Sunday, May 31, 2015

Pulitzer Prize winning THE YOUNG MAN FROM ATLANTA @ Beck Center

On the surface, Horton Foote’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, THE YOUNG MAN FROM ATLANTA, now in production at Beck Center, tells the tale of the Kidders (Will and Lily Dale), a Houston, Texas couple who, in 1950, take different paths in coping with the death of Bill, their only son. 

Beyond the surface tale, the script probes into the consequences of false dreams, misguided values, the southern tradition of pride, the covering of reality with illusion, elected ignorance, racism, conspiracy theories, the changing business environment, ageism, and possible homosexuality.

Bill, whose relationship with his father centered on incidental emotional attachment, moved to Atlanta, lives in a rooming house, and shares his space and resources with Randy a younger man.  One day, Bill, who has never learned to swim, while traveling in Florida on business, stops his car, walks into a small lake, and drowns. 

Lily Dale believes the death was accidental, and desperately turns to religion as her means of escape.  She believes that Bill was pious and couldn’t have killed himself.  Her beliefs are backed up by Randy, who attended Bill’s funeral, grieves mightily, and has become Lily Dale’s emotional prop. 

Lily Dale who is childish and lonely, with no one but her religious beliefs, her bible, and the maid to turn to, has given Randy, often referred to as the “young man from Atlanta,”  large sums of money to supposedly aid him in his job search and the needs of his family. 

Will knows information which he has not shared with Lily Dale, such as Bill gave Randy over $100,000 and has been told by Carson, his father-in-law’s nephew who lived in the same Atlanta rooming house as Bill, that Randy was a liar and had a bad reputation. 

Will, who believes that he must work hard to have “the best of everything,” suddenly finds himself, in his waning years, with a dead son, an emotionally vacant wife, let loose from his high paying job, replaced by a younger man who he hired and trained, ill with a heart condition, and disillusioned over his beliefs.

Though he never appears on stage, much of the angst of the story centers on Randy, who may or may not be a charlatan, and may or may not have been Bill’s kept lover.

As the play comes to its bleak conclusion, Will states, “Everything will be all right, the best and biggest is as empty as the young man’s lies.”

After being produced off-Broadway, THE YOUNG MAN FROM ATLANTA received the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  A 1998 Broadway run lasted only 84 performances, but was nominated for, but did not win a Tony Award for Best Play.

One might ask why this play received the Pulitzer Prize.  It is definitely not a play which has or will become an American theatre classic.  It is not in the class of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, DEATH OF A SALESMAN, OUR TOWN, or LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT.  There are, however, other winners who were recognized for being a “play for its time”  and are not stage classics.  Remember, this was a script about the 1950s.  It was in the forefront of dealing, even indirectly, with homosexuality.   One of the only major plays to take on that subject was TEA AND SYMPATHY.  It also dealt with the topical subject of the roles of blacks in the South,  the status of women in Southern society,  changing business philosophies, the shifting population, the 1900 mid-century work ethic, conspiracy theory, and ageism.

The characters in THE YOUNG MAN FROM ATLANTA may be familiar to the avid theatre-goer and script reader as Foote revived most of them from his THE ORPHAN’S HOME CYCLE, a series of plays often referred to as “the story of a family,” the Foote family.

Horton Foote, who wrote over sixty plays and numerous screen plays and television productions, is probably best known for writing the screen play for the 1962 film TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.  Though most of his plays have been performed in community theatres, with several having off-Broadway showings, his THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL did have a Broadway run.  

The Beck production, under the direction of Eric Schmiedl, is generally faithful to Foote’s writing and the setting of the script.  Paced in a leisurely southern manner, the play unfolds slowly.  Even in strong emotional scenes, there is sometimes a “dragging” pace, which may lose the audience’s attention. 

Foote is known for writing in the language of the time and place of the story.  This, again, provides a good reflection of the personality of the character’s but does not always make for attention demanding interactions.

Dudley Swetland rants well as Will.  As the character becomes more fatigued and defeated, the actor nicely textures his pace and dynamism.  His final speech, which is presented in a near whisper, is compelling.

Anne McEvoy gives a clear illusion of Lily Dale’s lack of being in touch with reality.  She is a traditional southern lady who lives in dreams and fantasy.  She clearly develops an almost child-like Lily Dale, with no friends, who refuses to face the facts, obsesses about rumors, half-truths and religion.

Michael Regnier clearly develops Pete, Lily Dale’s step-father, into a real person.  Tina D. Stump creates Clara into a stereotype of the well-mannered Black southern woman who knows her role in the household.

Aaron Benson’s scene design creates the correct atmosphere for the upscale nature and the time of the play, incorporating a Frank Lloyd Wright feel to the dwelling appointed with the clean-lined modern furniture of the era.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  Though THE YOUNG MAN FROM ATLANTA was awarded a Pulitzer Prize, potential viewers should not expect to see an epic play.  The tale is a 1950s tale which reflects the era and southern attitudes of the day.  The production values reflect Foote’s writing style and gets his message across.

THE  YOUNG MAN FROM ATLANTA is scheduled to run through June 28, 2015 at Beck Center for the Arts.  For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go on line to

Next at Beck:  Green Day’s musical AMERICAN IDIOT (July 10-August 16). 

Monday, May 25, 2015

A preview: EXACT CHANGE @ PlayhouseSquare/Helen--original play by local critic, writer and actor, explores his/her transgender journey

Before transitioning in 1990, Christine Howey was Richard Howey, a celebrated stage actor in Cleveland, known for playing such heavy-hitting male roles as Lucifer, Goebbels, “Terrible Jim Fitch,” Richard Nixon, and God. 

