Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Superb THE BEAUTY QUEENOF LEENANE at none too fragile

The Irish are a unique brand of people.  Living in a land of rocks, hills, harsh weather, poverty and isolation, they have developed attitudes toward life that lend themselves to dark thoughts and bleak tales. 

Modern and contemporary Irish playwrights like Brian Friel, Tom Murphy, Marina Carr and Martin McDonagh, write of the people’s passion for land, fixation on weather, drinking, morbidity, family ties, mythmaking, tangled relationships, dreamers, misanthropes and lonely souls.

McDonagh’s THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE, which is now on stage at none too fragile theater, could serve as a master plate for well-written modern Irish plays.  The black comedy, with tragic undertones, contains almost all of the traditional things-Irish.

The story centers on Maureen, a 40-year old spinster who lives in the Irish village of Leenane, where she acts as a caretaker for her hypochondriac mother.  Maureen wants to get married, get out of Leenane, and especially away from her bitter mother.

The chance comes for Maureen to seemingly get her wishes when she becomes reacquainted with Parto, a construction worker, who thinks of her as “the beauty queen of Leenane.” But, in true Irish spirit, the tangled relationship with her mother gets in the way as the old lady hides important information. 

McDonagh’s play reminds us that Ireland is a place with few options, with little hope of happiness or escape.  Compassion, true love, human warmth and self respect, are not part of the formula practiced by the people of “the wearing of the green.” 

The Irish don’t suffer because they are bad people, they just inhabit a corner of the world in which their universe is limited.  Some escape, but many either go mad, become alcoholics, or learn to live with monotonous cycle of life repeating and then repeating itself.  This is the stuff that soap operas and black comedies, are made of.

The multi-award winning THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE gets a superb production at none too fragile.  Sean Derry shows a keen understanding of the script and its production requirements.  Though the material is talky and lacks physical action, the staging keeps the audience alert.

The cast is flawless.  Derdriu Ring gives an award winning performance as Maureen.   She textures the role with frustration, irritation and even some unbridled happiness when it appears that Maureen may finally get to escape.  She doesn’t portray Maureen, she is Maureen.  Bravo!

Anne McEvoy conveys in her Mag a true bitterness toward a life that has given her no happiness.  She has little control over her personal existence, and exerts what small dignity she might muster by demanding she be taken care of.  McEvoy masterfully portrays the miserable woman.

Tom Woodward effectively creates Pato, the play’s only character who seems to have a way out of the Irish morass.  He nicely develops a man, who within his emotional stiltedness, expresses caring for Maureen and his desire to take her to America for a better life.

Nate Miller as Ray Dooley, Pato’s brother, creates a nicely textured snapshot of the typical Irishman who is willing to settle for what he can get…watching Australian soap operas, accepting that he is, what he is, and asking for little more.    

Capsule judgement:  THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE is a first-class Irish play, by a very talented modern “Mick” writer.  The none too fragile production is finely-directed and performed.  This is one of the top area productions of the season and is a definite must see!

For tickets to THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE which runs through May 7 at none too fragile theater in Akron, call 330-671-4563 or go to nonetoofragile.com

The next none too fragile show is SANS MERCI a powerful piece of theater by Johanna Adams, from April 22-May 7, which centers on Kelly, a survivor of rape and attempted murder by South American Revolutionaries, who, three years after the incident, is confronted by the mother of a woman who was killed during the incident. 

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Award winning JERUSALEM misses the mark at Ensemble

If you go to see JERUSALEM, now on stage at Ensemble Theatre, don’t expect it to be about people living in the Israeli city of that name, or of the 2013 film of the same name concerning a group of messianic pilgrims abandoning their native Sweden to emigrate to Palestine.

JERUSALEM, as written by Jez Butterworth is a play about Johnny “Rooster” Byron which had its origin in the real life of Micky Laye, who lived in Pewsey, Wiltshire, England.  Laye lived in a caravan (trailer) in the woods outside of the wee village.  Rumor has it that the author met Laye while attending the town’s local carnival week-long festival and thought him interesting enough to base a three act, almost three-hour play, on his actions and the reactions of the town folks to his life style.

Just to clarify, the play’s title is based on the script’s numerous references to William Blake’s lyrics to the song “Jerusalem.”

