Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Times Tributes--2003


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 mind of this reviewer, were excellent.

No attempt is made to name the best in each classification. Actors were not separated by gender or leading or supporting roles. It is also recognized that I did not see all of the productions in the area, so only shows performed in 2003 that I reviewed were considered. Selections are limited to locally produced performances, so none of the professional touring shows are recognized, though actors, directors and technicians who were imported by local theatres were considered.

Thanks to the following for making the theatre scene in the Cleveland area vital and exciting.

‘ARMS AND THE MAN’--Great Lakes Theatre Festival
‘BAT BOY’--Cain Park
‘DIRTY BLONDE’--Cleveland Play House
‘IN THE BLOOD’--Dobama
‘THE FIX’---Beck

Victoria Bussert--ANYTHING GOES--Great Lakes Theatre Festival
Victoria Bussert--BAT BOY--Cain Park
Joyce Casey--THE DOMINO HEART--Dobama
Charles Fee--ARMS AND THE MAN--Great Lakes Theatre Festival
Seth Gordon--PROOF--Cleveland Play House
Peter Hackett--DIRTY BLONDE--Cleveland Play House
Sarah May--BOY GETS GIRL--Beck
Sonya Robbins--IN THE BLOOD--Dobama
Dorothy Silver---THE CHOSEN--Halle/JCC
Reuben Silver--CHERRY DOCS--Halle/JCC
Clyde Simon--SINCERELY YOURS--convergence-continuum
Scott Spence--THE FIX--Beck
Fred Sternfeld--FIDDLER ON THE ROOF--Cain Park

MaryAnn Black--OKLAHOMA--Porthouse
Adina Bloom--BAT BOY--Cain Park
Sean Booker--SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION--Charenton Theatre
Lucy Bredeson-Smith--PICNIC--Actors’ Summit
Sherri Britton--THE CREDEAUX CANVAS--Ensemble
Toni Cervino--INTO THE WOODS--Lakeland College
Meg Chamberlain--MRS. BOB CRATCHIT’S WILD CHRISTMAS BINGE--Cleveland Public Theatre
Glenn Colerider--THE DOMINO HEART--Dobama
Rosario Costanzo--OKLAHOMA--Porthouse
Nina Domingue--SINCERELY YOURS--convergence-continuum
Cody Dove--Second City-Cleveland
Carla Dunlavey--THE DOMINO HEART--Dobama
Sean Fitzgerald--KIMBERLY AKIMBO--Dobama
Paul Floriano--THE FIX--Beck
Dan Folino--THE FIX--Beck
Margaret Ford-Taylor--FOREST CITY--Cleveland Play House
Tom Frey--DIRTY BLONDE--Cleveland Play House
Tom Fulton----TARTUFFE--Actors’ Summit
Tom Fulton--FIDDLER ON THE ROOF--Cain Park
Paul Kaiser--BOY GETS GIRL--Beck
Kayce L. Cummings--OKLAHOMA--Porthouse
Andrew May--TARTUFFE--Great Lakes Theatre Festival
Rasheryl McCreary--IN THE BLOOD--Dobama
Elizabeth Meadows Rouse--DIRTY BLONDE--Cleveland Play House
Lara Mielcarek--EACH DAY DIES WITH SLEEP--convergence-continuum
Mitch McCarrel--BAT BOY--Cain Park
Laura Perrotta--ARMS AND THE MAN--Great Lakes Theatre Festival
Scott Plate--CHERRY DOCS--Halle/JCC
Derdriu Ring--PROOF--Cleveland Play House
Trinidad Rosado--RAGTIME--Cassidy Theatre
Rhoda Rosen--V-E DAY--Dobama
Steve Routman--ANYTHING GOES--Great Lakes Theatre Festival
Geoffrey Short--RAGTIME--Cassidy
Reuben Silver--THE CHOSEN--Halle/JCC
Sean Szaller--THE CHOSEN--Halle/JCC
Kristopher Thompson-Bolden--A CHORUS LINE--Porthouse
Elizabeth Ann Townsend--BOY GETS GIRL--Beck
Wayne Turney--HAMLET--Great Lakes Theatre Festival
Eric van Baars--OKLAHOMA--Porthouse
Greg Violand--1776--Beck
Greg Violand--LA CAGES AUX FOILES--Beck
Gary Walker--A CHORUS LINE--Porthouse
Gary Walker--BAT BOY--Cain Park
Ensemble performance--Rasheryl McCreary, Victor Dickerson, Anthony Elfonzia, Renee Matthews-Jackson, Kevin Brewer and Cassandra Vincent--IN THE BLOOD--Dobama
Ensemble Performance--Gary Walker, Adina Bloom, Scott Plate, Emily Krieger, Patrick Janson, Phillip Carroll, Alana Simone Purvis, Hannah Laird, Fabio Polanco and Mitch McCarrell--BAT BOY--Cain Park

Michael Ganio--scenic design--PROOF--Cleveland Play House
Larry Gorjup--sound design--THE CHOSEN--Halle/JCC
Corby Grubb’s sound design--FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNE-- Ensemble
Jeff Herrmann--lighting design--FIDDLER ON THE ROOF--Cain Park
Jeff Herrmann--scenic design--FIDDLER ON THE ROOF--Cain Park
Jeff Herrmann--scenic design--THE TALE OF THE ALLERGIST’S WIFE --Dobama
Andrew Kaletta--lighting design--IN THE BLOOD--Dobama
Tony Kovacic-- scenic design--CHERRY DOCS--Halle/JCC
Todd Krispinsky--scenic design--IN THE BLOOD-Dobama
Don McBride--scenic design--BOY GETS GIRL--Beck
Don McBride--scenic design--THE FIX--Beck
Vincent Polowy--lighting design--THE CREDEAUX CANVAS--Ensemble

Leonard DiCosimo--musical direction--BAT BOY--Cain Park
Larry Goodpaster--musical direction--THE FIX--Beck
Steven Gross--musical direction--ANYTHING GOES--Great Lakes Theatre Festival
Larry Hartzell--musical direction--FIDDLER ON THE ROOF--Cain Park

MaryAnn Black--choreography--A CHORUS LINE--Porthouse
Martin Cepedes--choreography--JOSEPH--Beck
John R. Crawford--choreography--OKLAHOMA--Porthouse
Janiece Kelley-Kiteley--choreography--BAT BOY--Cain Park
Janet Watson--choreography--ANYTHING GOES--Great Lakes Theatre Festival
Eric van Baars--choreography--FIDDLER ON THE ROOF--Cain Park

Wayne S. Turney--Script adaptation--TARTUFFE--Actors’ Summit
Beck Center--outstanding variety of productions
Cleveland Public Theatre--Black Box Theatre--creative use of performance space
Bill Ransom--original music--IN THE BLOOD--Dobama

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Rhoda Rosen reviews the reviewer

Dear Roy,

I am truly honored to have been listed in the TIMES THEATRE TRIBUTES--2003! Your review of VE Day had already been laminated and placed in my Memory Book...Mah Nishtanah; but now to read that you have listed me among those whose work I've so admired, I am really 'fahklempt'!
Thank you for your support through the years. It is much appreciated.

Rhoda Rosen

Tom Fulton reviews the reviewer


Once again, thank you for your kind attention and for recognizing so many talented people in Northeast Ohio. Of course I appreciate your mention of my work - but mostly I am glad to see the inclusion of such fine actors,director, designers... I have always felt that an awards program can do much to bring the theatre community together - It's not about winning awards, but rather acknowledging that there is a vibrant creative life in Cleveland.

Many of us don't get a chance to see each other's work - and most of us are so busy we don't take a moment to pause and reflect on the cultural impact the work may be making. Thanks for taking that moment to do it for us...

Happy New Year,

Thomas Q. Fulton, Jr.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Why for art though Cleveland Play House?--Revisited

Why for art though Cleveland Play House?--Revisited!

A short time ago I wrote a commentary entitled, “Why for art thou Cleveland Play House?” I indicated that though the Cleveland Play House advertises itself as America’s oldest professional theatre, I thought there were areas of concern about the operation of the organization.

Among other things, I questioned the use of the facilities, the plays selected, the lack of use of local actors, and the viability of the facility if it continues on its present track. The response to my views was long and loud. Almost everyone who sent e-mails and spoke to me inperson agreed with much of what was put forth. Of course, that is not unexpected as individuals who react to commentaries do so because of strong beliefs, positive or negative.

Shortly after the publication and my comments on “Action Talent Live,” the WERE-AM radio show on which I appear regularly, I was contacted by CPH’s Artistic Director Peter Hackett requesting a meeting. He wanted to discuss my comments. The meeting was very amicable. He presented his views. I listened, asked questions and requested some additional information. With that background, I’d like to both explain Hackett’s view and reexamine my stand.

Hackett believes that “the Play House is a nationally recognized theatre company.” He backs up his claims by the reviews of ‘LOST HIGHWAY’, the Hank Williams inspired musical, which appeared at CPH and has received positive reviews in New York. CPH is in the show’s program for its role in the development of the production. He also alludes to the success of ‘LOVE JANIS’ in the Big Apple and its forthcoming national tour. He further states, that the CPH developed ‘SMELL OF THE KILL’ which is “on the rosters for theatres across America.”

Julie Fogel, the Public Relations Manager of CPH, was kind enough to supply information regarding matters about which I needed more information. For example, a Baxter Stage survey , which was based on audience feedback forms placed in the programs of the 2001-2002 season opener, ‘FRANK LANGELLA’S CYRANO’, were returned by about 36% of those who attended. As she indicated, the nature of the survey did not allow for a reaction of pleasure or displeasure with the facility, but based on the information received Fogel states, “we added floor mics to amplify the actors; we also re-recorded the pre-curtain announcement to indicate the theatre’s two fire exits. We improved the appearance of the entryway to the Baxter, as well as added rope lights to increase visibility and better illuminate the walkway into the theatre.”

