Sunday, April 29, 2018

“Angels in America, Part 2” continues Tony Kushner’s saga at Ensemble

Tony Kushner, the award winning author of “Angels In America Parts One and Two,” says of his work, "The question I am trying to ask is how broad is a community's embrace?  How wide does it reach?"

Part I, presented at Ensemble earlier in this season, laid out the exposition and the foundation for the saga’s concluding segment, “Perestroika, Part II,” which is now on stage at Ensemble under the direction of Celeste Costentino.

It’s New York City, October, 1985.  Prior has been abandoned by Louis when Prior is diagnosed with AIDS.  Joseph Pitt, a married, closeted homosexual Mormon, starts a sexual affair with Louis.  Joseph, encouraged by Roy Cohn, yes, that Roy Cohn of the McCarthy hearings, has taken a position in the Justice Department with the purpose of protecting his mentor from possible recriminations for bribery and legal manipulation. 

Prior continues to receive “visits” from an angel. Harper, Joseph’s wife, retreats further into drug-fueled fantasies.

Cohn uses his political connections to illegally get a supply of the newly discovered, experimental drug AZT.  In his fits of delusion, he is often confronted by the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, who, along with her husband, were convicted of espionage when Cohn was the prosecutor at their trial for suspected treason.

The characters approach the new millennium.  In the guise of a Russian philosopher, Kushner asks, “Can people change? And can the world survive without an all- encompassing theory like the one that communism offered?”

Prior confronts his angels as he wrestles with his illness, helped by a supply of AZT which his friend, Belize, Roy Cohn’s nurse, has stolen.  Joseph’s mother befriends Prior and Louis realizes his selfishness and reunites with Prior.  Cohen dies. Harper confronts Joe, tosses her drugs and returns to the security of Salt Lake City.  We learn about the statue of the Angel in Central Park, the visual image of Kushner’s message.

In Perestroika, Kushner “reconstitutes community in new and unlikely ways, forging bonds between seemingly unconnected characters (Hannah and Prior) and repudiating those, like Joe, who see law as unconnected to morality.  Louis's optimism for democracy is naive but not invalid—democratic community is even able to withstand the crisis of AIDS.  Even Roy [Cohen], the play's most difficult character, is not abandoned to the wilds of isolation: his death unwittingly links him to communities he had abandoned—gays and lesbians, people with AIDS, Jews—and he is reclaimed, albeit with difficulty, by those with whom he had tried to sever all connections.”

Ensemble’s second part of the play has the same excellent cast as the first production:  Scott Esposito (Prior Walter, Jeffrey Grover Roy Cohn), Craig Joseph (Louis), Kelly Strand (Harper Pitt), James Alexander Rankin (Joe), Davion T. Brown (Belize), Inés Joris (Angel) and Derdriu Ring (Hannah Pitt/Ethel Rosenberg).

There were some of the opening-night overly long set and costume changes, but these should disappear as the play runs and everyone gets comfortable.

Capsule judgment: “Perestroika” completes the “Angels In America” tale. Though overly long, the strong cast, creative staging, effective projections, and vivid writing make for a challenging but fulfilling theatrical experience that is well-worth seeing for those who like “thinking” theater.

“Angels in America, Part Two, Perestroika” runs April 27-May 20, 2018 on Thursdays through Sundays at Ensemble’s Theatre, housed in the former Coventry School, 2843 Washington Blvd, Cleveland Heights.  For tickets call 216-321-2930 or go online to

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Musical Theater Project and Jewish Federation put the spotlight on Israeli’s 70th anniversary with “Milk and Honey”

Many know Cantor Kathy Wolfe Sebo as a superlative cantor.  Few know, however, that she didn’t start out to make the religious life her career.

Sebo, a “University Heights girl” (Belvoir and Wiley before going to Hathaway Brown), graduated from the Cincinnati’s Conservatory of Music with a major in Voice Performance.  Her goal was “to become a star!”

How did she wind up at The Temple-Tifereth Israel?  As Sebo states, “I tripped into it.  It was definitely not on the radar.”

After a loss in the family, and the desire to come “home,” she was asked to do some cantorial work.  After marriage, children, and a fourteen years as being one of the first female cantors in the Conservative movement, she was offered her present job where she has served for the last 19 years.  Thirty-three years later, “Cantor Kathy,” she is!