As the play opens, it is St. George’s Day, when the local county fair takes place.  On stage, in a setting that is obviously deep in the woods, we are confronted by a rave of seemingly drunk and drugged-out people.  They turn out to be many of the teens of the area, who have found Byron’s homestead to be a welcoming place to let loose and get away from the rules of their parents and the town. 

Shortly, a duo of the town’s council officials (the ultra-serious Valerie Young and August Scarpelli) appear and tack up a notice on the caravan’s doors indicating that the place is condemned and is to be bulldozed by the town for the lack of payment of taxes and fees.

Byron is a former daredevil who is eccentric, bold, and defiant.  He is noted for his constantly getting in fights at the local bars.  So many fights, in fact, that he is on a blacklist from almost all the local establishments.

Byron is a wanted man.  His young son, Markey, (the adorable Miles Pierce) who occasionally sees his father, wants him to keep his promise and take him to the fair.  The town officials want him gone. 

The kids, his loyal hangers on, want his drugs and alcohol.  Ginger (James Rankin), who never has grown up, harbors false dreams of being a d.j., but is an unemployed plasterer.  Lee (Kyle Huff), plans to emigrate to Australia but has little money to get there.  Davey (Michael Johnson), Lee’s friend, covers up his fears with drugs and alcohol. Tanya (Leah Smith) and Pea (Becca Moseley) want to escape, but its never clear from what. 

Phaedra (Katja Yaker) appears, on occasion, as a waif wearing wings.  We find out that she is the reigning Festival queen, who is in hiding from her father in Byron’s caravan.  She appears in both acts and sings the hymn, “Jerusalem.”

Byron’s only adult acquaintances seem to be The Professor (the delightful Dana Hart) who spouts philosophical nothings while taking drugs, Wesley (David Vegh), a local pub owner, and Dawn (Brittni Shambaugh Addison), Marky’s mother, who disapproves of Byron’s life style.

JERUSALEM, which opened in London in 2009 to rave reviews, resulting in an extended run, starred Mark Rylance.  Rylance reprised the role of Byron on Broadway in 2011 and was selected as the Tony Award’s Best Actor.

The Ensemble production, under the directorship of Ian Wolfgang Hinz, does not live up to the script’s potential.  The major issue seems to center on the interpretation of Byron.  Mitch Rose lacks the character’s underlying charisma.  Instead of our feeling empathy for Byron as a charming rogue, a Pied Piper who stands against irrational rules and over-bearing authority, the character seems irresponsible, unlikeable and contrary for the sake of being obstinate.  Without that likeability factor, we have no reason to cheer for him as the underdog who, though he has weaknesses and does things which are not psychologically healthy, still makes him deserving of our empathy.  

The youth in the cast are all physically attractive and do a nice job with the English accents, but several lack the acting chops to fully develop their characterizations.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  JERUSALEM is an award winning play that gets an Ensemble production which tries hard but simply doesn’t reach the performance level the script deserves. Unfortunately, the feeling of “who cares about these people and what happens to them,” permeates.  That’s not what the author intended.

(Running time:  Act I—55 minutes, Act II—55 minutes, Act III—50 minutes)

JERUSALEM runs Thursdays through Sundays from April 29 through May 21, 2016 at Ensemble 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

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Cleveland Ballet is back with new leadership and attitude

The words, “Cleveland Ballet” to many locals means Dennis Nahat, Ian Horvath, Karan Gabey, Raymond Rodriguez, impressive sets and costumes, a union with the Silicone Valley’s San Jose.  And, poof, in 2000...they were gone to the west coast, leaving a hole in the local arts offerings.

Many consider it a tale of deception, much like the Cleveland Browns exit to Baltimore.

Like the Browns, the Cleveland Ballet is coming back.  Hopefully, they will be more successful in their return than their football brethren.

Under the artistic leadership of Puerto Rico-born Gladisa Guadalupe, a former member of the Nahat-led company, she hopes to develop a core group of dancers with high levels of talent.  To accomplish this she has held auditions in Cleveland, New York, and other major cities.  Her goal?  “I want Cleveland Ballet to again join the list of jewels that make Cleveland a special place artistically.”

The ballet board’s CEO and Chair is Michael Krasnyansky, a global business developer.  He believes that “We are on the cusp of history once again with the creation of the New Cleveland Ballet—a resident professional ballet company.”

