Saturday, December 31, 2005

Times Tributes--2005


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.

I did not see all of the productions in the area, so only shows performed in 2005 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. Actors were not separated by gender or leading or supporting roles.

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

BABY, Kalliope
OPAL, Kalliope
PTERODACTYLS, convergence-continuum
STATES OF SHOCK, convergence-continuum
SWING, Carousel

Risa Brainin, AS YOU LIKE IT, GLTF
Anders Cato, I AM MY OWN WIFE, CPH
Alex Cikra, CLARENCE DARROW, Actor’s Summit
Donna Drake, A CHORUS LINE, Carousel
Carol Dunne, SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD, Cain Park
Paul F. Gurgol, BABY, Kalliope
Paul F. Gurgol, CABARET, Kalliope
Joel Hammer, THE EXONERATED, Dobama
Joel Hammer, THE GOAT OR WHO IS SYLVIA, Dobama
Caroline Jackson Smith, JOHNNIE TAYLOR IS GONE, Karamu
Terri Kent, THE SPITFIRE GRILL, Porthouse
Claude Simon, PTERODACTYLS, convergence-continuum
Claude Simon, STATES OF SHOCK, convergence-continuum
Fred Sternfeld, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, Beck
A. Neil Thackaberry, HERBAL BED, Actor’s Summit
John Woodson, THE BOYS NEXT DOOR, Porthouse

Sharon Alexander, THE SOUND OF MUSIC, Carousel
Michael Anderson, THE BOYS NEXT DOOR, Porthouse
Mike Backes, FOOTLOOSE, THE MUSICAL, Carousel
Marla Berg, OPAL, Kalliope
Marla Berg, A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, Kalliope
Sonia Bishop, THE FAMILY LINE, Karamu
Sonia Bishop, RAISIN IN THE SUN, Beck
MayAnn Black, THE SPITFIRE GRILL, Porthouse
Adina Bloom, BABY, Kalliope
Scott Boulware, THE THING ABOUT MEN, Actor’s Summit
Lucy Bredeson-Smith, TALES OF THE LOST FORMICANS, convergence-continuum
Brian Breth, PTERODACTYLS, convergence-continuum
Cornell Calhoun, III, JOHNNIE TAYLOR IS GONE, Karamu
Kathryn Cherasaro, AS YOU LIKE IT, GLTF
Alex Cikra, THE HERBAL BED, Actor’s Summit
Jennifer Clifford, THE CHILDREN’S HOUR, Beck
Kris Comer, OPAL, Kalliope
Kris Comer, BABY, Kalliope
Andrew Cruse, THE BOYS NEXT DOOR, Porthouse
Kayce Cummings, WEST SIDE STORY, Porthouse
Kayce Cummings, THE SPITFIRE GRILL, Porthouse
Jimmie D. Woody, TOPDOG, UNDERDOG, Beck
Michael David Edwards, ROUNDING THIRD, CPH
Sandra Emmerick, THE THING ABOUT MEN, Actor’s Summit
Julia Evan Smith, AS YOU LIKE IT, GLTF
Scottie Gage, A CHORUS LINE, Carousel
Mark Alan Gordon, ROOM SERVICE, CPH
Natalie Green, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, Beck
Sally Groth, THE HERBAL BED, Actor’s Summit
Joseph Haladey III, CABARET, Kalliope
Lauri Hammer, PTERODACTYLS, convergence-continuum
Hollis Hayden, Jr, THE BOYS NEXT DOOR, Porthouse
Marvin A. Hayes, JOHNNIE TAYLOR IS GONE, Karamu
Geoffrey Hoffman, STATES OF SHOCK, convergence-continuum
John Jensen, BABY, Kalliope
Nick Keoster, THE HERBAL BED, Actor’s Summit
Robert Koutras, FOOTLOOSE, THE MUSICAL, Carousel
Kristie Lange, THE CHILDREN’S HOUR, Beck
Mitch McCarrell, SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD, Cain Park
Christopher McHale, A CHRISTMAS STORY, CPH
Dougfred Miller, AS YOU LIKE IT, GLTF
Scott Miller, THE GOAT OR WHO IS SYLVIA?, Dobama
Marlon Morrison, THE PIANO LESSON, CPH
Cristin Mortenson, THE SOUND OF MUSIC, Carousel
Sarah Morton, T.I.D.Y., Beck
Kathryn Mowat Murphy, A CHORUS LINE, Carousel
A. Neil Thackaberry, CLARENCE DARROW, Actor’s Summit
Mark Nelson, I AM MY OWN WIFE, CPH
Tracee Patterson, SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD, Cain Park
Tracee Patterson, THE GOAT OR WHO IS SYLVIA?, Dobama
Scott Posey, OPAL, Kalliope
Scott Posey, BABY, Kalliope
JdBowman, PTERODACTYLS, convergence-continuum
Chuck Richie, THE BOYS NEXT DOOR, Porthouse
Rhoda Rosen, THE CHILDREN’S HOUR, Beck
Linda Ryan, SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER, Actor’s Summit
Wes Shofner, STATES OF SHOCK, convergence-continuum
Wes Shofner, TALES OF THE LOST FORMICANS, convergence-continuum
Reuben Silver, TO KNOW HIM , JCC
Andrew Smith, BABY, Kalliope
Lenne Snively, THE SPITFIRE GRILL, Porthouse
Greg Thornton, ROOM SERVICE, CPH
Elizabeth Townsend, THE EXONERATED, Dobama
Elizabeth Townsend, FIFTH OF JULY, Ensemble
Wayne Turney, SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER, Actor’s Summit
Jimmy Wood, THE EXONERATED, Dobama
Matthew Wright, URINETOWN: THE MUSICAL, Beck
Brian Zoldessy, THE BOYS NEXT DOOR, Porthouse
Brian Zoldessy, TO KNOW HIM, JCC

Ensemble Cast: BABY, Kalliope
Ensemble Cast: A CHORUS LINE, Carousel
Ensemble Cast: THE BOYS NEXT DOOR, Porthouse
Ensemble Cast: SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD, Cain Park
Ensemble Cast: SWING, Carousel

MaryJo Alexander, Props, CLARENCE DARROW, Actor’s Summit
MaryJo Alexander, costumes, SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER, Actor’s Summit
Paul Black, lighting design, SWING, Carousel
Russ Borksi, set design, OPAL, Kalliope
Trad Burns, scenic and lighting design, THE SECRETARIES, CPT
Trad Burns, set design, THE GOAT OR WHO IS SYLVIA?, Dobama
James C. Swonger, musical arrangement, ROUNDING THIRD, CPH
Felix Cochren, set design, THE PIANO LESSON, CPH
Nolan Dell, WEST SIDE STORY, Porthouse
Dale DiBernardo, costume design, SWING, Carousel
Michael Gaino, Set Design, A CHRISTMAS STORY, CPH
Todd Krispinsky, set design, TEN MINUTES FROM CLEVELAND, Dobama
Hugh Landwehr, Set Design, I AM MY OWN WIFE, CPH
Don McBride, Set Design, RAISIN IN THE SUN, Beck
Don McBride, set design, URINETOWN: THE MUSICAL, Beck
Don McBride, Set Design, AIDA, Beck
Ben Needham, Set Design, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, Beck
Ron Newell, set design, TALLY’S FOLLY, Ensemble
Devon Painter, Set Design, AS YOU LIKE IT, GLTF
Steve Pauna, set design, SPITFIRE GRILL, Porthouse
Paul Sannierud, set design, SWING, Carousel
Cynthia Stillings, lighting design, SPITFIRE GRILL, Porthouse
Lance Switzer, lighting, OPAL, Kalliope
Sergio Villegas, set design, VENUS, CPT
Eric Wahl, visual media design, STATES OF SHOCK, convergence-continuum
Gage Williams, set design, YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU, GLTF

Melissa Fucci, WEST SIDE STORY, Porthouse
Melissa Fucci, THE SPITFIRE GRILL, Porthouse
Larry Goodpaster, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, Beck
Larry Goodpaster, URINETOWN, Beck
Nancy Maier, SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD, Cain Park
Brad Wyner and Anthony Ruggiero, OPAL, Kalliope

Martin Cespedes, URINETOWN: THE MUSICAL, Beck
Martin Cespedes, AIDA, Beck
Martin Cespedes, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, Beck
Donna Drake, CHORUS LINE, Carousel
Beverly Durand and Mark Stuart Eckstein, SWING, Carousel
Janiece Kelley-Kiteley, SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD, Cain Park


The Halle Theatre--The wrecking balls have completed their work, so “Rest in Peace” to the long time home of the Jewish Community Center’s Drama program.

The closing of Dobama Theatre’s bowling alley theatre ends a long era of the theatre’s down-under Coventry Road run. Good luck to Joyce Casey in her wanderings until the new venue is built.

Bill Allman--his passing has left a big hole in the Cleveland Theatre Community’s collective hearts..his ever-present smile is missed.

Sean Cercone--for his insight and dilligence in raising the quality of performances and play selection at Carousel Dinner Theatre.

Goodbye to Wayne Turney, one of the area’s best overall actors, who has moved from the city to assume a college teaching position.


I have continually been asked why I don’t select my “best of the best” for each season. So, to satisfy those requests, I present my selections:


2005 BEST LOCAL MUSICALS: ‘SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD’ at Cain Park; ‘URINETOWN’ at Beck Center; CHORUS LINE at Carousel Dinner Theatre

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Beauty and the Beast (Beck Center)

‘Beauty And The Beast’ Is A Beaut At Beck!

