Saturday, March 26, 2016

BOOTY CANDY pushes the envelope at convergence continuum

Both Cleveland Public Theatre (CPT) and convergence-continuum (con-con) are noted for producing “on the edge” theatre.  Ironically, both are now featuring plays that examine the human experience from the viewpoint of sexual orientation and race/ethnicity.

Yuval Boim’s SEXCURITY, in a short run at CPT, is a devised piece which delves into the angst of being gay and Jewish.  It probes into the deep need to define ourselves and the challenges of finding a safe corner of the world.  Boim, the author and Darren Katz, the director, contend that the play is not autobiographical, per se, but has bits of each of them, which have been extrapolated into a theatrical vision.

Now on stage at convergence-continuum, Robert O’Hara’s BOOTY CANDY is a series of interconnected sketches which portray growing up gay and black.  The piece, which is both dramatic and funny, is a biographical work that illuminates O’Hara’s personal pain and pleasure.

O’Hara is blunt in his language and story telling.  His kaleidoscope covers such topics as foreskin, mother-child relationships, a cross-dressing preacher, genitalia, gay sex, racial issues, playwriting techniques, teenage sexual identity, lesbianism, a noncommitment ceremony (the opposite of the gay marriage ceremony), rape, death, suicide, aging, and sexual perversion.  There is full male nudity, the mocking of religion, and lots of four letter words. 

It’s the author’s coming to terms with his sexuality and the damage that the American culture’s attitudes towards sexual orientation and race has had on his psyche.

Many of the scenes are filled with fun.  Others are empathic and soul searching.

Among the standout segments are the opening in which Sutter (the name the author has tagged on the character who represents him), creatively portrayed by Wesley Allen, asks his mother questions about his childlike awareness of sex and his “booty candy” (uncut penis). 

“Dreamin’ in Church,” is a hysterically funny segment in which Michael May, portraying a hyper-evangelical black minister, comments on the number of gay men in the church’s chorus, while scolding the church members for their “salacious spreading of rumors.”  Following his rant, he rips off his churchly robes to reveal a pink dress, red high heeled shows, puts on a female wig, and comes out to the parishioners.

A funny but revealing scene takes place when India Nicole Burton and Rochelle Jones portray four different black women having multiple phone conversations as they discuss the name, Genitalia, which one of them is about to give to her soon-to-be born daughter.

Another segment places the spotlight on Genitalia, now all grown up, as a lesbian who is in the process of dissolving her marriage from her girlfriend, Intifada, in what the author has named, a “noncommitment” ceremony.

“Last Gay Play,” is a troubling segment in which a drunk, psychologically fragile straight man who has just been abandoned by his on-line female date, approaches Sutter and his black friend.  He propositions them. (The scene would have been aided if Nate Miller, who plays the white man, was more drunk and out-of-control.) The trio go back to the man’s hotel room.  The now naked Miller, his gym-ripped body shaking and quivering, is properly pathetic as he pleads to be touched and sexually attacked, both physically and with a “large black dildo.”  The ending of the scene is the strongest serious segment of the play.

Under the direction of Terrence Spivey, the cast, India Nicole Burton, Wesley Allen, Rochelle Jones, Michael May and Nate Miller, are excellent as they flow from one part to another.

Capsule Judgement:  BOOTY CANDY, as is true with most con-con plays, will please many (including me), and offend others. It is funny, revealing and generally well-staged. As publicity for the show states, “PLEASE BE ADVISED:  This play is called BOOTY CANDY, so they’ll be talking about booty, and show some booty.  That means strong language, mature themes, and full nudity.  You’ve been warned!”

BOOTY CANDY runs through April 16, 2016, at 8 pm on 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 or go to

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Groundworks Dance Theater stresses imagination you can see @ Breen Center; IT TAKES TWO--annual fundraising

The reconfigured Groundworks Dance Theater, with two new dancers this season, again proved that they are one of the area’s premiere dance companies in their presentation of “Falling Awake,” in its world premiere, and Artistic Director David Shimotakahara’s spellbinding, “Ghost Opera.” 

“Falling Awake” found the entire company interpreting choreographer Loni Landon’s creation about tension, connection/disconnection and how people relate to each other.

The piece, Landon said, was inspired “from a recurring image [she] had after several chaotic dreams following Hurricane Sandy.”  Her hope for the piece, “to have it feel like a continuous stream of consciousness—a dream—a movie,” was achieved.