Working out of a dance space located in a strip of companies in Bedford Heights, the organization is looking at ballet in ways that make the classical dances and stories contemporary.  They also want to commission world premiere ballets that Cleveland will have a chance to share with the world.

Currently, the company consists of ten professional contracted dancers, with the hope of increasing the corps to 14 members.

CB produced an evening of dance in October.  Their second outing will be on May 13 and 14 when they produce COPPÉLIA at the newly refurbished Ohio Theatre in PlayhouseSquare.

With choreography by Ramón Oiler, the storytelling will depend more on dancing and lighting by Trad A. Burns than on massive sets and lush costumes.  For this production recorded music will be used, but the future holds live music.

COPPÉLIA, which has been modernized by the choreographer, concerns Dr. Coppélius who has made a life-size dancing doll (Coppélia), so life-like that a village boy, Franz, becomes so infatuated with it that he pushes aside Swanhilda, his love.  To retaliate and get Franz back, Swanhilda dresses like the doll, fooling both men into believing that it has come to life.  Dr. Coppélius seeks to keep the living doll hidden from the world while Frantz tries to run away with his “new found” love.

The ballet company has a commitment to the Cleveland area.  Lauren Stenroos (from Bath) will dance the role of Swanhilda, while Elena Cvetkovich (Youngstown) will perform as Coppélia.  Other area dancers are:  Therese Holland a Parma native and Padua grad, Madeline Taylor from Akron and graduated from Laurel, and Kathryn Wokar who graduated from Bay High School.

Some of the male company members, including Nicholas Monero, a Spaniard who will dance Franz, are from the Joffrey Ballet Concert Group in New York City, which has a collaboration with the Cleveland company.

Cynthia Graham, a former member of the original Cleveland Ballet, serves as Ballet Mistress.

The Cleveland Ballet’s 2016-2017 draft schedule includes residences at Playhouse Square, Cleveland Music of Art, the Ohio Theatre, and the Cleveland Public Library, with additional venues for NUTCRACKER performances.  The full schedule is forthcoming.

Tickets for the Friday, May 13  (7 p.m.) and Saturday, May 14 (1 p.m.) performances of COPPÉLIA, which will be performed at Ohio Theatre at PlayhouseSquare, may be obtained by calling 216-241-6000 or going on line to http://www.playhousesquare.org

Tribute for David O. Frazier, and some quickie reviews (Cirque Du Soleil’s OVO, CPH’s NEW. THEATRE.FESTIVAL and Blank Canvas)

CELEBRATING OUR RASCAL, a tribute to David O. Frazier

A massive turnout filled the State Theatre on April 25 to pay tribute to David O. Frazier, actor, singer, storyteller, rascal, but, most importantly, a kind and wonderful person and friend.  Luminaries who spoke in a creative and fun-filled remembrance ceremony included Gina Vernaci (speaking for Playhouse Square), Carol Frankel, Kevin Moore (Cleveland Play House spokesperson), Loree Vick, Dennis Kucinich (who read a proclamation passed by the United States House of Representative in David’s honor), Cliff Bemis and Terry Piteo (fellow cast members from the musical JACQUES BREL IS ALIVE AND WELL, which is credited with having saved the Playhouse Square theatres from destruction), Oliver Henkel, Lainie Hadden and, David’s husband, Joe Garry.

Musical entertainment was provided by Marge Adler, David Gooding, Gusti and Kyle Corrigan.

David, who lived life to the fullest, died with great dignity, after a long battle with illness.  When David was released from the Cleveland Clinic, a short time ago, the doctors, nurses and staff lined up in the hallway and gave him a standing ovation as he exited in a wheelchair.  Only he would have thought to say, “I have had many standing ovations, but never a sitting ovation!”

When David performed “Irish Rascal” at the National Theatre of Scotland, a critic wrote, “His towering performance grabbed the audience by the throat.”  As his husband, Joe said, in the printed program from the service, “He grabbed my heart in the same way.”  “He was the We of Me.” 

Those of us who not only admired David as the ultimate entertainer, but considered him to be a very special friend, I can only add, “thank you for being the you of you.”

(Donations can be made in David’s name to Cleveland Play House (att: Lis Horrigan, 1407 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH  44115 or Playhouse Square (Attn:  Michelle Stewart, 1501 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH  44115.

