Monday, June 30, 2014

A satisfying "My Fair Lady" opens the Porthouse 2014 season

Last year’s Porthouse production of “South Pacific” joined the beautiful and gifted Kayce Cummings (Green) as Nellie Forbush with suave and talented Greg Violand as Emile DeBecque, with Terri Kent, the theatre’s artistic director.  The result was “an evening of fine entertainment.”  This year the trio joined forces for a pleasing “My Fair Lady.” 

Kent knows her Porthouse audience well, and as with “South Pacific,” “My Fair Lady” is definitely their kind of show.  She directs for audience enjoyment, creating a show filled with joy, sprinkled with pathos.  She succeeds well.

“My Fair Lady” has been termed “the perfect musical” and appears on most lists of the ten greatest musicals.  It combines a nicely developed story line, based on George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” with meaningful lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and a memorable score by Frederick Loewe.

The story centers on Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower girl, who is brought from her life as a poor uneducated waif to being a “lady” through the training of phoneticist Henry Higgins. 

The tale contains many of Shaw’s causes:  the poor educational system of the  British, the class structure, the superficiality of the upper classes and the negative way in which women are perceived.
The musical score includes such classics as:  “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “Why Can’t The English,” “The Rain in Spain,” “You Did It,” and “I’ve Grown Accustomed to  Her Face.”  As in any well conceived musicals, they all move the plot along and/or etch a character’s personality and intentions.

The Porthouse production generally works well.  Kent and company take some curves off the usual course.  The music is played by two pianos, rather than the traditional large orchestra.  For most of the score, which are small ballads, Jonathan Swoboda and Melissa Fiucci’s fine musicianship worked well.  In fact, it enhanced the intimacy of such songs as “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly: and “On the Street Where you Live.”  However, “Get Me to the Church on Time” and “With a Little Bit of Luck,” could have used the oomph provided by the missing louder orchestra instruments.

Though the set was very attractive, with some fine artistic touches, Porthouse’s small stage was even more confined due to the stage design.  Large wagons, which carried the settings onto the stage, often made for some awkward levels, causing dancers and actors to straddle different stage level surfaces.  This also seemed to restrict the choreography.

S. Q. Campbell’s costumes were well designed and era correct.  Especially beautiful were Eliza’s dresses and the black and white women’s gowns and hats in the “Ascot Gavotte.”

The cast was excellent.  Cummings nicely transitioned from the dirt-smudged flower girl to the lady-like Eliza.  Her accent changes were distinct and consistent.  Her “Rain in Spain” brought spontaneous applause from the audience.  

Greg Violand, who has a big voice, nicely pulled in his volume to develop the talk-sing pattern developed by the late Rex Harrison, who created the role.  His ability to listen and react, rather than forcibly act, worked extremely well.  His was a fine, fine performance.

Lissy Gulick, who plays “cute old lady” so well, again pulled off her character development as Mrs. Pearce, Higgins’ housekeeper.  Geoff Stephenson made for a compassionate Colonel Pickering.  Elliott Litherland did a nice job 0f creating the love-struck Freddy.  His “On the Street Where You Lived” was well sung. 

Though he was quite acceptable, Rohn Thomas could have been a little more out of control as the drunken moralist, Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza’s father. 

Daniel Lindenberger, Dylan Ratell, Connor Simpson and Christopher Tuck had nice blending as the Quartet which joined Eliza in “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly.”

I’m not sure why Kent decided to play the role of Mrs. Higgins in drag.  That device is so overdone that it has lost it’s kitchiness.

The duo of Cummings and Violand deserves another reprise.  How about casting them in such a show as “Man of LaMancha,” or “Evita”?

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Under the directing awareness of Terri Kent, and the outstanding performances by Kayce Cummings and Greg Violand, the Porthouse production of "My Fair Lady,"was a fine evening of summer entertainment.

“My Fair Lady” ran from June 12-28, 2014 at Porthouse Theatre, on the grounds of Blossom Music Center.

NEXT UP AT PORTHOUSE:  “Starmites,” which runs from July 3-19, followed by “Oliver,” July  24-August 10.  Curtain time is 8 PM Tuesdays through Saturdays and 2 PM Sundays. The picnic grounds at Blossom open 90 minutes prior to curtain time.  For tickets

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A MAP OF VIRTUE confounds at convergence continuum

Every once in a while a theatrical production results in a “what is going on?” and “why is time and energy being wasted on this?” reaction.  Such is the case with “A Map of Virtue” now on stage at convergence continuum.