‘DISNEY’S BEAUTY AND THE BEAST,’ which is now on stage at Beck Center, tells a "tale as old as time." It was originally conceived in 1740 as a dark and scary tale. In 1992 Disney released a lighter version of the story which became the first animated feature to be nominated for the Academy Award’s Best Picture. In 1994 Disney transformed the script into an award winning Broadway musical.

Beck is one of the first non-Broadway or touring companies to present the show. What is impressive about Beck’s getting the rights is that the show is still running on Broadway. This is yet another tribute to what’s been going on in Lakewood. The theatre, under the wise guidance of Scott Spence, has recently staged such winning productions as ‘URINETOWN,’ ‘MISS SAIGON,’ ‘AIDA’ and ‘THE FIX’ establishing itself as one of THE places to see musicals in the Cleveland area.

Their production of ‘BEAUTY AND THE BEAST’ under the able direction of Fred Sternfeld, and the marvelous choreography of Martin Cespedes, is yet another winner.

‘BEAUTY AND THE BEAST’ concerns a prince who, because he has no love in his heart, is transformed into a beast by an enchantress. To break the spell, the Beast must learn to love another and earn her love in return. If not, he will be doomed to remain a beast for all time.

Into the Beast’s life comes Belle, a beautiful young woman who lives with her eccentric father in a small town near the Beast’s castle. Belle longs for a life of adventure like those she reads of in books. Her father gets lost in the woods and wanders into the Beast’s castle, where he is imprisoned. Upon finding her father in the Beast's clutches, Belle offers herself as a captive in return for her father’s release. can guess the rest. Yes, the Beast learns kindness and love, it is reciprocated by Belle, and we all go out of the theatre singing the likes of “If I Can’t Love Her,” “A Change in Me,” “Be Our Guest,” and the title song, “Beauty and the Beast.”

Beck’s production is enchanting. Everything from the sets, to the music, to the singing, to the dancing, to the cast, works well.

Natalie Green is glorious as Belle. She is beautiful, lights up the stage with her smile, sings like an angel and dances with ease. Her version of “A Change in Me” was enchanting. She is a star in every sense of the word.

Dan Folino, who has done some marvelous work in the area, has a full and powerful voice and gives a vulnerable texture to the role of the Beast that adds much to the characterization. His “If I Can’t Love her” was captivating. He and Green make the perfect fairy tale prince and princess. It is wonderful to see Folino, who has not been seen on the stage lately, appear where he should be--front and center! I can only hope that he will excite us with return performances.

Though he doesn’t have the physical presence or the natural swagger ideal for the role of the pompous Gaston, Josh Noble has a nice singing voice and a perfect set of pearly white teeth and creates an acceptable characterization.

Zac Hudak (Lefou) makes for the perfect straight man and punching bag for Gaston. If Hudak gets through the run of the show without a few broken bones it will be a marvel.

Doug Collier as Cogsworth (the clock), and Larry Nehring, who gives a Danny Kaye quality to Lumiere are both delightful, as is Tracee Patterson as Madame de la Grande Bouche (the dresser) and Kristin Netzband (Babette, the feather duster), and Miles Sternfeld (Chip, the tea cup). Aimee Collier has a fine voice. Her rendition of “Beauty and Beast” was charming. Unfortunately, she is missing the matronly touch needed for Mrs. Potts.

Martin Cespedes is a master of choreography. It is amazing what he can do with a group of performers who, in general, are not dancers. “Be Our Guest” and “Gaston” were absolute show stoppers!

Larry Goodpaster’s orchestra is excellent, remembering the rule that the orchestra in a musical plays backup to the singers, not giving a concert. Too bad other conductors at local theatres don’t follow Goodpaster’s lead.

Ben Needham’s scenic design is excellent. It is amazing how he used every inch of space on the small stage to allow for ease of movement.

Director Fred Sternfeld again proves that he is a master at placing large casts on stage and making them look good. He pays special attention to ensure that his chorus and townspeople are involved in the production and not just standing around as is often seen on local stages. His ability to invent “shtick” comes through loud and clear in this production.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Beck’s “BEAUTY AND THE BEAST” is a delightful production. It is the best holiday present that the theatre could give its audience.

Side note: Beck Center would be wise not to sell bagged candy and bottles of soda before the show and at intermission. Though it is a fund raiser, the amount of ripping open bags of goodies and bottles rolling down the floor of the auditorium during the production is distracting for the audience. In addition, since ‘BEAUTY AND THE BEAST’ is not a children’s show, the box office would have been wise to inform ticket buyers that very young children might not have the attention span to sit through the production. No one expects total silence, but the yelling and talking by little ones during the show was very disturbing.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Nutcracker (Cincinnati Ballet/Playhouse Square Center)

Local kids perform in Cincinnati Ballet's ‘THE NUTCRACKER’

For the past several years the University Hospitals Health System Ballet Series at Playhouse Square Center featured, as it holiday offering, the Pennsylvania Ballet in what I believed was an ill-conceived production of ‘THE NUTCRACKER.” This year they switched to the Cincinnati Ballet’s version. Based on my viewing of the Thursday night performance, it was a wise choice.

‘THE NUTCRACKER’ is a ballet is based on the story ‘THE NUTCRACKER AND THE KING OF MICE’ written by E.T.A. Hoffman. When Marius Petipa had the idea to choreograph the story, it was actually based on a revision by Alexander Dumas, the well known French author. His version reflects more of what we have come to love as the ‘NUTCRACKER BALLET.’

It is the story of a young girl who is given a Nutcracker Prince as a Christmas present. When she goes to bed she dreams of a tale the Nutcracker and his wooden soldiers as they fight against a Mouse King and his gang of mice. After the battle, Marie and the Nutcracker Prince are transported on a trip to the Land of Sweets where they are greeted by the Sugar Plum Fairy. The Prince tells her about their daring battle with the army of mice and she rewards them with a celebration of dance performances which include Spanish, Arabian, Russian and Chinese, as well as the Waltz of the Flowers. The dream ends as Marie is transported back to the safety of her bed, along with her precious toy Nutcracker Prince.

This is the stuff that all the beautifully clad little girls in the audience dream about.

Not since Cleveland Ballet’s Karen Gabay and Raymond Rodriguez performed the roles of Marie and The Nutcracker have I been as entranced with a dancing duo as I was with Adiarys Almeida (Marie) and Cervilio Amador (The Nutcracker). The duo were a delight. She is charming. The stage lights up every time she smiles. Her dancing skills equal her stage presence. She is certain in her toe maneuvers, does leaps into the arms of her prince with ease. Her movements have clear beginnings, middles and endings, something often missing except in prima ballerinas. Almeida is perfectly coupled with Amador. His partnering skills are strong. At no time did he falter in his catches, balances and lifts. His standing leaps were high and resulted in solid and secure landings. His horizontal turns were well executed. He displayed great body control. Since the casts change nightly, unfortunately you might not see this dynamic duo. Their duet at the end of Act II was exciting.

Noteworthy performances included Heather Liberman as the doll who came to life, Joseph Gatti as the Chinese dancer whose high leaps were impressive, and the adorable group of pot-bellied kids who emerged from the skirt of Mother Ginger’s dress during one of the dance numbers.

Part of the fun of the production was the presence of young children on stage. They were well trained and disciplined and added much to the artistic delight. Credit to Valentine Liberatore and Gladisa Guadalupe for their contributions.

Local children who performed in the production were Kathryn Tokar, Bay Village, Andrea Szabo, Columbia Station, Marissa Moore, Fairview Park, Madeleine Crosby, Lakewood, Ashley Fares, Lakewood, Alyssa Cook, North Ridgeville, Megan Auzenbergs, Rocky River, Jacqueline Gentner, Rocky River, Monica McDonough, Rocky River and Madeline Murphy, Rocky River.

The piece was not without its flaws. Rene Micheo, as Herr Droselmeier, the toy maker, failed to capture the pixie quality needed for the role. He altered between being menacing and playful, which led to some story development confusion.

The fight between the mice and the wooden soldiers lacked the needed playfulness. The soldiers did not march as stiff legged toys and the interaction between the opponents was not well spelled out. Several children in the audience shrieked with fear due to the scary looking rodents. In addition, several of the Land of Sweets dance segments, such as the Arabian segment, lacked the necessary pacing and power. Kristi Capps as the Rose lacked the needed free flowing ease. Her dancing was stiff and uninvolving. The one-dimensional flying bed did little to create the fantasy mood. Simply moving her one bed have been more effective.

Choreograher Val Caniparoli should be commended for his concept. The sets and costume designs by Alain Vaes were excellent, as was the full-orchestra under the direction of Carmon DeLeone.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Cincinnati Ballet’s ‘THE NUTCRACKER’ was a fine substitute for the poorly conceived Pennsylvania Ballet version. Though not of the quality of the now defunct Cleveland Ballet’s presentation, it makes for a fine evening of enchantment, especially if you get to see Adiarys Almeida and Cervlio Amador in the leading roles.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Golda's Balcony (Playhouse Square Center)

GOLDA’S BALCONY tells important story, but....

As I left the Palace Theatre following the opening night production of ‘GOLDA’S BALCONY, a female friend ran up to me and gushed, “Wasn’t Valerie Harper wonderful?” I paused for a second and said, “I knew it was Valerie Harper portraying Golda Meir.”

