Sunday, September 30, 2018

Captivating, topical must see “Freak Storm” at none too fragile

Little did none too fragile’s Artistic Director, Sean Derry know that the day Matt Pelfrey’s play “Freak Storm” opened at his theatre, would be the date of the Senate’s hearings for possible confirmation of a Supreme Court judge. 

The parallel of the stories is almost as eerie as the storm that rages outside the home of soon-to-be-married Adam and Lynn.  The results are as befuddling and filled with future consequences.

The script’s author, Matt Pelfrey is noted for writing horror and thriller scripts for stage and screen.  His plays have been produced around the country and overseas to critical acclaim and include “Cockroach Nation,” “Terminus Americana,” “An Impending Rupture of the Belly,” and the stage adaptation of “In the Heat of the Night.”

At the start of “Freak Storm” we are exposed to Gil (Benjamin Gregorio) and Ian (Brian Kenneth Armour) driving to Los Angeles.  Their harried conversation reveals that something terrifying has happened with the potential to affect the upcoming wedding of Adam (James Rankin) and Lynn (Kelly Strand). Gil and Ian are Adam’s life-long friends.  Why is the duo so angst-filled?

The next scene reveals Adam and Lynn in the troughs of pre-marital love making.  Their phone keeps ringing.  When they answer, they can hear breathing, but no spoken message.  As the lights flicker and go out, Adam looks out the window and sees a figure of a woman, dressed in rags.  Who is this mystery woman?  Why is she outside their home?

As the dramatic morality play plays out, Gil and Adam have a tale to tell about the past.  Someone or something from that past is coming for them all!   Their relationship will never be the same.

Like the present Supreme Court judge candidate testimony, “Freak Storm” examines the scary, scruffy stuff of the macho world of some men and how their actions affect others.

To reveal more would ruin the emotional experience for anyone planning on seeing this play.

Director Sean Derry knows how to build tension.  Marcus Dana adds angst with the lighting. 

Sitting up close, as is the situation in none too fragile’s theatre in which no one is more than 15 feet from the stage, forces the audience to experience all the tension.  It makes the dramatic experience totally encapsulating.

The cast is excellent.  Each character helps build the tale.  James Rankin is at his dramatic best.  His self-revealing long monologue is riveting.

Brian Kenneth Armour is chauvinistic on target, using phases like “bitch hole” and other sexist comments, and swearing as if it is a natural part of speech, with upsetting ease. 

Benjamin Gregorio stammers and displays realistic fear while developing a character with little obvious backbone. 

The concepts of “everyone has something to hide,” “good people do bad things” and “we are a generation sliding toward adulthood” so parallel the present Supreme Court confirmation hearings that it is spooky.

Capsule judgment: “Freak Storm” is a well-written, topical play that gets an outstanding absolute must-see production. Wow!  If all theater productions could be of this level, the world of theater-goers and reviewers would be one of wonder.  

For tickets for “Freak Storm” which runs through October 13, 2018, call 330-671-4563 or go to

None too fragile’s season closes with “Boogieban,” DC Fidler’s tale about Lawrence Caplan, a Vietnam War veteran who became a military psychiatrist. Caplan is asked to assess one last soldier. His patient insists that he is "good to go" back to his unit in Afghanistan. Caplan soon discovers, however, the soldier is tortured by nightmares and flashbacks. Unexpectedly, the soldier's story unveils Lieutenant Colonel Caplan's amnesia for Vietnam. Together, the two men launch on parallel journeys that will change them forever.  (November 16-December 1, 2018) 

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Quality performances make “Plath & Orion” interesting evening @ Cesear’s Forum

Cesar’s Forum, which might be thought of as the little theater company “that could and can,” is at it again. The organization, which is a financial and one-man adventure has won both Cleveland Critics Circle and Broadway World Theatre Tribute recognitions for past performances. 

The theater usually presents challenging scripts which have small casts and require little or no sets.   Artistic director Greg Cesear has followed this pattern again with his pairing two one-act plays into an evening of interest.

“Plath & Orion, Two One-Act Plays” is composed of Pulitzer Prize winning Lanford Wilson’s “The Great Nebula in Orion” and Cesear’s self-written “Plath, Sexton and the Art of Confession.”

