Sunday, May 26, 2019

Elton John and Tim Rice’s epic AIDA entertains at Karamu

Originally planned to be a Disney animated movie, as a follow-up to Elton John and Tim Rice’s mega-hit, “The Lion King,” the stage musical, ”Aida,” is based on Antonio Ghislanzoni and Giuseppe Verdi’s opera by the same name.  The decision to do the script as a live production, based on its critical and audience success, was seemingly wise.

The musical clocked over 1800 performances during its 4-year Broadway run.  It won four Tony Awards and was named by Time magazine as one of the top ten theatre productions.

Elton John’s score contains a mélange of musical styles including reggae, Motown, gospel, pop and even has some African musical influences.

The story starts in the Egyptian wing of a museum.  A man and woman catch eyes as a statue of Amneris, a female Pharaoh, starts to relate a tale about Ancient Egypt centering on Radames, captain of the Egyptian army who has just returned from a battle with the country’s long time enemy, Nubia.   Unknown to him is that among the Nubians he captured and has brought back to Egypt is Aida, who is the princess of Nubia.  

Radames, of course, falls in love with Aida complicating his father, Chief Minister Zoser’s plans for the death of the Pharaoh via poisoning, having Radames marry Princess Amneris, thus making Radames the next ruler of Egypt.
As in any good musical, the songs tell the tale: “Every Story is a Love Story” and “Fortune Favors the Brave” and “It is Written in the Stars” that the star crossed-lovers will be joined together in eternity, as they are sealed in a tomb together for life-ever after.  

The musical ends, as it began, back in the museum, where the spirit of Amneris reveals that as she became Pharaoh, "the lovers' deaths gave birth to a reign of peace between Egypt and Nubia.  She watches as the modern man and woman are strangely drawn to each other. They are the reincarnations of Aida and Radames, finding each other in a new beginning.

The scenic design by Inda Blatch-Geib works well.  The costume designs are outstanding.  The clothing is made with flair and creativity.   The same, however cannot be said for the musical direction and sound design.  The overly loud orchestra often drowned out the actors and singers.  There were also microphone sound squeals. 

Treva Offutt’s choreography was creative, but, unfortunately, the enthusiastic, but challenged performers, were sometimes out of step.

The vocal and choral sounds were outstanding!

Mary-Francis R. Miller was captivating as Aida.  She has a strong singing voice and did an excellent job of singing meanings, not words, while creating a believable strong princess.

There was a seeming lack of physical connection between Miller and Darrell Hill, who portrayed Radames, as a caricature, rather than a real person.  Their duets, “Enchantment Passing Through,” “Elaborate Lives,” and “Written in the Stars” were excellent.   

Joshua McElroy was character right for Mereb, the Nubian servant to Radames.  Sidney Edwards did a wonderful Valley Girl imitation as Amneris.  She has a strong singing voice, effectively belting “Every Story is a Love Story.”

Capsule judgment: In evaluating productions, it is important that a reviewer take into consideration the venue and the company doing the show.   Karamu’s “Aida” cannot be compared to the Broadway or professional touring company. None of the youngish cast are Equity members.  They range from being seasoned community and educational theater performers to stage newbies.  That taken into consideration, audiences should enjoy themselves with this Tony Sias directed production.

For tickets to “AIDA,” which runs through June 16, 2019 call 216-795-7077 or go to

Relevant topic probed in STATEMENTS AFTER AN ARREST UNDER THE IMMORALITY ACT at convergence continuum 

Apartheid was a political and social system in South Africa that existed from 1948 and until 1994, when a new constitution was ratified which abolished segregation.  Apartheid was used to deny many basic rights to non-White people, mainly Blacks.

The law allowed white people to be in most areas of the country.  Black people, on the other hand, had to carry special passes or have permission to travel outside their designated region. Laws outlawed interracial marriage, use of public facilities such as libraries, as well as forbidding of socializing of Blacks and whites.

Many works of literature and drama have been written about this period in South African history.  Probably no dramatist was more noted for his stand against apartheid than white South African Harold Athol Fugard. 

His writing followed the form of Bertolt Brecht who not only wrote about social situations, but encouraged audiences to act rather than merely watch the play.

