Saturday, October 31, 2009


‘YELLOWMAN’--well-conceived, superbly acted, eye-opening script

Every once in a while a theatre attendee gets the opportunity to experience an evening of wonder…..fine acting and well conceived directing of a thought-provoking script. Such an experience awaits you at Karamu, where Dael Orlandersmith’s ‘YELLOWMAN’ is being performed.

‘YELLOWMAN,’ a 2002 Pulitzer Prize finalist for drama, is a shocking, yet often humorous revelation of a long held but often painful tradition among blacks of the separation between members of their race based on the darkness or lightness of their skin. The playground ditty, "If you're white, you're right. If you're brown, stick around. If you're black, stay back," creates the core of the script.

As the playwright explained, “I wanted to look at the ramification of the hurtful insults used by lighter-skinned blacks against their darker-hued brethren: tar baby and ink spot and identifiers such as high yeller and redbone given to the lighter-skinned by the darker hued.”

The epithets, often spoken in South Carolina Gullah/Geechie, are the plot device that drives forward the views of prejudice, self-loathing and ghosts of childhood that the painful words leave behind.

On the surface, "YELLOWMAN" is the story of Alma, a dark-skinned African American, and her childhood friend, Eugene, a light-skinned black child. They transition from children to adults and fall in love. They face conflicts over their skin color and the resulting residue of family messages regarding “colorism.” But, the overall effects are much more than the storyline itself.

The emotionally wrenching ending reveals the horrific results of the intra-racial conflict and how it can result in the destruction of individual personalities and life, itself.

Karamu’s production, under the adept direction of Fred Sternfeld, is mesmerizing. Though the script is a little long, the emotionally charged and often humorous intermissionless production does not allow the viewer’s attention to waver. The theatre mood is energized by the interactional African American pattern of “call and response” in which the members of the audience give spontaneous oral reactions to the speeches of the actors. The experience tends only to be available at African American church services and in settings, such as a theatre, peopled by a Black audience.

Kyle Primous (Eugene) and Kristi Little (Alma), give two of the finest local performances of the season. They are both impeccable in their acting and character development. Playing numerous roles, each hits the sound and movement of every character, from childhood images to adults of various ages. If there were local Tony awards to be handed out, the duo should be preparing their acceptance speeches!

Richard Morris, Jr.’s scenic design, consisting of wooden levels, creates the necessary stark background needed for the multiple settings required of the script. Though the lighting sometimes leaves the performers in the dark, the overall effect sets the right moods.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Karamu‘s ‘YELLOWMAN’ is a must see production! The acting is superb, the directing spot on, the script reveals a part of the African American lifestyle of which many are unaware. Call now for tickets!!!!!!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Wild Party

‘WILD PARTY,’ a challenge for BW’s Musical Theatre Students

In 2006, the now defunct Kalliope Theatre presented a production of
‘WILD PARTY,’ which is now being staged at Baldwin Wallace College. During that excellent production, about halfway through the second act, an elderly man got up from his seat and exited the theatre, mumbling, “I’ve had enough of this depravity.” The man’s pronouncement was probably music to the cast and director’s collective ears. Yes, he hit on one of the play’s central cores...the debasement of some relationships and the depravity of some parts of society.

Moral...if you are like the offended man, are easily put off by semi-nudity, simulated sex acts and raunchy words, you might want to avoid BW’s Allman Theatre during the show’s run. If, on the other hand, you are interested in seeing passions out of control and investigating moral decadence, ‘THE WILD PARTY’ may be your thing.

Andrew Lippa, who wrote the book, music and lyrics for ‘THE WILD PARTY,’ is one of the new breed of musical theatre creators. He’s in the mold of Jonathan Larson, the conceiver of ‘RENT,’ Jason Robert Brown who developed ‘SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD,’ and Laurence O'Keefe, the creator of ‘BAT BOY.’ They see life and place it on the stage with all its realties, flaws and warts.

‘THE WILD PARTY’ won the Outer Critics Circle Award for best Off-Broadway musical of 2000. It was nominated for 13 Drama Desk Awards including best new musical.

Adapted from a book-length poem by Joseph Moncure March, the story takes place in the Roaring Twenties. It mainly centers on one wild night in the Manhattan apartment shared by Queenie, a dancer, and Burrs, a vaudeville clown. In a relationship marked by abuse, which mirrors the prohibition and gangster-controlled era in which they live, the duo throws a party to “end all parties.”

The event is attended by uninhibited guests including Black, a handsome and smooth operator, and Kate, who has a “thing” for Burrs. Queenie and Burrs set out to make each other jealous. After a long night of no-holds-barred sparing and tantalizing, Burrs' temper erupts and he is killed by Black. Queenie steals out, leaving in her wake chaos and frustration.

The music is a combination of jazz-era sounds, coupled with contemporary tones. Though none of the songs will be remembered for long, the overall effect of the music is excellent.