I thought maybe it was just my limited insight into the world of the obtuse, so I went on an internet search to find out the “true meaning” of what I had just seen.

A reviewer of the first staging of the play stated, “I think the play is a little bit of a formal adventure, because it's symmetrical, but it contains a varied emotional landscape which includes love, horror and friendship.  It's also about the present, the supernatural, and the ways we try to understand evil.” 
    (Okay, that’s enough to stimulate a “with all that double talk, what are you, or for that matter the playwright, trying to say if it takes that much obfuscation to explain the unexplainable?) 

The review continues, “The thing is, you think it's about something and then it's not.  It's vague, because you have to invest in the story.  There's a possible love story, and then there isn't.   There's all these bird images.” 
    (What’s the play about?  What’s the purpose of the author?  Why did she spend time writing it if the only result is vagueness and no message?)

And, yet, another attempt to educate the attendee:  “Mark and Sarah are obsessed with birds, and that's what brings them together.  Once things happen in the middle of the play, the second half of the play is these characters trying to understand what they saw, and how to live with it.”  “A Map Of Virtue is about morality.”   
    (Oh, its about morality!  What specifically leads to that conclusion?  What does morality in this context mean?) 

The author,  herself, says, “A lot of the fear and mystery and silence came out of the fact that I was in the woods; I wasn't  able to talk, and I was a little bit scared.  The flip side of that is: when you're out in nature, and you're silent, you can explore issues that are more complicated than when you're in the city, when you're so busy multitasking and your imagination can get somewhat limited.  Going out into the woods gives you a larger creative landscape that you can play around in.” 
    (Well, that should clear it up.  Yeah, sure!)

Another reviewer tries to save the day (and the play) by explaining, “In the end, ‘A Map of Virtue’ is the mirror image of the way it’s told. Just as a tidy structure frames some serious quirks, an outrageous episode becomes a window into a resonant tale of loss, lives not lived and the unlikely moments that hold relationships together.” 
    (What?  What? What?)

So, here’s my conclusion:  The narration is unclear, the plot development is unclear, the author seems unclear as to her purpose.  The reviewers are confused, but afraid to admit it, so they write in circles and abstractions.  They don’t want to be accused of being unintellectual.

You want to know the story?  There is a Hitchcock-like bird attack while two people (Sarah and Mark) in a coffee shop are looking at each other, but not communicating.   There is a little bird statue, who becomes our guide through the story, which was stolen by Mark from the office of the school official who molested him as a preteen.  The duo accidentally meet two other times, the second time at a party, are invited to a stranger’s house for another “party,” which turns out not to be a party.  They are locked up in a room, visited by a man in a bird mask and the female who invited them to the party, given little food, have no bathroom facilities.  Through a window  they see smoke or children or something playing outside, are saved by Mark’s lover who tracks them on Mark’s cell phone GPS, and spend a lot of time babbling about if they saw children. 
       (I swear, that’s it.)

The cast (Mike Majer, Kat Bi, Jack Matuszewski, Logan Smith, Eric Sever, Lucy Bredeson-Smith, Robert Hawkes) is fine. 
       (I do wonder if they understand the play any better than the past and present reviewers, the director, or anyone else.)  

Cory Molner creates some nice lighting effects.

Capsule Judgement:  I guess I’m old fashioned.   I prefer a play that, when it is over, I have some idea of what went on and take from it either having experienced a good laugh, a bit of real intrigue, a message, or a moral.  Sorry, philosophically abstract gibberish, and a plot in search of a purpose, isn’t my thing.  If it’s yours, you’ll really be turned on by “A Map of Virtue.’   

“A Map of Virtue,’ July 12, 2014 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.

Con-con’s next show is “Amazon and Their Men” by Jordan Harrison, which runs from August 8-30.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Rabbit Run introduces audience to unbridled comic hysteria in "Noises Off"

Actors know that sometimes, what happens at rehearsals and backstage during a production, is a bigger event than what happens on-stage during a performance.  This idea come to English playwright, Michael Frayn, who, while watching from the wings, experienced the goings on during a staging of his play, “The Two of Us.”  He declared, “It was funnier from behind than from in front.”  This gave him the idea for “Noises Off,” a farce that is now on stage at Rabbit Run Theatre.

The theatre, referred to as “Ohio’s Premiere Barn Theatre,” surrounded by the Madison/Perry area’s agricultural tree farms, nurseries and grape orchards, is a true “old fashioned” summer theatre.  This is a no-frills venue.  The converted barn has no air-conditioning and hard seats (portable pillows are provided).  RR offers a four-production season, consisting of two comedies and two musicals.  A center of community pride, the theatre gets financial and advertising backing from the area’s businesses and residents.