She still has her heart in musical theatre and, she will soon again be treading the boards, as she will appear on stage with the cast of The Musical Theatre Project’s concert presentation of “Milk and Honey.”  The program is co-sponsored by The Cleveland Israel Arts Connection, a program of The Jewish Federation of Cleveland.

In 1961, “Milk and Honey,” Jerry Herman’s first Broadway show, premiered.   It opened the door for the such Herman hits as “Hello Dolly!,” “Mame” and “La Cage aux Follies.”

Herman, crafted a show that highlighted the State of Israel, which was only 13 years old at the time.  He built the score on the tale of Zionistic zeal, turning the desert into fields of green, and creating the “land of milk and honey.”  It has a book by Don Appell.

The story centers on a busload of  American widows hoping to catch husbands while touring Israel.  It is set against the backdrop of the country's struggle for recognition as an independent nation and what it could and should become.

The program will be hosted by Bill Rudman and Nancy Maier, with musical arrangements by Ty Emerson. 

Besides Sebo, members of the singing cast are Sheri Gross, Michael Snider, and Greg Violand.

As a child, Sebo’s father encouraged her to sing “Milk and Honey” and “Shalom,” two of the songs from “Milk and Honey.”  This lead to her appreciation for the music which she feels is “emotional and has an earthiness to it.  The songs are filled with Jewish motifs, has gorgeous writing and, in many ways is “magical.”  She adds, “It’s not just a show for Jews, but all people.”

As is true of the arts, the show represents the era from which it comes.  “It works best if you realize what Israel was then a land of pioneering drive.  It was that attitude that has led to the small country now being a world leader in medicine, rescue operations, draught relief, and is a light onto nations.”

Sebo, a proud former Singing Angel, has great enthusiasm for the project.  She is finding the experience “exciting,” and feels “privileged.”  “Watching Bill, Nancy, Ty, the orchestra and the cast is like sitting in on a master class.”

The one-time-only concert will be held at Cuyahoga Community College’s Eastern Campus on Sunday, May 6 at 3 PM.  General admission tickets are $35 and are available by calling 1-800-838-3006.  For more information about the program or to reserve group tickets, call 216-245-8687 or email

A Cleveland reviewer goes to Broadway with the BWU senior class

Several times a year I go to review some of what’s on stage on Broadway.  This year, I expanded the experience by accompanying the Baldwin Wallace University Musical Theatre program’s fifteen seniors.

During this season, about a dozen Baldwin Wallace University grads (Berea, OH, a Cleveland suburb), which recently was named as one of the best musical theatre programs in the country, are/were appearing in the Big Apple. 

All of the BWU class of 2018 grads got agents, many having multiple offers.  Besides agents, at least a half-dozen were offered tryouts in present, upcoming, touring and soon-to-be touring shows. 

Side note:  Watch for my in-depth article on the BWU Musical Theatre program and the Class of 2018 which will be written after the total results of their showcase, signing with agents, tryouts and casting are all in.

On the business side, CLE’s Matthew and Michael Rego and Hank Unger, of The Araca Group, are one of the producers of the present running “SpongeBob SquarePants” and also the record-breaking “Wicked,” (Honesty disclosure:  Mike, Matt and Hank met when they were involved in a production of “The Music Man” which I directed some years ago.)

Here are capsule judgments of shows I saw.  To read the complete reviews go to and scroll down to find the show.

What: “Hamilton”
Where:  Richard Rogers Theatre, 226 West 46th Street
When:  Open run
Capsule judgment:  The question asked by many who see “Hamilton” is whether it is worth the investment of time and money.  This reviewer’s answer, “Absolutely!”  I can’t wait until it comes to Cleveland this summer to see it again!  (And, hopefully more than once!)

What: “SpongeBob SquarePants The Broadway Musical”
Where:  Palace Theatre—47th and Broadway
When:  Open run
Capsule judgment: “SpongeBob SquarePants The Broadway Musical” is a wonder of neon psychedelic delight starring a character-perfect lead surrounded by a fun-centered cast which should delight adults and children of all ages!

What: “Once on this Island The Musical”
Where:  Circle in the Square, 235 W. 50th Street
When:  Open run

Capsule judgment:  The enchanting “Once On This Island” is a tale well conceptualized and told sharing the power of love and tradition as it reveals that “our lives become the stories that we weave.” 