Exact Change explores Howey’s gender transition from many angles in a one-woman tour-de-force spiked with political rants, historical reflections and an incisive wit that packs a punch. Described as “rewarding and life-changing theatre” (Fran Heller, Cleveland Jewish News), 

Exact Change combines spoken word poetry, monologue and dialogue in a deeply personal show that is as amusing as it is poignant. Exact Change is written and performed by Howey, with direction by Scott Plate.

The content is best described by its creator and subject:
“I feel a strong need to communicate the challenging issues and deep satisfaction that comes from finding one’s true gender. I know the idea of a gender change is a very foreign one for most people…so I wanted to make the feelings and aspirations of a transgender person accessible and as understandable as possible.“
– Christine Howey

The show has received endorsing reviews in its development including:

"One of the most compelling and fascinating one-person shows I've ever seen!  The writing and performance are enthralling, the ending is startling!  This is a must see!"

--Roy Berko,,,,

 “The writing is funny, fierce, bawdy, and smart. Howey commands the stage, hurling lightning strikes of emotion and insight.”

 – Dee Perry, Senior Host/Producer, 90.3 WCPN/Ideastream/NE Ohio Public Radio

 About the Playwright:

A native of Northeast Ohio, Howey is a graduate of Brecksville High School and Kent State University. She taught English in the Cleveland Public School system, followed by a 35 year career in advertising. In 1999, she began work on a solo show dealing with her transgender journey, which was performed in New York and Cleveland.

Exact Change takes the stage for two weeks only, Thursday, June 11 – Saturday, June 13 and Thursday June 25 – Saturday, June 27, 2015, in Playhouse Square’s intimate Helen Rosenfeld Lewis Bialosky Lab Theatre. 

Performance times are Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00pm, Saturdays at 5:00pm and 8:30pm. General admission tickets are $29.50 and available at, 216-241-6000 or the Playhouse Square Ticket Office. Discounts are available for groups of 10+ by calling 216-640-8600.

For additional information, visit

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Disappointing DONTRELL, WHO KISSED THE SEA @ Cleveland Public Theatre

About fifteen years ago, an African American student on a Semester at Sea around the world educational cruise jumped overboard.  The ship was sailing toward the Suez Canal, with Africa on the port side.  The ship turned in the Gulf of Suez, and miraculously found the college student.  The young man, after arriving back, stated that he had jumped overboard because he “wanted to touch the water, that touched the land from which his forefathers were taken into slavery.  He wanted to be reunited with his history.” 

Whether Ethan Davis, the author of DONTRELL, WHO KISSED THE SEA, which is now in production at Cleveland Public Theatre, was exposed to the true tale of the Semester at Sea student is unknown, but there is an eerie parallel.  Dontrell Jones III, an 18-year old honor student dreams of an ancestor (his great-grandfather) who dove off a slave ship, and dedicates his life to “kiss” the sea and meet the man.  The student who dove off the ship, seemed to have an analogous purpose. 

There are similarities and differences.  The student who jumped from the ship was a championship swimmer and kept himself afloat until help arrived. Dontrell, who began his quest by unrealistically diving into a pool, could not swim, and was saved by a lifeguard.  

The student had given no prior evidence of any desire for a historical connection. Dontrell, on the other hand, spends the entire play leaving messages for “future generations” in a mini cassette recorder.

Dontrell, an honor student with a scholarship to the prestigious Johns Hopkins University, puts aside his future in an attempt to find the truth of his dream.  With the help of Erika, the lifeguard, who supplies a boat, Dontrell sails off in pursuit of his goal.  The student was expelled from Semester at Sea and sent home minus academic credits. 

Questions arise: what will a person do to satisfy his dreams, what are the consequences of pursuing a goal, and is either Dontrell or the student’s desires realistic or reasonable?

The CPT production was disappointing.  It failed to develop, in a compelling manner, the winner of the Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association’s new play award.  The oft-poetic language often was lost due to poor projection and articulation. The blocking on the thrust stage, which found the audience on three sides of the action, was not well conceived, with much sound being lost due to poor planning of stage movements. 

So much time is spent changing scenes, dragging props on and off the stage, that the momentum of the play is disrupted.  And, much of the acting is on a surface level.

Young Kalim Hill gives a reasonable interpretation of Dontrell III, but lacks the depth of acting experience and training to dig into the young man and create a full character.  On the other hand, Sheffia Randall Dooley fleshes out the role of Dantell’s mother, into a realistic woman.  The rest of the cast stays close to the surface in their character development.

Todd Krispinski’s set, which transforms itself into a living room, aquarium swimming pool and boat, is creatively and impressively conceived.

DONTRELL, WHO KISSED THE SEA is Cleveland Public Theatre’s 2nd production in their affiliation with NNPN (National New Play Network), an organization of theatres dedicated to new theatre.  “Rolling World Premieres,” a project of NNPN, supports the idea that a play often needs more than one reading or production to fully flesh out storylines and dialogue. Over the course of a year, four to six different theatres across the US will produce the same play, with the author in attendance to work with each production.  Besides CPT DONTRELL is or will be staged at Skylight Theatre (LS), Phoenix Theatre (Indianapolis), Theatre Alliance (D.C.), and Oregon Contemporary Theatre (Eugene)

Capsule judgement: After writing this review I read the reactions of critics from other cities where DONTRELL, WHO KISSED THE SEA has been presented.  It appears that Cleveland got short-changed by director Megan Sanderg-Zakian.  Other reviews recount much laughter, vivid visualizations and the line interpretation that was “poetically transfixing.”  These  weren’t present in the local production. I wish I had seen that quality at CPT.  Unfortunately, I didn’t.

