Monday, June 30, 2008

Groundworks--Cain Park 6/08

GROUNDWORKS adds a delightful dance to their repertoire and a new company member

Groundworks, David Shimotakahara’s innovative dance company, showcased its newest company member, Kelly Brunk, at their recent Cain Park performances. In addition, ‘LIGHTS UP,’ a creative humorous piece, was added to the group’s repertoire.

During the last two years Groundworks has gone through major changes in their composition. Damien Highfield and Sarah Perret joined the company last year. Kelly Brunk, who blended well with the rest of company, was impressive in his recent debut. Tall and thin, Brunk, who graduated with honors from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, has danced in Austria, Vietnam and San Francisco. He has choreographed as well as performed. He displayed the necessary proficiency and discipline to meld into Groundworks’ controlled dance form.

‘LIGHTS UP’, the third number in the recent program, is a welcome addition to the repertoire, which often tends to be very serious. This piece, performed to live music composed and played by Gustavo Aguilar, Nathan Douds and Howie Smith, was both humorous and creative. Shimotakahara’s choreography, which was a collaborative work created by the entire company, centers on interesting combinations of duets and trios. It was fresh, happy and joyful. It contained an excellent jazz segment performed by Sarah Perrett. As always, Amy Miller and Felise Bagley sparkled.

The program also included ‘ANNIE REDUX,’ choreographed by David Parker, which used music from Irving Berlin’s ‘ANNIE GET YOUR GUN.’ The songs were recorded for the 1950 MGM film adaptation of the Broadway show which was to star Judy Garland and Howard Keel. Before the movie was completed, Garland had to withdraw, but her vocal renditions had been recorded. Though it was exciting to hear Garland’s versions of the song, Parker’s choreography is lacking. As a friend, who had not seen the piece before commented, “The words and the movements didn’t match.” I had stated this the first time I reviewed the piece. The movements were creative, with the use of interesting angles, arm lifts, freezes and poses. The quality of the dancing was excellent. However, the lack of parallelism between meaning and actions was distracting.

‘MIGRATION,’ the program’s other dance number, was performed to live music composed by Gustavo Aguilar and performed by Aguilar and his wife Gaelyn. The plaintive sounds were pleasingly interpreted by the sarong clad duo of Amy Miller and Damien Highfield. About ‘things in flux, the motion of change, how far can we journey and still be connected to a place, to each other,” the overall effect was compelling. The dancers were physically disconnected, though emotionally connected, through most of the piece, moving in separate spheres. As is often the case with Aguilar’s compositions, the number was too long, causing connect exhaustion between the dancers and the audience.

Following the performance Shimotakahara announced that the company would be in New York in residence sometime during the 2008- 2009 season.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: GROUNDWORKS DANCETHEATER is one of the area’s shining cultural lights. Welcome to Kelly Brunk, who appears to be a fine talent addition to the company.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Jersey Boys

“Oh What a Night”—‘JERSEY BOYS’ at the State Theatre

There was a high-level buzz of excitement at the State Theatre before the opening curtain of ‘JERSEY BOYS.’ The audience was expecting something special. And, did they get it!!! At the end of the evening they were on their feet screaming for more and the elation spilled out onto the streets following the show. (In this instance, this was not an automatic Cleveland standing ovation given for anything from good to bad productions. This was a deserved standing O!)

Yes, as one of the show’s songs cries out, “Oh, What a Night.”

JERSEY BOYS is a story about Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons: Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi. It supposedly is the story of how a group of blue-collar boys from the wrong side of the tracks became one of the biggest American pop music sensations of all time. They supposedly wrote their own songs. They invented their own sounds and sold 175 million records worldwide - all before they were thirty.

You’ll note in the last paragraph I said “it is supposedly the story” and they “supposedly wrote their own songs.” There is some controversy over how much the script’s writers, Marshal Brickman and Rick Elice, deviated from the real story. There is also some question abut whether Bob Gaudio really did write all of the songs. Be that as it may, there is no question over the entertainment value of the production. And, in the end, the audience really doesn’t care if the story is totally authentic. As one of the songs states, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” You won’t be able to take your eyes off the stage and keep your feet still as the beat goes on and on and on.
The show opened in November of 2005 in New York. It won four 2006 Tony Awards including Best Musical and continues to break box office records on Broadway.