The title, “Noises Off,” comes from a theatrical terms which refers to the theatre sounds which arise from places other than the stage.  And, in “Noises Off,” much of the play within the play, the sounds from off-stage and backstage are often more entertaining than what comes from the play being performed in the acting area.   The plot is similar to George Kelley’s farce, “The Torch-bearers,” which gave birth to a favorite question of actors, “Do you think they noticed?” after things go wrong on stage.  In the Kelley play, this was said following the set falling down when an actor slammed a door too hard and the cast walked over, placed the set upwards, watched it fall over again, and then held up the flats as they said their lines.

“Noises Off” centers on the performance of the first act of a British play which the audience is viewing as a play within a play.  The script being produced is a bad, very bad farce, entitled “Nothing On.”  Even the “fake” play’s program is a program within a program.  An insert into the RR printed program is the Grand Theater’s program for “Nothing On,” which includes the cast listing and fake ads.

Act One is the final rehearsal of “Nothing On.”  And, as happens in farces, everything goes wrong.  Lines are blown, props are misplaced, doors get stuck, actors enter from the wrong places at the wrong times.  It’s a hysterically funny disaster with scantily dressed women, men whose trousers hit the floor to reveal baggie boxer shorts, risqué language and a ridiculous plot.  And, as in this kind of nonsense, there is the most ridiculous of the ridiculous.  In this case, the laugh keynotes are plates of sardines that appear and disappear.  (Yes, this is a farce and definitely not for the uptight.)

The play hasn’t improved much as we find out in Act Two, a matinee performance one month later at a theatre in Ashton-under-Lyne.  For this act the audience is viewing the play from backstage.  The front of the set is now facing toward the backwall and we are exposed to the flats that make up the set, the backs of doors, the prop table, a waiting area for the actors and the stage manager’s station. 

The second act is enhanced, not only by the continuing problems with a drunk actor who keeps disappearing in search of booze, but with complicated love and lust relationships.

In Act Three, the play is near the end of its ten-week road run and we are in Stockton-on-Tees.  The personal frictions are so intense that there is a danger that the show will not go on due to in fighting.  Mishap after mishap happens, and attempts to kill and unnerve the members of the cast by each other, aids to make the farcical nature of the play reach its hysterical climax.

This is a farce which depends on realistic character development which leads to laughing not being dependent upon what the actor is doing, but the incongruity of who s/he is with and what s/he is saying and doing.  Slamming doors, double entendres, costume malfunctions and slapstick provide an entire air of ridiculousness, which becomes even more laughable because of the serious intentions of the actors. 

This play, with two intermissions, in the hands of a lesser director and cast, could be a long, tedious sit at almost three hours.  But director Ann Hedger and her merry bunch of farcesters, make the time go fast, with laughs rolling quickly one after another. 

Farce is hard to do.  Most British farces are impossible for American actors to do as the timing, the accents and the requirement for tongue in cheek humor is prime for the Brits, but almost impossible for their cousins from across the pond.  The RR cast pulls it off with seeming ease.

The accents are consistent and not over done, the realism that leads to humor is well developed, and the pacing is admirable.  Non-actors don’t know how hard it is to ride out a laugh…being sure not to cut it off too early and give the audience the message that if they laugh they will miss the next line.  It’s also difficult to keep in character and not laugh at the ridiculousness of what is going on.  Not to anticipate a fall down the stairs, and not forecasting preset things going wrong, takes great skill.  The RR cast is excellent at playing for laughs without begging for them. 

There were times when a little less shouting would have saved the vocal chords of the actors and the attack on the ears of the audience, but all in all, most of what happens on stage is impressive.

Applause to the cast:  Nancy Shimonek Brooks, Dennis R. Dixon, Bob Kilpatrick, Evie Koh, Sandy Kosovich Peck, James Lane, David Malinowski, Roger Principe, and Myrissa Yokie.

Be sure to stay in the theatre during scene changes.  “Noises Off” requires a realistic set.  The one designed by Chris Meyers is outstanding.  Due to the small stage and off-stage space at RR, it was necessary to split the set onto three large wagons which are turned individually to get them reversed back and forth for each of the scenes.  Working like a bunch of teamsters, Caerl Simoncic, Kassie Cudnik, Brian Cervelli, Alex Cervelli, Susie Griffin, Bill Smith and a number of others not named in the program did the changes with ease and lots of muscle.  Good job!