DONTRELL, WHO KISSED THE SEA, runs from May 21 through June 6 at 7:00 p.m. in the James Levin Theatre at Cleveland Public Theatre.  For tickets ($12-28) call 216-631-2727 or go on line to

(Side note:  I was a faculty member and a psychological support staff on the Semester on Sea voyage noted.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

2015 Summer Cleveland Theater Calendar

Some theatres such as Cleveland Play House, Dobama, Great Lakes Theatre and Ensemble are dark for the summer season, but there are lots of other great venues operating.  Here’s a list of some of the offerings of the summer season (May through August).  SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL THEATRES!


330-374-7568 or go to
Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 PM and Sundays @ 2 PM

 ALWAYS PATSY CLINE (May 28-June 21, 2015)—A musical tribute to Patsy Cline’s spirit and a celebration of her music—“Crazy,” “Sweet Dreams,” “Walkin’ After Midnight” and 17 more.


216-521-2540 or
8 p.m. evenings, 3 p.m. matinees

AMERICAN IDIOT (July 10-August 16 2015)—Two-time Tony winner tells the story of three lifelong friends, forced to choose between their dreams and the safety of suburbia.


440-941-0458 or

TRIASSIC PARK THE MUSICAL (June 12-27)—Religion, identity, sex and raptors!  Chaos is unleashed upon the not-so-prehistoric world when one dinosaur in a clan of females turns out to be male!

OUR TOWN (August 14-29)—Thornton Wilder’s beloved,  Pulitzer Prize-winning classic depicts life, love and death in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire while exploring life’s meaning and purpose.

14591 Superior Road at Lee, Cleveland Heights
216-371-3000 (Box office opens May 23--Cleveland Heights residents/May 30-- general public)

GODSPELL (June 11-28)—Alma Theatre—Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak’s “hippie” musical with such pop songs as “Day by Day,” “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord,” and “Learn Your Lessons,” contains a series of parables based on the Gospel of Matthew.


216-631-2727 or go on line to

DONTRELL, WHO KISSED THE SEA (May 21-June 6, 2015)
It’s a month before his first day of college and Dontrell Jones III wakes up from a dream that will change his life.

JOHANNA:  FACING FORWARD (May 28-June 13)—7:30 Gordon Square Theatre--Based on the true story of Johanna Orozco, a Cleveland teen who survived a gunshot wound to the face by her boyfriend in 2007 and whose story sparked a nation-wide movement against teen domestic violence.

Free outdoor performances
For sites and times go to:

THE LIFE OF TIMON OF ATHENS (June 5-28, 2015)—Set in 1970, against a backdrop of unpopular war and student unrest, TIMON is a hilarious history of his hypocrisy.

THE MERCHANT OF VENICE (July 17-August 2, 2015)-- Filled with contrasts and controversy, containing comic elements mixed with trenchant comment on the nature of intolerance, justice and forgiveness.

convergence continuum or 216-687-0074
Thursday-Saturday @ 8

THE RECKLESS RUTHLESS BRUTAL CHARGE OF IT, OR THE TRAIN PLAY (June 26-July 18, 2015)—A “comi-threnody musical” about a 12-year old heroine who is on a comic-poetic collision course with time, history and a supernatural climax.

TEAR IT OFF (August 14-September 5, 2015)—A world premiere of Cleveland playwright Mike Geither’s play about two sisters who pass their time by writing a romance novel.


Free family classics in rotating rep
check blog  for dates of individual productions:

TREASURE ISLAND (July 3-August 8, 2015)—Ken Ludwig’s play about 14-year old Jim Hawkins who finds a treasure map and embarks on an unforgettable voyage of treachery and mayhem.

ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL (July 10-August 8, 2015)—Shakespeare’s bawdy comedy which asks, “all ends well. Or does it?”

CRUMBS FROM THE TABLE OF JOY (July 17-August 7, 2015)—17-year-old Ernestine questions conflicting ideas and tolerance needed to live in a changing world when her African American family moves from Florida to Brooklyn.


Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens
714 N. Portage Path, Akron, Ohio 44303
For tickets go to or call 1-888-71-tickets

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (July 2-19, 2015)—Considered Shakespeare’s finest comedy, it examines honor, shame, and politics.

KING HENRY (July 30-August 16, 2015)—A Shakespeare history play based on the life of Henry VIII of England.


6941 Columbia Road  Olmsted Falls
For tickets call 440-235-6722 or go to
Performances at 7:30 Friday and Saturday, and 2:30 on Sunday)

GUYS AND DOLLS (August 7-9, 14-16, 2015)—A musical that takes us from the heart of Times Square to the cafes of Havana, Cuba, and even into the sewers of New York City, but eventually everyone ends up right where they belong.


For tickets:  216-241-6000 or go to
See the website for specific dates, times and details of each show

JOSHUA SETH’S BEYOND BELIEF (June 6, 2015)--Hanna Theatre—Combines thought reading, magic, hypnotism and some good old fashioned showmanship to create an atmosphere of mystery and laughter.

EXACT CHANGE (June 11-27, 2015)—The Helen--Christine Howey’s personal story is a tour-de-force spiced with political rants, historical reflections, and personal stories about her transitioning from being Dick Howey.

DOG POUNDED (July 17-August 8, 2015)—Kennedy’s Theatre—Tim Tyler’s comedic production returns for its second season to tell the tale of the tortured history of Cleveland Browns’ fans through words and music.

RODGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN’S CINDERELLA (July 21-August 2, 2015)—Connor Palace--Part of the Key Bank Series, this Tony Award winning musical, is a contemporary take on the classic tale.

THE BOOK OF MORMAN (August 25-30, 2015)—State Theatre--The nine-time Tony winner returns for another visit!   If you hurry, you might be able to get tickets this time!


Kent State University’s professional theatre
Located on the grounds of Blossom Center
For tickets:  330-672-3884 or
(Tickets go on sale May 26th)

A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC (June 11-27, 2015)—Porthouse’s Artistic Director Terri Kent stars  in Stephen Sondheim’s musical about a tangled web of romantic affairs.  Libretto includes “Send in the Clowns.”

VIOLET (July 9-25, 2015)—Tells the musical tale of self-discovery by a young lady with a disfigured face who is seeking out an Evangelical minister.

HAIRSPRAY (July 30-August 16, 2015)—With her bouffant hair and social activist attitudes, plus-sized teen Tracy Turnblad advocates for racial integration in her hometown of Baltimore in this family friendly treat. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


New York is about 500 miles from Cleveland.  Several times a year I wander forth to see the bright lights of Broadway and venture into some theatres.  This spring, during a period of a rash of show openings, I had the chance to see some excellent offerings.

Of course, seeing local talent on stages on the Big White Way adds to the excitement.  As has been the case recently, Baldwin Wallace University Music Theatre majors trod the stages.  Most prominent in the new shows is Jill Paice, who proudly states her BW affiliation in the Playbill of the smash hit AN AMERICAN IN PARIS.  Chris McCarrell, another BWU grad recently took over the role of Marius in LES MISÉRABLE and recent grad, Kyle Jean Baptiste has been cast as Jean Valjean’s understudy.

Here are capsule judgments of three new shows.  To read the whole review of each, go to, scroll down the right hand column to “Broadway Theatre,” and click on the link.


AN AMERICAN IN PARIS: A New Musical, is a gorgeous symphony of dance, song, sets and graphics.  From its opening expository dance sequence, to the enveloping concluding ballet, it seamlessly unfolds as a visually compelling production that is breathtaking to watch.

Capsule judgement:  AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, A New Musical, is a visual, dance-driven Broadway story-telling creation that is gorgeous, enchanting, seamless and sophisticated.   It is a tribute not only to the music of George and Ira Gershwin, but to the genius of director Christopher Wheeldon, and the performance abilities of a stellar cast.

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS:  A New Musical, is being performed in an open run, at The Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway, New York


Tyrone is evil.  Tyrone, he of big, vacant eyes is both disturbing and funny.  Tyrone is vile, violent and demonic.  Tyrone is raunchy.   Tyrone is foul-mouthed.

Tyrone is a sock puppet who is the anti-hero of Robert Askins’ HAND TO GOD, a Broadway play that causes convulsive laughter while terrifying.

Capsule judgement:  HAND TO GOD is a compelling tale of two lost people, caught up in their own lack of ability to cope with the death of a major person in their lives, who are losing their fight to chart a course of healthy reality and turn to escapism to get through the angst.  The production is well conceived and performed and makes for a fascinating theatrical experience in which laughter acts as an escape from pain.

HAND TO GOD  is being performed in an open-ended run at the Booth Theatre, 22 West 45thStreet, New York.


From its opening, the creative “Welcome to the Renaissance,” to the “Finale,” Broadway newbie book writers, Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell, and music and lyric conceivers, Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick, create laugh out-loud farcical material.

It’s classical theatre gone awry, complete with show-stoppers, encore after encore (whether the audience wants them or not), ridiculous sight gags, double entendres, sexual allusions, and male costumes with huge cod pieces.

Capsule judgment:  SOMETHING ROTTEN is a rare theatrical event…a wonderful musical farce.  Anyone who wants to go to the theatre and have a great time, unburdened by a complicated plot, listen to fun lyrics, and experience two acts of non-stop laughter…this “very new musical” should be their play of choice!  

SOMETHING ROTTEN is in an open run at the St. James Theatre, 26 West 44th Street, New York


Did you know that Shakespeare was an arrogant fop?  That he stole the ideas, as well as much of the text from his plays from others?  Are you aware that some of those who worked with Will actually hated him?  What about the fact that even he spouted about  how hard it was to be the Bard.  Did you know that because of him, the format for musicals was developed?  Are you aware that he was the rock star of his day?  Well, those are only some of the “facts” that are espoused in SOMETHING ROTTEN, a very new musical.

From its opening, the creative “Welcome to the Renaissance,” to the “Finale,” Broadway newbie book writers, Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell, and music and lyric conceivers, Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick, create laugh out-loud farcical material. 

SOMETHING ROTTEN is in the mold of SPAMALOT, THE PRODUCERS and THE BOOK OF MORMON.  It is filled with silliness and farcical actions. 

There are numerous references to the Bard’s plays and Broadway musicals. Someone not familiar with either of these topics might not get all the subtext.  But even they will find enough to laugh about.

How can a show with a score which contains such titles as “The Black Death,”  “Bottom’s Gonna Be on Top,” “Welcome to the Renaissance,” “It’s Eggs,” and ‘To Thine Own Self” be anything but delightful?