Wilson, a Missouri native, was noted as one of the significant theater writers of the 20th century. “He was one of the first playwrights to move from Off-Off-Broadway, to Off-Broadway, then to Broadway and beyond.”  His plays are commonly done by community theaters. 

The Wilson script centers on an unscheduled afternoon social interaction between two women who were close college friends but have not seen each other for seven years.

Louise (Rachel Lee Kolis) is a successful fashion designer.  Carrie (Amiee Collier), is a former activist who married into wealth and is now a Boston area socialite. 

Louise, who is single, lives the life of a childless, Manhattan career woman, while Carrie does “all the right things” for a woman of her status—bridge, clubs, and mothering two children. 

Both seem discontent as talk about former loves and college friends as they consume a large quantity of brandy at Louise’s Park Avenue apartment. 

This is a character, rather than a plot centered script.  It is well written and gives each actress a chance to show off her talent.  And talent is abundant with these two fine actresses.  Their characters are well-developed, with each performance completely realistic.

The second act, Greg Cesear’s “Plath, Sexton and the Art of Confession,” features Mary Alice Beck as M.A. and Julia Kolibab as Jane.  

The duo is attending a scholastic conference.  They exchange ideas, which mainly center on the works of Pulitzer Prize winning poets, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, who furthered the literary genre known as Confessional poetry.  

The conversation between MA and Jane parallel the experience that Plath and Sexton had when they met at a seminar and their career work, combined with personal rivalry and affinity, caused them to be linked together.

The play presents such observations as, “To judge a poem you have understand it,” “image reflects image,” and the challenging concept of “What is art worth?”.  It is an academic course in poetry, poets and Platt and Sexton.

As in the first act, the performances are excellent.

“The plays are companion pieces designed for audiences to focus on and identify with the character-driven narratives through inventive storytelling.” In both, “the women address their thoughts and comments directly to the audience, as well as to each other.  Poignant, cutting, funny and poetic, their telling conversations reveal individual boundaries of hope and reality.”

Capsule judgement:  Though some may find the show, especially the second act, obtuse and overly intellectual, Cesear’s Forum again displays that it doesn’t take a big budget, massive sets and ornate costumes to present effective theater, in this case, its exceptional performances.

“Plath & Orion, Two One-Act Plays” runs Friday and Saturday through October 27, 2018 @ 8 as well as Sunday, October 7 and 14 @ 3 in Kennedy’s Down Under.  Enter through the Ohio Theatre lobby and go down the steps to the theatre.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to

Saturday, September 22, 2018

“The Woman in Black” less than it could be at the Cleveland Play House

Susan Hill, author of the book The Woman in Black, the source of the play of the same name now being staged at the Cleveland Play House, relates: “The Suffolk coast. Winter. The early Seventies. Behind the path giving onto the shingle beach and the North Sea, are marshes, mysterious places with narrow paths where reed-beds make a dry rustling sound in the low wind that moans across here. I rented a house for several winters to work and often walked the marsh paths. Once, I was making fast for home when dusk was closing in.

The blackened hull of a rotting boat lay low in the mud. The last geese squawked home in the darkening sky. I sensed ghosts everywhere, looked behind me as I walked faster. There was a strange, steely light glinting, and shadows. Easy to let your imagination run away with you there and the scene stayed with me, though it was another 10 years before I actually made use of it.”

The resulting “use of the experience” was a 1983 Victorian ghost story entitled The Woman in Black.   The book was met with acceptable reviews, but hit its stride when, in 1987, it was transformed into a play by Stephen Mallatratt.  

The London West End production, which opened in 1989 and is still running, has been staged over 11,000 times and is the second longest running drama in English theatrical history. It is only eclipsed by Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, which has had over 27,000 performances.  It was adapted into a 2012 film starring Daniel Radcliffe.

The play is, in fact, a play within a play.  Retired solicitor, Arthur Kipps, engages a young actor to coach him in how to deliver a public reading of a ghost story he has written, based on a real life experience. 

The actor eventually takes over the role of Kipps and acts out, with the aid of Kipps, who portrays a number of parts, the tale of a mysterious spectra that haunts an English town.

The tale, as related, took place many years earlier when Kipps was a junior solicitor working for a Mr. Bentley.   Kipps was sent to Crythin Gifford, on the north east coast of England, to attend the funeral of Mrs. Alice Drablow, a reclusive widow who lived alone in the huge, foreboding, desolate Eel Marsh House, separated from the town by a causeway.  At high tide it was cut off from the mainland.  