Danced to select music from the soundtrack of “The Great Beauty,” it incorporated redundant segments of action and feelings which would not go away.  The fragmented scenes, eerie electronic and piano music, and  effective lighting by Dennis Dugan, combined to create the desired image of a fracture dream.

The slight but powerful newcomer, Michael Marquez, continued to impress with his strong movements, controlled precision and fluidity.   Attractive Lauren Garson, the other company neophyte, fit seamlessly into the strong female corps  of Felise Bagley and Annika Sheaff displaying strong dance moves and a complete performance vocabulary.

“Ghost Opera” is a brilliant dance and theatrical experience.   Combining live music and ancient theatrical methods, it left an indelible impression.

The piece, Shimotakahara’s re-imagining of Tan Dun’s master work, brings spirits from the past present and future, from east and west culture, from nature and technology, together into an emotionally satisfying presentation.

First danced at the Cleveland Institute of Music on June 28, 2014, this is a piece that should be a permanent fixture in the Groundworks lexicon of works.

The multi-textured piece found the musicians (Solomon Liang, Andra Belding, Aaron Mossburg, Erica Snowden and Yihan Chen) moving from place to place on stage, interweaving with the dancers, filmy curtains and spectacular lighting effects by Dennis Dugan.   Using water in bowls, paper, Asian instruments such as the Pipa, and traditional Western musical instruments, they set a perfect mood for the performers’ use of Oriental hand, arm, leg and body movements.

A highlight segment of the dancing was an extended duet by the ever proficient Felise Bagley and Michael Marquez.   A wonderful segment centering on the manipulation of a large box was filled with humor and skill.

Capsule Judgement: An appreciative audience expressed their pleasure as the  final curtain fell on Groundworks Spring Concert at Breen Auditorium.  The company continues to smoothly integrate new dancers into their membership without losing any of their precision and living up to their motto of “Imagination You Can See.” 

Performance dates were:  March 18 and 19, 2016 at Breen Center for the Performing Arts

IT TAKES TWO…annual fundraiser
Seven local celebrities will be featured in fantastic and fun duets with seven GroundWorks artists. 2016 Celebrity Dancers
¥    Margaret Richards Frankel, Dentist, Richards Frankel Dentistry
¥    Ian Friedman, Attorney, Friedman & Nemacek, LLC
¥    Brian Marita, Managing Partner, Ciuni and Panichi
¥    Heidi Gartland, Vice President, Government & Community Relations, University Hospitals
¥    Kristen Morris, Chief Government and Community Relations Officer, Cleveland Clinic
¥    August A. Napoli Jr., Deputy Director and Chief Advancement Officer, Cleveland Museum of Art
¥    Sylvia Pérez, VP for Corporate Governance and Governmental & International Affairs, The Cleveland Foundation
Matt Zone, Cleveland City Councilman

¥    When: Saturday, April 2nd, 2016
¥    Where: The Cleveland Museum of Art
¥    Parking: Free indoor parking provided
¥    Suggested Attire: Casual, Cool, Cocktail

For information about GroundWorks go to http://www.groundworksdance.orgor call 216-751-0088

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Devised SeXcurity probes for sense-of-self and identity at CPT

Roy Berko

Member: Cleveland Critics Circle and American Theatre Critics Association

Native Clevelander Darren Katz and Israeli born, Yuval Boim, have many things in common.  The duo are gay, Jewish, have an intense interest in probing into the psyche of self-identity, security of identification, and victimhood.  As revealed in a face-to-face interview, they both seem to thrive on probing psychological barriers and delving into the layers of personal development as an artist.

That delving is at the very core of their SeXcurity.  The devised theater-piece is the kind of work that Raymond Bobgan, the Artistic Director of Cleveland Public Theatre, champions.

SeXcurity is billed as a darkly funny performance about the deep need to define ourselves and the challenges of finding a safe corner of the world – and our minds – in which to do so. It concerns an Israeli-American Jewish gay screenwriter whom, when confronted with a crisis, has to discover who he really is.

The character sees himself as a victim.  He has a boyfriend who is German.  His life and sexual actions connect with trauma, and have life and death ties.  He struggles to let go of his perceived victimhood and history, which, in reality, have nothing to do with his contemporary self.