As for the number of local actors/designers/directors hired by CPH she states, “During the 2001-2002 season, we had 60 Equity roles and 7 non-Equity roles available for a total of 67 roles. Overall, 27 local actors were contracted last season--i.e. 40% of available roles went to local actors. Furthermore, 20 of the Equity roles went to local actors, i.e., 33% ; all non-Equity roles were filled by local actors, i.e., 100%.” She went on to say, “Of the 2001-2002’s 8-show season, local directors were used to stage 6 shows (75%). Of the 32 design positions available during the 2001-2002 season 8 were Cleveland-based. (25%).” She explained “Cleveland-based refers to those who call Cleveland home/consider Cleveland their main residence for more than one year.”

Fogel indicates that the number of subscription seats sold has dropped from 62,508 in 1995/96 to 44, 739 in 2001/2002. But, according to Fogel, the seating usage has increased from 66% in 1997/1998 to 78% in 2001/2002.

CPH has increased its use of performance space by inviting Ohio Dance Theatre to be a resident company and the Lyric Opera Cleveland to use some of the facilities in the summer.

I commend Peter Hackett and Julie Fogel for their openness in discussing the matters, subjecting themselves to my questions, and supplying answers to my questions.

With this said, though some of my views have changed for the better, I still contend that CPH’s productions are not of the high quality that local audiences deserve. So far, of the regular season’s productions, I have found only ‘PROOF’ to attain what should be the script and production quality.

I still find the Baxter Theatre a problematic performance space. Does the configuration cause concerns for safety, whether perceived or real? Is the lack of ease of access for those with walkers and wheelchairs, the lack of intimacy for those who are sitting in the upper rows of the center section, and the elimination of the use of a theatre while the Baxter is in use, equate to the expenditure of sparse dollars? Was it worth the money to get a less than desirable facility? Has it allowed CPH to chose scripts that it ordinarily couldn’t produce? Has it equated to an increase of audience size becauseot is a facility that demands attendance?

I still think more of the space could be used on an on-going basis. However, applause for decisions regarding Ohio Dance Theatre and Lyric Opera Cleveland. Another excellent use of space is the “Next Stage Festival” which has given birth to some thought-provoking and fine play scripts. It could only be hoped that additional performances of these productions could be added. Now, before the word can get out, the stagings and educational opportunities are gone.

I can only wish that the Cleveland Play House will find ways to add to its audience base, attract younger attenders, reach out even more to Hispanic and African American audiences, fill its space with exciting and quality scripts and productions, and bring to Cleveland the fame and glory of The Cleveland Orchestra and The Cleveland Museum of Art.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Starlight Express (Playhouse Square Center)

‘STARLIGHT EXPRESS’ falls of its tracks at the State

As I approached a friend at intermission of ‘STARLIGHT EXPRESS’ he said, “So what’s the big deal?” His wife said, “I really don’t like this.” Their comments seemed to be echoing all around the lobby. The flow toward the exit doors was considerable. Okay, I thought, it will get better in the second act. Nope!

The local reaction to ‘STARLIGHT EXPRESS’ isn’t universal. Second only to ‘CATS’ as the longest running musical in British theatre history, the London production of the show ran over 6000 performances. The Broadway production ran for 761 performances. Part of the attraction to the show was its sheer marvel. In London, a theatre was totally redone to accommodate the show. The hi-tech spectacle on roller skates featured a 5.5 ton steel suspension bridge and a gigantic set constructed of 6 miles of timber, 2.5 acres of sheetwood and 60 tons of steel. The cast encircled the stage and the audience as they skated and raced. The show cost 2.25 million British pounds when originally mounted in London. This was not the set or the show seen in Cleveland.

The spectacular flying leaps and gravity game excitement was not present on the State theatre’s single center stage ramp. Substituted were a series of films in which the audience was instructed to wear their safety goggles. In reality, they were 3-D glasses handed out with the programs. The first race scene might have been fun with this gimmick. By the time we got to the third viewing, it was a tired gimmick.

Because of the set and the small stage size, the spectacular effect of dancing and moving quickly on skates was lost. Not lost was the use of smoke, pyrotechnics, laser lights, the over 1400 colored lights, and a few very spectacular high-flying skating flips.

‘STARLIGHT EXPRESS’ was originally conceived by Andrew Lloyd Webber in 1973 as an animated television series loosely based on the children’s story “The Little Engine That Could.” The story revolves around a battered steam engine named Rusty who is encouraged to race a flashy diesel locomotive. In the story the little engine wins against all odds and encourages children to set high goals, no matter their perceived weakness and be to steady to the task.

The present production was supposedly a “new” version with additional songs by Webber and Tony Award winner John Napier, his new lyricist. The additional songs added little. The score itself lacks any great music, though there is good variety. Rock, do-wop, ballads, blues, rap, country, and gospel are all present. The strong song is the theme music, “Starlight Sequence,” commonly called “Only You.”

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘STARLIGHT EXPRESS’ is a disappointing part of the McDonald Financial Group’s Broadway Series at Playhouse Square Center.

Joseph and his amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Beck Center)

‘JOSEPH’ pleases audience at Beck

Way, way back, many years ago, Beck Center did a production of ‘JOSEPH AND HIS AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT’ starring Rob Gibb. The production was one of the script’s first amateur mountings. It was outstanding. Since then I’ve seen many, many productions of the show, and the Gibb as Joseph version is still one of the very best.

If you have been in lunar orbit and haven’t seen or heard about the musical, it is a light version of the biblical story of Jacob and his sons “many centuries ago.” Joseph, Jacob’s favorite, is sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, becomes the pride-and-joy of the Pharaoh, and is reunited with his brothers when they come to Egypt during a famine. It is filled with all sorts of musical treats ranging from western to calypso, to laments, to ballads and includes such great songs as “Any Dream Will Do,” “Poor, Poor Joseph,” “Close Every Door,” and “Go Go Joseph.”

The script for ‘Joseph’ has an unusual history. It was originally conceived by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber to be a short school skit. Eventually it grew into a series of songs that were sung as a concert. It was never intended to be a staged musical. In fact, there is no actual script, just a series of songs. There are no spoken lines and the authors have given no directions for its staging. Because of this, every staging of the play has a personality all its own.

About every five years Beck Center, knowing that the show will draw new and return audiences stages ‘JOSEPH.’ The last two productions have been directed by Kevin Joseph Kelly. Beck’s present production, lacks some of the interpretative creativity found in other stagings. Kelly’s concept for the show centers on a school group’s tour of a museum in which a tableau of the Joseph story comes to life. It was a clever way of incorporating lots of young children into the cast. Unfortunately, the words sung by the narrator at the start of the show don’t really parallel to this interpretation. The same problem appears almost throughout the show. Kelly doesn’t always pay careful attention to studying song lyrics. For instance, in one segment there are lyrics which relate that when the Pharaoh told a joke the listeners chortled for days. There is no one on stage to mime this concept. This seems like a minor issue, but over and over McLaughlin missed opportunities for delightful reactions. Creative staging of Joseph’s trek to Israel, getting auctioned off, and even Jacob buying Joseph’s magnificent coat are all overlooked. Kelly also never gets us back into the museum concept at the end.

Does this mean this is a bad show? No. The audience reaction was extremely positive. And Kelley had a secret weapon going for him in the person of Martin Cespedes, the choreographer. Cespedes’ work was wonderful. He created a coherent ensemble out of a cast ranging from those aged 5 on up. Many of the cast were obviously not dancers, but under Cespedes’ creative touch, they moved with youthful enthusiasm and carried it off well. Using hand movements and repetitive dance steps, Cespedes was able to create what looked like complicated variations to fit the mood of each change in musical style. Very impressive!!!

The cast was good. Sandra Emerick as the narrator displayed a big voice. Pierre-Jacques Brault, though he lacked the youthful boyishness of Joseph, has strong stage presence and a good singing voice. When Max Kantor as the Young Joseph opened his mouth to sing, many were surprised by the youth’s fine deep and resonant voice. Curtis L. Young did a wonderful Elvis interpretation, though he really milked the encore to “Song of the King.” The brothers varied in their abilities. Outstanding was Sean Szaller, who belted out a mean version of “Benjamin Calypso.”

Don’t get up to leave when you think the show is over and the curtain call starts. The strongest part of the production, besides the choreography was in the “Super Finale.” The audience was on its feet clapping and dancing.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Beck Center’s ‘JOSEPH’ will delight audiences of all ages. This is a chance to take young kids to see a wholesome show filled with wonderful singing and dancing. By the way, when THE LION KING was in town I had my grandsons, Alex (8) and Noah (6 1/2) review it. The reactions were so positive that they will be doing a review of ‘JOSEPH’ later this month.

‘JOSEPH’ runs through January 4 at the Beck Center for the Arts. For tickets, call 216-521-2540 or go on line to

Monday, December 08, 2003

Journey: The Story of Umoja (Ohio Dance Theatre)

'JOURNEY' a good lesson in African-American History

Ohio Dance Theatre, under the able guidance of Artistic Director Denise Gula, is noted for its
dancing. That’s what they do best. The company decided to broaden its mission and develop a
presentation that would serve as a staged educational experience. Gula, who has a strong background as a theatrical director and actress as well as choreographer, chose the topic of the plight of the African American. Appropriately, JOURNEY: THE STORY OF UMOJA is being presented in area venues during Black history month.

