Friday, April 28, 2017

“Something Rotten!” is a must see musical farce at Connor Palace

Theater history books refer to “The Black Crook,” which opened in 1866 in New York, as the first book musical.   According to “Something Rotten!,” by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell (book) and Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick (music and lyrics), now on stage at the Connor Palace, that honor should go to “Omelette.”

Never heard of “Omelette?” Unless you’ve seen the hysterically funny “Something Rotten!” you don’t realize that “Omelette” is an in-joke at the center of a farcical plot that exposes how the Bottom brothers outsmarted the Elizabethan era’s literary rock star, William Shakespeare, in producing the world’s first musical. 

Nick and Nigel Bottom, an actor and his playwright brother, live in the theatrical shadow of the Bard of Avon.  They desire to take some of the attention away from him.  

How to do it?  They pay a soothsayer, a maybe-relative of the famous Nostradamus, to look into the future.  His predictions?  Shakespeare’s greatest hit is going to be a play named, “Omelette” and the next big trend in theatre is going to be musicals, where the actors sing many of their lines.   So, the duo starts to one-up Will by writing a musical play about eggs.

Their efforts result in a kick line of dancing omelettes, a silly story line, and ridiculous farcical actions.  The musical number “Make an Omelette,” ranks with “Springtime for Hitler” from “The Producers” as one of the funniest dances in musical history choreography.

We observe Shakespeare as "a hack with a knack for stealing anything he can,” who swipes not only the title, but plot devices and lines from the naïve Nigel, which turn out to be “Will’s” “Hamlet.” (Oh, “Hamlet,” not “Omelette!”)  As the soothsayer says, to audible groans, laughter and applause from the audience, “Well, I was close!”

From its opening, the creative “Welcome to the Renaissance,” to the “Finale,” the musical is classical theater gone awry, complete with show-stoppers (“A Musical,” “We See the Light,” and “It’s Eggs!”), encore after encore, ridiculous sight gags, double entendres, sexual allusions, and male costumes with huge codpieces, which are often used as pockets.

There are numerous references to the Bard’s plays and Broadway musicals. Anyone 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 and ‘To Thine Own Self” be anything but be filled with ridiculous delight?

Farce is hard to perform well because of the need for broad realism where the audience laughs with the performers, not at them.  Under the deft hand of director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw (“Disney’s Aladdin” and “The Book of Mormon”), the cast makes the difficult look easy.  

The ensemble is outstanding.  Adam Pascal amuses as Shakespeare, who struts around the stage in sensual leather biker gear, the obvious superstar of the Renaissance.  Rob McClure delights as the obsessive Nick Bottom whose mission in life is to out-bard the Bard.  Josh Grisetti is charming as the shy poet and writer, Nigel Bottom.  Scott Cote swishes with gleeful ease as Brother Jeremiah.  Blake Hammond is hilarious as the bumbling Nostradamus. 

The talented supporting performers all dance and sing with talent and enthusiasm.

Capsule judgment: “Something Rotten” is a theatrical treat…a wonderfully conceived and performed musical farce.  Anyone who wants to go to the theater and have a great time, unburdened by a complicated plot, listen to fun lyrics, see dynamic dancing and experience two acts of non-stop laughter…this is the must see musical!

Tickets for “Something Rotten,” which runs through May 14, 2017 at the Connor Palace, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or by going to

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Superb “Hand To God,” demands attention with laughter and angst @ Dobama

My summary review of Broadway’s “Hand to God” stated, “The production is well-conceived and performed and makes for a fascinating theatrical experience.” 

I went on to say, “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 play that induces convulsive laughter while being terrifying.

Happily, my summary reaction to the New York staging also fits that of the Dobama production, where the well-written script is now being performed. 

The local theatre pulls out all the stops.  The production qualities…set, props, puppets, acting and staging are all top notch.

“Hand To God” tells the tale of Jason, a shy, inhibited, confused teen who lives in Cypress, Texas.  His father has recently died.  Both he and his mother, products of the country’s bible belt, are in chaotic angst.  

As an escape from reality, Jason’s mother, Margery, has created a Christian Puppet Ministry with the purpose of teaching “faith and morality.”  Little does she know that her project will result in Jason creating Tyrone, an alter ego, which provides an outlet for the boy’s inner turmoil.  Tyrone becomes a permanent fixture on Jason’s arm and takes on a life of its own.

The church’s other teens are likewise affected.  Timothy, a studly oversexed bully, not only harasses Jason, but lusts after Margery.  He uses his charms to seduce her, while intimidating not only Jason, but Jessica, who Jason secretly lusts after.

Tyrone, like all alter-egos, is everything Jason is not. He festers the boy’s darkest desires and becomes his destructive dominant personality.  He speaks and acts as timid Jason cannot.  Tyrone fights back against Timothy, he makes a connection with Jessica, he swears, rants and raves, he questions the purpose of religion.  He even goes as far as seducing Jessica’s puppet.  Yes, a vivid puppet sex act takes place on stage!

Steven Boyer played Jayson in the original Broadway production.  He was compelling in the role.  Interestingly, he had an intimate relationship with the googly-eyed-sock puppet with the mop of red hair, as he personally crafted it when the show had its first reading at Pace University.  Boyer went on to garner a Broadway Tony nomination for Best Leading Actor in a Play for his portrayal.