For a production of this show to be successful, the cast must be sensual, seductive, and filled with sexual angst. The leads must be superb. Burrs has to show his maniacal personality with emotional swings from slapstick comedian (think Dick Vandyke), to sexually stimulating (think Hugh Jackman) and also be psychotically dangerous (think Mickey Rourke). That’s a hard job for any performer, let alone for a college student. Queenie has to be sensual, sexual and manipulating. (Fill in your own actresses here). Again, a nearly impossible task for any actress, let alone a young 20 something, no matter the excellent training received as part of BW’s Musical Theatre program.

The odds are against the BW kids. They try valiantly, but simply can’t overcome their youth and lack of worldly experiences. They feign sexy. They act, not live the experiences. But, that doesn’t mean that director Vickie Bussert should not have picked the show. A great part of a good training program is to try and stretch the students to give them experiences that they normally wouldn’t get. Yes, they would probably do a better job with ‘GREASE” or ‘BYE BYE BIRDIE,’ but that wouldn’t give them the challenge they need to prepare for their desired futures, performances on Broadway stages and other professional venues.

The show has some excellent highlights. In spite of having few real dancers in the cast (ah, for the old BW days of Sue Strewe and Janice Kiteley-Kelly), Martin Céspedes again performed his magic by creating dance numbers that paralleled not only the beat and sounds of the music, but stylized the moves and body angles to mimic the swing, jazz, 20s silhouettes. Show stoppers included: "Let Me Drown," "After Raise the Roof," "A Wild, Wild Party" and "The Juggernaut."

Congrats to Antwaun Holley, who lit up the stage with his hoofing. The band, under the adept conducting of Brian Taylor, was mood perfect. There was a great trumpet solo by Kevin Johnson. Ciara Harper, who grasped the role of Kate, and Jessica Dyer displayed solid vocal abilities.

The chorus does an outstanding job of being present and involved in every scene. They have been well coached by Bussert and Céspedes to not just be on stage, but to be emotionally drawn in and react accordingly.

Charlotte Yetman’s costumes and Jeff Herrmann’s sets are excellent. The show is done with the audience on both sides of a runway stage. This creates an intimate playing area.

The show has two casts. I saw the blonde assemblage. I can’t speak for the effectiveness of the Brunette Cast.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘THE WILD PARTY’ is definitely not for everyone. For those who are willing to be challenged and view the unscrubbed version of how some lead their lives, and want to see college students do a production which challenges their abilities and sensibilities, and often stumbles in the attempt to create an era and life beyond the student’s comprehension, a trip to Berea may be worth your time.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Why Torture Is Wrong and The People Who Love Them

Durang’s “TORTURE’…Cheney let loose at CPT

Christopher Durang, the author of ‘WHY TORTURE IS WRONG AND THE PEOPLE WHO LOVE THEM,’ which is now in production at Cleveland Public Theatre, is the crown prince of the bizarre and controversial. He covers up deep messages with absurdist farce, leaving audiences confused as to whether they should be laughing or crying at the state of the world, or at least Durang’s view of the world.

The titles of Durang’s works are just a hint to what his plays are like. Consider such monikers as ‘Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You,’ ‘Baby With the Bathwater,’ ‘The Nature and Purpose of the Universe,’ ‘The Idiots Karamazov,’ and ‘The Vietnamization of New Jersey.’

‘TORTURE’ thrusts paranoia and anxiety to the forefront.

Take a daughter who, while in a drunken state, marries a man from “Ireland” who speaks with an Arabic accent, keeps threatening to kill her, and whose plan is for her father to support him and his “activities” the rest of his life. There is the father who collects “butterflies,” his euphemism for attack weapons. There is the ditzy mother who is enamored with the theatre. As she babbles on, and changes dresses to parallel the color of the terror alerts, one can only wonder if this lady is crazy or smart as a fox. Things snowball from there, and before long we find ourselves laughing at a man getting beaten up and having his fingers amputated by someone who beeps like The Road Runner and a woman whose panties keep falling down because of the poor quality of the elastic in the waistband of the Chinese made undies.

The CPT production, under the creative directing of Beth Wood, is on course. The pacing is right and the character development consistent. Most impressive is the fine tuning of farcical elements in the staging. Farce is very difficult to create. It is often overdone, not played with the needed realistic tone. ‘TORTURE’ succeeds in making it work.

Mary Jane Nottage is nothing short of hysterical perfection as the “air-headed” Luella, who is constantly confusing rreal life with the theatre and movies. Robert Hawkes does an on-target maniacal Dick Cheney characterization, seeing national disasters in every corner. Liz Conway, as the daughter, goes from calm resolve to hysteria with the right tonations. Scott Ackerman taunts us by making Zamir, the Irish-Arab-terrorist-con man-dishwasher wanna be, a living contradiction. Zac Hudak’s interludes as the scene stealing Narrator, are delightful. Doug Kusak’s Reverend Mike, the drug dealing minister who makes pornographic films, could have been a little more sleezy. Jenna Messina, she with the panties constantly around her ankles, had a nice feel for the comedy aspects of the role, but wasn’t quite believable as a “real” person.