Though Katz and Boim contend that the play is not autobiographical, per se, but thematically has bits of each of them. As they stated, “it is based in autobiography and then extrapolated."

Katz was brought up in Shaker Heights and graduated from University School in 1992.  He was a student of the late Michael LiBassi in the Heights Youth Theatre, worked with Victoria Bussert at Cain Park, and was influenced by Carol Pribble, his drama teacher at US.  He went on to earn a BA in Urban Studies and Architecture from Columbia University.  He now lives in New York with his husband and their child.

Like architecture, his philosophy of theatre directing centers on “working with the playwright to find the best form to tell their story in a three-dimensional way.”  He believes that “form follows function and that theater is a physical art.”  He contends that “theater should not be derivative, but should stress the invention of story.”

His NY credits include being the Resident Director of The Lion King, which entails rehearsing the understudies and crafting the performances of new cast members who are entering into the production.  He has directed such shows as the 2nd national tour of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. (For more professional information on Darren go to:

He returns to Cleveland regularly as his family still resides here.  He nostalgically related that when he was young he used to take the rapid downtown to his father’s law office.  He remembers well the beauty of the marbled walls which used to be in the lower levels of the Terminal Tower.

Yuval Boim is a “Sabra.” He was born in Holon, a city on the coastal strip just south of Tel Aviv to a first generation Sabra father and a Romanian mother.  His family moved to Johannesburg, South Africa when he was young, back to Israel when he was three, and moved to Houston, Texas when he was thirteen.

He is a graduate of the conservatory at the Boston University College of Fine Arts.  Following college he moved to New York to pursue a career in theater.  He also spent two years in London studying Lecoq at the London International School of Performing Arts, which “emphasizes methods of physical theater, movement and mime.”  The performance language of the school emphasizes the physical playing of the actor, which is Yuval's first approach to playwriting.

Boim’s conception and performance in SeXcurity harks back to his Lecoq training.

Boim has appeared in numerous television shows and movies including “That Awkward Moment” with Zac Efron and Miles Teller. (For more information on Boim, go to:

Natalie Gershtein, an independent New York based producer, is the producer of SeXcurity.  In her role as producer, her aim is to “support artists and connect the show to the right audience.”  She has become passionate about the work of Katz and Boim and hopes that through this workshop, they can pair the show with the right future audiences and venues. 

As they go forward Katz, Boim and Gershtein hope that they can cultivate mindfulness around the subject of identity, bringing this theme from the unconscious to the conscious.

SeXcurity (a workshop production),which is part of the OUT OF THE BOX series, will be performed March 24-26 at 7 PM.  For tickets call 216-631-2727 or go to

Saturday, March 19, 2016

A KID LIKE JAKE probes the effects of heredity & environment at none too fragile

In their catalog, Dramatists Play Service, which owns the production rights to Daniel Pearle’s A KID LIKE JAKE, states, “On the eve of the admissions cycle for Manhattan’s most exclusive private schools, Alex and Greg have high hopes for their son Jake, a precocious four-year old who happens to prefer Cinderella to G. I. Joe.  But as the process continues, Jake’s behavior becomes erratic and perplexing, and other adults in his life start to wonder whether his fondness for dress-up might be cause for concern.”

Yes, that’s a surface level description of Pearle’s explosive and thought-provoking play.   What the catalog description misses is the need to look beyond the story line and get into the psychological and sociological issues raised.

A major topic in theories in the social sciences centers on roles of nature and nurture.  Is a person destined to be and do what their genes dictate?  Can predispositions be influenced by a person’s environment?  Is a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, possible addictions (e.g., alcoholism, eating dysphoria, drug dependency) set by heredity or influenced by cultural inputs?

There is a ritual of competition that seems to arise from living in a place where it is difficult to gain recognition.  There is a mass of people competing for the same thing, whether it is for school placement or finding a parking spot.

Manhattan residents tend to be anxiety driven, failing to take a deep breath and relax.  They walk fast, talk fast, set extremely high goals, go to extremes. 

From the time an upper middle to upper class New York child is born, they are on a tread mill to get into the “best” pre-school, elementary school, high school and college, to rise to the top, be a winner, no matter the cost.