Much like Martin Duberman’s play IN WHITE AMERICA, JOURNEY exposes the audience to a trip from slavery to the civil rights movement and beyond. This is done through words, dance and song. Unfortunately, the singing and dancing are much to brief and often the words are much too much. There are several long periods where only words are present. Normally, this
would not be a bad thing, but the dancing and singing were so well done, so powerful, that when words were used alone, the production slowed down.

As is, students who see the production, and there are many who will see the show at both the Cleveland Play House and Lorain County Community College’s Stocker Center, will gain an insight into the plight of African Americans, and be exposed to the thrill of live theatrics. It’s too bad that Gula was not able to incorporate dancing throughout, even when the speeches of such historical figures as Martin Luther King, Barbara Jordan. and Medgar Evers were being presented. It would have made the experience even more powerful.

Capsule judgement: The cast is excellent. The visual images are generally engrossing. The study guide that accompanies the performances should help teachers and students learn history in an interesting manner.

Stone in His Pockets (Playhouse Square Foundation_

'STONES IN HIS POCKETS' disappoints at Palace

In London, STONES IN HIS POCKETS was called "'a comic masterpiece." It received three Tony Award Nominations. It was the winner of London’s Olivier Award for Best Comedy.

The play is partly based on Marie Jones' experiences of acting in films shot in Ireland. It relates what happens when a major Hollywood film studio descends on a village in County Kerry. The story is told from the viewpoint of Charlie and Jake, two locally hired extras employed to look downtrodden and oppressed on demand. The quirk is that two actors not only play Charlie and Jake, but 15 different male and female roles, including a spoiled starlet, the harassed director and a host of local characters. All this is done without costume changes.

The show has been hyped as hyperkinetic, hysterical, and satirical. Unfortunately, the touring show, starring Bronson Pinchot, best know for his role in TV’s PERFECT STRANGERS, and Tim Ruddy, an Irish actor who has a solid list of credentials, doesn’t fulfill the hype. The exit of a great number of audience members at intermission, and the mild applause at the curtain call, attests to the lack of viewer pleasure.

With all the positives, why didn’t the show work at the Palace Theatre?

First, this is an intimate play. It gets lost in the cavernous space of Playhouse Square’s Palace Theatre. Attenders who sat beyond the middle of the main floor complained that they could not hear nor see some of the subtle characterization changes.

Second, Pinchot and Ruddy simply didn’t let loose. The hysterical humor that might have emanated from the lines was often lost due to a lack of dynamic, playful presentation. Part of this may have been caused because of Pinchot’s reported recent illness.

Third, the advertisements for the show got the audience ready for hysteria. This, at least as
presented is not a hysterical show. This is another of those Irish bleak tales of Gallic woe and

Capsule judgement: Are there funny moments? Absolutely. Are there some delightful characters? Yes. But, a hysterical play? I think not. That is, unless in the hands of a more adept set of actors it might have been given a different slant. That’s what I’ve been told was the case from those who saw the show in New York and London. But this is the Cleveland production, and it was disappointing.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge (Cleveland Public Theatre)


On stage there is Scrooge, Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit, Ghost of Christmas Past, Ghost of Christmas Present, Ghost of Christmas Future. It’s obvious that you’re seeing Dicken’s ‘CHRISTMAS CAROL.’ Wait, there are scenes from ‘OLIVER TWIST,’ ‘IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE’ AND ‘THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP.’ Throw in references to ‘PETER PAN’ and ‘MY FRIEND FLICKA.’ No, this is definitely not ‘CHRISTMAS CAROL.’

Let’s look at this a little closer. The ghost who visits Scrooge just can’t get things right. Mrs. Bob Cratchit (did you know her name was Gladys?) is unhappy with everyone and everything in her life. Her breaking point comes when Bob arrives with their 21st foundling. She wants to go to a bar, down a few Tequila Surprises and jump off the London Bridge. Imagine her relief to find that she is simply placed in the wrong time period and is Scrooge's soul mate. In playwright Christopher Durang’s hands, Scrooge’s famous line “Bah Humbug” isn’t just a casual dismissal of Christmas joy, it’s seasonal Tourette’s Syndrome. Eventually everything is eventually rectified by the Ghost of all three Christmases.

The CPT production, under the direction of Randy Rollison, is often funny, often hilarious, but also misses some of the laughs due to poor line interpretation. The singing also covers the broad realm of possibilities...some of the voices are wonderful, others are off-key.

Meg Chamberlain is outstanding as Gladys Cratchit. Dan Kilbane is a delightful 6-foot Tiny Tim who trips and falls with ease while looking like a grinning idiot who is in an advertisement for laser tooth polishing. David Hansen is properly clueless as Bob Cratchit. Nina Dominque is inconsistent as The Ghosts. Her singing voice lacks polish and her line interpretation varies from excellent to unbelievable. The children in the cast needed more directoral assistance to aid them to stay in character.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: If you aren’t in the right mood...silly; aren’t willing to set aside some amateur production qualities; and think that Christmas is a sincere holiday, then you’ll be turned off by ‘MRS. BOB CRATCHIT’S WILD CHRISTMAS BINGE.’ On the other hand, if you've seen one too many productions of ‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL’ and, upon hearing Tiny Tim optimistically proclaim "God bless us every one!’" you wish someone would expose him for the attention-grabbing urchin he is, get in your sleigh and go see the Cleveland Public Theatre’s production of ‘MRS. BOB CRATCHIT’S WILD CHRISTMAS BINGE.’

The Nutcracker--Pennsylvania Ballet (Playhouse Square Center)

Pennsylvania Ballet's ‘THE NUTCRACKER’ disappoints

When the Cleveland-San Jose Ballet fled the North Coast for the warmer climes of California, it took with it their version of ‘THE NUTCRACKER,’ one of the area’s long time holiday traditions. Playhouse Square Center, in need of a holiday offering, for several seasons brought in the delightful Radio City Rockettes and their holiday program. This year, as part of their Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital Ballet Season 2003-2004, the decision was made to bring in the highly touted Pennsylvania Ballet with their ‘NUTCRACKER.’

No one who saw the CSJB version will ever mistake what the Pennsylvania Ballet presented as its equal. Yes, the sets, the costumes and the music were wonderful, but there was a lack of magic on stage.

This production, with a cast mainly made up of children and youth, lacked the delight and the compelling charm necessary to truly bring to life George Balanchine’s wonderful choreography. Because of the abilities of the youth, there was a lot of walking and little real dancing.

Rather than having the likes of Raymond Rodriquez and Karen Gabay dancing the Little Prince and Princess, we had two pre-teens walking around the stage. In the second act, in place of the Little Prince’s wonderful dance solo we had a young boy standing in the middle of the stage pantomiming the story that enfolded in the first act. As the little girl seated next to me asked aloud, “What’s he doing?”

The fight sequences between the mice and the wooden soldiers, which usually brings squeals of delight from the children in the audience, lacked creativity. The children who played wooden soldiers walked, they didn’t march or dance and the huge mice were less than entertaining.

Even the adult dancers were no more than competent. The Snowflake sequence lacked enchantment, even though the lighting and the falling snow cast the right spell.

There is a wonderful dance sequence near the end of the ballet in which we see the Sugarplum Fair and her Cavalier cavort. Dede Barfield and Alexei Borovik showed no emotional connection. Borovik’s flying leaps, which, if properly done usually bring gasps of joy from an audience were met with mild applause. He failed to get much lift or execute the movements parallel to the speed of the music. Barfield’s toe-work, especially in the sequence when she was pulled across the stage by her partner to imitate an ice-skating effect was fine, but there was a lack of fire in her moves.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Pennsylvania Ballet’s ‘THE NUTCRACKER’ lacked magic. Kids are cute, but ballet requires dancers, proficient dancers. As the ballet ended, I glanced over at the velvet dressed young lady next to me, now fast asleep in her father’s arms. All I could think was, “Dennis Nahat and the Cleveland San Jose Ballet, where are you now that we need you?”

Cricket on the Hearth (Actors' Summit)

World premiere production at Actors' Summit

It’s that time of year when theatres try to pull holiday entertainment out of the bag. Ensemble is running ‘THE GIFT OF THE MAGI,’ The Cleveland Play House has shipped in ‘PLAID TIDINGS,’ Great Lakes Theatre Festival has once again resurrected ‘THE CHRISTMAS CAROL,’ and Cleveland Public Theatre is featuring the farcical ‘MRS. BOB CRATCHET’S WILD CHRISTMAS BINGE.’ Actors’ Summit, rather than do the tried and true, has ventured off into trying to create its own holiday gift to give and give again in the form of Wayne Turney’s attempt to adapt Charles Dickens’ ‘CRICKET ON THE HEARTH’ into a musical.

Transforming the novel ‘CRICKET ON THE HEARTH’ into a play is not a new task. It’s been attempted before. In most instances, the transformation hasn’t worked. Though Turney, musical creator Sebastian Anthony Birch and director MaryJo Alexander give it their all, the show’s world premiere doesn’t quite work either.

The book itself presents complexities not easily overcome. It has an obvious conclusion and lacks the multi-level texturing that has made Dickens’ ‘OLIVER TWIST’ work as the musical ‘OLIVER.’ It lacks humor or great drama.

Alexander has paced the show well, creates attractive stage pictures, and has the cast basically on target in their portrayals. The problem isn’t hers.

