Friday, December 23, 2011

Review of Reviewer's reviews--Claire and Mort Beal

Special tribute to you, Roy, for your perceptive and "right on the button" reviews. We rely on you to get us to the best theater "on time!" My all time favorite in many years was "Trying." If not for you, we'd have missed it as would have many of our friends to whom we recommended it. Wish it would have a rerun. I'd see it again!

Claire and Mort

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Winter Theatre Offerings--2012

Cleveland, Ohio theatre--a list of early winter theatre offerings--2112

It’s Cleveland, it’s going to be cold and snowy in the coming months. It’s a perfect time to go to live theatre and escape from all the stress. Here’s a partial list of what’s on the boards:

216-795-7000 or go to

January 13-February 5
Presented in CPH’s new Second Stage Theatre, Allen Theatre complex
TEN CHIMNEYS, a heart-warming backstage comedy

February 10-March 4, Allen Theatre
RADIO GOLF, the final chapter in August Wilson’s 10-play cycle chronicling African-American life in the 20th century

216-932-3396 or

February 24-March 18
MIDDLETOWN, Will Eno’s new comedy exploring the universe of a small American town

216-241-6000 or go to

January 6, 7, 27, 28
14th Street Theatre

January 6, 7, 13, 14, 20, 21, 27, 28
Kennedy’s down under
FLANAGAN’S WAKE, an interactive Irish wake which takes the audience to Ireland for an evening of tales, singings and mourning.

January 17-29
Palace Theatre
HAIR, revival of the peace and love era musical, featuring Aquarius, Starshine, nudity and adult subject matter.

January 28-29
INBAL PINTO & AVSHALOM POLLAK DANCE COMPANY, conceived by Israeli choreographer Inbal Pinto, includes circus-world wandering street acrobats and oddly beautiful creatures.

Beck Center

February 3-March 4
SPRING AWAKENING, winner of 8 Tony Awards, is a rock musical adaptation of the controversial 19th century German play that explores with poignancy and passion the turbulent journey from adolescence to adulthood. (Produced in cooperation with BW College’s Music Theatre Program.

Actor’s Summit
330-374-7568 or go to

January 19-February 5
BULLY, one actor portrays the life of Teddy Roosevelt!

216-631-2727 or go on line to

January 5 - February 18
Big Box '12, provides local artists with the opportunity to create and produce new work. includes eleven world premiere workshop showings of theatre, dance, music and genre-defying performances.

January 19 - February 4
At-TEN-tion Span, the 10-minute play series returns, exploring different themes of politics, love and personal struggle in innovative ways.

February 23-March 10
ANTEBELLUM, a provocative play that resonates with the entwining realities of Nazi cruelty and Hollywood dreams.


February 3-26
The Bluest Eye, Nobel Prize-Winning Toni Morrison’s story about the tragic life of a young black girl in 1940’s Ohio. (This production contains adult language and themes.)

Lakeland Community College

ANYONE CAN WHISTLE, a Steven Sondheim musical about a fight to save a fictional bankrupt town.


January 12-29
SONG FOR CORETTA, examines five fictional African American women who find laughter and hope while waiting in the rain to pay tribute to the recently deceased Coretta King.

February 2-9
LOWER NINTH, a play of exploration of faith, survival and mutual redemption which finds two men and a corpse stranded on a roof after Katrina.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Playwriting in Cleveland

Original Plays Have a Home in Cleveland

Theatres in the Cleveland area are producing local, regional and national premieres. Included are the recent productions of Ken Ludwig’s THE GAME’S AFOOT at Cleveland Playhouse (world premiere), Conor McPherson’s THE SEAFARER at Dobama Theatre(regional premiere), and Joanna McClelland Glass’s TRYING at Caeser’s Forum(local premiere).

An additional trend is presenting works in development such as Randy Blair, Timothy Michael Drucker and Matthew roi Berger’s FAT CAMP at Playhouse Square and newly minted plays like Jeremy Paul’s MONSTER PLAY at Cleveland Public Theatre.

