Saturday, April 27, 2013

THE LYONS roar at Dobama

A New York reviewer once wrote, “If I have to see one more play about a dysfunctional family, I’m going to commit suicide.”  Broadway and local audiences may be thinking the same thing after being exposed to the likes of two productions of NEXT TO NORMAL, RICH GIRL, SORDID LIVES, SPANK, and SONS OF THE PROPHET, within a short period of time. 

Ah, yes, Nicky Silver’s THE LYONS is yet another of those “We’ve got ‘tsuris’ plays,”  scripts that, according to the English definition of the Yiddish term, are tales with problems and angst.

Silver is noted for his “go-for-the-laugh” style.  He writes sitcoms for the stage.  It’s been said of him, “Silver never met a pain he couldn’t laugh at.”  Even the titles of his plays reflect that attitude.  Think…FAT MEN IN SKIRTS, THE AGONY AND THE AGONY, FREE WILL AND WANTON LUST.

THE LYONS, as is true with many of the writer’s works, showcases his recurring themes of the prodigal son as disappointment and challenging the homophobic stereotypes of gay men.

With all that said, THE LYONS is the kind of play and production which will delight many and frustrate some.  Some will leave thinking, “And, I thought our family was screwed up.  Compared to the Lyons, we’re the Cleavers of television’s 1950’s LEAVE IT TO BEAVER. ”

Ben Lyons is lying in a hospital room dying of cancer.  He will not go gently into this good night.   He screams, swears, and degrades his visitors.  He says to his daughter, “Your mother is a bitch,” dismisses his son’s attempt to make peace by rejecting the boy’s statement of “I forgive you for letting me know I was the child you never wanted.” He forbids his wife from changing the furniture in the living room because he was responsible for “every rear-end indent in the sofa.”  Yes, this is a miserable man!

His wife, who states, “My whole life was a long parade of disappointments,” reveals on the day of her husband’s funeral that she is flitting off to Aruba that night with her daughter’s young male Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor. 

The daughter, who relapses after months of sobriety, has two sons by an physically abusive  husband she met at AA, but for whom she still lusts.  She has found solace in befriending a terminally ill man, who occupies a room on the same floor as her father.  He was introduced to her by her mother.  When her brother objects with the statement, “But, he’s dying,” the mother states, “Nobody’s perfect.”

The gay son lives in a fantasy world of invented boyfriends.  He’s so warped that he is the poster boy for The Great Lie Theory, which indicates that if you tell a lie enough you begin to believe it’s true.  These are not fictitious boyfriends, they are real to the warped Curtis.  As a result of one of his fantasies, the obsession with the handsome young man whose apartment window faces Curtis’s, and on whom he spies, Curtis gets beaten up and winds up in the same hospital room that his father occupied.

Yes, this family has “tsuris” and we watch the pain play out before our eyes.  Yet, due to Silver’s penchant for high humor in an absurdist way, THE LYONS, at least in the first act, is a laugh fest.  The second act sets us up for watching their world crash in bizarre ways.

Dobama’s production, under the smart direction of the theatre’s new artistic director, Nathan Motta, milks the lines for all they are worth.  The character development is generally well honed, the pacing appropriately fast, the humored horror is focused.

Dudley Swetland screams his way through the role of Ben Lyons with such ferocity that it’s a wonder he doesn’t wind up in a real hospital bed with a stroke.  Maybe a little more texturing and a little less screaming might have helped, but, as is, he creates a mean, cranky, frustrated, self and other loathing lout!

Jeanne Task well plays wife and mother, Rita, part ditz, part woman filled with life’s regrets.  She creates a woman who when confronted with reality, says that she wanted to kill her husband, but “it was just a whim.”  A woman who, instead of facing reality, is going to redo the living room in a “calming blue” because “even the carpeting is matted down with dysfunction.”  Task has several long speeches which carry much of the regret of the play.  They are nicely performed.

Anjanette Hall effectively portrays a woman in a sober state of drunkenness, caused by a combination of liquor and depression, which has dulled her senses. 

Christopher M. Bohan (Curtis) walks the fine line between being an overly affected gay man, with being a pathetic troubled liar, with nice texturing.  He is especially effective in the forgiveness speech to his father and the scene where he reveals his maniacal lust for Brian, his fantasy boyfriend.

Sean Grandillo gives a nice straightforward interpretation of Brian, the handsome young man who is the focus of Curtis’s fantasies.

Joyce M. Meadows plays the nurse with professional efficiency.

Laura Carlson’s multi-setting scenic design, works well as do Michael Roesch’s appropriately selected musical interludes. 

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  Nicky Silver’s absurdist play, THE LYONS, gets an excellent production at Dobama.  The balance between comedy and tragedy should get positive audience response and inspire some personal awareness.

THE LYONS runs through March 17, 2013  at Dobama Theatre.  Call 216-932-3396 or for tickets.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

RICH GIRL, a sure to please the audience production at Cleveland Play House

The plot:  self-made vindictive wealthy person, inhibited daughter, handsome suitor who may be after her money, parent attempts to torpedo the relationship.  Sound familiar?  It should.  That’s basically the storyline of the Henry James novella WASHINGTON SQUARE and the play and film, THE HEIRESS.  It’s also the basic description of Victoria Stewart’s RICH GIRL which takes from the past, but the play which is opening  Cleveland Play House’s 2013 NEW. THEATRE. FESTIVAL., adds comedy, infuses a little intrigue, and takes a 21st century twist.

The story centers on Eve and her daughter, Claudine.  Eve, is a self-made woman with a very large chip on her shoulder regarding men, and a mission to make sure that all women of means go into marriage with a pre-nup.

Eve’s marriage, which produced Claudine, ended when her husband, after years of being supported by Eve, walked out when he finally “made it.”  Eve develops a large foundation with a healthy endowment.  She becomes a television empire financial expert and evangelist--think CNBC’s Suze Ormand--with a large female following.

Obsessive compulsive Eve manages the world around her.  She controls the foundation, her assistant, her daughter, her apartment, and everything that enters her sphere, even, for a while, the cancer which she has fought into remission.  Suddenly her sphere is invaded by Henry, a young, handsome and charismatic theatrical actor and director, who attended a prestigious eastern academy with the shy, inhibited, klutzy Claudine.  Henry has applied to the foundation for funding.  Claudine, who is an intern at the foundation, has been told to refuse him.

She does so, but much to Eve’s displeasure, the duo gradually develop a relationship.  Mamma dearest suspects Henry’s only interest in the daughter, who she perceives as having many negative physical and psychological characteristics, is his desire to latch on to Claudine’s money.