In A KID LIKE JAKE, Alex, Jake’s mother, is the product of not only wealth but an exacting mother.  She is obsessive compulsive.  Everything has to be right. Things must be preplanned and structured.  She obsesses over the selection of every single word in Jake’s school entrance essays.  Jake is prepped for ERB entrance tests, his every action is scrutinized. Alex constantly checks in at his pre-school regarding the boy’s actions.  His Halloween costumes and birthday parties must be “right.” 

Each night she reads him fairy tales, with an emphasis on Cinderella, just as Alex was.  He is surrounded by stereotypical “girl” stuff.  He has no “boy” toys and listens to no “boy’ stories. 

Is there any question of why Jake identifies with girls and girl things?

Wonder if his identity patterns would have been different if she had read him “boy” stories and exposed him to “boy” toys? 

Greg, his father, a non-athlete, doesn’t toss around a ball with his son in the park, they don’t share any rough-housing.   Environmentalists might conjure if this is also part of the reason for Jake’s actions and identity. 

Greg  is a psychologist who deals with adults and their issues.  He is in emotional control and approaches the world logically, but not in a non-flexible way.  A product of the public schools and a modest financial background, he seems less driven than his wife to find the “perfect” school.  He sneaks Jake out to McDonald’s, much against his wife’s wishes.

Is Jake reflecting his environmental influences when he states he wants to be a girl or does he have a pre-disposition toward awareness that he was born into the wrong gender body?

In an interview the author indicates that he went through a ‘Cinderella phase.”  He states, “My mom read me a lot of fairy tales when I was little.”  “Snow White was the first movie he saw.”

Pearle’s script encourages much discussion and thought regarding Jake.  The author might consider doing a follow-up, centering around Jake in early adulthood with not only a spotlight on his gender “decisions,” but the relationship of his parents, who we leave with Alex hinting at divorce and Greg saying, “Good luck on finding someone who will put up with you.”

Rachel Lee Kolis must be close to collapse at the end of each production.  With repeated physical gestures, facial expressions and vocal hysterics she creates an Alex who is on the very edge of psychological collapse because of her obsessive tendencies.  She is like a rubber band, about to snap.

 Geoff Knox develops a Greg who has learned well the mental health professional’s ability to control his emotions in the face of stress and chaos.  His speech where he confronts Alex’s potential divorce scenario was powerful.

Katie Wells is effective in her roles as a nurse and a grown-up Jake in a dream sequence.

The play’s pacing was hampered by time consuming and emotional stopping excessive movements of set pieces and costume changes.

Capsule judgement:  A KID LIKE JAKE is a well-developed, thought-provoking script, centering on the contemporary topics of gender identity, parental relationships, and the controversy of nature versus nurture.  The acting is excellent.  It is the type of production that incites discussion and will be appealing to a thinking audience.

For tickets to A KID LIKE JAKE which runs through March 26, 2016 at none too fragile theater in Akron, call 330-671-4563 or go to

The next none too fragile production is Martin McDonagh’s THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE from April 22-May 7, 2016.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Personal thoughts on the passing of David O. Frazier

It is with great sadness that I write this tribute to David O. Frazier.

When my wife and I walked into many an opening night performance, it was our pleasure to find David and Joe Garry, David’s partner for 40 years and husband for two, and schmooze about the theater scene in Cleveland and New York, and the many places all of us had visited. 

Lately, David had entered the theatre in a wheel chair and was transferred by Joe into his seat.  It was sad to watch this strapping, energetic, talented performer fade before our eyes.   

David left us early Monday morning.

David was not only a fine singer, actor and writer, but a wonderful person.  His ready smile was infectious.  It was impossible to listen and watch David and not smile back. 

On July 15, 2009, Representative Dennis J. Kucinich rose before the Congress to honor and recognize David for his induction into the Cleveland Playhouse Hall of Fame for Outstanding Achievement in the Theater.  The proclamation was placed in the Congressional Record (Vol. 155 Issue 106).

David may best be remembered for his 1973 appearance in the record-breaking run in “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris,” which ran for two-and-a-half years in the lobby of the State Theatre.  That production stopped the demolition of and revived Cleveland’s five historic movie theatre houses, which now constitute the second largest professional performing arts center in the country.   In 2012 David and Joe were recognized for their “vision, commitment and significant contributions to the saving of the historic theaters of Playhouse Square.”

David and Joe, besides collaborating on “Conversations With An Irish Rascal,” co-wrote and produced fifteen original musicals.  