The problem is not Turney’s either. Rather than create new conceptual songs, Turney has relied on an operatic technique for the lyrics. He uses dialogue set to music. This allows the plot’s ideas to flow along, but doesn’t give the audience the sound it is used to hearing in musicals. Most modern musicals have songs which have verses followed by a chorus. This allows for familiarity with the repeated sounds and words. Think “Food, Glorious Food” from the musical ‘OLIVER’ based on Dickens’ “OLIVER TWIST.” In addition, the show’s songs don’t allow for ease of listening. Birch’s music is also sometimes hard to warm up to. Much of the music is atonal, and the singers often appear to be singing one tune while the musical accompaniment sounds like it is playing a different melody. A repeated bell sound, a musical thread running through most of the music fits the time of the year, but becomes piercing after hearing it over and over again.

The cast is generally acceptable. The characterizations were clear. Especially effective were Greg Violand as the older love-struck husband, Wayne Turney as Dickens, who narrates the show; Neil Thackaberry, as the mean Tackleton who eventually, as does Scrooge in ‘CHRISTMAS CAROL,’ softens into a nice guy. The singing voices aren’t all strong. This is especially obvious in the choral segments. Several of the cast had trouble in the higher ranges.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: ‘CRICKET ON THE HEARTH’ is a work-in-progress. Whether it will ever turn into a holiday favorite is questionable, but Actors’ Summit deserves credit for trying something new rather than giving us one more repeat of tired traditional holiday material.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Each Day Dies With Sleep (convergence-continuum)

The question at convergence-continuum: What's this all about?

As the patrons filed into the lobby during the intermission at convergence-continuum Theatre’s production of Jose Rivera’s ‘EACH DAY DIES WITH SLEEP’ a male voice boomed out, “Does anyone know what this is all about?” A woman said, “Beats me.” Another said, “It’s about I, I, I, want, want, want.” Most people just shook their heads. A group of four, who were contemplating leaving, were stopped by one of their number who said, “The actors are working hard, we owe it to them to go back in.”

Rivera, the play’s author, was born in Puerto Rico . He recounts that when he was a boy, he loved to sit on his mother's knee and listen to stories of his Puerto Rican ancestors. There were chronicles of inflamed passions and family betrayals, of lovers crossed and disasters scarcely averted. He once said, "The stories were just outrageous. There were elements of the fantastical, of the dream, and these things become interchangeable."

This lack of a divide between the real world and the realm of dreams and nightmares, fantasy and folklore are at the heart of his plays. Its been called “mad realism."

‘EACH DAY DIES WITH SLEEP’ was written in 1990...its subject is supposedly the primitive human struggle between animal instincts and civilized order. A London reviewer capsulized the play by stating, “its conception of the human condition as a psychic battleground--lively, funny, erotic, tragic--has a rare force." That may well be, but judging by the audience who saw the convergence-continuum production, the intent and purpose of the playwright was not clear.

The production is generally well performed. Lara Mielcarek is outstanding as Nelly, the psychologically deprived daughter. She matures from animal to a productive woman before our eyes. Hers is a focused portrayal, but the script doesn’t tell us how she develops the abilities to mature in the way she does. Does just getting away from her monster of a father bring miraculous healing? In the world of fantasy, maybe, but psychologist would say, “no.”

As the role requires, Geoff Hoffman is attractive, and but he fails to give texture to Johnny, Nelly’s ego-centered husband. At times his lines are flat and sometimes his motivations are unclear. This could have been the fault of the script which rarely gives him the motivations for the build-up needed.

Clyde Simon is properly offensive as the father. But, again, the impetus for his character’s actions are not clear. Why is he the person he is? He says to his daughter, “There is no escaping my house. It is always with you.” He is right, but why was the house the way it was? The author gives us no real clues. Animal instincts? Really?

Director Joshua Spencer frustrates at least part of the audience by placing the father’s wheel chair in the corner of the L-shaped stage. This placement blocks the view of at least one-third of the viewers from seeing the action. He also needed to temper the sound effects which often drowned out the dialogue.

There are a group of theatre-goers who like to attend mind-bending theatrical productions. Though a trend in the late 60s and 70s, that audience segment has waned. If their play selections to date are any indication, Clyde Simon, convergence continuum’s Artistic Director and Brian Breth, its Executive Director, have decided to appeal to that audience. Theirs is a brave task. They are providing the type of theatre for that fringe group, but they must realize that plays like ‘EACH DAY DIES WITH SLEEP’ may not get the positive word of mouth needed to financially sustain their venue. Should they do the likes of Neil Simon. Absolutely not, but there are plays that will appeal to a broader audience and still advance the art form.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Rivera may be a word master, but he has created in ‘EACH DAY DIES WITH SLEEP’ characters we care little about. He enfolds them in a story with no focus. His words lack clarity and focus. Therefore, we care little about the play.

Saturday, November 29, 2003

V-E Day (Dobama)


In 1992 a box of newsletters written during the Second World War were dropped off at The Cleveland Jewish News. Fortunately, the material found its way to Faye Sholitan, one of the paper’s writers. ‘Hello Again,” the monthly publication was circulated to Cleveland GIs as a morale booster. It contained hometown gossip centering on those who had attended Glenville High School, ate at Mawby’s on Lee Road, danced their nights away at the Statler Bar, were tended to in Mount Sinai Hospital, and attended Silver’s Temple on Ansel Road and East 105th Street. It noted the happy events in life back home.

Besides being a reporter, Sholitan is a playwright. As such, she was moved by the voices whom she later knew as her parents’ friends. ‘V-E DAY’ is her salute to the people who wrote and whose lives were noted in “Hello Again.” The original publications can be found at the Western Reserve Historical Society. Copies are at the Beachwood Branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library.

‘V-E DAY’ was recently awarded first prize in the Arlene R. and William P. Lewis Playwriting Contest sponosred by Brigham Young University which honors women writers.

‘V-E DAY’ tells the tale of the now 79-year old Evelyn Bergfeld, who appears to have spent her happiest years during World War II. It reveals how she won and lost Bernard Cohen, the real love of her life. It relates how she went on to marry another man. How she traversed through that marriage and motherhood with little joy. How she literally and figuratively buries her life. How, in her later years, she submerges into depression, unable to find happiness in anything except buying unneeded goods on the Home Shopping Network and harassing her daughter and caretakers. Depressed until....(let’s stop there, no sense in giving away the whole plot). Let’s just say, it’s amazing what happens when the potential for happiness, no matter what age, becomes a possibility.

Sholiton presents the material through a series of present day happenings and simultatenous flashbacks. We meet all the major characters in their present as well as their early selves. Several times the cross fades between this and the past worlds get blurred due either to lighting errors or a lack of verbal or physical transitional qualities, but the writing device generally works well. The ending of the play confused the audience. After what appeared to be an ending line and a blackout, and hardy applause, the lights came up on yet another scene which didn’t add much to the play’s purpose.

Director Jacqi Loewy honed the performance well. She kept the action crisp and left little unclear and aided her actors to develop realistic characters.

Set designer Mark Kobak created a workable and well-detailed set. The only confusion came with an imaginary entrance door. The first arrival through the invisible entry gave the illusion that the character might be a figment of Evelyn’s confuision or imagination rather than a real person. Since all other aspects of the set were so realistic, a real entrance space was needed.

The cast was outstanding. As Evelyn, Rhoda Rosen walked the tight-rope between depression and senility with clarity. She was absolutely believable in what could have been a caricature performance. Talent, talent, talent!!!! It was easy to grasp Mitch Field’s years of longing to have spent his life with Evelyn. Jennifer Clifford, Michael John Sestli, and Holly Humes were totally believable as the young Evie and Bernie and Bernie’s sister Lil. Juliette Regnier was alternately frustrated and empathic as Evelyn’s daughter Aimee. Jennifer Salkin was fine as Young Aimee.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘V-E DAY’ is a lovely little play filled with humor and pathos. Its life expectancy might be limited with all the Cleveland references. Local people who lived through the WWII era will “qvell” over reliving that time. Others will be intrigued by this slice of historical life.

Three Tall Woman (Ensemble)

‘THREE TALL WOMEN’ thought provoking at Ensemble

In the late 1950s the United States was searching for a new understanding of itself. The country had just been involved in the war to end all warsand was in ascendence as THE world leader. The theatre, along with the other arts, took on the role of creating a look at what the country was and should be. Writers like Tennessee Williams, William Inge and Arthur Miller brought dramatic arts into the world of theatrical realism. By the late 60s, however, with the birth of movements toward integration, stands against repression, and frustration with the political paths taken by the US government, the Theatre of the Absurd reared its head. Represented by the likes of Samuel Beckett and Edward Albee the movement was based in existentialism asking “Why do we exist?” Albee is one of the only writers of that era to remain on the theatrical scene. He is still writing in the absurdist mode. Absurd, in this case, doesn’t mean ridiculous, it stands for “out-of-kilter.” It allows the writer to pen one thing, while representing something else, something with deeper meanings. Think “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” Virginia Woolf doesn’t appear in the play, her words are not spoken, yet her philosophy and beliefs are strongly alluded to in the play’s messages of frustration, impotency, failure and futility.

One of Albee’s most recent writings, ‘THREE TALL WOMEN’ continues his absurdist bent. This play takes place in the bedroom of a sick and forgetful old woman, named (A). In the first act she is cared for by a middle-aged companion (B) and visited by a young woman (C) sent by the lawyer to settle some financial affairs. They discuss the human condition with its love, pain, wit, sex, and inevitable decline. At the end of the first act, (A) suffers a stroke that leaves her on the edge of death. The irony of the play centers in the second act when we realize that A, B and C are all the same person at different stages of her life.

As he did in ‘WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, Albee lays bare the pettiness and self deception in our lives. He asks, “What if you could see and speak to the person you once were? What if you were able to speak to the person you are predetermined to become?” What difference would it make in your life? Would you live life differently?