Capsule judgment:  The Rabbit Run production of the farce, “Noises Off,” was well directed, well acted, well technically presented and turned out to be a laugh riot! I saw this show in London was convulsed with laughter.  The PP show had much the same effect on me.

For anyone wanting a fun summer experience, the trip to Madison, the hospitality and hometown welcome of the RR community, as well as the quality of this production, all say, “You all come!”  You won’t regret it.

“Noises Off” runs through June 21, 2014 at Rabbit Run Theatre at 5648 Chapel Road, Madison.  For tickets go to or call 440-428-7092 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

“Heartbreak House” a long sit, but the acting quality may make it worth the effort

George Bernard Shaw, considered by many to be the premiere English playwright of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, had very set opinions, which he expressed in his writing.  A member of the Fabian Society, which was an utopian movement dedicated to establishing a socialist society, he attacked the English education system, organized religion, the blindness of the upper classes in ignoring not the needs of others, but for living lives of deceit and hypocrisy. 

Shaw felt that women were the “wiser” and “stronger” of the sexes, that war was an unnecessary evil, and that people and governments could change. 

He wrote dramas filled with comedy and often included farcical overtones.  He mocked and satirized to make his points.  Many of his plays, as was the style of the day, were three act, three-hour epics.

Shaw is often compared to the Russian playwright, Chekhov, who also wrote of the unwillingness of the upper classes to recognize that “the revolution is coming,” thus earning him the title of the “literary father of the Russian Revolution.”  Shaw never met with the political effect of Chekov, but his attitudes toward women’s equality and the rise of Socialism, came to pass.

Shaw wrote “Heartbreak House” in 1912, but due to the outbreak of World War I, the opening was delayed until after the war.  Ironically, many of the pronouncements he had made in the script were enacted by the time the play was produced.

The play takes place mainly in a room in a manor named Heartbreak House, which is designed to recreate the interior of a sailing ship.  The place is owned by The Captain, a former maritime skipper. 

The house is a metaphor for a place where the captain and his crew (the family and guests) journey together through good and bad, beautiful days and rain- filled eras. 

Each of the characters in the play represents some facet of British society.  There is Mangan, the business tycoon, who has been offered a place in the British government but is, in reality, a fake; the captain’s daughter, Hesione, a modern Brit with Bohemian attitudes; Mazzini, a nice person who is taken advantage of; Ellie, Mazzini’s daughter, who will do anything to marry for money as she believes this is the only way to happiness; Ariadne, the old time/old liner who believes manners and class standing are most important; and Randall, the pampered man who has inherited wealth and has no reason or purpose in life.  They each represent what Shaw saw as, “ignorance and indifference exhibited by the upper and upper-middle class that was self-indulgent and lacked the understanding of the central issues of that days British society.”

Hanging over the entire play is the threat of war, which, even when it comes, is not fully realized by the inhabitants of Heartbreak House.

Traditionally, local play productions are presented by theatrical producers (PlayhouseSquare, Great Lakes Theatre), sponsoring theatres (e.g., Dobama, Beck Center), civic sponsors (Solon Center for the Arts), or educational institutions. 

“Heartbreak House” is produced under the auspices of the Actors’ Equity Association Members’ Project Code.  The MPC was created in 1987 by Equity, the labor union that represents professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States, for the purpose of permitting members to showcase their talents.  As of now, according to director, Bernadette Clemens, this  staging of “Heartbreak House” is a one-time event.

Most plays showcased in the area, unless they are a professional touring company, may have none or a few equity members.  In this production eleven of the twelve of the cast are equity members. 

One issue with Shaw is that his plays are long. Most modern productions are cut so that they run about 2 hours.  Not this production.  It is the full script.  This gives the viewer the advantage of hearing the entire presentation of the Shavian language as the author intended it.  Viewers who are used to the recent trend in theatre of ninety-minute stagings will probably find this a long sit.

The cast are all excellent, but, due to the very live acoustics in the Pilgrim Church theatre, there are echoes which bounce around and make for unclear sounds.  This is especially obvious when actors, trained to project in large performance spaces and proscenium stages with no microphones allow their full voices to boom in the small enclosure.  This makes understanding difficult. Also, because of the echo, those speaking in heavy dialects sound garbled.  It’s a shame because, though the acting is superb, many of the spoken words are unintelligible.

Director Bernadette Clemens’ staging was excellent and the pacing kept the show moving, but she needed to work with some of the cast to modify the yelling and vocalizations to avoid sound overload.