The story centers on Nick and Nigel Bottom, an actor and his playwright brother, who live in the theatrical shadow of the Bard of Avon.  They desire to take some of the attention away from Shakespeare.  How to do it?  They pay a Soothsayer to look into the future.  His findings?  Shakespeare’s greatest hit is going to be a play named, “Omelet” and the next big trend in theatre is going to be musicals, where the actors sing many of their lines.  (And you thought the American musical was a modern invention!)  So, obviously the duo starts to one-up Will by writing a musical play about eggs.

Their efforts result in a kick line of dancing omelets, a silly story line, and ridiculous farcical actions.  The musical number “It’s Eggs!” ranks with THE PRODUCERS’ “Springtime for Hitler” as one of the funniest dance numbers in a Broadway musical.

It’s classical theatre gone awry, complete with show-stoppers, encore after encore (whether the audience wants them or not), ridiculous sight gags, double entendres, sexual allusions, and male costumes with huge codpieces.

We observe Shakespeare as "a hack with a knack for stealing anything he can,” who actually swipes not only the title, but plot devices and lines which turn out to be “his” HAMLET. (Oh, HAMLET, not OMELET!  As the soothsayer says, “Well, I was close!”)

Farce is hard to perform well because of the need for broad realism where the audience laughs with the performers, not at them.  Under director Casey Nickolaw’s deft hand, the cast makes the difficult look easy. 

Brian d’Arcy James (Nick Bottom) and Christian Borle (Shakespeare), noted for their starring roles on NBC’s Broadway musical take-off, SMASH, have wonderful comic timing.  James, with his strong jaw tightly set, rails against Shakespeare. Borle, with his saucer-eyes shinning, schemes back.  “God, I Hate Shakespeare” is countered by “Will Power” and “Hard to Be the Bard.”  Both have strong singing voices and know how to play farce.

John Cariani as Nigel Bottom is charming.  His “I Love the Way,” sung with the beautiful Kate Reinders (Portia) is young love incarnate.

Heidi Blickenstaff is delightful as Nick’s wife, one of the world’s first feminists, the Betty Freidan of the Elizabethan era.  Her “Right Hand Man,” sung with Brian d’Arcy James, and then as a solo, were well done.

Gerry Vichi as Shylock and Brad Oscar as Nostradamus almost steal the show.  Both are masters of the double take and are Borscht Belt pros at playing “shtick.”

Capsule judgment:  SOMETHING ROTTEN is a rare theatrical event…a wonderful musical farce.  Anyone who wants to go to the theatre and have a great time, unburdened by a complicated plot, listen to fun lyrics, and experience two acts of non-stop laughter…this “very new musical” should be their play of choice!  

SOMETHING ROTTEN is in an open run at the St. James Theatre, 246 West 44th Street, New York.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Tyrone, the Satan of Broadway, stars in HAND TO GOD

Tyrone is evil.  Tyrone, he of big, vacant eyes is both disturbing and funny.  Tyrone is vile, violent and demonic.  Tyrone is raunchy.   Tyrone is foul-mouthed. 

Tyrone is a sock puppet who is the anti-hero of Robert Askins’ HAND TO GOD, a Broadway play that causes convulsive laughter while terrifying.

HAND TO GOD centers on Jason, who lives with his mother in Cypress, Texas, in the heart of the Bible belt.  His father has recently died and both he and his mother are searching for a reason to exist.  

His mother, Marjery, at the encouragement of young and handsome Pastor Greg, who is romantically interested in her,  has organized the Christian Puppet Ministry in order to creatively teach faith and morality to the “good” children of the town. 

The emotionally fragile Jason is victimized by Timothy, the class bully.  The over-sexed charismatic teen-aged Timothy lusts for Margery, who, in a moment of need, gives in to his machinations.  Meanwhile, Jason has a secret fondness for Jessica, a caring classmate.

Jason creates Tyrone, a hand puppet, as part of the ministry, and his whole life changes.  Tyrone, like many alter-egos, is everything Jason is not.  He is dangerous, commanding, and irreverent.   He is Satan’s hand who challenges Jason to fulfill his darkest desires by becoming the young man’s destructive dominant personality. As mental health professionals will attest, once created, getting rid of the likes of Tyrone is difficult.

HAND TO GOD has gone through three reincarnations in New York.  In 2012 it opened at a 99-seat theatre to strong reviews.  It moved to a 249-seat off-Broadway theatre and evolved into a major hit.  It is now being played in the intimate 783-seat on-Broadway Booth Theatre, a venue reserved for “finely-crafted dramas.”  HAND TO GOD well fits that criteria.

Actor Steven Boyer, who portrays both Jason and Tyrone, has an intimate relationship with the sock puppet.  He built the googly eyed “monster” with the small mop of red hair when the show had its first reading at Pace University and it has been his intimate companion since.

Boyer is compelling.  Jason and Tyrone become so blended that when Boyer is creating the voice of Tyrone, he makes little effort to be a ventriloquist. It matters little as the sock puppet becomes so real that when Tyrone speaks, all eyes are on him, not Jason.  Tyrone becomes a real being.

When Boyer tries to rid himself of Tyrone in a battle to the end, it parallels a victim of Dissociative Identity Disorder who must fight to destroy the psychological issues of trauma that brought about the need for the protective or deviant split-off.  It is excruciating to watch Jason’s struggle to be free of his Satanic “other self.”

The rest of the cast well supports Boyer.  Geneva Carr is believable as Margery, Jason’s depressed mother.  Michael Oberholtzer is appropriately aggressive as Timothy, the bully with teenage hopping hormones.  Sarah Stiles as Jessica, who attempts to aid Jason by being supportive of him, is character-right, as is Marc Kudisch as Pastor Greg.

