Sunday, March 18, 2018
Sam Shepard, the author of “The Late Henry Moss,” which is now in production at none too fragile, once wrote, “I believe in my mask-- The man I made up is me. I believe in my dance--And my destiny.”
His “mask,” consisted of a bleak writing style which had many surrealistic elements, including using black humor to portray rootless characters living on the edge of American society.
Shepard often showed what psychologists would classify as “daddy issues.” His father, a military man, who moved the family on a regular basis, was an alcoholic noted for abuse and creating a dysfunctional atmosphere in the Shepard home.
His poetic use of language and the creation of characters rather than plot-centered stories, made him an icon with performers who found lots of “meat” on the bones of those who populated his writings.
The Shepard writing elements are clearly on display in the depressing “The Late Henry Moss,” including creating people who are not likable and for whom we have little reason to feel empathy. These are generally low-lifes, who seem to ask for all the pain and suffering that is heaped upon them.
Yes, vintage Sam Shepard!
The basic story centers on the Moss brothers, Ray (Sean Derry) and Earl (Bryant Carroll) who, through a series of present and flashback scenes, confront their own interpersonal relationship and that with their father, their sibling rivalries, and distorted remembrances as they delve into their father’s recent death.
They try to construct the tale of their father’s fishing expedition with a local town prostitute, Conchalla (Diana Frankhauser), a taxi driver (Brian Kenneth Armour) who took them on the expedition, the father’s relationship with Esteban, a trailer park neighbor, and his demise.
The brothers, who haven’t seen each other in seven years, verbally and physically spar in a fight-cage atmosphere, hitting raw nerves by exposing confusion and contradictions.
None too fragile’s production, under the adept direction of the theatre’s co-Artistic Director, Sean Derry, though overly long, is fast-paced and enveloping. The verbal and physical punches generally ring true as the angst-level grows.
With his high quality consistent directing of script after script, it’s easy to forget the high quality of Sean Derry’s acting. There is no chance of overlooking it in this production. His soliloquy about their mother is emotionally wrenching. Near the end of the play he shows masterfully how even silence can evoke strong meaning.
Derry is matched by a finely textured performance by Bryant Carroll. The duo mesmerizes as they verbally thrust, parry and finally, physically attack!
Nice performances are also put in by Robert Hawkes (Henry Moss) and Brian Kenneth Armour.
Capsule judgment: As in almost all Sam Shepard blunt, hard hitting plays, the questions of what’s true, what’s fiction, what is family history and what is mythology pervade this tale of dysfunctional relationships in this character-driven tale. The acting is generally superb, the pace intense, and the over-all effect is unnerving. If you like good acting and can endure Shepard’s cage-boxing style of writing, this is a production you won’t want to miss.
For tickets for “The Late Henry Moss” which runs through March 31, 2018, call 330-671-4563 or go to nonetoofragile.com
Up next: Bruce Graham’s “White Guy on The Bus” (May 11-26th)), a story of race, and the dynamic between low-income blacks and economically comfortable whites.
Wednesday, March 14, 2018
Canada's Shaw Festival is a tribute to George Bernard Shaw and his writing contemporaries.
Many Clevelanders take the four-hour drive up to “The Shaw,” as it is called by locals, just to participate in theatre. Others tour the “most beautiful little city in Canada,” eat at the many restaurants, and go shopping for Canadian goods. Some take a side trip to Niagara Falls to see the world’s water wonder or to gamble. Whatever, The Shaw is a wonderful spring, summer or fall adventure.
It’s a good idea to make both theatre and lodging reservations early, especially with the B&Bs on weekends. Our home away from home is the beautiful and well-placed Wellington House (firstname.lastname@example.org), directly across the street from The Festival Theatre, and within easy walking distance of all the theatres. I also like the Two Bees B&B (1-289-868-9357), which is downtown. For information on other B&Bs go to www.niagaraonthelake.com/showbedandbreakfasts
There are some wonderful restaurants. My in-town favorites are The Grill on King Street (905-468-7222, 233 King Street), Ginger Restaurant (905-468-3871, 390 Mary Street) and Niagara’s Finest Thai (905-468-1224), 88 Picton Street, with Old Winery, (2228 Niagara Stone Road/905-468-8900), a worth-while ten-minute ride from downtown.
Tim Carroll, in his second season as The Shaw’s Artistic Director, dedicates this season to a chance to put into practice what he learned in his first season. The audiences love musicals, passion, crime, laughter, brilliant writing, pure escapism, in-person performers and romance. So, here are his 2018 theater offerings:
THE MAGICIAN’S NEPHEW—C. S. Lewis’s plunge into Narnia at its very beginning. An adventure of what it means to do the right thing. (World Premiere) April 4-October 13.
GRAND HOTEL—Check into the lavish Grand Hotel, where the lives of ten hotel guests collide over one unforgettable night with songs and dance. May 3-October 14.
MYTHOS--Stephen Fry, one of the great story tellers, uses humor and a company of the Greek gods, heroes and men, to tell gripping tales. May 24-July 15.
THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES—Sherlock Holmes is on the case to find a murderer in this sly, darkly funny and suspenseful tale. August 1-October 27.
STAGE KISS—In this modern romantic comedy by Pulitzer Prize finalist Sarah Ruhl, two bitter exes are cast in the same play as passionate lovers. Will they strangle or seduce each other? April 11-September 1.
OF MARRIAGE AND MEN: A Comedy Double Bill—Two great humorous short plays about marriage in a single show about the hitches of being hitched. May 13-September 2.
O’FLAHERTY V.C.—Packed with family feuding and witty repartee, this G. B. Shaw one-act skewers every illusion about why we go to war.
OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR—A provocative WWI musical intended to make audiences laugh, cry and clench their fists. July 14-October 13.
THE ORCHARD (After Chekhov)—It’s Chekhov’s THE CHERRY ORCHARD transformed into the tale of two immigrant families fighting to hold onto their orchard in British Columbia. June 7-September 1.
THE BARONESS AND THE PIG—An idealistic 19th century baroness has found her next maid—a girl who can barely speak, let along keep house. This Canadian play cuts to the core of what it means to be “civilized.” MATURE CONTENT. JUNE 10-October 6.
HENRY V—A troop of Canadian soldiers is hunkered down in a dugout during WWI with some copies of Shakespeare’s HENRY V for company. Juy 22-October 28.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL—Ebenezer Scrooge is a miserable old miser, but . . .! November 14-Decemer 23.
For theater information, a brochure or tickets, call 800-511-7429 or go on-line to http://www.shawfest.com. Ask about packages that include lodging, meals and tickets. Also be aware that the festival offers day-of-the-show rush tickets and senior matinee prices.
Go to the Shaw Festival! Find out what lovely hosts Canadians are, and see some great theater!
Don’t forget your passport as it’s the only form of identification that will be accepted for re-entry into the U.S.
Saturday, March 10, 2018
Cleveland Play House (CPH) Artistic Director Laura Kepley announced the 2018-2019 Season today to a standing-room-only gathering in the Allen Theatre at Playhouse Square.
“This season will inspire and invigorate our loyal patron base and introduce new audiences to what CPH does best -- tell stories that matter in productions that are imaginative, thrilling, and entertaining,” said Kepley.
The 2018-2019 Season Subscriber Series begins in September with the launch of the U.S. National Tour of London’s long-running hit The Woman in Black, a mystery thriller based on the novel by Susan Hill.
The 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Sweat will then heat up the Outcalt Theatre with a story of the working class struggling to make ends meet in the Rust Belt.
An Iliad hits the stage in January, featuring two women in a modern, visceral telling of the ancient Greek story of war and vengeance.
Next up is the return of CPH favorite Ken Ludwig and his rollicking new comedy, Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood.
Several exciting shows are under consideration for the next spring slot. The Subscriber Season comes to a hilarious and poignant conclusion with a look over the fence -- the neighbor’s fence -- in Native Gardens.
From Cleveland favorites to new voices, every show features strong, determined characters staring down the obstacles for the greater good.
In addition to the six-play Subscriber Series, CPH is proud to announce two special attractions: the family holiday favorite A Christmas Story in November and December, 2018, and The Wolves, a full immersion into the world of teenage girls, which will be featured in the 2019 New Ground Theatre Festival.
