Sunday, May 26, 2013

CROWNS is a celebration of “hattitude,” at Karamu

CROWNS, now in production at Karamu Theatre, is a musical which not only features gospel music, but takes a short meander into hip hop, while featuring storytelling, dance and cultural history.  All of this centers on the black female Southern community’s pride in their crowns, hats that have been “bought and paid for and all they have to do is wear them.”  They wear them with pride, understanding, and compassion.

Regina Taylor’s script, which is an adaptation of a book of photographs of church-going African American women by Michael Cunningham and a collection of oral histories by Craig Marberry, centers on Yolanda, a Brooklyn girl with attitude, who is sent down South to live with her grandmother, Mother Shaw, after her brother is murdered.  At first she rejects all things Southern…religion, speech patterns, clothing styles, and the tales of the women, who speak from experience about prejudice, discrimination, sit-ins, and how it took the civil rights movement to “get hats off their heads.”

The stories told range from an undertaker figuring out how to accommodate a dead woman’s wearing her favorite hat in her coffin to familial stories to the role of the church, faith, emotional support, and pastor, in the lives of these woman.  Through a tapestry of music, dance, singing and spoken voices of the women in her grandmother’s life, we observe the once negative Yolanda transcend her previous attitude and accept her place in her own culture.

Yolanda transitions from a baseball-cap-wearing “New Yowka,” to a reluctant hat wearing girl, to a person who has been taught the “hat queen rules” of etiquette.  She is embraced by the community, deals with her sadness and longing, and allows the traditions of her ancestors, as exemplified by the church women, to carry her through to baptism, her show of acceptance of the traditions.

Yolanda’s journey is summarized in her emotional speech, “The more I study Africa, the more I see that African Americans do very African things without even knowing it.  Adorning the head is one of these things . . . whether it’s the intricate braids or the distinct hairstyles or the beautiful hats we wear on Sundays.  We know inside that we’re queens.  And these are the crowns we wear.”

The strength of Karamu’s production, which is under the direction of Terrence Spivey, with musical direction by Sharolyn Ferebee, is the singing.  Though sometimes the overly loud drumming drowns out the singers, the voices are strong, the song interpretations often inspiring, and the dancing nicely integrated into the staging.

A strong acting and vocal performance by Joyce Linzy, as Mother Shaw, well-keyed humor and dynamic singing by Cherlie McElroy-Burch, and nuanced characterizations by Christina Johnson and Nina Jones-Respress, help develop the concept. 

Jonah Lathan and Dominique Paramour nicely interpret the modern dance interludes.  Nathan Lilly has a strong singing voice and does a nice job of developing each of the multiple characters he portrays, especially the Bible-thumping preacher.

Unfortunately, though she has some nice moments, Imani Jackson doesn’t display the acting depth to develop the needed attitude adjustment of Yolanda.

The staging is often confusing.  Straight lines, performers blocking each other from the view of the audience, and some questionable vignette interpretations, draw away from the many strengths of the script.

The intermissionless production, which runs a little under two hours, could have used some faster pacing and the script cut as the stories and dance make their point long before the final blackout.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  CROWNS tells an important story of perseverance and faith among the women of the Southern African American community, as represented by their “hatitude.”  The Karamu production, which has some strong performances, is somewhat tarnished by some directorial decisions, but is worth seeing.

CROWNS continues through June 16 at Karamu, 2355 East 89th Street, which has a fenced, guarded and lighted parking lot adjacent to the theatre, and provides free parking.  For ticket information call 216-795-7077.

Monday, May 20, 2013

What makes a man a man explored at Actors’ Summit 

Until the late 1960s and 70s, the age of women’s liberation, the writings and speeches of Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, and Bella Abzug, MS magazine, and the National Women’s Caucus, men knew what it was like to be a man.   They were the center of the patriarchal family.  They were the bread winners, the disciplinarians, role models, because father knew best.  The macho man!

That’s not the pattern any longer.  Men are going to stylists, getting plastic surgery to look younger, changing diapers, taking over the role of childrearing, being sensitive, using words like “male bonding” and “relationship,” and wearing clothing of such colors as purple, red and, even pink.  Most importantly, they aren’t sure what their roles are as lover and husband.

Sean Christopher Lewis, the National New Play Network (NNPN) playwright in residence, seized upon the male befuddled state of mind and wrote MANNING UP, a play getting its world premiere at not only Akron’s Actors’ Summit, but at Riverside Theatre (Iowa City, IA) and Salt Lake Acting Company (Salt Lake City, UT).  NNPN champions the development of new plays by giving each of three theatres $7000 to champion the selected new work.  So far, 29 new plays have been produced.