Jason Coale’s scenic and lighting designs and Inda Blatch-Geib’s costumes enhance the production. 

Any organization using the Pilgrim Church auditorium must work on sound baffling and make their casts aware that excessive projection equals a lack of vocal clarity.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  Those interested in being exposed to George Bernard Shaw and his philosophy of life,  the beauty of his language, and his use of humor and satire to develop his message, and are willing to sit through three hours of words, words and more words, many of which can’t be grasped because of the echo in the theatre, will enjoy the Actors' Equity Association Members' Project Code production.

“Heartbreak House: runs through June 29, 2014 at Pilgrim Church in Tremont.  For tickets  call 216-570-3403 or go to

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Cleveland Foundation Centennial Meeting highlighted by Cespedes choreography and Collin Powell speech

In the last century, the Cleveland Foundation, the first community foundation in the world, has given $1.78 billion dollars in grants to enrich the lives of young and old through working for sustaining a vibrant local economy, developing human potential, reimagining Cleveland, pioneering housing options, and preserving the arts.  What better way is there to celebrate these achievements than to throw well-earned celebrations?

The Cleveland Foundation has given Clevelanders free entrance to various venues during this year and held a major event on June 11th at the Palace Theatre. 

The highlights of that evening, were the granting of the Homer C. Wadsworth award to Steven D. Standley, Chief Administrative Officer of University Hospitals, for his “innovative, visionary and energetic leadership,” as well as the presentation of a delightful and thoughtful speech by Retired General Colin L. Powell, and an opening cavalcade developed by award winning choreographer Martin Céspedes.

Powell’s speech covered facts of his life, his experiences in the world’s political venues,  personal philosophical concepts, the value of the Cleveland Foundation, and a scolding of the present Congress for failing to compromise and work together.  As he comfortably wandered the stage, speaking directly to the audience, Powell used personal anecdotes and humorous references to enhance and charm the audience during what appeared to be an ad-libbed speech.

Céspedes’s dance concept was inspired by the organization’s visual image, the oak tree.   The choreographer envisioned that tree as the center of a connective story line through dance movement, lighting, electronic images and music.

As the story unfolded, a child finds an oak leaf on the ground.  A leaf which has fallen from a mighty oak, whose roots have grown deep and whose image inspires strength and longevity.  This allusion parallels The Cleveland Foundation’s growth from a sapling to powerful entity.   

A woman comes into the scene.  She symbolizes the guiding wisdom of the organization as she looks into the future.   

As Cleveland, circa 1914, appears on the screen behind her, we hear the woman’s voice filling the historic Palace Theatre with the strains of “Over the Rainbow” as visuals and movement illustrate the story.  

The image of the oak is framed against a landscape of Cleveland across the decades, with archival photographs moving from sepia tones of the past to the color-drenched palette of modern day. 

 Dancers (representing the organization’s Board, the philanthropists, and workers) help a girl along the path to today.

To the final measures of the music, the girl rushes toward the horizon. The oak tree springs to life.  The bold energy and innovative spirit encapsulated in the Foundation’s mission, the importance of its lasting significance, and the anticipation of what lies beyond the rainbow, is brought into focus!

Evelyn Wright, who brilliantly sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” is an award winning jazz, R&B and pop vocalist.  Talented David Dittloff did the song’s arrangement and accompanied Wright.  The accomplished dancers were: Frankie Zevnik, Natalie Welch, Holly Harris, Kelly Love, Jens Peterson, Tom Sweeney and Paige St John.

It’s too bad the entire program was not as well choreographed as the dance.  Multiple showings of the same video, and an excessively long and uninspiring State of the Foundation speech somewhat took the shine off the excitement and caused some of the audience to exit the venue before the completion of the program. 

Congratulations to the Cleveland Foundation, its founder Frederick Harris Goff, the many volunteer board members, philanthropists, and the organization’s staff for ensuring the legacy of giving to and enhancing the community for the past hundred years.

Acting far surpasses script in "Possum Dreams" @ none too fragile

Ed Falco, who teaches writing and literature in Virginia Tech’s MFA program, may best be known for his being the uncle of Edie Falco, who played the role of Carmela Soprano on the Sopranos.  He is also noted for his work with artists and actors through exploring the healing power of drama.

Falco’s “Possum Dreams” is now getting its world’s premiere at Akron’s none too fragile theater. 
Slightly resembling Edward Albee’s multi-award winning “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” Falco examines the lives of two troubled alcoholics, who have flawed histories and are products of troubled families.  In the case of ‘Possum Dreams,” the names are Walter and Jan Landing, not the famous George and Martha of “Virginia Woolf” fame.