Director Moritz von Stuelpnagel, who was recognized by the Drama League for his production of HAND OF GOD, is making his Broadway directing debut with this staging.  He has a long history of productions at both Ensemble Theatre and other venues.  His skill is clear in this production as he keeps the action moving along at an appropriate pace, building up to the painful conclusion.  

Capsule judgement:  HAND TO GOD is a compelling tale of two lost people, caught up in their own lack of ability to cope with the death of a major person in their lives, who are losing their fight to chart a course of healthy reality and turn to escapism to get through the angst.  The production is well conceived and performed and makes for a fascinating theatrical experience in which laughter acts as an escape from the pain.

HAND TO GOD  is being performed in an open-ended run at the Booth Theatre, 22 West 45thStreet, New York.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS builds a stairway to paradise on Broadway

The 1951 film AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, with music by George Gershwin and lyrics by Ira Gershwin, is considered by many to be one of the  most successful movie musicals ever made.  It starred Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron and Oscar Levant.  The winner of six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, it was designated in 1993 for presentation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically and aesthetically significant.”

In 2014, a stage version, written by Craig Lucas, directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, opened in Paris for a two-month run.

In April of 2015 a somewhat reconceived version opened on Broadway for what should be a long, long run!

In many ways, AMERICAN IN PARIS is a traditional old fashioned Broadway musical.  Boy meets girl, boy falls in love, girl falls in love, problems cause them to be separated, they come together, and, of course, they will live happily ever after.  But few, if any, traditional musicals, to date, have resulted in such an elegant mélange of the music, dance and concept as this show.

The somewhat contrived story basically follows the plot of the film, centering on an American soldier (Jerry Mulligan), who, following World War II, decides to ply his artistic skills in Paris.  He falls in love with a girl (Lise Dassin) who he encounters on the street.  With the assistance of a fellow ex-pat, a talented musician (Adam Hochberg),  he reconnects with Lise.  He finds out she is already engaged to a Parisian aristocrat (Henri Baurel), but that doesn’t thwart Jerry’s quest for her.  Lisa, who has a secret to hide, and her trio of suitors, under-go a series of dance and song experiences that eventually wend their way to a happy ending.

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS: A New Musical, is a gorgeous symphony of dance, song, sets and graphics.  From its opening expository dance sequence, to the enveloping concluding ballet, it seamlessly unfolds as a visually compelling production that is breathtaking to watch.

Director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, a noted luminary of the ballet world, has so well conceived the production that even the grand boulevards of Paris, a  combination of projections by 59 Productions, Natasha Katz’s lighting designs, and Bob Crowley’s attractively painted backdrops, virtually dance. Added to this, Rob Fisher has adapted and arranged the original music and the film’s score with incomparable finesse.

Wheeldon has created a dance-driven style of story telling that grabs, holds and induces emotional wonder.  He creatively uses modern and classical dance moves to create fine story telling.  He molds together the use of techniques such as “jazz hands” with ballet point grace to create a new style of stage movement.

The cast are all triple threat performers.  Many are well known ballet dancers who can sing and act with amazing skill.

New York Ballet principal, Robert Fairchild, who is Broadway leading-man handsome, commands the stage in every way.  He doesn’t perform that role of Jerry, he is Jerry.  He has charisma and believability.  He has a physical and emotional connection with Leanne Cope (Lise) that translates into their being believable lovers.  His vocalizations of “I’ve Got Beginner’s Luck” and “Liza” are dazzling.  His “Fidgety Feet” make sitting calmly in a seat without tapping your toes impossible.

Broadway newcomer, Leanne Cope, with her Leslie Caron adorableness, creates a charming Lise.  Trained at the Royal Ballet School, she is not only a brilliant dancer but her singing voice is wonderful.  Her “The Man I Love” is note-on. 

Brandon Uranowitz has a wonderful sense of comic timing and acting skills that make Adam into an accessible and often sympathetic soul.  He has a fine singing voice.

Jill Paice effectively creates Milo as a sophisticated, yet emotionally fragile wealthy woman who tries to buy what she wants.  Her versions of “Shall We Dance” and duets such as “Who Cares?,” and “But Not For Me” are well sung.

Max von Essen is believable as Henri, Lise’s fiancée, who knows that she is Jewish and was hidden by his family during the war while he secretly was in the resistance.  He has a fine singing voice.

Capsule judgement:  AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, A New Musical, is a visual, dance-driven Broadway story-telling creation that is gorgeous, enchanting, seamless and sophisticated.   It is a tribute not only to the music of George and Ira Gershwin, but to the genius of director Christopher Wheeldon, and the performance abilities of a stellar cast.

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS:  A New Musical, is being performed in an open run, at The Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway, New York.  Tickets are for sale at various sites including or 877-250-2929.  For information about the show go to:

Sunday, May 10, 2015

WOLVES, a supposed modern fairy tale, a bewildering experience at convergence-continuum

Steve Yockey’s WOLVES:  AN URBAN FABLE, now on stage at convergence-continuum, centers on three people, Ben and Jack, ex-lovers who still live in the same apartment, and Wolf, a trick that Jack picks up one night at a bar.

Ben, who comes from a small town is xenophobic, agoraphobic and jealous.  He is afraid of strangers and everything that is foreign.  He fears leaving the confines of the small apartment he shares with Jack, his former lover.  Though the relationship is over, as far as Jack is concerned, Ben still tries to cling on.  He attempts to limit Jack’s contacts with the outer world so that Jack will not find someone else and leave Ben.

The haphazardly developed script leaves much to the audience’s imagination.