When an actor portrays a role, we should see, believe, experience the real person. There have been many portrayals that have accomplished that. Richard Kiley was Cervantes in MAN OF LAMANCHA. Zoe Caldwell was Maria Callas in Terrence McNally's ‘MASTER CLASS.’ On the local level, last year Wayne Turney didn’t portray Harry Truman at Actors’ Summit, we saw Harry Truman on stage. In that same venue, Neil Thackaberry transformed himself into Clarence Darrow several months ago. Dorothy Silver made us forget that she was Dorothy Silver and became Maria Callas in Beck’s production of MASTER CLASS. Those were “wonderful” performances. That’s what Valerie Harper should have done. It’s what, Tovah Feldshuh did when she portrayed Golda Meir in the Broadway run of the play. She was Meir.

In Harper’s case, the accent wasn’t consistent. Her body wasn’t intense, it didn’t naturally reflect the anguish. She stumbled over lines. She was acting, not reacting. I never lost the feeling I was in the theatre watching a performance. Was she bad? No. From my perspective, she was just not as wonderful as my friend seemed to think.

William Gibson, the author of ‘GOLDA’S BALCONY,’ developed the play as a series of stories, hinged together with personal comments. At times one has to wonder how much of Golda’s “own words” are really hers and how much were Gibson’s imagination. However, there is enough factual material to learn the lessons of pre-birth pangs and early years of childhood horror that the people of Israel endured.

Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir was a controversial person. Often perceived as the strongest female leader this world has yet to experience, she was also a real person with hopes, dreams and heartaches. She obviously gave up much of her personal life, including a relationship with her husband and children, in order to help her chosen homeland become a reality.

The play is a mixture of comedy and tragedy. We often laugh through our tears from the opening explosion to the uncertain ending. The play, though it spans her entire life, focuses primarily on one incident, the Yom Kippur War of 1973. It takes us into Meir’s office as she fields a never-ending stream of phone calls, crises large and small, and political posturing while pondering her most difficult decision yet: whether to utilize nuclear weapons against her Egyptian and Syrian enemies.

Throughout, Meir’s commentary alerts us to her motives. She states, "My dream was simple, make a new world." And, make it she did. We are given a glimpse into how one woman mapped her life and how it affected the lives of millions of others.

Gibson does not sugar coat Meir. He reveals her as not only a strong and heroic leader, but someone often hard heartedly making decisions that had negative effects on those she loved.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: During its Broadway run, ‘GOLDA’S BALCONY’ was praised as “A 95-minute miracle.” It was that in the hands of Tovah Feldshuh. In the touring company personage of Valerie Harper it is an acceptable production.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge - Cleveland Public Theater


Each year theatre producers scramble to find some holiday show that will fill their theatre’s seats with patrons either trying to escape from holiday shopping, find the perfect Christmas/Channukah/Kuwanza experience for their children, or view a show in which their kids, grandchildren or the kids next-door are performing.

The results vary greatly. Great Lakes Theatre Festival dusts off the set, props and costumes each year and mounts Gerry Friedman’s version of ‘CHRISTMAS CAROL.’ Magical Theatre Company exhibits a different version of ‘CHRISTMAS CAROL.’ The Cleveland Play House performs a joyful ‘A CHRISTMAS STORY.’

Both CPH and Cleveland Public Theatre decided it’s time for both to stage ‘THE SANTALAND DIARIES, David Sedaris’s classic of his short-lived experience as Santa’s elf at Macy’s. The Ballet Series at Playhouse Square Center is bringing in the Cincinnati Ballet for its interpretation of ‘THE NUTCRACKER.’ (Praise to them for not returning with the poorly conceived Pennsylvania Ballet’s version of that ballet). Beck ignores the holiday all together with “BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.’ Carousel follows the idea of doing a non-holiday holiday show as they rock their house with ‘SWING!’ which they bill as “two hours of pure entertainment!”--which it is!

So, here I go, reviewing yet another in what seems like a continuous diet of holiday offerings. This time it’s Cleveland Public Theatre’s production of ‘MRS. BOB CRATCHIT’S WILD CHRISTMAS BINGE,’ Christopher Durang’s contribution to the season.

In its search for a holiday diversion, the City Theatre in Pittsburgh commissioned Christopher Durang to write a take-off on the classic ‘CHRISTMAS CAROL.’ Durang is noted for his jester-satirist look at the world , so, his thinking supposedly went, “Why not deconstruct a holiday tradition that has become as common as petrified fruitcake?” The result was ‘MRS.
BOB CRATCHIT’S WILD CHRISTMAS BINGE’ which premiered in November of 2002. Instead of Dicken’s serious and moralistic writing, Durgang’s approach is to make fun of and sarcastically present Dicken’s story with some weird twists.

This happy perversion is emceed by a black female Ghost ("I don't believe we have Negroes in 1843 London," Scrooge objects) who triples as Past, Present and Future, but who keeps getting mixed up as to which scene follows which. Right off she runs into a Mrs.
Cratchit who won't play along, and in spite of her ghostly skills in behavior modification she eventually needs help from Clarence, the newly-winged angel to straighten things out. Yes, the angel from “IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE.” This is only one of many literary, theatrical and film illusions which includes forays into ‘OLIVER TWIST,’ ‘UNCLE TOM’S CABIN, and ‘THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP.’ Durang also adds the mocking of Vice President Chaney and the energy moguls who inspire Scrooge to sell “Energy Units” in a get rich quick scheme. He even throws in a sibling rivalry between Tiny Tim and Little Nell over who is more pathetic. (I told you this wasn’t traditional Dickens.)

CPT’s production, under the co-direction of Randy Rollison and Gregory Vovos lacks polish, but is fun.

Meg Chamberlain, as she did in the previous CPT production of this show, is right on target as Gladys Cratchit. She believes she is caught in the wrong life, doesn’t like being poor, and eventually finds out that she is right and gets to switch lives. She makes the transition between desperate housewife and wealthy hotel baroness with delightful ease. And, as the tradition goes, “lives happily ever after.”

Nina Domingue plays it just right in her delightful interpretation as scattered brain Ghost. Dan Kilbane, he of big eyes and innocent face, is correctly irritating as the cloying Tiny Tim, complete with an ever-smiling face and rasping voice. Randy Rollison actually makes Ebeneezer Scrooge a likeable character, adding an interesting dimension to Durang’s mockery of Dicken’s moralistic take. Young Dan McCarthy is cute and correctly playful as Young Marley. Tom Weaver is so good as Bob Cratchit that a woman sitting near me moaned, after, once again, Cratchit acted as a wimp, “I’d like to get up on that stage and give him a smack across his empty head!” (How’s that for holiday
spirit?) On the other hand, Kevin Ritter often loses his concentration as Young Scrooge, going in and out of character.

‘MRS. BOB CRATCHIT’S WILD CHRISTMAS BINGE” runs through December 18 at Cleveland Public Theatre. For reservations call 216-631-2727.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

A Christmas Story (Cleveland Play House)

CPH’s ‘A Christmas Story On Stage” is worth seeing

Ask Clevelanders where the movie “A Christmas Story” takes place and they’ll probably answer, “here.” Ask where the movie was filmed and they’ll probably state “the west side of Cleveland and on Public Square in front of what used to be Higbee’s and May Company.”

In reality, the movie does not take place in Cleveland. The setting for the movie and the play, which is now on stage at the Cleveland Play House, is Hohman, Indiana, the home of Jean Shepherd, the writer of the story on which the productions are based. And, though part of the movie was filmed in Cleveland, the production had to be moved to Toronto, because in the Winter of 1982, when the film was made, it didn’t snow much in the Best Location in the Nation. The downtown scenes were filmed with fake snow. But, take heart Cleveland banner wavers, the house at 3159 W. 11th Street, which was used for the exterior shots of the film, has recently been bought and is being refabed into “A ‘CHRISTMAS STORY’ museum.

Set during a Christmas season in the 1940's, nine-year-old Ralphie longs for the ideal Christmas gift--a “Red Rider 200-Shot, Range-Model Air Rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time.” When his mother, teacher, and even Santa warns, "You'll shoot your eye out!" Ralphie mounts a full-scale campaign that is a combination of innocence and calculation.

But this is more than a story about Ralphie and the BB gun. It is about the trials and tribulations of kids growing up in that safe and secure era which included being confronted by a bully with "yellow eyes,” and how a “Triple-Dog-Dare” leads to a tongue getting attached to a frozen lamp post. It highlights the tale of how Ralphie’s Old Man wins a "Major Award," which turns out to be a lamp in the shape of a woman's leg. And, how Ralphie blurts out swear words and gets his mouth washed out with Lifebuoy soap. It gives a glimpse of how Ralphie’s younger brother, who constantly has to go “wee-wee,” gets Santa to lose his cool. In reality, it’s a story of innocence, wonderment and the reality of being a kid.

When the movie was released in 1983 it did not become an instant hit. It wasn’t until it was released on video that it achieved cult status.

The film is big business. Leg Lamps sell on-line for $129.95. T-Shirts emblazoned with the film’s favorite lines including, "I Triple Dog-Dare You!", "You'll shoot out your eye,” and "Oh Fudge!" are available for $15.95. And Lifebuoy Soap is available for #3.95 a bar.

In 2000, an authorized stage play adaptation was written by Philip Grecian. It sticks very closely to the movie story line. It is that script which is being staged here.