Lewis, either from experience or observation, knows his subject well.  It’s impossible to watch the goings on of two men (Raymond and Donnie) in a basement “man cave” and not realize that their “I am man, see me roar” world has collapsed around them.  In fact, they are planning on attending a “maninar,” a seminar that teaches the modern man how to navigate the new world in which he must travel.

As the duo, both of whom are expectant fathers, discuss, in panic and confusion, such topics as “men don’t have best friends,” “I’m afraid of losing who I am,” “existing as an idiot savant of manliness,” the meaning of being “emotionally absent,” and that “the difference between men and government bond, is that eventually a government bond matures.”  Through using the empty chair technique of Gestalt counseling, we find out much about the men’s insecurities.

As Lewis describes the goings on, the duo is “Looking at the dads they’ve seen and grown up with, though this doesn’t seem the best proposition.  Maninars, Primal Screams and therapy sessions fill their night in Raymond’s basement as they wonder how to be the men they need to for the women upstairs.”

Raymond is an actor who is fighting any semblance of being a modern sensitive man.  He’s afraid of losing who he is, especially since he had such a poor father figure to emulate.

Donnie is a college professor of 14th century English literature, who is filled with fear, acts with caution, is sexually naïve, and displays high anger control.  He is in total fear of fatherhood.

Lewis’s script is more television sitcom than play, but it evokes laughter by pulling out the ridiculousness of the plight of a modern suburban man and how he has been emasculated by the women’s movement and lives in fear of doing the wrong thing because men no longer have the manual on how to be a man.

Director Neil Thackaberry pulls out all the farce plugs, including knocking down doors and overblown hysteria, to set a furious pace.

Peter Voinovich (Raymond) and Keith Stevens (Donnie), who are real-life brothers-in-law and have recently gone through the throes of new fatherhood, have a great time on stage.  They both develop clear characters.  Stevens, whose mobile face often reflects the “deer caught in the headlights look” of a timid academic, unused to operating without a lesson plan, is excellent.  Voinovich, the bigger, more gruff of the two, rants and raves with great buffoonery.  Since the play takes place in New Jersey, the goings on would have been enhanced by hearing some “Joisey” accents.

Capsule judgement: MANNING UP, like the more entertaining comic sitcoms (think EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND or SUBURGATORY), delights while making a few thought provoking points about the plight of the modern male.  If you are looking for a fun evening of escapism, this is it!

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

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Unnerving musical about the crime of the century at convergence continuum

Musicals have come from various sources.  There has been the tale of an illiterate flower girl who was transformed into a proper woman (MY FAIR LADY), a Biblical Jewish youth who became a leader in Egypt (JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT), a prince who kept searching for his corner of the sky until he realized that it was right where he was (PIPPIN), and a big nosed sassy New York girl who transformed herself into a famous vaudeville star (FUNNY GIRL).

Stephen Dolginoff thought that the story of two wealthy genius teenagers, who in 1924 abducted and killed a young boy, would make for a musical evening of theatre.  Yes, he has transformed Chicago wunderkinds, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, and their kidnapping and carrying out a gruesome murder, into a musical.

Don’t get the idea that Dolginoff envisioned a joyful, song-filled show with fabulous dance numbers or pretty love duets. He didn’t.  In THRILL ME:  THE LEOPOLD LOEB STORY, a version of which is on stage at convergence-continuum, what he produced was a script, to be played by two actors, with haunting music, that tells the tale, or his version of the morbid story.

Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb came from affluent backgrounds.  They were both brilliant.  Loeb, who was obsessed with crime, and was the youngest person ever to graduate from The University of Michigan, was purported to have an IQ of over 200 (average is 100).  A student of Nietzsche, he perceived the duo to be Übermenschen (supermen) and believed that legal obligations didn’t apply to those like he and Nate, because of their exceptional intelligence. 

They boys were lovers, supposedly with the charismatic Loeb holding the power to withhold affection and manipulate the shy, nerdy Leopold.  Richard made a deal with Nathan that in return for his help in conducting some crimes, he will grant Nate the sexual favors he desires.  Eventually, the petty crimes turn into a murder plot.