Joe and David were great hosts.  Their Bratenahl condo is filled with many mementos of their travels as they sailed around the world entertaining on many cruise ships and gained recognition.

All of us who considered David to be a special friend will miss him very, very much. 

The curtain has fallen on his life, but David O. Frasier will long be remembered as holding a special place in our collective hearts.

THE 39 STEPS, British farcical fun, at Blank Canvas

What do you do if  you are bored?  If you are Richard Hannay, the major character in Patrick Barlow’s THE 39 STEPS, now on stage at Blank Canvas, you go to the theater to see “something mindless and trivial.”  If you, personally are bored and looking for something to fill your time, THE 39 STEPS should fill the bill!

The farcical melodrama, a mix of a Hitchcock mystery and Monty Python-like ridiculousness, is based on a 1915 novel by John Buchan and Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film of the same name.

In 2007 the play won the prestigious Olivier Award, the British equivalent of the Tony Award.  It also holds the record as the fifth longest running play in West End history.

In the play, Hannay goes to the theatre to see a clairvoyant perform.  An attractive blond sits next to him in his London music hall box.  A shot rings out, chaos follows, the blond and Hannay wind up in his flat. 

The next morning the blond is killed, Hannay, sure he will be accused of being the killer, flees to Scotland’s most remote highlands.  He is confronted by a man with a severed pinky, detectives who want to arrest him, and a plot against Britain by the Nazis. 

Hannay is constantly pursued, having interludes with attractive women, and escaping via train, car and on foot.  Of course, in the end, as is the case with all over-blown melodramatic farces, he wins both the girl and his freedom.

The script is filled with puns and allusions to such Hitchcock flicks as “Strangers on a Train,” “Rear Window,” “Psycho,” and “Vertigo.”  It isn’t required that the viewer can identify these references, but it doesn’t hurt.

The meaning of the title?  I’m not going to tell, that would reveal the little bit of real mystery in the script.

The format for the play can be exhausting, for both the cast and the audience.  Four players portray many, many characters…keeping track is of who is who is almost impossible.  One actor inhabits the role of Hannay.  A female plays three different femme fatales who find themselves in romantic interactions with Hannay. 

The remaining two actors, complete with lots of hats, dresses, jackets, coats, wigs and mustaches, are the police, hotel owners, announcers, and every other person, both male and female, who lead us on a merry, no-holds barred chase for justice.

To achieve the desired hilarity, the staging requires lightening swift quick-changes.  This is where the Patrick Ciamacco directed show both succeeds and stumbles.

On the positive side, the projection designs created by Perren Hedderson, and carried out by projectionist Zac Hudak, not only instantly create moving trains and cars, but fill in for what would normally be scenery and informing signage.  Also, the actors are adequately able to quickly change character clarifiers, such as hats, coats and mustaches.

On the other hand the use of four large and heavy wooden crates, which stand in for railroad cars, desks, tables and other scenery items, are cumbersome and take much time to move around.  Though creative, they slow down the quick movements necessary, and cause long blackouts while they are flipped, shuffled and carried into place. 

In addition, the actors sometimes flub lines and lose track of their vocal characterizations.   Though this sometimes adds to the hilarity, it breaks the flow of the show and we wind up laughing at the errors rather than the goings on.

Ciamacco, in his directorial play program notes, comments on his love of the Marx Brothers and their vaudeville comedy style.  He has applied this to the “let’s put on a show” nature of the script with great intention, but the execution is sometimes not the required perfection of the Marx Brothers, whose impeccable timing was all-important to create farce in which we laughed at the lines and the situations, not the shticks and gimmicks.

As for the cast, Joe Kenderes delights as Richard Hannay.  He, in contrast to others in the plot, plays his role totally straight, thus fulfilling the dictum of good farce…laugh with the characters, not at them.   Both Kevin Kelly and Michael Prosen, playing all the male roles, get lots of laughs, but would have been more effective had they let the farce play out and not begged for laughs.  Rachael Swartz was didn’t always differentiate between the three females she played, but was generally effective.

The London production of the show was a total romp.  The British are perfectionists in doing musical hall farce.  Unfortunately, Americans often aren’t quite up to that level.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  THE 39 STEPS is a farcical romp which gets a good, but not great production.  If your theater liking is for improbable plot twists, and extended ridiculousness, the Blank Canvas production makes for a chucklefest that should delight you.