What follows is both a funny and intriguing tale of women and their relationships with men, other women, and money, which ends with Claudine having to make a decision about whether to agree with her mother about Henry’s intensions. 

Stewart’s script is well-written, though one might question whether the ending would have been more emotionally wrought if the last blackout would have come fifteen second earlier.  (No, I won’t reveal what happens as it ruins the ending.)  As is, the conclusion leaves us semi-hanging, rather than completely left on our own to figure out the outcome.

The production, with this same cast and director, premiered the play at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, New Jersey this past March to very positive reviews.

The cast is headed by Lakewood native Dee Hoty who earned her equity card at CPH.   She went on from here to become one of Broadway’s favorite leading ladies, earning three Tony nominations.

Later this month she will be inducted into the Cleveland Play House’s Hall of Fame.  Past inductees include Joel Gray, Dom DeLuise, Margaret Hamilton, Ed Asner, David Frazier, and Marlo Thomas.  Each of the inductees has made “meaningful contributions to CPH.”

Hoyt dominates the stage as Eve.  This is a focused, well conceived characterization.  She doesn’t portray the character, but consumes it from beginning to end.

Crystal Finn well transforms from the inhibited Claudine, who we meet early, into a motivated leader, who we view at the conclusion.  But, even channeling in that growth, Finn has developed a person who still retains the underlying vulnerability of a girl/woman with insecurities.

Liz Larsen, creates the proper levels of humor and sincerity as Maggie, Eve’s assistant and Claudine’s only true friend.  She has a nice touch for comedy.

Tony Roach is convincing as Henry, Claudine’s handsome suitor.  He wisely develops the role so that we are never quite sure if he is a charlatan, after Claudine’s money, or a nice guy who loves and wants to protect her.

Wilson Chin’s set design allows for easy flow from restaurant, to television studio, to grand New York apartment.  This is another good example of the value of CPH’s move into its new homes.  The effects that Chin creates on the thrust stage would have been impossible in the theatre’s previous proscenium arched spaces.

Michael Bloom has paced the show well, aided the cast to develop focused characterizations, and done a nice job of building both the humor and the pathos.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  RICH GIRL grabs and holds the attention, the cast is strong, and the technical aspects excellent.  Go see this sure-fire audience pleaser!

RICH GIRL runs through May 19 at the Second Stage Theatre of the Allen complex in PlayhouseSquare.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

THE ICEMAN COMETH,  a four-hour marathon at Ensemble

Eugene O’Neill, along with such writers as Anton Chekhov, Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg, transformed western theatre.  They transitioned the stage from a place for escapist ideas into a mecca for the examination of real life problems.  The quartet laid the foundation for what is now known as “the modern theatre” and laid the groundwork for such luminaries as Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams and William Inge. 

O’Neill wrote in the dialect of the area of the country in which his plays are set.  He looked at a wide view of the population, and examined the struggle of people to set goals, maintain their hopes and dreams, and confront disillusionment and despair.

O’Neill was extremely prolific.  Between 1914 and 1983, he wrote over 30 plays including such masterpieces as ANNA CHRISTI, THE EMPEROR JONES, DESIRE UNDER THE ELMS, MORNING BECOMES ELECTRA, LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN, all with serious themes, and one comedy, AH,WILDERNESS.  He won the Nobel Prize and four Pulitzer Prizes for Drama.

One of his epic scripts, THE ICEMAN COMETH is in production at Ensemble Theatre.

The script was first professionally staged in 1946 and centers on Harry Hope’s Greenwich Village bar and rooming house.  It’s 1912.  The patrons, a group of alcoholics who use liquor to dull their senses, spend day after day, year after year, inside the establishment, forming a dysfunctional family.  Most are penniless, living off the generosity of the owner, who is psychologically no better off than his customers.  Three prostitutes hang around the place which is run by two bartenders.  

The group looks forward to the semi-annual visits of Theodore Hickman, know to them as Hickey.  Hickey, who buys them all booze, tells funny stories, and relates mythical tales about his wife and her so-called iceman boyfriend, who supposedly shows up when Hickey leaves on one of his selling trips.

Hickey is due as it’s Harry’s birthday.  There is much anticipation.  Hickey arrives, but is seemingly a different person.  Instead of a jokester, he preaches that “honesty with yourself leads to true peace.”  He attempts to motive the men to turn off their pipe dreams and return to the real world.  They each go forth to face the world without the protection of their liquored personas.  The results are disastrous, the goals unmet, and the play ends with a revelation and disillusionment.

THE ICEMAN COMETH is not an easy sit.  It’s four hours of philosophical investigation of anarchism, socialism, depression and despair.

The Ensemble production, under the direction of Ian Wolfgang Hinz, is well paced.  The major problem, besides the length, is the poorly staged ending. 

Unfortunately, to reveal the problem requires telling part of the shocking conclusion of the play, but there is no way to avoid it.  One of the characters commits suicide.  We hear what sounds like a gun shot but the script lines relate that the victim jumped from a window.  In addition, the person who is supposed to see him jump is placed on a staircase from which he could not possibly see the act, resulting in a confounding ending.

The cast is universally excellent.  Dana Hart as Hickey textures his role with realism.  His almost half-hour fourth act monologue, though overly long, is compellingly presented. 

Other impressive performances include Mitch Rose (Willie) who goes through agonizing alcoholic shivers and withdrawal before our eyes. 

Michael Regnier (Harry) vividly portrays his character’s agoraphobia. 

Robert Hawkes (Larry Slade) is the intellect held captive by his need to escape from past reality or face profound despair. 

Bobby Williams (Joe), effectively develops the black man who carries the strong O’Neill messages of bitterness and envy.

Valerie Young is pathetically real as the hooker who wants a different life, but can’t escape from this all encompassing world. 

Capsule judgement:  THE ICEMAN COMETH is a daunting undertaking.  It has a huge mostly male cast, all of whom have major speeches.  Keeping an audience’s attention for four act, is nearly impossible.  Ensemble should be praised for not only the general quality of this production, but for taking on staging this classic.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Charming re-imagined CINDERELLA with a social message

Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II, the fathers of the modern American musical, were advocates of social responsibility.  In OKLAHOMA, they stressed the building of community, in SOUTH PACIFIC they pegged prejudice, and in THE KING AND I, the duo examined intercultural understandings. 

They would be pleased to know that Douglas Carter Beane, who wrote the new book for their 1957 for-television musical, CINDERELLA, has picked up their social cause theme and added the need for civility, and that there can be democracy within a monarch, and a plea for forgiveness, to their fairy tale story. 