The duo spent a long time planning the crime, though the musical almost makes it look like it was a spur of the moment event.  According to Leopold’s book, LIFE PLUS 99 YEARS, the original target of the attack was unavailable when he was taken to a dental appointment by his family’s chauffer, so they substituted Bobby Franks at the last minute.  Franks, Loeb’s second cousin, knew the pair, so getting him into the murder car was probably easy. 

Stories vary as to who actually killed the youth, but, he was definitely murdered.  Also up for question, was the exact motivation.  Causation theories include their desire to pull off the perfect crime, that even though they were rich there was still a need for money, the thrill of the chase, as a sexual stimulant, and that they were privileged kids with nothing else to do.  

The perfect crime was foiled when Leopold dropped his glasses near the place where Frank’s body was hidden.  The hinges on the glasses were unique and were only were only used on three pair of frames.  The police, through a series of maneuvers, tracked the glasses to Nathan and then got confessions. 

A judicial proceeding, rather than a jury trial, found the famous Clarence Darrow as counsel for the defense.  The lawyer’s summation centered on the evils of capital punishment as a means of retribution, rather than rehabilitation.  Leopold and Loeb were found guilty, and each sentenced to ninety-nine years, plus life. 

Loeb was killed by a fellow inmate in 1936.  Leopold, who had an exemplary record in prison, including developing a new penitentiary education system, volunteered to participate in a malaria drug experiment, was released  from jail in 1938.  He went on to live a productive life in Puerto Rico, where he wrote CHECKLIST OF BIRDS OF PUERTO RICO AND THE VIRGIN ISLANDS,
a definitive ornithology book.

Dolginoff’s script adds and omits information about the tale, and should be taken as a story based on the boys and their crime, not as a documentary.  It compresses time, spends a great deal of time on the homosexual aspects of the duos lives, omits the police interrogation that settled the case, mentions Loeb’s getting killed but avoids Leopold’s life after being released, and does not give the actors the words needed to illustrate their super intelligence.  In spite of these flaws, the story development and the production are emotionally charged.

There are no memorable songs, though some of the titles illustrate the serious undertones including, “A Written Contract,” “Thrill Me,” “Superior,” and “Ransom Note.”

The lyrics tend to be overly dependent upon a labored rhyme scheme and the writer seems to be more obsessed with the sexual aspects of the story than the murder itself.  There is also a contemporary sound to the spoken words and song lyrics, which remove the material from its era. 

Con-con’s production, under the focused direction of Clyde Simon, is well paced and the concepts nicely developed.  Use of era an correct typewriter, long handled telephones and clothing help enhance convergence continuum’s first musical endeavor.

The cast is generally convincing.  Both are better actors then singers, but that weakness is tempered by the fact that Dolginoff’s music is mostly talk-sing based, not requiring great singing voices, though, at times, both fell into the trap of following the rhyme pattern rather than the meaning pattern. 

Zac Hudak as Richard Loeb, with evil glinting in his maniacal eyes, generally displayed the cocky attitude of a person who knows how to manipulate the love-starved Leopold.

Mike Majer mirrors the desperation for attention, the need for affection, and the nerdy bird-watching fascination of the easily manipulated Leopold.

Though Anthony Ruggiero’s piano accompaniment was well played, without additional instruments, the musical sound was somewhat hollow.

Con-cons 50 seat theatre, with its runway stage, brings the action up close and personal, enhancing the chilling effects of the action.

Capsule Judgement:  The Leopold-Loeb story has retained its fascination, even after all these years.  Though THRILL ME: THE LEOPOLD & LOEB STORY has a somewhat flawed script and musical score, convergence continuum’s production is very well worth seeing.  It should grasp and hold the attention of the audience.

runs through June 8 at 8 pm Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at convergence-continuum’s artistic home, The Liminis, at 2438 Scranton Rd. in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood.  For information and reservations call 216-687-0074.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Acting overshadows esoteric script at Cleveland Public Theatre

Philip Ridley, the author of TENDER NAPALM, now being staged at Cleveland Public Theatre, was trained as an artist.  His paintings, like his plays, are characterized by using a palate of colors, splashed all over.  There is also a bizarre quality to his writing which is fairly typical of 1990s British “In-Yer-Face” theatre.  Theatre that is filled with fantasy, dark surrealism, which leaves the audience asking, “What the hell is going on?”

TENDER NAPALM, finds a married couple in a room in which they act out a series of fantasies.  Or are they realities?  The audience is entwined in a rambling plot that invites such questions as: “Who are these people?” “Where is this set?” “What caused this invasion of fear, terror, desire and darkness?” “What does the title mean?” Why are they terrorizing each other about the outside world? And, “Do these infantile games have any meaning?”