Blank Canvas’s THE 39 STEPS runs though June 27, 2015 in its west side theatre, 1305 West 78th Street, Suite 211, Cleveland.  Get directions to the theatre on the website. Once you arrive at the site, go around the first building to find the entrance and then follow the signs to the second floor acting space.  For tickets and directions go to

Blank Canvas’s next show is LAUGHING FROM THE FRINGE, directed by theatre reviewer, playwright and actor Christine Howey.  It is part of Blank Canvas’s Factory Series and consists of two one-acts from the 2015 New York International Fringe Festival.  It will be staged from April 15-23, 2016.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

LUNA GALE expertly places the spotlight on the child welfare system at the Cleveland Play House

As revealed in the CPH program:  43 percent of children placed in the child welfare system in Ohio are eventually returned to their families, 24 percent are taken in by relatives (“kinship care”), 15 percent are adopted and 14 percent stay in the system until they become adults.

What really is the child welfare system, how does it work, is it successful?  Few outside of those who have been involved with the workings have any idea of the machinations and the potential horrors faced by those who are participants.

When something goes wrong in the child welfare system who is responsible?  Normally, the spotlight goes onto the parent(s) who don’t have the skills or the life style to accommodate a child.  Sometimes it appears to be the social service system.  The underfunded, short-staffed organization who sometimes find themselves with poor leadership, burned out social workers, and internal conflicts.  Sometimes the problem is the foster care “parents” who take on the children for selfish or financial reasons.  Whatever, sometimes the child welfare system just doesn’t work.

Rebecca Gilman’s LUNA GALE, which is now being staged at Cleveland Play House, asks the question, “How do we make the right decision where there is no clear right choice as it relates to Luna Gale, an infant with druggie parents, a religious fanatic grandmother with an agenda, and a burned out social worker in a dysfunctional organization?”

The story concerns Caroline, a long-time social worker, whose most recent case centers on Peter and Karlie, two teenage drug addicts who, after bringing their sick daughter, Luna Gale to a hospital, are accused of neglecting the child.  Can the two be rehabilitated so they can take care of their child in a healthy way?  Is it best to place her with her maternal grandmother who is a religious fanatic whose purpose in taking the child appears to be to “save her” for the Lord?  Or, should she be placed in foster care?

As the story unfolds, we discover deep secrets in Karlie’s past and are led to believe that her mother, Cindy, had a hand in driving her daughter to escape from the real world. 

A subplot centers on Lourdes, a “success story” of foster care who has made it through the system and is off to college to pursue her dreams, or maybe the dreams of Caroline, desperate to prove that all of her efforts and good intentions are worth it all.  But Caroline, has a secret that is as deep as Kalie’s and that of Lourdes.

Rebecca Gilman has crafted a well-written play, made of real conversations, plausible conflicts, some emotional-inducing plot twists, and a “hopeful” ending that challenges credibility, a kind of feel good ending that is probably more to
let the audience go home happy than dealing with statistical realities.

Austin Pendleton has directed the play with creativity.  Rather than having scene follow scene with the usual set changes, he has worked with Scenic Designer Michael Schweikardt to create a stage in which the fragmented scenery is interconnected.  This allows actors to flow from area to area with ease, keep the continuity seamless, and allow characters to observe each other in real time.  The effect is powerful.

The cast, which has a strong contingent of Case Western Reserve/Cleveland Play House MFA Acting Program students, and their Associate Director, is universally strong. 

Jeremiah Clapp shines as the drugged-out Peter, Luna Gale’s father, who takes advantage of an intervention and rises to be a hero who may well save the child’s emotional and physical life.  He is balanced by Megan King, who nicely textures the role of Karlie, Luna Gale’s mother, who, in the end realizes that she is and could be more of a detriment than an aid in the child’s future.

Lee Roy Rogers shows tremendous acting depth in showcasing Caroline’s personal conflict as a woman who has put out years of effort to try and erase her problems by serving the needs of others, but has probably reached the emotional end of the road.

Angela Pierce clearly develops Cindy, Karlie’s mother, into a woman who has been “saved” and wants that for her granddaughter.  Pierce nicely spotlights that though the character’s outward motives are clear, her underlying guilt may well be the reason for her actions.