Other shows I saw, but did not review were “Come From Away A New Musical” and “Dear Evan Hansen,” which are both on the Key Bank 2018-19 season, and are very well worth seeing, and “Three Tall Women.”  I was scheduled to cover “Mean Girls,” but the morning of the show I was informed that the lead female would not be in the cast and they didn’t want me to review the understudy.  Oh well, that’s show business.

Monday, April 23, 2018

A Cleveland reviewer gets to evaluate whether “Hamilton” lives up to its advanced billing

Some musicals change the very nature of the genre.  “Oklahoma” gave birth to the book musical in which story, dance and lyrics blended together perfectly.  “Chorus Line” brought the concept of the dance-centered musical.  “Hair” encouraged societal topics and mores to be probed.  “Rent” introduced the stage to 21st century ideas and issues.  Then, along came “Hamilton” which opened the door to singing, rap and movement blending into fine-tuned story telling.   The color-blind casting brought a new stage image to Broadway.

“Hamilton” was inspired by the 2004 biography, “Alexander Hamilton” by historian Ron Chernow.  It has book, music and lyrics by Lin Manuel Miranda, who perfectly honed each element to clearly represent our Revolutionary fathers. 

The script and production have been called, “exhilarating,” “a theatrical watershed,” and “sublime.”

After a successful off-Broadway run which opened in February, 2015, it moved to a Broadway stage in August of that year, and set unprecedented multimillion-dollar advanced box office sales.  Even after numerous cast changes, including the departure of Miranda, the show still over-sells nearly every performance.   

Tickets for the Broadway version can go for many hundreds of dollars. (The people sitting next to me in seventh row center paid $625 for each of their seats).  Why?  It’s “Hamilton.”  No more needs to be said!

The script tells the tale of Alexander Hamilton, who was born out of wedlock in the West Indies.  He comes to the American colonies at age 19 and seeks out revolutionary patriot, Aaron Burr, who advises the young and enthusiastic youth to “talk less; smile more.”  This is advice Hamilton did not take, and helps set the stage for a life-long set of philosophical battles between the men.

The people of Hamilton’s life, the Marquis de Lafayette, the Schuyler sisters, George Washington, Charles Lee, James Madison, and John Jay, flow by in song, rap,  movement, and spoken words. 

The story of the Revolutionary War, the birth of the nation, Hamilton’s developing the country’s financial system, the death of his son in a dual, and his own demise in a dual with Aaron Burr, all transpire in compelling fashion, under the adept direction of Thomas Kail and precision choreography and movement by Andy Blankenbuehler.

Too bad history classes don’t so successful tell such tales.

Tickets are hard to get, but despair not.  The show is running in Chicago, and touring versions are now wending their way across the country.  These productions are duplicates of the Broadway staging, complete with the original choreography and concentric turntables. 

It is also running in London and will be performed, with Manuel in the leading role, in Puerto Rico beginning in January, 2019.

Still want to see the show on Broadway?  Hamilton, like other Broadway musicals, offers a ticket lottery before every show, allowing a very limited number of those in line to purchase tickets for one Hamilton ($10) each.  You may, if you are standing near the theatre before curtain, be exposed to “Ham4Ham” shows, mini-performances which allow lottery participants to experience a part of the show.

Capsule judgment:  The question asked to many who see “Hamilton” is whether it is worth the investment of time and money?  This reviewer’s answer, “Absolutely!”  I can’t wait until it comes to Cleveland this summer to see it again!  (And, hopefully more than once!)

What: “Hamilton”
Where:  Richard Rogers Theatre, 226 West 46th Street
When:  Open run

Sunday, April 22, 2018

ONCE ON THIS ISLAND an enchanting legend revived

Yes, as the advertisement’s banner says, “Our lives become the stories that we weave.” 

In the revival of the one-act “Once on This Island The Musical,” that weaving takes place on Circle in the Square’s rectangular, seat-encircled stage, which has literally been transformed into a sandy island in the Caribbean.  (Over 5 tons of sand were trucked in to accomplish the effect).

Yet another destructive hurricane has struck the forsaken place.

Stray goats and chickens run wild, palm fronds, plastic bags, knocked down huts and random laundry litter the landscape.  Water laps at the shore.  People, out of habit, go about the task of trying to clean up. 

