Wednesday, January 29, 2003

The Male Intellect: An Oxymoron (Playhouse Square Center)

‘THE MALE INTELLECT: AN OXYMORON’ delights at the Hanna

When ‘THE MALE INTELLECT: AN OXYMORON’ ran in Cleveland several years ago I referred to it as being hysterical. I went on to say that it gives the audience a comedy version of “MEN ARE FROM MARS, WOMEN ARE FROM VENUS” and “YOU JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND,” two best selling book on male-female communication.

The story? Bobby is in a state of confusion. Several weeks before the curtain rises, he had found the girl of his dreams. He made the commitment. He planned to get married. She dumped him. Since then he's been trying to figure out what went wrong. The only thing he has figured out about women is that they are female. In this he is like most guys, clueless as to what makes women tick.

Capsule judgment: Robert Dubac, who both wrote the script and portrays Bobby, has bridged a career between acting, comedy and writing for over ten years. ‘THE MALE INTELLECT: AN OXYMORON’ grew out of the desire to bring his three interests together. And blend them together he does well. As another local critic said in its last pass through he area, “In case you were wondering, it is possible for a person to be tasteless, sensitive and funny, all at the same time. The proof lies in "THE MALE INTELLECT: AN OXYMORON"

Monday, January 27, 2003

Late Night Catechism (Playhouse Square Center)

‘LATE NIGHT CATECHISM’ delights at Hanna

When you go see ‘LATE NIGHT CATECHISM’ at the Hanna Theatre, and you should, there are a few “rules” you better follow. Don’t chew gum because Sister will make you spite it out. Don’t think of swallowing it because, as Sister says, “it stays in your stomach six weeks.” Don’t talk while she is talking. A “heathen” Jewish lady did, and Sister made her change her seat. A duo was whispering and had to stand up in front of the entire “class” and apologize. Be aware that if she finds out you didn’t go to Catholic school you’ll get her lecture about your parents not loving you.

You’ll learn much during this delightful interactive theatre piece. Sister will inform you that Dead Catholic accountants keep track of your indulgences, that she once had a nun teacher who was so old that “she could have been a waitress at the last supper” and that “Episcopalions are really Catholic-lites.” You also be told that St. Simeon Stylis was the patron saint of pole sitters and two Notre Dame nuns can beat the “hell out of 3 Ursilines.” Also, did you know that nuns are really gang members? Sure they are, they wear a common uniforms, hang around together, have colors.

And so it goes. One hysterically funny comment after another. ‘LATE NIGHT CATECHISM’ is not for the plot oriented, it’s not thinking person’s theatre. This is just plain fun stuff.
Do you have to be Catholic to appreciate the goings-on. No, but, it doesn’t hurt. Several of the opening-night attenders were planning using this experience on an on-going basis instead of going to confession. And, even though it’s a production based on audience participation, you can hide and not participate. That is, if Sister doesn’t catch you.

Lisa Buscani, who plays Sister in this hoped-for long-running local production, is a delight. She is not only knowledgeable and opinionated about the church, but she is excellent at ad libbing and making the entire evening delightful.

And, true the Catholic Church, you’ll have a chance to play bingo and place an offering in the collection box.

Capsule judgment: You don't have to be Catholic to enjoy LATE NIGHT CATECHISM, but it helps!

Voice of Good Hope: The Words and Life of Barbara Jordan (Ensemble Theatre)

Barbara Jordan shortchanged at Ensemble

The late Barbara Jordan is one of my heros. If not for her illness and premature death, she may have been the first Black women to be nominated for a high national office. This was a woman of high spirit, intelligence and a clear mission of life who translated her background and yearnings into a national platform for civil rights and high values.

Unfortunately, VOICE OF GOOD HOPE: THE WORDS AND LIFE OF BARBARA JORDAN does little to help sell her greatness. This is a poorly written script which is given a shallow production at Ensemble Theatre.

The script is fragmented, jumping from time to time in Jordan’s life with little logical bridging. Though hinted at, we miss entire segments of her life where would see her rise to being a respected and national political power.

The production values are also lacking. The set, which consists of series of levels, is awkwardly designed, causing actors to constantly step up and down to get from place to place. This is very problematic in scenes in which Ms. Jordan is supposed to be suffering from knee and hip problems. Taped speeches of Richard Nixon and other notables in Jordan’s life are often difficult to understand.