The two most prominent of the local writing groups are the Cleveland Play House Playwright’s Unit and Ensemble Theatre’s Stagewrights. In addition Cleveland Public Theatre creates new and original works in a less organized manner.

A look at one of these units showcases the new development and play process.

The Playwrights’ Unit is a group of experienced, accomplished playwrights from the Cleveland area who receive creative and administrative support from Cleveland Play House. The Unit meets regularly with Associate Artistic Director Laura Kepley to read their works-in-progress and provide each other feedback.

As early as 1918 local writers developed works for and within CPH. Starting in 1927, the theatre started to feature readings from what became known as the Playwrights’ Workshop.

In 1988 a Lab Company was developed to expand the number of plays created. In 1990-91 a collaboration with Ohio University MFA acting students added to the literary department. Plays were produced under the title: CPH NEXT STAGE NEW PLAY FESTIVAL.

By 1966 the membership in the group altered with new members added. Again in 2008 new members replaced some of the retiring writers.

Numerous writers from the group have had their works staged locally and by regional, national and international amateur theatres. The success of the venture can be illustrated by examining long time member Eric Coble’s success. His BRIGHT IDEAS received a CPH main stage production, was moved to off-Broadway, and won the AT&T Onstage Award. In 2010-2011 Coble saw over 60 shows receive national and international productions. Several of his new works will be staged by area theatres during the upcoming year. He has been commissioned to write a new main stage holiday show for CPH for next year’s season.

In addition, Eric Schmiedl’s FRANKENSTEIN has been commissioned for adaptation by the Denver Center Theatre. His MY HEMISPHERE AND YOUR HEMISPHERE LIVE ACROSS THE STREET was developed with an Aurand Harris Fellowship from the Children's Theatre Foundation of America 2010. Schmiedl has been commissioned by CPH to create a new show.

Deborah Magid’s THE WEDDING NIGHT was announced as the winner of the 6 Women Playwriting Festival in 2009, produced by Louisa Performing Arts Center, in Colorado Springs, and staged by the Santa Fe Playhouse Benchwarmers.

The excitement of local writers emerging to have their works presented on area, national and international stages continues. It’s just another aspect of what makes the Cleveland area a hub for the creative arts.

The Seafarer

THE SEAFARER, an Irish saga at Dobama

The Irish are noted for, among other things, being hearty drinkers, tellers of tall tales, participants in physical conflict, and believers in fantasy, redemption, fate, Catholicism, and escapes from reality.

THE SEAFARER by Conor McPherson, one of the newer Irish playwrights, is now in production at Dobama Theatre. McPherson has proven with his naturalistic style of writing, that he can follow in the paths of Shaw, Singe, Joyce and Beckett in creating a story that fits true Irish traditions.

In THE SEAFARER, McPherson writes a dark Christmas fable which reflects despair and a descent into oceanic depths of drunkenness. It concerns characters who spend their lives in alcoholic hazes, dependent upon each other to get through life. These are men who find it necessary to use booze as an anesthetic to protect themselves from reality.

It’s Christmas evening in Baldoyle, a coastal settlement north of Dublin. The setting is the run-down, unkempt home of Richard Harkin and his brother Sharky. The duo has a long history of sibling rivalry. Sharkey has recently returned home after being sacked from his chauffeuring job for being involved with his employer’s wife. The tale reaches its apex when a drunken quartet of men, and a mysterious stranger, play a game of poker with more than money at stake.

As we observe, many of the characters are rudderless and blind. In the case of Richard, his blindness is real. On Halloween he fell in a dumpster causing the physical damage. His younger brother, Sharky is blinded by living life transitioning from one drunken rage to another. Ivan, a constant presence in the house, feels his way through life, hiding constantly from reality. Ivan has lost his glasses and can’t see clearly. This lack of clarity causes a major plot turn. Nicky, who is spending time with Sharky’s ex, acts and dresses flamboyantly, is a constant bane for Sharky, and seems blind to reality.

Who is the mysterious Mr. Lockhart, a man of refined appearance, with a stiff exterior. He has a secret, that centers on an action which transpired 25 years ago while Sharkey was in prison for killing a vagrant.