Seemingly up-tight, conservative, Walter, who achieved minor fame for writing a trashy novel, which was thoroughly trashed by reviewers, but hit the best seller’s list for two weeks, is an adjunct (part-time) English instructor at a no-reputation college.  He is frustrated by his students’ lack of sophistication and knowledge, the lack of respect for him by not only his students, but the other faculty members, and has not had sex for over 8 months with his wife.  He expresses fascination for a transsexual (male to female) student.  As we meet him, he is obviously agitated, sloshing down martinis and Scotch, and looking for a fight. 

Jan, also an “alchie,” who follows the sage given to her by her mother that, “Men will ask you to do terrible things.  Do them!,” edited the infamous novel.  The mother of eighteen year-old twins, she is obsessive compulsive.  She doesn’t like to live in a world without a clear set of procedures and focus.  She needs to have control.  Supposedly knowing that the twins, who will soon be going to their high school prom will probably “get killed” in an auto accident that night, and will have sex, which will ruin their lives, she plans to limo them to the dance and then rent rooms for them and their dates, with a healthy supply of condoms, at a fancy bed and breakfast, so that she will know they are safe. 

As the evening rolls on, we are exposed to illicit affairs, transsexuality, sex toys, swearing, panic, painting of the living room, tables being upended, decoration of living space with a possum pelt, and lots of drinking. 

In contrast to the clear and powerfully developed existential “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” “Possum Dreams” fails to give a clear picture of why these people are out to destroy each other.  The language and situations are often forced, and the play screeches to a “cop out” unresolved conclusion. 

Why should we care about these people?   Why should we even bother to care what happens after the black lights indicate our experience with them is over.  What was Falco trying to impart to the audience about people, life or consequences of our actions?

Yes, there are many, many laughs, especially on opening night when, what appeared to be a drunk gentleman, kept yelling out comments and advice to the actors.
Is this supposed to be a meaningless comedy, a black comedy or a tragedy?  These forms all have purpose.  What’ s the purpose of this play?

In spite of being given absurdity to work with, both Andrew Narten and Leighann Niles DeLorenzo are superb in the development of these depraved people.  They rant, harass and taunt with glee.  They make palatable lemonade out of bad lemons.  Without their fine sense of timing, mobile faces, creation of situations out of rambling lines, and the direction of Sean Derry, the entire evening would have been a disaster.   They each present several powerful and hysterical monologues which are worth the price of admission, if you are willing to put up with the rest of it.

Capsule judgement: “Possum Dreams” is a poorly written and conceived script which gets a better than deserved production at none too fragile theater.  While Andrew Narten and Leighann Niles DeLorenzo are excellent, the play, itself is not.  Oh well, even none too fragile has to stage something that is less than outstanding every once in a while.

Possum Dreams” runs through June 28, 2014 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

The theatre’s next production is “Ride,” a dark comedy by Eric Lane.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Eric Coble, a Cleveland Heights-based writer, is the author of the Alexandra Trilogy.  Each play showcases Alex/Alexa/Alexandra at different ages and stages of her life.

The series starts with “A Girl’s Guide to Coffee,” which was staged by Actors’ Summit in their 2012 season.  The plot finds twenty-two year old Alex, a college grad, working as a barista. Alex’s plan is to have no plan at all.  But into her life accidentally flows handsome, artistic and some-time repairman, Christopher, who seems, in his subtle, and often bumbling way, to have other ideas for Alex’s existence.

“Stranded on Earth,” which finds Alexa, in her 40s, is the second script in the series, but was written last.  It is presently getting its regional premiere in a co-production of Mamai Theatre Company and Theater Ninjas.

“The Velocity of Autumn,” which recently had a Broadway run, garnered Estelle Parsons a Best Acting Tony nomination.  The play had a run at Beck Center last season, feaqturing a superb Dorothy Silver performance.   Velocity was the third play in Coble’s Alexandra trilogy.

Velocity found 78-year old Alexandra barricaded in her NY brownstone,  resisting being put “away” by her children.   She does have slips of memory, her knees and back hurt, she can no longer hold a paint brush, but she is sharp enough to know that she doesn’t want to leave her home and go to an extended care facility.  She thoroughly believes, ‘There are good and bad ways to die.” 

The one-hour, “Stranded on Earth,” an existentialistic exercise, finds Alexa in a state of emotional distress, “asking why do I exist?”  She’s a creative artist who finds herself in the midst of midlife chaos.  Everything has changed.  She isn’t sure where her life went off track and how, or if, can she get restarted.