The CPH production is directed by Seth Gordon. The play is generally delightful, though the pacing, at least on opening night, was somewhat slow and some of the characterizations could have been more on key.

Christopher McHale is marvelous as grown-up Ralph, who narrates the play. He is totally natural and completely believable. Charles Kartali as Ralphie’s Old Man and Elizabeth Ann Townsend as his mother are stereotype perfect. Angela Holecko, is a total delight as Esther Jane, the girl who has a crush on Ralphie.

Louie Rosenbaum (Flick) pulls off the best performance among the boys. He lights up a stage, especially when he gets his tongue stuck on the telephone pole and is being victimized by Alex Mayes (Scut Farkas, the bully).

Billy Lawrence creates the right image as Ralphie’s younger brother. The scene where he finds himself unable to move because of the amount of winter clothing he donned, is hysterical. The fact that he towers over Cody Swanson (Ralphie) creates a hard-to accept illusion for his required childish behavior.

Though acceptable in the role, Cody Swanson lacks the charisma, the delightfulness, to completely pull off the role of Ralphie. At times he says lines rather than creating images. For example, when he opens the box on Christmas Day and finds his long desired BB gun, there should have been unbridled delight. That quality just wasn’t present in that scene and in some others.

Michael Ganio’s fine scenic design consists of a snow-flaked filled sky, hanging over Ralphie’s multi-leveled house, a backyard, a school room, and a Santa’s mountain that would have made Higbee’s proud.

A side comment to purists: Higbee’s was a Cleveland department store. It didn’t have national branches. How could it be in Hohman, Indiana as the signs and references indicate?

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: I have loved ‘A CHRISTMAS STORY’ since I appeared as an extra in the film. (That’s a story which won’t be discussed here.) The Cleveland Play House production does little to break my affection though I wish the pacing was faster and some of the casting could have been different.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Love, Janis - Hanna Theatre

Love Rock and Roll? ‘LOVE, JANIS’ is your thing!

"Some people live, some survive. I'm a survivor. I plan to be around for a long time." Those were the words of legendary rock singer Janis Joplin, whose life story, ‘LOVE, JANIS’ is now on stage at the Hanna Theatre.

As it turned out, Joplin was wrong. She died before her twenty-eighth birthday of an overdose of morphine and heroin.

Noted for her wailing blues sound, Janis Joplin broke the mold of traditionally pretty band singers, so prevalent during the 50s and early 60s, to become one
of the icons of rock music. But in spite of her
fame, she couldn’t overcome her self-destructive instincts

Born Janis Lyn Joplin on January 19, 1943 in Port Arthur, Texas, a small Southern petroleum industry town, she proved early in life to be a rebel. She broke with local social traditions during the tense days of racial integration, standing up for the rights of African Americans whose segregated status in her hometown conflicted with Janis’s youthful ideals.
She, along with fellow beatnik-leaning high school friends, pursued the non-traditional via arts and literature, especially music. She found her voice and was soon playing in coffee houses in the small towns of Texas. After a short stint in college her big break came. Chet Helms, a Lone Star state friend who was living in San Francisco, called to offer her a singing audition with an up-and-coming local group. Janis accepted, went to California and became the lead singer for "Big Brother and the Holding Company.” And, as the saying goes, “the rest is history.”

‘LOVE, JANIS’ was created by Joplin’s sister, Laura, whose goal was to show a side of the legendary singer that her fans may not have known. Through the use of pictures, letters that Janis wrote to her parents, and her songs, we learn of the star’s life. Or, at least the life her sister wants us to see.

The performance piece has an interesting premise. There are two Janises. One, the performer who puts on a face and a voice for the world, and the private Janis who wrote letters which indicated her successes and self doubts. Both Janises appear on stage, sometimes solely, sometimes together. This is accomplished by having two actresses portray the single person. One sings, the other speaks.

The present Cleveland production (in 1999 the Cleveland Play House mounted a very successful version) has two casts. I saw the duo of Katrina Chester as the singing Janis and Helen Coxe as the speaking Janis.

Chester has a big voice. She sings with gusto and lets loose with ease. I, at points, found her voice shrill and the song interpretations to be words rather than meanings, stressing the emotion rather than the meanings. A woman who shared my table at the performance, and who is a Janis fanatic, indicated that Chester, though good, didn’t have the audience-commanding presence of the original star.

I found Helen Coxe, who played the speaking role, unimpressive. She was constantly fiddling with her hair, seemed uncertain on stage and failed to develop a textured character. She simply didn’t display the emotional core of the character. She was missing the inner fire of a woman in chaos.

Local Cleveland favorite, Paul Floriano, is the off-stage voice who questions Janis and makes transitional comments.

On the way into the theatre the usher handed me a pair of ear plugs. She said, “Believe me, honey, you’ll need these.” She was right. Sitting in the first row, immediately in front of a huge speaker, my chair actually vibrated from the base notes. After a while the sound so overshadowed the singing, that I was hearing “boom, boom, boom,” not words. I wish that
bands would realize they are playing backup to the singer and if we can’t hear the lyrics, there is no sense in having a singer.

Capsule Judgment If you love rock and roll, if you are a Janis Joplin fan, you’ll like the concert segments of ‘LOVE, JANIS.’ If you have sensitive ears and aren’t into rock, there are probably shows around town that will be more to your liking.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Bravo, Caruso! - Ensemble Theater

‘BRAVO, CARUSO!’ off key at Ensemble

Playwright William Luce is famous for his one-person scripts. His subjects have included Emily
Dickenson, Charlotte Bronte, Zelda Fitzgerald, Lillian Hellman and John Barrymore. In “BRAVO, CARUSO!,’ now being staged by Ensemble Theatre, Luce takes on Enrico Caruso, considered by many opera aficionados to be the greatest tenor of all time, in a two-character script.

Caruso was born into a working-class family in Naples, the 18th of 21 children. Early-on his mother was convinced that he had singing talent. By the time he was 10, the young Enrico's singing voice was receiving serious critical attention.

Caruso became a favorite at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, where he performed 37 roles in 607 performances. Since his career coincided with the development of the phonograph, he became one of the early recording stars. Earthy, and something of a clown, the singer was extremely popular, not only as a singer, but as a personality. In 1921, when he died at the age of 48, he was greatly mourned.

"BRAVO, CARUSO!" takes us into the tenor's dressing room at the Met on Christmas Eve, 1920. No one knows that he is about to sing his last performance.

As the tale unfolds, we see the eccentric, preoccupied and brilliant Caruso manipulating his devoted dresser, Fantini, into giving him the adoration the performer so desperately needs.

Any theatre choosing this script has to have two superb actors to play the roles. This is not a script for the ordinary performer. It also requires a director who has the inventive nature to work with the performers to hold the attention of an audience with a script that has little action, is very wordy and is two acts in length. There also has to be a sensitivity to developing the needed humor and pathos.
Unfortunately, Ensemble misses on all counts.

Though they try hard, Bernard Canepari and Pat Mazzarino can’t pull off the difficult roles. Neither is totally believable in their performances. Canepari seems so pre-occupied with remembering his lines that he fails to develop a textured character. The humor and the drama get melded together. Mazzarino plays at being fay and endearing, but never reaches down into the real Fantini. We never understand why he is so devoted to his master and why he is willing to be the brunt of the manipulation.

They are not helped by Licia Colombi’s directing, which consists of coming up with shticks and gimmicks rather than creating a unified feeling, using the humor and drama of the script. How many times can we be amused by an ironing board being taken out and put away? Does having Mazzarino mincing around the stage really help him develop a meaningful character? Why weren’t real food and cigarettes used? The faking was just too obvious, especially in a play that has to be real.

Ron Newell’s fragmented set, Michael Beyers’ lighting and Casey Jones’s sound effects all work well. Too bad the rest of the production doesn’t live up to the technical aspects.

Capsule Judgment One of the most difficult reviews for a critic to write is one that is generally negative. Unfortunately, every once in while, it is my unfortunate duty to have to do so. In choosing a difficult script to perform a theatre has to be sure they have the talent to direct and perform the intent and purpose of the script. Ensemble was over its head in selecting ‘BRAVO, CARUSO!’

Friday, November 25, 2005

T.I.D.Y (Beck Center)

‘T.I.D.Y.’ has some funny moments at Beck

Eric Coble, considered by many to be the local playwright laureate, has hit the big time. He’s an entry in ‘Wikipedia,’ the on-line encyclopedia. You can also probe him for personal information on ‘’ Theatre Communications Group honored him in their article “Seven Playwrights to Watch.”

Coble, whose newest play ‘T.I.D.Y.’ is being staged at Beck Center, is a member of the Playwrights' Unit of the Cleveland Play House. His past works include:

Coble, who has an affinity for storytelling, often displays a wonderful spirited creativity. Some of this may have come from his upbringing on the Navaho and Ute reservations of New Mexico and Colorado where he spent time wandering around in what he once described as an “Indiana Jones setting,” which encouraged his imagination to run wild.

Anyone who has seen Coble’s ‘BRIGHT IDEAS,’ which tells the tale of parents who will stop at nothing to enroll their child in the “perfect” preschool, realizes his off-the-wall thought processes and an ability to play with words.

Coble often turns to classic sources as well as fairy tales and social issues and political intrigue for his inspiration. ‘T.I.D.Y.’ has a conspiracy base, which works perfectly in this year’s political atmosphere of who outed an FBI agent, was the public misled by G. W. Bush’s “evil empire” and the neo-cons about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, or their tie to the terrorism that destroyed the World Trade Center.