Dobama’s production, under the direction of Scott Miller, is on one hand compelling, on the other, inconsistent. Miller fails to aid some of the actors in texturing their performances. Several yell throughout with little inner motivation. There is also some inconsistency in pacing and consistent accents. On the other hand, the quality of writing, the plot development and several fine performances keep the long play interesting.

Joel Hammer makes the rage-filled Sharky, totally his. The underlying and expressive rage are well developed and textured. This is an excellent portrayal.

Larry Nehring is compelling as the pathetic Ivan. He clearly portrays the husband, father and drunk, who has difficulty with the realities of life.

Bernard Canepari’s Richard is properly frustrated, but the actor fails to vary his performance. He yells and yells and yells. There is also the problem of his stumbling over the lines.

Tom Woodward makes for an acceptable Nicky, but doesn’t create a crystal clear character. Who Nicky really is doesn’t come out.

Charles Kartali feigns as Mr. Lockhart. He looks stern and unyielding, presents his lines with fidelity, but misses the needed underlying devilish quality. There are times when he sounds more east coast U.S than Irish.

David Tilk’s set design works well as does Marcus Dana’s lighting.

Capsule judgement: THE SEAFARER is an Irish play which gives a vivid picture of the frustrations of life on the Emerald Isles. Dobama’s production has some fine performances. Though it is very well worth seeing, some may find it overlong and lacking in clarity.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Santaland Diaries


Author and entertainer David Sedaris has a knack of finding what’s funny and ironic about life. He’s at his best when he takes on the mundane and less dramatic incidents of existence.

Christmas is one of those times that brings out the best and the worst in people. This is very evident in THE SANTLAND DIARIES, a rendition of which is now on stage at the 14th Street Theatre in PlayhouseSquare, which is cosponsoring the production with Cleveland Public Theatre.

The playlet concerns Sedaris, experiencing life as a struggling writer in New York, who seeks out and secures a job as an elf at Macy’s flagship department store. He’s 33-years old and takes on the role of Crumpet, dressed in red and white stripped stockings, green tights, tasseled cap, and an oh so gay holiday tunic.

The show illuminates Sedaris’s dark comic observations on human life including the threats of parents when their kids aren’t thrilled about sitting on Santa’s lap, the drunk Santas, the kids who urinate in the fake snow, the fellow elf who can’t figure out why she can’t have the job on an all year basis, and what happens when the “real” Santa appears.

There are various ways of interpreting the role of Crumpet. Kevin Joseph Kelly, this season’s elf, with the help of director Elizabeth Wood, decides sarcasm is the right route.

Now, it has to be understood that KJK is at his best when he is cross-dressing. He’s made a career of putting his size 14 feet into high heels, adding some padding to a bra, and stuffing his ample body into a dress. He’s been Albin, the drag queen in LA CAGES AUX FOLLES. He’s portrayed Edna, an over-sized woman played by a man, in HAIRSPRAY. And he makes an appearance in a spangling dress in THE LOUSH SISTERS, the second act of this SANTALAND DIARIES. He’s at his best in drag. Hmm, wonder what would have happened if he and Wood had decided to take a different approach and let Kelly do his drag thing? That’s something to ponder for future presentations.

But the duo stuck to the traditional, so we have Kelly, as a sarcastic Crumpet, a Paul Lynde with too tight tighty-whities. That approach doesn’t get all the laughs that are inherent in the script. It’s not that Kelly is bad, he’s quite okay. It’s just that the play tends to work better with a more adorable or curmudgeonly approach. As the lady sharing the table with me said, “I thought this was going to be cute and funny.”

The second act is Liz Conway and Sheffia Randall Dooley as the Loush sisters. The mixed race “sisters” put out full effort, do a nice job of singing a blend of various holiday and non-Yuletide songs, get some laughs, and do some cute shticks. The highlight was Kelly’s appearance as the sisters’ sequins dressed full-figured mama and his version of Rose’s Turn from GYPSY.

The act is one of those segments of entertainment that when it ends, is quickly forgotten. That’s not a slam, just a comment on what was…okay, but no brass ring.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: THE SANTA CLAUS DIARIES is an evening of looking at life through the eyes of life commentator David Sedaris, which gets an acceptable presentation.