This national tour includes Erik Bates as Tommy DeVito, the founder and sleazy member of the group. His wild way of living, his spending and gambling, caused the quartet problems and eventually was the cause of its breaking up. Bates is appropriately ego-centered in the role. He sings and moves well.

Miles Aubrey is Nick, Tommy’s older brother, who was basically along for the ride. Aubrey, as is the rest of the cast, fits well his part and sings effectively.

Andrew Rannells, who not only looks like the real Bob Gaudio, but has the same boyish charm, is excellent. Portraying the “intellect” of the group, Rannells wraps himself in the role and is completely believable.

The star of the evening is Joseph Leon Bwarie as Frankie Valli. Though there is conjecture that he is getting support via backstage singers for hitting the necessary falsetto high notes, again, who cares. It works. Be aware that Zachary Prince performs the Valli role at some performances. Having not seen him in the role, I have no way of advising whether his performance will meet the high level of Bwarie’s.

Everything about this production is professional. The sets, the orchestrations and the costumes all work.

A sign in the lobby of the State indicates, “Authentic, profane, Jersey vocabulary are special effects used in this production.” Yes, there is an “in-ya"-face Jersey attitude. On the night I saw the show it carried over into a shouting match in the audience which developed into a fist fight at the start of intermission. Supposedly some guy defied the theatre rules and the people around him by keeping his cell phone on, and, the rumor states, using it during the show. How Jersey! (BTW—because of the language used, the show is not recommended for anyone under 12.)

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: I saw ‘JERSEY BOYS’ in Chicago. I loved it then, I loved it in this staging, which I think is a better production. Go, go, go see ‘JERSEY BOYS.’ You will have one hell of a time and be in a “Trance” as you “Walk Like a Man” [or Woman] out of the theatre, feeling like a “Big Man [or Woman] in Town.”

Question for the Reviewer: A Question About Ridiculous Standing Ovations

Dear Mr. Berko,

I was wondering if you could help me to understand the behavior of the local theater audiences.

I grew up in Cleveland and after graduating from Kent State spent most of my adult life in Los Angeles. I moved back to Northeast Ohio to raise my kids nearly four years ago.

In Los Angeles if an audience gave a performance a standing ovation it was because they were compelled to leap from their seats and applaud at the end of the show. Since I have been back I have been to several community productions and at the end of each show the audience staggers to their feet. I imagine this is started by a few friends and family but it seems common practice.

Now I do not get out to the theater much. I teach on-camera acting so it's movies and motherhood for me. I thought after seeing your review of "The Wiz," which I took my family to last night, that you may have some insight with all of your years of experience. I am sure they gave it a standing ovation Thursday as they did last night for a less than compelling performance. What bothered me the most is the lack of character development and arc. The show had no heart. I will applaud song and dance but you have to "move" me to get me out of my seat.

Well if you have gotten this far, I thank you for reading. If you take the time to respond, and I appreciate and value time, I will sincerely be grateful.

Thank you always for your years of insight.

Very Kindly,
Maureen Dempsey

Saturday, June 21, 2008


Mercury’s ‘HONK,’ pleasant, but could have so much more

‘HONK,’ which is now being staged by Mercury Summer Stock, is one of those charming little shows which should enchant and regale audiences. It is a retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s ‘THE UGLY DUCKLING,’ complete with a theme of tolerance.

It has a gentle and pleasant score by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe which does not come close to the wonderful music that Frank Loesser wrote for the film, ‘HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSON, which starred Danny Kaye, and included a segment on the ugly duckling. It is, however, a quite serviceable score.

The stage version opened in 1993 in England and was originally called ‘THE AESTHETICALLY CHALLENGED FARMYARD FOWL.’ In 1997, when the script was revised, the title changed to ‘HONK!”. It went on to win the 2000 Olivier Award, the British equivalent of the U.S. Tony Award, beating ‘THE LION KING’ for the honor.

The story is set in the countryside and features an “ugly duckling,” who somehow is hatched by a hen, who discovers his inner beauty as he becomes a swan. In the process of his journey from odd to beautiful, he is taunted, runs away from home with a cat who wants him for his dinner, meets a wisecracking bullfrog and a lovely female swan. In the process he, and members of the ensemble, sing such songs as "A Poultry Tale," "Warts and All," "Look at Him," "You Can Play With Your Food," "Now I've Seen You," and the charming "Different."