Questions arise.   Why did Ben leave his small town and move to the big (unnamed) city?  How did this psychologically fragile man/child acquire a handsome lover like Jack?  What does Ben do to make money for rent and pay for other necessities since he refuses to leave the apartment?

Why is Jack, who probably moved in with Ben because he was desperate for a place to stay, still living in the apartment with the smothering Ben?  What, if anything, does he do to earn his keep?  How did the duo meet since Ben doesn’t leave the apartment?  There is a single line, thrown in much like an afterthought, that they used to go out and have fun, but that idea is never developed.

What we do know is that Jack goes out one evening with a desire to meet someone.  The someone turns out to be Wolf, not his real name but so named by Jack because Ben refers to the world outside as a dangerous place, filled with wolves. 

Wolf makes it clear, when Jack brings him back to the apartment, that what he wants is sex.  After a series of “getting to know you” short conversations, Wolf and Jack start to make out.  Their actions quickly turn  aggressive, both stripping off their shirts, Jack apparently asking for and getting rough sex.  Ben enters, picks up an axe, and destroys Wolf.  (Why an ax is in the apartment is not explained.  I guess we are to assume that it is there to protect the residents from potential invaders.)  Wolf is chopped up, off stage, and the play ends with some inane conversation between the blood soaked Jack and Ben.

At the start of the play, the narrator tells us that we shouldn’t look for a moral in this so-called modern day deconstruction of the Red Riding Hood fairy tale.  She’s not exactly accurate.  There are topics from which morals can be drawn, for those interested in searching for them.  There is the issue of sex and fear in modern culture.  There is the subject of mental illness.  There is the clash between love and need.   And, there is the issue of the morality of lustful murder.

Yockey is noted for being a poetic playwright who pushes the boundaries.  In spite of some award nominations (“Out” magazine’s top-10-stage plays of 2012, and being a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for best LGBT Drama of 2014/15),  WOLF is not a well-written script.   What the award committees saw as quality in the script is a mystery.

Much of the required exposition is left out.  The tie to Red Riding Hood is shallow.  Jack does wear a red hoodie when he goes out to the bar where he picks up the appropriately named Wolf. The characters are quite one-dimensional.  The script just stops.  It doesn’t end in a conclusion of finality.  I guess we can conclude that monsters lurk not only in the streets, but also within.

The con-con production is uneven.  Director Cory Molner does keep the action moving.  There is a clever use of lighting.

Handsome Beau Reinker has the boyish charm that is character-correct for Jack.  He should be praised for making the most out of lines that often have no written motivation for action.  The rest of the cast are not as successful in developing their roles.  In their behalf, they are often given lines that simply don’t translate well into the meaningful spoken word.

Capsule Judgement:  WOLVES:  AN URBAN FABLE is not a well-written script, nor does it have a compelling story line.  Though some may find the experience of value, others will find the experience bewildering.

WOLVES runs through May 30, 2015, at 8 pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at convergence-continuum’s artistic home, The Liminis, at 2438 Scranton Road.  Leave yourself time for maneuvering, as much of Tremont is dug up due to the construction of the new bridge over the Cuyahoga.  For information and reservations call 216-687-0074.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Behind the scenes story of the Cleveland Play House's Tony Award

At the end of each year, the Cleveland Critics Circle meets to select the winners of that year’s performance awards as well as to deal with matters of importance to area theatres.  At the session which brought to a close the 2014 season, I mentioned that Fran Heller, who was a member of CCC at the time,  had proposed several years ago that the group nominate the Cleveland Play House for The Regional Tony Award.  It had been agreed that the timing was probably not right as CPH was adjusting to its new home in the PlayhouseSquare area and a new Artistic Director was coming on board.

Now, however, the time was appropriate for the nomination as the move to the three new theatres in the Allen Theatre at PHSq had been successfully made and the new artistic director had had time to make her presence felt.  The idea was universally accepted. 

Andrea Simakis, of the Cleveland Plain Dealer and, volunteered to write the nomination letter.  Bob Abelman of the Cleveland Jewish News and The News Herald, and myself, of,,, who are all members of the American Theatre Critics Association, agreed to second the nomination with our adapted versions of Andrea’s presentation.   

The nomination letters basically read:   

Cleveland Play House is the country’s first regional theater. Founded in 1915, CPH has entertained 12 million people in its more than 1,300 productions. Longevity aside, CPH’s commitment to fostering new talent makes it extraordinary. Alan Alda, Joel Gray and Paul Newman started their careers at Ohio’s flagship theater.

In 2011, CPH left its longtime home on Cleveland’s East Side for downtown’s Playhouse Square, the nation’s second-largest performing arts center. 

The move into the Allen Theatre complex, with its three state-of-the-art venues, allowed for more inventive staging and varied play selection. Today, the addition of CPH to Playhouse Square is the engine of an artistic renaissance that has helped  revitalize downtown Cleveland.

In 2012, CPH debuted The New Ground Theatre Festival, a weeklong celebration of original and avant garde works that culminates in the public reading of a play by a promising young playwright.
In May of this year, the comedy “Fairfield” by Eric Coble, will make its world premiere at CPH.  Coble developed the play at the CPH Playwrights’ Unit, an initiative designed to nurture new work. Coble’s “The Velocity of Autumn,” which opened on Broadway in 2014, was born at the Playwrights’ Unit.

The theater is also home to the Case Western Reserve University/  Cleveland Play House MFA Acting Program. Alums of the three-year, tuition-free program include Tony Award nominee Elizabeth A. Davis, and “Mad Men’s” Rich Sommer.

