Stanley).

Marcia Mandel does what she does best—portraying being air-headed.  

Jeanne Task, the queen of “shtick” faces and vocal gymnastics, delightfully does her thing with verve!  

Lucy Bredeson-Smith hits her stride when she comes on stage with a sex-whip, dressed in a black leather dominatrix outfit, and takes on audience-members and their fantasies. 

Jeanne Madison is charming as the gentle Vera, who clearly displays that she is a caring and soothing purveyor of her wares, more interested in mothering than sex.  

Valerie Young nicely textures the role of Edna, giving the character a clear and identifiable personality.

Scott Zolkowksi’s costumes are excellent.

Capsule Judgment:  The script, which is more character study than plot driven, doesn’t have much to say, but it does entertain.  Though “The Oldest Profession” is one of Paula Vogel’s lesser plays, it gets a humorous staging. 


“The Oldest Profession” runs through April 14, 2017, at 8 pm on 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 or go to http://www.convergence-continuum.org/

Next up at con-con:  Suzan Lori-Parks “In The Blood,” a modern riff on “The Scarlet Letter.”

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Acting soars in “Late Henry Moss” at none too fragile



Sam Shepard, the author of “The Late Henry Moss,” which is now in production at none too fragile, once wrote, “I believe in my mask-- The man I made up is me.  I believe in my dance--And my destiny.”

His “mask,” consisted of a bleak writing style which had many surrealistic elements, including using black humor to portray rootless characters living on the edge of American society. 

Shepard often showed what psychologists would classify as “daddy issues.”  His father, a military man, who moved the family on a regular basis, was an alcoholic noted for abuse and creating a dysfunctional atmosphere in the Shepard home.

His poetic use of language and the creation of characters rather than plot-centered stories, made him an icon with performers who found lots of “meat” on the bones of those who populated his writings.  

The Shepard writing elements are clearly on display in the depressing “The Late Henry Moss,” including creating people who are not likable and for whom we have little reason to feel empathy.  These are generally low-lifes, who seem to ask for all the pain and suffering that is heaped upon them.

Yes, vintage Sam Shepard!

The basic story centers on the Moss brothers, Ray (Sean Derry) and Earl (Bryant Carroll) who, through a series of present and flashback scenes, confront their own interpersonal relationship and that with their father, their sibling rivalries, and distorted remembrances as they delve into their father’s recent death.

They try to construct the tale of their father’s fishing expedition with a local town prostitute, Conchalla (Diana Frankhauser), a taxi driver (Brian Kenneth Armour) who took them on the expedition, the father’s relationship with Esteban, a trailer park neighbor, and his demise.

The brothers, who haven’t seen each other in seven years, verbally and physically spar in a fight-cage atmosphere, hitting raw nerves by exposing confusion and contradictions. 

None too fragile’s production, under the adept direction of the theatre’s co-Artistic Director, Sean Derry, though overly long, is fast-paced and enveloping.  The verbal and physical punches generally ring true as the angst-level grows. 

With his high quality consistent directing of script after script, it’s easy to forget the high quality of Sean Derry’s acting.  There is no chance of overlooking it in this production.  His soliloquy about their mother is emotionally wrenching.  Near the end of the play he shows masterfully how even silence can evoke strong meaning.

Derry is matched by a finely textured performance by Bryant Carroll.  The duo mesmerizes as they verbally thrust, parry and finally, physically attack!

Nice performances are also put in by Robert Hawkes (Henry Moss) and Brian Kenneth Armour.

Capsule judgment:  As in almost all Sam Shepard blunt, hard hitting plays, the questions of what’s true, what’s fiction, what is family history and what is mythology pervade this tale of dysfunctional relationships in this character-driven tale.  The acting is generally superb, the pace intense, and the over-all effect is unnerving.  If you like good acting and can endure Shepard’s cage-boxing style of writing, this is a production you won’t want to miss.

For tickets for “The Late Henry Moss” which runs through March 31, 2018, call 330-671-4563 or go to nonetoofragile.com

Up next:  Bruce Graham’s “White Guy on The Bus” (May 11-26th)), a story of race, and the dynamic between low-income blacks and economically comfortable whites.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Shaw Festival’s 2018 season



Canada's Shaw Festival is a tribute to George Bernard Shaw and his writing contemporaries.  