The musical, based on the novel “My Love My Love” by Rosa Guy, which has book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty, first opened in 1990 and received eight Tony nominations.  A London production garnered the 1995 Olivier Award for Best New Musical.   This newest version recently opened.
The encompassing and entrancing Caribbean-influenced music, played by traditional musical instruments, are supplemented by storm-dropped “found objects,” including trash bins, flexible piping and wooden boxes.

A young girl cries out in fear.  Story tellers, stirred on by the unrelenting winds and rain, tell her the tale of Ti Moune, a native girl in love with a young aristocrat, who is sent on a journey by the gods.  The story, like many oral history folk tales, uses the customs and mores of the area to paint a story of love and loss, faith and hope. 

The tale concerns the land, four gods: Asaka, the Mother of the Earth, Agwé, god of Water, Erzulie, the goddess of Love, and Papa Ge, the Demon of Death, and the people who worship them. 

The island is populated by peasants, the people as “black as night,” and the lighter-skinned descendants of the French planters and their slaves.  Each lives on their own side of the island, segregated from each other. 

As tradition tells, one day a terrible storm flooded the island, wiping out many people and dwellings. The gods place Ti Moune, an orphan girl, in a tree high above the flood’s waves, thus saving her.   She is found and adopted by Mama Euralie and Tonton Julian.  

Years pass, and the now grown-up beautiful Ti Moune, prays to the gods to set her on a path so he can find her purpose, establishing why she was saved from the storm.

Though they are amused by her wish, they arrange to have the car of Daniel, a light-skinned “grande homme” crash during a storm.  Ti Moune saves his life and restores him to health.  She falls in love with him and assumes he loves her as well.

Ti Moune follows Daniel when he returns to his side of the island. She finds out Daniel is engaged to Andrea, the daughter of family friends. 

Ti Moune is distraught, but when given the opportunity to kill him she will not do so, proving that love is stronger than hate. 

Erzulie takes Ti Moune to the ocean where she drowns peacefully and is taken to shore by Asaka who transforms her into a tree which eventually becomes a celebration of life and love.  As the tree grows, it cracks open the gates of the hotel, allowing those of all social statuses to become one.

And, as in all good folk tales, there is a happy ending as Daniel’s son, playing in the branches of the tree meets a peasant girl.  As the custom of separation of the groups has been eliminated, we are left to believe that love will conquer all.

As the musical ends, the frightened little girl from the beginning of the tale starts to retell the story herself, thus ensuring its continued significance in the history of her people.

The musical, under the direction of Michelle Arden, is enchanting.   Dane Laffrey’s setting, Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer’s lighting, Peter Ramos’s costumes, and Peter Hylenski’s sound all enhance the story development and the esthetic effect. 

The cast is outstanding.  Hailey Kilgore is award-worthy as Ti Moune.  She has an air of vitality that well fits the story and a lovely voice.  Her vocal, “Waiting for Life” is well interpreted.  Isaac Powell nicely develops the role of Daniel.

The gods, Asaka (Aurelia Williams), Agwé (Quentin Earl Darrington) , Erzulie (Lea Salonga), and Papa Ge (Rodrick Covington) all are convincing in their role interpretations.

“Once On This Island” will launch a North American tour in the fall off 2019.

Capsule judgment:  The enchanting “Once on This Island” is a tale well conceptualized and told sharing the power of love and tradition as it reveals that “our lives become the stories that we weave.”  

What: “Once on this Island The Musical”
Where:  Circle in the Square, 235 W. 50th Street
When:  Open run

Saturday, April 21, 2018

CPH’s “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”—F*U*N!

How would you do if asked to spell: “syzygy,” “capybara,” “cystitis,” “pandemonium,” and “qaymaqam?”  How about “crepuscule?” 

C-r-e-p-u-s-c-u-l-e, which means twilight, is the original name of the musical now known as “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” which is presently on stage at Cleveland Play House’s Allen Theatre.

Originally a play created by Rebecca Feldman for her New York based improvisational comedy group, its transition into the present script was done by Rachel Sheinkin with music and lyrics by William Finn.

The 2005 Broadway production was a hit, garnering six Tony Award nominations, including Best Book. 

The fun-filled romp centers on a fictional spelling bee conducted at the Putnam Valley Middle School, which finds six quirky kids, joined by four culled-from-the-audience “volunteers,” who vie for the coveted large blue and gold trophy and the pride that goes with it. 