Fugard became an international spokesperson by writing works which were penetrating and pessimistic of South African society.  His “Blood Knot” dealt with brothers who fall on opposite sides of the racial color line.  Other noted award winning works were “Boesman and Lena,” “Master Herold and the Boys,” “My Life,” and “The Coat.”

“Statements After An Arrest Under the Immorality Act,” which is now in production at convergence-continuum, under the direction of Terrence Spivey, is noted as a lessor of the author’s writings, and follows the form of “derived imaginative in a shapeless drama,” which does not follow a chronological format.

On the surface, ”Statements,” is the tale of a forbidden sexual relations between a white female librarian and a black man. 

He comes to the library, from which he cannot take out or use the books he needs for his educational research.  They develop a relationship as she finds material for him.  The connection blossoms into an intimate affair.  

The lovers (white Freida and Black Philanderer) are discovered, arrested, and tried.  Her testimony, plus pictures of the affair, tell the tale.

The understanding of the depth of the story depends on the audience being able to read into the actions and spoken lines the implications of both apartheid and human feelings. Feelings which go beyond skin color.

The talky script is not well-written.  The lines tend to be speeches and rants, rather than narrative conversations.  Repetition permeates. 

The clarity of what drives Philanderer to contemplate leaving his wife and child is not made clear, especially considering that there is no place for the white-black duo to exist in the South African system of regulations.

The lonely, seemingly friendless Frieda’s need for some type of relationship is much easier to pinpoint.

Con-con’s production ranges from static to frantic.  Part of this is a writing issue, the rest is the director’s staging, pacing and line-interpretation decisions.

Both Freida Joubert (Jill Kenderes) and Errol Philanderer (Corin Self) proficiently develop their characters and seem confident performing most of the play while nude. 

On the other hand, Soren Russell screams and over-acts as Policeman-Detective Seargent.  His is an over-blown characterization, not the creation of a believable person.  This is out of context as it adds a farcical component to a horrific realistic situation.

Errant lighting issues on opening night caused problems, but these should work out as the crew becomes more familiar with the cues.

Capsule Judgment:  With the recent election of a new President of South Africa, resulting in a probe of the economic and social status of blacks in that country, con-con’s play choice is relevant.  Informing of the horrors of apartheid, which seem to parallel the desires of some of present-day US citizens, also makes the topic germane.   Unfortunately, the quality of the script and some of the directorial decisions leave the audience wanting.

“Statements After An Arrest Under the Immorality Act” runs through June 15, 2019 at 8 pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at convergence-continuum’s artistic home, The Liminis, at 2438 Scranton Rd. in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood.  For information and reservations call 216-687-0074 or go to

Next up at con-con: “Tom at the Farm” (July 12-August 3, 2019) -- After the sudden death of his lover, Tom travels to a remote farm community for the funeral, and finds a religious family who knows nothing of his existence. Tom is threatened by the deceased’s brother and is drawn into a brutal, sexually-charged game.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Superb performances enhance compelling “Two” at none too fragile

Jim Cartwright, the author of “Two,” which is getting an outstanding production at none-too-fragile theater, is an English dramatist who writes about the lives of the working classes. 

His style of writing is often compared to that of Anton Chekov because of the poetic lyricism of his narration.  He has the ability to dig into angst and also inject humor in the most tragic of situations, whether he is describing starvation, domestic violence, the death of a child, or cancer.

Cartwright examines the themes of the “individual within versus the community; the nature and power of memory; and oneself as one's own worst enemy.”

His style often has a narrator setting the scene, introducing characters, and providing social and political comments, while remaining in character. 

His plays, as evidenced in “Two,” commonly are a series of vignettes interspersed with monologues, which take the form of a stream of consciousness.

“Two,” which is funny as well as heartbreaking, takes place on one night in a pub in northern England.  Two actors play 14 characters who reveal a cross-section of the pub’s town. 

As the scenes unfold the pub’s patrons down liquid refreshment and munch on chips as they tell of their dreams, ambitions, desires, disappointments and frustrations.

We meet the pub’s owners, a bickering husband and wife, and a range of characters whose tales take us on a rollercoaster ride of emotional highs and lows. 