Jenniver Sparano must have spent hours making all those varied colored identical dresses and dying matching shoes to aid Nottage’s visual illusion.

Beth Wood’s set design, while creative, caused many delays and distractions due to the number of times the set wagons had to be dragged around.

Capsule judgement: If you like the bizarre, if you are enamored by farce, if you like the writing style of Christopher Durang, you’ll really enjoy ‘WHY TORTURE IS WRONG AND THE PEOPLE WHO LOVE THEM.’

Saturday, October 17, 2009


‘14’ a thought provoking offering at Kent State University

During the recent amendment fight in California, it was revealed that much of the money for the campaign to eliminate the state’s same-sex marriage legislature,was donated by the Morman Church. This was not the only time that the Morman’s have gained the wrath of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered (GLBT) community.

Reparative therapy attempts to change the sexual orientation of a person from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual. The so-called therapy is based on the religious belief that homosexuality is an illness and can be cured. Since both the American Psychological Association and the American Counseling Association, the official psychological organizations of those who practice in the field, have declared that being gay or lesbian is not an illness, they both recommend that ethical practitioners refrain from practicing reparative therapy or refer patients to those who practice this shame. That, of course, is of little interest to the Morman Church, whose active bigotry goes on.

John Cameron’s ‘14’ illuminates the work of Max Ford McBride, then a graduate student in psychology, who exposed gay male students to pornography and delivered shocks of up to 4.5 miliamperes of electricity in hopes of “curing” them of their “condition.” These procedures, are deemed today to be both ineffective and barbaric. Fourteen students completed the experiment, thus giving the title of the play.

John Cameron was one of the fourteen. When asked why it took him so long to speak out and write the play, he indicated that he had spent so much of his life trying to forget and minimize what he had done that he had somehow convinced myself that most people would find it more disgusting than interesting. Then, he stumbled onto the “Affirmation” website. He learned that his therapy was not an isolated event, but one of the more visible elements in a long history of abuse at BYU. He stated, “Writing the play was a way for me to work though my anger and isolation.”

The story centers on the psychological conflict between the main character, Ron, a BYU professor of English, who is cynical and bitter, and Aaron, a BYU student who is conflicted and confused. The shocking ending, reveals that, in fact, what we are seeing is the same person at two stages of his life, one of whom finally comes to terms with himself.

The Kent State production, under the direction of the play’s author, who graduated from KSU in 1986, was compelling. The night I saw the production, the sold out audience was in rapt attention throughout.

Eric van Baars, a member of the theatre and dance faculty at the university, portrayed Ron with the right amount of angst and sarcsim. His performance is even more impressive considering that he was a late replacement for graduate student Mark Moritz, who had to withdraw from the cast due to his father’s unexpected death. Tricia Bestic, a well know local equity actress portrayed Judy, who acted as the catalyst to get Ron to reveal the truth of the experiements. The rest of the cast was composed of students. Some were more proficient than others. Jason Leupold, as Ron’s lover, who eventually died to AIDS, was excellent. Aaron Schonover (Aaron) had some strong moments, but went in and out of character. The rest of the assemblage varied from excellent to acceptable.

‘14’ was presented as part of the Roe Green Visting Director Series, supported by a 10 year $25,000 a year donation by Ms. Green, a local arts patron and activist who recently made the largest donation capital gift ever given to KSU. It is being used to create the Roe Green Center, which will create new and renovate the present KSU theatre and dance facilities.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘14,’ which closed on October 18 was a play worth seeing. It’s the kind of script that Dobama or CPT does so well. Let’s hope that one of them will take on the project.

The Alice Seed

‘THE ALICE SEED’ at CPT, a conjure-wives tale

‘THE ALICE SEED,’ now in a world premiere production at Cleveland Public Theatre, is a perfect offering for the Halloween season. On the surface, as explained by local playwright Michael Sepesy, “the play is about the ferocity of a mother’s love for her child. On another level, it’s about the acceptance of loss and mortality.” In addition, there is a spooky element to the goings on.

It is a tale of loss and the powerful desire to hold on to our most cherished ones. In this case, a child who has died of cancer. A child who died in a hospital alone as her exhausted parents had gone home, after a long vigil, to get some rest. The feelings of guilt for abandoning the youngster weighs heavily on their hearts.
To gain a full understanding there are some factors that must be explored. The play takes place in the south. Some people of that section of the country, believe supernatural events affect the lives of real people. The term for these events is laid in the tradition of “conjure-wife” tales. Or, as it would be termed in other environs, “old wives tales.”