Fairy tales have been the subject of many Broadway musicals, including BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, INTO THE WOODS, and THE LITTLE MERMAID.  As evidenced by the many little girls adorned with tiaras and chiffon gowns at CINDERELLA, Broadway’s newest tale of happily-ever-after, it may be one of the most beloved fantasy stories.  Interestingly, more than a few adult females stopped at the merchandise sales booth to buy their own rhinestone headgear.

The legendary Cinderella story centers on the put-upon Ella, an orphaned girl, being brought up by her mean stepmother and harassing sisters, who is forced to do manual labor and sit by the fireplace, thus being tagged “Cinder-Ella.”   The handsome prince of the kingdom is looking for a bride.  A ball is held to showcase the country’s female candidates.  Of course, while her sisters are invited, Ella is not.  Her fairy godmother (a forest bag lady) arranges for a pumpkin to be transformed into a golden coach, mice into horses, forest creatures into footmen, and dresses the young lady in princess garb.  And, of course, there are the glass slippers, her appearance at the ball, the prince falling in love, the search for his ladylove, and the happily ever-after ending. 

But this script doesn’t exactly totally follow the tale’s traditional story line.

Beane’s version cuts out the king and queen, and adds new characters, such as Jean-Michel, a peasant political do-gooder, who lusts after Cinderella’s nice sister, Gabriella, and Sebastian, the prince’s mean-spirited advisor.  He has made the prince, Topher (short for Christopher and about middle six names), into a naïve youth who transforms before our eyes into a benevolent leader and all-around nice guy.  The changes work well, adding some mild intrigue. 

The score includes such favorites as “In My Own Little Corner of the World,” “Impossible,” “It’s Possible,” “A Lovely Night,” “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful,” and “There’s Music In You.”

There has also been some adding of Rogers and Hammerstein songs that never made it into any of the duo’s original script, but remained for future use.  The future has arrived and the score has been enhanced with “Me, Who Am I,” “Loneliest of Evening,” The Pursuit,” and “Now Is the Time.”

The production, under the creative direction of Mark Brokaw, with choreography by Josh Rhodes, is full of visual enjoyment.  Images transform the stage into a forest, complete with puppet animals, the prince riding on a great steed, and a golden coach with prancing horses.  There’s  Cinderella’s house and the palace with the stairs on which the glass slipper is lost. 

Costume illusions dazzle the imagination.  (One little girl, after Cinderella’s simple frock transformed into a beautiful ball gown, squealed, “How did that happen?  It’s magic!”  It was a question and answer that many adults probably thought but were too inhibited to voice their wonderment.

The cast is universally appealing.  Laura Osnes (Cinderella) was seen on Broadway as the female lead in BONNIE AND CLYDE and ANYTHING GOES.  She looks like a princess, sings like a Broadway star, and has all the qualities to not only entrance a prince, but an audience.

Santino Fontana as Toper (the prince) isn’t the typical tall, dark and handsome Broadway star.  What he is, is a charmer with a great singing voice, and the acting skills to make for a believable naïve spoiled young man, thrust into the role of being a king to be, who transforms into a benevolent monarch, with the aid of a wise woman and a rabble-rousing do-gooder.  His duets with Osnes are show highlights.

Ann Harada, known to TV audiences for her continuing role in SMASH, adds laugh-delight as Charlotte, the prince-lusting evil step sister.

Both Greg Hildreth, as Jean-Michel, the do-good campaigner, and Marla Mindelle (Gabrielle) his lady love and nice step-sister, well develop their roles. Hildreth’s “Now Is the Time,” adds the show’s political heart.

Peter Bartlett, makes for a gentle evil-guy as Sebastian. He’s nasty, but not enough to scare the kiddies.

Victoria Clark creates Marie, the itinerant woodland wanderer turned fairy godmother, into a charming character.  She has a lovely singing voice and strong stage presence.  Harriet Harris uses farcical humor to create Madam as a less than fearsome wicked step-mother.

The beautiful and very hummable score is well played by the large pit orchestra.

Clevelanders will be pleased to see that The Araca Group, composed of hometown boys Matthew Rego, Michael Rego and Hank Unger are among the producers of CINDERELLA, adding to their other hits which include WICKED, ROCK OF AGES, and URINETOWN.

Capsule judgement:  The first-ever Broadway staging of Rogers and Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA is delightful.  No, this isn’t a great musical, but it will offend no one, delight many, and just the names Roger and Hammerstein and CINDERELLA will insure a long run, road shows, and lots of tiara sales.

ROGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN’S CINDERELLA is in an open-ended run at The Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway at 53rd Street.

Roy Berko
(Member:  American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)
Playwright Christopher Durang, who is noted for his absurdist ideas, has incorporated “pieces-parts” of three Chekov plays (THE CHERRY ORCHARD, UNCLE VANYA and THE WILD DUCK) and lots of Greek tragedy references into his hysterically funny VANYA AND SONYA AND MASHA AND SPIKE.

Does it help to know the sources of the bizarre plot takeoffs?   It might, but it could even get in the way of just sitting and having a great time watching master actors take laugh inducing material, and create great comedy.

It’s Buck’s county, Pennsylvania.  There is an attractive country house situated on the shore of a lovely lake, where a loon visits daily, and life seems serene until we observe 57-year old Vanya and his 52-year old spinster step-sister Sonia wallowing in their life regrets.  They’ve led solitary lives centering on taking care of their now deceased parents.  Now, the duo is left to realize that they both put aside any chance for personal happiness.

Vanya reads and seems to internally wonder about acting on his gay impulses.  Sonia, a psychological hypochondriac, wallows in her being adopted, and stressing her fondest memory, that of her father calling her his “little artichoke” and that he “never molested me.”   But, at least they have the pleasure of living in this lovely setting.

As in any good Chekov-invoked story, realistic conflict must rear its ugly head.  The problem comes in the form of their self-absorbed, controlling, insecure sister Masha, who has become well known for her role in a series of films where she played a nymphomaniac pscyho-killer.  Masha sweeps in with Spike, her studly boy toy, who has trouble keeping his clothes on.  She announces she is having money problems and is going to sell the house.

Absurdity reigns as Masha commands that they are going to a neighbor’s swanky costume party.  She is going as Snow White, Spike as Prince Charming, and the rest as her dwarfs.  Spike skirts off in his very brief black briefs, finds a cute young girl (Nina) by the water who he brings home, much to Masha’s irritation.  The cleaning lady (Cassandra), an amateur practitioner of voodoo, starts sticking pins in a Snow White dressed doll to create pain for Masha each time she thinks about selling the house and making predictions which amazingly come true.  