Subscriptions to the 2018-19 Season at Cleveland Play House are on sale now. Subscribers save up to 25% off individual ticket prices and receive many great benefits throughout the season. Full and flexible season packages begin at just $262.
To purchase subscriptions or to receive more information, call 216-400-7096 or visit clevelandplayhouse.com.
Thursday, March 08, 2018
The history of American musical theater is laced with firsts and trend setters. Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma” introduced the well-made book musical in which a story was told, with music, lyrics and dance all integrated and setting the pattern of the first act ending with a conflict that would be solved in the second act.
“Hair” introduced the rock sound to Broadway shows and took on societal beliefs, challenged the status quo, and opened the door to shows which broke from the traditional mold including “Company,” “Godspell,” “Rocky Horror Show,” and “Pacific Overtures.”
Jonathan Larson’s “Rent,” broadly based on Puccini’s “La Boheme,” took on the series topics of AIDS, economic disparity, and sexual and gender orientation. It ushered in the era of “thinking” musical theatre and became the godmother of “Next to Normal,” “In the Heights,” “The Color Purple,” “The Scottsboro Boys,” and “Fun Home.”
“Rent” centers on the psychological and sociological attitudes of the lower East Side of New York at the turn of the 21st century. Larson stated that, from his viewpoint, ”traditional society was thwarting the hopes and dreams of the MTV generation.”
He supposedly chose the title “Rent,” not only because a major conflict in the storyline centers on paying rent but that the term also means, “tearing apart,” which was what was happening to the relationship between varying segments of the culture.
The somewhat autobiographical story centers on the conflicts of gentrification of the home of the bohemians and drug worlds, as the setting for his examination of love, loss, illness, sexual and gender angst and everyday existence.
Unfortunately, Larson never lived to see his musical become a multi-mega hit, which twenty years after its opening, is still bringing in sold out crowds as it crosses the nation on yet another tour. He never knew he won a Pulitzer Prize.
Larson died of an undiagnosed aortic aneurysm the day before the first preview of the show. “The first preview was canceled and instead, friends and family gathered at the theater where the actors performed a sing-through in Larson's memory. “
When I saw the show shortly after it opened in New York, I was blown away by the message, the intensity and the score. Follow-up productions have usually brought about the same reactions. I wish I could say the same about the 20th Anniversary Tour production. I can’t!
The show on the Connor Palace stage lacks the intensity and dynamics need to make Larson’s ideas ring true. The young cast has excellent singing voices, but generally lack the acting chops to develop the necessary character depth and story identity. They are not helped by uncreative directing.
There is a lack of emotional connection between Destiny Diamond (Mimi) and Logan Farine (Roger) which places a damper on the love story, which is one of the basic story lines. Their “Light My Candle” flickers, rather than flairs. “Without You” lacks emotional passion.
Farine seems more authentic in his shared scenes with Sammy Ferber (Mark).
Aaron Alcaraz is one of the show’s bright lights as the cross-dressing Angel. His “Today 4 U” is well done, as is “I’ll Cover You” sung with Josh Walker (Collins).
The second act opening song, “Seasons of Love” is well sung, as is the playful “Tango: Maureen.”
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: The 20th anniversary tour of “Rent” disappoints. In spite of the wonder of the Pulitzer Prize winning script and score, this staging lacks the intensity and dynamics need to make Larson’s ideas ring true.
“Rent 20th Anniversary Tour” runs through March 25, 2018. For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to www.playhousesquare.org.
See “Rent” for $20 in choice seats: The show offers a ticket lottery prior to each and every performance. Tickets are $20, cash only, limit of two per lottery winner. Seats are located in the first two rows of the orchestra section. The lottery signups begin 2.5 hours prior to performance time, with winners being drawn 2 hours prior. You must be present at the time of the drawing to be eligible to purchase lottery tickets.
Monday, March 05, 2018
Lots of today’s science news concerns controlled drug studies done by pharmaceutical companies, as well as government agencies, to insure the safety and identify side-effects of the compounds.
Lucy Prebble, one of England’s young and up-and-coming playwrights, takes on that subject in her “The Effect,” which won the 2012 UK Critics Circle Award for Best New Play. It is now on stage at Dobama, in just the third U.S. production of the script. It was previously done off-Broadway in 2016, then at the Studio Theatre in DC.
The story revolves around two young paid drug-test volunteers in a study on anti-depressants, psychology student Connie (Olivia Scicolone, in her Dobama premiere) and drifter Tristan (Ananias J. Dixon, acclaimed for his Dobama performances in “An Octoroon” and “Sherlock Holmes: The Baker Street Irregulars”).
We meet the pair who are staying at the clinic for four weeks. They have just collected urine and awkwardly interact while holding their specimen bottles.
We learn that Tristan plans to use his earnings to embark on a backpacking expedition. We are never quite sure why Connie is participating, other than she often reminds of her status as a college psychology student.
As the doctors up the dosage, Connie and Tristan find themselves attracted to each other. They and the medics struggle to work out whether their feelings are real or a side effect of the drugs.
In the dialogue, Prebble, who believes that “we are our bodies,” questions whether psychiatric drugs are all placebos as they only work, at best, for short periods of times and are not curative. She also encourages thoughts about whether “chemical imbalance” theories are bogus, in that, even with modern fMRI and scan tests, there is no definitive proof of what constitutes a chemical balance.
Dobama’s production, under the watchful eye of director Laley Lippard is, in many ways, better than the script itself. All four actors, Scicolone and Dixon, and “old pros” Derdriu Ring and Joel Hammer, who play doctors, are excellent, nicely texturing their performances. There is good connection and interplay between the young leads.
One must wonder why the sex-enactment scene goes on-and-on, extending an already overly long play.
The Dobama production is done in the round, set-up like a hospital observation room, with the audience in close proximity to the action.
Whenever a play is done in the round, though the audience experiences it up-close and personal, unless the actors wear microphones, there is a loss of clear vocal sound and the ability to see facial expressions when the actors are facing “the other way.”
The lighting, sound, projections, and tech designs enhance the show.
Prebble is excellent at not being overly wordy and presents ideas in a clear, non-complex manner, but the script, itself, is “never as convincing as the intellectual arguments in which its characters frequently engage.”
Alert: Potential audience members should be aware that metal banisters have been placed in front of most of the seats. Only the first row of two sections are cane and walker accessible. If you need easy physical access, tell the box office that you should be seated in sections two or three, row A.
Capsule judgement: Though the Dobama production aspects are quite good, and the performances are top notch, the experience is not without angst. One leaves asking, “What does Prebble want us to gain from the script? The ending, two incomplete conclusions, doesn’t help to answer the question.
“The Effect” runs through March 25, 2018 at Dobama, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights. Call 216-932-3396 or http://www.dobama.org for tickets.
Next up: The regional premiere of Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins’ Obie Award winning “Appropriate” (April 20-May 20). The play’s catalyst is a book of old photographs, found in an Arkansas mansion after its owner dies. So what? Family albums often surface at such moments. This one, though, is filled with pictures of dead black people, with broken necks. It would appear that they had all been lynched. Hmmm….
Tuesday, February 27, 2018
Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the music and lyrics for “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” which is now in production at Blank Canvas, is noted as a brilliant lyricist. Interestingly, that is not the way he sees himself. He is well-trained as a musical composer, having, from a young age, been the prodigy of Oscar Hammerstein II. Yes, the composer of such mega hits as “Oklahoma,” “South Pacific” and “Sound of Music.”
Sondheim was in his mid-twenties when he wrote the lyrics for “West Side Story” and “Gypsy.” He quickly gained a reputation for writing pure rhymes, clever twists on phrases, and character-describing songs that fit perfectly into the plot.
“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” or, as it is better known, “Sweeney Todd” was written in 1979. Known as a musical thriller, is based on a 1973 play by Christopher Bond and won the Tony Award for Best Musical Play.
The score, probably one of Sondheim’s most complex, is filled with intriguing harmonies and counterpoint. Because most of the dialogue, about eighty percent, is sung, many consider the piece as an opera. “Never before or since in his work has Sondheim utilized music in such an exhaustive capacity to further the purposes of the drama.”