On opening night, two celebrities found their spelling skills presented.  First up was last year’s Cleveland Critic Circle’s best “a-c-t-o-r” Alex Sylerk (“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” @ Great Lakes Theater) who quickly was dismissed with his prize of a box of juice.  Though she made it through the first couple of rounds, tall, pretty, animated local Channel 3 “m-e-t-e-o-r-o-l-o-g-i-s-t” Betsy Kling, also slinked away.

We quickly meet the nerdy group of “r-e-a-l” spellers who are competing for our laughs, hearts and the trophy.

There’s Chip Tolentino (Andres Quintero), an Eagle Scout and last year’s winner, who, unfortunately, gets distracted by a pretty young lady in the audience and his resulting erection throws him off and, though he spells the word correctly, he is eliminated by Vice Principal Panch (Jon Schrerer) because of a rule infraction.

Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere, an African American lesbian, is accompanied by her over-attentive gay fathers. The girl of many causes also falls by the wayside.

Leaf Coneybear (Lee Slobotkin), an adorable geek who makes his own “unique” clothes, is considered dumb by his family.  He’s only in the competition because the winner has her bat mitzvah on the day of the competition, and her best friend, the runner-up, is also at the religious event.  Much to his surprise he sails through the early rounds.  Unfortunately, he stumbles on the word “chinchilla” but walks away head held high, singing “I’m Not That Smart,” having proven to himself, despite his elimination, that he is okay.

William Barfee (Chad Burris, Elder Cunningham in the national tour of “The Book of Mormon”), an obnoxious know-it-all, demonstrates his very successful “magic” foot spelling routine, in which he spells out the word on the ground with his shoe.

Marcy Park (Kay Trinidad Karns), an up-tight young lady who has obviously been put under high pressure to succeed, whizzes through words until she makes a life-changing decision and intentionally spells an easy word incorrectly.

Olive Ostrovsky (wheel-chair bound Ali Stroker, who was in Broadway’s “Spring Awakening” and TV’s “Glee”) is able to break through Barfee’s curtain of nastiness by doing a kind deed when he is threatened by Chip with peanuts, one of many things to which Barfee is allergic.

The cast, which also includes Garfield Hammonds in several roles, and Kirsten Wyatt, as Rona Lisa Perretti, the Bees director, is universally strong, with each of them clearly developing a fleshed-out comic charter.

Director Marcia Milgrom Dodge keeps the action moving right along and keys the laughs with the right degree of farcical mischief.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Sometimes it’s fun to just sit in the theatre and laugh.  If that is your kind of entertainment, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is your thing and will spell “d-e-l-i-g-h-t” for you. 
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” runs through May 6, 2018 at the Allen Theatre in PlayhouseSquare.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to

SPONGE BOB, with its non-stop creativity, is a visual delight

Some present-day musicals, such as “Dear Evan Hansen” and “A Bronx Tale” shine their spotlight on societal issues.   Others like “Hamilton,” and “Come From Away” concern history.  “SpongeBob Squarepants” has its own vision…to entertain in a psychedelic underwater world of neon colors.  No strong message, but there are child-friendly hints of the value of friendship and of overcoming fear! 

From its reconfigured auditorium space, to its quirky set and creative costumes, non-stop showstoppers, over-the-top farcical acting, and funky television storyline, everything points to escapist enjoyment.

The musical was conceived and directed by Tina Landau.  It has songs by such artists as Sara Bareilles, Cindy Lauper and Rob Hyman, Lady Antebellum, John Legend, David Bowie and Brian Eno, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith.

It is based on the characters and themes of the “SpongeBob SquarePants” animated children’s television show, which was created by marine biologist and animator Stephen Hillenburg.  It takes place in the fictional underwater city of Bikini Bottom.  

The stage version opens as SpongeBob SquarePants wakes up one morning, in his usual wide-eyed happy mood, ready to face another wonderful day with his pet snail, Gary.  He wanders through Bikini Bottom, greeting various people including his best friend, Patrick (a squid) and Sandy Cheeks (a human who lives in a bubble-like dome and possesses great scientific skills). 

As the day progresses a violent tremor rocks the town.  A television news report relates that a nearby volcano is about to erupt.  Oh, what to do?  Stay and be destroyed?  Flee?  Find a way to save the city by neutralizing the danger.   