Luke Wehner, who portrays Jason in the Dobama production, is every bit as proficient as Boyer.  As did Boyer, Wehner 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, the devil incarnate.

When Jason tries to rid himself of Tyrone in a battle to the end, it parallels a victim of Dissociative Identity Disorder, which in lay terms is referred to as “Split Personality.” He must fight to destroy the psychological issues of trauma that brought about the need for the protective device. 

The rest of the Dobama cast, under the wise and focused direction of Mathew Wright, is excellent. 

Tricia Bestic is correctly pathetic as Marjory, the grief stricken mother who, like Jason, needs to go through an emotional catharsis, which takes on the guise of sexual promiscuity, drinking, and rejection of the affection shown to her by Pastor Greg (David Bugher as a well-meaning nebbish). 

Molly Israel (Jessica) clearly portrays another lost soul who stands up for and tries to help Jason.  The duo portrays a sex scene using puppets as substitutes for their own desires which was hysterically funny, while creating embarrassment for some purists in the audience.

Austin Gonser was born to play the smarmy Timothy who undulates across the stage in pursuit of seducing Marjory, while intimidating Jason.

Benn Needham has created a multi-setting acting area, complete with massive turntable, that makes the scene changes flow quickly.  Marcus Dana’s lighting design enhances the varying mood changes, as does Richard Ingraham’s sound design.

Be aware that the script questions the role and purpose of religion, has numerous swear words and contains several sex scenes, real and simulated.
Capsule judgment: “Hand to God” is a brilliant production, and places a spotlight on lost people caught up in their inabilities to cope with grief and abandonment.  In fascination, we watch as these people lose healthy reality, replace it with abject pain, interspersing horror with laughter.  This must-see staging, has to be one of the highlights of this theater season!
“Hand of God” runs through May 21, 2017 at Dobama Theatre.  Call 216-932-3396 or for tickets.

Next up at Dobama:  

•April 30-May 2, 2017, Interplay Jewish Theatre presents “Now Circa Then” a staged reading about an immigrant couple on New York’s Lower East Side, circa 1890.  Admission is free. Donations are greatly appreciated.  Reservations are requested.  Email: interplayjewishtheatre or leave a message at (216) 393-PLAY.

•From July 13th through the 16th, Cleveland-Israel Arts Connection, a program of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, presents Roy Horovitz, one of Israel’s foremost actors/directors, in “The Timekeepers” by Dan Clancy and “My First Sony” by Benny Barbash.  For tickets and information call 216-932-3396 or go to for tickets.

Monday, April 24, 2017

“Freaky Friday A New Musical” Broadway-ready at the Cleveland Play House

Many know Mary Rodgers as the daughter of Richard Rodgers the composer of such classic musicals as “Oklahoma” and “Carousel.”  Others are aware that she collaborated on the musicals “Once Upon a Mattress” and “The Mad Show.” Some might know that she is the mother of Tony Winner, Adam Guettel (“The Light in the Plaza”). 

Ask any tween or teen and they will probably relate that Rodgers wrote the 1972 book, “Freaky Friday.”

Yes, that “Freaky Friday.”  The one which tells the tale of a mother and daughter switching bodies, which was made into three different Walt Disney Company films, including one version whose screenplay was actually written by Mary Rodgers, herself.

The musical version of the story, which is based on the original Rodgers’ book, as well as the films, is set in present time Chicago.  It debuted at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia on October 4, 2016, where reviews hailed it as “a polished, peppy, modern fairy tale.”  A production was staged at California’s La Jolla Playhouse in 2017, where it had an extended run.   Much of that cast is now on stage at Cleveland Play House.  

Though there has been no announcement beyond the next venue, Houston’s Alley Theatre, serious consideration should be given to taking the package to Broadway.  It’s as good as many of the present Great White Way productions.

The storyline centers on Katherine, the overworked, stressed-out mother of Ellie, a sarcastic, self-involved teenager, who lives life in constant emotional hell.  Through a quirk of fate, the duo switches bodies, and then has one day to put things back.  Yes, it’s one day before Katherine’s wedding, and both ladies are about to find out what it’s like to live life in the other’s body surrounded by wedding plans, school stresses, a runaway kid, burgeoning love, mistaken identities, and the loss of the device which “caused” the biological time switch to take place.

Bolstered by a dynamic pop-rock score, whose recording was released this past February, the stage explodes with farcical humor, mountains of teenage angst, and a scavenger hunt that leads to the obvious but fun conclusion.  

Major songs are “What You Got,” “Oh, Biology,” “Busted,” ”Just One Day,” and “No More Fear.”

The book is by Bridget Carpenter  (TV's "Friday Night Lights" and "Parenthood") with a score by the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning team of Tom Kitt (music) and Brian Yorkey (lyrics), creators of the celebrated Broadway musicals “Next to Normal” and “If/Then.”

The production’s high quality pedigree continues with a crew highlighted by director Christopher Ashley (“Memphis” “Xanadu.” and “All Shook Up”) and Tony nominee choreographer, Sergio Trujillo (“Jersey Boys” and “On Your Feet!”).