The brilliant list of musical numbers includes the beautiful “Johanna,” the delightful “The Worst Pies in London” and the heart wrenching “Not While I’m Around.”
The story, centering on obsession, tells the tale of Sweeney Todd (formerly Benjamin Barker), who was exiled to Australia by Judge Turpin, a ruthless judge who lusted after Todd’s wife.
It is now 1846, many years after the now renamed Sweeney Todd’s exile.
We meet young Anthony Hope and Todd on a London pier. Todd has recently rescued Hope at sea and befriended him. The duo is confronted by a crazed Beggar Woman. Todd wanders into a meat shop, below his former barber shop, hoping to find out the whereabouts of his wife and daughter.
Mrs. Lovett, noted as the maker of the worst pies in London, tells about the “death” of his former wife. She relates that Judge Turpin, who also has taken their daughter, Joanna, as his ward, raped Todd’s wife. Todd threatens revenge against Turpin and his henchman, Beadle Bamford. Thus, the plot is laid for a tale of murder and revenge.
Blank Canvas never ceases to amaze. Performing on a postage-size stage, tucked away on the 2nd floor of the former American Greeting Card warehouse, operating on a shoe-string budget, Artistic Director Patrick Ciamacco and his merry band of performers draw in sold out houses producing off-beat musicals (e.g., “The Wild Party,” “Silence,” “Triassic Parq” and “Reefer Madness “), folded into such classics as “Our Town” and “Of Mice and Men.” The theatre often garners Cleveland Critics Circle and BroadwayWorld-Cleveland awards for excellence.
“Sweeney Todd” is yet another one of those winners.
Director Jonathan Kronenberger has used every inch of space to keep the well-paced and intense drama moving along to its blood-drenched conclusion.
Patrick Ciamacco’s scene design works well to enhance the action. The vocal sounds and music, under the guidance of Matthew Dolan, are well conceived.
Ciamacco, with his strong singing voice and well-textured acting, makes Todd both grief-driven and revengeful. “Pretty Woman,” a duet with Brian Altman (Turpin) was nicely sung.
Though he lacks the macho leading man presence, Robert Kowalewski is appealing as Anthony Hope. His rendition of “Johanna” is masterful.
Trinidad Snider delights as Mrs. Lovett. Her “Not While I’m Around,” sung with Devin Pfeiffer (Tobias), is emotionally draining, while “A Little Priest” is laugh-inducing.
Lovely Meg Martiniez (Johanna) has a fine singing voice. The rest of the cast is excellent.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: “Sweeney Todd” gets a strong and meaningful performance and should please even the most critical of Sondheim aficionados.
“Sweeney Todd” runs through March 10, 2018, in the Blank Canvas west side theatre, 1305 West 78th Street, Suite 211, Cleveland. For tickets and directions go to http://www.blankcanvastheatre.com/
Saturday, February 24, 2018
Several years ago, when I saw the Broadway production of Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize winning “Disgraced,” I was totally impressed by the creative plot, the quality writing, and how relevant the subject matter was of modern day issues surrounding Islam.
When I returned home I sent messages to several local theatres encouraging them to produce the play when it became available for staging.
The Cleveland Play House didn’t grant me my wish, but it is staging Akhtar’s “The Invisible Hand,” an equally unnerving and compelling script.
Akhtar is the son of Pakistani immigrants. He was brought up in the 1980s in suburban Milwaukee, as one of the only Muslim families in the area.
The award winning playwright has been compared to Shaw, Brecht, and Miller for his ability to write compelling dialogue and attack contemporary issues.
“The Invisible Hand” centers on American futures trader, Nick Bright, who has been captured in Pakistan when local terrorists mistake him for his boss who the captors think would be worth up to ten million dollars.
Nick, in order to secure his release, offers to teach Bashir, his captor, and his Imam, who supposedly are trying to affect positive change for the local citizens and to manipulate the futures market in order to raise money.
As the tension increases, questions of position, loyalty and honesty emerge, finally culminating in a dramatic conclusion.
The play, which probes the philosophy of capitalism, Islamic fanaticism, the greed of those who purport to be at the “honor” end of the ideological spectrum, opened to widely positive reviews in all of its productions.
The title centers on the economic theory that “He who controls the currency controls the “power;” thus, the unknown controller is the “invisible hand.”
The Cleveland Play House production is blessed with an outstanding cast. Max Woertendyke is totally believable as Max, the American captive. His actions and reactions help create an air of realism which leads to strong empathy. We emotionally cheer for him to be released safely and not become a television image of yet another beheaded captor.
Louis Sallan portrays the role of Bashir with the right level of emotional on-the-edge terrorist, but his English accent is so heavy that he is often difficult to understand.
J. Paul Nicholas captures the right edge as Imam Saleem. Nik Sadhnani is effective as Dar, a guard.
Director Pirronne Yousefzadeh creatively develops the tension and perfectly paces the action, building the tension. That anxiety is strongly accented by sound designer Daniel Perelstein’s intense sound and music, which, between each scene, jars the audience into the feeling of being captured behind slamming, confining jail doors.
One must wonder why Yousefzadeh and scenic designer Mikiko Suzuki Macadams decided to set the play in a runway configuration, with the audience on both sides of the stage. Yes, being close to the action intensifies the audience’s emotional involvement, but the long set made the cell appear to be huge, rather than the needed feeling of insufferable confinement, and the large space creates echoes, which blunted the sharpness of the speech and caused periods of dialogue lapses. Also, being able to see people reacting in the opposite audience was distracting, often breaking the mood.
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: In spite of some technical issues, “The Invisible Hand” is an unnerving and compelling production at CPH. The tale of how the economy works and can be manipulated, as well as placing the spotlight on Islamic terrorism, makes this a vital contemporary play. The cast is outstanding and the pace and tone are tension-inducing. This is a production which is required seeing by anyone interested in fine acting and the reality of the world around us.
“The Invisible Hand” runs through March 11, 2018, at the Outcalt Theatre in PlayhouseSquare. For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to http://www.clevelandplayhouse.com.
Next up at CPH: Lanford Wilson’s “Fifth of July,” as performed by the CWRU/CPH MFA students (March 28-July 7), followed by “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” (April 14-May 6).
Monday, February 19, 2018
When Great Lakes Theater Festival announced in June, 2009, that it’s Associate Artistic Director, Andrew May, was no longer going to be part of the company, many CLE theatre-goers were shocked.
Yes, our Andrew May, who had been an artistic associate at Cleveland Play House, and starred in 40 productions, before moving down Euclid Avenue to be part of GLTF. The multi-talented Andrew May, who played farce, comedy, drama and tragedy with equal skill.
May had no choice but to flee. The divorced father of two teenagers needed a gig that payed a regular salary. CLE had only two professional theatres at the time and he couldn’t make enough free-lancing to remain. In addition, as May said in an interview, “I think it might be about time to take the next step in my career. He continued, "It's a gamble to just suck it up and do it, move to New York or Los Angeles, but this whole stupid career is a gamble."
So, gamble he did.
He went out into the big wide scary world and achieved. Maybe not to the degree he wanted. He never became the leading Hollywood actor or a household name on Broadway, but he had a leading role in the touring production of the award-winning WAR HORSE, which, ironically, had a run in Cleveland.
His film and television credits included "Big Love" for HBO, "Duet" and "227" for FOX, “Striking Distance,” Columbia Pictures, and "Shades of Gray" and "The Babe Ruth Story," both for NBC. He received the Joseph Jefferson Citation in Chicago for his portrayal of William Shakespeare in "A Cry of Players."
But fortunately for locals, May has decided to return and is now starring in GLT’s “Misery.” He will also will be in “Macbeth” in March, and word is out that he will also be around for the fall repertoire productions later this year.
For the sake of his many fans, it is hoped that he will again become a regular on local stages.
As for “Misery,” it’s a psychological horror thriller based on Stephen King’s 1988 novel, which was made into a 1990 film credited with being one of the most recognized “scare” flicks of all time, and for which Kathy Bates won an Academy Award as best actress.
The book was also made into a London performed play and a “feel bad” musical.