Albee also adds a twist by having A’s alienated son turn up at her bedside to say goodbye. This may have been Albee’s own way of dealing with his negative relationship with his adoptive mother. The son, who speaks not a word in the play though he is on stage for almost all of the second act, has tears streaming down his face as the play draws to a close. Yet another question arises. “Is the Albee’s stand-in crying because of the lack of a good relationship or finally being able to say goodbye? What’s the message for the audience on how to live?

Interestingly, ‘THREE TALL WOMEN”won Albee his third Pulitzer Prize even though it never has played Broadway.

Ensemble Theatre’s production does not quite live up to the words “witty, hilarious, haunting, and swimming in the dark pools of the human heart's most inner secrets,” which were used by reviewers of other productions to describe their theatrical experience. Though they tried valiantly, director Licia Columbi and her cast just couldn’t overcome this very wordy script, full of shaded dialogue and long monologues and little action.

Columbi uses the small intimate space of the Cleveland Play House’s Black Box Theatre well. She continues to create triangles of staging so that all the actors can easily be seen by the audience which surrounds the stage on three-sides. Like the corners of an equilateral triangle, each character has the same strength and power. The reason for this becomes clear in the second act, when we realize that we are seeing the same person at different times in her life.

All three actresses are proficient. Bernice Bolek as (A,) the old lady, swings from mean to manipulating to insightful but sometimes misses the extremes of rationality and irrationality. Sherri Britton as (B), though at times appears to be in control of the character, is somwhat inconsistent, especially in the first act when she fails to establish a clear personality concept. After a stiff and uncertain first act, Bernadette Clemens as (C) blossoms in the second act, allowing for an understanding of why A becomes irascible in her later life. Jesse Kamps portrays the tortured son with amazing control. He flows forth real tears at exactly the right moment.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Ensemble seems to be doing its best work since moving to the CPH space. Though it does not have the emotional highs and lows of ‘WHOSE AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF’, ‘THREE TALL WOMEN’ does carry a clear probing set of messages in question form. If you love theatre, and can endure a very talky show, you’ll appreciate the Ensemble production.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Jeffrey (Beck Center)

'JEFFREY' agonizes at Beck

The theatre has been an important vehicle in spreading the word about needed social changes. The women’s movement and African Americans both have used the stage to show the necessity for alterating attitudes towards their groups.

The emerging gay movement has also taken on the theatrical vehicle to shout for equal rights. When gay message plays are well-focused and honed they serve the movement well. Such shows as ‘ANGELS IN AMERICA,’ ‘BOYS IN THE BAND,’ ‘LA CAGES AUX FOLLES,’ ‘TAKE ME OUT’ and ‘THE GENE POOL’ have investigated religious intolerance, homophobia, gays in sports, AIDS, homosexual parenting, self guilt, and gay marriage.

Unfortunately, such plays as ‘THE PARTY,’ ‘MAKING PORN,’ and ‘PUPPY DOG TALE’ center on only looking at the sexual aspects of gay life, feeding into the stereotype of gays as being solely carnal beings. Though it attempts to be a message play, ‘JEFFREY,’ now on stage at Beck Center’s Studio Theatre, fringes on being one of the latter writings.

Written by Paul Rudnick, author of the hysterically funny ‘I HATE HAMLET,’ the plot centers on Jeffrey, a young gay male who, in the 90s age of AIDS vows eternal celibacy in the now dangerous world of sex and relationships.

The vehicle is billed as a “hysterical comedy.” Though there are laughs, this is more than a comedy, as the author attempts to make this a message play. In the process, he creates audience confusion. He takes a serious subject and pushes it to such extremes that the gimmickry often overpowers the message. In one scene, while agonizing over the death of his partner, a character proposes, “We want no more prejudice, no more disease.” Rudnick then changes course when he extends the speech with the phrase, “and no more chintz.” He takes away the power of the message by adding the “fey” stereotype. In another scene he states, “life is radio active” and goes on seriously to show the audience the effects of AIDS. No comedy here.

The play covers every aspect of gay-oriented subjects...physical obsession; evangelism; illness; gay bashing; gay stereotypes of the love of opera, theatre, decorating, clothing; 12-step programs; parental attitudes; and sexual acting out. Also thrown in is Mother Teresa, who wanders in and out of scenes.

This is not to say the play is bad. It will appeal to a “certain” audience. It did win the Obie Award and the Outer Critics’ Circle Award. This notwithstanding, the play is superficial and stresses the sexual aspect so that even the “happy ending” allows the lead character to give into his sexual desires. It’s as if sex conquers all. Is that really what Rudnick wants us to believe?

Director Brian Zoldessy works some of the laugh angles well. The emotional content is left somewhat unattended.

As he did at Actors’ Summit when he portrayed Alan in ‘PICNIC,’ Scott Esposito proves he is one of the best of the area’s young new crop of actors. He textures the role of Jeffrey with humor and drama. His is a very fine performance.

Mark Cipro adds the right levels of exaggerated humor and pathos as Sterling, the aging interior decorator who loses his young lover to AIDS. Molly McGinnis is fine as she covers all the women’s roles including portraying an evangelist, a sexoholic and Mother Teresa. Some of the other cast members do not fare as well as they are placed in performing stereotypes which become unbelievable.

The set adds to the plays consistent inconsistence. Don McBride’s set is a visual delight. However, it, as the play and production, creates confusion. The comic book intense colors and drawings of the New York skyline give a feeling of glee that overshadows the serious message of the play.

Capsule judgement: ‘JEFFREY,’ due to its subject matter, language, production qualities and writing style is not for everyone. Audience members seemed divided on their appreciation. About one-quarter of the house left at intermission, others applauded with delight, if for no other reason, than having seen handsome Scott Esposito in nothing but his tighty-whities.

Plaid Tidings (Cleveland Play House)

‘PLAID TIDINGS’ happily rings in the holiday at CPH

It’s that time of year again. Entertainment centers are raising their curtains on ‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL,’ ‘THE NUTCRACKER’ and a lot of other holiday treats. Why should the Cleveland Play House be different?

Cleveland audiences have had a long time love-affair with the Plaid offerings. ‘FOREVER PLAID,’ this show’s predecessor, re-opened the Allen Theatre in Play House Square. ‘PLAIN\D TIDINGS’ has been performed two other times in the country, but it has been re-written for the CPH presentation and is being called a “near premiere performance”

Just before the opening night performance, CPH Artistic Director Peter Hackett, in a delightful speech, informed the audience that Randy Rineck, one of the performers, had laryngitis and was being replaced by the show’s Associate Director Robert Randle. The audience, in a jovial mood (the gala party before the show had “whetted” many throats) just took it all in. The substitution mattered little as the show went on with nary a hitch.

Complete with boy-group gestures of the 50s, the quartet, mellowed-in with tributes to Rosemary Clooney, the Ed Sullivan Show, and Perry Como. They used gimmicks galore to delight the audience. Sing alongs, audience participation, bell interludes, and video clips all added to the fun.

“Let It Snow” was a total delight. The beat version of “Twuz Duh Night Before Christmas” was met with prolonged applause. A cleverly staged “Matilda, Matilda” complete with Italian, Hawaiian, Spanish, Irish and Jewish calypso was a show stopper.
You name the holiday song it was included, plus some.

The cast, consisting of Jody Ashworth, Jonathan Brody, Scott Fedderly and Robert Randle were very good. Fedderly, who has a fine voice, an electric stage presence and can dance, was especially good.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Some might say that ‘PLAID TIDINGS,’ a musical review with a meager plot and oft-done holiday songs, is not an appropriate offering for a theatre which proposes to be “one of the greatest theatres in America.” Well, BAH, HUMBUG! If you want to sit back, feel good, and escape from the world’s problems...’PLAID TIDINGS’ is your thing!

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Ohio Ballet Fall Repertory Program-2003 (Ohio Ballet)


In contrast to the Kirov’s packed houses, the recent performances by the Ohio Ballet at the Ohio Theatre had much smaller attendance. Too bad, because the Ohio Ballet’s Fall Repertory Program was one of their best offerings since Jeffery Graham Hughes took over as the company’s Artistic Director.

A smorgasbord of offerings, the audience was exposed to everything from serious classical ballets, dynamic humorous moves, and drum-band accompanied movements.

The evening opened with the world premiere of “Rossini Dances.” The number was choreographed by former Cleveland Ballet prima ballerina Cynthia Gregory. Gregory was an elegant dancer who captivated the stage with her control and excellence. Though the ballet doesn’t quite hit her level of performance, it was a fine example of classic choreography. The women were joyous, the men had some difficulty in their timing. Fine stage pictures and movements well fit Rossini’s “String Sonata No. 6 in D Major.”

A series of very short pieces followed. “In Nuit,” which was accompanied by David Fisher on the piano, Larissa Freude performed effectively. Her toe-work was outstanding.

The ever-beautiful “Dying Swan” was presented with the classic choreography of Michael Fokine as restaged by Isabelle Fokine. Performed to the piano artistry of David Fisher, the music of Camille Saint-Saens from the “Carnaval des Animaux Suite” was beautiful. Eva Trapp was competent in the role of the swan in the final stages of life. She fluttered to her death compassionately, though the enthralling elegance of prima ballerinas was missing.

“Esmeralda Pas De Deux,”presented as a company premiere, is a nice patterned piece. Toby George, whose forte is high leaps, and Amanda Cobb who moves well and is lovely with her constant smile, partnered well. Again David Fisher accompanied the duo playing Cesare Pugni’s music.

One of the highlights of the evening was Sam Watson’s contemporary “Wired.” Actually, the title “Unwired” might have been better for this Pilobus-type number. Bouncing, intertwining, bouncing off each other, rolling on the floor, the piece defies description. How about, “it was a blast, a hoot, a fun interlude.” Damien Highfield and Brian Murphy appeared to have a ball in this non-traditional piece.