Hey, this is an escapist farce.  There has to be a plot device that contains danger, a bad guy and a happy ending to fulfill the formulaic story requirements.   So, off to climb the volcano, get rid of the danger (thanks to an invention by Sandy), and defeat an evil villain.  And, of course, our hero has to be the title character—SpongeBob.

The process of saving the town is filled with lots of singing and dancing and visual delights including a couple of Rube Goldberg devices mounted on the side walls of the theatre to the right and left of the proscenium arch, climbing the walls of the volcano which are created of entwined and moving scaffolding, electronic graphics, flying characters, skateboarding rockers, and lots of properly overdone farcical acting. 

All in all, there is visual and entertainment overload which, if the kid in front of me, who bounced in his seat, waved his arms until he was exhausted, is any indication, pleased the audience—adults and kids alike.

The cast is truly in tune with the right attitude for farce, and have the tap dancing, contemporary movement, and special skills needed to carry off the creativity of the director and choreographer.

Every once in while an actor and a role so meld together that forever the two are linked.  Think Yul Brenner in the “King and I,” Carol Channing in “Hello Dolly” Julie Andrews in “My Fair Lady,’’ and recently, Ben Platt in “Dear Evan Hansen.”  


Add Ethan Slater to that list.  The talented young man “is” SpongeBob!  He delights in his singing, dancing, line interpretation and character development.

Danny Skinner, as the chunky Patrick Star, has some wonderful musical moments in “BFF” (with Slater), “Super Sea Star Savor” and “(I Guess I) Miss You.”

Gavin Lee is wonderful as the multiple-legged Squidward Q. Tentacles, whose “I’m Not a Loser” brought prolonged audience applause.  

Fine performances were also given by Lilli Cooper (Sandy Cheeks), Brandon Espinoza (Patchy the Pirate) and Brian Ray Norris (Eugene Krabs).

A special nod of approval to the Electric Skates (L’ogan J’ones, Kyle Matthew Hamilton and Curtis Holbrook) for their exciting skateboard routines.

Both David Zinn’s costumes and scenic design are Tony-nomination worthy!  Peter Nigrini’s projections help flesh out the visual aspects of the dazzling production.  Christopher Gattelli’s choreography adds to the delight, and director Tina Landau’s creativity shines through.

Of interest to 216ers:  With “Spongebob,” the Araca Group, Cleveland natives Matthew Rego, Michael Rego, and Hank Unger, add to their ever-expanding list of Broadway hits, which include such smashes as “Urinetown,” “Wicked,” “’ night mother,” “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” and “Rock of Ages.”

Capsule judgment: “Spongebob Squarepants The Broadway Musical” is a wonder of neon psychedelic delight starring a character-perfect lead surrounded by a fun-centered cast which should delight adults and children of all ages!
What: “SpongeBob Squarepants The Broadway Musical”
Where:  Palace Theatre—47th and Broadway
When:  Open run

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Tony winning “The Humans” has audience unexpectedly laughing at Connor Palace

Stephen Karam is one of the new breed of contemporary American playwrights.  His “The Humans,” the Tony Award-winning Best Play of 2016, and a Pulitzer Prize finalist, is now on stage at the Connor Palace.  

The young Lebanese-Irish-American writes plays about the human experience that should not be as funny as they are.  His painful comedies center on misfits, traumatic sexual experiences, depression, dementia, illness, 9/11, the foibles of religion, infidelity, homosexuality, poverty and prejudice.  How can we listen to all that angst and be incited to laugh?  But laugh we do!

Karam is noted for demonstrating “an acute perceptiveness for the ways people lean on one another even as they get under each other’s skins.”  The author says he’s drawn to 'the strangeness in people' who live in a state of dread; it’s the psychological realism of the everyday, it seems, that fires his imagination." 

Several local theatres have showcased Karam’s other works including “Speech and Debate” and “Sons of the Prophets.”

The Pulitzer Prize committee described “The Humans” as "A profoundly affecting drama that sketches the psychological and emotional contours of an average American family."  At times the happenings seem as much horror story as  comedy.

The Humans” centers on an Irish-American “Scranton, PA” family who are celebrating Thanksgiving at their daughter’s and her live-in boyfriend’s New York Chinatown apartment.  The couple has just moved into an ill-kept building where the electricity keeps going out, the upstairs neighbors make unbelievable amounts of noise, and the furniture hasn’t arrived. 