The American stage production, by William Goldman, was performed in New York in 2015 as a limited run production. It starred Bruce Willis and Laurie Metcalf and ran about four months. Metcalf was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play, while Willis’s performance was termed by one Big Apple critic, as being “vacant.”
The story centers on Paul Sheldon, a noted writer of Victorian-era romance novels involving Misery Chastain.
Sheldon, a man of habit, always finished his novels at a quaint, out-of-the-way inn in Colorado, smoking one cigarette and having a glass of Dom Perignon.
Unfortunately for Sheldon, he decides to take a drive, runs into a snow storm, loses control of his car and winds up in an off-the road crash. He is “saved” by Annie Wilkes, a local who is the writer’s “number one fan.”
One can only wonder if Wilkes forced him off the road so she could claim him to be her own, or whether it was an accident.
Whatever, Annie, a former nurse, pries open the car door, brings Sheldon back to her isolated home, sets his broken legs, plies him with pain killers, nurses him back to health and makes him a captive.
When Annie finds out that Sheldon has killed off Misery Chastain, Annie’s favorite character in the just released book, she goes ballistic, demanding that he write a follow-up and bring Misery back to life.
In the process of his confinement Sheldon realizes that psychotic Annie has no intention of letting him go.
What follows, which includes the famous crippling of Sheldon by a sludge-hammer wielding Annie, is an exciting ending which leaves the audience unnerved.
The acting quality of the GLT production, under the direction of Charles Fee, is outstanding. Kathleen Pirkl Tague is deranged-perfect as the Annie. You would not want to find yourself in a dark alley with Tague. She is one crazy, scary, nut-case. In other words, Tague is terrific!!
Nick Steen is believable as Buster, the local sheriff, who pays dearly for being too inquisitive.
It’s wonderful to see Andrew May on a local stage. He is totally believable as the hobbled, pain-ridden Paul Sheldon. He nicely textures the performance, even getting a few painful laughs in the process. Welcome home Andrew!
The staging itself has some production issues. Gage Williams’ set well fits the visual requirements of the story, but it creates practical issues. One wonders how Sheldon manages to move from the upper to the lower level and visa-versa in a wheel chair. Also, since we are told over and over about the vast amount of snow, the outside area of the house is void of any of the white stuff during the entire show. As for the sound and lights…the sound of thunder is aptly terrifying, but lightning and thunder during a snowstorm? The sound of the cars’ arrivals and exits are not consistent. Then there is the questionable trajectory of the blood following the gun shot.
Capsule judgement: In spite of some technical issues, “Misery” is well worth seeing! The acting is of the highest level and it’s nice to see Andrew May on a CLE stage once again.
“Misery” runs through March 11, 2018 at the Hanna Theatre. For tickets: 216-664-6064 or www.greatlakestheater.org
Saturday, February 17, 2018
Sometimes theater is high drama. At other times it’s for learning about history or philosophy. “Sassy Mamas,” now on stage at Karamu, is on stage for one purpose only…to create outlandish laughter.
If you are lucky enough to get a ticket to “Sassy Mamas,” yes, “lucky enough” because even though the show just opened, ducats are tough to obtain, you are in for a great time.
A sold-out house, mainly populated by African American women “of a certain age,” found much to entertain them. From the first laugh, which hit about two lines into the show, until the screaming standing ovation ending, the ladies and the cast were part of a love/laugh in.
Celeste Bedford Walker’s script centers on three successful single friends who decide that, “why should males have all the fun.”
The trio are Jo Billie, a widow trying to break out of the doldrums after her husband, the love of her life, died; Wilhemina, a member of the President’s cabinet and a confirmed “single” (think Condoleezza Rice); and a divorcee, Mary, who was blind-sided by her husband leaving her for a younger woman. Each is attractive and financially comfortable.
They decide that maybe the “cougar” life might not be so bad.
Multi-award winning playwright, Celeste Bedford Walker, knows women, especially African American women. She creates characters who are believable, not stereotypes, have emotional depth, and whom we love from start to finish.
Kimbely Sias is character-perfect as Jo Billie who covers up her grieving with wisecracks and sensuous moves. Jeanne Madison nicely creates Wilhemina as a self-conceived ice cube who purportedly doesn’t need or want a man in her life. Mary, Rebecca Morris’s alter-ego, is an up-tight-woman who has turned to HGTV buying as an emotional outlet for her reaction to her husband’s abandonment.
These are three wonderful actresses who have a wonderful time playing wonderfully-written roles.
Walker matches each woman with a different kind of guy, adding to the fun.
Jo Billie’s hunk of choice is LaDonte, with a body covered with tattoos, thrusting hips that make Elvis’s moves amateur by comparison, and is totally without scruples. He’s perfect for a-renta-toy to use and throw away when he’s no longer needed. The totally uninhibited Cameron Woods plays “sexy, sexy” with ease. One of the audience of uninhibited audience-ladies wished out loud that she had a dollar to shove into his tight fitting jeans.
Classy Wilhemina gets involved with Wes, a journalist assigned to do a story on her, who turns out to be charming, tall, dark and handsome. When Michael Head, who plays Wes, appeared on stage shirtless, a steamed up woman sitting behind me bellowed, “That is one hunky piece of guy man,” to the delight of her high-fiving “gal” friends.
Up-tight Mary lights upon Colby, a gardener who has come to help her groom her African greenhouse garden. Very young Bryon Tobin turned on the “mommy instincts” of the ladies in the audience, one of whom moaned, “That is one damn pretty child,” with the word pretty divided into five syllables, with the first held for a five count, followed by a “u-hmm.”
Yes, the audience was having fun! (At times it was as much fun listening to the audience as the actors.)
Not only does Walker know her characters and her audience, and Karamu’s sassy mammas know how to ply their acting trade, but director Tony Sias knows how to pace a comedy, build hysteria through double takes and extended pauses, and tickle the audience’s funny bones.
Costumer Inda Blatch-Geib creates a fashion show of high fashion, African designed patterns, and marvelous hats. Her set design of three different rooms also carries out her strong aesthetic talents.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Karamu’s “Sassy Mamas” has the right balance of laughs, pathos, visual excitement and empathy to delight. It’s a fluffy romantic comedy that fully satisfies! Huzzahs!
“Sassy Mamas” continues through March 4, 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.
Thursday, February 15, 2018
Mention the name “Riverdance” and the general thought of many is Michael Flatley. Yes, Flatley, the Irish dance champion and the theatrical show consisting of mainly Irish music and dance, are synonymous.
Flatley and his partner, Jean Butler, were featured as an interval performance during the 1994 Eurovision contest and immediately became sensations.
The seven-minute act became a full-length show with some signature elements. Even today, 20 years later, most of the songs have not changed since that original production. Once you’ve seen a staging, you will get an opening of a foggy stage and haunting flute solo, the telling of Irish tales, Gaelic musical interludes, and traditional Irish and international dancing.
The show can be credited for transforming what was a chaste, reserved, traditional dance, with its own specific movement vocabulary, into an international favorite and identifiable performance form.
Rooted in baroque-influenced music, rock rhythms, Irish legends, and Irish “jig” dancing, the production has reached the level of being a legend.
No, Flatley is no longer a member of the show, having left in 1995 after a contract dispute. Maybe because of that there have been some adjustments in the program, especially featuring more of the dancers, with less emphasis on it being a one-man show.
The concert has become more international. A Russian Folk Troupe, Flamenco soloist, and American Tappers are part of the goings-on.
In fact, the highlight of “Riverdance 20” was “Trading Taps,” a competition between two African American tappers and three of the company’s principle male dancers.
Other audience favorites were “The Russian Dervish,” highlighted by high kicking Soviets and “American Wake,” a square dance with Irish dance steps.
Will you miss the flamboyant Flately? Opening night the lead male dancer was handsome, charismatic Callum Spencer. He danced with high proficiency and, as demonstrated by the screaming at curtain call, he won the admiration of the crowd. His dance partner was the talented Maggie Darlington.
Capsule judgment: “Riverdance 20” is an innovative and exciting blend of dance, music, and telling of tales that well-deserves the large audiences flowing into the Key Bank State Theatre.
The show runs through February 18. For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to www.playhousesquare.org.