Jeffrey Graham Hughes’ “Ballet Ramajay” received its world premiere as the finale of the program. Danced to a combination of sprightly, reggae, contemporary music performed by the excellent University of Akron Steel Drum Band, the choreography fit the music well. Though at times there was a lack of coordinated timing in the dancing there was enough creativity to make up for the minuses. A.Christina Giannini’s costume design was wonderful. The dancers flashed across the stage in multi-colored creative pieces of material. Hughes did an excellent job of coordinating the movements to the sounds. The highlights were “The Girl From Ipanema”a sprightly interpretation by Amanda Cobb and Toby George, and “Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm” finely performed by Ashley Bowman and Damien Highfield.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Ohio Ballet’s “Fall Repertory Program” was a fine evening of dance. Let’s hope that future programs live up to this.

La Bayadere--Kirov Ballet (Playhouse Square Center)

Prestigious Kirov Ballet not up to par at the State Theatre

The Kirov Ballet of St. Petersburg, Russia is truly one of the world’s class dance organizations. For more than 200 years the company has performed with excellence, no matter the political climate of the country. It is the company that probably, more than any other, conceived what we know as classical ballet. Their traditional moves, costumes and story line development is the model for what other companies do if they want to emulate the established pattern of excellence. This is the company that produced such luminaries as Rudolph Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

It is fortunate that the company has 130 dancers as they experienced a series of problems as they headed for their Cleveland performances. Injuries and dancers going with other companies resulted in our area not seeing the Kirov at its best. I saw the Saturday night performance of ‘LA BAYADERE.’ It lacked excitement. The lead dancers had no charisma. The cast, at times, seemed to have been walking through the performance. It was too bad as the productions, fanned in part by the large local Russian immigrant audience, had near full-houses.

Even with the second-team performers, anyone having viewed the productions was immediately aware of the differences between contemporary ballet and the traditional style. Exaggerated hand movements, bigger than life facial and body reactions, and posturing were seen throughout. Like classic opera, realism is not the issue, visual imagery is.

The most spectacular segment of the production took place during Act III, “The Kingdom of Shades.” A line of thirty female dancers on point dressed in white tutus, wove their way one at a time down a series of ramps. The effect was breathtaking.

Capsule judgement: The Kirov Ballet was not up to its prestigious reputation in its presentation in Cleveland

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Carole Clement reviews the reviewer

To: Roy Berko
From: Carole Clement
Subject: review: Discordia (CPT)


I was at CPT Friday, and sadly, I must agree with everything you wrote in your
review--and perhaps more. Other reviews that are coming out today are
vicious. Essentially, they say what you said, but with venom & personal
attacks against actors. Their reviews are so mean-spirited that it's easy
for those involved with Discordia to deny them.

And that's a shame, because there is some truth in those reviews.

While the Discordia company isn't happy about what you said, they aren't
dismissing it out of hand, & that's because of your measured & tempered
evaluation. You are an asset to the Cleveland theater scene & a credit to
thoughtful humanity.

Thanks for being there.


Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Varla Jean Merman (Cleveland Public Theatre)


Varla Jean Merman is a sensation on the drag queen impersonation circuit. Her third appearance at the Cleveland Public Theatre, like her other stays-in-residence, delighted the audience.

Her signature shticks: the hot dog puppet that speaks, singing while shooting canned cheese whiz down her throat, her double entendre tales, her allusion to being the daughter of a moment of wild passion between Earnest Borgnine and Ethel Merman, and the home movies of her life, were all present.

I know it’s not her purpose, but sometime I’d really like to hear Jeffery Roberson, who portrays Varla Jean, just stand on stage and sing. This guy/gal has a wonderful voice. But, like the late Victor Borge, who was an accomplished pianist, Roberson has chosen to settle on comedy as his vehicle to fame. And, there is no doubt he has found a positive means of showcasing himself. Varla Jean Merman makes for a fun evening of theatre.

Capsule judgement: Next time Roberson is back in town, catch his act. You’ll enjoy yourself.

Thoroughly Modern Millie (Playhouse Square Center)

‘THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE’ less than expected

At the 2002 Tony Award ceremony when ‘THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE’ was announced as the winner of the Best Musical there was an audible gasp in the audience. It was expected that ‘URINETOWN’ was going to receive that coveted award. Clevelanders who subscribe to the Playhouse Square Broadway series will be allowed to make the evaluation themselves.

Having seen both shows, I know that I would have definitely chosen the creative, tune-worthy, staging-worthy ‘URINETOWN.’ I find MILLIE to be a pedestrian musical with a weak book, a weaker score, and repetitious music. That is not to say audiences will not like it. They will, as was demonstrated by the partial standing ovation the show received at its opening performance in the local run. Of course, standing ovations in Cleveland are not symbols of great shows or performances as they’ve become as common as clapping.

Based on the 1967 movie of the same name, the hokey story-line of Millie centers on the arrival in New York of a Kansas “hick” named (no surprise here) Millie. In contrast to the lead character in ‘42ND STREET,’ the musical most like MILLIE, this cutie is out to get a husband, a rich husband. Millie accidentally runs into Jimmy, a handsome young man, while she is chasing a thug who has stolen her purse and a shoe. (Yes, one shoe. Now do you understand the hokeyness of this story?) He is some “poor” guy who doesn’t fall into her description of a future husband (well, not yet). Through a series of incidents which include a kidnapping ring who capture orphan Caucasian young ladies and ship them to the Orient (I told you this was hokey), a young debutante from “California” (the quote marks because, of course, that is not true and unravels as the story proceeds), a pair of Chinese who are working as part of the kidnapping ring because they have been promised if they cooperate their mother will be brought to the US (can you believe that one?), a famous African American female singer who married for money, and...well, you get the point. This goes on and on and on and doesn’t get any better.

Songs from the show include “The Nuttycracker Suite,” “Only in New York,” “Forget About the Boy,”and the four-time reprised “Not for the Life of Me.” Never heard of any of them? That about summarizes the score. Oh, yes, there is the title tune, “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” and though it is included, it wasn’t even written for this show, as were three other numbers that are included.

The cleverest parts of the show are when there are actually take-offs of other musicals and songs. A Chinese version of Al Jolsen’s “Mammy” and a Nelson Eddy, Jeanette MacDonald-like duet of “I’m Falling in Love with Someone” are delightful. Of course, they have nothing to do with the story line, but who cares. Another “neat-o” shtick is a screen over of the actors’ heads, which displays the English translations of spoken and sung Chinese. It’s like the Cleveland Opera telling us what the words to ‘CARMEN’ mean.

The touring production doesn’t use the State Theatre stage well. They usually perform in smaller venues, so the scenery and movements scrunch in the action. The postage stamp design doesn’t work well.

Even the dancing fails to make an impact. Though enthusiastically carried out by the cast, the movements become boring due to repetition. How many flapper hand and foot movements can one appreciate?

The cast is adequate. Darcie Roberts as Millie has a wonderful voice, but not the infectious personality and cuteness that is needed to captivate an audience. Matt Cavenaugh is handsome enough to portray Jimmy, and his voice has good range, but a false attitude takes the edge off the character. Diana Kaarina as Dorothy is Bernadette Peters cute and has a similar voice. Hollis Resnik’s Mrs. Meers, the head of the kidnapping ring, becomes more and more irritating as the show progresses. On the other hand, Pamela Isaac, as the rich chanteusse, has a wonderful voice and belts “Only in New York” with pizzazz.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE’ is a pleasant-enough escapist piece of fluff. If you liked ‘42ND STREET’ you’ll like this. If not, wait for ‘URINETOWN.’ It’s a creative winner.

Monday, October 27, 2003

2 piano, 4 hands (Cleveland Play House)

Cleveland Play House hits right keyes in ‘2 PIANOS, 4 HANDS’

Alex Berko is 7 years old. He has had three piano recitals and has been asked to participate in a piano competitions. He has a bright future, right? Well, after watching Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt’s ‘2 PIANOS 4 HANDS,’ Alex, and anyone else who has aspirations of being a top flight pianist, might have different thoughts. And anyone who has ever taken piano lessons, or knows anyone who has, will be carried back to those glorious (?) days.

Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt are the subjects of their own play. They, in their own words, are “the best pianists in the neighborhood.” Neither of them started out that way. Much like Alex, as children they became fascinated with the piano, an instrument for which they apparently had great talent. As we follow their lives and careers in music we experience their musical journey from adolescence to adulthood. A journey that is filled with laughter, euphoria, pain and tears.

The CPH cast is composed of Mark Anders portraying Ted, and Carl Danielsen as Richard. The two are both excellent pianists and actors. Without such a talented cast, the play wouldn’t work. We need to see the two actually playing, mature through the years. Taped music just wouldn’t have done it. The playing of less accomplished performers also wouldn’t have worked. This is not a play that will be done by amateur groups. The whole task would be too daunting.

The audience is confronted by two grand pianos, nicely nestled in a room with plush royal blue walls and busts of Bach and Beethoven. Through flashbacks, we watch as the two are confronted by parents, teachers, professors and numerous others who invaded their real and musical lives. The two even musically and psychologically directly wrestle with each other at piano competitions and during their training.

The production is wonderful. It hits all the right keys. It is filled with great music, covering everything from Bach to Billy Joel, from Beethoven to jazz. The script, which centers around the music, allows us to experience the fun and pain of trying to achieve in the world of music.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you love classical music, if you appreciate fine performances, and are willing to expand your definition of what theatre should be, you’ll love ‘2 PIANOS, 4 HANDS.”