At the funeral, Kipps observes a woman dressed in black, surrounded by a group of children. 

Upon arrival at Eel Marsh House, Kipps is confronted by unexplained noises, a galloping horse drawing a carriage, screams of a young child and a woman, and the appearance of the Woman In Black.

He finds papers which reveal that Mrs. Drablow’s sister, Jennet, gave birth to a child.  Because she was unmarried, her sister and the sister’s husband adopted the boy with the understanding that Jennet was never revealed as his mother. 

Jennet went away for a short period, but returned to take care of the boy.  One day, a horse and carriage, carrying the boy across the causeway, sank into the marshes and the boy died.  Jennet stood at a window helplessly watching. 

Rumor had it that when Jennet died, she haunted Eel March House and the town of Crythin Gifford as The Woman in Black.  According to local tales, a sighting of her presaged the death of a child.

Thus is laid the foundation for what happened to Kipps upon his return to London as it related to his own marriage and child. 

At the end of his tale, Kipps finishes his reminiscence with the words, "They have asked for my story. I have told it. Enough."

It can easily be seen why the play had captured the minds of the London theatre goers.  Unfortunately, the CPH production, under the direction of Robin Herford, is lacking.  The visual image is not aided by designer Michael Holt’s oft-confusing and distracting set.

The production lacks intensity.  Though some of the scary aspects of the script are present, the needed “jump for fear” factors and the “impending doom “is often missing. 

Adam Wesley Brown is quite acceptable as The Actor.  Bradley Armacost, however, as Arthur Kipps and other roles, is often difficult to hear due to a lack of projection.  Therefore, some intricacies of the story are lost.  Hopefully, as the show runs and the actors will get comfortable and increase the intensity of their performances.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  At this pre-Halloween season “The Woman in Black” appears to have been a good choice.  The success of this type of play is dependent upon the audience using its imagination, and the moments of shock-induced terror and the jumpy, scream-induced moments.  These, unfortunately, are somewhat missing in this production. 

“The Woman in Black” runs through October 7, 2018 at the Allen Theatre in PlayhouseSquare.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to

Next up at CPH: (October 13-November 4, 2018) Lynn Nottage’s 2017 Pulitzer Prize winning “Sweat.” The capsule judgement of my review of the Broadway production was: “Theater represents the era from which it comes, and “Sweat” clearly and shockingly tells the depressing tale of what went on during the financial downturn of this country and the resulting hysteria and desperation by a group of people who felt they had been disenfranchised by big business, betrayed by their government, and sold out by their union and political leaders.  It is an important play which fulfills the educational obligation of the arts.”

Saturday, September 15, 2018

God admits he’s imperfect in hysterically funny “An Act of God” at Beck

God, or a facsimile thereof, in the form of Mike Polk Jr., who in his other life is a local comedian and Fox 8 personality, is appearing on the Beck Center for the Arts stage, in a mock spiritual conversation with his audience.

The script, which was written by David Javerbaum, and was adapted from his book, The Last Testament: A Memoir by God, is sure to offend some, and regale
everyone else in sustained laughter.  In other venues it has been called "a gut-busting-funny riff on the never-ending folly of mankind’s attempts to fathom God’s wishes through the words of the Bible and use them to their own ends.

It starred both Jim Parsons (Sheldon on Big Bang Theory and Young Sheldon) and Sean Hayes (Jack of “Will and Grace”) in its two successful Broadway runs.

“God” shares with us, “Yea, I have grown weary of the Ten Commandments,” therefore, he “has come before us to expand the list. Or rather rewrite it, since some of the originals were too good to let go.”

God is not doing this task alone.  He is accompanied by his two favorite archangels, compliant Gabriel (Brian Pedaci) who acts as God’s “yes” man, and the inquisitive Michael (Allan Byrne) who asks lots of probing questions, such as why God allowed the Holocaust and why children die of cancer, while also probing audience members to throw inquiries and barbs at the Almighty.

God doesn’t put up easily with Michael’s antics.  The poor guy not only gets sent off the stage, but loses a wing for his impertinence.