Many Clevelanders take the four-hour drive up to “The Shaw,” as it is called by locals, just to participate in theatre.  Others tour the “most beautiful little city in Canada,” eat at the many restaurants, and go shopping for Canadian goods.  Some take a side trip to Niagara Falls to see the world’s water wonder or to gamble.  Whatever, The Shaw is a wonderful spring, summer or fall adventure.




It’s a good idea to make both theatre and lodging reservations early, especially with the B&Bs on weekends. Our home away from home is the beautiful and well-placed Wellington House (www.wellington.house@sympatico.ca), directly across the street from The Festival Theatre, and within easy walking distance of all the theatres. I also like the Two Bees B&B (1-289-868-9357), which is downtown.  For information on other B&Bs go to www.niagaraonthelake.com/showbedandbreakfasts




There are some wonderful restaurants.  My in-town favorites are The Grill on King Street (905-468-7222, 233 King Street), Ginger Restaurant (905-468-3871, 390 Mary Street) and Niagara’s Finest Thai (905-468-1224), 88 Picton Street, with Old Winery, (2228 Niagara Stone Road/905-468-8900), a worth-while ten-minute ride from downtown.

Tim Carroll, in his second season as The Shaw’s Artistic Director, dedicates this season to a chance to put into practice what he learned in his first season.  The audiences love musicals, passion, crime, laughter, brilliant writing, pure escapism, in-person performers and romance.  So, here are his 2018 theater offerings:

THE MAGICIAN’S NEPHEW—C. S. Lewis’s plunge into Narnia at its very beginning. An adventure of what it means to do the right thing. (World Premiere) April 4-October 13.

GRAND HOTEL—Check into the lavish Grand Hotel, where the lives of ten hotel guests collide over one unforgettable night with songs and dance.  May 3-October 14.

MYTHOS--Stephen Fry, one of the great story tellers, uses humor and a company of the Greek gods, heroes and men, to tell gripping tales.  May 24-July 15.

THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES—Sherlock Holmes is on the case to find a murderer in this sly, darkly funny and suspenseful tale.  August 1-October 27.

STAGE KISS—In this modern romantic comedy by Pulitzer Prize finalist Sarah Ruhl, two bitter exes are cast in the same play as passionate lovers.  Will they strangle or seduce each other?  April 11-September 1.

OF MARRIAGE AND MEN:  A Comedy Double Bill—Two great humorous short plays about marriage in a single show about the hitches of being hitched.  May 13-September 2.

O’FLAHERTY V.C.—Packed with family feuding and witty repartee, this G. B. Shaw one-act skewers every illusion about why we go to war.

OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR—A provocative WWI musical intended to make audiences laugh, cry and clench their fists.  July 14-October 13.

THE ORCHARD (After Chekhov)—It’s Chekhov’s THE CHERRY ORCHARD transformed into the tale of two immigrant families fighting to hold onto their orchard in British Columbia.  June 7-September 1.

THE BARONESS AND THE PIG—An idealistic 19th century baroness has found her next maid—a girl who can barely speak, let along keep house.  This Canadian play cuts to the core of what it means to be “civilized.”  MATURE CONTENT.  JUNE 10-October 6.

HENRY V—A troop of Canadian soldiers is hunkered down in a dugout during WWI with some copies of Shakespeare’s HENRY V for company.  Juy 22-October 28.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL—Ebenezer Scrooge is a miserable old miser, but . . .!  November 14-Decemer 23.

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




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

Don’t forget your passport as it’s the only form of identification that will be accepted for re-entry into the U.S.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Cleveland Play House Announces 2018-2019 Season






Cleveland Play House (CPH) Artistic Director Laura Kepley announced the 2018-2019 Season today to a standing-room-only gathering in the Allen Theatre at Playhouse Square.


“This season will inspire and invigorate our loyal patron base and introduce new audiences to what CPH does best -- tell stories that matter in productions that are imaginative, thrilling, and entertaining,” said Kepley.