The basic story centers on Emily Danbert, a computer geek, whose quiet life is totally thrown into chaos when T.I.D.Y., a program she developed, becomes the center of a global conspiracy. Matters really get out of hand when her “sweet” old mother, her husband, her best friend and a mysterious confident all get involved in the intrigue.

The concept is a delight. Unfortunately, the play and the production don’t live up to the premise. Though filled with some delightful moments, the play’s pieces-parts don’t always flow together well. There are segments where the action zooms right along, others where there are lulls. Some of the problem lies with director Roger Truesdell, who has paced the production much too slowly. This has to be a Marx Brothers romp, a farce on speed. Instead, we get a car race followed by a pony trot, followed by acceleration, and then more plodding.

The cast is generally excellent. Sarah Morton develops a nice textured roll as the obsessive compulsive left-brained nerd whose personal and professional life lacks much excitement until she becomes the center of an international conspiracy plot. Kevin Joseph Kelly plays multi-roles with comic delight. His highlight is a portrayal of an ice cream salesman who can hardly contain his exasperation while Morton’s character continually changes her order. Rhoda Rosen, as the mother turned international hit man, is hysterical. She gives a perfect Ethel Mertz impersonation. Nicholas Koesters makes for a fine ex-husband trying hard to come back into his former wife’s life. Tracey Field could have had more fun and exaggerated her role of the mysterious confident, as could have Alison Garrigan as the friendly fellow worker turned bad.

Don McBride’s multi-level set design basically works, but the constant need to move furniture around slowed down the show’s pace.

As the program states, “Anyone in the United Sates today who isn’t paranoid must be crazy.” After watching ‘T.I.D.Y’ you’ll be even more paranoid. Or, as the bumper sticker on my car says, “If you aren’t appalled, you haven’t been paying attention.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘T.I.D.Y.’ isn’t up to Coble’s ‘BRIGHT IDEAS,’ but it has some good laughs. Too bad both the script and pacing couldn’t have had a little more “oomph.”

Monday, November 21, 2005

Opal (Kalliope Stage)

Kalliope Stage does area premiere of ‘OPAL’

‘OPAL,’ the Richard Rodgers and AT&T Award-winning musical by Robert Lindsey Nassif, is getting its local premiere at Kalliope Stage. Nassif ,who penned the book, music and lyrics, is known to Cleveland audiences for his authorship of ‘HONKY TONK HIGHWAY,’ and ‘ ELIOT NESS IN CLEVELAND,’ which had local productions.

Opal is a full-length musical in one long act, that explores a young girl's attempt to "make earth glad" by helping those around her fulfill their needs and desires. Billed as the true story of Francoise D'Orleans, who, as a child, was shipwrecked off the Oregon coast. It is a bittersweet story that supposedly grew out of Francoise's own diary entries.

The reality, however, was that ten months after the diary was published, D’Orleans was accused of fraud. Critics said she fabricated her biography, especially her claims that she was adopted by the Whiteleys and that her parents were actually French aristocracy. She was also accused of writing the diary as an adult, not when she was a child.

After the untruthful revelations, Opal fled America and was found in England more than 20 years later wandering through the rubble and burned-out buildings left in the wake of World War II. She was committed to an insane asylum, identified as Schizophrenic, and remained there the rest of her life. She died in 1992, just weeks before the New York debut of the musical based on her writings.

No matter the veracity of the tale, the bottom line is that Opal’s story is compelling, mysterious and tragic.

The play opens with the shipwreck and illustrates what happens when Francoise is taken in by The Mamma, an embittered woman. The child, who believes her parents will come back one day, is given the name Opal, the same name as The Mamma’s dead daughter. To psychologically survive, Francoise creates a world of fantasy which includes naming things by cultural connections in her background. For example, she names her pet pig “Peter Paul Rubens.” She gives nicknames to the people of the town: “the thought-girl with far away look in her eyes,” “the girl that has no seeing,” and “the man that wears gray neckties.” Her extraordinary imagination affects the lives of those around her.

This isn’t the traditional musical theatre feel-good fluff story with a neatly packaged happy ending. This is a story that is a mix of happiness and sorrow.

Kalliope Stage’s production, under the adept directing of Paul F. Gurgol, is generally excellent. Gurgol does a masterful job of using the theatre’s small stage to its maximum. He has cast members linger around the stage, doing various tasks such as needle-point, knitting, and sawing wood to the best effect. The scenes flow well and transition effectively. The pacing is excellent. The opening storm scene is quite realistic and his creation of visual pictures, such as the human tree, is impressive.

There are some very strong performances. Marla Berg as Sadie McKibben, the washer woman who befriends Opal, has a fine singing voice and develops a clear character. Kris Comer, the blind girl, creates a perfect image of a woman who is vulnerable and in need of love. Scott Posey has a powerful voice and also hits all the acting notes right as The Shy Man that Wears Gray Neckties. His future bride, The Thought-Girl with the Far Away Look in her Eyes, is nicely developed and sung by Jodi Brinkman. Each of the narrators is effective.

On the other hand, Ayeshah Douglas as The Mamma fails to texture her role. Her lines often miss depth of meaning and she acts, rather than reacts to Opal and the other characters.

Evaluating a play that has a child lead is often a difficult task. No matter the quality of character development and singing abilities, it is expected that the child, due to her age, is to be judged as “wonderful.” However, I feel that it is unfair to use one criteria for the rest of the cast and another for child actors, especially ones in musicals like ‘ANNIE,’ ‘OLIVER,’ and ‘OPAL’ where they are the pivotal centers of the show. With that said, eleven year-old Dani Apple makes for an acceptable Opal. She has a nice singing voice. Her acting is not quite as good. She often says lines, rather than creating meanings. Her speaking voice sometimes gets into the high registers which is hard on the ears. Gurgol needed to work with her on emotional development which stretched beyond yelling when she was distraught, and looking directly into the eyes of other characters as she speaks.

The choral work is excellent as are the musical sounds created by Brad Wyner and Anthony Ruggiero. Russ Borski’s set design is effective and Lance Switzer’s lighting works well.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘OPAL’ is an arresting play that gets a very good production at Kalliope Stage.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Alice in Wonderland (Cleveland Play House)

Alex and Noah Give A Mild “Thumbs Up” to CPH’s ‘Alice In Wonderland’

Who better to review a children’s play then children? As I have done before with child centered plays, I took my grandsons, Alex (10) and Noah Berko (8) to see the Cleveland Play House’s ‘ALICE IN WONDERLAND.’

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known by the pen name Lewis Carroll, was a British author, mathematician, logician, Anglican clergyman and photographer who lived in the mid to late 1800s. His most famous writings are ‘ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND’ and its sequel ‘THROUGH THE LOOKING-GLASS.’

The original book was illustrated by the famous Sir John Tenniel. His drawings are those which usually illustrate any telling of the story. The volume was a phenomenal success, but questions still arise over the tale’s meaning. It is generally felt that the story is that of the author, and Alice is his alter ego. It is also conjectured that the entire story is a mathematical formula which when solved gives the clues for a positive philosophy by which to live one’s life.

The book has been transformed into numerous films, television shows, ice skating shows and even an interactive museum.

The story concerns Alice who “falls” down a rabbit hole and has a set of wonderful adventures as she attempts to find her way out. In reality, as the Cleveland Play House production seems to indicate, she may have just fallen asleep and dreamed the whole thing. Whatever. An adventure it is and the characters are vivid. The March Hare, the Queen of Hearts, the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit and the Cheshire Cat are known to most children and adults in the English-speaking world.

The short, approximately one-hour adaptation by Eric Schmiedl, is a perfect length for children. Alex and Noah were alert throughout. Alex especially liked “the caterpillar” and Noah’s favorite was the vertically hanging table for the tea party with the cups and saucers held in place by magnets. He also thought Nigel, Alice’s cat (Jared Nichols, who marvelously morphed from person to feline) was “funny” and was his favorite character.

They both indicated they found several scenes “too long” and “boring after a while.” These included the trial and the tea party. Noah said that he “didn’t like it when the actors were whispering lines to each other” during the trial scene.

From an adult perspective I found the pacing rather slow. I have always thought that children’s theatre needs to have variety, action, the unusual and be participatory. This production did well on involving the audience. The unusual was taken care of with such devices as the long caterpillar with all the legs moving and the unusal placement of the tea party table. There needed to be more schticks and gimmicks, more slapstick, more glee to really grab and hold the kids attention.

A treat was the question-and-answer session following the show when the kids asked probing and fun questions of the cast. These were well handled by Kristen O’Connor, Philllip Carroll, Kevin Joseph Kelly, Colin Cook, Jared Nichols and Gilgamesh A. Tagget.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Alex and Noah gave CPH’S ‘ALICE IN WONDERLAND’ a mild but not enthusiastic “thumbs up.”

Swing (Carousel Dinner Theatre)

Carousel’s ‘Swing!’ swings audience

“It was worth the drive in from Warren!” Fill in the name of the town, but those were excited words of some audience members as they exited Carousel Dinner Theatre’s production of ‘SWING.’

As long as there has been a Broadway, there have been music and dance revues. ‘SWING!’ is one of those. The show opened on the Great White Way in December of 1999 and ran through mid-January, 2001, a respectable 461 performances.

As its title indicates, the show centers on swing music, also known as swing jazz or the big band sound. It is a music that was popular during the 1930s and 40s in the United States. The major dance forms that went with the music included boogie woogie and the jitter bug.