Performed on a white-stepped modernistic set, such topics as circumcisions, Jesus, the difference between lies and liberties, believing in thyself, respecting children, who are the Muslims and Jews, the lack of “God” in China, and the new ten commandments, fits well the relaxed, stand-up comedy format.

Polk, who on opening night was obviously fighting a cold, has a nice presentational-style, that makes his “blasphemous” statements less stinging than if he “acted” God-like.  He toys well with the audience, and laughs at himself and the deity he is playing in a non-attacking way.  This is a wonderful unique performance which does not try to imitate either Parsons or Hayes.

Both Pedaci and Byrne are spot on as the archangels.

Director William Roudebush obviously has an understanding of the difference between comedy and farce, not forcing slapstick or overdone lines.  The show’s pace allows for laughs, without begging for them.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: “Act of God” is one of those funny, funny irreverent scripts that, while it may offend some, gets a no–holds-barred, must see fine production at Beck Center for the Arts.  You’ll be upset or leave with a smile on your face respecting a writer who can come up with a clever way to confront the ills of the world in a humorous way.

“An Act of God” is scheduled to run at Beck Center for the Arts through October 7, 2018.  For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go online to  

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Well-performed, but uninspired “A Little Night Music,” @ Lakeland Civic Theatre

Like much of the works of Stephen Sondheim, from the start, “Little Night Music” proves to be a different type of musical.  Rather than a traditional overture, one-by-one, a quintet of singers, who will act like a Greek chorus throughout the production commenting on varying situations, introducing the audience to characters and clarify the plot’s goings on, enter, tuning up their voices.  Eventually, they blend into an overture composed of different songs from the score. 

Sondheim, an eight-time Tony winner, whose works are noted for their lyrical sophistication and musical complexity, is oft praised by critics and underappreciated by the general public.

His musicals abandon the romantic plots favored by Lerner and Loewe and Rogers and Hammerstein.  This is ironic since, from the age of ten, Sondheim was mentored by Oscar Hammerstein II, the father of his boyhood friend. 

His works tend to be dark, exploring the ironic, grittier and unglamorous sides of both present and past life. 

He finds inspiration in the unlikeliest of sources—the opening of Japan to Western trade for “Pacific Overtures,” a legendary murderous barber seeking revenge in the Industrial Age of London for “Sweeney Todd,” the paintings of Georges Serrate for “Sunday In The Park With George,” fairy tales for “Into The Woods,” and a collection of individuals intent on eliminating the President of the United States in “Assassins.”  Even his one true comedy, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” centered on slavery in ancient Rome.
“A Little Night Music,” with a book by Hugh Wheeler, was inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s film, Smiles of a Summer Night, and exposes the lives of several couples, including such topics as infidelity, verbal relational abuse, and birth out of wedlock.  The play’s title is a literal English translation for Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik.

As is often the case with Sondheim, the score has elements not often found in musical theater.  Its complex meters, pitch changes and high notes for both males and females present a challenge for performers. 

The story “explores the tangled web of affairs centered around actress, Desirée Armfeldt, and the men who love her: a lawyer, Fredrik Egerman and the Count Carl-Magnus Malcom.  When the traveling actress performs in Fredrik's town, the estranged lovers rekindle their passion.  This strikes a flurry of jealousy and suspicion between Desirée, Fredrik, Fredrick's wife, Anne, Desirée's current lover, the Count, and the Count's wife, Charlotte.  Both men – as well as their jealous wives – agree to join Desirée and her family for a weekend in the country at Desirée's mother's estate. With everyone in one place, infinite possibilities of new romances and second chances bring endless surprises.”

The show contains “A Weekend in the Country” and “Send in the Clowns,” two of Sondheim’s most well-known compositions.  Also in the score are “The Glorious Life,” “In Praise of Women,” and “The Miller’s Son.”

The vocalizations in the Lakeland production are well performed, as are the musical sounds of the orchestra. 

As has come to be expected, Trinidad Snider displays strong vocal abilities and acting skills as Desiree.  Her “Send in the Clowns” was masterful.  Singing meanings, not just words, she brought depth and clarity to the song.

Though his acting generally stays on the surface, Rob Albrecht (Frederick), sings well in “Now” and “You Must Meet My Wife.”

Talented Eric Fancher, another vocal and acting master, creates a properly self-loathing Henrik, Frederick’s son, who is hopelessly in love with his step-mother.