Frustrated by the presence of Spike, a young man who represents attitudes of instant gratification, as well as the changing world, society’s loss of innocence, and his loss of hope, Vanya rants through a hysterical and breathtaking eight-minute tirade about television shows, postage stamps that don’t have to be licked, tweeting, instant gratification, and all the other ills of modern society.

Much against Marsha’s wishes, Sonia decides to go to the party as the wicked witch.  Beautifully attired, and feigning a British accent, she attracts positive attention, and a potential suitor, while Masha’s outfit confounds.  Of course, this is too much for the insecure Masha, and overblown angst ensues.

Spike reveals that he is sneaking off to the Caribbean with Masha’s assistant, and is sent packing, further enhancing the chaos.

How does it all end?   Realization, hope, and maybe a happy ending, but with Durang writing a la Chekov, who knows, and who cares, since a good time is had by all.

The script is studded with philosophical and humorous lines, such as “If everyone took antidepressants, Chekov would have nothing to write about,” and a series of self-loathing pity parties, which only highlight the humor.

The cast is wonderful.  Each character is clearly etched.  David Hyde Pierce makes “Uncle” Vanya totally his.  He is pathetic and endearing, dramatic and dynamic, and plays humor like a fine musician playing a well-tuned violin.

Kristin Nielson almost steals the show as the self-loathing Sonia.   She knows how to play comedy.  Her timing, facial expressions, and other nonverbal signals are endearing and laugh invoking.

Sigourney Weaver weaves a web of hyper-superficiality as the sister from hell.  Her sparring matches with her siblings all hit the target.  Her desire to hold on to her boy toy creates humorous acts of desperation.

Sensual Billy Magnussen (Spike), with his gym sculpted body and undulating abs, has the very difficult task of creating a Ken doll with such sincerity and lack of inhibition that he is perceived as real and not an overblown stereotype.   He pulls off the feat with admirable ease.

Shalita Grant is delightfully endearing as the voodoo-spouting cleaning woman and Genevieve Angelson is properly charming as Nina, the waif Spike brings home from the beach.

Director Nicholas Martin wisely paces the action with an emphasis on the humor, yet leads his actors to stress the reality of the characters.  David Korin’s realistic set creates the right moods, as does Emily Rebholz’s costumes and Justin Townsend’s lighting.

Capsule judgement:  VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE is a well performed, creatively written, laugh fest that should have a long Big Apple run and become a favorite vehicle for community theatres across the country.

VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE is in an open running run at the Golden Theatre , 252 W. 45th Street in New York.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus perform the epic CARMINA BURANA
The Cleveland Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, and the Children’s Chorus and three soloists combined to perform Orff’s masterpiece, CARMINA BURANA, for four sold out performances.

The epic sounds of one of the world’s greatest orchestras, and its renowned choruses and guest soloists (Nicholas Phan, Stephen Powell, Rebecca Nelsen), was greeted by a screaming standing ovation at the conclusion of the concert, which continued for four curtain calls.

The many textured moods, from nuanced to spell binding to swelling to forceful, to climactic, were all exceedingly well defined and performed.

The evening started with Bach’s CONCERTO IN A MINOR, usually performed on the keyboard, but in this instance played on an oboe d’amore, a nasal sounding woodwind.   As performed by orchestra member Robert Walters, the soothing rendition was a nice balance to the long and complicated     CARMINA BURANA.

The program was directed by James Feddeck, filling in for the ill Franz Welser-Möst.  Feddeck is a delight to watch as he flows with the music, arms creating pictures in space, body almost dancing, face reflecting the various moods.

Bittersweet evening for Inlet Dance

Inlet Dance, Bill Wade’s innovative company, had a bittersweet experience in its latest concert, which was part of Cleveland Public Theatre’s DANCEWORKS ’13.
The program, which featured a world premiere, was mainly composed of dances from the group’s repertoire.  This was intentionally done, as this program brought to a close the dance career of Justin Stentz, one of the area’s best, if not the very best, male dancers.

Stentz, who joined the company’s training program in 2005, was promoted to apprentice status in 2007 and the next year was made a member of the company.  He has been studying to be a Physician’s Assistant, and will start pursuing that career goal-full time.

The handsome Stentz, whose sculpted body lends itself to powerful gymnastics and physical moves, has a keen sense of the dramatic while on stage.  His face and body clearly reflect the changing moods of the music and the message of the piece being performed.  His coupling with Joshua Brown, another proficient dancer, have created some of the most dynamic pieces showcased on local stages.  Stentz will be very difficult to replace.

The program opened with LET GO, which featured dynamic choreography consisting of running, flips, carries, and male-female reverse role interactions.  The exhausting piece probed working through past issues, learning, forgiving, and letting go as a means to maturity and freedom.

imPAIRed is a signature Stentz showcase.  Coupling with Elizabeth Pollert, the duo, having gone through experiences while in residency at the Cleveland Sight Center, dance the entire piece blindfolded.   Imagery, intimacy, and tension are evident as the couple moves near, on and over each other i perfect partnership.

BALListic is an Inlet “have fun” segment.  Dressed in bug-inspired blue costumes, the dancers use huge red balls to bounce, jump on, roll over, and as catapults for flips.  Their funny faces, slurping sounds and joyous movements create a feeling of absolute joy.

A much repeated Inlet favorite, A CLOSE SHAVE, highlights the artistic and dramatic flair of both Stentz and Brown.  Creating a dual image of actions on both sides of an imaginary mirror, the morning activities of shaving and face washing become synchronized dance movements.

In her book THE FOUR ELEMENTS OF SUCCESS, Laurie Beth Jones describes how each person has characteristics of one personality type.  Wade, a proponent of Jones’s philosophy, is creating a four or five installment piece illustrating each element.  The recent program contained two of the segments:  WATER, created in 2011, and its companion piece, AIR, in its world premiere.
Both WATER and AIR illuminate the attitudes, moods, thinking styles of those classified as having Water or Air personality elements via impressive choreography.

Capsule judgement: The Cleveland dance scene bids a farewell to Justin Stentz and though he will be sorely missed, the intelligent and talented young man moves forward into a helping career where he will transfer from entertaining people, to saving their lives.  Inlet Dance and its audiences will miss Justin.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

none too fragile’s WHITE PEOPLE, wrenching, powerful theater!

What does is feel like to be uncomfortable in your own skin, even when you think you know, understand, and act like a moral and good person?  What happens when a playwright forces the viewer to have an unsettling, sobering experience by forcing him or her to challenge assumptions about race, what it means to be an American, and be brutally frank about the language we use?  These are just some of the reasons J. T. Rogers’ play, WHITE PEOPLE’ is such a hard, but valuable sit-through.