For these reasons and a century of excellence CPH deserves this year’s regional Tony.”

Andrea’s, Bob’s and my documents were e-mailed to the ATCA committee in charge of conducting the selection. 

The wait began.

Early in 2015 the ballot of nominees for the Regional Theatre Tony Award were mailed to all members of the ATCA.  The Cleveland Play House’s name was on the list.  Ballots were marked by the membership and returned to the organization  for counting. 
Another waiting period began.

In late April the exciting word came that CPH had been selected to receive the award!
Laura Kepley, the theatre’s artistic director, recounted, “I was in the Cleveland airport, on my way to New York to see the opening of GROUNDED, the new play by my husband [George Brant].  I had just ordered a burrito for lunch.  My cell rang.  Kevin Moore [CPH’s Managing Director] was on the phone.  He excitedly told me of the notification of the Tony award.  I yelled, and threw my food up in the air, as I started screaming and sharing the news with total strangers.”  She doesn’t remember if she ever had lunch that day.  She continued, “I knew we had been nominated.  We were hoping for the award.  We are incredibly proud of the recognition.”

What does Kepley perceive to be the value of CPH receiving the recognition?   She indicated that the national spotlight is turned on Cleveland because of all the great things that are happening here.  The  Cleveland Play House now helps in the illumination. 
“It is a testimony to thousands of people who have done such hard work.  It is a stimulus for local pride.”  She also added, “People who have worked with us for years have reached out to share their Cleveland Play House experience.” 
“The recognition will help with fund raising.”  Kepley added, “It should help with attendance in affirming to those who have been coming for the CPH experience that they  have made a wise decision.  For those who used to come but don’t any longer, it may encourage them to see what we are now doing and act as an invitation to those who have never been in our theatres, to come experience Tony winning work.”

Kepley indicated that plans are for her, Moore and members of the Board to attend the New York ceremony.
She also said that the organization is in the process of planning a live-stream viewing party for The 69th annual Tony Awards hosted by CBS on Sunday, June 7th from Radio City Music Hall in New York City.   Another decision that has to be made is where to display the trophy.

Congratulations to The Cleveland Play House, and kudos to the Cleveland Critics Circle for its part in making the award a possibility.

FAIRFIELD delights and challenges beliefs at CPH

Cleveland Heights School Board member, Eric Coble, has an inside track on understanding the way schools work.   In his play, FAIRFIELD, he starts with the premise of an elementary school whose motto is, “Peace.  Love.  Respect for all.”  And then asks,  “What could possibly go wrong?”

Fairfield Elementary, a public school located in a liberal suburb (locally, think Solon or Beachwood) has everything going for it.  Parent participation, a diverse student body, a new African American principal with a reputation for creative leadership, and a Superintendent who encourages faculty involvement.  Add to that mix a dynamic new teacher who is full of ideas, is enthusiastic, and has a vivid imagination.

It’s February, it’s Black History month.  A time to teach respect for all.  As it turns out, Coble remind us, all the best laid plans can go astray!

Angela Wadley, the principal, in an attempt to provide an understanding of the plight of African Americans, invites an aged former member of the Black Panthers to speak at a student assembly.  He takes this opportunity to go off on a tirade, which includes advising the students to “rise up and kill the ‘honkies’.” 

New teacher, Laurie Kaminski, sends home a spelling list with words such as “chitlins,” “watermelon,” “bootie,” and “fried chicken.” She divides the class into slaves and slaveholders and has the students role play.  One of the white boys puts together a chain of paper clips and in his role as “slave holder” proceeds to whip a black student.  Her idea of having a CelebrEthnic backfires as parents are up in arms over the food, the games, and the costumes.

Oh, yes, lots can go wrong and does.

The CPH production, under the direction of Artistic Director  Laura Kepley, is nothing short of wonderful.  The comic timing is perfect, the staging creative, the character development spot on. 

Nedra McClyde makes Principal Angela Wadley into a model of the African American woman who has broken the glass ceiling by being efficient, organized and well meaning.  Her fine education is emphasized by her use of much “edu-speak.”  Phrases such as “stake holders,” “evidenced based data,” and “outside the box” sound nice, but don’t translate into meaningful actions.

Crystal Finn is hilarious as the well-meaning liberal Jewish teacher who has no understanding of the potential outcomes of her actions, and again and again puts her proverbial foot in her mouth.

Brian Sills nicely develops both his role as Scott Flemingsen, the father of the slave holder boy, and up-tight Superintendent Snyder.

Leenya Rideout (Molly Fleming) and Marinda Anderson (Vanessa Stubbs) as mothers develop clear and consistent characterizations.

Bjorn DuPaty practically steals the show with his portrayal of former Black Panther, Charles Clark.  His long monologue about race relations, which turns into a tirade, provoked not only extended laughter but concluded to thunderous applause. (One can only wonder whether it was for what he said, or his performance.)

I was fortunate enough to be sitting directly opposite the playwright during the production.  He was obviously pleased as the audience roared with laughter as the play proceeded. 

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Filled with edu-speak, sexual innuendos, derogatory terms, mild violence, frank conversations about race, and clever lines, the script is a laugh riot.  The production milks every possible laugh from Eric Coble’s premise and writing. Because of the Outcalt’s thrust seating, the action was up close to each audience member, added to the high level emotional impact.  FAIRFIELD is a production absolutely not to be missed and makes a wonderful curtain-raiser for the NEW. THEATRE. FESTIVAL.

FAIRFIELD runs through May 31 2015, at the Outcalt Theatre in the Allen Theatre complex at PlayhouseSquare.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to