Broadway star Heidi Blickenstaff (“Something Rotten!,” “[title of show]” “The Adams Family,” “The Little Mermaid” and “The Full Monty,”) who displays a big voice and solid acting chops, is dynamic as Katherine.  She flips from wrought mom to hyper-driven teen, with compelling believability and ease.  Her vocal version of “I Got This” is delightful, her “Parents Lie” endearing, and “After All of This and Everything” a vocal winner.  This is a star in her element!

Blickenstaff is balanced by big-voiced Emma Hunton, who appeared in Broadway’s “Next to Normal” and “Spring Awakening” and reprises the role of Ellie, which she performed at Signature and LaJolle.  Hunton is a special talent who is totally believable as the obnoxious teenager turned stressed mom.  She has a nice touch with humor and knows how to play for laughs.

Jake Heston Miller comes close to stealing the show as Fletcher, Katherine’s young son and Ellie’s brother.  His puppet shenanigans are delightful and line interpretations realistic.  His duet “Women and Sandwiches,” sung with Chris Ramirez (Adam) brought gleeful audience reaction.

The rest of the quality cast are all prime as singers, dancers and actors.  

Much to the delight of the audience, many who had wondered where the orchestra was hidden as the Allen does not have an orchestra pit, the proficient assembly of musicians got a well-deserved curtain call when the back stage wall disappeared, thanks to scrim (gauze cloth that appears opaque until lit from behind and it becomes translucent), revealing them in their hiding place.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  If you go to the theater for enjoyment, Cleveland Play House’s “Freaky Friday” is your thing.  If you go to the theater to see marvelous talent, in a well-directed, well-conceived show, “Freaky Friday” is your thing.  If you don’t go to theater but have always wondered what a Broadway show is like, “Freaky Friday” is your thing.  Yes, if you don’t go see “Freaky Friday” you are going to miss out on a special event!

“Freaky Friday” runs through May 20, 2017 at the Allen Theatre in PlayhouseSquare.  (Rumor has it that the

production will be adding performances.)  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Farcical “You Can’t Take It With You” delights @ Karamu

During the late 1920s and into the 1940s, the United States went through the great depression. Unemployment in the U. S. rose to 25%.   These were drab times and, as is the case, since the arts represent the era from which they come, the theatre of that time period represented two extremes:  heavy drama reflecting the negative mood of the nation and escapism to make people feel better by hiding from their angst-filled reality.

One of the classic plays to emerge from that era was Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s farcical “You Can’t Take It With You.” 

Farce is “a comedy that aims at entertaining the audience through situations that are highly exaggerated, extravagant, and thus improbable.”  It is also “characterized by physical humor, the use of deliberate absurdity or nonsense, and broadly stylized performances.”  It is often “set in one particular location, where all events occur.”

“You Can’t Take It With You,” which won the 1937 Pulitzer Prize, fulfills all of the descriptive farce requirements, ran 838 performances in its initial staging, was revised many times on the Great White Way, and has been staged by many educational institutes and community theatres around the world. 

The stage show was transformed into a film which won an Academy Award for Best Picture.

The script, which is as much character as plot driven, centers on the Vanderhof home in New York.  Grandpa (Greg White) decided one day to live his life by the philosophy, “don't do anything that you're not going to enjoy doing,” so he goes to circuses, commencements, throws darts, and collects stamps.  His massive home, besides being cluttered with “stuff,” becomes the haven for a number of erratic and lovable incompetents.

Grandpa didn’t like how his tax payments were being spent so he stopped making the payments.  Penny Sycamore (Anne J. McEvoy), his cheerful daughter, an on-again-on-again incompetent painter, also writes plays because one day a typewriter was mistakenly delivered to the Vanderhoff residence.  Her husband, Paul (Luther Robinson), whose hobby is playing with erector sets, manufactures fireworks in the basement, along with Mr. DePinna (Bob Abelman), a man who delivered ice to the house eight years ago and never left.

Then there is Essie (Maya Jones), Penny’s candy-making daughter and inept ballerina, and her husband Ed (Joshua McElroy), who plays the xylophone because the house has one, makes masks, and loves to create meaningless messages on his printing press, that he includes in Penny’s confectionaries that he delivers to buyers. 

The house also has visits from the likes of pseudo-dance teacher Boris Kholenkov (Chris Bizub), a wild Russian who escaped that country before the revolution and hates everything, and Duchess Olga Katrina (Sue Cohen), a cousin of the deposed Russian Czar, who now works at a Child’s restaurant and has a passion for making blintzes.

The only seemingly “normal” person in the household is Alice (Corlesia Smith), who is a secretary for a wealthy Wall Street stock broker.  She is dating Tony Kirby (Chris Richards), her boss’s son. 

One evening, which turns out to be the wrong night, the Kirbys (Lou Will and Laura Starnik) come to dinner at the Vanderhof’s to celebrate the engagement of Alice and Tony, and all hell breaks loose. 

The Vanderhof's irrepressible maid, Rheba (Jeannine Gaskin) and her wise-cracking hyper-active boyfriend, Donald (Miguel Osborne), hysterically try to make a dinner with little foodstuffs in the kitchen, with constant frenetic trips to the local A&P, while the rest of the menagerie bumbles through saying and doing all the wrong things.