This is a deceptive script. On the surface it appears to be an easy show to stage. It isn’t. There is a strong message, there are creative vaudeville-like actions which require that it become a comic strip in action. It is very British in its base which mandates an understanding of broad British humor.

The Mercury production, under the direction of Pierre-Jacques Brault with production staging by Joanna May Hunkins, is pleasant, but could have been so much more. Mercury prides itself on being able to stage a show in two weeks. In this case, with Brault also working on ‘THE WIZ’ at Cain Park, the short preparation time causes the staging to suffer. Brault’s usual creativity isn’t completely present. That’s not to say the show is bad. It isn’t. It just isn’t all that it could have been with a little more time, insight and focus.

Alex Wyse, one of my favorite local actors, plays The Ugly Duckling. (He was awarded a Times Theatre Tribute for his outstanding performance in Kalliope’s ‘SUMMER OF ’42’ several years go.) Wyse has the correct happy, yet forlorn face, to portray the many moods of the gleeful yet questioning duck who transforms into a gracious swan. He has a nice singing voice and creates a clear character. Danielle Renard as Ida, Ugly’s mother, also has a nice singing voice, but lacks the depth to create a complete character.

Brian Marshall as Drake, Ugly’s dad, kind of walks through the role, losing his accent along the way. Shane O’Neil’s cat just isn’t cunning enough, and his French accent comes and goes, along with a consistent characterization. Sara Hymes is charming as Penny, the lovely swan who gives Ugly insight into himself. Brian Marshall has some excellent moments as Bullfrog, but there was a lot more humor that could have been developed. The rest of the cast varies from good to okay.

As is my custom when there is a child-friendly show, I took the “Kid Reviewers,” my grandsons Alex (12) and Noah (11) to see and comment on the show. The boys liked the show, giving it an 8.5 on a scale of 10. They really liked Wyse, though Alex thought he could have projected more during his solos. Noah indicated that the sets could have been better. “Every place they went still had the barnyard behind them.” They both thought that there was some good humor, but “lots of the funny lines were not stressed” and wondered whether the “little” kids would get some of the adult jokes. They both thought the morals, “It’s more important what you are on the inside than on the outside and don’t pick on others because they are different” were clear.

Capsule judgement: ‘HONK!’ is a clever script, appropriate for everyone from about 4 on up. The Mercury production was “pleasant,” but could have been so much more with a more concentrated effort to develop the multi-facets of the script.

The Wiz

Cain Park’s ‘THE WIZ’ entertains, but……..

It is rumored that ‘THE WIZ,’ will be the last fully-conceived musical on the large Evans Stage at Cain Park. If so, it could only be hoped that the facility would go out with a bang. The script of ‘THE WIZ’ is a bang; unfortunately, the production, in spite of a fine cast and production team, is a whimper of what it could have been.

‘THE WIZ,’ a contemporary take on ‘THE WIZARD OF OZ,’ has an underbelly of African American slang, movements and musical sounds. If you are over 30, don’t go expecting it to be Judy Garland’s Oz. Think “Ease on Down the Road” instead of “”Follow the Yellow Brick Road;” “Slide Some Oil to Me,” instead of “If I Only Had a Brain; and the Wiz wailing, “Y’all Got It!”

The show, which opened on Broadway in 1975, features music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls. It ran in the Big Apple for 1,672 performances. Surprisingly, a movie version, which modified the story, added some songs, and starred Diana Ross, Michael Jackson and Nipsey Russell, was a critical and box office flop.

The Cain Park production, under the direction of Pierre-Jacques Brault, lacks many of the dynamics that the play engenders. This is rock and gospel musical which contains a tornado, munchkins, good and bad witches and wonderful characters who are bigger than life. I needed to be bouncing in my seat and awed by the goings-on. As it is, I was lightly entertained.

Usually, when one sees community theatre, and that is what Cain Park is, a community, not an equity theatre, one expects something less than a professional staging. However, Brault has proven his directing worth and had an outstanding cast and a creative production team, so much was expected. Now, to be fair, I did see the preview performance, but the flaws aren’t such that can be fixed without some major restaging and an infusion of passion.