The “In-Yer-Face” movement attracted young audiences and repulsed traditional critics.  Its subjects included storytelling that resembled the rambling imagination of children.  The movement’s writers examined sexuality, family guilt, racial hatred, and destruction of the traditional structures of society without using traditional organized plot structures.

TENDER NAPLAM, which is only ninety-minutes in length, makes for a long sit.  Within that intermissionless time, sexual decapitation, unicorn fantasies, palaces, monkeys, flying saucers, Neptune the God of the Seas, aliens, a party in a mansion, bombs, parallel universes, space ships, destruction of sexual organs, a child, and islands are all discussed and acted out in a single kitchen-type space.  Actors cavort, jump on and off various set pieces, act out battle scenes, and taunt each other.

While the script, itself, does not satisfy the theatrical requirement for gaining knowledge or entertaining, it acts as a wonderful device for theatricality.  The long speeches and bizarre nature of the goings on are perfect devices for acting exercises.  Director Denise Astorino and performers Melissa Crum and Matt O’Shea use the opportunity well.

Astorino, CPT’s 2013-2014 Joan Yellen Horvitz Director Fellow, pulls out all the emotional stops, guiding with an eye for ferocity of feelings.  She is blessed with a cast that gets beyond the play’s weaknesses and creates vivid visual and emotional pictures.

Both Crum and O’Shea are superb in milking the over-wrought vignettes.  They scream, rant, confront each other, throw their bodies around like rag dolls, leap onto tables and counters, physically exhausting themselves and the audience.   These are premiere performances.

Capsule judgement: TENDER NAPALM is an “In-Yer-Face” flow of pseudo-intellectual double talk and esoteric mumbo jumbo, splattered like colors into a mélange of existential gibberish.  Its real value, however, is that it allows two superb actors (Melissa Crum and Matt O’Shea) to display their talents.  That’s the only reason to go see this production, and that may be reason enough.

TENDER NAPALM runs through May 18 at Cleveland Public Theatre.  For tickets call 216-631-2727 or go on line to

Monday, May 13, 2013

Poet, painter and printmaker William Blake was considered to be mad by many of his contemporaries due to his out-of-the-time attitudes.  The mid-eighteenth and early nineteenth century writer is also considered to be one of the leaders of the Romantic Age, but his work was mainly unappreciated until after his death.  Part of this was because of his hostility toward organized religion, that he wrote for the common man rather than the aristocrats, and he created ideas from his imagination rather than paying homage to nature and God.  

It is only appropriate that Mickel Maher, who is noted for his ridiculous and deliberate writing of dry intellectually rigorous academic matters, to pen a play about two eccentrics who teach at a failing small college in a wooded area.  Yes, THERE IS A HAPPINESS THAT MORNING IS should have made Blake proud because the protagonists are cerebral rebels who find themselves in conflict with the institution’s authority, and speak from their emotional centers while searching for their versions of truth.

The literate, profound, quirky, and absurd script, which had its world premiere in 2009, is written in subtle verse.  It centers on the lectures of two poetry professors whose specialty is the poetry of William Blake.  The duo had a publicly observed romp in the bushes the night before and we now observe while each appears before their classes (the audience) to explain both Blake and their actions.  They have been told to apologize for their behavior or lose their jobs.

Bernard, a middle-aged lecturer, a former folk singer who is short on scholarship and long on boundless optimism, gleefully explains, in blank verse, paralleling his thoughts to those of Blake’s poems about love, complete with writing them not only on the blackboard, but the floor, while he rants and challenges the students. 

Ellen, his pessimistic partner in the public show of affection, is angry about having to apologize to the college President who she detests.  Her biting words use language that is sardonic, gross and lowbrow. 

Bernard espouses more than he should.  Ellen rants in rhyme schemes, cadences and poetic tone.  They debate in earnest, often with humorous results until the college’s President emerges from a classroom seat, adds a bizarre twist to the proceedings, and hysteria reigns supreme.

Brian Pedaci is earnestly delightful as Bernard.  He portrays well the lecturer who knows little about Blake, yet waxes brilliantly about him. 

Derdriu Ring is dogmatically perfect as, Ellen, the put upon professor who is indignant that her credentials and abilities are being brought into question by a college leader who she neither respects nor recognizes.