Friday, December 09, 2011



It might come as a shock to some to know that NUTCRACKER, whose performances have become a world wide Christmas tradition, was dismissed as “completely insipid,” “corpulent,” and “pudgy” when the ballet was first performed in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1892. Obviously, views have changed!

There was never any question of the quality of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s music, but the story was deemed to be incoherent and hard to follow.

Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet is back in Cleveland to present its version of the fantasy story of Clara, a young Canadian girl in this version, and her love affair with a nutcracker prince.

As the fine orchestra played the overture, which highlights the themes of the great score, an outdoor hockey game, snowball fight and the arrival of guests, is portrayed.

Yes, it’s the night before Christmas and everything and everyone is stirring, including guests, mice, a giant stuffed bear, a dream of a sugar plum fairy, dancing snowflakes, angels, waltzing flowers, and a nutcracker prince.

The Canadian company puts out full effort, but they fall short on fantasy. All the elements are there, just the dance quality and creative choreography are missing. The usual squeals of delight of the children in the audience, especially, the young girls, were not present. The usual Cleveland standing ovation was not garnered. No “bravos” were shouted after the showcase Grand Pas de Deux. This was a rather slow moving, unspectacular, if adequately danced program.

The first act was especially slow moving. There was a lot of walking around and posing. Drosselmeier lost his magic touch and was nothing more than a master of ceremonies. The much anticipated Christmas tree was there, but it was not eye popping and its usually visually entrancing growth was rather unspectacular. The battle between the Nutcracker prince and his soldiers, and the Mouse King and his henchmen, was boring. Even the cannons didn’t create much of a boom. The highlight was the Dance of the Snowflakes, which was nicely performed and the presence of 50 child locals portraying various parts.

The second act picked up a little with some fine performances by the Pas deQuatre and the Arabian duo. The Sugar Plum Fairy danced adequately well, but did not mesmerize and many of the other specialty dances did not compel attention.

As I sat watching this performance, my mind scrolled back to the days of the Cleveland-San Jose Ballet and Dennis Nahat’s glorious version of the NUTCRACKER which was often performed on the same State Theatre stage. It often starred the luminous Karen Gabay and Raymond Rodriquez, her real life prince. Those were the presentations which elicited the “ohs,” “ahs,” and “bravos.”

Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet is an adequate company, but did not display the quality of dancing and creative choreography to make it a world class troupe. The women dancers often didn’t stick point, and sometimes stood at odd angles as they attempted to hold poses. The lead dancers were adequate, but not of the quality that should be expected.

Capsule judgement: Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet lacked the necessary excitement, fantasy and fine dancing to make its’ NUTCRACKER a compelling evening of dance.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Céspedes’ choreography makes Beck’s JOSEPH special

The format for JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT, a version of which is now on stage at Beck Center, makes the show unique. In contrast to almost all musicals, the show has no script. There is music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, but no spoken format for dialogue, no hints on how to stage the piece. Therefore, each production is dependent upon the creativity of the show’s stagers.

Usually, since the show is so filled with potential great dance opportunities, the burden falls on the choreographer. And, in most cases, the dance conceivers take their cues from the sounds of the music and produce appropriate moves. Every once in a while a show is blessed with a super creative and talented choreographer and the production explodes into a cacophony of visual moving bodies in dynamic movements. This is the case with Beck’s JOSEPH.

Beck’s JOSEPH is better than almost any production I’ve seen. Why is this production special? MARTIN CÉSPEDES! Yes, Céspedes, one of the area’s best choreographers, has outdone himself in this show. He threw out all of his previous visions and created new ones. The young kids of the chorus, explode with precision and glee. The older teens and adults have a ball doing synchronized and dynamic moves. There’s calypso, rock ‘n roll, western, serpent dance, the dip, and the twist. Even the action curtain call rocks!

They are helped by bright, ever changing lighting effects created by Trad Burns, who has also envisioned a pleasing set.