The pub guests vary from a small meek man who is controlled by his wife, a male who does not speak but interacts with the proprietors, to an abusive husband and his terrified wife.

And so it goes until a young boy is left alone by his father and is mothered by the Landlady.  When the father returns, and the boy exits, we quickly realize the trauma that the departure has on the woman.  Raw feelings erupt between the barkeeps and an incident that shattered this couple is revealed.

The play finishes with the lines: Landlord: “I love you.” Landlady: “I love you too.” But, is that their real feelings?  And how long will the truce last?

Derdriu Ring and David Peacock are nothing short of marvelous as the pub keepers and the many characters they portray.  The accents, the levels of emotions, and the completely believable characters that are created, are all meticulously done.  These are award winning portrayals!

As has come to be expected, Sean Derry’s direction is spot on.  The pacing and the keying of laughs and angst, are etched with care and purpose.  

Capsule judgment: “Two” proves once again that none-too-fragile is the consistently best off-off Broadway theaters in the Greater Cleveland area.  The quality of play choices, the prime acting and the spot-on directing, makes going to this venue a theatrical wonder.  

For tickets for “Two” which runs through March 31, 2018, call 330-671-4563 or go to

Up next: “Woody’s Order” is a solo show written and performed by Ann Talman.  It tells the tale of the decision that must be made by Ann, an actress/comedian, who is torn between her Broadway career and being her nonverbal, cerebral palsied brother’s caregiver.  Presented from August 16-31.

Special event:  N-T-F’S “Boogieban” last year was one of the area’s most awarded shows. The production received recognition from both the Cleveland Critics Circle and Broadway World.  David Peacock and Travis Teffner were co-winners of the Cleveland Critics Circle award as Best Actors in a Non-Musical.  N-T-F will be presenting the show in both Chicago and New York later this year.  Before it leaves the local area it will be staged again at none-too-fragile on August 2 and 3, 2019.  Tickets will go fast.  Call immediately to reserve your seats. 

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Welcome to the Renaissance--touring “Something Rotten!” delights at EJThomas

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 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 Will. 

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 turns 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, with delightful effect.

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.  The cast makes the difficult look easy.  This is even more impressive in that this is not the original Broadway or touring performers.  Kudos to director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw.

The ensemble is outstanding.   Matthew Baker amuses as Shakespeare, who struts around the stage in sensual leather biker gear with ripped abs exposed, the obvious superstar of the Renaissance. Matthew Michael Janisse delights as the obsessive Nick Bottom whose mission in life is to out-bard the Bard.  Richard Spitaletta is charming as the shy poet and writer, Nigel Bottom.  Mark Saunders swishes with gleeful ease as Brother Jeremiah.  Greg Kalafatas 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.  Unfortunately, this is the must see musical, only ran for two nights in Akron.  But, despair not, Beck Center will be doing their version of the show July 10 – August 9, 2020 (note: 2020).

Sunday, May 12, 2019

CHARLIE BROWN, with a kind of new twist at Theatre in the Circle

In the Spring of 1967 a group of theater students from Lorain County Community College went to New York to get their first experience with Broadway.

One of the shows they saw was YOU’RE A GOOD MAN CHARLIE BROWN.  Fortunately, due to a friendship between one of the LCCC faculty and Clark Gesner, who wrote the music and lyrics for the show based on the “Peanuts” characters created by cartoonist, Charles M. Schulz,” the students not only got to meet the writer, but spent time socializing with the cast. 

This connection led to LCCC’s drama department getting permission to stage one of the first amateur productions of the work. 

“Peanuts” is often thought of as just a cartoon about kids.  It is, but in fact, it is infused with philosophical, psychological, and sociological overtones.  Not only are relationships, concepts about the American educational system, family connections and the angst of childhood showcased, but as stated in the book, “The Gospel According to Peanuts,” “it sheds more light on the Christian faith and how it is to be lived than many more serious theological works.”

“Peanuts” is among the most popular comics with 17,897 strips published.  At its peak in the mid-to-late 1960s, the strip ran in over 2,600 newspapers, with a readership of around 355 million in 75 countries, and was translated into 21 languages.