Questions arise. Can someone come back from the dead? What would drive a person to make a pact with the devil? Is the mother delusional? Can these people ever gain internal peace?

Sepesy has said, with a view to potential audience members, “If people like suspense, there’s suspense. If they like horror, there are elements of horror. If people like lyrical plays and metaphors, or weird, or humor, or family dramas, or philosophy, or emotional works — there’s something in the play for everyone.”

The CPT production, which is directed by Alison Garrigan, fulfills the requirements of the play. The acting is strong and the production well paced.

Jackie Cummins shows the right maniacal focus as the grief and guilt-ridden mother. Mark Mayo, as her husband, stays on course. Michael Andrews-Hinders, the local law-enforcement officer, who has endured the death of his wife, develops a clear characterization.

Trad Burns’ set design sometimes gets in the way of the action. Combining so many settings within a specific confine leads to some confusion. Maybe having a blank stage, with some suggestive setting pieces would have worked better.

Capsule judgement: ‘THE ALICE SEED’ is an interesting piece of theatre which will appeal to audiences who are willing to stretch their imaginations and accept the unexplainable.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


‘YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, a comedy of errors, some intentional, others not

The opening of this year’s Broadway series was slightly delayed. As the audience collected in the lobby on opening night, the technical crew of ‘THE MEL BROOKS MUSICAL YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN,’ was feverishly attempting to get the pieces parts of the stage scenery to cooperate. Assuming that they had everything under control, the audience was let in. We sat for a while, and then Gina Vernaci, the dynamo who serves as the Vice President of Theatricals and is responsible for booking the shows that appear on Play House Square stages, came on the stage to explain what was going on. About an hour after the original starting time, the curtain went up on Transylvania, circa 1934.

Yes, this is a musical version of ‘YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN,’ the Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder 1974 comedy movie. Brooks has supposedly stated that that film was his best movie. (I favor ‘BLAZZING SADDLES.”)

This version has a book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan with music and lyrics by Brooks. It is a parody of the horror film genre, especially the 1931 adaptation of Mary Shelley's ‘FRANKENSTEIN’ and its 1939 sequel, ‘SON OF FRANKENSTEIN.’

The musical opened on Broadway on November 8, 2007 to very mixed reviews. The New York production closed after 484 performances.

The plot, which is largely carried over from the movie, has some scenes that are expanded as musical numbers, and many gags have been added or updated. It concerns young Dr. Frankenstein (“that's Fronkensteen”) as he attempts to complete his grandfather's masterwork and bring a corpse to life. Together with his odd, but endearing helper Igor (“that's Eye-gor”), his curvaceous lab assistant Inga (“that’s Een-gu”), he succeeds, But, due to implanting the wrong brain (Igor dropped and stepped on the desired brain), Frankenstein succeeds in creating a monster who scares the bejeepers out of the Transylvanians, and sings, dances and seduces Frankenstein’s fiancé.

As is typical of Brooks, the double entendres, the sexual allusions and illusions, and the slapstick flow forth. The silliness convulsed my 13-year old grandson, who I took along to indicate if kids should attend (there were quite a few on opening night). Though many of the allusions went right past him, enough hit straight on, causing him, with a sly braces-filled smirk to conclude, “This is definitely NOT a show for young kids!”

The technical problems of the evening didn’t stop with the late opening curtain. About two-thirds of the way through the first act, as the audience watched in amusement, set pieces that came from the fly gallery, failed to mesh with pieces on the floor. The results? The curtain fell and Ms. Vernaci appeared again, this time with Roger Bart, who plays Frederick Frankenstein (“that’s Fronkensteen”). The duo did everything but a soft shoe routine to fill in time. Finally, Igor (“that’s Eye-gor”) ran on stage, grabbed Bart and dragged him off, leaving Vernaci to make a hasty exit as the curtain rose once again.

Fortunately, there were no other problems and the show concluded to a traditional Cleveland standing ovation, as the patrons fled down the aisle, probably going straight to work or to have breakfast, rather than home to bed. (Really, the show, with the interruptions ran a little over three hours. It just seemed longer.)

I saw the Broadway production, and was not enamored. I liked this version better, maybe because of all the funny things that happened outside of the script, and the ad-libbing that Igor (“that’s Eye-gor”) did, stating that the mechanical problems were not caused by him. In spite of those plusses, I still don’t love the show.

Roger Bart, as Frankenstein (“That’s Fran….,”enough…I’ve done that joke about as many times as Brooks wrote it into the script), was not fun enough. He needed more of a comic twist and a more farcical characterization. Bart, who played the role on Broadway, and who is probably best known to the audience as George, the scheming pharmacist in TVs ‘DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES,’ is likeable, but not laughable. Shuler Hensley (the monster) is a hoot in “Putting on the Ritz,” but could have played the part even broader in his other scenes. Cory English, who portrayed Igor on Broadway, was delightful. And, let’s not over-look the equines (Lawrence Alexander and Geo Seery), who upstaged the actors in the scene in which the horses appeared.