Groundworks Dancetheater--October, 2003 (Groundworks)


I was once asked by a reader of my reviews, “If you had only one entertainment event to attend, and wanted to be assured that you’d experience excellence, where would you go?” Without any hesitation I answered, “Groundworks Dancetheater.” Why? I have never attended a performance of David Shimotakahara’s dance troupe that has been wanting. David has the ability and foresight to be able to blend audience appeal, creativity, and constructive vision to insure an evening of entertainment. He has assembled a corps of dancers who buy in to his philosophy and enjoy working together and creating exciting and involving illusions for an audience. The company has been called intelligent, fresh and invigorating. It is that, and more!

Groundworks latest event was performed at St. Peter’s Church, in downtown Cleveland. It was part of the company’s Landmarks Series. These productions take place in settings not usually thought of as dance venues. Pilgrim Church in the historic Tremont district, the Icehouse in Akron, and St. Peter’s have all been enhanced with the company’s works. This format brings people to interesting locations in the community with the possibility of experiencing dance and music in new places.

The St. Peter’s program consisted of the wonderful “Major To Minor” in which a point and counterpoint of music and dancers were evident. Performed to five musical recordings of different moods and paces, Felise Bagley, Amy Miller, Mark Otloski and Shimotakahara, all classically trained ballet dancers, performed contemporary and modern dance movements with ease. They danced slowly to “I Wished on the Moon,” and let loose and had fun with “Peanut Vendor.” They used their bodies, the floor and a banana to captivate the sold-out audience.

“Lavender” was a musical interlude performed by Gaelyn Aguilar and Derek Keller. Though it was sometimes difficult to hear the words in the vast, highly arched cathedral, the emotional tone of the music was involving.

“Ephemeral,” precisely choreographed by Shimotakahara, and perfectly performed by Felise Bagley and Mark Otloski, was based on music composed and played by Gustavo Aguilar and Alan Lechusza. The audience, seating no more than twenty feet from the dancers observed powerful bodies performing slow controlled movements, with little physical contact, doing counter movements to the discordant sounds. The audience appeared awed by the performance and responded to the conclusion with long and continuous applause.

“Take 2,” in its Cleveland premiere, is a collaborative piece between the dance corps and the musicians. Developed through ongoing exploration, the piece’s open structure allows both dancers and musicians to improvise and react. The overall effect was a visual and emotional roller coaster ride which was met with appreciative audience response.

Capsule judgement: If you haven’t had the privilege of seeing Groundworks Dancetheater perform, do so!

Love of Mike (Cleveland Play House)

'LOVE OF MIKE' at CPH--performers outclass material

Want to produce a musical review? The songs are usually not the problem...they are readily available unless you are writing an all original score. You pick a theme, decide on what songs to do, and put them in an order based on the effect you are trying to achieve. Sounds easy? Nope! Musical reviews are hard devices to conceive. More miss than hit.

William Hoffman, the conceiver of ‘FOR THE LOVE OF MIKE’ now being staged in the Cleveland Play House Club, decided to do a musical celebration of a vaudeville life. He selected about 20 songs and conceived it as a tribute to Mike. He assembled a very talented cast, rehearsed the materials, and invited audiences to attend.

Audiences will hear some wonderful songs like “The Bowery,” “The Streets of New York,” and “Hard Hearted Hanna.”

Unfortunately, the evening doesn’t work very well. Much of the evening seemed forced. The script is so weak that the performers had to force-feed the notions to the audience, material which they didn’t appear to have much belief in. In addition, rehearsal time was obviously limited and the performers had to learn a lot of patter and unfamiliar songs such as “I’m Looking for Daddy Long Legs,” “Cleaning and Dyeing,” and “The German 5th.” (Yep, I’m not making these up.) Because of this there were lyric and line problems.

The cast, Greg Violand, Maryann Nagel, Kevin Joseph Kelly and Charles Eversole are all solid performers. Violand’s “That’s the Reason Noo I Wear a Kilt” is delightful. His voice soars in “I Belong to Glasgow.” Nagel and Violand are wonderful in “Yiddisha Nightingale” though at times Irish seems to creep into their Yiddish patter. The company does a rousing “Alabamy Bound” and “Are You From Dixie?” Kelly‘s “Oh What a Gal” was fun. Eversole plays the piano with pizazz.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: This is a very talented group of performers. I wish they had just stood and sung and forgotten about Hoffman’s attempt at creating a hat tree on which to hang the material. Shticks like “Cleaning and Dyeing” were close to embarrassing and the “surprise” ending was not clever. GO HEAR THE VOICES.

Forest City (Cleveland Play House)

Cast and staging outstanding in CPH's 'FOREST CITY'

When you attend a play, whether at a professional or amateur theatre, do you have any idea of the process that the playwright has gone through to get that script ready for production? Many people naively believe that a person sits down at a computer and spews forth a finished product. ‘Taint so. Scribing a play is usually an arduous task which requires writing and rewriting and rewriting. The process is often for naught as, in the end, in spite of valiant efforts, the script doesn’t work. It may not succeed because it just doesn't get the authors’ ideas across, or it doesn’t look and sound right on stage, or it is too complex to stage, or the audience doesn’t respond positively.

The Cleveland Play House is presenting the world premiere of ‘FOREST CITY,’ a play by Bridgette Wimberly. How did this script come to being? If typical, Wimberly had an idea. She, worked for a period of time to get the plot clear, the lines meaningful, the characters set and the production qualities clear. Then started her real work. A script on paper is not the same as one on stage. A reader can fill in the blanks, can imagine that which is and isn’t. On stage all of these things must be made crystal clear to hold the audience’s attention and allow each listener to gain the playwright’s intentions. What is most valuable to a playwright is to have the play staged in some way that the voice of the script can be heard. This “hearing” often takes place at a staged reading in which actors take the script and create an audio version. In some cases these readings are actually staged so the author can both see and hear the script.

Fortunately for Wimberly, for the last eight years the Cleveland Play House has produced the “Next Stage Festival of New Plays.” It provides a venue to a select group of playwrights to be allowed to see, hear and hone their scripts. And so ‘FOREST CITY’ was given the opportunity to go from childhood toward maturity. As my review of that first reading indicated, I felt that the script needed a lot of work. It was very long, very wordy, unfocused, lacked texturing. The play had requisite conflicts- infidelity, financial problems, illness, big business versus the citizenry, inner family conflict. It had an interesting idea that was based on a real series of incidents. To make it a viable script, it needed some heavy rewriting.

The tinkering has been completed. ‘FOREST CITY’ is being given a full-scale production at CPH. The redoing did wonders. The play has been tightened up, shortened, extraneous materials eliminated, and humor added. Unfortunately, Wimberly has still not decided on an ending. There are at least four conclusions that could be interpreted as, “okay, this is it.” The final, final one, is not the strongest. In fact, it changes the tone of the play and makes it almost hokey. If the play is going to be produced elsewhere, Ms. Wimberly is going to have to rethink the final several scenes by asking herself what message she really wants to leave with her audience. She also needs to ask why she introduces a child character near the end whose physical presence plays no real role in the play’s meaning.

The play is set in Cleveland in the late 1960s. Carl Stokes has become the first African American mayor of a major city, segregation is finally coming to an end, the Glenville riots have brought attention to the plight of blacks in the Forest City. We see it all through the eyes of the Taylor family: JT, his wife Sandra Mae, his mother and his half brother. JT is trying to fend for his family on a railroad day-laborer’s salary. The family lives in a home they purchased, and are fighting to keep. Though not much, it is theirs. A small black-owned and operated hospital wants to expand. To do so, they will need to tear down the family’s residence. The situation is complicated by the fact that JT’s half brother is a doctor on the hospital’s staff.

Seth Gordon, who is not only the director of this production, but the Director of New Play Development at CPH, has nurtured this script from its infancy to this staging. He has created a well-paced, creatively staged, generally well-acted show. He has keyed the laughs and has stressed empathy in the right places.

The cast is universally excellent. Margaret Ford-Taylor, as Mother Taylor milks the role for all it is worth. She has excellent comic timing and builds the emotional levels with ease. Her role of “witch doctor,” family center and peacemaker are clearly developed.

Caroline S. Clay, as Sandra Mae, shows the pain of a wounded woman with much clarity. Johnny Lee Davenport gives us a JT that is both strong and weak. He clearly shows us the hard head and the soft underbelly.

Wiley Moore, as the doctor brother, could have textured his performance more. His sometimes monotone presentation and lack of facial expression makes him appear to be less than involved in the goings-on. Count Stovall, though having line problems, gives a clear picture as an old-time doctor whose dreams have been overshadowed by the times.

Scenic designer Beowulf Boritt has been forced to create a set that must reveal many settings...porch, living room, bedroom, doctor’s office, banquet hall lobby, staircase and dock. To do this he has created an impressive complex piece of work on a turntable and moving platforms. It works moderately well though the action is often slowed down by all the changes.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘FOREST CITY’ is worth seeing. As a former dramturg for the Festival, I would urge Ms. Wimberly to keep working on the script. That additional tinkering could result in a modern day “A Raisin in the Sun.”

Saturday, October 25, 2003

Tartuffe (Great Lakes Theatre Festival)

'TARTUFFE' delights, Andrew May is wonderful at Great Lakes Theatre Festival

Based on his spoken belief that, “The most effective way of attacking vice is to expose it to public ridicule” Moliere, considered to be France’s greatest dramatist, laid the foundation for his revered farce, ‘TARTUFFE.’ The play, which is also known as ‘THE HYPOCRITE,’ relates the story of an attempt by Tartuffe, a scheming hypocrite, to destroy the happiness of Orgon, a well-to-do Parisian householder. Orgon is so deceived by the villain’s manipulations that he makes Tartuffe the master of the house, including promising the marriage of the charletan to Marianne, Orgon’s daughter. The play illuminates how right wins out over wrong through a series of hysterically funny scenes.