WHITE PEOPLE, now on stage at none too fragile theater, is what Rogers terms, “theater that engages the public realm.” Rogers asks, “What does it mean to be a white American?”  “What does it mean for any American to live in a country that is not the one you were promised?”

The play is sobering.  It is unsettling.  It is a  valuable experience for those open-minded enough to absorb the author’s message.  It is the kind of message that stays with you long after the production is over.

The dark, yet sometimes funny play centers on three Americans.  Martin, a Brooklyn-born type-A high powered perfectionist lawyer, now living in St. Louis, Missouri, has very specific values by which he lives, including what to wear, how to speak, and what makes for a proper work ethic.  He has tried to pass these on to his children and is confronted by the realities of life, when many parts of his world collapse around him.

Mara Lynn, a twanging young mother from Fayetteville, NC, who was the high school beauty queen, finds herself in a marriage with her high school love who was a high school hero, who was injured, lost his college wrestling scholarship, is floundering in a job he hates and is passed over for promotions by “foreigners.”  They are parents of an epileptic son who is being treated by a “foreign” doctor who Mara Lynn feels looks down on her.  She pleads to understand why others, not “Americans” are living a life she, a white women whose roots go deep into American soil, is being pushed aside by “those people.”

Allen is a young historical anthropology professor who finds himself in New York teaching many black students who he believes don’t have the desire to succeed.  He is filled with angst and frustration as he recounts a set of interactions with one of his students, and an experience when he and his pregnant wife are attacked by ghetto thugs.

Guilt, prejudice, and the price we pay for not only our actions, but that of others is central to WHITE PEOPLE.

The none too fragile production, under the focused direction of Sean Derry, is compelling.  Robert Branch is excellent as the moralistic Martin.  He is uptight down to his starched white boxer shorts and non-polyester suit and perfect blue shirt.  Michael Gatto creates in Allen a man who is an expert in his study or race and history, who has difficulty living his understandings.  Kelly Strand, though she loses her accent at times, is realistically pathetic as Mara Lynn.  She often stands, staring out in space, internally trying to understand what is going on and why. They each are so real that we identify and suffer with their inner pain.

The performance space is a small thrust stage with audience members no more than ten feet away from the action.   The three-section creative set is cramped.  All this adds to intensifying the  message by making the ideas up close and personal.

Capsule judgement:  WHITE PEOPLE is very well worthwhile for anyone who thinks that gaining insight into personal ideas and values is a mission of theatre.  You won’t leave this production the same person as when you entered.  This is compelling theater!

WHITE PEOPLE runs through May 11, 2013 at none too fragile theater which is located in Bricco’s Restaurant, 1841 Merriman Road, Akron.  Use the free valet parking, as car space is limited.  For tickets call 330-671-4563 or go to

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Stratford Shakespeare Festival, a place of discovery and delight

Want to get away this spring, summer or fall?  Drive to Canada for great theatre, good food, and nice scenery.  This year marks the 61st anniversary of the Stratford Festival of Canada.

This season’s 12 productions in the Festival’s four theatres are:
ROMEO AND JULIET—Shakespeare’s tale of youthful passion which dares to challenge generations of enmity in the most famous love story ever told. (May 1-October 19)
FIDDLER ON THE ROOF—The poignant musical tale of family, faith and tradition, with such songs as ’If I Were a Rich Man” and “Sunrise, Sunset.”(April 23-October 20)
THE THREE MUSKETEERS--an adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ epic swashbuckling novel of intrigue and adventure in 18th century France.  (May 18-October 19)
THE MERCHANT OF VENICE--Shakespeare’s controversial look at intolerance and the vengeance it provokes. (July 30-October 18)
TOMMY, The Who’s classic rock tale of a traumatized child who becomes a “Pinball Wizard.”  (May 4-October 19)
BLITHE SPIRIT—Noel Coward’s tale of ghosts, second marriages, séances, mischief and wit. (May 16-October 20)
OTHELLO—Shakespeare’s tragic tale of love, betrayal, vengeance and relationship destruction.  (August 4-October 19)
MEASURE FOR MEASURE—The Bard of Avon satirically takes on sex, the church and the state, while questioning the very nature of virtue. (May 18-Setpember 21)
MARY STUART—Even queens become pawns in the life-and-death power struggle driven by faith, fear, ambition and desire. (May 3-September 21)
WAITING FOR GODOT—Samuel Becket’s existential absurdist masterpiece that some consider the greatest play of the 20th century.
TAKING SHAKESPEARE—John Murrell’s celebration of the power of words, and the surprising power of the heart as an aging professor tutors the university president’s floundering son.  (July 13-September 22).
THE THRILL—A love story in which a successful lawyer and fiery activist takes on a right-to-die movement celebrity with consequences that neither has anticipated.  (July 28-September 22).

Besides their regularly scheduled plays, the Festival offers stage-side chats, the Celebrated Writers Series, Night Music, Table Talks, pre-show lectures, lobby talks, public lectures, the teaching Shakespeare School and The Teachers’ Conference.

What’s the lodging like?  Hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts abound to fit any wallet.  I like a b & b.  You get to meet new people and there is a nice friendly feel of being more than a guest.   My favorite is the Avery House (

Hungry?  For moderate cost and high quality, try The Annex Cafe (38 Albert Street) and the Stratford Thai Cuisine (82 Wellington Street).

Packages can be arranged by   Stratford Escapes (, is an efficient way to make reservations.  For individual tickets call 800-567-1600 or go on-line to

Helpful hints: The ride from Cleveland is about six hours through Buffalo.  Go on-line to the festival for directions.  The routings offered by AAA and Yahoo maps are confusing and miles longer.  To satisfy border requirements carry your passport.  Nothing else will do.

Go to Stratford, Canada!  Find out what lovely hosts Canadians are, and see some great theatre!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Compelling WARHORSE grasps the imagination at the Palace

Roy Berko

Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle

One of the fears of seeing a show which I regarded as one of the most mesmerizing that I’ve ever seen, was that the touring company of WARHORSE would fade by comparison.  It did, somewhat, but still came out an exciting winner in the derby called theatre.

WARHORSE, which was originally staged in the US at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre in New York’s Lincoln Center, after a smash London run, is the story of the bond between Albert, a British farm boy, and Joey, his magnificent horse.  It is based on a World War I novel by Michael Morpurgo, as adapted by Nick Stafford.