Reviews of the Broadway production stated that is was exuberant, fun and a sure winner. It was called “a show that is one big exclamation point.”

There is no story line, just a series of dance, song, instrumental solo and group performances. Some of the songs included are: “Hit Me with a Hot Note and Watch Me Bounce,” “G.I. Jive,” “ I'll Be Seeing You, “ “In the Mood,” “Swing, Brother, Swing,” “Cry Me a River,” “Blues in the Night,” “All of Me,” and “Stompin' at the Savoy.”

The Carousel production, under the adept directing of Marc Robin, features the creative choreography of Beverly Durand and Mark Stuart Eckstein. The duo also dance in the show and provide many of the show’s highlights. Eckstein tosses Durand around like a sack of potatoes. He sweeps the floor with her body, tosses her skyward on numerous occasions, twirls and twists and flips her with ease. Their versions of “Show Me What You’ve Got,” and “Boogie-Woogie Country” were show stoppers.

Other highlights included: the dynamite “Swing It, Brother, Swing” and “Don’t Mean a Thing,’ the opening number; Bli-Bip” which featured the duo singing of Charles Statham and Kate McCann; “Harlem Nocturne” which featured Jessica Dillan performing an interactive sensual dance number with a cello; the pretty ballad, “I’ll Be Seeing You” sung by Kate McCann and featuring the dancing of Joe Komara and Courtney Combs; the company’s singing and dancing of “Swing It, Brother, Swing” and “Cry Me A River” featuring Ashley Hunt and strong trumpet solo; and, a fine rendition of “Blues in the Night” featuring Kate McCann, Jessica Dillan and Robert Bottoms.

Steve Parson’s musical direction, Paul Black’s fantastic lighting concepts, Paul Sannierud’s creative big band techno set and Dale DiBernardo’s costumes, all added to the quality of the production. Another added feature was the theatre’s new sound system, which made the vocals and the music crisp and clear.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you love swing music, if you love good dancing, if you love good singing, if you like musicals that entertain even though they have no story line, you’ll love Carousel’s ‘SWING!.’

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Googlewhack! - Playhouse Square Cener

‘Googlewhack! adventure’ hysterical, but I’m not allowed to say much more

How does a reviewer comment on a production when the author and performer (who happen to be the same person) stands stage center during the curtain call, and explicitly forbades viewers from telling anyone other than the people in that audience what the production was about or revealing the ending. So, what can I say about ‘DAVE GORMAN’S GOOGGLEWHACK! ADVENTURE’? Okay, try this’s about 2 words, 4,285,199,774 web pages and what happens when an obsessive-compulsive creative man goes berserk on the internet. I can also say it’s hilarious, delightful, mind bending, comical, hysterical, side-splitting, cleverly conceived and a one-of-a-kind experience.

Maybe it’s just best to let Gorman himself tell you what’s it all about. That way I won’t get into trouble. On his webpage he states, “At the age of 31 I decided to give up my stupid ways, grow a beard and write a novel. I guess this show is the story of my failure to do two of those things. (Yes, I have a beard) All sorts of unpleasantness could have been avoided if other people had told me not to do it. Instead, they took me seriously. Meetings were set up, deals were done and a novel was commissioned. To make matters worse, a publisher even gave me a chunk of money as an advance on the project. This was an exceedingly stupid thing to do. Needless to say, the novel doesn't exist and I've spent the money. What on? On a googlewhack adventure.”

He goes on to state, “It started when I received an e-mail from a stranger telling me that I was a googlewhack. I didn't know what a googlewhack was. Now I do. A googlewhack is what happens when two words are entered into Google and comes back with one and only one hit. So when the stranger told me that I was a googlewhack, he didn't mean that my name Dave Gorman was one... he meant that my website contained one.”

And with that premise, Gorman went on an adventure. Sorry, I can’t tell you what kind of adventure, or what happened, or how the whole thing turned out. The only way you’ll ever find out is to go see the production yourself.

Capsule Judgment I loved, loved, loved the show and thanks to Mr. Gorman, I have become a slave to my computer, having spent the last 12 hours googlewhacking! Be warned--Gorman and googlewhacking are addictive.

Monday, November 14, 2005

The Family Line (Karamu)

Karamu stages County Commissioneer Peter Lawson Jones's play

Writing a good play is a difficult task. Directing a new play, especially for an inexperienced director, is a difficult task. Performing in a new play, with a novice director, especially when you are an amateur actor, is a difficult task. These conditions are all present in ‘THE FAMILY LINE’ now on stage at Karamu Theatre.

Peter Lawson Jones is best known locally as a Cuyahoga County Commissioner. He is also a Harvard College and Law School graduate and an aspiring playwright. His play, ‘THE FAMILY LINE’ has been produced at Harvard and Ohio Universities and received a staged-reading at the East Cleveland Community Theatre. It has an interesting premise. A star black male high school basketball star sees his way out of the ghetto by becoming a college phenom and then going on to play in the pro ranks. His hopes are dashed when he runs into a prejudiced college coach and allows this to send him into a tailspin of self-pity, which not only effect his own life, but that of his wife and those who befriend him.

Most plays go through a long period of adjustment in which a dramaturg, a writer’s workshop and numerous developmental productions help hone the script and insure that the dialogue is natural, the plot twists are well founded, and the concept holds up. The script of ‘THE FAMILY LINE,’ with all its strengths, is still a work-in-progress. Some of the dialogue is in written rather than oral style, some of the plot twists too obvious, and some of the needed emotional motivations for the actors are missing. The play needs some texturing, some humor, some variance of mood.

Director Desmond “Storm E” Jones indicates in the program that this is his directing debut at Karamu House. Undertaking to direct is a daunting task. To take on a new, untested play is even more difficult. He hits some of the notes right, but, the pacing is extremely slow and the interactions between characters are sometimes unreal. Some of the cast spoke lines, rather than creating meanings. Some of the staging was awkward, such as the scenes in the bar. The fake food did not help enhance the realism of the production. The fight scenes were unrealistic.

Sonia Bishop is one of this area’s better actresses. Her portrayal of Sheila, the basketball player Brad’s wife, was right on key. The character’s emotions were clear and her frustration obvious. Joseph Primes and Karyn Lewis, as Brad and Sheila’s life-long friends, also developed well-honed and realistic characters. They inter-played well with each other.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast struggled with creating real people. Most of the time it was obvious they were acting, not reacting to the lines’ concepts and each other. They often lacked believability. Director Jones needed to work more with the cast members to create reality, not just say memorized lines.

Talented Scenic designer Richard H. Morris, Jr. has constructed two realistic side-by-side sets. Unfortunately, they both looked too chic, too modern, too well furnished and appointed to be that of a financially struggling young couple and a seedy bar. He could have helped the director by placing the dining room table on a platform behind the couch, thus eliminating an awkward scene change.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Karamu should be commended for giving a voice to a new work. Though the quality was not soaring, there is a place in the theatre for giving a voice to new playwrights, directors and performers, and Karamu fulfilled that need with this production.

Family Life - Karamu

Karamu stages County Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones's play

Writing a good play is a difficult task. Directing a new play, especially for an inexperienced director, is a difficult task. Performing in a new play, with a novice director, especially when you are an amateur actor, is a difficult task. These conditions are all present in ‘THE FAMILY LINE’ now on stage at Karamu Theatre.

Peter Lawson Jones is best known locally as a Cuyahoga County Commissioner. He is also a Harvard College and Law School graduate and an aspiring playwright. His play, ‘THE FAMILY LINE’ has been produced at Harvard and Ohio Universities and received a staged-reading at the East Cleveland Community Theatre. It has an interesting premise. A star black male high school basketball star sees his way out of the ghetto by becoming a college phenom and then going on to play in the pro ranks. His hopes are dashed when he runs into a prejudiced college coach and allows this to send him into a tailspin of self-pity, which not only effect his own life, but that of his wife and those who befriend him.

Most plays go through a long period of adjustment in which a dramaturg, a writer’s workshop and numerous developmental productions help hone the script and insure that the dialogue is natural, the plot twists are well founded, and the concept holds up. The script of ‘THE FAMILY LINE,’ with all its strengths, is still a work-in-progress. Some of the dialogue is in written rather than oral style, some of the plot twists too obvious, and some of the needed emotional motivations for the actors are missing. The play needs some texturing, some humor, some variance of mood.

Director Desmond “Storm E” Jones indicates in the program that this is his directing debut at Karamu House. Undertaking to direct is a daunting task. To take on a new, untested play is even more difficult. He hits some of the notes right, but, the pacing is extremely slow and the interactions between characters are sometimes unreal. Some of the cast spoke lines, rather than creating meanings. Some of the staging was awkward, such as the scenes in the bar. The fake food did not help enhance the realism of the production. The fight scenes were unrealistic.

Sonia Bishop is one of this area’s better actresses. Her portrayal of Sheila, the basketball player Brad’s wife, was right on key. The character’s emotions were clear and her frustration obvious. Joseph Primes and Karyn Lewis, as Brad and Sheila’s life-long friends, also developed well-honed and realistic characters. They inter-played well with each other.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast struggled with creating real people. Most of the time it was obvious they were acting, not reacting to the lines’ concepts and each other. They often lacked believability. Director Jones needed to work more with the cast members to create reality, not just say memorized lines.