Besides the technical problems, the acting levels are generally poor. It is the obligation of a director to work with her cast to insure that they both understand the meaning of their lines and can interpret the words to the audience. This is not the case in this production. Except for Mary Jane Nottage, as Jordan’s companion Nancy Earl, and James Seward as Jordan’s grandfather, the cast fails to perform effectively. Lines are often spoken as flat statements with little meaning. In addition, the stage movement are often ill-conceived. In a scene where Jordan is supposedly in physical pain she has been directed to constantly sit and stand.

Capsule judgment: It’s a shame that a great woman like Barbara Jordan has not been given a better rememberance.

Sunday, January 19, 2003

Bring in 'da noise, bring in 'da Funk (Playhouse Square Foundation)

NOISE, FUNK dazzles and sizzles at State

If you didn’t get to see BRING IN ‘DA NOISE, BRING IN ‘DA FUNK in its short four day visit to Cleveland, you missed one of the most sizzling, dazzling, exciting dance shows ever!

Much of the credit for the excitement centers on Savion Glover, the preeminent percussive dancer in the world. He has not only choreographed this show, which tells the history of African-Americans from slavery to the present through dance, specifically tap, but he starred in the touring production which graced the State Theatre. He and his cast of amazing dancers, drummers and singer-narrators exploded.

The show is talking with taps, talking with song, talking with words, talking with percussion. The beat, the talk, the story emerges from a pool of light falling upon a single slave and grows into a story that examines slave auctions, families ripped apart, lynchings, the underground railroad, freedom, movement of people north, and riots. It is visualized through the development of tap dancing, music, song and a little narration. It covers the music of the likes of Eubie Blake and Satchmo and Josephine Baker and the dancing of Chuck Green, Jimmy Slyde, and Buster Brown.

The most outstanding segment of the evening was Savion in front of a mirror, dancing and dancing and dancing, his reflections shooting out into the eyes of the audience! Second only to that was the creative drumming of Jared and Raymond playing percussion without the use of drums. Cans, legs, the taps on the shoes, pots, pans and chains became the instruments of ‘da beat.

Capsule judgment: The audience was on its feet howling at the end with well deserved screams of joy! WOW!

Cherry Docs (Jewish Community Center)

'CHERRY DOCS' examines hate at the Halle

The lights come up on a representation of the scales of justice. Each side of the scale looks like a prison...bars pointing to the ceiling encircling a confining platform. In each area we will soon meet and experience two men who are very alike, and very different. The combatants are a skinhead perpetrator of a vile hate crime (Mike) and his Jewish legal-aid lawyer (Danny). Two men who are troubled by their pasts and have different paths to their futures. We will observe them going through belief changes. We will see them, as one of the lines states, “go through the eye of the needle.”

The play? David Gow’s CHERRY DOCS. The place? The Halle Theatre.
The title? Cherry Docs are red colored sturdy shoes with steel covered toes that are so endangering that they can kick though a wall. They are the “boot of choice” for the Nazi-attitude group known as skinheads.

On the surface the play concerns murder and hate. It uses the analogy of life being a fabric made from threads to tie the themes together. That analogy allows us to see how Danny’s liberalness and spirituality become woven into his latent prejudices and ambitions. As these threads weave together he begins to crumble. On the other-hand, the punk, who once said to his lawyer, "In an ideal world I'd see you eliminated," comes to realize that his cloth of evil must become a fabric that includes tolerance.

Many of the speeches are direct addresses to the audience, making us participants in Danny’s insistence that the young offender helps construct his own defense in order to "stand up" and be accountable. It also allows us to be involved in their personal transitions. We share in the epilogue, a cutting from The Book of Daniel, which proposes that like Daniel the world must reach toward righteousness.

Reuben Silver’s direction is on-target. He has taken the play from staged reading last year to a full-blown production. This was a real challenge. The play has little action, is basically a duet of words, and sometimes is too talky, complete with three epilogues. To make it an involving experience took inspiration.

Scott Plate, complete with shaved head and body tatoos, is unbelievably good as the skin-head. He creates a character the audience must hate, yet by the conclusion, comes to understand.

Joel Hammer’s Danny is involving , but, at times, his rage lacks motivation, sometimes caused by the weakness of the script.

Tony Kovacic’s scene design is excellent, as are Casey Jones’ musical interludes which transition moods clearly from scene to scene.

Capsule judgment: CHERRY DOCS asks a simple, but harrowing, question: Can we eliminate hate? Though the play doesn’t answer the unanswerable question, it does make us think.