The strip focuses on a social circle of young children, where adults exist but are rarely seen or heard. 

The main character, Charlie Brown, is a meek, nervous boy who lacks self-confidence.  He is unable to fly a kite, win a baseball game, or kick a football held by his irascible friend, Lucy, who always pulls it away at the last instant.  “Good grief Charlie Brown!”

The musical, which, during its off-Broadway and subsequent revivals, has starred such theater and television stars as Gary Burghoff (Radar on “Mash”), Anthony Rapp (RENT) and Kristin Chenoweth (WICKED).  The LCCC production featured Crissy Wilczak, who went on to Great White Way fame in A CHORUS LINE, 1940s RADIO HOUR, SEESAW and was featured in TV’s “Mork and Mindy.”

The musical opens with Charlie Brown sitting alone as his friends give their various opinions of him.  Today everyone is singing “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown,” rather than berating him for the many stumbles as he follows his life path.

The usually depressed Charlie Brown is happy and hopeful, that is, until he notices the Little Red-Haired Girl, who he secretly loves.  He decides to go sit with her. However, in typical Charlie Brown fashion, he cannot find the courage to do so, winding up putting his lunch bag over his head in utter frustration. 

As the tale goes on, Lucy expresses her deep infatuation with Schroeder and asks him what he thinks of the idea of marriage. Schroeder remains aloof as he continues to play his piano. Sally is sad because her jump rope tangled up. And so the tale of Charlie Brown and his “pals” goes on, with humor, pathos and such songs as “My Blanket and Me,” “Queen Lucy,” “The Kite,” “The Book Report,” “Suppertime” and “Happiness” are sung.

Theatre in the Circle presented YOU’RE A GOOD MAN CHARLIE BROWN by adding a “new wrinkle or two.”  Though the show is usually done with adults playing Charlie and the gang, this production features actors of “a certain age.”  These are not spry young twenty-somethings.  They are closer to having to use canes and walkers to traverse the stage.  No amount of makeup is going to conceal the frown and laugh lines of lives well spent.

George Roth is properly introspective as Charlie Brown.  Former “Scene” drama critic, Christine Howey, was born to play the sarcastic, grumpy, self-centered Lucy.  Agnes Herrmann is adorable as Patty.  Bob Navis, Jr. is piano-centric as Schroeder.  Kevin Kelly, the king of overacting and shtick, has a wonderful time as Snoopy.  Noah Budin is endearing as thumb-sucking, blanket-obsessed Linus.  

Director Bill Corcoran keeps the show zipping right along (well, as zipping as he can get a cast of slow moving seniors to move.)

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: “Happiness” is watching a mainly “mature” opening night audience delight in seeing YOU’RE A GOOD MAN CHARLIE BROWN (with a new wrinkle) at Theatre in the Circle.  (Unfortunately, the show only had a one-weekend run so there is no chance to see it.)

All TITC performances are staged at the historic Judson Manor, 1890 E. 107th St, Cleveland, OH 44106. Curtain times are Thursday, Friday and Saturday @ 7:30 pm and Saturday and Sunday @ 2 pm.  Ticket cost:  Adults $20, Seniors $18, Judson/South Franklin Circle residents $15, Students $12. For tickets call 216-282-9424 or go to There is free parking.

Saturday, May 11, 2019


Part concert, part history lesson, a lot of rock ‘n roll, and a heck of a good time-- that’s MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET, now on stage at the Great Lakes Theater.

The venue is playing host to Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash.  Well, four performers portraying those icons of rock and roll, in a stage show that attempts to duplicate the one time that the four actually did get together for an informal rock session.  The event took place in the recording studios of the legendary Sun Records on December 4, 1956.

Pretend it’s 63 years ago, four emerging music icons, all of whom were good old Southern boys, identified and molded by Sam Phillips, are in his Memphis Sun Studios.  They improvised an evening of gospel, blues and rock ‘n roll music. 

Whether the actions happened exactly as portrayed is not known, but the fact that there was such a jam session is a reality.  A recording of the session, and a picture of the four, documented the event and became the basis for the musical with a book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux. 