Matthew Wright steals the show as President James Dean, whose obsessive love has cost him his fortune and ethical center.  His performance is a not to be missed experience.

Todd Krispinsky’s set, which cleverly combines a classroom and the woods, helps develop the bizarre mood of the play.

In the hands of a less competent director than Beth Wood, and a superb cast, this overly talky rhyming script would fall flat on its face.  Instead, it becomes a somewhat profound and definitely entertaining evening of theatre.

Capsule judgement: If you went to college, and took a course in poetry, you’ll find yourself morphing back and wishing that your professors had had a romp in the grass, and expressed themselves with such absurd hysterical language, as the duo in THERE IS A HAPPINESS THAT MORNING IS, which is getting a fine production at CPT.

THERE IS A HAPPINESS THAT MORNING IS runs through May 25  at Cleveland Public Theatre.  For tickets call 216-631-2727 or go on line to

Friday, May 10, 2013

Cleveland area summer theatre and dance 2013 calendar

The Cleveland area has a full schedule of summer theatre entertainment.   Here are some of the upcoming stagings:

PORTHOUSE THEATRE  Kent State University’s summer theatre, performed on the grounds of Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls, will present SOUTH PACIFIC, June 13-29, WORKING, July 4-20, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, July 25-August 11.  Curtain time is 8 PM Tuesdays through Saturdays and 2 PM Sundays. The picnic grounds open 90 minutes prior to curtain time.  For tickets call 330-672-3884 or go online to

MERCURY SUMMER STOCK  Mercury Summer Theatre, which performs at Notre Dame College in South Euclid, will offer SHREK (June 4-29), RAGTIME (July 5-20) and PETER PAN THE MUSICAL (August 2-17).  For tickets go online to or call 216-771-5862.

CAIN PARK  Cain Park, located in Cleveland Heights, produces a musical play each season.  This year’s offering is SMOKEY JOE’S CAFÉ, a review highlighting the songs of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stroller.  The show runs from June 13-30 in the Alma Theatre.  For the $15 tickets call 216-371-3000 or go to

BLANK CANVAS  Pat Ciamacco’s little theatre that “could and does” presents TWELVE ANGRY MEN, July 12-27, and FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNE from August 23 through September 7 at their near Westside location, 1305 West 78th Street, Suite 211, Cleveland.  Get directions to the theatre on the website.  Once you arrive at the site, go around the first building to find the entrance and then follow the signs to the second floor acting space.  For tickets and directions go to

MAMAI THEATRE COMPANY  The area’s newest professional theatre, in residence at Ensemble Theatre in the former Coventry Elementary School at 2843 Washington Boulevard in Cleveland Heights, presents the U.S. premiere of Brendan Kennelly’s translation of Euripides’ MEDEA, June 13-30 and David Mamet’s BOSTON MARRIAGE, July 18-August 4.  For tickets go to

CLEVELAND PLAY HOUSE Award-winning actor, playwright and concert pianist Hershey Felder returns to Cleveland Play House with his latest composer creation, MAESTRO: LEONARD BERNSTEIN from July 17 to August 4 at the Allen Theatre.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to

THE PITMEN PAINTERS  A new play by the Tony Award-winning writer of BILLY ELLIOT is based on a triumphant true story about a group of miners in Northern England who take an art appreciation class and build an astonishing body of work that makes them the unlikeliest of art-world sensations.  It runs from May 31 through July 7.  

MONTY PYTHON'S SPAMALOT  The outrageous musical comedy lovingly ripped off from the cult classic motion picture MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL with music by Eric Idle, runs from July 12  through August 18, 2013.   For tickets:  216-521-2540 or

THE BIKINIS, Roderick and Hindman’s musical review about first love and endless summer, centers on a girl-group which reunites for a concert to sing such favorites as “Heat Wave,” “It’s Raining Men,” and “I Will Survive.”  Running:  June 20 through July 21 (no July 4 performance).  Tickets: 330-374-7568 or go to

OBERLIN SUMMER THEATER FESTIVAL  The Festival’s 2013 season will include: THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett; William Shakespeare’s comedy TWELFTH NIGHT; and, Moss Hart’s insider’s view of Broadway, LIGHT UP THE SKY in rotating repertory from June 28 through August 3 in Oberlin's air conditioned Hall Auditorium on State Route 58 at 511, between the Oberlin Inn and the Allen Memorial Art Museum.  For tickets call 440-775-8169.