Alice is humiliated. Tony finds the whole chaos amusing. His uptight parents are mortified and then totally lose it when Penny convinces them to play a word game with cues that have sexual connotations and reveal a great deal of embarrassing information about Mr. and Mrs. Kirby and their relationship.

To add to the chaos, the IRS invades because of Grandpa not paying his taxes, along with the feds because of the subversive messages Ed has put into the candy deliveries.  And, wonder of wonders, the fireworks in the basement find this the ideal time to explode, causing the entire household to be hauled off to jail.

Of course, for those who are interested in plots coming to happy endings, all works out.  Peace and harmony are restored, and Alice and Tony, it appears, will live happily ever-after.

“You Can’t Take It With You” is farce at its highest level and the Karamu production, under the direction of Fred Sternfeld, delights. 

Each cast member nicely conceives their role and the whole production, though a little languid in pace, and missing some shticks which would have enhanced the madness, works nicely.

The massive set, impressively decorated with era correct memorabilia, is well conceived by Richard H. Morris, Jr. and India Blatch-Geib’s costume designs fit the time period.

It is nice to report that Karamu, under the guidance of its new President and CEO Tony Sias, has returned to the color-blind casting stressed by Dorothy and Reuben Silver when they were producing the organization’s plays, making it once again “a joyful gathering place,” where all are welcome.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  For those who like to go to the theater to have fun, get away from their own work-a-day world of angst, “You Can’t Take It With You” is your thing.  Don’t’ expect a professional level production, most of the cast are not Equity members, but there is enough comedy, ridiculousness, and delight to make even the Grinch smile.

“You Can’t Take It With You” continues through May 7, 2017 at Simon and Rose Mandel Theatre at Cuyahoga Community College-Eastern Campus in Highland Hills where Karamu is performing as its theatre facilities are being upgraded.   For ticket information call 216-795-7077.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

2017 Summer Cleveland Theater Calendar

Though it seems like it will never be here, there will be summer and the Cleveland theater scene will heat up.  Here’s a list of some of the offerings that are being staged. 

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

June 2-July 2—REALLY REALLY—A comic tragedy which was loosely inspired by the Duke University Lacrosse team scandal, in which the collegiate party of the year results in the regret of a lifetime, and one person will stop at nothing to salvage a future that is suddenly slipping away.

July 7-August 13--CITY OF ANGELS—The Tony award winning musical by Larry Gelbart (book), Cy Coleman (music) and David Zeppel (lyrics), is a tribute to 1940s film noir in which two plots simultaneously weaves between the ”real” world and the “reel” world.


440-941-0458 or

June 9-24—PICASSO at the LAPÍN AGILE—A conversation between Einstein and Picasso before they became well-known, in which they debate the meaning of art, the power of thought and the essence of everything, as conceived by comedian Steve Martin.

August 11-26—EQUUS—A psychological puzzle in which a psychiatrist confronts a boy who has blinded six horses in a violent fit of passion.  (This show contains adult content and nudity.)

216-371-3000 or

June 6-25—ROCK OF AGES—The regional premiere of the jukebox rock musical featuring the songs of Def Leppard, Journey, Scorpions, Poison, Foreigner, Guns N' Roses, Pat Benatar, Joan Jett, Bon Jovi, Twisted Sister, Whitesnake, and REO Speedwagon.

August 5-6—THE MUSIC MAN IN CONCERT—Liza Grossman and the Contemporary Youth Orchestra present a concert of Meredith Wilson’s musical with a score that includes “Seventy-Six Trombones,” “Ya Got Trouble,” “Gary, Indiana,” and “Pick a Little, Talk a Little.”

216-631-2727 or go on line to

May 26-June 17—RED ASH MOSAIC-- An experiment in theatrical form, with interwoven and contradictory narrative threads, powerful physical action, chanting and poetic texts, which is designed not to show, but to invoke.  It begins in the daily doldrums of a video game store and erupts into a fracturing of realities and parallel lives of one man as he confronts his own death/life.

Free admission.
Varying locations…check site for times, dates and venue

JUNE 16-JULY 2--THE TAMING OF THE SHREW –Fortune-seeker Petruchio and shrewish headstrong Katherina, are forced into a relationship.  Initially, she is an unwilling participant; however, he "tames" her with psychological torments until she becomes a desirable, compliant, and obedient bride.

July 21-August 6—MACBETH—Shakespeare’s tragedy, in which a Scottish general receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. Consumed by ambition and spurred to action by his wife, Macbeth causes a bloodbath that results in his madness and death.

216-932-3396 or

June 15-July 2--HOW TO BE A RESPECTABLE JUNKIE--Based on real-life events, JUNKIE takes an in-depth look into the troubled soul of a man caught in heroin’s deadly grip.

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

July 7 - July 29—NEIGHBORS--A minstrel show, family drama and tragic farce takes racial rage head-on in our supposedly "post-racial" world with shocking, savage humor.

August 25 - September 16—RHINOCEROS--Existentialist playwright Eugene Ionesco’s tale of what happens when a brutish rhinoceros storms through a quiet neighborhood, infecting the townsfolk with the "rhino virus," causing them to become part of the mindless herd.