Even the usual dynamic choreography of Martin Cespedes was subdued and sometimes unfocused. Many of the dances were “nice.” Cespedes usually creates “great.” For instance, in the tornado scene, the stage didn’t explode with energy. A handful of dancers with ribbons attempted to create the storm. The set pieces didn’t “fly-off” stage, and even the band wasn’t frenetic enough.

On the positive side, Malika Petty has a wonderful voice and made a “cute-as-a-button” Dorothy. There was a joyousness in her performance. Unfortunately, at times her speaking voice went into a high-pitch screaming level which was like fingernails scratching on the blackboard. Several of the other actors also had this problem.

Christopher Weible (Scarecrow) has a good singing voice. His “I Was Born on the Day Before Yesterday,” was excellent.

My favorite characterization was put in by Gerald Clarke as Toto….that guy can dance and grabs and holds the stage.

Kyle Primus (the Wiz) did a wonderful rendition of “Believe in Yourself,” which carries the play’s moral. It’s a shame that Primus, who is a wonderful dancer, didn’t get to show more of that talent. Colleen Longshaw’s “A Rested Body is a Rested Mind” and “Believe in Yourself” were vocal highlights.

The man in drag playing a large woman has been done to death. Why Brault, who is extremely creative, decided to pull out that tired gimmick is questionable. However, if it was to be used it had to be done well. Unfortunately, Dan Call, who portrayed Addaperie, one of the good witches, didn’t do it well. His “He’s the Wiz,” instead of being a show stopper, fell flat. He needed to let loose and be over-the-top, not just look ridiculous in a bad fitting wig and ruffles.

Darryl Lewis is one of my favorite local performers, but he let me down as the Lion. He was basically one-dimensional. The role needed more texturing, More ‘big bad Lion” who is really a “scardy little cat.”

The strongest dancing was performed by the crows (Lawrence Farmer, Michael Medcalf and Terrell Richardson, Jr.).

Russ Borski’s costumes were wonderful. Richard Gould’s set, though impressive, sometimes got in the way of the actors. Some of the pieces were awkward to move, dominated the stage, and were being schlepped on and off during scenes.

Musical Director Matthew Webb did the production a major disservice by not controlling the volume of his orchestra. They drowned out many of the musical numbers. There is no sense in singing words if the audience can’t hear them. Some of the blame must also go to Stan Kozak, for failing to work on the proper sound balances.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Most of those who attend ‘THE WIZ,’ and I hope there will be lots of them, will probably like the show. They will see a very adequate production. With this cast, and the talent of the director and the choreographer, they should be seeing a superb production. Pity!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Carepetbagger's Children

Charming ‘CARPETBAGGER’S CHILDREN’ at Ensemble

Horton Foote, the author of ‘THE CARPETBAGER’S CHILDREN, now in production at Ensemble Theatre, is an American treasure. At age 92, he is still writing stories, plays and film scripts that are rich in imagery and examine the intertwining effect that individual family members have on each other. He is a two-time Academy Award winner who also has been recognized with a Pulitzer Prize, and an Emmy and Tony Award.

Foote, who authored such film scripts as ‘TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD‘ and ‘THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL,’ has been called “the American Chekhov.” And, he well deserves the title as evidenced in ‘THE CARPETBAGER’S CHILDREN.’ This is a well written script in which Foote’s language and creation of illusion, allows us to clearly understand the motivations of a southern family unit interwoven with hidden layers of paternalism, half-truths, and stubborn righteousness.

The memory play echoes with the aftermath of the Civil War, the “War of Northern Aggression,” in which southern families lost dignity and pride and tradition as well as much of the land that they loved.

Interestingly, the family we observe is not a true southern family. It is one created when a Northerner, a carpetbagger, who came to Texas following the war, obtained a position through politician patronage, and became wealthy by buying up masses of land from the destitute plantation owners.

Set in mythical Harrison, Texas, the story is told by three sisters. In alternating monologues, Cornelia, Grace Ann and Sissy give us their history, a history filled with ambitions, estrangements, jealousies, resentments, loves, births, deaths, embezzlements, stabbings, shootings, bankruptcies, abandonment, legal actions, funerals, senility and happy optimism. All this is done with charm and southern civility.

Foote, asks, “in the end, what is truly important in our lives, what are those lingering questions and regrets that will haunt us, and what is it that remains when we are gone?”