Donald Carrier (Pastor Jay) has a pivotal scene in which he tries to win Caroline to his side by praying with her.  Carrier is so effective that he moves all with his charismatic fervor.

Athena Colón is impressive in presenting a Lourdes who appears to be stronger than she is in fighting to shed the effects of her past life, which couldn’t be erased, even through a seemingly successful foster care experience.

Kenneth Lee is often hard to hear and understand as he portrays Cliff, Caroline’s supervisor.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: One of the purposes of good theatre is to enlighten and educate an audience.  LUNA GALE does just that as it continues CPH’s quality centennial season. The script is well written, the acting top notch, the directing spot on. This is a must see for anyone who wants to experience an emotionally wrenching tale of the real world of social work and the fragile child welfare system.

LUNA GALE runs through March 20, 2016, at the Allen Theatre in PlayhouseSquare.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to

Friday, March 11, 2016

THE REVISIONIST exposes the need for connectedness @ Dobama

 Social anthropologists offer that humans have four basic needs—survival, pleasure, security and territoriality.  They also propose that we need to belong to some group or groups.  Most commonly that of a family.  Jesse Eisenberg in his play THE REVISIONIST hits on the needs and the desire for connectedness in his thought-provoking script.

Eisenberg is known for his Oscar-nominated role in “The Social Network,” as Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg.  Other noted parts included appearances in “Holy Rollers,” the 2010 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize winner, and the forthcoming “Batman versus Superman:  Dawn of Justice as Superman’s archenemy Lex Luther.  Few know of him as an author, playwright and comedian.

Eisenberg has written three play, ASUNCION, THE REVISIONIST, and THE SPOILS.  His first book, “Bream Gives Me Hiccups,” a collection of short humor pieces, was published in 2015 to laudatory reviews. 

THE REVISIONIST, which ran at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre in 2013, with a cast that included Eisenberg and Vanessa Redgrave, centers on Maria, a Holocaust survivor who opens her modest Polish apartment to her second cousin, David, a book author with writer’s block.  David, who had written a very successful young adult’s novel, has supposedly come to Poland for solitude in order to revise his science-fiction novel which is six-months past submission deadline.

Instead of quiet, David is confronted by a stubborn woman who wants to get to know her distant “American family.”  It’s a cultural collision. 

Maria’s life consists of watching CNN, talking to telemarketers, going on weekly shopping trips with her taxi-driver friend Zenon, and obsessing over her many, many family pictures.  People who she has never met and only one of whom has visited her.  That visit was for a quick couple of hours.  She did go to America once to visit David’s grandfather and his immediate family.  It was then that she met the very young David.

Maria fusses over meals, plans for side-visits for David, tries to dictate what David should wear, do and believe.  High-wired, David tries to escape reality by smoking pot in his room by opening the window, much to Maria’s consternation.  He can’t stick to the rewriting task for very long. 

David’s ambivalent relationship with his family frustrates Maria.  She can’t understand why he doesn’t call his mother, has had no contact with his sister or grandfather for months.  She yearns for family interaction, looking forward to her weekly short phone calls from David’s grandfather.

David and Maria’s disquieting togetherness comes to a climax when she wants him to sign a negative review of his anti-fascist allegorical novel in the New York Times that his grandfather sent. 

The play climaxes when Maria, drunk on vodka, reveals to David, who is also pickled, a secret that unravels the whole family connection. 

It is from here on that the characters end their relationship and Eisenberg fumbles with an ending.

THE REVISIONIST had a staged reading last year by Faye Sholitan’s Interplay Jewish Theatre, directed by Jackie Lowey, which starred Dorothy Silver.

Silver, the first lady of Cleveland theater, also stars in the Dobama production.  Silver digs deep into Maria’s soul and mines actions and reactions that only a great actress could uncover,  Silver does not portray Maria.  She is Maria.  Eyes flashing, emotions on edge, smirk on face, voice cracking and trembling, hands animated, Silver compels.  She commands and gets attention.  This is Silver at her finest!  Bows, curtain calls and trumpets of praise!

Andrew Gobmas also is excellent.  Trying to balance the acting scales when one is on stage with greatness is hard, but Gombas succeeds.  He has a vulnerability, a way of making his actions and reactions real, the ability to texture a character, that makes David real.

John Busser, who played Zenon, a taxi driver, who spoke only in Polish, got his highest compliment from a Polish couple that was brought to the production by a member of Dobama’s original acting company.  The duo said Busser’s pronunciation was language correct!