Hall Auditorium, 67 N. Main Street, Oberlin
Free admission, reservations requested—440-775-8169
For details and dates go to

June 16-July 30—THE MIRACLE WORKER—Follows Annie Sullivan who, as Helen Keller’s governess, tames and teaches the deaf, blind, mute, and completely out-of-control girl.

June 30-July 28—BAREFOOT IN THE PARK--Neil Simon’s romantic comedy about newlyweds during the contentious first days of marriage, as they learn how to live together.

July 14-29—THE WINTER’S TALE-- Shakespeare’s timeless romance of obsession and redemption which begins as an intense psychological drama, but midway jumps time and place to become a hilarious pastoral, and ultimately brings the two plots full circle to a magical and moving ending.

Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens (outdoor performances)
714 N. Portage Path, Akron

June 30-July 16—AS YOU LIKE IT—A Shakespearean tale of forbidden loves, banished dukes, cross-dressing ladies, and three marriages.

July 28-August 13—THE WINTER’S TALE—A comic tragedy which tells a story of royal love, revenge, injustice, and family.  (Contains probably Shakespeare's most famous stage direction: "Exit, pursued by a bear.”)

216-241-6000 or go to
See the website for specific dates and times

June 20-July 9—AN AMERICAN IN PARIS—The multi-Tony Award Winning musical, filled with wonderful music and sensational dancing, about an American soldier, a mysterious French girl and an indomitable European city, each yearning for a new beginning in the aftermath of war.

Note:  One hour before each show, Joe Garry offers a free of charge Broadway Buzz Pre-Show Talk which is held in the Idea Center® at Playhouse Square (1375 Euclid Avenue).  Following the June 22, 29 and July 6 performances, cast members come on stage to chat with the audience, offering a chance to ask questions.

July 18-23—THE SOUND OF MUSIC--The Rogers and Hammerstein musical story of Maria and the von Trapp children, is presented in a new production, directed by Tony Award winner Jack O'Brien.

August 15-20—MOTOWN THE MUSICAL--Motown founder Berry Gordy's journey from featherweight boxer to the heavyweight music mogul who launched the careers of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson and many more, which includes such songs as, “My Girl,” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”

TAKE A HIKE TOURS, FREE--every Thursday at 6 PM, from mid-May through mid-September, 90-minute walking tours of the Playhouse Square District, with actors portraying important historic Clevelanders from the neighborhood.

PORTHOUSE or 330-929-4416 or 330-672-3884

June 15-Juy 1—9 TO 5 THE MUSICAL—With music and lyrics by Dolly Parton and book by Patricia Resnick, the musical, based on the 1980 hit movie, places a spotlight on three female coworkers who confront their sexist, egotistical boss.

July 6-22—AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’—The 1978 Tony Award winning jukebox musical is a celebration of the legendary jazz great, Fats Waller.

July 27-August 13—NEWSIES--Adapted from the Disney film of the same name, the dance-centered musical follows the plight of newsboy Jack Kelly as he takes on publishing giants Joseph Pulitzer and Willian Randolph Hurst as the powerful duo attempts to endanger the livelihood of a band of newsboys.

THE MUSICAL THEATER PROJECT for tickets and information
(productions staged in review format with narration)

June 24—3 PM—PURE IMAGINATION— Geauga Lyric Theatre--Tickets—216-245-8687--An interactive performance for the entire family with tunes from Disney and Sesame Street featuring Ursula Cataan, Jodi Maile Kirk, Nancy Maier and Shane Patrick O’Neill

Lorain County Metro Parks, French Creek Theatre--Tickets:  440-949-5200 X221 or

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Disturbing, funny “Between Riverside and Crazy” at the Cleveland Play House

Pulitzer Prize Winner and Steinberg Distinguished Playwright, Stephen Adly Guirgis, whose script “Between Riverside and Crazy,” is now on stage at Cleveland Play House, is noted for writing plays that feature racial discord and the definition of family, while examining “self-interest, self-delusion, self-recriminating, greed and amorality.” 

He’s also a master at assigning his scripts provocative titles including, “The Motherf**ker with The Hat.” “Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train,” “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” and “Lady of 121st Street.”  You might wonder, after seeing “Riverside,” why he didn’t entitle the work, “The Effect of Angst and the Church Lady.”

Blurring lines between the sacred and profane has always been a specialty of the playwright.  In his writings, as is evident in “Riverside” Guirgis, who is considered one of America’s foremost new contemporary playwrights, does not shrink from four-letter words, explicit sex scenes and “in your face” reality.

The story centers on Pops, a cantankerous ex-cop.  He retired when he was shot in the backside in a bar while he was off-duty.  He did not go gently into the good night. Instead, he sued, fails to agree to the “fair” settlement he was offered, and refuses to act on the eviction notices being sent to him by the owner of the rent-controlled, Upper West Side Hudson River-view prime piece of New York real estate he occupies. 

This is a man of major contradictions.  At one moment he can be sweet, the next obstinate. He takes in stray people, often peppering them with money and affection, while being rejecting and stand-offish toward his son and now deceased wife.  He is pig-headed and aggravating, yet amusing.

Living in the huge apartment with his son, Junior, and the boy-man’s “pregnant” girlfriend, Lulu, and Oswaldo, a newly–sober hanger-on, Pops needs to take action. 