Meg Martinez masterfully interprets “The Miller’s Son.”

Ian Atwood is properly pompous as Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm, and Neely Gevaart shines as Countess Charlote Malcolm, his put-upon wife, who gets her revenge.

The rest of cast is also strong.

What’s missing is variance of performance tempo, and the charm and playfulness written into the script, but not translated onto the stage.  This is surprising as director Martin Friedman, a Sondheim expert, has displayed over and over in Sondheim stagings, his ability to bring life into the writer’s works. 

The scenic and lighting designs work well and Kelsey Tomlinson’s costumes are era correct.  The choreography is serviceable, though not overly creative.

Capsule judgment: In spite of a talented cast, “A Little Night Music” is uninspired and not up to the usual high level of Lakeland’s Sondheim script presentations. 

“A Little Night Music” runs Friday and Saturdays at 7:30 and at 2 on Sundays September 7 through 30 at Lakeland Community College, 7700 Clocktower Drive, Kirtland. For tickets call 440-525-7134.  (The college is only 10 minutes from the 90-271 split!)

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Must see “Alabama Story” is compelling at Ensemble

Kenneth Jones, the author of “Alabama Story,” now on stage at Ensemble Theatre in its Ohio premiere, stated in an interview, “In May 2000, while reading the New York Times, I came across the story of Emily Wheelock Reed, the former State Librarian of Alabama who had been challenged by a segregationist state senator in 1959. Senator E.O. Eddins [of Demopolis, Alabama] demanded that a children’s picture book — Garth Williams’ The Rabbits’ Wedding, about a black rabbit marrying a white rabbit — be purged from the shelves of Alabama libraries on the grounds that it promoted race-mixing. Their conflict was reported worldwide. Before I finished reading the article, I knew this was an idea for a play.”

He went on to say about the play that resulted: “It’s a romance, a political thriller, a memory play, a workplace drama, a tearjerker, a comedy, a discussion about race, censorship and political desperation, and a rumination on the power of books. Most important, it’s a play about how we behave when we face terrible circumstances — how character is revealed in times of transition, change and crisis.”

He adds, “I hope that “Alabama Story” sparks a memory of a beloved book, the person who gave it to you and the day you realized that a turning of the page could be both terrifying and wonderful, and that — on some level, no matter what our differences — we all share the same story.”

The story takes place in still segregated Montgomery, Alabama as the civil rights movement is in its early stages.  A no-nonsense female head of the State Library system makes book selections based on the National Library Association’s recommendations.   A bigoted state senator, a true son of the south in political views and conservative religion, tries to impose his racist views upon all he touches.  This includes the tomes on library shelves.

A parallel story evolves when two childhood friends meet by chance, as adults, the same year as the library incident.  She is the white daughter of a wealthy cotton plantation owner, and he is the son of her family’s long time black cook.  An incident between the girl and boy caused his mother and him to leave “the big house.”

Inspired by real events, “Alabama Story” touches on Civil Rights and censorship issues in the Deep South.   Presently, in these days of rising bigotry fueled by the irrational tweets of an impulsive President, the play, which has been billed as “a humor-laced social-justice drama is a sort of vest-pocket cousin To Kill a Mockingbird,” which also was the target of campaigns to rid it from libraries, has real implications.

Ensemble’s production, under the well-focused direction of Kenneth Jones, is riveting, compelling and emotionally eye-opening. 

The entire cast shines.  Anne McEvoy portrays head librarian, Emily Reed, with conviction.  This is a well-textured quality performance that presents a real person, speaking real language, in a totally believable way.

She is ably supported by Cody Kilpatrick Steele as Thomas, her assistant, Eugene Sumlin as Josh, the black man, Adrienne Jones as Lily, the white “rich” girl, and Craig Joseph in multiple roles.  Though, at times, he overly postures thus creating a stereotype rather than a real person, Joseph Milan is properly pompous and hateful as Senator Higgins.

Walter Boswell’s set design, Ian Hinz’s lighting, and Tyler Whidden and Becca Moseley’s sound, all add to the production.

Capsule judgment: “Alabama Story,” a well written account of a real life incident is theater at its finest displaying excellent acting, an enveloping script and a technically complementing design. This is an absolutely, must see production!