PLAYHOUSE SQUARE/14th Street Theatre  SPANK! THE FIFTY SHADE PARADY returns, by popular demand, to titillate the damsels in this take off of THE SHADES OF GREY trilogy from August 8-18.  To read my review of the previous showing go to  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to


DANCING WHEELS, July 20, 8 p.m.
INLET DANCE, kid’s performance, July 24, 1-2 p.m., adults—July 25,
    8 p.m.
VERB BALLETS, kid’s performance, August 2, 1-2 p.m., adults—August 3,
    8 p.m.
GROUNDWORKS DANCE THEATER, August 16 & 17—7 p.m.,
    August 18—2 p.m.
All presented at Cain Park.  For program details and tickets go to:

DANCECleveland and the Cleveland Orchestra present The Joffrey Ballet with at Blossom Music Center August 20 at 8 p.m.  For information and tickets go to:

THE INSPIRED BODY presents NOT WHAT I EXPECTED…DANCES OF AGES, STAGES AND RAGES, featuring Tracy Pattison’s SHE THREE at Dobama Theatre, June 20,21, 22, 2013 at 8pm.  For information and tickets call 216-932-3396

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

NEW GROUND…New. Theatre. Festival. lights up CPH

Cleveland Play House’s The 2013 New Ground Theatre Festival lit up the three stages in the Allen Theatre complex starting on May 2nd with parts running through the 19th.

The annual event showcased cutting-edge productions and readings from nationally-recognized artists.  This year’s offerings included a well written and performed world-premiere comedy, a delightful off-the-wall dance-theatre piece, play readings, new scripts and general excitement to packed houses.

Kudos to Roe Green, the honorary producer for her generous financial and emotional support.

Quick-cuts of the offerings:


My capsule judgement of Victoria Stewart’s RICH GIRL was that it grabbed and held the audience’s attention, that the cast was strong, and the technical aspects excellent. I recommended seeing the sure-fire audience pleaser which runs until May 19.  For the entire review of the production which featured Dee Hoty and Liz Larsen, two Tony Award-nominated actresses, and was directed by CPH’s Artistic Director, Michael Bloom, go to


Presented May 2nd through the 4th, THE BETTER HALF, performed by Lucky Plush Productions, was a co-presentation of DANCECleveland and CPH. 

This evening of joyous, clownish, acrobatic, thought provoking dance and theatrical glee, was a take-off on the film classic GASLIGHT, blended into glimpses of THE BOURNE IDENTITY, SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE, FLIRT, ALL THE REAL GIRLS and TRUST.  The musical score was a mix of compositions such as “Gaslight,” “Joy in the Morning,” and “My Cruel Heart.” 

This was a special night of entertainment by a very talented group of dancers and a duo of exceptional choreographers.


Jordan Harrison, the 2013 winner of the Roe Green New Play Award, challenges the audience to think of a time in the future when both a life lived and a life remembered may be a reality. A time when the living can interact with a “prime,” a backboard which can be input with information that allows for repeating of learned experiences of a particular person through real conversation.  A time when the familiar becomes the fantastical. 

Creatively directed by Laura Kepley, and starring the Grande dame of Cleveland theatre, Dorothy Silver, the well performed staged reading also featured Stephen Michael Spencer, Johanna Day and Thomas Jay Ryan.  

One can only question how this play of words and almost no action, will translate to a full-scale production.


A workshop of a new work by Crystal Finn, who also played the leading role, BECOMING LIV ULLMANN, is a two-person show which takes the audience on a journey of hysterically angst. 

A young woman desperately wants to get back her ex-boyfriend, who once commented upon her being like Liv Ullmann, the famous Swedish, or is it Norwegian, actress who is either alive or dead, and may or may not have been a prostitute, and could have been married to Ingmar Bergman, and may have had a couple of children, or not. 

Yes, Finn, verbally flowing in what sounds like an ad lib presentation, uses play scripts, a chalkboard, wigs, a fellow actor (TJ Gainley) and a man plucked out of the audience, to take the audience on a very funny imaginative exploration.


Included in the event, but not viewed by this reviewer were:  Deborah Zoe Laufer’s INFORMED CONSENT, a new play reading.  It will get a full-staged production as part of CPH’s 2013-14 season.  Also presented was Pamela DiPasquale’s MARGIE AND MIKE, new play for ages 5 and up which is part of University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital Classroom Matinee Touring program.