Present are Brigid Blake and her boyfriend Richard. Brigid's parents, Erik Blake and Deirdre Blake, arrive to have dinner along with their other adult daughter Aimee, a lawyer.  Aimee has recently broken up with her girlfriend and has developed an intestinal ailment.  Also present is Erik's mother, Fiona "Momo", who has Alzheimer's. 

This is a family filled with hidden secrets, outspoken pain, faltering yet blind beliefs, prejudices, and failures.  As the evening proceeds, their imperfections and affections flow forth.  

The proficient touring company cast is headed by Richard Thomas.  Yes, that Richard Thomas, “John Boy” from television’s “The Waltons” who has gone on to gain stardom in hit shows such as “The Americans” and numerous Broadway roles.

The rest of the cast, Therese Plaehn, Daisy Eagan, Pamela Reed, Lauren Klein and Luis Vega are all excellent.  They flesh out their roles so successfully, that we find ourselves “peeking in on” this real family, rather than watching a play. 

The set is a bizarre physical presence which becomes a character in the goings on.  The lightening effects are well conceived.  The sound system is subpar causing many “huhs” from the audience. 

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:   Key Bank subscribers may be thrown off by the fact that “The Humans’” is not a musical.  But it, like last season’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night,” and “War Horse,” the marvelous hit of several seasons ago, is a straight play that has special appeal.  Unlike those shows, it lacks the outstanding technical and special effects to grab and hold attention.  What it does have is a finely-written story that gets an outstanding performance that is well-worth experiencing.
The Humans” runs through April 29, 2018.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to

Sunday, April 08, 2018

“The Adventures of a Black Girl in Her Search for God,” misses its mark @ Karamu


George Bernard Shaw’s views on religion may be summarized by his statement, “People believe anything that amuses them, gratifies them, or promises some sort of profit.”  

He showcased his anti-organized religion and doubt of God in his “The Adventures of a Black Girl in Her Search for God,” a novella he wrote after returning from five weeks in Africa in the winter of 1932.  He imagined a young black girl roaming the “darkest of Africa” in search of God.  

His story was adapted for the stage by African-American writer, Lisa Codrington. 

A staging of Codrington’s script is now on stage at Karamu.

 “The Adventures of a Black Girl in Her Search for God” tells the tale of an African girl who has been abandoned by her missionary for asking too many question about God, religion and philosophy that the church proselytizer couldn’t answer.   

Left on her own, The Black Girl sets out on her own mission to find God, since she has been taught, “Seek and you shall find me,” which she takes to mean, “seek out and actually speak to God.”


In the Shaw essay the Black Girl meets a vengeful deity of the early books of the Bible, a philosophical version as exposed in the “Book of Job,” and two versions of Jesus…a kindly but ineffective young man and another posing as an artist who is depicting Christ on the cross. 

Eventually we, like the Black Girl, come to the conclusion that, “There are a lot of old men pretending to be gods in this forest [the world].”

She also meets an atheist-behaviorist, and others who explain that the speculations about God are passé.  She finally is confronted by an elderly man who persuades her to abandon her quest and settle down “with a red-haired Irishman and rear a charmingly coffee-colored family.”  (Note:  at one point in his writing career, Shaw started a general furor by proposing intermarriage between blacks and whites as a solution to racial problems in South Africa.)

My evaluation of the Shaw production of the script was, “staging is illuminating, delightful and the standing ovation was well deserved.”

I wish I could say the same for the Karamu production; but, I can’t. 

Shaw calls the play a comedy with satirical overtones.   Unfortunately, in spite of a strong performance by India Pierre-Ingram as the Black Girl, the Karamu production misses the mark.  

Presented as a farce with slapstick, double takes, and overdone characterizations running wild, Shaw’s messages get lost in the mayhem.  In spite of the over the top screaming, over-acting and begging for laughs, few guffaws were heard.

The director and cast had another issue to contend with at the “joyful gathering place.”  When Shaw published “Black Girl” in 1932, it was so controversial that, probably much to his delight, he was decried as a “blasphemer.”

The Shaw Festival audience, many of whom were religiously liberal Canadians, took the Irishman’s satire as such.  However, the Karamu audience, many of whom are devout Christians, were not amused by the overdrawn depictions of the men of the “Bible,” the simpering Jesus’s, and the mindless prophets. 