The show stoppers were “Join the Family Business” and “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you love schtick, if you love Mel Brooks’ silliness, you’ll probably appreciate ‘YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.’ However, if you are expecting to be as entertained as you were with Brooks’ ‘THE PRODUCERS,’ I think you’ll be disappointed. And though Alex, my grandson, gave the show an 8 out of 10 for the humor, dancing and singing, please follow his advice and think carefully before taking young children or tweens.

The Man Who Came to Dinner

Comedy goes askew at Ensemble

‘THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER,’ which is now on stage at Ensemble Theatre, was George Kaufman and Moss Hart’s comic tribute to their good friend, Alexander Woolcott, the sharp witted and sarcastic tongued theater critic and national radio broadcast star. It also includes famous character take-offs including that of playwright and actor Noel Coward and Harpo Marx of filmdom’s Marx Brothers.

The play debuted on October 16, 1939 at the Music Box Theatre in New York City and enjoyed long New York and London runs. It has many of the same bizarre characteristics that made the duos ‘YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU’ such a hit.
‘THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER’ is set in the fictional small town of Mesalia, Ohio in the weeks just before Christmas, 1930. We learn that the outlandish radio wit, Sheridan Whiteside, was invited to dine at the house of rich factory owner Ernest W. Stanley and his family. However, before Whiteside enters the house, he slips on a patch of ice outside the front door and injures his hip. He moves in to recuperate, and all hell breaks loose.

British actor and director, Sir Donald Wolfit’s deathbed quip, "Dying is easy, comedy is hard," captures so well the paradox that it seems so easy to make people laugh, but as many actors and directors find out, it is not easy at all. The secret to good comedy is impeccable timing and fidelity to reality, and that’s not easy to accomplish. There is subtlety and sarcasm needed, not screaming. There is the need to make the people real, so we laugh with them, not at them.

Though the cast tried hard, Ensemble’s ‘THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER’ proves how hard it is to do comedy well. Most of the performers missed out on the comic timing and creation of reality. So the production missed out on many of the laughs and failed to create all the joyousness of the script.

Now, to be fair, Ensemble is basically an amateur company. Yes, there were several equity members on stage in this production, but, for the most part, in spite of what appeared in the program notes to be a very experienced cast, most of the credits alluded to other amateur stages. Amateurs tend to make the same mistakes over and over since, in many instances, the quality of the directors they work with doesn’t allow them to learn the finesses of performance. This is not true of this production’s director, Brian Zoldessy, who is an excellent teacher, but he can’t undo bad habits in one show.

Presentation highlights include Greg Violand as Beverly (Noel Coward) whose comic timing and singing are character correct. Brian Zoldessy has some delightful moments as Banjo (Oscar Wilde), though he could have been even broader in his characterization. James Kisicki is generally on target as Whiteside (Woolcott), but fumbles some lines and doesn’t always build to the harassable levels for which Woolcott was famous. In smaller parts, Sharmon Sollitto as the nurse, Stuart Hoffman as the son and Jeanne Task, as the mystery lady, do a nice job.

Much of the rest of the cast fails to create consistent or believable characterizations causing the humor to be limited. The was a lot of acting, and not a lot of reacting to the other characters and to the lines.

If you want to see this script in a wonderful version rent the film which stars Monte Wooley, Billie Burke and Betty Davis.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER’ is a 1930s comedy which has a tone and style that is hard to interpret by any but the best of actors. The cast at Ensemble puts out effort, but misses too many marks to make their staging effective.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Verb Ballets--80 Years of Contemporary Dance

Varied Verb program on pointe!

For its latest offering Verb Ballets, Cleveland’s “National Repertory Dance Company,” celebrated 80 years of contemporary dance. The results, showcased at the new Breen Center for the Performing Arts on the St. Ignatius High School campus, were very positive.

The program was introduced with a mini-lecture by Dr. Margaret Carlson, Verbs’ Chief Executive and Artistic Officer, concerning the development of contemporary dance and the founders of the movement.

Following the well-presented introduction, the dance segment opened with a fascinating interpretation of ‘LAMENTATION,’ Martha Graham’s 1930 ballet, which finds a solo dancer seated on a bench, enclosed in a long tube of material stretching and pushing the textile to its boundaries of elasticity. Katie Gnagy, emotionally moved within the boundaries of the fabric to show the frustration of the confinement and its resulting grief and emotion.

‘CROSS CURRENTS,’ a company premiere of a 1964 Merce Cunningham dance, was danced to the atonal piano music of Conlon Nancarrow. Using stylistic moves, in a robotic pattern, the controlled bodies of the dancers were a vision of pure abstraction. The overall effect was excellent, thanks to Ashley Cohen and Katie Gnagy who were in total control of their moves. Unfortunately, Antwon Duncan seemed uncomfortable, tentative and had difficulty holding the necessary freezes.