This is not an easy script to develop. It is all talk, no action. With a lesser cast and a less clear image, it could be a bore. The Ensemble production is not a bore. Under the watchful eye of Lucia Colombi, the production is charming. It is well paced and well nuanced.

Hester Lewellen, as Cornelia, the oldest sister, is wonderful. She gives a focused characterization and gives the clear illusion of a rock-like woman, who remains a pillar in spite of the strife and stresses going on around her.

Lissy Gulick is Grace Anne, the middle sister, who defies the family to strike out on her own and follow her heart into a questionable marriage, showing another side of quiet rebellion. This is also a fine performance.

Mary Jane Nottage, as Sissy, the youngest sister, displays the right level of air-headedness, the little voice, and the wide-eyed wonder to fully develop her role. Unfortunately, in Martin Cosentino’s set design, she is stuck in the lower corner of the thrust set, and is constantly forced to swivel her head in order to be exposed to the entire audience, causing some distracting movements.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Ensemble’s production of ‘THE CARPETBAGGER’S CHILDREN’ is a go see. It is a charming and well-developed presentation of a play by one of America’s best modern writers.

Late Night Catechism 2

‘LATE NITE CATECHISM 2,’ is fun, but not as much as the first one

At the opening night performance of ‘LATE NITE CATECHISM 2, SOMETIMES WE FEEL GULTY BECAUSE WE ARE GUILTY,’ which is now on stage at the Brooks Theatre of the Cleveland Play House, you could tell the audience members who had attended Catholic school. Each time they answered a question, were called upon, or harassed, they obediently answered, “Yes Sister.”

This script is a continuation of Catechism 1, complete with the same concept. The audience is an assemblage of students who are a classroom in which a fully-habited nun is taking the place of the “regular “ instructor, a priest who is away on a golfing retreat.

Having seen “1” with Maripat Donovan, the play’s co-author and original “Sister,” I have to admit that this is presentation pales by comparison.

The punishment isn’t as “severe” and Sister’s tongue is not as sharp. Even when Sister (Lisa Buscani) reprimands the “harlot” in the second row for wearing a plunging neckline, and makes her fill in the gap with Kleenex, or tells the “Jewish guy” in the third row to get his hand off the back of the chair of the woman sitting next to him, the audience doesn’t anticipate that the ceiling will separate and lighting will strike the sinners.

This sister has a calm voice, a twinkle in her eye and isn’t walking around slapping the ruler on the desk, let alone on the knuckles of her “victims.” And, that might be the reason of why this is a pleasant, but not a hilarious evening.

I did learn a great deal about the history and “philosophy” of the Catholic church. I learned that the Notre Dame nuns are “ a tough crowd.” (Being a faculty member at Notre Dame College, I can attest to that.) Also, that canonization is the Catholic Church’s “Good House Keeping Seal of Approval;” that Catholics don’t judge, “that’s the job of the Baptists;” Episcopalians are Catholics with cash; and Catholics were forbidden to eat fish on Friday because a Pope from Portugal made the declaration in order to increase his country’s profits from fishing. (That’s the truth, and I know so because I was told it by “Sister.”)

I also learned that besides traditional sins, there are new ones including road rage, excessive inking and body piercing, wearing underwear as clothing, dining at Hooters and driving a car with a dashboard bobble head doll of any of the holy trinity. Yep, that’s what Sister said.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: “LATE NIGHT CATECHISM 2’ is a pleasantly funny theatrical experience. Not hysterically funny, but pleasant. It makes for a nice summer evening of entertainment.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


Porthouse’s ‘ANYTHING GOES’ is summer theatre at its best! Go! Go! Go!

Cole Porter’s ‘ANYTHING GOES,’ now on stage in a delightful production at Porthouse Theatre, is one of those shows that shouldn’t be, but is. And, it shouldn’t be as much fun as it is at Porthouse, but it also, is!

The original producer, Vinton Freedley, who lived on a boat, decided to make a musical based on his experiences. He hired a star, Ethel Merman, and had the musical ‘HARD TO GET’ written. The title changed numerous times, finally becoming ‘ANYTHING GOES.’

Just before the show opened, a fire destroyed the passenger ship SS Morro Castle. As a result of the deaths of 137, most of the original script was trashed and a new version written. This creation was called “a hopeless mess” by one theatre historian. So, more versions were attempted during the preview performances, with songs, characters and plots coming and going.