UPCOMING DANCE OFFERINGS IN THE CLEVELAND AREA
Dance Cleveland and Tri-C
March 17, 2018, 7:30 PM, Ohio Theatre
“Che Malambo,” 14 powerful Argentine Gauchos stomping, drumming and dancing.
Tickets: Call 216-241-6000 or go to www.playhousesquare.org
Danceworks 2018 @ Cleveland Public Theatre
Inlet Dance Theatre—April 10-12
Double-Edge Dance and Travesty Dance Group—April 17-19
Anateus Dance and Bones Performance Group-- April 24-26
Verb Ballet—May 1-3
“Alice in Wonderland”
May 11 (1 pm & 11 pm), May 12 (11 am)
Tuesday, February 13, 2018
The South Side of Chicago is noted for its gritty streets, drug dealers, drive by shootings and pressure for Black men and boys to not only protect their turf, but be “prideful” and not allow themselves to be slave to the ways of the “massa” (the white bosses).
Charles Smith, the Distinguished Professor of Playwriting at Ohio University, where he also heads the Professional Playwriting Program, writes gritty poetic language with a black man’s soul.
In “Jelly Belly,” Smith’s script which is in performance at Ensemble Theatre as part of Black History month, the author offers an “unremittingly bleak portrait of inner-city life and the enormous pressure on working-class black men to be gangstas.”
We meet Jelly Belly, the drug kingpin of the neighborhood, who is just out of jail. He obviously doesn’t have much fear of returning to prison for his first task is to entice Kenny, a young man who was a former “salesman” to return to working for him. The youth is caught between his hopes for prosperity through hard “legit”work and the opportunistic life of a drug pusher.
Jelly Belly also tries to convince Mike, a married man with a child, who has been working construction to “be a man” and not work to become a tool of the white establishment.
Smith depicts his tale of complex issues in a single afternoon presented on a plain front porch. He makes clear the difficult path of someone like Mike, with no education but lots of work experience, who has recently been passed over for a supervisor’s job by a young white college graduate. A “boy” who Mike is going to have to train to do the job.
The production, under the steady hand of Ian Wolfgang Hinz, is well-cast and justifiably can be a shock to audience members who are not used to the everyday pressure of drugs, guns and the underbelly of society.
Greg White is properly slimy as Jelly Belly. He makes the character easy to hate through his smooth presentation and confident ways. White continues to impress as one of the area’s top actors.
Lashawn Little (Mike) gives a nicely textured performance as the family man whose wife and family have given him a reason to persevere against the pressures of his neighborhood and societal patterns.
Mary Francis Renee Miller is rock solid as Barbara, a no-nonsense woman whose purpose in life is to make a strong stand for family, husband and son.
Last year Jabri Little was selected by both the Cleveland Critic’s Circle and BroadwayWorld-Cleveland as a “RISING STAR” (a promising newcomer). His portrayal of Kenny proves the critics were correct. This is one talented young man.
Robert Hunter’s portrayal of the drug-zoned-out Bruce, brings laughter, laughter which brings tears as a symbol of everything bad that can happen to a black, uneducated man who has been manipulated into walking through life as a dead, worthless soul.
Walt Boswell’s simple set design works well.
Capsule judgment: The 90-minute play sends out chilling messages on the grim reality of drugs, guns, and the plight of the American Black man in the modern world. This is a production which commands to be seen! It’s not a pleasant sit, but it is definitely one worth the effort!
“JELLY BELLY” runs through February 25, 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 http://www.ensemble-theatre.org
Ensemble’s next production is The 2018 Colombi New Play Festival, March 9-25, followed by “Angels in America Part Two: Perestroika,” April 27-May 20.
Truth can often be stranger and more compelling than fiction. Such is the case of David (Bruce) Reimer and his identical twin brother, Brian, of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
In 1966 the boys were analyzed with a minor medical problem involving their urination. A urologist decided that the best way to fix the issue of the eight-month boys would be circumcision. He worked on David first. The doctor botched the operation, accidentally cutting off virtually all of the boy’s penis.
Dr. John Money of Johns’ Hopkins University, a psychologist, sexologist and one of the world’s most recognized authors on sexual identity and biology of gender “believed a person’s gender identity was determined by an interaction between biological factors and upbringing. That represented a break from past thinking, in which gender identity was largely believed to be caused only by biological factors.”
Money proposed to the Reimer family that they “bring David up a girl as, at that time, constructing a penis was almost impossible, but surgically, and with the aid of hormones and psychological treatment, Bruce as ‘Brenda,’ would live a “normal” life.” It was planned that “Brenda” would never be told he had been biologically been born a male.
Money would work with the family, cover financial costs, and would be given rights to publish his findings.
Bruce underwent an operation to surgically remove his testicles, and it was planned that later the “girl” would go through a procedure to create an artificial vagina.
Money wrote a number of professional papers on how well the process was going. However, “David’s case came to international attention in 1997 when an academic sexologist started to probe into what appeared to be some questionable conclusions. Later research by others in the field brought even more questions about the “validity” of Money’s claims.
In addition, reports of questionable ethical practices including Money’s encouraging “sexual rehearsal play” between Brenda and Brian emerged.
The “John/Joan case,” as the situation would eventually be known, questioning sex reassignment and surgical reconstruction and Money’s methods and reported results, emerged. It was determined that “Money was lying. He knew Brenda was never happy as a girl.”
Academic sexologist, Milton Diamond, later reported that Bruce/Brenda's realization he was not a girl crystallized between the ages of 9 and 11, and he transitioned to living as a male at age 15.
On July 1, 2002, Brian was found dead from an overdose of antidepressants. On May 4, 2004, David committed suicide by shooting himself. “The boy’s parents stated that Money’s methodology was responsible for the deaths of both of their sons.”
Sounds like a tale which would make for a compelling play? A production of “Boy” by Anna Ziegler, a fictionalized version of the tale, with names and some of the details altered, is now in production at none too fragile.
Ziegler’s play stays close to the surface. The motivations of “Dr. Wendell Barnes” [paralleling Dr. John Money] are not well developed and give an impression that the man may have been a pedophile, which is not reality. In addition, the parents seem to be so easily led by Barnes that they are almost unreal. In spite of this the story holds interest.
Director Sean Derry has selected an excellent cast and keeps the action moving quickly along.
Young David Lenahan (Adam/Samantha) masterfully develops the dual role…switching nicely between the male and female enactments, as well as the age progression. It’s worth seeing the play just to see the emergence of this fine young actor.
Natalie Green is believable as Jenny, who eventually turns out to be adult- Adam’s girlfriend. Marc Moritz nicely textures Dr. Barnes within the parameters of the author’s writing. Pamela Harwood and Andrew Narten, again restricted by the script, do a good job of portraying the parents.
Capsule judgment: The script is not as gripping as it might be. In spite of that, the topic and the production are compelling. For many, unaware of the true “Joan/John case,” the play probably seems like unreal fiction, but, in reality, the story on which Ziegler’s script was based is real…very real! This is a production well-worth seeing.
Personal disclosure: While living in Baltimore in the early 1990s I was a counselor at a center whose mission was the evaluation, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of mental, emotional and behavioral health issues, specifically those dealing with “evaluation and treatment of sexual and gender identity concerns in children, adolescents and adults.” “Research and theory on the nature of human sexuality, love maps, sexual orientations and gender identities,” were a major part of the practice. Some of the staff had worked with Dr. Money, were his former students, and he served as their mentor. His influence hung heavy on the center.
For tickets for “Boy,” which runs through February 17, 2018, call 330-671-4563 or go to nonetoofragile.com
Sunday, February 11, 2018
In December, 1968, about 50 Lorain County Community College students flew to New York. Some in the clean-scrubbed conservative group, coming from a campus void of political turmoil, had never traveled as far-a-field as downtown Cleveland.
The first play they saw on their Big Apple adventure was “Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical.”
Yes, “Hair,” the James Rado, Gerome Ragni, Galt MacDermot hippie, counterculture, sexual revolution musical that introduced rock and roll to Broadway, and shocked many theatre-goers with nudity, swearing, anti-Vietnam protest, sexuality, drug usage, and irreverence for the American flag.
The students were seated in the first couple of rows of the theatre and received lots of attention from the young actors and were invited onto the stage for the “Be-In” finale, which found them dancing on a Broadway stage.