Ian Horvath was the cofounder of Cleveland Ballet. One of his high point choreographic creations is the 1975 ‘LAURA’S WOMEN,’ based on the music of Laura Nyro’s “Poverty Train.” An excerpt from the ballet was presented with a restaging by Carlson. Erin Conway Lewis gave an absorbing interpretation to an exploration of Schizophrenia.

A company standard, Heinz Poll’s ‘DUET,’ was again danced by the company’s strong male dancer, Brain Murphy, but with a new partner. Due to an injury, Andrea Blankstein, a member of the Ballet Theatre of Ohio, stepped in. The result was a different, but charming interpretation. Blankstein added a delicate presence. Her toe work, smooth movements and partnering skills were all on pointe. The lifts and carries were well executed. Blankstein and Murphy made the work look effortless and were in perfect sync with each other and the music.

‘SLEEP STUDY,’ David Parson’s 1987 choreographed piece to the music “High Wire,” was restaged by Carlson. Costumed in pajamas, the dancers rolled on the floor, sometimes along side each other, sometimes onto someone, sometimes in tandem with other sleepers. The overall effect of everyday sleeping movements, well-timed to music, was totally enjoyable.

Heinz Poll’s brilliant 1996 creation, ‘BOLERO,’ was mesmerizing. The enveloping Maurice Ravel score lends itself to a well-disciplined corps of dancers. And, in the main, Amy Miller’s restaging developed the needed patterned movements. A fusion of Indian and Spanish movements, the precision piece concluded to screams of pleasure from the audience.

Combine martial arts with music and the results can be compelling, as demonstrated by ‘TAI-QI KUNG FU FAN FORM,’ a piece developed for the 2008 Chinese-hosted Olympics. Having been in China shortly before those games, I saw groups of people in the parks in various cities doing this “routine.” Little did I realize that it would some day be included in a contemporary dance program. Using fans to create both visual illusions and a strong snapping sound, the piece required precision. In general, most of the company was capable of creating the right illusions.

‘THE GATHERING,’ choreographed by Terence Green, who, among other credits, has worked with students at the Cleveland School of the Arts, received its world premiere as the closing number on Verbs’ program. The four movement composition about vision of community and belonging, centered its movements around, on and under ten chairs and a table. The dancers often vaulted off and balanced on the set pieces, to enthusiastic reaction.

Verbs’ evening of dance was audience pleasing. However, they still need to find male dancers to accompany the always excellent Brian Murphy. Their latest applicants don’t totally fill their needs. Antwon Duncan often moves without enthusiasm and precision. Gary Lenington seems well disciplined, but his fullback build seems to limit his freedom of movement. Nehemia Spencer and Lloyd Amir Boyd III, both students at the Cleveland School of the Arts, have great potential, but need more training and experience. So, the search should go on for males to balance the excellent females in the company.

Capsule judgement: Verbs’ ’80 YEARS OF CONTEMPORARY DANCE,’ was a bravo evening of dance. It passed the difficult test of holding the rapt attention of a large contingent of students from the Cleveland School of the Arts, who even stopped texting long enough to be an appreciative audience. Well done!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Twelfth Night

TWELFTH NIGHT farce for the sake of farce at GLTF

Charles Fee, the Director of ‘TWELFTH NIGHT’ now playing in repertory at the Great Lakes Theatre Festival, loves farce. He appears to see almost any play as a palate on which to paint brightly colored visual images in hysterical poses. Up to his usual tricks, he has staged Shakespeare’s play about mistaken identities and love with an eye toward laughs. And, since the script is slight on realism and message, his vision works.

Shakespeare wrote the script in either 1600 or 1601, supposedly as entertainment for the Christmas season. (Twelfth night, is the last night of the holiday season.) It was the last of his so-called "mature comedies." The others were ‘MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING’ and ‘AS YOU LIKE IT.’ Like most of his comedies ‘TWELFTH NIGHT’ celebrates romantic love and contains many of the devices found in other Elizabethan romantic comedies such as separated twins and gender-crossing disguises.

The story centers on Viola, who is shipwrecked on the shores of Illyria, a mythical Mediterranean coastal area with Turkish and Persian flavor. Viola loses contact with her twin brother, Sebastian, believing he has drowned. She masquerades as Cesario, a young male page, and enters the service of Duke Orsino. Orsino is in love with the bereaved Lady Olivia, whose father and brother have recently died. His love is not returned. Orsino decides to use Cesario as an intermediary. Olivia, believing Viola to be a man, falls in love with him (her). Viola, in turn, has fallen in love with the Duke, who also believes Viola is a man, and who regards him (her) as his confidant. (Getting confused? Actually, on stage it’s easy to follow.)