Musical Director Larry Goodpaster has reinterpreted some of the music to make the sounds fresh. Allison Garrigan’s costumes work well, especially the visually beautiful coat of many colors.

The sound is problematic. Squealing mikes and levels which are set so high that the voices are over-amplified, squelching words. The lack of balance makes for uncomfortable moments. This is not a rock concert, it is a musical in which the words to the songs must be heard.

Matthew Ryan Thompson is “Joseph right!” His rock ‘n roll voice adds an up-to-date sound to songs, his phrasing patterns create meaning to the words. He’s a floppy haired bleached blonde charmer. His rendition of Close Every Door had a beautiful plaintive sound.

Josh Rhett Noble, he of swiveling hips and the Elvis smirk and snarl, is point on as the Pharaoh, stopping the show with his Song of the King.

Tricia Tanguy has a big and trained singing voice. Unfortunately, there are times when she sings words rather than meanings. She needs to go over the words and figure out what they are saying and adjust her interpretations accordingly.

The show has proved to be a holiday success for the theatre. Audiences have flocked to Lakewood every time the show is reprised. And, it has been reprised there a great number of times, since their production “way, way back many centuries ago” when Rob Gibb lit up the stage as the lead in the show.


Saturday, December 03, 2011

Conni's Avant Garde Restaurant

CONNI’S AVANT GARDE RESTAURANT, back by audience demand, at CPT

It’s dinner and theatre, but not traditional dinner theatre. It’s a play, but not a play. It’s avant garde, but not avant garde. There is male nude streaking and lots of references to various body parts, but it isn’t raunchy or lewd. It’s ad-libbed, but scripted. What is it? It’s one hell of a good time! It’s CONNIE’S AVANT GARDE RESTAURANT, now being performed at Cleveland Public Theatre.

The inspiration for this evening of bizarre, delightful, and a little thought provoking theatricality, was supposedly brought about by the accidental sighting by the cast of a touring Shakespeare company with a sign over an abandoned diner in a small town where they were performing. It read, “Conni’s Restaurant.” The group, bored, and in a creative mood, started to fantasize about what it would be like if they owned and operated such an establishment. Voilá, the inspiration for the mayhem that presently fills the flexible CPT main theatre.

As you walk into the lobby, you are met by a number of “nurses” who take your coat (don’t worry, you’ll get it back), costumed performers, hors d’oeuvres and wine. You get to chose your name for the night. You can be “Not so Tiny Tim,” “The Abdominal Snowman,” “Sweet Child of Wine,” or something as mundane as “Nice.” That’s your i. d. for the rest of the evening.

During the cocktail party you are entertained by the performing troop, who sing, emote and serve. A minor incident requires a doctor, who is whisked away into the bowels of the theatre. You are tempted by performance tidbits of what is to come and exposed to who is going to present it.

You are ushered into a banquet hall decorated with chandeliers made of plastic champagne glasses and utensils. Tables of 8 are set with “fine” plastic dishes and silverware. There is an operating kitchen, where much of your “gourmet” dinner will be prepared by a “chef.” (The quote marks are very relevant!) You self-seat, meet your table mates.

Then all hell breaks loose. The “doctor” charges through the audience, sans clothing. During the next four hours there is continuous eating (of surprisingly tasty food), entertainment and mayhem. The cast continues to remind you, through a series of elaborate vignettes and songs, that the evening is devoted to “the ongoing celebration of the work of Conni Convergence, the beloved (fictional) icon of stage and screen."

As the evening proceeds, members of the audience are involved in contests, interactions with the performers, viewing of a baby being transferred from the insides of one woman to another (I kid you not!). There’s a ballet interlude by a pregnant ballerina interpreting The Black Swan. There’s the shooting of a deer, which then is transformed before your very eyes into a salad (well, not really). You are entertained by the company’s interpretation of Hans Christian Anderson’s THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL. You’ll learn the secrets of the rhythm method of acting. Then there’s the “Dance of the Kitchen Utensils” and the making of an erotic fruit salad.

I could go on, but why ruin the experience for those who are going to partake?