Capsule judgement:  NEW GROUND CPH is a giant undertaking by the staff of Cleveland Play House, which garnered wonderful results.  This is a very special area event that deserves the strong support and attendance which it received.  Let’s hope CPH continues to give us many more years of new ground.
LOVE STORY, THE MUSICAL showcases BW talent at the 14th Street Theatre

Fanatics of chick flicks virtually swoon when they hear the words, “Love means you never have to say you’re sorry,” or someone hums a bar or two of “Where Do I Begin?” Ah, yes, Andy Williams crooning the theme song from the 1970 film, LOVE STORY, which starred Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw and holds the #9 place on the American Film Institute’s list of “most romantic films of all time.”

An unusual story centers on the film and book.  Eric Segal wrote the screenplay.  In order to give sales a kick start, the movie company asked Segal to write a book version of the script, which would come out on Valentine’s Day.  To the surprise of many, not only did the book become a best seller, but the movie developed a fanatical cult following.
A musical version, LOVE STORY THE MUSICAL, was recently given its Midwest regional premiere by the students of Baldwin Wallace University, in coordination with PlayhouseSquare.
The musical, like the movie and play, centers on Oliver, a rich young WASP, and Jenny, a poor Italian Catholic girl.  Despite their many differences, they fall in love and marry against his father’s wishes.  Oliver is disinherited.  Jenny withdraws from a scholarship to go to Paris to further her budding piano career, in order to pay for Oliver’s law school education.  Unfortunately, while undergoing pregnancy fertility tests, Jenny is diagnosed with leukemia, and dies. 

At her funeral, Oliver states the second most quoted lines from the movie, “What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died? That she was beautiful and brilliant? That she loved Mozart and Bach? The Beatles? And me?”

The musical opened in London in December 2010 to moderate reviews and ran ten weeks.  Its US debut was in Philadelphia in 2012.

The book by Stephen Clark is composed of a series of scenes.  There is a lack of smoothness in the development, causing the emotional impact of the movie’s soppy story to be fragmented, thus not allowing for emotions to build.  Howard Goodall’s music is beautiful.  That’s both a strength and the score’s weakness.  It all sounds pretty much the same.  Like the script, there is little emotional texturing. 

A careful observation of the audience the night I saw the play didn’t reveal a single Kleenex to the eye, or gasps of heartfelt emotion from the audience.  That’s a big negative for a story developed with a clear objective of invoking a blathering of tears.

Scott Plate, the director, and his cast cannot be blamed for the lack of emotional reaction.  They did all they could to overcome what they were given.  The voices were all good, the staging effective, the show well paced, the acting effective.

Lucy Anders, who played Jenny the night I saw the show (she alternated with Sara Masterson) was lovely as the high spirited, honest young woman who put love before her career.  (This was 1971, before the age of women’s liberation, so her June Cleaver/Carol Brady actions can be excused or, at least accepted.)  Anders has a lovely singing voice and displayed just the right amount of spunk to be realistic.

Though he lacked the physical appearance of macho-hockey jock Oliver, Zachary Adkins had the right preppy attitude and displayed a nice singing voice.  His strongest scenes were those when he conflicted with Alex Syiek, portraying Oliver’s father.

Syiek and James Penca, as Jenny’s father, were both effective in developing roles well beyond their chronological ages. 

Musical director Andrew Leslie Cooper and his band did a nice job of supporting rather than drowning out the singers.  It’s a difficult task in the miniscule 14th Street theatre with its low ceiling and hard walls.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: LOVE STORY was yet another of those special productions resulting from the collaboration of PlayhouseSquare and BW.  Bravos to Scott Plate and his BW students for a well- performed performance of a flawed script and music track.

LOVE STORY THE MUSICAL ran May 3 through May 5, 2013.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Creatively conceived and thought provoking WORKING at Blank Canvas

Probing into the lives of real people often yields fascinating theatre.  The classical musical CHORUS LINE was based on interviews that Elyrian, James Kirkwood, wove into a fascinating tale of the true life and theatrical experiences of Broadway singers and dancers. 

Cleveland writer Faye Sholiton used her experiences in interviewing Holocaust survivors to develop her heart wrenching THE INTERVIEW.

Studs Terkel, noted as the spokesman for the workingman, wrote the book WORKING:  PEOPLE TALK ABOUT WHAT THEY DO ALL DAY AND HOW THEY FEEL ABOUT WHAT THEY DO, based on his probing into the workday lives of men and women.  Terkel’s book was made into the musical WORKING with book by Stephen Schwartz (PIPPIN, GODSPELL, WICKED) and Nina Faso.  The music and lyrics were the creation of not only Schwartz, but a bevy of others.