Adding extreme humor to the goings-on is a comic subplot involving Olivia's heavy drinking uncle Sir Toby Belch, her servants Maria and Fabian, her steward Malvolio, her suitor Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and, the fool Feste.

Fee’s directing, as is his custom, often goes over the top. This is much to the delight of the audience, who, on opening night convulsed with laughter every time there was a pratfall, overdone characterization or three-stooges type exaggeration.

Andrew May is fun incarnate as Toby. Ian Gould, complete with his clownish white make-up, is delightful as Aguecheek. Eduardo Placer sings well and taunts with ease as the jester, Feste. Laura Perrotta manipulates with glee as Olivia’s gentlewoman, Maria. David Anthony Smith is the perfect foil as the pathetic love struck Malvolio.

Sara Bruner carries off the role of Viola with charm, while Jodi Dominick is generally effective as Olivia, though at times her characterization wavers. The rest of cast nicely fulfills Fee’s directing philosophy.

Choreographer Helene Peterson and Fight Coordinator Ken Merckx add a nice tone with their contributions. Gage Williams’ set design creates the right Moorish image.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you like your Shakespearean comedies smothered with outlandish farce, you’ll enjoy yourself at GLTF’s TWELFTH NIGHT.

Monday, October 05, 2009


So long Bang and Clatter, BUT…………..

About five years ago Bang and Clatter, an Akron based theatre, the dream child of Sean Derry and Sean McConaha, appeared on the local scene. Dedicated to producing innovative, challenging works of modern American playwrights, it set a high level of theatrical creativity. Shows like ‘FAT PIG’ and ‘ORANGE FLOWER WATER,’ were outstanding, some of the finest productions in the area.

Not happy to stay just in Akron, the duo decided also to venture into Cleveland. They constructed and opened another theatre in the abandoned Cole’s Shoes Store on Euclid Avenue near Public Square. Their world crashed down around them as grants, and other money agreements were late in arriving or fell through. That, along with little money for public relations, losing their Akron performance space, and personal chaos in each of the lives of the “Seans,” resulted in the closing of both the Akron and Cleveland facilities. Too bad. The area will miss their creativity.

BUT, there may still be a light at the end of the tunnel. A recent conversation with Sean Derry indicated that he is venturing out, sans McConaha, and opening a theatre on the river bank in Cuyahoga Falls. He hopes to open in the Spring of 2010, but there may be a December production. Let’s hope so, as the area needs the kind of productions that Bang and Clatter put forth.

The last B&G show is Craig Wright’s ‘LADY.’ Mainly known for his writing for television shows such as Six Feet Under, Lost, Brothers and Sisters and developing his own show, Dirty Sexy Money, Wright is also a prolific playwright.

‘LADY,’ according to the author, is "about unfaithfulness: unfaithfulness to spouses, unfaithfulness to friends, unfaithfulness to patriotic ideals and unfaithfulness to the simple innocence of life's desire to live.''
Originally commissioned and performed by Northlight Theatre in suburban Chicago, the drama is set in the woods of Southern Illinois, hours from Skokie, where Northlight makes its home.

The story concerns a hunting trip which turns tragic when a U.S. Congressman reveals to his closest friends that he is changing his political party and stance on the war in Iraq. While the friends struggle with their conflicting thoughts and feelings, one hunter's dog, Lady, wanders in the forest, with tragic results. One thing seems certain: after this experience in the woods, their lives and relationships will never be the same.
B&G’s production, under the direction of Sean Derry, is compelling. The acting, by Jeffrey Grover (Graham, a Democratic congressman who has adopted Republican ideals), Richard Worswick (Dyson, a college professor who master- minded Graham’s election), and William Martin (Kenny, whose wife is dying of cancer and fears losing the world as he knows it) is excellent. All men develop believable and clear characters.

The setting, in B&G’s 30-seat temporary home in Akron, is an authentic woods scene, complete with huge rocks, sand floors and dead or dying trees. Believe me, the set was real, as was attested to by my emerging allergies as I sat through the 90-minute production.

Capsule judgment: It’s to bad Bang and Clatter has come to the end of its run, but at least it went out on a high note. ‘LADY’ is a thought-provoking, well acted play.

Dixie's Tupperware Party

Tupperware party at the 14th Street Theatre is actually a Tupperware party

There is a conundrum going on at the 14th Street Theatre in Playhouse Square. Is ‘DIXIE’S TUPPERWARE PARTY’ a play or a standup comedy show, more suited for the likes of Hilarities, rather than a theatre. And, then there is the question which was on the lips of many who attended the opening night show, “Is she a he?”

Whatever, there are a lot of people who will find themselves entertained by Dixie Longate, the self-proclaimed #1 Personal Seller of Tupperware.