When the tour of the show came to Cleveland, some of the students were at the April 25, 1971 performance of the show when a bomb exploded in front of Cleveland's Hanna Theatre. Yes, “Hair” was a controversial show.
“Hair” is often referred to as the ending bookend of the era known as the Golden Age of Broadway. The first true book musical, “Oklahoma” (1943) set the format for what is known as the American Musical, and the Age of Aquarius musical (1968) ushered in major changes to that format, showcased by a racially integrated cast, taking on a serious topic, and adding rock music to the genre’s lexicon.
The script was time-specific, furthering the concept that theatre is representative of the era from which it comes. “Hair” is the 1960s, a time of political activity, flower children, drugs, long-haired hippies, bohemian life style, free love, tie-dyed shirts and polyester bell bottom pants, rebellion against tradition family values and conservative beliefs, and the preaching of making love/not war.
“Hair” tells the tale of friends Claude, Berger and Sheila and their “tribe” as they struggle to balance their youthful lives, with rebellion against the Vietnamese War and draft conscription. It is also a reflection of the tidal waves of change that were ripping the country apart.
Even the theatrical staging was a change from tradition with caffolds to climb, nudity, breaking of the third wall with cast members flowing over the apron of the stage to interact with the audience, and dance and sing down the aisles. A Be-In with cast and audience dancing together on and off-stage were nightly occurrences. This was definitely not “Oklahoma,” “My Fair Lady,” or “Annie Get Your Gun.”
The score was eclectic and electric. “Aquarius” placed the “world” in a dream-like/flower power state. “Sodomy” gave words to free love. “Hashish” introduced the topic of drugs. “Colored Spade,” Black Boys” and “White Boys” put black oppression front and center. “Hare Krishna” assaulted western organized religion. “Where Do I Go” showcases the angst of growing up in the era. “The War” shocks reality, while “Good Morning Sunshine” opens new paths. And, on and on, it goes…selling its ideas, confronting realities, challenging what was, and making a case for what might be.
The Beck Center/Baldwin Wallace Music Theatre Program production, is vital, dynamic, and has talent overload.
It is well directed by Victoria Bussert.
Choreographer Martin Céspedes wisely has the large cast mostly moving, rather than doing complex coordinated choreography. His visual creations fit the music and create the desired effects. It’s so exciting to see real dancers on stage, well instructed.
The vocalizations are outstanding. The chorus sounds full and engulfing. Impressive is that the entire cast stayed in character throughout the production, creating the needed reality.
Sam Columbus (Woof) nails “Sodomy,” Chandler Smith (Claude) plays “Manchester, England” for appropriate tongue-in-cheek laughs. He, Olivia Kaufmann (Sheila), Veronica Otim (Dionne) and the chorus put the right emotion into “Eyes Look Your Last.” MacKenzie Wright (Jeanie) nicely interprets “Air,” singing meanings not just words. Courtney Hausman (Crissy) is “geek” delightful in her rendition of “Frank Mills.”
At times there are some strays from the show being era correct. “Fu*k Trump,” “Black Lives Matter,” “No Way Sanctuary,” and “Build Kindness Not Walls” signs, videos and chants may be an attempt to make the issues, issues of today, but modernization is not the purpose of “Hair.” The high-energy music interpretation, more 2018 than 1960, sometimes takes over and sets a jumping up and down, rather than an intense, flower power rock sound. Not using 60s clothing and hair styles distracts, but aren’t major issues.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT See “Hair?” Of course! The overall effect will leave you “Walking on Air,” asking “What a Piece of Work is Man!” and cause you to exit humming, “I Believe in Love.” Bravo!
“Hair” is scheduled to run at Beck Center for the Arts through February 25, 2018. For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go online to http://www.beckcenter.org
Saturday, February 10, 2018
What happens when you present a charming script and add two of Cleveland’s most beloved actors? You get five sold out houses and calls with attempted bribes to get in the door.
The play, A. R. Gurney’s “Love Letters.” The performers, Cleveland’s first lady of the theater, Dorothy Silver and much lauded and awarded actor, George Roth.
Oh, what a special night it was!
George Roth sits at a desk. Beside him, Dorothy Silver sits at a companion desk. They are seated in front of a large, beautifully painted canvas of what looks like a wealthy, refined woman, in the recently redecorated ballroom in the Judson Manor, home of Theatre in the Circle, where Mark and Bill Corcoran’s Theatre in the Circle performs.
They read letters written by Andrew Makepeace Ladd III (Roth) and Melissa Gardner (Silver), wealthy and positioned childhood friends. Their lifelong correspondence began with required birthday party thank-you notes and then summer camp postcards. Their parents thought they were likely candidates for a life-long romantic commitment.
Through many years we follow the duo through boarding school and college years. Andy goes off to Yale and great success. Melissa flunks out of a series of private schools. Alex goes off to war. Melissa marries, but Andy still remains as her first and only real love.
He marries, becomes a lawyer. She becomes a semi-successful artist. The letters continue. He gets involved in politics. She gets divorced and becomes estranged from her children and turns to alcohol. She and Andy have a brief affair, but it’s too late for either of them to commit to one another.
“Andy's last letter, written to her mother after Melissa's untimely death, makes it eloquently clear how much they really meant and gave to each other over the years—physically apart, perhaps, but spiritually as close as only true lovers can be.”
This is a unique piece of theater. As the author states, “it needs no theatre, no lengthy rehearsal, no special set, no memorization of lines, and no commitment from its two actors beyond the night of performance."
Capsule judgement: Silver and Roth are spirited, evocative, humorous, touching, and, of course brilliant in milking meaning for Gurney’s words and grabbing and holding the audience’s attention. If you didn’t get a chance to experience this special evening of “must see” theater, it’s a shame!
“Love Letters’ played from February 8-11, 2018 at Judson Manor in Cleveland.
Next up at Theatre in the Circle: ”Nunsense A-Men: The little Sisters of Hoboken grow a pair,” from May 10-13, 2018 (Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 and Saturday and Sunday at 2). For tickets go to theatreinthecircle.com or call 216-282-9424.
Wednesday, February 07, 2018
Verb Ballets chose to highlight two young Black choreographers for its “Celebrating Black History” recent program at the Breen Center before a near sold-out performance.
Using the same company of dancers, Antonio Brown, Cleveland native and former Cleveland School of the Arts student was paired with Tommie-Waheed Evans to create the program. Though none of the selections was particularly Black in story or music, the evening did show a difference in choreographic styles.
“Continuum (2011)” and “Passing By (2012),” both created by Brown, were upbeat, high energy pieces, danced to the choreographer’s remix, with lighting by Trad A Burns. Both were like abstract modern paintings, had no unifying themes, storyline or a consistent dance vocabulary. The dancers were constantly moving with energetic explosions. Because of the pace, the performers were not always in sync, lines were sometimes staggered and movements not always precise. The overall effect was acceptable, but not exceptional.
Evans’ pieces, both theme centered, were coherent and audience pleasing. “Surge, Capacity, Force (2017)” based on the cry “But why, I just want to be here,” offered “a reflection on the human dimensions and increasing complexity of national security, including the physical and psychological borders we create, protect and cross in its name.”
Evens created a vocabulary of modern dance, superimposed on balletic and gymnastic movements which translated into a dynamic explosion of creative yet disciplined movement, danced to patriotic and folk music and a webfeed of spoken words.
“Dark Matter,” the program’s highlight, told the philosophical ode of “love is not so much lost when it was never found for it to be love you must be willing to fight for it and not let it pass you by otherwise it is just a fantasy a yearning of your heart for what you’re not ready to grasp for.”
A powerful piece, with disciplined moves, with compelling effects created by Trad A Burns lighting, it brought the audience to its feet for an extended curtain call. Especially appreciated was the dynamic solo dancing of Omar Humphrey.
Next up for Verb:
“Havana Nights,” Friday, April 20, 2018, a benefit gala celebrating the company’s return from its residency in Cuba.
“Spring Series,” April 27, 2018, 8 PM, E.J. Thomas Hall, Akron University.
“Dance Works 2018,” May 17-19, 2018, 7:30pm, Cleveland Public Theatre
For information and tickets go to: verbballets.org or call 216-397-3757.