Legend has it that things were so bad that the night before the show opened the script was incomplete. A member of the production team supposedly said, “And just how in the hell are we going to end the first act?" The producer, being more helpful than he realized, said "anything goes!" Porter went into action, and, one of the great musical theatre production numbers was born. (The number is nothing short of astounding in the Porthouse production under the chorographic genius of MaryAnn Black).

‘ANYTHING GOES’ opened in New York in 1934 at the height of the depression and it ran 420 performances, becoming the fourth longest-running musical of the 1930s. This, despite the impact of the Great Depression.

A 1936 movie starring Ethel Merman and Bing Crosby, a television version staring Merman and Frank Sinatra, and numerous revivals have followed.

This is not a great musical. The story line is trite, songs have been added and deleted with no real reason, which is an indication that this is not a well-made musical in which the songs and the story are so intertwined that one supports the other. For example, “Easy To Love” one of the present show’s hits, was not in the original nor the 1962 production, but was written for a 1987 revival. “Friendship” also was not in the original. In fact it written for ‘DUBARRY WAS A LADY,’ but it, too, was put into the 1987 production.

To add an issue…Porter, a wordsmith, wrote very clever lyrics, but they contain 1930’s references, unknown to many present day audience. Worry not, it makes little difference.

The story is set aboard a luxury liner bound for London and concerns Billy Crocker's comic pursuit of socialite Hope Harcourt as he hides aboard the ship on which she is traveling with her English fiancé. The plot is enlivened with nightclub evangelist Reno Sweeney and the real and supposed public enemies sought by the captain to spice up the voyage.

The Porthouse production, under the very adept direction of Terri Kent, makes for a perfect summer evening entertainment. Besides wonderful singing voices, this is one dance-talented cast. They hoof and tap with enthusiasm, they have fun, and so does the audience.

Sandra Emerick captivates as Reno Sweeney, the Vegas-style evangelist. She sings, acts and dances with enthusiastic excellence. Eric van Baars makes a perfect foil as the up-tight Lord Evelyn. Justin Gentry, he of good singing voice and stage presence, gives the role of Billy a nice vulnerable quality. Rohn Thomas is good as Moonface Martin, but he could have been more comically dynamic (think Bert Lahr).

Though not listed as one the show’s lead role, Maryann Black grabs and holds the audience as the air-headed Erma. Black is amazing. She dances circles around the “kids” on stage who are probably one-third her age. Her high kicks and tap-dancing wizardry stopped the show on at least two occasions.

Nancy Andersen Wolfgang’s musical direction, Robert Wolin’s set design, Sarah Russell’s costumes, Cynthia Stillings’ lighting design and Jason Potts sound design, all work well.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Porthouse’s ‘ANYTHING GOES’ is a total delight. Sail away to an evening of fun by floating down to Porthouse. It’s worth the outlay of gas money to get to this production. BRAVO!!!!!!

Girls Night Out

‘GIRLS NIGHT OUT’—a lot of hype and not much fun!

Before the opening night performance of ‘GIRLS NIGHT OUT, THE MUSICAL,’ at the Cleveland Play House, the ladies were stoked. Many had already had their fill of Cosmos (the favored drink of the ‘SEX AND THE CITY’ crowd) and were ready to let loose. Some made it perfectly clear that they were not thrilled with the four males who had braved the hordes of women to attend. (The males consisted of a couple of reviewers who had to be there, a male usher and a man who appeared to have been dragged in by his wife/girl friend.)

Unfortunately, all the ‘gals” enthusiasm was for naught. ‘GIRLS NIGHT: THE MUSICAL,’ is just another retread of that same old stuff that’s been seen before. It’s so poorly constructed that, in spite of a before curtain announcement that the ladies were going to be dancing in the aisles, the first opportunity to do so didn’t take place until a few minutes before intermission.

Take a trite plot, throw in some “women’s power” songs, add a bunch of off-color innuendoes, and a well-endowed male blow-up doll, add a few good singers, and hope that the audience’s enthusiasm carries the day. It didn’t. After a while even those who had an edge on, lost it as the dullness and the alcohol settled in, and the stories about bras, the pain of giving birth, stupid boy friends, dumb husbands and pregnancy, lost their edge.