Talented Scenic designer Richard H. Morris, Jr. has constructed two realistic side-by-side sets. Unfortunately, they both looked too chic, too modern, too well furnished and appointed to be that of a financially struggling young couple and a seedy bar. He could have helped the director by placing the dining room table on a platform behind the couch, thus eliminating an awkward scene change.

Capsule Judgment Karamu should be commended for giving a voice to a new work. Though the quality was not soaring, there is a place in the theatre for giving a voice to new playwrights, directors and performers, and Karamu fulfilled that need with this production.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

The Things They Carried (Playhouse Square Center)


Every once in a while a theatre-goer has an experience in which the images developed by writer and the actors envelopes him or her and remains for a long time. I had such an experience when I saw ‘THE THINGS THEY CARRIED,’ a contemporary literature piece about the writer’s Vietnam War experiences, which was presented at the Idea Center of Playhouse Square as part of their Discovery series.

The one-man play is based on Tim O’Brien’s best selling book about the Vietnam war. In reality, it’s more than a book about the war. It is a series of stories creatively written with the intimacy of a searing autobiography. It is also a mirror held up to the frailty of humanity. It also is a great catalyst for thinking about the present Iraqi conflict. Much of the discussion during the after-talk centered on the parallels of the deceptive, misguided and ego-centered thinking which carried this country into both conflicts.

Since it was first published, ‘THE THINGS THEY CARRIED’ has become an unparalleled Vietnam testament, a classic work of American literature and a profound study of men at war and how war affects not only the combatants, but those left at home and those living where the battles are fought.

The title of the book and the play centers on what the soldiers carried: malaria tablets, love letters, 28-pound mine detectors, dope, illustrated Bibles, and each other. And, if they made it home alive, they carried unrelenting images of a nightmarish war that history is only beginning to absorb.

The play, which has been developed into both a 30-minute version to be showcased in junior and senior high schools as the center of a discussion about war, and an hour version to be presented in commercial venues, goes beyond the book. The play starts as we share with O’Brien, who has just graduated from college and is readying to go for his master’s degree at Harvard, the emotion of receiving his draft notice. O’Brien, who objects to the war, is caught between family and community loyalty and his desire to flee. We travel with O’Brien to the Canadian border, share his decision not to cross into the unknown, getting drafted, fighting in the war, and returning a different person from when he left. A person who now carries emotions and experiences he would rather not have as part of his life baggage.

The play was developed in a collaboration between O’Brien, the play’s director, Wynn Handman, actor Dashiel Eaves and cellist Mark Wind. The full-length version is getting its world premiere in Cleveland.

Handsome, intense and talented Eaves is compelling in the role of O’Brien. He does not portray O’Brien, he is O’Brien. I found myself so enmeshed with Eaves that I forgot I was in a theatre. His every nuance helped activate all of my senses. I saw Canada so close, but so far away. I smelled the burning flesh of the buffalo that was senselessly slaughtered. I saw the one legged boy. I heard the helicopters overhead, the bombs exploding. My eyes welled when his did as he recollected his emotional reactions. This was one proficient, very proficient performance.

Wind has created haunting music. He sets the mood, makes transitions and underscores ideas with perfectly written and played sounds.

The talk back after the show was also a unique experience. The audience, which included a humanities class from a Michigan high school, asked pointed and intelligent questions. Both cellist Wind and actor Eaves displayed a depth of knowledge about the war and the project beyond the script.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: It’s a shame that ‘THE THINGS THEY CARRIED’ only had a three-day run. It is the kind of presentation that could have had a long open-ended run and developed a cult following. I will long remember the experience!

Friday, November 11, 2005

I Am My Own Wife - Cleveland Playhouse

Compelling ‘I Am My Own Wife’ at CPH

‘I AM MY OWN WIFE, now on stage at the Cleveland Play House, opened in New York on December 3, 2003 and ran until October 31, 2004, having played 26 previews and 361 performances. Audiences and critics were so enamored with the show that it garnered the 2004 Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award for Best Play. It starred Jefferson Mays, who received Tony Award recognition as Best Actor for his portrayal.

On the surface, the story of “I AM MY OWN WIFE” is straightforward: a European follows a lifelong pursuit for sexual freedom and antique furniture. But, that’s only the surface of what the play is all about. It’s the story of a real person who defied the odds to outwit the Nazis during World War II and deal with the communist control of East Germany during the era of the Berlin Wall. That would have been an achievement for most people, but Charlotte von Mahlsdorf was a man who lived his life as a woman. Dressed in high-heeled sandals and a “good” suit, Charlotte collected furnishings from the Grunderzeit for half a century. In the Third Reich, Mahlsdorf "rescued" pieces from Jewish deportees; in the German Democratic Republic, Charlotte protected "bourgeois cultural assets" from the Stasi. She saved a long-existing East German gay-lesbian bar from destruction and moved the contents into the basement of her house/museum where it existed for many years.

The story does not center on Charlotte’s sexuality, but her sexuality is part of the tale. It intensifies the story. Her being transgendered adds to the intrigue.

It is interesting to note that reviews and publicity for the play use the words “transgendered” and “cross dressing” interchangeably. They are not the same. (Let me put my psychology professor hat on here.) Someone who is transgendered (sometimes referred to as “transsexual”) believes they have been born into the wrong body. In von Mahlsdorf’s case, early in his life he realized that he should have been a female. So he led his life as a woman. With present day scientific advancements, von Mahlsdorf would have been able to go through hormone replacement therapy and operations to remove his male organs and transforming himself into a female. But that was not possible in his era. If von Mahlsdorf was a crossdresser, he would have liked to dress in the traditional clothing of a person of the opposite sex but not desire to be that sex. Research shows that most crossdressers are mainly heterosexual. von Mahlsdorf openly declared herself to be a lesbian.

Though the play is acted by one man, over 30 people are portrayed. We watch as a member of the German Secret Service, an aunt, a father, a barmaid, a Russian official, a male prostitute, American soldiers, West German officials, a prison guard, a political dissident, a tv performer, several neo-nazis, a TV interviewer, reporters and a psychiatrist interact with Charlotte.

The first act is exposition...explaining Charlotte to us, laying the background as to who she is. One question that surely arises is whether Charlotte was able to stay alive by being a collaborator. That’s the duty of the second act, poking holes in her story. Was she a true innocent who lucked out or a master manipulator? Was she, like her artifacts, unusual enough to treasure and preserve or were they and she well hidden, below the surface, and capable of living on through duplicity?

Mark Nelson portrays Charlotte and all the characters with ease. He switches roles seamlessly. He underplays Charlotte in such a way that it allows us to question whether she is real or is playing a game with us. Whether she is editing her life so we accept her as being what she tells us she is, or, whether she is displaying catlike wariness intended to allow herself to slip into our hearts and minds and ignore the inconsistencies in her story.

Nelson beguiles the audience with sweet tales and harrowing ones as the character recounts her father's brutality and the child's violent retaliation, the experience of nearly getting shot by Nazi guards as a teenager, and the constant harassment by the Stasi, the East German secret police.

Nelson’s performance, effectively directed by Anders Cato, is remarkable for its establishment of distance and boundaries. With a Mona Lisa-like grin, Nelson establishes a character who can barely suppress delight in her own uniqueness and an apparent willingness to lie openly and frequently. Nelson’s von Mahlsdorf enchants us while she's reeling us in.

When she speaks, it's in German or an accented English, often with a "yes?" at the end, as if verifying that she has been heard and understood. The grin is shy, the gaze opaque. She appears comfortable amid a vast collection of antiques which surround her in backwall pictures and miniatures which have been woven expertly into an impressive set by scenic designer Hugh Landwehr.

Those who like their dramas to have a conclusive ending will be disappointed with Wright’s script. We are left with the question of who, really, is this person? How much of a hero or traitor she was is open to speculation. The author lets you take your own guesses. It makes for good driving home talk.

Capsule Judgment ‘I AM MY OWN WIFE’ is fascinating theatre. Nelson’s portrayal is excellent. The Cleveland Play House should be proud of this production and audiences should flock to see it.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Bebe Miller - Dance Cleveland

'BEBE MILLER COMPANY uses "motion capture" to create visual art

The Bebe Miller Company recently brought its newest dance piece, ‘LANDING/PLACE,’ to Cleveland under the joint sponsorship of Dance Cleveland and Cuyahoga Community College.

You don’t go to see Miller’s work expecting the “normal” dance program. This is both its strength and
its weakness. Her company doesn’t dance, per se, it
uses “motion capture” which incorporates state-of-the-art digital equipment to capture every subtle movement of a subject, preserving the movements on a computer. The technology is most often used for creating visual special effects and animation. In other words, the dancers are incorporated into mechanically produced musical sounds and computer generated graphics. It’s much like being in a contemporary art gallery, often with pictures that make no logical sense, with dancers who are free-flowing in their interpretation of a continuously developing illusion against a background of video movement.

The ‘LANDING/PLACE’ project, which began last October when the company started to integrate the “motion capture” with video imagery, developed over the summer.

According to Miller, the ‘LANDING/PLACE’ project “explores sensory, spatial and cultural dislocation—the yearning toward order in the apprehension of difference. Inspired by Miller’s travel in Eritrea, North Africa, ‘THE LANDING/PLACE PROJECT’ is created as a portrait of a more common landscape, the daily exchange of competing ideas of ‘place’ and the tension created by an unfamiliar body in an accustomed landscape.”