As she probes and rants, she creates a Jackson Pollack-like abstract painting, tossing and splattering paint from above, then wallowing in it and then traipsing around, blurring the colors to create a final image that is much like her chaotic thoughts.

Coble’s poetic writing in “Stranded on Earth, in contrast to his sequential and traditional verbiage of “A Girl’s Guide to Coffee” and “The Velocity of Autumn” is a little off-setting.  Alexa’s grasping to make things come together in some logical form not only alludes Alexa, but, at times, the viewer.

Coble, who lived on Indian reservations as a youth, uses allusions to the artistic and religious pattern of creating “unfixed sand paintings,” ritual artistic arrangements which are destroyed or blow away after a ceremony is finished.  

Derdriu Ring is compelling as Alexa.  Hers is an impressive performance.  She flows in a torrent of torment, unable to find the right colors, blends, words, images, and clarity to explain to herself, or convey to the viewer, a clear line that makes us believe that she, and us, will be able to find our way.

Director Jeremy Paul, the artistic director of Ninja, has helped Ring develop a mesmerizing performance.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Mamaí’s mission is “to create intelligent, relevant classical theatre that offers an artistic home for Cleveland’s theatre artists, and equal opportunity for women in the professional theatre community.”  Theater Ninja’s goal is to “reimagine how and why we tell stories, and help us to create deep, fascinating worlds for the audience to explore.”  Their production of Eric Coble’s “Stranded on Earth,” with a master class demonstration of finite acting by Derdriu Ring, well meets both organization’s purposes.  

Mamaí and Theater Ninja’s STRANDED ON EARTH runs through June 22 at the Pilgrim Church, 2592 West 14th Street, Cleveland, For tickets go to:

Friday, June 06, 2014

"Tappin' Thru Life"--lots of singing and music and a little tapping at CPH

“Woody Sez:  The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie,” “Maestro:  Leonard Bernstein,” “The Devil’s Music:  The Life and Times of Bessie Smith,” “One Night with Janice Joplin.”  What do these all have in common?  They are shows that Cleveland Play House has staged in the last several years, and they are productions that showcase the musical talents of a particular artist.

Before you state “These aren’t plays, they are night club acts,” realize that CPH is not the only place where these types of shows have become staples.  Broadway’s 2013-2014 season featured “Beautiful The Carole King Musical,” “Soul Doctor (Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach),” “A Night With Janus Joplin,” “After Midnight” (Duke Ellington), and “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” (Billy Holliday).

CPH is closing its season with “Maurice Hines Is Tappin’ Thru Life.”  With such a title one would expect tapping, tapping, and more tap dancing.   ‘Taint the case.  More than two-thirds of the show is Hines talking and singing about his childhood, his relationship with his brother, Gregory, the influence of his mother and father on his life, and his connections with the likes of Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin, Lena Horn, and Harry Belafonte. 

Hines sings, shows pictures, has his “Diva Orchestra,” an all-women’s musical group, play as a unit and as solo performers, and has brothers John Manzari and Leo Manzari, who appeared with him in “Sophisticated Ladies,” dance.  He also makes some tapping-like moves and lets loose for one good clackity-clack routine.

Played and sung big band songs include:  “I’ve Never Been in Love Before,” “Smile,” “A Tisket, a Tasket,” “Caravan,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing,” and “Too Marvelous for Words,” and such Broadway favorites as “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” and “Luck Be a Lady.”

The personal history is interspersed with social and political comments regarding integration, segregation, and his fondness for President Obama.

Much of the dialogue, comments to and with the audience and the band, are ad-libbed, making for a comfortable interaction in the intimate Allen Theatre.

Hines is charming and knows how to play a room.  He localizes the show by talking about eating at Hot Sauce Williams Restaurant with Laura Kepley, the artistic director of the Play House.  There is so much kitsch that it’s surprising that he didn’t put on an Indians cap or a Brown’s or Cav’s jersey sometime during the show.

The band is big and bold.  No subtlety here.  Horns blare, the drums get a workout, the pianist pounds the keys.  Good stuff.

The show hits its dancing peak when John and Leon Manzari come on and “tap out a beat” and make sparks fly as they tap in various styles.  Ditto for an appearance by an adorable and talented teen-aged dancer, Grace Cannady, from Boston.  In Atlanta, DC, Boston and at the Manhattan Club 54 Below, where the show has been staged before, there was a child dancer or two added to the goings-on.  Part of the reason may be that Hines probably can’t dance with the same vigor or steam as he did in his far-distant youth and needed to prop up the tapping segments.