The event was chronicled by a reporter from the Memphis Press-Scimitar.  The next day the article discussing the event stated, “This quartet could sell a million.”  Little did the reporter realize that though that number sounded like a lot, these four would go on to sell many, many millions, and become individual musical icons.

The GLT production, under the direction of Hunter Foster, is on target.  The production is filled with well-timed humor and a little drama.  And, of course, there is a Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.

The stage literally explodes with hit after hit, including Blue Suede Shoes, That’s All Right, Sixteen Tons, I Walk the Line, Great Balls of Fire and Party.  Then, there was a curtain call which featured the likes of Hound Dog, Riders in the Sky, and See You Later Alligator.

The cast members don’t exactly look or sound like the big four of Rock and Roll and Rock-a-Billie, but they sing well, and play their own instruments.

Sean Michael Buckely faintly looks like Elvis, and imitates the prescribed hip swivels, pelvis thrusts and toe twists.  He’s missing the bedroom eyes and full lips and Elvis’s search-light sexuality. Appropriately, the last line heard from the stage at the conclusion of the production was the famous exit line of the King of Rock, “And Elvis has left the building.”

Gabe Aronson, who gives a new meaning to ADHD, delights as the undisciplined, dynamic pianist and performer, Jerry Lee Lewis.  He is often electric on stage, hardly able to contain the character’s twitching, jumping, and hillbilly persona.  

Sky Seals is Johnny Cash-light.  Dressed in Cash’s signature black uniform, his deep voice makes for an acceptable stand-in for the real thing.

James Barry develops nicely the conflicted Perkins, whose fame was eclipsed by Presley, all the way from the King taking Perkins’ Blue Suede Shoes and making it into a hit that exceeded the original author’s recording, but generally overshadowing the man known as the King of Rock-a-Billie. 

James Ludwig gives a human portrayal of Sam Phillips, Kristen Beth Williams is fine as Presley’s girl friend of the moment, bass player Eric Scott Anthony and drummer Dave Sonneborn, are excellent musicians who add much to the show.

Capsule judgement: MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET is one of those enjoyable evenings of theater.  It’s filled with great music and good enough performances that led to screaming, yelling, clapping, and multi-standing ovations given by the audience.  Yes, Memories Are Made of This!

MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET plays Great Lakes Theater through May 26, 2019.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or going to

Monday, May 06, 2019


Roy Berko
(Cleveland Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Association)

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

MATILDA (July 12-August 11) -- Based on the novel by Roald Dahl, the musical tells the tale of Matilda who takes a stand against oppressive forces, thus taking her destiny into her own hands.  (SAVE!  Use code MISSHONEY before July 12 when ordering tickets and get $5 off on adult or senior tickets.)


440-941-0458 or

THE TOXIC AVENGER (July 12-27) -- Melvin Ferd, the Third, wants to clean up Tromaville, the most polluted town in New Jersey.  Foiled by the mayor's bullies, Melvin is dumped into a vat of radioactive toxic waste, only to reemerge as The Toxic Avenger, New Jersey's first superhero.  A musical delight!

LOBBY HERO (August 23-September 7) -- A young security guard with big ambitions clashes with his stern boss, an intense rookie cop and her unpredictable partner.

216-932-3396 or

33 1/3 A WORLD PREMIERE MUSCAL (June 26-July 14)— A musical tale of four young people who experience a tumultuous New Year's Eve and make a decision
that will change all of their lives.

216-371-3000 or
Thursday-Saturday 7 pm, Sunday 2 pm

RAGTIME (June 13-30 Alma Theatre)— Called, “The Ultimate Musical of Our Time,” this sweeping musical portrait of early-twentieth-century America tells the story of three families in the pursuit of the American Dream. Together, they confront history's timeless contradictions of wealth and poverty, freedom and prejudice, hope and despair...and what it means to live in America.

FOR GOOD:  THE NEW GENERATION OF MUSICALS, VOL.4 (July 17 Alma Theatre) -- In partnership with The Musical Theater Project--From the cutting edge BE MORE CHILL to the contemporary KINKY BOOTS, musicals produced since 2000 have awakened audiences to new possibilities for America's great art form.  Hosted by Nancy Maier and Sheri Gross the production features singers Bridie Carroll and Eric Fancher.