“Alabama Story” runs from September 7-30, 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

Ensemble’s next production is a staged adaptation of John Steinbeck’s 
“East of Eden.”  It will appear in the theatre’s Mainstage Theatre from October 19-November 11.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Dobama’s “Sunset Baby” exposes the underbelly of the great sacrifice of survival

Dobama kicked off its 59th season with Dominique Morisseau’s three character, 90-minute play, about two generations of urban outlaws struggling to find their way through life by lying, stealing and often hiding their real feelings. 

Morisseau became a playwright almost out of necessity.  While working toward her degree in acting at the University of Michigan, she found herself frustrated over the lack of roles for African American women.  She started to write plays from a feminist perspective that contained opportunities for female performers, especially black women.

The two-time NAACP Image Award winner was listed as one of the top “20 Most Produced Playwrights in America in 2015–16.”

On the surface, “Sunset Baby” focuses on Nina, a sensuous young black woman who goes through life with a chip on her shoulder and a “I’ll do anything to get through life” attitude.  She, along with her “boyfriend” Damon, the father of a young boy from another relationship, sell drugs, scheme and pull guns when necessary, to “make it.”

Nina’s mother recently died, leaving her a packet of love letters that she had written, but never mailed to her husband, Nina’s father, Kenyatta, a jailed member of the Black Panther Party. 

Kenyatta, an advocate for black rights, was an active member of the organization, founded by Bobby Seale and Huey Newton in the 1960s, which was identified by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover as "the greatest threat to the internal security of the country."  Hoover supervised “an extensive counterintelligence program to undermine Panther leadership, incriminate party members, discredit and criminalize the Party, and drain the organization of resources and manpower.”  Though the group did initiate violent reactions to police, they also instituted a variety of community social programs, including health clinics and food programs.

Kenyatta, who abandoned his wife and child because of his belief in the Black Panther cause, was put in jail, and became alienated from Nina (who was named after singer and Civil Rights Activist, Nina Simone).

When he attempts to reunite with his daughter, he is rejected.  She wants nothing to do with him and refuses to let him even read the letters left to her by her mother, letters sought out by scholars interested in writing about the revolutionary ‘60s.

Kenyatta has difficulty expressing his emotions.  Nina has no cap on her feelings of abandonment and disdain for her father.  In utter frustration she rants, “I sell drugs and rob my own people, and my mother died an addict.  And now here’s daddy coming back here to be sentimental.”  She concludes with a withering epitaph: “Ain’t nothin’ sentimental about a dead revolution.”

Damon is adrift in his own tortured way.  He blurts out about the mother of his child, “[she] making me out to be the bad guy, when I’m only half-bad.”

“Sunset Baby” is wisely directed by Justin Emeka.  The frustrations and misunderstandings come out clearly.  His cast is up to the task of bringing to life Morisseau’s often over-lapping, powerful, Ebonic-tinged speeches and sounds.

Mary-Francis Miller transforms herself into Nina.  She doesn’t act, she is!  Greg White, though sometimes hard to hear due to his controlled demeanor, is on course as Kenyatta.  His final scene is emotionally wrenching.  Ananias J. Dixon plays the smoldering “black man frustrated by life” with the proper attitude.

Scenic designer Laura Carlson Tarantowski has the unenviable task of trying to create the needed intimate, “distressed apartment in Brooklyn” in the long rectangular Dobama acting space.  She doesn't’ completely succeed.  The audience in the center areas of the theatre are close enough to feel included, while those in the side sections are too far away for the needed intimacy.  The apartment is also too large, too “respectable” for the distressed.  A more confined acting area would have added to the strangling feeling of the speeches.

The use of Nina Simone songs during the show were both a boon and a problem. They set the proper tone, but when they underscored spoken lines, even when the volume was low, they distracted from the speeches.

Capsule judgement: “Sunset Baby” is an unnerving, thought-provoking script which exposes the viewer to not only the black experience in this country, but forces them to think back to both the turbulent 1960s and the effect the political and societal problems of the day had on those who actively lived through those times.  It is a well-conceived production worth seeing.

“Sunset Baby” runs through September 30, 2018, at Dobama, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights.  Call 216-932-3396 or for tickets.