Cirque Du Soleil’s OVO astounds and delights

Cirque du soleil’s OVO, “a riot of energy and movement,” which took two years to create, is playing at the Wolstein Center from April 28-May 1, 2016.

The show centers on Ovo, meaning egg in Portuguese and examines the ecosystem in which bugs work and play.  And, play they do!

What do you experience?  Non-stop visual wonders created by jugglers, gymnasts, acrobats, aerialists, dancers, clowns, high-wire walkers, contortionists, trampolinists, musicians, singers, and slapstick comedians, performing in a massive set which includes a rock-climbing wall, a center stage which turns and twirls, smaller stages which form the basis for rope climbers, swinging and sailing bodies, and places to jump off from.  All this set against a back wall of ever-changing projections.

It’s a full-fledged circus of mind-bending awe which produces squeals of joy, delight and wonder from adults and children alike. 

Based in Montreal, Canada, since 1984,  the Cirque du Soleil entertainment creates dramatic shows that include street entertainment and circus acts, minus the performing exotic animals.

Tickets, which range from $35 to $145 for adults and $25-$116 for children 2-12, can be obtained by going online to wolsteincenter.com or calling 1-844-2279.

NEW. THEATRE. FESTIVAL—Cleveland Play House’s gala 100 th Anniversary conclusion

Cleveland Play House brought to an end it’s “Year of the Tony” and hundredth year celebration entitled, NEW. THEATRE. FESTIVAL—2016.

Included in the program, underwritten by arts patron, Roe Green, were a series of plays and readings including:  Productions of MR. WOLF and THE GOOD PEACHES, “Behind-the-Scenes:  A conversation with 2016 Roe Green Winner playwright Kirsten Greenidge,” a reading of Cleveland Heights playwright Eric Coble’s FEED, and a reading of Greenidge’s work-in-progress, LITTLE BOAT OR CONJECTURE.

The capsule judgment of my review of MR. WOLF, written by Cleveland Heights award winning playwright Rajiv Joseph stated, “MR WOLF is a study of a girl, a man and a family in turmoil.  The dark drama leaves many unanswered questions that should tweak after-production discussions.  It is a play which will confound some, and exhilarate others (including me).  It is the kind of script that CPH should do more of in order to stretch the audience to be exposed to a wide range of theater.  The entire article can found at http://www.royberko.info

THE GOOD PEACHES, the world premiere of a work commission by Cleveland Play House in collaboration with The Cleveland Orchestra, was a thought-provoking oral legend set to the melodies of Benjamin Britten and John Adams.  It combined a story of survival and discovery with live music performed by the world-class orchestra.

The production was creatively staged by Laura Kepley in a set which encircled the orchestra, directed by Brett Mitchell, in a large curved platform ingeniously designed by Philip Witcomb.

A story of a flood, probably caused by a tsunami, tells the tale of a young girl who survives by eating peaches miraculously kept afloat from an orchard near her home.  The overall effect was visually gorgeous and emotionally stimulating.

A discussion-talkback following Coble’s FEED, which is based on M. T. Anderson’s novel of the same name,  brought thoughtful comments from a group, consisting mainly of high school students, who were excited over the author’s discussion of electronic media, his use of modern idioms, and understanding today’s youth.  As is the case with workshops and readings of new plays, Coble indicated he will take the feedback and adjust the script in its process toward full production.  The cast, mostly made up of CPH-CWRU graduate students, did an excellent job of creating the characters and holding the audience’s attention.  Peter Hargrave was outstanding as Titus, the lead character.

LITTLE BOAT OR CONJECTURE, Greenidge’s work-in-progress, did not seem to be as close to production ready as FEED.  Overly long and obtuse, the work needs much adjusting.  The reading, which unfortunately lacked smooth presentation and contained many stumbles and shallow character development, was not well conceived or developed by its director and cast.

Blank Canvas delights with two well directed one-acts

Blank Canvas is Patrick Ciamacco’s toy chest.  He pulls out plays that please his niche audience that go for contemporary, often off-the wall scripts.  His latest effort was to allow Christine Howey, who appeared in this year’s New York Fringe Festival, to take two of festival one-act plays and stage them over two weekends.  The result was a very creative and delightful evening of theatre.