THE LAST FIVE YEARS (July 25-27 Alma Theatre) -- Jason Robert Brown’s classic musical about love, loss and the moments we wish we could do over. (Presented by The Passion Project.)


Free admission, except where noted. 
For times and places go to

O FOR A MUSE OF FIRE (June 8)— 6-10 pm at Ensemble Theater—food, cash bar, silent auction, raffle--$25 (a benefit for The Cleveland Shakespeare Festival)

HENRY V (June 21-July 7)—  The political situation in England is tense: King Henry IV has died, and his son, the young King Henry V, has just assumed the throne.  A quest for power follows!

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (July 19-August 4) -- A respectable nobleman lives in the idyllic Italian town of Messina.  He shares his house with his lovely young daughter, his playful, clever niece, and his elderly brother. What ensues is Shakespeare at his creative best!

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

STATEMENTS AFTER AN ARREST UNDER THE IMMORALITY ACT (May 24-June 15) -- Set in apartheid South Africa, where interracial relationships were a criminal offense, a black man and white woman meet secretly in the library to share their hopes and fears.

TOM AT THE FARM (Jul 12-Aug 3) -- After the sudden death of his lover, Tom travels from the city to a remote farm for the funeral, and finds a religious family who know nothing of his existence. Tom is threatened by the deceased’s brother and is drawn into a brutal, sexually-charged game.

SHAKESPEARE’S R & J An Adaptation (Aug 30-Sep 21) -- In a boys' boarding school, four students discover a forbidden text of Shakespeare’s play and secretly enact the play in a deluge of agitation, terror, and fierce desires that parallel their own lives.


Hall Auditorium, 67 N. Main Street, Oberlin and other venues
Free admission, reservations requested—440-775-8169

BUTTERFLIES ARE FREE by Leonard Gershe, William Shakespeare’s MEASURE FOR MEASURE, LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT by Eugene O’Neill, and A MUSICAL CABARET, run in repertoire.   For details and dates go to


Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens (outdoor performances)
714 N. Portage Path, Akron or 1-888-718-4253 opt.1

HAMLET (June 28-July 14)— The king is dead. His brother had taken the throne and married the queen. For young prince Hamlet, something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

MEASURE FOR MEASURE (July 26-August 11) -- Intrigues, disguises, and amorous plots propel this twisted, comedic adventure to its unexpected conclusion.

216-241-6000 or go to

PORGY AND BESS (June 1)— Cleveland Opera presents this most famous American opera which includes such songs as “Summertime,” “A Woman Is A Sometime Thing,” “My Man's Gone Now,” “I Got Plenty of O’ Nuttin’.”

ROCK OF AGES TENTH ANNIVERSARY TOUR (June 6 @ 7:30)— A musical that captures the iconic era that was the big bad 1980s Hollywood, featuring the music of hit bands such as Styx, Poison and Twisted Sister.

DEAR EVAN HANSEN (June 11-30)— Winner of six Tony Awards, this is a deeply personal and profoundly “must see” contemporary musical about life and the way we live it. (Part of the Key Bank Broadway series.)

COME FROM AWAY (July 9-28) -- A true story of 7,000 stranded airline passengers and the small town of Gander, Newfoundland that welcomed them on 9-11. Cultures clashed, but uneasiness turned into trust, music soared into the night, and gratitude grew into enduring friendships.  (Part of the Key Bank Broadway series.)

THE LION KING (August 7-September 1)— Giraffes strut. Birds swoop. Gazelles leap. The entire Serengeti comes to life. And as the music soars, Pride Rock slowly emerges from the mist. This is Disney's THE LION KING, making its triumphant return to Playhouse Square! (A Huntington Bank feature performance.)

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

MAN OF LAMANCHA (June 13-29)— The “Impossible Dream” musical inspired by Miguel de Cervantes' masterpiece DON QUIXOTE, follows the journey of a dying man determined not to abandon his ideals or passion.

TINTYPES (July 4-20)— A collection of snapshots of America prior to World War I featuring such patriotic and ragtime classics as "The Yankee Doodle Boy," "Stars and Stripes Forever," "Meet Me in St. Louis," "America the Beautiful," and "You're a Grand Old Flag."