Pressure reaches the boiling point when Audrey, his former patrol partner and her boyfriend, Dave, a police Lieutenant who is trying to settle Pop’s prejudice case against the department for what appears to be self-interest, put pressure on Pop.  The eviction notices seem to be moving toward forcing him out of the apartment.  Oswaldo comes home drunk and physically attacks Pop.  And the actions of a church lady, who is trying to save his soul, but may have ulterior motives, has raised a new issue. 

Pop is between Riverside and crazy.

Each time you think you have a handle on what’s going on, a new wrinkle in the plot evolves, causing an emotional readjustment.

The CPH production, as directed by Robert Barry Fleming, the theater’s Associate Artistic Director, in his local directing debut, is well-paced, nicely nuanced, and plays the humor against the angst.  The cast is excellent and nicely textures their performances, walking the thin line between comedy and drama.

Larry Marshall so well develops Pop that his naturalness makes you forget you are watching an actor portraying a role, but are peeking into the apartment and seeing reality.

Zoë Sophia Garcia is Rosie Perez-delightful as the well-endowed Lulu, bringing the right level of humor to Junior’s live-in girlfriend and Pop’s caretaker and sometime confident.

Yvette Ganier almost steals the show as Church Lady.  Her sex scene with Pop has to be one of the funniest enactments portrayed on a CPH stage.

Dominic Colón, though sometimes difficult to understand due to a heavy accent and mumbling projection, is properly pathetic as Oswaldo, who clings to Pop as the father he desires, but does not have, yet lashes out against him when stressed.

Ken Robinson (Junior), Danielle Skraastad (Detective Audrey O’Connor), and Michael Russotto (Lieutenant Dave Caro) are all effective in their portrayals.

The set, the apartment, is a co-star of the play.  Unless it is believably expansive and desirable, the production falters.  Fear not.  Challenged by a staging that is done in the runway style of seating, with the audience on two-sides of the stage and all action taking place in a long narrow space, between the segments of the playgoers, scenic designer Wilson Chin has created an appropriate apartment within the walls of a realistic building. 

The difficulty in hearing is not Chin’s fault. It is a by-product of the actors projecting in a horizontal space in which words get lost according to the way in which an actor faces.  It is one of the issues faced by a director and cast when intimacy of audience to actors is placed ahead of clear sound projection which results from using runway staging.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: “Between Riverside and Crazy” is an interesting set of character investigations within a plot which probably won’t fascinate, but will instill interest.  The production is excellent, the set fascinating, the laughs enough to keep attention and diminish some of the angst, and offers viewers a chance to experience seldom used runway staging.

“Between Riverside and Crazy” runs through April 23, 2017, at the Allen Theatre in PlayhouseSquare.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to

Next up at CPH: “Freaky Friday,” a musical based on the novel by Mary Rodgers, which was made into a Disney motion picture.  It is presented as part of the New Ground Festival, which lasts from May 11th through the 20th.  For information go to

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

2017 season is about to lift its curtains @ the Shaw Festival

Those nice people from the North who are getting ready to create great theater are beaconing people from CLE to be their guests.

In Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada, the “most beautiful little city in Canada,” flowers are about in bloom, the wineries are getting their best vintages uncorked, the quaint b&bs with their marvelous breakfasts are ready to open, and the Shaw Festival is getting ready to raise the curtain in its various venues. 

The city, which is only about 4 hours from 216/440, is a haven for those who like to see great theater, shop, eat at the wonderful restaurants, and take advantage of the very favorable exchange rate (as of April 3, 2017, $1.00 U.S.=$1.26 Canadian). 

Besides theater there is golf, speedboats ply the Niagara River, bikes are available for zipping up and down the path which runs along the river gorge, ship watching at the Welland Canal is a fun side trip, and gambling and scenic viewing is available in Niagara Falls, a short drive away.

 “The Shaw,” as it is dubbed by the locals, is a tribute to George Bernard Shaw and his writing contemporaries.  It offers dramas, comedies and musicals. 
The productions are professional quality, with many of Canada’s finest actors, directors and technical designers.  It has been dubbed “One of the great repertory theaters in the English-speaking world. 

This season’s offerings include:

SAINT JOAN (GB Shaw) --May 3-October 15—The 1926 Nobel Prize winner asks, “At what point does blind faith become simply blind?”

DRACULA (Brian Stoker as adapted by Liz Lochhead)—July 8-October 14—The classic funny, sexy and scary Gothic tale of repressed erotic hunger asks, “What if your darkest fear was also your deepest desire?”

1837:  THE FARMERS’ REVOLT (Rick Salutin and Theatre Passe Muraille)—May 7-October 8--“When was the idea of Canada born?” When a handful of immigrant farmers who have been struggling for years to turn Upper Canada’s forests into farmland find out that government has “dished out” their land, they rose up and probably paved the way for nationhood.

ANDROCLES AND THE LION (GB Shaw)—June 6-October 7—In ancient Rome, a group of early Christians wait to be thrown to the lions in the Colosseum. “For what cause would you be willing to die?”  You may find out as you will join the Shaw Ensemble in creating an experience that will be different every time.