Adam Harrell’s BIRDS OF PARADISE finds Archie (Stuart Hoffman with great comic timing and exaggerated facial expressions),  a nerdy ornithologist and romantic, and Emma (a charming Rachael Swartz), a free-spirited but broken-hearted would-be artist, trying to figure out their own migration paths.  The lovebirds struggle between giving love a chance and becoming authenic versions of themselves.

The other offering was the meta-fictional comedy, THE SCREENWRITER DIES OF HIS OWN FREE WILL by Jim Shankman.  

A screenwriter of shallow sci-fi and action flicks (Willy), narrates to himself, complete with stage directions and dialogue, what happens when he goes to sell his “last” screen script to studio executive (Gabe,) his frenemy since their college days at Princeton. 

Willy uses his impending death to sell a screenplay, yes, entitled THE SCREENWRITER DIES OF HIS OWN FREE WILL, which was written while he was high on drugs. 

The script is full of rapid-fire dialogue which builds as the play develops, leaves the audience giggling and the actors gasping for air.

Both John J. Polk (as Gage) and Tim Tavcar (as Willy) were delightful!

The double header ran from April 15th to the 23rd.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

MARIE ANTOINETTE--history with a modern twist and possible relevance @ Dobama

The subject of David Adjmi’s play, MARIE ANTOINETTE, was a delicate beauty, with gray-blue eyes and ash-blond hair, who following the Seven Years War, was used by her scheming mother, Empress Maria Theresa, to cement an alliance between Austria and France by arranging a marriage to Louis-Auguste.

Louis-Auguste, the 11 year-old grandson of French monarch, Louis XV, became the future king when Louis Ferdinand, the son of the French monarch, died.  Within a month, Marie Antoinette and the future Louis XVI, were pledged to marry.

The 14 year-old queen-apparent set out for France escorted by 57 carriages, 117 footmen and 376 horses.  She was well dressed and coifed, but intellectually and emotionally ill-equipped to be a monarch.

When Louis-Auguste became king before his 20th birthday, he attempted to abolish serfdom, remove some taxes, and increase tolerance toward non-Catholics.  The aristocracy opposed the implementations.  Bad harvests, and increases in food prices and staple shortages added to his woes.  Decisions had to be made.  Louis, the boyish King more interested in clothing, style and fixing clocks than in ruling, was unequipped to make decisions and became a victim of his own indecisiveness and lack of political skills.

Marie, at first, was extremely popular.  She became, like the present day Kardashians or Britney Spears, the confection of common gossip, constantly in the eye of the public.  She complained of being in the spotlight, but relished it. 

It is rumored that Marie put drops of belladonna in her eyes to dilate her pupils, thus creating an effect considered attractive and seductive.  Due to overuse, she and the female members of her court, developed poor eyesight.  (A parallel to the present day use of Botox and plastic surgery, which often have dilatory effects on users.)

Her popularity waned as the fervor for revolution festered.  Her once admired looks became negatives as her excesses in spending on clothing, and her doing little other than gossiping with her ladies-in-waiting, fermented the battle cries against the regime.  The proof of her attitudes was her being credited with the oft-repeated, “let them eat cake,” a line symbolizing arrogance and ignorance for the plight of the common people.  A statement, by-the-way, there is no historical proof she ever said.  (Which didn’t stop Adjmi from including the bon mot in his script.)

For a long time after their marriage, the couple did not produce children, causing gossip.  Pamphlets mocked the fertility of the couple, asking “Can the King do it?”  There were also strong questions over Marie’s dislike of “conjugal activity.” Eventually, Marie became pregnant, but questions continued about whether the King was, in fact, the father, especially because of the queen’s closeness to Axel Fersen. (Ah, fodder for the likes of “The National Enquirer” or “People Magazine.”)

The cries of "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité!" became louder and the handwriting for the fall and executions of Louis and Marie became inevitable.

The play has underpinnings of a modern day story.  Marie’s preoccupation with gossip and avoiding confronting the “real” issues parallels the 21st century youth obsession with Facebook, Twitter and similar escapist electronic sites which concentrate on self and gossip, rather than pressing matters of society. 

Is Marie a parallel to the teenage heroine of the movie, “Clueless,” using Valley Girl expressions to escape from reality?  Is Marie like the people who drive while texting, or are so absorbed on their smart phones that they are oblivious what is going on around them?