‘DIXIE’S TUPPERWARE PARTY’ is exactly what it is billed as, “A Tupperware party.” And, from the comments of those around me who have attended those affairs, the purpose is the same: To entice attendees into buying the plastic containers, cups, mugs, pans and do dingles. And, do they buy! After the show many women were searching through their catalogues deciding on what "treasures" they couldn’t live without. In addition, there was a long line of those waiting to shell over their checks and credit cards after the show.

According to Dixie, she is from Mobile, Alabama, moved to Los Angeles as a condition of her parole, had three husbands, has three kids, and started selling the “Plastic crap” in order to make some money. She contends that her Tupperware party caught the eye of some New York Theatre producers and in 2007 she had a big off-Broadway opening. For her efforts, she garnered a Drama Desk Award nomination for Outstanding Solo Performance.

Her humor, based on double entendres and gross innuendoes, regaled many in the audience. More than a few of whom wound up either on stage being the butt of jokes, or were verbally accosted in their seats. She went as far as singling out a shy young lady, who by the end of their interaction, was swearing like a longshoreman. She also enticed one of the area’s professional actors onto the stage to spar with. (I doubt whether she knew who she was using as her foil.) He played along well, to the delight of those of us who knew who he was.

Warning: If you want to be the butt of his/her jokes, sit at the front tables or volunteer to be one of the three audience members who sit on stage during the festivities.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Depending on your mood and sensibilities, ‘DIXIE’S TUPPERWARE PARTY’ could be fun, especially if you are there with a bunch of women friends and have a half-dozen or so cocktails before the show. For me, I’d prefer to go down the street and see “THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD” at the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Mystery of Edwin Drood

‘Drood,’ a British Music Hall romp at GLTF

Charles Dickens had a stroke and died about two-thirds of the way through his novel ‘MYSTERY.’ Not wanting to waste any writing by the great British master, tune-smith Rupert Holmes transposed the material into an audience involving musical mystery now on stage at the Great Lakes Theatre Festival.

The musical is unique. First, it is one of the few modern examples of a show in which the book, lyrics, music, and orchestrations are all by the same creator. Secondly, it seems to be one of the only Broadway musicals which has multiple endings, depending on the whim of the audience.

The Broadway production, which ran from 1985 to 1987 starred Betty Buckley and Cleo Lane, to name a few, and won numerous Tony Awards.

The story centers on John Jasper, a Jekyll-and-Hyde choirmaster, who is madly in love with his music student, Rosa Bud. Miss Bud however is engaged to Jasper's nephew, Edwin Drood. Drood mysteriously disappears one stormy Christmas Eve. Is he dead? If so, was he murdered? If so, who did it? Ah, a mystery!

The source for the musical was originally published in episodic installments, as were most of Dickens’ other novels. Upon Dickens demise, various authors, including Dickens’ son, tried to write an ending, but to no avail.

Holmes conceived the central premises of the show from the Dickens work, but changed the format. His concept was that of a play within a play, set in a typical British musical hall. Ironically, my first experience with the show was at London’s Victorian Club, where I was taken by a former student who was a member of the company.

Holmes used the vaudeville, slapstick, overacting, melodramatic characterizations that are the stock of the musical hall. The productions are narrated by ‘The Chairman” and there is always a “Lead Boy” played by a female, and audience participation.

Using the unfinished aspect of the Dickens’ script, during the second act, voting takes place to determine whether Drood was killed, and, if so, by whom. There is much encouraged hissing and booing during the selection process.

The Great Lakes production, under the directorship of Victoria Bussert, is mostly fun. It does not, however, compare to the show of my London experience. From start to finish, that performance was a romp due to the ability of the British to do farcical comedy so well. In the local production there are places in the first act, when the whole thing bogs down. But the second act, mostly due to a quickened pace, Martin Céspedes’s marvelous choreography, and the audience participation, picked up and the show concluded on a fun high.

Aled Davies is delightful as “The Chairman,” Jonas Cohen is correctly evil as John Jasper (including wearing black costumes and looking like the devil with his beard), Laura Perrotta is right on as the opium den operator, and Danny Henning delights and dances up a storm as the dim-wit deputy. The singing is good and “over-doing” characterizations is well honed.

The only major flaw is the over-exuberant orchestra under the direction of Matthew Webb. Often, the sound was so loud that it drowned out the lyrics being sung. When there is no hearing of lyrics, especially in a show like this in which the songs are not well known, the meaning of the words gets lost.

Céspedes stops the show with his choreography of “Setting Up the Score,” “Off to the Races,” and “Don’t Quit While You’re Ahead.” All perfectly fit the music and kept to the music hall premise.

Jeff Herrmann’s scenic design, Charlotte Yetman’s costumes, Norman Coates’ lighting and Stan Kozak’s sound designs all helped develop the correct musical hall atmosphere.

‘CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘DROOD’ is not a great script. It doesn’t have a great musical score. It, is, however, fun and is a nice evening of theatre for those who like escapism, extended melodrama and creative choreography.