World War I, the war to end all wars, was a bloody battle in which an estimated 10 million soldiers lost their lives.  An overlooked fact is that, since the conflict was highlighted by cavalry battles, eight million horses were slaughtered.  The steeds were cut down as the weapons of warfare, including barbed wire, machine guns, cannons and armored tanks, became the weapons of destruction.  Animals were no match for these instruments.

The plot travels from the English countryside to the fields of France and Germany.  Joey, a colt, which was bought by Albert’s father in a drunken bidding contest with his hated brother, has developed into a prized horse.  At the start of the war, the father, enticed by money, sells the animal to the British military.  Distraught, underage Albert enlists in an attempt to search out and save his steed.  Through a series of searing battles we see how horse and boy eventually are reunited.

WARHORSE won 2011 Tony Awards for best play, directing, scenic design, lighting and sound design, plus a special award for Handspring Puppet Company of South Africa for creating all the realistic animals (horses, birds and a hysterically funny goose).   Every one of those citations was well deserved.

The visual elements of the production are impresively honed.  The battle scenes are scary and realistic, especially since this is a live stage production, not a movie where scenes are done over and over and graphics added.  The death and carnage of humans and animals is engrossing.  Projections and physical elements, barbed wire, and bomb explosions, fill the stage.  Birds fly, weather changes, people and animals live and die.

Nothing is more impressive than the life-sized puppet horses.  They are magnificent creatures which are ridden, whinny, display unique personalities, and become living creatures before our eyes.  The only technical thing missing in the touring production, besides the stylized armored tanks, was the lack of change in physical size as the steeds become malnourished.

Even the musical interludes, which help tell the story, are focused and encompassing.

Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr’s direction and Toby Sedgwick’s horse choreography are flawless.  The staging is mind-boggling.

The cast is excellent.  Local theatre goers recognized Andrew May, long time Cleveland Play House and Great Lakes Theatre actor and director, as the tender-hearted, horse loving Captain Muller, the German officer.  As came to be expected in his local appearances, May was excellent.   Outside of the horses, May got the loudest applause during the curtain call.

Alex Morf makes young Albert so real that his agony becomes ours.  Angela Reed, as Albert’s mother, personifies a woman caught between the love for her son and finding a way to live with her often drunk and sullen husband. Megan Loomis as Song Woman and John Loughlin as Song Man create numerous emotional moments with their music.  In the huge cast, there is not a weak performance.

The audience appreciation was evident by the resounding curtain call.  The human actors were applauded, the horses got an extended standing ovation, and  even the goose got screams of approval.

Capsule judgement: Filled with amazing puppetry, stirring music, a riveting story, compelling graphics, and fine acting, WARHORSE is mesmerizing must see theatre.
WARHORSE runs through April 21, 20013 as part of the Key Bank Broadway Series at the Palace Theatre in downtown Cleveland.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go on-line to

Monday, April 08, 2013

Actors’ Summit motherhood out loud—delightful, thought provoking

The great fear of realizing that MOTHERHOOD OUT LOUD is a series of vignettes which look at varying phases of motherhood, is that it will turn out to be a Hallmark sentimental mindless experience.  Fear not.  The eighteen authors of the vignettes avoid making the experience sappy and purely entertaining.  Instead, there is a balance of humor, pathos, and social commentary.

Four actors, play multiple roles, examining life in a full circuit birth to rebirth process, starting with the delivery experience of three women (“Fast Births”—Michele Lowe), and end with the birth experience (“My Baby”—Annie Weisman).  Yes, life is a circular process.  In between, we view sleep deprivation (“Next to the Crib”—Brooke Berman), play dates “New Motherhood”—Lisa Loomer), the first day of school (“First Day Fugue”—Michele Lowe), child as transgendered being (“Queen Esther”—Michele Lowe), international adoption (“Baby Bird”—Theresa Rebeck), gay parenthood (“If We’re Using a Surrogate, How Come I’m the One with Morning Sickness”—Marco Pennette), sex education (“Sextalk Fugue”—Michele Lowe), the plight of both the daughter’s first period and being an immigrant mother (“Nooha’s List”—Lameece Issaq), step-motherhood  (“My Almost Family”—Luanne Rice), autism (“Michael’s Date”—Michele Lowe), graduation from high school (“Graduation Day Fuge”—Michele Lowe), empty nest syndrome (“Threesome”—Leslie Ayvazian), going off to war (“Stars and Stripes”—Jessica Goldberg), holidays (‘Thanksgiving Fugue”—Michele Lowe), the onset of depression and dementia (“Elizabeth”—David Cale); and generational differences (“Report on Motherhood”—Beth Henley).

Sounds like a lot in a short 90-minute period of time, but under Constance Thackaberry’s insightful directing, the time moves quickly, the characterizations are well etched, there is a nice texturing of meaning, and comedy and pathos are well developed. 

The cast are all excellent, with Paula Kline-Messner shining.  Her “Queen Esther,” and “Stars and Stripes” are show highlights, as is Gabriel Riazi’s “If We’re Using a Surrogate, How Come I’m the one with Morning Sickness.”  Other highlights are Messner and Sarah Grewitt’s “Report on Motherhood.“  Shani Ferry is consistent in her various roles.

The set, a series of platforms, backed up by a wall of bicycles, strollers, stuffed animals, wagons, and baby toys is a perfect visual image for the goings on.

Capsule judgement: MOTHERHOOD OUT LOUD is a delightful, thought provoking evening of theatre that should be positively perceived by all audience members. 

For tickets to, which runs through, call 330-374-7568 or go to

Sunday, April 07, 2013

PERHAPS PERICLES, a maybe Shakespeare script, at Cesear’s Forum

It’s the responsibility of the director of a theatrical production to set the ideas, tone and movement of the actors on stage.  Sometimes, the director collaborates with the actors by allowing them input on textual decisions as well as line interpretation.  Imagine what would happen when a director allows such input on a production of William Shakespeare’s PERICLES.  This is the premise of PERHAPS PERICLES, now on stage at Cesear’s Forum.

PERHAPS PERICLES has a strange provenance.  It is sometimes credited to Shakespeare, but does not appear in the first two his folios, and only sketchily in the third.  Some sources believe that the script was written by George Wilkins, an English dramatist, pamphleteer, inn-keeper and criminal.  This theory is based on his 1608 novel, THE PAINFUL ADVENTURES OF PERICLES, PRYNCE OF TYRE, which was supposedly a true history of Pericles, he of Greek legend. 