THE MUSIC MAN (July 25-August 11)— The “Seventy-Six Trombones” musical story of a fast-talking salesman who arrives in River City, Iowa to con the townspeople and hurry off with their money, but he doesn't count on falling for the town librarian in the process.  (See this classic at Porthouse before its scheduled fall Broadway revival.)

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Should we laugh or cry? State of civility examined in NATIVE GARDENS at CPH

Negative racial and ethnic stereotypes, anti-ageism, political philosophical differences, and border conflicts are not usual topics for a comic play.  But, author Karen Zacarías, whose “Native Gardens” is now in production at Cleveland Play House, believes “humor humanizes” when what could be the basis of a blood bath becomes a pool of laughter with a purpose.

“Native Gardens” is a comedy.  Yes, a Neil Simon type of comedy, not a dark comedy with underlying meanings and hidden intentions where things are manipulated to fool the audience.  Everything in “Native Gardens” is clearly sown on the landscape.  In fact, the landscaping of two yards is the center of the comic gem.

No punches are pulled.  Phrases like “you people,” “privileged class,” “old people, “Mexican,” “Latino” and other non-pc words flow easily off the tongues of Frank, Virginia, Pablo and Tania as they battle over a fence, property lines, and the kinds of vegetation to be planted.

“Native Gardens” is a perfect piece to define and explain the political and societal climate of today. 

The bright, witty and clever story tells the tale of the families Butley and Del Valle.

Virginia Butley is an engineer for a defense contractor.  Frank, her husband, is now retired but was formerly a consultant for a government agency.  They are wealthy, conservative Republicans who believe in the “American” way of life. 

Pablo Del Valle, a rising attorney who is the token Hispanic at a prestigious law firm, and his very pregnant wife and doctoral candidate, Tania, have just purchased the home next to Frank and Virginia in the up-scale Georgetown neighborhood of DC. 

The backyard of their houses are complete opposites.  Frank is an obsessive gardener, fanatically pursuing the Gardener of the Year award from the local horticultural association.  He uses a number of fertilizers and insecticides to insure the visual beauty of his garden. To hell with the environment.

Tania, an environmentalist, plans to make their backyard into an oasis for native plants, shrubs, butterflies and nature. No pesticides here. 

The De Valles duo loves their backyard’s century-old tree, while Frank hates the tree and its falling nuts and leaves which defile his meticulously cropped lawn and flowers.

At first the neighbors get along well, but when the Pablo and Tania find out that Frank has, by intent or not, planted on two-feet of their backyard, all hell breaks loose.

As the fence line issue soon spirals into an all-out border dispute, both couple’s notions of race, taste, class and privilege bloom.  As the backyard brawl escalates, cultures collide and mudslinging ensues…literally.

The CPH production is nicely guided by Robert Barry Fleming.  The humor stays comic, not bridging over into farcical ridiculousness.  The characters are finely etched.  The battle lines are clear.

Wynn Harmon creates a perfect caricature for Frank as an up-tight, tightly wound, khaki pants, button-down-collared, starched-shirt wearing conservative.

Charlotte Maier etches a clear role as the snobbish Virginia, a woman-of-privilege and wealth.  She is a “refined,” wine-drinking lady, until the gloves come off and her claws are revealed.

Natalie Camunas, a second-gen Latinx actor, has the soul of Tania, and unfurls it with ease and purpose.

Grayson DeJesus, gives a nice realistic depth and texture to Pablo.

Jason Ardizzone-West’s scenic design is breathtaking.  Every detail, every flower, tree and shrub reeks real!  As someone in the audience said, “I want to move into that house (referring to the perfectly conceived House and Garden domicile of Frank and Virginia.)

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: “Native Garden” is that perfect script which grabs and holds an audience with humor and good story telling, while clearly making its philosophical point. It gets a picture-perfect production at CPH.  It is a wonderful piece to define and explain the political and societal climate of today.  Go!  See!  Enjoy and learn!!

“Native Gardens” which runs ninety-minutes without an intermission, can be seen in CPH’s Allen Theatre through May 19, 2019.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to