An elderly woman, sitting diagonal to me, had a stressed look on her face from the start of the second scene on.  At the end there was no applause from her, and she reached out and took my hand as I went to exit and said, “God is not happy!”  The show was definitely not an appropriate happy 90 th birthday present for her! 

From the exit conversations, unfortunately, she was not alone in her dislike of the subject matter.

Capsule judgment:  The commentary, “The Adventures of a Black Girl in Her Search for God,” as evidenced at the Shaw Festival, can be a compelling hour production.   Unfortunately, in spite of a valiant effort, this isn’t the case at Karamu.

“The Adventures of a Black Girl in Her Search for God” continues through April 15, 2018 at Karamu, 2355 East 89th Street, which has a fenced, lighted parking lot adjacent to the theatre, and provides free parking.  For ticket information call 216-795-7077.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Compelling “The Scottish Play” (“Mac**th”) at Great Lakes Theater

Theater people are superstitious! 

The practices that relate to the fears have various origins.  For example, “the ghost of Thespis (the first known actor in ancient Greece) is said to wreak havoc upon theaters all over the world. The ghost light tradition—leaving a single lit bulb upstage center when the theater is empty—is meant to ward off these mischievous specters.”

Know someone in the cast? If so, only give flowers after the performance.  Old school actors require their flowers after the curtain call—not before—claiming that a gift prior to the start causes a lackluster show.

Be forewarned that if you are going to go to the present staging at the Great Lakes Theater, don’t say you are going to see “Macbeth.” To ward off problems, state that you are going to see “The Scottish Play.”   Some believe that the play’s fictional incantations -- “Double, double toil and trouble…” are authentic examples of witchcraft, and therein lies the danger of speaking the title out loud. If you state the Shakespearean title, you will be required to exit the theater, spin three times, spit, and utter a Shakespearean insult (or an equally vulgar profanity).  

“Macbeth” is one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays and is recognized as one of the Western theatre’s most important tragedies.

With its tale of deception, corruption, power of unchecked ambition, a leader with a lack of moral order, lust, manipulation, and taking actions with no plan-- the story is as modern as when it was written.  

The tale starts with a storm on a Scottish moor.  Three witches chant incantations and share with Macbeth, a brave army general, that he will become King of Scotland.  Thus, is set in motion a series of actions that roll out as a tale of intrigue and darkness. 

Ambition awakened, Macbeth, who shares the prophecy with his power hungry wife, becomes obsessed with destroying anyone who might stand in his way.   He murders King Duncan and takes the throne for himself.  

But, not all is well in Scotland. Both Macbeth and his lady become wracked with guilt and paranoia as the number of murders increase and plots of revenge take hold.  They lose track of humanity and reality.  An ever increasing bloodbath ensues and dissolves into madness and ultimately death.

This is the stuff of which great Shakespearean tragedies are made.

The script is filled with epic lines and speeches that many a school child has had to memorize including: "Screw your courage to the sticking-place."  "Is this a dagger which I see before me, The handle toward my hand?"  "What's done is done."  "Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble." "Out, damned spot! out, I say!" and "Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

The Great Lakes Theater’s production, under the adept direction of Charles Fee, is superb.  Every aspect of the show:  the acting, pacing, technical creations, fight sequences, clarity of language, and story development, all ring true. 

Especially effective is the visual and story-developing creativity of the three “witches” (Laura Welsh Berg, Jodi Dominick and Meredith Lark.)

Strong performances are presented by Lynn Robert Berg as the increasingly maniacal Macbeth, Erin Partin as the obsessed Lady Macbeth, Nick Steen as Macduff, Jonathan Dyrud (Banquo) and young Jake Spencer as Fleance. 

Huzzahs to scenic designer Russell Metheny, costume designer Kim Krumm Sorenson, light designer Rick Martin, sound designer and incidental music composer Matthew Webb, and fight choreographer Ken Merckx.  

Capsule judgement:  The staging is exciting, the story line is paced to build to the forewarned conclusion, the language is easy to understand, the characterizations are well-etched, the acting is superb, the technical aspects are excellent, the fight scenes are theatrically real, the creative development of the three witches is groundbreaking.  All in all, this is a “Macbeth” to be treasured and is a must see production! 

“The Scottish Play” (“Mac**th”) runs through at the Hanna Theatre through April 15, 2018.  For tickets: 216-664-6064 or