The borrowing of Shakespeare’s writing about Pericles (PERICLES, PRINCE OF TYRE, a play written late in the Bard’s life) for this script, makes sense as the play’s first act (actually the first two acts in the original version) basically is a debate on what to include and not include in the telling of the Pericles legend.  The last act (three acts in the original version) are what sounds to be the Bard’s telling of the tale.  To add to the mystery, Greg Cesear, Cesear's Forum’s Artistic Director, has further honed this version.

Assuming Shakespeare did have anything to do with the script, it would be classified as one of his “romance tales.”  These tend to be highly improbable, often event miraculous happenings, asking the viewer to suspend disbelief and to watch and listen with the wonder of a child. 

As the play is conceived and developed by Cesear, the romance tale description fits. 

In brief, the story centers on a feud between Pericles and Antiochus, a king who is having an incestuous affair with his daughter.   Pericles marries and has a daughter.  Thinking Pericles knows of his evil deed, Antiochus sets out to destroy him.  His life in peril, Pericles flees. Years later,  thinking his wife and daughter are dead, Pericles encounters and recognizes Mariana, his daughter.  He has a dream which instructs him to travel to Ephesus, where he is reunited with his wife, and the trio live happily ever after.  Yes, this is a romance tale.

In the Cesear's Forum version, four actors read and analyze the text, portray disjointed segments and various roles, and, according to the director, examine the role of family in society.

The production works on some levels, stumbles on others.

On the positive side, the actors are generally good, and the action moves right along.  Tricia Bestic and Rachel Wolin are excellent.

The difficulty is that unless you know the story of Pericles, the goings-on may be too abstract, especially since the flow of ideas is fragmented.  In addition, while they are quite effective, there is some over-shouting by John Kolibab (who mainly portrays Pericles) and Gilgamesh Taggett (as Antiochus and the director).  Though they convey their characters’ motivations, the loud volume in the small performance space becomes somewhat overbearing.   The same effect could have been accomplished with emphasis, rather than volume.

Capsule Judgement:  For those who are interested in seeing a version of what may be the very little performed PERHAPS PERICLES, the Cesear's Forum’s showing is a good opportunity.

PERHAPS PERICLES runs through May 4 at 8 pm on Fridays and Saturdays and 3 pm for the Sunday performances at Cesear’s Forum, located in Kennedy’s Down Under, PlayhouseSquare. For information and reservations call 216-241-6000.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Afrobeat, political commentary FELA! rocks the Palace Theatre  

At the conclusion of FELA!, the Afrobeat political awareness musical, now on stage at the Palace Theatre, caskets are carried onto center stage and piled up.  On top of the stack of caskets, emblazed with names such as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and words such as “freedom,” “bullying” and “oppression,” was a vertical box of death entitled, “Chardon High School.”  Yes, FELA! is filled with music, but it is a wrenching tale of genocide, oppression and death, not only in Nigeria, where the show is set, but across the world, including a Cleveland suburb.

FELA!, which opened Off-Broadway in September of 2008 and, due to positive reviews and audience reaction, was moved onto Broadway in November of 2009, ran until January of 2011.  It won three Tony Awards.

The show’s path to production is quite interesting.  Stephen Hendel, who later, along with Bill T. Jones and Jim Lewis conceived the script, came across a CD of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, who was not only a composer, but a Nigerian underground leader opposed to his country’s controlling and corrupt regime.  Hendel saw the songs as a strong message for the disenfranchised, and so the idea for a show was hatched.

The musical centers on Fela’s days when he was targeted by over 1,000 government soldiers intent on closing down his legendary Lagos nightclub, The Shrine.  A combination of concert, biography, plea for peace, and opposition to oppression, the dance, music and story make for intriguing theatre.

Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat is a mixture of jazz, funk, African harmonies and rhythms.  The sound is created by a blend of modern and African instruments and uses lyrics that attack not only Nigeria’s oppressive dictatorships, but the very nature of hate in the world.  Those lyrics tell story after story of political unrest and human desperation for freedom.  The constant pounding of the music’s beat illuminates Kuti’s belief that “the drumming is the voice of the world.”

Bill T. Jones, who is a master choreographer, has combined the dance movements of Nigeria, with modern concepts to create exciting, sensual and exhilarating staging.  It’s impossible to sit and just watch.  The audience was swaying, shouting, singing, and moving, creating an emotional bonding, mirroring Fela’s mesmerizing effect on his fellow countrymen.

As the so accurate welcome sign in the Palace lobby stated, “First you’ll feel it in your feet.  Then you’ll feel it in your soul.”

The touring production, though too long, is a spectacle of dance, song, projections, strobe lights, and energy.  The performances are excellent.  The singing and dancing of highest quality.  The staging creative.

Handsome, sensual Adesola Osakalumi, who also played the role on Broadway, is compelling as Fela.  He has a fine singing voice, plays various musical instruments, dances well, and totally populates the role.  Part of the show is audience participation, and he handles that difficult task with charm and ease.  Sometimes he is a little hard to understand due to his fidelity in using Nigerian accented English, but this is usually a moot factor as many of the words spoken on stage are projected onto the stage’s backdrop.

Michelle Williams, best known as a member of the R&B/Pop group, Destiny’s Child, sings and acts the role of Fela’s main woman, Sandra Isadore, with ease.

Melanie Marshall displays a wonderful singing voice as Funmilayo, Fela’s mother and muse.
The rest of the cast sings, dances, and develops the correct sounds, movements and concepts.
The ten-piece on-stage band is Afrobeat powerful!

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  FELA! has a compelling story, fantastic choreography, and high production quality. It’s a shame that it was only booked into the Palace for a three-day run.  Positive word of mouth would have propelled the show into a long running box office hit.

Tickets for FELA!, which runs only through April 4, 2013 at the Palace Theatre, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or going to

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

STRUCK examines the brain and strokes at Cleveland Public Theatre

STRUCK, now on stage as Cleveland Public Theatre is an interesting piece, much in the vein of Arthur Kopit’s WINGS, which had a startling production at Beck Center starring Dorothy Silver, in which the ramifications of a person having a stroke is investigated. 

As I tell my psychology students, the brain is a marvelous, but fragile thing.  It is the intellectual center of our very being.   It is constantly in the process of changing, through a process known as coring.   This is what accounts for teenagers seemingly out of the realm of reality, as they respond, “I don’t know,” when asked why they did something.  In reality, as their mind destructs and rebuilds, they aren’t in logical control.  The mind also has neuroplasticity.  It may be able to be remolded, be retrained.  This ability allows individuals who often learn to write with their right hands, if they are a lefty and the limb is injured, to make the adjustment, or to learn again after amnesia hits. 