Capsule judgement: For the non-up tight, those willing to let lose and go with the chaotic and often hysterical flow, CONNI’S AVANT-GARDE RESTAURANT is a hoot. This is not your traditional theatre production. It is one evening of unbridled fun and mayhem.

Friday, December 02, 2011

The Game's Afoot (Or Holmes for the Holidays)

THE GAME’S AFOOT delights at CPH

How often does a theatre extend the run of a show before it even opens? Well, since pre-sales were so strong, the Cleveland Play House has added a week of stagings for their world premiere of Ken Ludwig’s THE GAME’S AFOOT (or Holmes For the Holidays).

It appears that the doomsayers, who said that the move to downtown would bring about the demise of CPH, were very wrong! So far, the opening season has been an artistic and financial success, and the company’s next show, TEN CHIMNEYS, will inaugurate a new theatre, The Second Stage. It will the first CPH show that has ever been presented in the round.

Ludwig is a well known playwright whose musical, CRAZY FOR YOU, ran over four years on Broadway and in London. In addition, he wrote the oft produced LEND ME A TENOR. He’s also the scribe of MOON OVER BUFFALO, TWENTIETH CENTURY and THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER.

Ludwig’s THE GAME’S AFOOT is billed as a comedy thriller in which we meet famed stage actor William Gillette at his Connecticut home, recovering from an attempt on his life during the curtain call of his renowned play, SHERLOCK HOLMES. Several weeks later he invites the members of the cast and a reporter/critic who is doing a story about him, to spend the holidays in the elaborate home occupied by Gillette and his mother. The castle-like structure is filled with electronic gadgets and hidden rooms. It’s a perfect place for an Agatha Christie-type mystery.
Of course there is a murder and the fun real begins.

More farce than comedy, there are enough early hints of “who did it” so that the revelation of the killer isn’t a great mystery, but the fun is so sharply developed through prat falls, exaggerated situations, and over done shticks, that the whole darn thing works well.

William Hooker Gillette was, in fact, a famous actor in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who is best remembered for his enactments of Sherlock Holmes. He was a proponent of grand stage designs and added many special sound and lighting effects into his productions. His wearing of a deerstalker cap and the smoking of a large curved pipe, became the visual pattern for all who were to play Holmes in other plays, movies and on television. A life-long resident of Connecticut, he actually built a grand castle-like home in that state that is still open for tours.

CPH’s production, under the direction of Aaron Posner, is a delight.

The cast is wonderful. The well-paced timing keys the laughs. Daniel Conway’s set is so impressive that spontaneous applause broke out when it was first revealed. Thom Weaver’s lighting effects, especially the falling snow and quick blackouts, and James Swonger’s sound effects, all added to the wonderment, though one might wonder, besides trying to create a spooky effect, why there was booming thunder during a snow storm. But, that matters little. This is a farce more concerned with affect then effect.

Donald Sage Mackay is Holmes. His tall, lanky physique, pointed nose, and Holmesian attitude are all spot on. Patricia Kilgarriff is a hoot as his curmudgeon mother, who almost kills their dog in her attempt to punish Daria Chase (Erika Rolfsrud) the bad, bad lady theatre critic.

(Why is it that at present there are two shows running in the area which damn theatre critics…this production and Ensemble’s AT NICHOLAS? We are kind hearted people who even give positive reviews to plays that damn us!)

Back to the cast. Rolfsrud makes for a great villain. She even got some complimentary boos during the curtain call. It’s amazing she isn’t all black and blue from the slamming down and around that happens to her.

Sarah Day is delightful as mannish Inspector, Harriet Gorin. She’s Miss Marple (The Agatha Christie character) and Jessica Fletcher (MURDER, SHE WROTE) all rolled into one.

Rob McClure is boyish ingénue-right as Simon Bright. Though she physically fits the role of the blonde innocent, Aggie Wheeler, Mattie Hawkinson’s high pitched voice becomes grating after a while.

Lise Bruneau (Madge Geisel) and Eric Hissom (Felix Geisel) are fine as a bickering couple.

Capsule judgement: THE GAME’S AFOOT is a perfect holiday treat that will delight audiences. It’s a go-see fun evening of theatre.