Sunday, February 04, 2018
In its initial run on Broadway, Stephen Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along” was met with negative reactions. Fortunately, that hasn’t discouraged some theatrical artistic directors to shun producing the musical. A case in point is Lakeland Civic Theatre’s staging the script with wonderful results.
“Merrily We Roll Along” is a musical adaptation of legendary George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s comedy of the same name. The book is by George Furth and the lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, the same duo who gave us “Company.”
The story centers around Franklin Shepard, a talented composer of Broadway musicals, who, through egotism, greed, and a series of bad choices in relationships, has abandoned his friends and profession to become a shallow Hollywood producer.
The musical, like the play, is presented in a backwards order. This initially confused many a critic and audience member. The score also uses the unusual device of the chorus singing reprises of the title song to transition the scenes (and remind us of the year of the segment). The musical sound of these reprises mirrors the moods of Shepard’s life, a creative device which some construed as making the song redundant and over-used.
After 52 preview performances, the Broadway show ran only 16 performances, thus creating one of few Sondheim “flops.”
The initial production had problems from the start. The cast consisted of unknown teenagers with little performance experience. Changes in the choreographer, the leading man, moving back of the opening night and the backward to forward plot line resulted in audience members walking out and bad reviews.
The story of the problems encountered in the original production is related in a documentary, “Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened.” It is directed by Lonny Price, who played a major role in the original musical.
Fortunately, for local audiences, Lakeland director, Martin Friedman, a Sondheim expert and devotee, has chosen a talented cast and staged an engaging production.
Handsome Eric Fancher charms as Franklin. His strong vocalizations and effective acting make the character live. Trey Gilpin gives the right balance to his portrayal of Charley, Franklin’s best friend and writing partner. He does comedy and “put-upon” with nice ease and balance. Amiee Collier, Franklin and Charley’s closet female friend, is convincing as a woman with a life-long crush on Franklin. In spite of becoming a successful writer, she turns to alcohol as an escape from her emotionally pain from unrequited love.
Highlight musical numbers include “Old Friends,” “Franklin Shepard, Inc.,” and such classics as “Not a Day Goes By,” “Good Thing Going” and “Our Time.”
From Austin Kilpatrick’s setting, consisting of a back wall of crumpled sheets of play scripts and movable set pieces, to lighting designer Adam Ditzel’s mood setting lighting, to Jordan Cooper’s musical direction, almost everything works. The exceptions are the uncreative choreography and confusing costume designs where some performers wear the same clothing during all the transitional years, while others are in and out of numerous costumes.
Capsule judgment: It may have been a flop on Broadway, but “Merrily We Roll Along” is a hit at Lakeland Civic Theatre. It’s definitely a must see!!!
“Merrily We Roll Along” runs Friday and Saturdays at 7:30 and 2 on Sundays through February 18 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 and worth the short drive!)
Wednesday, January 31, 2018
One of the purposes of theater is to educate. Another is to get the audience involved psychologically in the process. The ultimate end of many theatrical experiences is for the attenders to leave with a new understanding of life and to carry that message out of the theatre.
“How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes (with 199 People You May or May Not Know),” which recently ended a four performance run at Cleveland Public Theatre, was educational theatre at its best.
The “End Poverty” production was created after a year of research and community-partner-building. Its first presentation was in May 2013 at Northwestern University. Productions have been presented around the country and over $40,000 has been given to community-specific poverty reduction programs.
As the program’s website states, “This is not a play; it is not a lecture; it is not an interactive workshop; it is not a physical theatre piece; it is not a public conversation.”
It goes on to say, “Most significantly, it’s an opportunity to challenge a different audience every show with the question: how do you attack the problem of poverty in America, with a lens specifically focused on your community? Over the course of 90 minutes, the audience will listen, explore and ultimately choose how to spend $1,000 cash from ticket sales sitting onstage at each performance. The show is an experiment in dialogue, in collective decision-making, in shared responsibility, and in the potential for art to help us make our world a better place. It is spectacularly eclectic in form, often delightful and occasionally uncomfortable.”
If you had the opportunity to give $1000 to an agency which satisfies the daily needs of its clients, works for system change, or is involved in the field of education, helps making new opportunities or gives direct financial aid, which would you chose. That was the task of the 199 other people who I worked with had as its goal.
We spent an hour and a half, hearing from legislatures, community workers, those in need. We observed short skits acting out the needs of people, heard statistics on where the needs were, listened to appeals, investigated which local areas were the hardest hit. Then, after discussing our thoughts with our “team mates,” who included the county commissioner, the Artistic Director of the Cleveland Play House, the minister for religious services for the county jails, several college professors, local performers, lawyers, a newspaper reporter and some who identified themselves as “average citizens,” we made our individual decisions.
With our five dollars in hand, we told our group leader on which clothes line to hang our bills. After all the money was attached by clothespins, the money was counted, and our night, Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry, which provides permanent supportive housing, transitional housing treatment, housing vouchers and apartment searching to homeless men, received that night’s money.
Our drive home was filled with a lively discussion about what we learned, how the experience had opened out eyes, how wonderful if sociology, community planning and civics classes could be taught with a method such as this theatrical experience a truly practical life-educational experience.
Capsule judgement: If Cleveland Public Theatre ever brings “How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes (with 199 People You May or May Not Know),” back, and they should, make every effort to participate in this theatrical extraordinary learning experience.
Next up at CPT: You are invited into the live studio audience of the World Premiere of Leila Buck’s “American Dreams,” where you will decide which of three contestants will receive the ultimate prize: citizenship in “the greatest nation on earth.” Weaving playful audience engagement with up-to-the-moment questions about immigration and more, this participatory performance explores how we navigate between fear, security, and freedom; who and what we choose to believe—and how those choices come to shape who we are. (February 08, 2018 - March 03, 2018 7:00pm, Thu/Fri/Sat/Mon, James Levin Theatre. Previews February 8 – 10 & 15--No show February 12). For tickets call 216-631-2727 or go on line to www.cptonline.org.
Saturday, January 27, 2018
CPH’s “Marie and Rosetta,” points the spotlight on future-inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
When Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s name appeared on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Ballot, there were many who thought, Sister who? Little did those not familiar with the history of the genre, know that “she was wailing on the guitar before Chuck Berry, shouting call and response before Little Richard, and swaying rhythmically to the music long before Elvis shook his hips.” In fact, Elvis may have learned his slim hip swiveling from the Sister Rosetta’s pelvis thrusts.
For the uninformed, the swinging gospel music and fierce guitar playing Sister Rosetta was a 1930s and 40s veritable legend who sang gospel music in the morning and performed swing music for the white audiences at the famous Cotton Club in New York’s Harlem. She justly deserved her selection to this year’s Rock and Roll Museum class as one of rock ‘n’ roll’s earliest icons.
Cleveland Heights’ award winning playwright, George Brant’s “Marie and Rosetta,” now on stage at Cleveland Play House, takes us to 1946 Mississippi where Sister Rosetta Tharpe (Miche Braden) has “plucked prim and proper Marie Knight (Chaz Hodges) from a small-time quartet to join her comeback tour.”
In their first rehearsal together, which makes up the sum of the 90-minute without intermission show, we find that Marie isn’t as innocent as she looks—she is married, has two children and is older than her teenage image. We also learn of Rosetta’s life stories and her failed marriages to men she refers to as “squirrels.”
Why are they rehearsing in a Black-run funeral home surrounded by a number of caskets draped in Rosetta’s costumes, and the place they will sleep after the concert? This is the segregated South, where Black performers, no matter their status in the music world, are not welcome in public accommodations. As Sister states, “We step off stage and got to disappear.” Yes, Whites will flock to their shows, but won’t treat them as equals.
Brant lets us in the on the secrets and life of a woman of firm faith, but who finds it acceptable to shake her abundant hips, spout earthy humor, and make fun of her chief rival, Mahalia Jackson.
She gradually brings the “holier than thou,” rule-bound Marie around to start whaling on the piano and let loose of her rigid body.
Rosetta entertains with “This Train,” a traditional African American gospel song, “I Looked Down the Line (and I Wondered),” another gospel song.” Marie sings the spiritual, “Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)? And Mahalia Jackson’s anthem, “Peace in the Valley.” Their numerous duets include, “Rock Me,” “Lord, Search My Heart,” “Four or Five Times,” and “Strange Things Happening Every Day.”