What happens when a person has a stroke?  The incredibly complex ensemble known as the brain goes haywire.   Thought processes, which happen daily as we think and speak, get interrupted.  Normal tasks such as remembering what has happened in the past, thinking in the present, or projecting into the future become difficult, if not impossible.  What happened?  What is happening?

STRUCK is the tale of Tannis Kowalchuk who, in 2011, suffered a stroke.  Since then, she has been on the road to recovery, which has led her on a search to discover not only what caused the physical problem, but what it means to be human.  The play leads us into her own mind and its attempts at recovery.

The story is not told in a sequential format.  There is no beginning, middle and end, per se.  We are not privy to her recovery, though we are participants in her journey into the world of stroke patient.

As often happens with devised theatre, text, lighting, video, sound and digital effects blend to make the whole.  It is more presentation than focused story telling.  The runway stage, with the audience on both sides of the action, is a whirr of curtains, projected visual images, sounds, flashing lights, and the words of the actors.

STRUCK, a 70-minute, intermissionless, world premiere, coproduction of CPT and the National Cultural Laboratory, is well conceived and performed, though it is more affect then effect.  The video/sound/photography of Dana Duke and Big Twig Studio and the work of video/digital artists Brian Calazza and Brett Keyser, help develop Kowalchuk’s angst, as does Stephen Arnold’s lighting. 

Brett Keyser, who CPT regulars know from his performances in DARWINII:  THE COMEUPANCE OF MAN, OPEN MIND FIRMAMENT, and BLUE SKY TRANSMISSION:  A TIBETAN BOOK OF THE DEAD, is his usual adept self.  TANIS KOWALCHUK is his equal as the stroke victim.

Side note:  There has been WATER WAYS, then EARTH, then NICK AND JEREMY and now, STRUCK.   Cleveland Public Theatre seems obsessed with devised theatre,  productions which have no playwright, but are conceived by the performers and other theatre staff.  There is nothing wrong with devised theatre, and there is surely nothing wrong with STRUCK, but four such shows in a row seems a bit much for a single theatre, in a single season.

Capsule judgement: STRUCK is an interesting piece of devised theatre, that clearly illustrates the angst of a stroke on a human and the fragility of the human mind.

STRUCK runs through April 6  at Cleveland Public Theatre.  For tickets call 216-631-2727 or go on line to

Monday, April 01, 2013

A  wonderfully delightful MUCH ADO at Great Lakes Theater

Boy hates girl. Girl hates boy. Boy overhears that girl is secretly in love with boy; girl hears vice versa.  Other boy and girl love each other, but something gets in the way of their happiness.  That's the basic premise of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, which is now on stage at Great Lakes Theatre.  Throw in a couple of interesting subplots, including an idiotic sheriff, a phony death, an irrational lover (is there any other kind?), and a vengeful half-brother, and you have the makings of one of William Shakespeare’s best comedies.  In fact, the fifth best of all of the Bard’s plays, according to a renowned Shakespeare expert.
MUCH ADO, first published in 1600, was first performed during the winter of 1612-13 during the festivities preceding the marriage of Princess Elizabeth and Frederick Palatine.  It proved to be a sublime battle of wit and will, much like the Bard’s other superb comedy, TAMING OF THE SHREW.
What makes the script very welcoming to North American audiences is that the majority of the text is written in prose, rather than in traditional Shakespeare rhyme.  This allows for an ease in understanding the language.  GLT’s production goes one step further and uses basic Midwestern pronunciation, to further aid.
The story, which Shakespeare set in the sixteenth century in Messina, Sicily, concerns two parallel love stories.  One, between Beatrice, she of quick mind and sharp tongue and her love/hate relationship with Benedick, who also verbally thrusts and parries with Beatrice.  Their match makes for one of the comic tracks of the script. 
Then there is the match between handsome Claudio and the beautiful Hero, who fall in love and are to get married.  Unfortunately for the duo, the villainous Don John slanders Hero with a false tale of sexual infidelity.  The planned wedding turns out to be a shameful disaster when the prospective groom reveals his repulsion for his bride-to-be’s lack of chastity. 
A fake death, uncovering of the nefarious plot against Hero by a quartet of bumbling police, Beatrice and Benedick overcoming their need for being the winner in their battle of wits, and a happy-ever-after ending, brings the play to a happy conclusion.
In this script, Shakespeare’s attitudes toward courtship, romance, social realities, marrying for social betterment to ensure inheritance, and female chastity, all roll out.
What makes MUCH ADO intriguing is that it combines many of Shakespeare’s best writing styles…farce, comedy and drama.  This is also what makes the play so difficult to produce.  Few directors and casts can pull off all of the various performance levels.  Fortunately for area audiences, director Sharon Ott has razor sharp control of all the elements, and her cast and production crew are up to their end of the task.  She nicely transforms the plot into the 1920s.  This image is aided by Esther Haberlen’s period-correct costumes, Hugh Landwehr’s fragmented artistic scenery and designs, and Rick Martin’s lighting.
Ott has clearly separated the dramatic reality, the comic elements and the over-the-top farce…a hard thing to do.  Her cast understands the differences and paces, pauses and stresses to create the right effects.
The staging is aided by the creative choreography of Martin Céspedes.  He uses Charleston dance moves of the ‘20s, combined with some hints of Shakespearean attitudes.  Even the scene changes and exits and entrances have choreographic images.  The classically trained actors look at ease doing dance steps, which, for most of them, may be a performance stretch. 
Cassandra Bissell is spot on as the sarcastic Beatrice.  She is balanced by J. Todd Adams (Benedick), who matches her barb for barb, in spite of a distracting fake beard.  Their interactions are like watching well choreographed verbal sword fights.
Betsy Mugavero is charming as lovely Hero.  Neil Brookshire nicely balances both the love-struck and dramatic scenes with fidelity.
David Anthony Smith well portrays Don Pedro, while Juan Rivera Lebron is evil incarnate as Don John, the villain of the story.   He was so convincing that on opening night, he received boos from the audience during the curtain call.
Laurie Birmingham was her usual delightful self as Antonia, Hero’s mother.  David McCann was her equal as her husband.
Dougfred Miller as the bumbling constable, and M. A. Taylor as his sidekick, Verges, nearly stole the show with their keystone cops personas.  The duo was so over the top realistic that they achieved farce at its highest level, having us laugh with, rather than at, a difficult task indeed.
Capsule judgement: GLT’s MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, under the creative and disciplined direction of Sharon Ott, and choreography by Martin Céspedes, is Shakespearean comedy at its highest level.  Bravo! Bravo!  Bravo!