WILDE TALES (Oscar Wilde)—June 8-October 7—lunchtime one-act—A series of stories for young and old which asks, “Should we always meet the world with love, even when it doesn’t deserve it?”  Special note:  Children, ages 6-12, can sign up in advance for a pre-show one-hour workshop with the actors that helps create the magic on stage.

THE MADNESS OF GEORGE III (Alan Bennett)—April 11-October 15—King George III may have been anointed by God, but when he starts to lose control of his speech and bodily functions it’s clear that he’s all too human.  So, “if the Head of State loses his head, what happens to the State?”

DANCING AT LUGHNASA (Brian Friel)—May 14-October 15—In the 1930s, five women try to eke out an existence in Ireland, the land where no tears are without laughter as the question is raised, “What power or passion fills us with the need to dance?”

AN OCTOROON (Branden Jacobs-Jenkins)—July 16-October 14--Winner of the Obie Award for Best New American play is a rewrite of the 1859 Dion Boucicault play by a modern young Black man.  It is full of strong language and challenging ideas and asks, “At least we don’t think like they did in the 19th century any more—do we?”

MIDDLETOWN (Will Eno)—July 13-Sepember 10—In the most average town in North America, a group of average people are living average lives of quiet desperation and are forced to deal with the question, “When did we lose the ability to make real human connections?”

1979 (Michael Healey)—October 1-October 14—One of Canada’s most celebrated playwrights takes on one of its least celebrated leaders, Prime Minister Joe Clark, asking, “Fight fair and go home, or fight directly and win?”

ME AND MY GIRL (Updated by Stephen Fry)—April 5-October 15—A musical which takes on the class system with charm, cheekiness and a dash of Cockney sass.

It’s a good idea to make both theatre and lodging reservations early, especially on weekends. Our B&B  home-away-from-home is the beautiful and well-placed Wellington House (, directly across the street from The Festival Theatre, within easy walking distance of all the theatres, where the breakfasts are great and the furnishings lovely.  I also like Two Bees B&B (1-289-868-9357), which is located near downtown.  For information on other B&Bs go to

There are some wonderful restaurants.  Consider The Grill on King Street (905-468-7222, 233 King Street) and Ginger (905-468-3871, 390 Mary Street).  Reservations are encouraged, even during the week.

For theatre information, a brochure or tickets, call 800-511-7429 or go on-line to  Ask about packages that include lodging, meals and tickets.  Discount tickets are available for seniors and students and under 30s. Also be aware that the festival offers day-of-the-show rush tickets.

•Don’t forget your passport as it’s the only form of identification that will be accepted for re-entry into the US.

•Because of the good rate, charge everything to your credit card as many of the stores give you dollar for dollar, while banks offer you the going rate.  If you pay cash, you are losing 26-cents on every dollar you spend.

Go to the Shaw Festival! Meet the nice Canadian people and see great theater.  


Sunday, April 02, 2017

A female “Hamlet” brings a twist to the play at Great Lakes Theater, well, almost . . .

Prince Hamlet is depressed, disillusional, and maniacal. 

Having been summoned home to Denmark from school in Germany to attend his father's funeral, he is shocked to find his mother Gertrude already remarried to his Uncle Claudius, the dead king's brother, who has declared himself the king, though young Hamlet is the actual heir to the crown. Hamlet, rightly, suspects foul play.

Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” is considered by many Bard experts to be his greatest tragedy script.  For years, the melancholy tale of death, betrayal, family dysfunction, and revenge has been a staple on the programs of major theatres and analyzed in many a school classroom.

“Hamlet” is filled with intrigue, betrayal, deception and revenge. 

On a dark winter night, a ghost walks the ramparts of Elsinore Castle in Denmark.  The apparition resembles the recently deceased King.  When Hamlet’s friend, Horatio sees the illusion, he brings the Prince of Denmark to see the ghost, who speaks to him, declaring that it is indeed his father’s spirit, and he was murdered by his brother, Claudius.  The ghost disappears with the dawn, leaving Hamlet with no option but revenge.

We observe as Hamlet schemes, acts irrationally, considers suicide ("To be, or not to be: that is the question"), and comes to the realization that death wouldn't be the escape he craves.

In this, and many other scenes, Hamlet displays his personal tragic flaw, a requirement that Shakespeare incorporated, based on Greek theatrical tradition, as a trait element of tragic heroes.  The Prince is unable to make decisions, and when he decides, the outcome has tragic consequences.  In the play, eight of the nine primary characters, including Hamlet, Ophelia, her father, her brother, his mother and uncle all die, because of Hamlet’s actions.

The play is filled with many themes, each identified by a quote. 

Political intrigue:   The king has been killed, there is a new king on the throne, one of questionable right to the seat, the deceased king's son acting erratically, something's clearly off. (“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”)

Awareness of the process of life:  As Hamlet stands at the newly dug grave which will soon house Ophelia, he looks at a skull, which the gravedigger has identified, says, “Oh Yorick I knew him well.”  Yes, it is the remains of Yorick, the court jester who was the young man’s companion and tutor.  Hamlet realizes that death eliminates the differences between people as we all ultimately crumble into dust.

Women and their roles:  "Frailty, thy name is woman!" and “The lady doth protest too much, methinks” highlight Hamlet’s perception that women, like his mother, are weak, as she is not even strong enough to mourn but escapes her angst by insincerely moving on.  She is also manipulated by a man, unable to act on her own.