With all that said, I was not captivated by the intermissionless performance. Okay, I may be old-fashioned, but I like to understand, to feel something, to be carried away by what I see on stage.
At first I was captivated by the integration of the media. I was especially enamored with the technician, sitting alone stage right in the orchestra pit, who with his Mac computer and technical gear produced all the visual and musical/electronic sounds. After a while my attention waned, especially when a spotlight came up on him and he lip-synced an opera aria and then jumped on stage and attempted to dance with the performers. Well, I guess it could be called dancing if you consider wiggling one’s hips and sliding one’s feet around clumsily, dancing.

After my interest in the technician waned, I just sat back and watched the proficient dancers move around the stage. This is a very talented group of
performers! They deserve to be the center of
attention, rather than the gimmicks.

For a while I tried to make sense of the “stories”
being developed, but those attempts also soon waned out of frustration. I wasn’t alone in my attempt for understanding. Seated in my row was a charming teenager, who was in attendance with her mother. She leaned over about half-way through the production and whispered, “Is this supposed to make some kind of sense?” The mother replied, “I have no idea.”

I get frustrated by artists who pile trash in a space and call it a work of art. I am confounded by those who paint a bunch of squiggly lines and hang it up and then expect viewers to spend long periods of time pretending to like the work. I don’t think it’s art when someone gets up on a ladder and randomly pours paint onto a canvass. I also get upset by choreographers who create something that defies understanding and then state that the audience should interpret it for themselves. That’s not my job. It’s the creators job to give me enough concept and execution to lead me in some direction, even if its in a direction in which I don’t want to go.

At the conclusion of the performance the young lady sitting next to me said to her mother, “Should we stay for the after-talk? Maybe they’ll explain to us what we just saw.” Her mother said, “No! Someone else shouldn’t have to explain to you what you just saw. She should have made it clear to you with what she created on stage.” My response? “Amen!” I’m going to hire this woman to help me write my future reviews.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

South Pacific (Jewish Community Center)

‘South Pacific’ pleases opening night audience at JCC

Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II, America’s premiere traditional musical theatre writers, were social theorists and activists. Each of their shows, including ‘SOUTH PACIFIC,’ now being staged by the Jewish Community Center’s Arts and Culture Division, carries a message of societal problems and lectures on the need for change. This message is highlighted by one key song in the score of each of their shows. In the case of ‘SOUTH PACIFIC’ it is the poignant “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” which explains that prejudice is not inborn but is passed from generation to generation.

The musical, based on James Michener’s ‘TALES OF THE SOUTH PACIFIC,’ basically asks the question of whether a young military nurse from Little Rock, Arkansas, can overcome her family taught prejudices and find happiness with a mature French planter she met “one enchanted evening” on a Pacific Island. When she finds out he was formerly married to an island native and fathered two children, she must decide whether “to wash that man right out of her hair.” On another level the tale examines another pair, American GI Joseph Cable and the Bali Ha’i born Liat, who are also the victims of prejudice. The love affairs are wrapped inside the reality of World War II when, in 1943 the United States Navy established bases in the Solomon Islands, in preparation for an invasion towards the Central Pacific. On one such island Michener created a fantasy about a French planter named Emile de Becque, whom the Navy wishes to employ as a scout to nearby Japanese held islands. He eventually agrees to assist and thus the story races to it denouement.

The Broadway version of ‘SOUTH PACIFIC’ opened in 1949 and closed in 1954 after 1925 performances. It won the Tony Awards for Best Musical, Libretto and Original Score and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Three of the show’s original cast also won Tonys. Ezio Pinza as best actor, Mary Martin, best actress and Juanita Hall for best featured actress in a musical. In 1958 the play was made into a movie staring Rossano Brazzi, Mitzi Gaynor, John Kerr, Ray Walston and Juanita Hall.

The musical score, which many theatre experts believe contains the best score ever written for an American musical, includes such classics as, “A Cockeyed Optimist” “Some Enchanted Evening,” “There is Nothin' Like a Dame,” “Bali Ha’I,” “Younger Than Springtime,” and “This Nearly Was Mine.”

Musicals are the most complex of arts, combining acting, singing, dancing, musicianship, scenic and fabric design and construction. It is why so few musicals are truly outstanding, especially on the non-professional level. No matter how much we want to think that our friends and relatives are “better than Broadway,” the reality is that they usually are not.

Yes, every once in a while a local production soars. Yes, there are near wonders like the recent ‘URINETOWN’ at Beck Center, ‘SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD’ at Cain Park, ‘CHORUS LINE’ at Carousel Dinner Theatre and JCC’s award winning ‘RAGTIME,’ but those are the exceptions. Most local musical productions are, “okay.” They are pleasant experiences, with performers and staff who try hard and give their all to please an audience. JCC’s ‘SOUTH PACIFIC’ falls into the latter category. Don’t go expecting to see another ‘RAGTIME.’ It isn’t. Does that mean it’s bad? No, it just doesn’t reach the level of that superb production.

Tom Fulton is excellent as Emile. He creates a clear physical and vocal character. His rendition of “This Nearly Was Mine” was wonderful. Cheryl Campo’s Blood Mary is generally on target. Colin Cook has a nice singing voice and has a grasp of Lt. Cable’s motivations. For some reason his version of “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” seemed truncated. Since it is the key to the show’s meaning, one must question why that was done. The male singing chorus and the orchestra are superior.

The usually terrific Larry Nehring is much too controlled as the wheeling-dealing Billis. He doesn’t appear to be having fun...a vital element in making the character delightful. Joan Ellison (Nellie) has an excellent singing voice. Unfortunately she often says and sings words rather than creating meanings. It was difficult to accept her as a real person. There appeared to be little emotional connection between Nellie and Emile. John Lynch had trouble creating a realist character in the pivotal role of Captain Brackett.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: JCC’s ‘SOUTH PACIFIC’ is an acceptable but not an outstanding production. If judged by the opening night audience those who attend will enjoy themselves.

States of Shock (convergence-continuum)

‘STATES OF SHOCK’ challenges audience at convergence-continuum

Stephen Gaghan, the writer and director of the film ‘SYRIANA’ recently stated, “I think it’s really important to go out of the theater wondering about its meaning. Everything isn’t explained in two hours. The world is a big, complex, inscrutable place. Why take a complex world and reduce it to simple truths? That’s kind of false.”

When reading Gaghan’s quote I thought of convergence-continuum, the little theatre in Tremont that strongly subscribes to the theory of abstraction. Artistic Director Clyde Simon and Executive Director Brian Breth seem to get special glee out of perplexing their audiences. Their latest production, Sam Shepard’s ‘STATES OF SHOCK’ is no exception.

‘STATES OF SHOCK’ opened in May of 1991 to mixed reviews. It was mainly perceived as a dash back to Shepard’s late 1960s style of experimentalistic and hallucinatory plays. Even the subtitle, “A Vaudeville Nightmare,” keys us into the non realistic nature of the script.

‘STATES OF SHOCK’ condemns both the American government's military invasion of Iraq in February of 1991 and, the compliant and complacent reaction of the American public to that invasion and to the manner in which it was mass-marketed by our leaders. With that theme, is it any wonder why convergence-continuum chose to stage the play today, when the public is again learning the lesson of compliancy and complacency and government manipulation regarding the present Iraq fiasco?

Set in a diner somewhere in time and space, the play is written as almost a dreamlike event. The writing device puts the cast into a shock-state which carries over to the audience who often don’t know if they are to react in horror or laughter to the goings on.

Another of Shepard’s constant themes, the confrontation between a father-figure and a disinherited son is present. In ‘STATES OF SHOCK’ the father, known only as the Colonel, is costumed in bits and pieces of historical uniforms, military decorations, and combat gear from various American wars. As described by Shepard historian David Rose, “He is an amalgam of the archetypal military man: a firm believer in the noble myths of war which men like himself have served to perpetuate. He regularly raises his glass in a toast to the enemy who has made the present war possible. ‘Without the enemy,’ the Colonel frequently proclaims, ‘we're nothing.’ His companion, Stubbs, is his son, a disabled veteran. Their confrontation, enacted before symbolic representatives of the American public, suggests a battle between those fathers who make war and those sons who must do battle.”

The public present for the conflict between Stubbs and the Colonel is a seemingly affluent couple dressed from head to foot in white. As Rose states, “They sit at a table waiting for a long overdue order of clam chowder. Detached and unaffected, they are white America, watching unmoved as father and son debate the terrible cost of war.” They are annoyed at their wait for the chowder, seemingly interested in, but not overly upset by, the horror that is unfolding just feet away from them, much like the complaisant American electorate.

The only other character in the play is an ineffectual waitress named Glory Bee. In the original production she was black, adding another texture to Shepard’s image--the negative treatment of minorities in the power games of an authoritarian society. This is lost in the convergence production with the role being portrayed by a white actress.

The cast is uniformly excellent. Wes Shofner (The Colonel) rants and raves and physically abuses with abandon. Geoffrey Hoffman is compelling as the physically and mentally crippled Stubbs. Lucy Bredeson-Smith as Glory Bee creates a character who is perfectly pathetic and comic. Steve Needham and Dawn Youngs due yeoman duty as the bland, non-involved couple.

Clyde Simon keeps the pacing on target. Eric Wahl’s visual media design greatly enhances the production.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: As is often the case at convergence-continuum ‘STATES OF SHOCK’ is not for everyone. A complete set of program notes would have helped the viewers navigate through Shepard’s poetic, dream-like anti-war father-son conflicted world. But, as is, this is a compelling piece of theatre.