The 2018-2019 Season Subscriber Series begins in September with the launch of the U.S. National Tour of London’s long-running hit The Woman in Black, a mystery thriller based on the novel by Susan Hill.

The 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Sweat will then heat up the Outcalt Theatre with a story of the working class struggling to make ends meet in the Rust Belt.  

An Iliad hits the stage in January, featuring two women in a modern, visceral telling of the ancient Greek story of war and vengeance.

Next up is the return of CPH favorite Ken Ludwig and his rollicking new comedy, Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood.

Several exciting shows are under consideration for the next spring slot. The Subscriber Season comes to a hilarious and poignant conclusion with a look over the fence -- the neighbor’s fence -- in Native Gardens.

From Cleveland favorites to new voices, every show features strong, determined characters staring down the obstacles for the greater good.

In addition to the six-play Subscriber Series, CPH is proud to announce two special attractions: the family holiday favorite A Christmas Story in November and December, 2018, and The Wolves, a full immersion into the world of teenage girls, which will be featured in the 2019 New Ground Theatre Festival.

Subscriptions to the 2018-19 Season at Cleveland Play House are on sale now. Subscribers save up to 25% off individual ticket prices and receive many great benefits throughout the season. Full and flexible season packages begin at just $262.

To purchase subscriptions or to receive more information, call 216-400-7096 or visit clevelandplayhouse.com.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Disappointing “Rent” less than it should be at Connor Palace


The history of American musical theater is laced with firsts and trend setters.  Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma” introduced the well-made book musical in which a story was told, with music, lyrics and dance all integrated and setting the pattern of the first act ending with a conflict that would be solved in the second act.

“Hair” introduced the rock sound to Broadway shows and took on societal beliefs, challenged the status quo, and opened the door to shows which broke from the traditional mold including “Company,” “Godspell,” “Rocky Horror Show,” and “Pacific Overtures.”

Jonathan Larson’s “Rent,” broadly based on Puccini’s “La Boheme,” took on the series topics of AIDS, economic disparity, and sexual and gender orientation.  It ushered in the era of “thinking” musical theatre and became the godmother of “Next to Normal,” “In the Heights,” “The Color Purple,” “The Scottsboro Boys,” and “Fun Home.”

“Rent” centers on the psychological and sociological attitudes of the lower East Side of New York at the turn of the 21st century.   Larson stated that, from his viewpoint, ”traditional society was thwarting the hopes and dreams of the MTV generation.” 

He supposedly chose the title “Rent,” not only because a major conflict in the storyline centers on paying rent but that the term also means, “tearing apart,” which was what was happening to the relationship between varying segments of the culture. 

The somewhat autobiographical story centers on the conflicts of gentrification of the home of the bohemians and drug worlds, as the setting for his examination of love, loss, illness, sexual and gender angst and everyday existence.

Unfortunately, Larson never lived to see his musical become a multi-mega hit, which twenty years after its opening, is still bringing in sold out crowds as it crosses the nation on yet another tour.  He never knew he won a Pulitzer Prize.

Larson died of an undiagnosed aortic aneurysm the day before the first preview of the show.  “The first preview was canceled and instead, friends and family gathered at the theater where the actors performed a sing-through in Larson's memory. “

When I saw the show shortly after it opened in New York, I was blown away by the message, the intensity and the score.  Follow-up productions have usually brought about the same reactions.  I wish I could say the same about the 20th Anniversary Tour production.  I can’t!

The show on the Connor Palace stage lacks the intensity and dynamics need to make Larson’s ideas ring true.   The young cast has excellent singing voices, but generally lack the acting chops to develop the necessary character depth and story identity.  They are not helped by uncreative directing.



There is a lack of emotional connection between Destiny Diamond (Mimi) and Logan Farine (Roger) which places a damper on the love story, which is one of the basic story lines.  Their “Light My Candle” flickers, rather than flairs.  “Without You” lacks emotional passion. 

Farine seems more authentic in his shared scenes with Sammy Ferber (Mark).

Aaron Alcaraz is one of the show’s bright lights as the cross-dressing Angel.  His “Today 4 U” is well done, as is “I’ll Cover You” sung with Josh Walker (Collins).

The second act opening song, “Seasons of Love” is well sung, as is the playful “Tango: Maureen.”