The appropriate pacing for the one and a half hour intermissionless production, and the on-target character development can be credited to Leighann Delorenzo’s direction.

Aaron Benson’s modest Polish apartment set did much to set the right mood.

Nathan Motta, Dobama’s artistic director, in his program notes asks: “Without personal connection without someone to share our human experience with, left completely alone with our thoughts can we truly survive?  He goes on to write, “Maria needs her family.  David takes his family for granted while hunting for something else.”  I challenge, “What can we learn from this clash of cultural ideologies?”
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  Though there are flaws in the writing, Dobama’s THE REVISIONIST is a must see to experience the great Dorothy Silver and the very talented Andrew Gombas.  These performances deserve a standing ovation!

THE REVISIONIST runs through April 3, 2016 at Dobama Theatre.  Call 216-932-3396 or for tickets.

New ending adds a twist to AND THEN THERE WERE NONE @ GLT

Agatha Christie is one of the world’s best-selling authors.  Her 66 detective novellas and fourteen short story collections have sold over a billion copies.  She is also credited with writing the play and movie scripts for some of her works. 

Two of her most popular works are AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, which is now in production at Great Lakes Theatre, and THE MOUSETRAP, which opened in London in 1952 and is still running.  The latter is the longest running play in Western theatre history, clocking up close to 30,000 consecutive performances. 

Several little known facts about THE MOUSETRAP are that Christie gave the rights to her grandson, Matthew Prichard, as a ninth birthday present, making him an instant millionaire.  In addition, the contract terms of the play declare that no film adaptation can be made until the West End production has been closed for at least six months.

AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, was first a successful book which Christie transformed into a play.  Because of the complexity of all the deaths and incidental actions, many thought the play impossible to produce.  But staged it was.  The show opened in 1943 on the West End to positive reviews.  It ran 260 performances.  It would have lasted longer, but the theatre was destroyed during a Nazi blitzkrieg, interrupting the run.  A New York staging ran for 426 performances and the script has gone on to be one of the most produced at community theatres and high schools.

The play was written with two endings.   One, a happier conclusion, which was thought to be appropriate for war-torn Britain and an alternate, which parallels that of the original novel.  The latter, which was commissioned by Christie’s grandson, the same chap who gets all the royalties from THE MOUSETRAP, was first performed in September, 2015 and is the ending that director Charles Fee is using for the local production.

The “new” ending fulfills the dictates of the nursery rhyme on which the book was based, while the “old” ending leaves that poem unfinished.

The story concerns eight strangers who are invited by a “Mr. Owen,” to spend a weekend at the isolated Indian Island, off the English coast.  When the group arrives they find a butler and housekeeper, who have been informed that the host will not arrive until the next day. 

What do the group members have in common?  Why have they been invited?  Mystery is in the air.  Shortly after dressing for dinner, as they meet in the drawing room, a recorded voice accuses each of having committed a murder for which they have never been punished. They soon realize that none of them knows a Mr. Owen, and that they are trapped on the desolate island.  On the mantle are 10 little Indian statues. 

When one of the guests chokes to death from poisoned whiskey and an Indian figure falls to the floor and breaks, the plot takes off.  One down, nine to go!!

The GLT production holds the attention but is not compelling. 

The show was nicely staged by Fee, Russell Metheny’s up-scale set is gorgeous, Rick Martin’s lighting and Joe Court’s sound design help build the tension, Kim Krumm Sorenson’s costumes are era correct, but the pacing was a little languid and the excitement didn’t build as much as possible.  The ending seemed forced.  (Explaining why would expose the surprise ending, which is “no-no” in theatrical reviews and would require that I break the pledge I took at a London attendance of THE MOUSETRAP in which I swore never to reveal the ending of a Christie mystery.)

The cast is universally excellent with each character nicely developed.

Capsule judgement:  AND THEN THERE WERE NONE is a typical Agatha Christie mystery, filled with plot twists and turns.  It receives a very competent, if not compelling production at Great Lakes Theater.  It is a staging worth seeing for those who are novices to the world of Christie or want to activate their “who done it” prowess and figure out the “villain” based on the new ending to the script.

AND THEN THERE WERE NONE runs through March20, 2016 at the Hanna Theatre.  For tickets: 216-664-6064 or