The cast is talented. Some of the songs like “Don’t Cry Out Loud,” “The Love of My Man,” and “I Am What I Am,” were well done. Some of the shticks worked, most fell flat.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: In spite of good intentions, ‘GIRLS NIGHT OUT’ is basically an uninspired, uncreative, unappealing production. The question is, why did the prestigious Cleveland Play House invite this touring company into its venue?

Monday, June 09, 2008

Pangs of Messiah


The Jewish Community Center of Cleveland presented a staged reading of award-winning contemporary Israeli playwright Motti Lerner’s script, ‘PANGS OF THE MESSIAH.’ This was a preview of the play which will be fully staged next season.

The reading, directed by Cleveland Play House’s Seth Gordon, featured an excellent cast.

The play, as was obvious during the after-reading talk session, is going to incite much discussion within the community. It is a probing script which is filled with words, not on-stage actions. And the words are incendiary.

The interactions center on what may happen, in the near future, when a peace treaty with the Palestinians, is about to be enacted. What will happen to those “settlers,” mostly ultra-religious Jews who live in Samaria, basically the northern part of the West Bank of the Jordan River. How will they respond? Will they be willing to give up what they think is the very heart of religious Israel for peace?

Capsule judgement: Look for the staged version next year!

Monday, June 02, 2008

Matt & Ben

Mildly entertaining ‘MATT & BEN’ at Cleveland Public Theatre

I like a good comedy. I like a good comedy that has a message. I like a comedy that once I leave the theatre doesn’t evaporate from my memory before I get to the car. I don’t think ‘MATT & BEN,’ which is now on stage at Cleveland Public Theatre, fits those criteria.

It isn’t a bad play. It isn’t a bad production. I just don’t think it’s worth the time and effort that it takes to stage a script to get the results of this show.

With that said, let’s examine what ‘MATT AND BEN’ is all about. Yes, it concerns best friends Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. They, according to the plot, have just finished filming ‘SCHOOL TIES,’ a coming of age teenage flick. They are sitting in Ben’s living room, trying to adapt ‘CATCHER IN THE RYE’ into a movie. (No, it hasn’t been done as a movie because J. D. Salinger won’t give permission for filming.) All of a sudden a manuscript named ‘GOOD WILL HUNTING’ falls from the ceiling with their names on it as the authors. We spend the next 75 minutes as the boys work through whether they will claim it as their own. (Hint: they won the Academy Award for best screenplay for “GOOD WILL HUNTING.)

Written by Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers, the script has some cute, some dumb, and a few very funny scenes.

Oh, by the way, Matt and Ben are played by two females. Yep, two women!
Why? I’m not sure, but Kaling says, "I think it helps the play come off as more affectionate than just mean and jealous." (I guess men are mean and jealous and women are affectionate.)

In the off-Broadway production Kaling and Withers played the roles. The reason? Kaling states, "We're not competing with them for roles, so there's no underlying bitterness or meanness towards them. It's also just funny to have Brenda and I playing them, because we obviously look completely different." Okay, if that’s what she thinks. As for me….I don’t get the real reason.

There is some gossipy stuff…mainly about Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben’s brother Casey and David Schwimmer. Not People magazine quality, but maybe mildly amusing.

The play suggests Affleck is kind of stupid (well, he didn’t get into Harvard as Damon did), but creative. Matt is the brighter, the more accomplished, and the better actor. (Reality seems to be bearing out the better actor part as he consistently appears in top flight flicks, while Ben, in general, is doing B-level gigs.

‘MATT AND BEN’ won Best Overall Production honors at the 2002 New York International Fringe Festival. I’m not sure why.

The CPT production, under the direction of Dan Kilbane, works as well as the script will let it. He has paced the show well.

Though I don’t necessarily agree with the character interpretations, they were consistent. Nicol Perrone (Matt) and Elizabeth Wood (Ben) don’t look, or sound, or have the charisma of the real guys; but, I guess that’s not the point. (I won’t even get into the subject of the lack of Boston accents, which the dynamic duo is famous for using.) The actresses both seemed to be having a good time. So, seemingly did much of the audience. As for me…I was mildly entertained.

Capsule judgement: ‘MATT AND BEN’ is one of those plays that many will enjoy. If you are looking for something other than light escapism, you may not be overjoyed. I just think that CPT is of a higher level than this script. If they are going to do comedies, “THE CONFESSIONS OF PUNCH AND JUDY,’ is a lot more CPT!