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:   The 20th anniversary tour of “Rent” disappoints.  In spite of the wonder of the Pulitzer Prize winning script and score, this staging lacks the intensity and dynamics need to make Larson’s ideas ring true. 

“Rent 20th Anniversary Tour” runs through March 25, 2018.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to www.playhousesquare.org.

See “Rent” for $20 in choice seats:  The show offers a ticket lottery prior to each and every performance. Tickets are $20, cash only, limit of two per lottery winner. Seats are located in the first two rows of the orchestra section. The lottery signups begin 2.5 hours prior to performance time, with winners being drawn 2 hours prior. You must be present at the time of the drawing to be eligible to purchase lottery tickets.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Dobama’s “The Effect,” more effect than well-told story



Lots of today’s science news concerns controlled drug studies done by pharmaceutical companies, as well as government agencies, to insure the safety and identify side-effects of the compounds.

Lucy Prebble, one of England’s young and up-and-coming playwrights, takes on that subject in her “The Effect,” which won the 2012 UK Critics Circle Award for Best New Play.  It is now on stage at Dobama, in just the third U.S. production of the script.  It was previously done off-Broadway in 2016, then at the Studio Theatre in DC.


The story revolves around two young paid drug-test volunteers in a study on anti-depressants, psychology student Connie (Olivia Scicolone, in her Dobama premiere) and drifter Tristan (Ananias J. Dixon, acclaimed for his Dobama performances in “An Octoroon” and “Sherlock Holmes:  The Baker Street Irregulars”). 


We meet the pair who are staying at the clinic for four weeks.  They have just collected urine and awkwardly interact while holding their specimen bottles.


We learn that Tristan plans to use his earnings to embark on a backpacking expedition.  We are never quite sure why Connie is participating, other than she often reminds of her status as a college psychology student.


As the doctors up the dosage, Connie and Tristan find themselves attracted to each other.  They and the medics struggle to work out whether their feelings are real or a side effect of the drugs.


In the dialogue, Prebble, who believes that “we are our bodies,” questions whether psychiatric drugs are all placebos as they only work, at best, for short periods of times and are not curative.  She also encourages thoughts about whether “chemical imbalance” theories are bogus, in that, even with modern fMRI and scan tests, there is no definitive proof of what constitutes a chemical balance.


Dobama’s production, under the watchful eye of director Laley Lippard is, in many ways, better than the script itself.  All four actors, Scicolone and Dixon, and “old pros” Derdriu Ring and Joel Hammer, who play doctors, are excellent, nicely texturing their performances.  There is good connection and interplay between the young leads. 


One must wonder why the sex-enactment scene goes on-and-on, extending an already overly long play.  


The Dobama production is done in the round, set-up like a hospital observation room, with the audience in close proximity to the action.  


Whenever a play is done in the round, though the audience experiences it up-close and personal, unless the actors wear microphones, there is a loss of clear vocal sound and the ability to see facial expressions when the actors are facing “the other way.” 


The lighting, sound, projections, and tech designs enhance the show. 


Prebble is excellent at not being overly wordy and presents ideas in a clear, non-complex manner, but the script, itself, is “never as convincing as the intellectual arguments in which its characters frequently engage.”  


Alert:  Potential audience members should be aware that metal banisters have been placed in front of most of the seats.  Only the first row of two sections are cane and walker accessible.  If you need easy physical access, tell the box office that you should be seated in sections two or three, row A.


Capsule judgement: Though the Dobama production aspects are quite good, and the performances are top notch, the experience is not without angst.  One leaves asking, “What does Prebble want us to gain from the script?  The ending, two incomplete conclusions, doesn’t help to answer the question.


“The Effect” runs through March 25, 2018 at Dobama, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights.  Call 216-932-3396 or http://www.dobama.org for tickets.




Next up:  The regional premiere of Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins’ Obie Award winning “Appropriate” (April 20-May 20).  The play’s catalyst is a book of old photographs, found in an Arkansas mansion after its owner dies. So what? Family albums often surface at such moments. This one, though, is filled with pictures of dead black people, with broken necks. It would appear that they had all been lynched.  Hmmm….