The bandstand set works well.   Instrumentalists rise as they do their solos.  Hines walks up and down the large white platform/steps to add visual dimension.  Pictures are electronic graphics shown on panels which slide on and off stage.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: “Maurice Hines Is Tappin’ Thru Life,” is a personable concert, which is more a Vegas act, than a play.  Audiences anticipating 90-minutes of non-stop dancing may be frustrate.  Some might question why CPH is doing a “touring” show rather than producing its own product and why they stage these one-person bio-musicals.  Whatever.  The majority of the audience will come and enjoy themselves.

“Maurice Hines Is Tappin’ Thru Life” runs through June 29, 2014 at the Allen Theatre in PlayhouseSquare.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to

Sunday, June 01, 2014

SEMINAR gets an A at Beck Center for the Arts

When a student pays $5000 for a ten-week educational seminar, s/he doesn’t expect to be verbally attacked, viciously belittled, diminished, called names, and have a sexual liaison with the instructor.  But that’s exactly what happens in Pulitzer Prize nominee Theresa Rebeck’s provocative comedy, “Seminar,” now on stage at Beck Center.

“Seminar,” which takes place in present tense New York City, in a plush Upper West Side apartment, allows for a glimpse into the experiences of four young writers as they confront writing, language, and the art of creating meaningful prose.

The writing quartet includes Bennington-educated, defensive,  prickly, women’s activist, Kate, whose family owns the apartment; the preppy, pretentious Douglas, whose uncle is a famous playwright and spouts about “the exteriority and the interiority” of a writers’ colony where he has spent time, and tries to impress by dropping terms like “postmodernism” and “magic realism;” the intense, possibly autistic Martin, who refuses to share his work with the others; and the sexy Izzy, who seems totally out of her element, but knows how to play the game of “get what I want.”
And then there is their teacher, Leonard. 

Leonard, the brilliant writer, who travels the world, edits major works of literature, and appears to be a vicious, maniacal destroyer of egos and dreams.

Leonard, who reads one story, up to the first semi-colon and dismisses it, even though it has been six years in the making. 

Leonard who spouts such concepts as:  “Writers aren’t people,” “It doesn’t matter if there isn’t a story,” and “If you are not being honest, who gives a damn about what you are writing.” 

Leonard, who has a history the quartet didn’t knew about.

Wars rage, sex happens, cruelty reigns, laugh after laugh erupts from the conflicts, and awe is inspired by what humans will endure, will pay for, to be destroyed.

And then, about two-thirds through the 95-minute play, comes a turning point, when the intellectual sadism abates and Leonard responds to a piece of writing he is handed with humility, awareness, and a hint of joy.  Something that leaves us wondering if the “Leonard Method,” is nothing short of teaching brilliance.

The play which opened on Broadway in November of 2011 and ran through May, 2012, has been called “an enriching study,” “ tight, witty and consistently entertaining,” and “a play that, as the layers are peeled back, reveals both scarred humanity and the numbness beneath.

Beck’s production, under the extremely creative and competent direction of Donald Carrier, is compelling.  It is well staged, perfectly paced, and a creative tale of twists and turns.

The cast works as a well-tuned ensemble. Scott Plate seems to relish the role of Leonard, especially when he is annihilating his students by shredding their egos.  His long tirades fascinate and chill.  He puts on Leonard before his first entrance and wears him with conviction throughout.

Andrew Gombas gives Martin a persona of fragility and vulnerability, edging on the Asperger actions of social ineptitude, shyly on the edge, and being unable to hold consistent eye contact.

Brian Gale is perfectly Ivy-League uptight as Douglas, with an air of dazzle ‘em with bullshit if you can’t bowl them over with real talent.  He moves, carries himself and appears designed for the part.

Lara Knox nicely textures Kate into a real rich girl, whose crush on Martin is obvious to everyone except Martin, and whose women’s lib sensitivities are both real and a protective device.

Aily Roper displays the right believable sexual attitude to create a woman who we can believe manipulates men for her own designs. 

Cameron Caley Michalak’s set and Trad Burns lighting designs help develop the play’s concept.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  “Seminar” is one of those special evenings of theatre:  well written script, quality acting, perceptive direction!  The show is filled with both laughter and message that makes it a must see for a perceptive audience!

“Seminar” is scheduled to run through June 29, 2014 at Beck Center for the Arts.  For tickets call 216-521-2540 or go on-line to