Next up at Dobama: “John” by Annie Baker, the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright of the very successful Dobama production of “The Flick.”   It will star Dorothy Silver, Cleveland’s Grande dame of theatre.  

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Music, staging, performances makes reimagined “Jane Eyre” special

Charlotte Brontë’s book, “Jane Eyre,” is a gothic melodrama which centers on strong-minded Jane’s cruel treatment by her sadistic cousin and aunt, being shipped off to jail-like boarding school, departing to become a nanny for the ward of the wealthy but psychologically tortured Edward Fairfax with whom she falls in love, and the resulting angst of secrets revealed.

When the musical “Jane Eyre” opened on Broadway in 2000, it was classified, along with the likes of “Phantom of the Opera” and “Jekyll and Hyde,” as being a “tragic-poetic musical drama.”  It was, as were the others, based on an important epic tale, was dark in mood and staging, had big sets, and had lush, over-drawn orchestrations.

In spite of being credited with having a “luxuriant score, haunting and memorable music, crisp and intelligent lyrics,” the Broadway show ran for only 209 performances. 

Most reviewers agreed it, as was also the case with the other tragic-poetic musicals, they were over-staged.  “Phantom” was noted for the crashing chandelier and rowboat floating across the stage, “Jekyll and Hyde” for the “two people in one” physical switches and Jekyll ending his life by impaling himself on a swordstick.

These shows were noted for too many performers and too much emphasis on sets and costumes, which visually drowned out the tale itself and the impact of the music.

Along came Miles Sternfeld, the artistic director of Cleveland Musical Theatre, “a non-profit professional theater company that produces newly developed and re-imagined musical theater, featuring Broadway and Cleveland artists with emerging talent.”

Sternfeld felt that many of the problems with “Jane Eyre” could be fixed by shrinking the production, reexamining the score, and reimagining some of the book.

In most ways, as evidenced in the well-directed, perfectly cast, beautifully choreographed, and impressively scored music, Sternfeld was right.  The CTP’s “Jane Eyre” is special!

Gabriel Firestone’s simple, ever-changing set, focuses the action into a compressed proscenium within proscenium, forcing the audience to focus on the actions.  Even simplifying the set more and depending more on subtle electronic graphics would help.  Benjamin Gantose’s dark lighting and Sydney Gallas’s period-appropriate costumes enhanced the somber mood.  

The talented cast is both period and style correct.  Andrea Goss, has the right attitude and demeanor for the high-minded Jane, while Matt Bogart transitions beautifully from morbid to caring as Edward.  They both have big Broadway voices and sing meanings rather than words, making the vocals carry the story.

The duo is aptly supported by Allison England (Mrs. Reed/Mrs. Fairfax) and Emma McClelland (Young Jane).  The rest of the cast (Cody Gerszewski, Lauryn Hobbs, Emma McClelland, Genny Lis Padilla, Laura Perrotta, Fabio Polanco, Gregory Violand, Sydney Howard, Patrick Mooney, Nina Takacs) is superb, switching into various roles, attitudes and accents with ease.

The musical, without show stoppers, dream ballets or line dances, is greatly enhanced by choreographer Martin Céspedes’ masterful creation of moving tableaus by subtly altering bodily positions and movements to create meaningful stage pictures. 

The real star of the production, besides Miles Sternfeld’s sensitive direction, is the musical score.  Though it could have used a signature song, such as “The Music of the Night” (“Phantom of the Opera,”) Paul Gordon’s music, with additional lyrics by John Caird, seamlessly carries the message of Caird’s book, placing the instrumental and vocal sounds parallel to the spoken words.

The contributions of Nancy Maier (musical direction) Steven Tyler (additional arrangements), Brad Haak (music supervision/orchestrations), Conor Keelan (associate orchestration) and Alex Berko (music preparation) cannot be overlooked.

Capsule judgement: “Jane Eyre,” in its new form and format, is a musical that shows that a “small” production, in which care is taken with directing, casting and technical aspects can make musical theatre more captivating than big, splashy, over produced shows.  With an additional “signature” song, the revised script seems ready for an off-Broadway, small theatre run.

 “Jane Eyre,” runs through September 9, 2018 at the Rose and Simon Mandel Theatre located on the Cuyahoga County East Campus (4250 Richmond Road, Highland Hills).   For tickets, $15 to $45, call 216-584-6808 or visit