Though the approach may seem time-worn by modern day standards, when Molliere crafted this work, he was assailing Parisian foibles in a new theatrical mode. The play, which now seems delightfully harmless, incited some theatre-owners to ban it from production. That withstanding, Moliere has drawn admiration few dramatists have equalled. He has developed characters like Orgon and Tartuffe which are considered to be classically crafted. His works, along with Shakespeare’s, have stood the test of time and have become classics.

Drew Barr, except for a casting error, has created a fine production. The pace, keying of laughter, and the creation of visually pleasing stage pictures is well done. The epitome for setting the farcial tone was Scott Plate’s heaven-sent entrance as the King’s soldier, complete with fanfares and billowing smoke and a long, elegant march down the staircase.

Little did Moliere know, when the play was produced for the first time at Versailles in 1664 that an Andrew May would come along in a 2003 production of ‘TARTUFFE’ at the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival to make his Orgon everything that the writer intended. No one--repeat--no one can play farce better than May. He makes an art form of mumfering, fumphering, bulging out his eyes, getting caught in mid-word stutter, and displaying enormous pain in the most hysterical of ways. He does it with ease and naturalism. This is not acting a role, this is May being Orgon. If you loved May in the Cleveland Play House’s ‘I LOVE HAMLET’ several seasons ago, you will fall in love with him all over again in ‘TARTUFFE.’ May is nothing short of astoundingly outstanding. Applause, applause, standing ovation!

Laura Perrotta as the sharp-tongued maid, Dorine, is a perfect foil for May. She inserts all the right pins to set him off in anguish. This is Perrotta at her finest!

Aled Davies is delightful as Cleante, Orgon’s brother-in-law who can’t say anything other than with pompous long-windedness. Paula Duesing, as Orgon’s mother, gets caught in the rhyming trap of stressing beat and cadence rather than meaning in her early speeches, but recovers well, speaking ideas as the play progresses. Sara M. Bruner, who has made a career of playing “sweet young things,” is a very competent sweet young thing, once again, as Orgon’s daughter Mariane. Wayne Turney is delightful as the bailiff. He gets the most out of a brief appearance.

Steve Tague feigns Tartuffe. As the gentlemen sitting behind me said at intermission,” “Come on now, how could Orgon be fooled by that obvious act being put on by Tartuffe?” Right on, fellow theatre-goer. Tague’s was an all surface portrayal with little texture. Left to Tague’s sole performance, ‘TARTUFFE’ would have missed the mark as much as ‘HAMLET’ did when he failed to well-develop that lead role. But, fortunaely, an otherwise strong cast saved the day.

Gage Williams scenic design and Kim Krumm Sorenson’s costumes aid greatly in creating the right illusions.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘TARTUFFE’ is a “go see.” You get to experience Andrew May in action, while also enjoying one of the great comedic plays by one of the world’s greatest writers in a solid production.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Discordia (Cleveland Public Theatre)

'DISCORDIA' in world premiere at Cleveland Public Theatre

Creating a musical from scratch is a daunting task. Musical theatre is the most complex of the arts. It combines the format of a drama or comedy. It requires music, much like a symphony or band. There are the lyrics, the words to the songs, much like a pop or country singer needs. Choreography parallels the part of musicals that make it like ballet or modern dance. Art in the form of sets and costumes is also needed. Then, the production must be staged using actors to create characters and develop the intent and purpose of the creators and a band or orchestra must be rehearsed.

It is amazing that so many musicals get written and staged.

‘DISCORDIA,’ in its world premiere at Cleveland Public Theatre, is the brain-child of James Levin and Linda Eisenstein. According to the theatre’s public relations notes, ‘DISCORDIA’ tells the story of the innocent Percival as he searches for the Holy Grail, trying to do good in dangerous, confusing times. It is billed as an “astutely observed political satire.”

The production introduces the audience to the necessity for delivering democracy to all the world, the role of God and prayer, toxic waste and the environment, a country in disarray, the role of the drug industry in controlling prices, weapons of mass destruction, the Arabic fatah, Human Rights, big business as our savior, “protecting” countries even if they don’t want the protection (think Iraq and Afghanistan), right wing pseudo manners, and the philosophy of spending as a requirement to national success. Also touched upon is the question of whether the leader, King Arthur in this case, has limited intelligence. There is a rebuke of a political party for having control of the Presidency, the House and Senate and for not taking advantage of their chance to make a difference, (Think Clinton and universal health care.) And then we encounter a search for a Knight to lead us out of our present abyss. (Think the present race for a Democratic candidate.) The story asks who the grail serves, who benefits from the “things,” the money, the requirement to spend, spend, spend. The concept centers on the constant chanted mantra, “Arthur, God, Shopping.”

Sound like a lot to cover in two and-half hours? It is! The story line covers so much that it doesn’t take time to develop any of them in depth, often leaving the audience tired and confused.

Linda Eisenstein’s music is excellent; however, it too covers too much of the musical spectra. The musical sound of ballads, chanting, folk songs, blues, vaudeville patter and rock are all presented. Her strength is the ballads. Songs like “Mother, I Found My Calling,” “The Presence of the Grail,” and “Take Off Your Armour” are excellent. “Whom Does It Serve” is probably the best message song in the score.

Director Raymond Bobgan, who staged last year’s Times Tribute Award production of “Tibetan Book of the Dead”has added some excellent production qualities . Unfortunately, because of the expanse of the play, even Bobgan loses his course.

The cast is uneven. Alison Hernan as Morgan Le Fay, who offers the perspective on the play, has both a powerful singing voice and develops a clear character. Perren Hedderson as Percival, who is on a quest, has a very pleasant singing voice and the physical attractiveness and acting ability to play young leading man roles. (Think ‘PIPPIN’ and ‘JOSEPH AND HIS TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT.) Amiee Collier as Percival’s lady love has a very nice singing voice. Jill Levin as the announcer and our guide through the maze of ideas, speaks and sings well. The choral sounds are fine. Much of the others are just not up to the task of grasping their characterizations and singing their roles.

Michael Flohr’s music direction is on target. His musicians don’t drown out the singers and are musically competent. Trad Burns’ scenic design works well considering the number of settings that are required. Inda Blatch-Geib’s costumes leave much to be desired except for Hernan’s excellent clothing. The designs are often unflattering on the female body types in the production.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘DISCORDIA’ is a gallant attempt at developing a musical. Unfortunately, it just has too many problems to work in its present form. It is not unusual for authors to relook at and rework their material to make it successful. Let’s hope that that’s the case with ‘DISCORDIA.’

Boy Gets Girl (Beck Center)

'BOY GETS GIRL' captures audience at Beck

In spite of the title, don’t go to see Beck Center’s production of ‘BOY GETS GIRL’ expecting to see a TV-sitcom-like escapist piece of fluff. The play definitely is not fluff. It is a revealing, upsetting, involving investigation of how a woman’s life is quickly destroyed by a disturbed admirer. It is a suspenseful tale about the unraveling of a strong woman’s sense of security.

At the start of the play, we meet Theresa Bedell, a successful thirty-something magazine writer as she encounters Tony, with whom she has been fixed-up on a blind date. It appears that we are in for a boy meets girl, boy likes girl, girl disses boy, boy pursues girl, and that’s it. But, since the boy is a psycho and can’t take “no” for an answer, we watch in horror as boy stalks girl, threatens girl, and finally causes her to give up all she has, including her name, to hopefully get rid of him. This is definitely a case of bad winning out over good.

Time Magazine called Rebecca Gilman’s ‘BOY GETS GIRL’…gripping and important—the finest, most disturbing American play in years!" The review was right on.

Beck’s production is absorbing. Director Sarah May has honed in on the intent and purpose of the play and has given her cast a clear course, though there was some audience confusion at the end of the play when they were unaware that the experience was over until the cast came out for the curtain call. Except for that, everything works...Don McBride’s set, Casey Jones’ sound design, Jeff Lockshine’s lighting, and Jenniver Sparano’s costumes, all enhance the performances.

Elizabeth Ann Townsend, known locally and nationally for her acting excellence, doesn’t play Theresa, she IS Theresa. She textures the role with physical and vocal scoring that makes us suffer with her.

How the audience didn’t boo loudly when Paul Kaiser, who plays Tony, came out for his curtain call, I’ll never know. Kaiser was so despicable that it was impossible to not believe that he was the “sicky” that he was portraying. Boo, Tony! Hurray Paul!

Robert Hawkes as Theresa’s boss, James Savage, Jr. as a young reporter, Besty Kahl as the ditzy secretary, Rose A. Leininger, as the policewoman assigned to Theresa’s case, and Donald Krosin, as a sleazy X-rated film producer, are excellent.

As you walk into the lobby of Beck Center for the Arts on the way to see ‘BOY GETS GIRL,’ you will be confronted by a series of t-shirts. These clothing items are not for sale. They are part of The Clothesline Project, a visual display of T-shirt that bear witness to violence against women--stalking, rape, incest, battery, withheld love. These are memorials and memories of clients and their families as accumulated by the Lorain County Rape Crisis Center.

READ EACH AND EVERY ONE OF THE INSCRIBED PIECES BEFORE GOING IN TO SEE ‘BOY MEETS GIRL.’ It will make an intensely important play even more vivid.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Sarah May has crafted an involving production of Rebecca Gilman’s emotional revealing play. If you have space on your calendar fill in ‘BOY MEETS GIRL’ in the spot. You won’t be disappointed.