Irony is a part of life that becomes a message when Polonius gives advice to his son, Laertes, that "This above all: to thine own self be true." Yet he does not follow his sage words and both he and Laertes die because they are not true to themselves. 

The script goes on with more and more Shakespearean ideas such as, “What a piece of work is man! How noble in wisdom! How infinite in faculty!” and “Brevity is the soul of wit.”

Charles Fee, the director of Hamlet at Great Lakes Theater, in his program notes explains some of the artistic decisions of this production.  He states, “In choosing to double cast the role of Hamlet with a woman and a man playing alternate performances, we are exploring the possibility that Hamlet’s nature and his responses to the dramatic action may reveal more depth and elicit more compassion than we would experience through a single actor’s interpretation.”

As for a female playing the lead role, this is not that unusual.  In 1775, Sarah Sidons portrayed the Prince of Denmark in British stagings, while in 1820 Sarah Bartley did an American production in the role. 

Probably the best known of female Hamlets was Sarah Bernhard, who, at the turn of the century, was much praised for her performances.  On the other hand, Dame Judith Anderson’s 1970 Carnegie Hall performances, at age 73, were “deemed weak and ill-conceived by critics.”

Joseph Papp, who established the Public Theater, explained, regarding a woman portraying the role, “''I have always felt that there is a strong female side to Hamlet --not feminine so much as female. To me that has to do with an easier capacity to express emotion. The person playing Hamlet should be able to weep unabashedly and unashamedly. There are men who can do that, but they should be young; Hamlet is a very young person, an adolescent, a student.” 

Papp went on to warn, ''I think most people would not approve of having a woman in the role.  I think most audiences are conservative about a change of sex of any kind, and they consider 'Hamlet' sacrosanct.''
Papp may well have been right.  In an intermission conversation with people at the GLT preview performance I was told by several Shakespeare traditionalists, “Why don’t these people leave Shakespeare as it was written.” And, “Why can’t they leave things alone and not tinker with greatness.”

I found Laura Welsh Berg’s portrayal of Hamlet appealing and providing a different emotional dimension to the role.  There was an introspection that I hadn’t heard in the many, many performances I had seen before, with males performing the role.

Frustration emerged however, since the actors referred to “her” as “he,” “him,” and “sir,” when I was aware that Berg was a female and was using “feminine” gesture patterns and vocal tonations.  (As per the research on masculine-feminine studies by Sandra Bem and Deborah Tannen.) 

Also, the relationship to Ophelia was confusing with the masculine gender terms.  If played as a woman-to-a-woman, truly a new, a modern dimension, would have been introduced.  If the intent was to stretch the interpretation, why not go all the way?  (The same could be done by adding a male-male component to the male Hamlet version.)

A third issue might be the assumption that members of the audience are going to see the performances of both Berg and the other Hamlet, Jonathan Dyrud.  If not, there is going to be no way to gain the appreciation which Fee explained might happen in the duo casting.

Fee’s program notes also state, “Our scenic design will allow part of the audience to sit onstage, surrounding the actors, as well as on either side of the platform downstage.”  He explains, “For those sitting onstage the experience my feel like being in the play rather than passively watching the play.”

Having some of the audience on stage was a departure.  In Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the groundlings stood around the stage in close proximity to the actors.  Several persons who were seated in the added seats which hugged the stage apron on two sides, expressed their pleasure in seeing and “feeling” the action up close.  

On the other hand, a local reviewer who was seated on stage, moved into orchestra seats for the second act, as he said he couldn’t hear many of the lines in the first act, as they were projected into the auditorium, with the actor’s backs to those ensconced on stage.  He also indicated that he could not see a great deal of action because of the wooden framing which blocked much of the stage and all of the action portrayed in the alcove at the rear of the center stage.

Fee nicely added some humor to the performance, which relieved a degree of the tension without eliminating the angst.  The pacing was sprightly, making the long production seem short, with a high degree of audience attention.

The cast was excellent.  Berg earned her standing audience curtain call.  Erin Partin was superlative as Ophelia.  Her “insane” scene was spell-binding.  Laura Perrotta was properly conflicted as Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother. David Anthony Smith nicely developed the king of Denmark, Hamlet’s uncle, who killed the youth’s father, into a disliked not overly-done melodramatic maniac.  This added a nice realistic dimension to the role.  Strong performances were also presented by Dougfred Miller (Polonius), Nic Steen (Laertes), and Christopher Tocco (Horatio).

Kim Krumm Sorenson’s opulent costume designs, Rick Martin’s lighting and Ken Merckx’s fight choreography added much to the performance.  High praise to Lynn Robert Berg and Dougfred Miller whose coaching made the speeches easy to understand.

Capsule judgement:  The preview performance of “Hamlet” grabbed and held the audience’s attention.  Laura Welsh Berg was convincing and gave a “different” dimension to the role of the Prince of Denmark.  Though Shakespeare traditionalists may scream “something is rotten in the state of Denmark” (GLT), others who see the “female” version of the play should leave saying, “Good-night, sweet prince; And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”  

“Hamlet” runs through April 15 at the Hanna Theatre.  To ascertain when the male or female Hamlet is performing and to get tickets call 216-664-6064 or link to