A version of WORKING is now on stage at Blank Canvas Theatre.  Version, because the musical has gone through many incarnations.  It was brought to life in Chicago in 1977.  It was rewritten and staged on Broadway, where it had a short run, in 1978.  In 1999 another version was presented, while in 2009 Schwartz had another go at it, which included adding new songs.  In 2011 a further revised version opened in Chicago.

At Blank Canvas, Pat Ciamacco, the ingenious artistic director of Blank Canvas, has taken on the task of shrinking the cast and added an awe-inspiring visual dimension.  It’s going to be interesting to compare this edition to the one that will be staged at Porthouse Theatre, on the grounds of Blossom Center, this summer.

The show explores Cleveland workers from their early Monday morning blues, to the pride, rewards, stresses and frustrations of average working people.  Through the lives of such individuals as a corporate executive, schoolteacher, fireman, policeman, waitress, bricklayer, millworker, truck driver, call center operator, housewife, UPS deliveryman, laid off worker, nurse, cleaning woman, and student, we get a vision of real people, doing real jobs, while leading real lives.  (Editorial note:  the use of “man” and “woman”, rather than “person” is used to specifically designate the sex of the person being described and who was interviewed.)

Their tales are related through both words and songs.  The day starts off, for example, with the song, “All the Livelong Day,” where the steelwork tells the dangers of his job, as a hedge fund manager relates what he does, as a project manager relates her life and goals.  The various people relate individually and sometimes in groups, to flesh out the tales of real life, real jobs, and real thoughts and feelings.

We experience, in “Nobody Tells Me How,” the frustration of a schoolteacher who has seen her idyllic small classroom of motivated students who want to learn morph into large classes of students who she must teach English as a second language, as well as the fear of a stewardess who knows that the landing gear on her plane is stuck and the plane is about to make a crash landing, but must keep the information a secret so as not to panic the flyers.

In the emotionally “If I Could Have Been,” one of the production’s highlights, the company sings of things wanted but not achieved.  Caregivers relate their emotional highs and lows in “A Very Good Day,” while a steelworker laments how much of family life he missed in “Fathers and Sons.”

The production wraps up with a message that everyone should have “Something to Point To.”  It echoes Theodore Roosevelt’s theme that, “Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing,” and is a Terkel homage to working men and women.

Ciamacco has relocated the setting to the Cleveland area.  References are made to local communities, costumes include Browns, Indians and local college paraphernalia.  During the staging, two screens show pictures and drawings that relate specifically to the places being referenced in the songs and words.  Hundreds of local images, specifically photographed by Andy Dudik and Ciamacco, are displayed.  Archive pictures of the building of the Terminal Tower and historic Cleveland scenes are also inserted.  This is a masterwork of visual supports that amplify the oral ideas.

The set, also designed by Ciamacco, resembles the metal framework of a building, complete with art deco trim, similar to the Terminal Tower and other downtown buildings, with a backdrop, painted expertly by Noah Hrbek, depicting the Cleveland skyline.

The cast is universally strong.  Six performers (Doug Bailey, Ian Atwood, Derrick Winger, Tasha Brandt, Joanna May Hunkins and Sarah Edwards-Maag) aided by wigs and costume changes, recreate the twenty-six lives that exemplify the working people of the area.

Special kudos to the vocal abilities of Derrick Winger, Ian Atwood and Tasha Brandt, though all the voices are excellent.

Luke Scattergood (costumes) and Sarah Lynne Nicholas (props) did yeoman work in gathering the many design specific requirements for creating correct visual imagery.

Musical director Lawrence Wallace and his fellow band members, Chris Andrews and Cody Lumsden, do a great job of musical interpretation and underscoring rather than drowning out the singers.

Though the production makes for a little long sit of almost an hour and a half without an intermission, the production is well paced and holds the attention.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  WORKING is the type of theatrical experience that is both purposeful and entertaining.  The message is clear, the lyrics and spoken words meaningful.  This is a well performed, meticulously conceived, and fine production under the creative powers of Pat Ciamacco.

Blank Canvas’s WORKING runs though May 18 in its near west side theatre, 1305 West 78th Street, Suite 211, Cleveland.  Get directions to the theatre on the website.  Once you arrive at the site, go around the first building to find the entrance and then follow the signs to the second floor acting space.  It’s an adventurous battle. For tickets and directions go to