Though interesting in content, and filled with humor, the script often bogs down in repeated themes, and lots of talk and limited action. Part of this is the writing, part Neil Pepe’s static direction.
Rosetta doesn’t work the audience and display her dynamic presence. Since she doesn’t actually play the guitar (the sounds are masterfully produced backstage by KJ Denhert) Braden is angled on stage faking the guitar riffs, confining what would be her sexual and dynamic movements.
Chaz Hodges (Marie Knight) doesn’t play her instrument either (her alter-ego is Katreese Barnes, who is off-stage playing a mean piano), adding to the pseudo musical effect of really talented people portraying, rather than being the performers. One must wonder why, with the vast number of talented performers available in this country, the casting directors couldn’t find two actresses who can fulfil the total requirements of the roles.
In addition, though Miche Braden is a wonderful actress and singer, Miss Knight had some vocal issues on opening night, though she was believable in her acting.
Brandt pulls an abrupt plot switch near the end of the play, which brings the tale to a conclusion, but the transition into that ending was so rapid, it may have slipped past the awareness of the viewer and somewhat leaves the ending unnerving. (No more here...it would be unfair to future viewers to reveal the conclusion.)
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: George Brant’s “Marie and Rosetta” exposes the personality and vast talent of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, which is a service to the woman and a public which may have been unaware of her effect on the music industry. Though the play is interesting, and the music is dynamic, it is also a little static in language and staging.
“Marie and Rosetta” runs through February 11, 2018 at the Allen Theatre in PlayhouseSquare. For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to http://www.clevelandplayhouse.com.
Next up at CPH: February 17-March 11, 2018. Ayad Akhtar’s “The Invisible Hand,” a suspenseful narrative in which an American banker specializing in the Pakistani market is kidnapped by Islamic revolutionaries.
Monday, January 22, 2018
From the moment patrons entered the lobby of the Ohio Theatre, they knew they were in for a “different” evening of dance. The Tri-C Jazz group was loudly playing as an invitation to GRUPO CORPO, the world respected Brazilian Body Group,” which has created its own theatrical language and choreography.
The dance company is noted for bridging nature and culture, highlighting “all facets of Brazil, past and future, erudite and popular, foreign influence and local color and the urban and the suburban into art. Brazilian art.”
Founded in 1975 by Paulo Pederneiras, he became the driving force behind the company’s success. A glance at the program shows the strong Pederneiras influence. Paulo is Artistic Director, Rodrigo is the choreographer, Pedro is the technical director and Gabriel is the technical coordinator.
The Dance Cleveland/Cuyahoga Community College co-sponsored performance consisted of two pieces, the 32-minute “suíte branca” and the 42-minute “dançe sinfônica.”
Each program segment was made up of mini-units highlighting the company’s erudite repertoire and unique dance vocabulary, combining classical technique with a contemporary interpretation of Brazilian dance forms.
The over-arching concept of the company is clearly seen as each dancer’s physical shape and presence is unique. In contrast to many dance companies, no body- type dominates, no race stands out, diversity reigns. Each individual form is an instrument to be played in its own way.
The synchronization of movements, body bends, high kicks, same and opposite gender partnering, waves, gymnastics, kips, rolling across the stage, enmeshing, stepping over other dancers, sensual hip movements, unusual lifts, and flailing hands are all incorporated into the moves which parallel the musical sounds. Humor and high drama are present.
“suíte branca” found the company found the company dressed in all white, on a white floor and cyclorama. “dançe sinfônica” was highlighted by the women in scarlet while the men were in black. They danced before a wall of over a thousand informal photographic snapshots made into a backdrop panel, establishing the over-arching mood for the piece.
The effect of the choreography, dancing, setting and music was emotionally moving. This is an exciting company with a clear mission to expand the world of Brazilian dancing to be more than the expected Samba, and to combine traditional story-telling and Brazilian history with contemporary moves.
Capsule judgment: “Viva,” (hurray) “admirável,” (marvelous) and a “ovaçäo de pé” (standing ovation) to Grupo Corpo! Dance Cleveland’s Pam Young chased after the company for ten years until she got them to come to Cleveland. It was worth the effort.
Next up for Dance Cleveland and Tri-C is CHE MALAMBO, 14 powerful Argentine Gauchos stomping, drumming and dancing on March 17, 2018, 7:30 PM, Ohio Theatre.
DANCE OFFERINGS IN THE CLEVELAND AREA
“Celebrating Black History Month”
February 3, 2018—8 pm
Breen Center, 2008 W. 30th St., Cleveland
Inlet Dance Theatre—April 10-12
Double-Edge Dance and Travesty Dance Group—April 17-19
Anateus Dance and Bones Performance Group-- April 24-26
Verb Ballet—May 1-3
“Alice in Wonderland”
May 11 (1 pm & 11 pm)
May 12 (11 am)
Saturday, January 20, 2018
An unnamed woman (Anjanette Hall), in an Air Force jump suit, confidently stalks the stage telling us, with eyes flashing and intense verbalizations, the thrill she gets from being in the blue, flying missions over enemy territory, and getting together after her missions with the guys to “throw back a few.” This is obviously a person who is excited about life, as she is living it.
Thus starts Cleveland Heights’ playwright George Brant’s award winning, one-woman show, “Grounded,” now in production at Dobama. The script was previously given a local staged reading as part of Cleveland Play House’s Fringe Festival.
After the play’s opening exposition scene, we find that the woman falls in love with a man named Eric, gets pregnant, decides to keep the child in-spite of the Air Force rule that women pilots can’t fly while they are pregnant, moves with her family to Las Vegas where she has been reassigned to continue her career, not as a pilot of “real” planes, but of drones who hover over the enemy many miles away from the action.
Yes, she has become a member of the “Chair Force, the Bermuda Triangle for fighter pilots, as no one ever comes back.” A satirical, but fortuitous name.
Seated in a windowless trailer, isolated from almost everyone, she spends her time looking at a gray screen, occasionally finding a terrorist and blowing him up, many thousands of miles away.
She is safe, no danger of crashing her plane or getting shot down, and comes home each night. But, with the routine of long shifts, repeated similar family time, little personal contact with her former “comrades,” no “blue time,” and little self-fulfillment, our protagonist goes through serious personality changes. Seemingly, her purpose for life is gone and she spirals out of control, with tragic results.
The play won the 2012 Smith Prize for works about American politics and asks questions about whether the advances in technology have positively or negatively affected the psychological well-being of our armed forces, whether the removal of being actively involved in the “purpose of war” has resulted in PTSD for some former combatants, whether there has to be a rethinking of who should be in the armed forces, and with the changed nature of war, are we more or less safe?
The pilot’s last speech is eerie and maybe scarily true, “You who watch me and think you are safe, know this, know that you are not safe.”
Think this. With a quick mood-swinging ego-centric President, who some psychologists declare to be mentally unstable, having access to the red button that could release nuclear missiles that could start World War III or destroy the world, how “safe” are we?
Dobama’s production, under the focused direction of Alice Reagan and the superb tour-de-force performance of Baldwin Wallace professor, Anjanette Hall, is compelling. No time, during the 85-minute show, does Hall allow the audience’s attention to waver.
Tesia Dugan Benson’s aesthetically pleasing set, though it does little to actually create a visual base for much of the script, is well used by Hall. Marcus Dana’s light design and Megan Cully’s sound help underscore and enhance the moods and transitions.
Capsule judgement: “Grounded” is the kind of script and staging on which Dobama fulfills its goal of presenting the best contemporary plays in a professional production of the high quality. Don Bianchi, the theater’s founder, would have been proud of this must-see production.
“Grounded” runs through February 11, 2018 at Dobama, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights. Call 216-932-3396 or http://www.dobama.org for tickets.
Next up: “The Effect” by Lucy Prebble. The setting is a drugs-trial unit at Rauschen Pharmaceuticals, where volunteers are taking an experimental antidepressant called RLU37. A psychiatrist is tracking their behavior, but we in the audience are the ones really keeping watch and being watched. March 2-25, 2018.