Dobama’s production of MARIE ANTOINETTE, under the focused direction of Nathan Motta, is often compelling.  Using fascinating projections designed by Mike Tuta and executed by Jeremy Dobbins, impressive lighting effects conceived by Marcus Dana, and appropriate musical highlights and interludes selected by Richard Ingraham, there is intense sensory stimulus.

Tesia Dugan Benson’s mod shabby-chic costumes, especially those worn by Carly Germany (Marie Antoinette), hark to the images of old, while creating the illusion of mod.

The acting is excellent.  Starting in a stylistic, often farcical mode, paralleling to the mood and manners of the story, the acting transitions into realism as the play progresses and real issues are confronted.

Carly Germany textures well her portrayal as Marie.  The childish, unrealistic, gossiping escapist youngster transitions into a desperate woman facing the reality of her execution.  This is an impressive exercise in character development.

Dan Hendrock creates a Louis XVI who is childlike and childish in his shallow attempts to govern and to be a husband and father.  Whether this is a true picture of the king (remember, this is a dramatic version of history not an accurate depiction), it parallels the role as conceived by the author and director.  The king’s obsessions and vulnerabilities are clearly displayed.

Joe Pine, sensually garbed in an un-buttoned tunic, is appealing as Axel Fersen, who Marie Antoinette once described as, “an old acquaintance.”  The relationship between Fersen and the queen was not well fleshed out by the author, but Pine gives clear physical and vocal cues that there may well have been something beyond talks between the two.

The rest of the cast:  Ryan Zarecki, Abraham Adams, Rachel Lee Kolis, Easton Sumlin, Robert Hunter and Lara Mielcarek all effectively develop their roles.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: MARIE ANTOINETTE tells the tale of a king and queen who are totally unsuited for their roles and the part they seemingly played in inciting the French Revolution.  The author’s adaptation of the dialogue to include modern language and idioms opens the door to drawing a parallel between that period and today, for those interested in probing beyond the historical story.  The production is well done and makes for good theater.

MARIE ANTOINETTE runs through May 22, 2016 at Dobama Theatre.  Call 216-932-3396 or http://www.dobama.org for tickets.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Musical Theater Project goes behind the scenes of the FANTASTICKS

What is the longest running musical in New York City history?  No, it’s not PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, CHICAGO or THE LION KING.  It’s that little musical, THE FANTASTICKS,  with book and lyrics by Tom Jones and music by Harvey Schmidt.  It’s been on the boards in Manhattan for over 56 years. 

“During its original run at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village, THE FANTASTICKS logged a record breaking 17,162 performances.”  In 2002 a New York revival opened at The Theater Center and continues to run.

(Just for the record:  As of April 17, 2016--PHANTOM has been on Broadway for 28 years and has been performed 11, 742 times, CHICAGO, now in its 20th year is the longest running American musical on Broadway at 8,067 performances, and THE LION KING opened in 1997 and has had 7,666 curtain openings).

THE FANTASTICKS also holds the honor of being “the only Off-Broadway show ever to have won a Tony.”

In 1991 native-Clevelander and Baldwin Wallace University grad Rex Nockengust performed as Matt in the show.

THE FANTASTICKS has been called “A Gem,” “The perfect musical for any child to see,” and “the definitive musical.”  The charming score includes such classics as, “Try to Remember,” “I Can See It,” “They Were You,” and “Soon It’s Gonna Rain.”

“THE FANTASTICKS tells the story of a young man, Matt, and Luisa, the girl next door, whose fathers have built a wall to keep them apart. The youngsters nevertheless contrive to meet and fall in love. Their fathers, meanwhile, are congratulating themselves, for they have erected the wall and staged a feud in order to achieve, by negation, a marriage between their willfully disobedient children.”  Add some comic actors (Henry and Mortimer) and The Mute, an omnipresent character who sets props, and plays the wall, and you have the ingredients of a charming message musical.

The script asks the audience to use their imagination and try to remember such things as falling in love, enjoying a night filled with moonlight and romance, to understand disillusionment and romance, to realize that love can be false, and to gain the insight that through understanding the harshness of the world, individuals can come to understand each other.

All this and more will be explained by The Musical Theater Project on Saturday, April 30 @ 7:00 PM in the Hoke Theatre of the Stocker Arts Center of Lorain County Community College in Elyria (tickets:  440-366-4040 or http://www.stockerartscenter.com) and Sunday, May 1 @ 3:00 PM at the Regina Auditorium of Notre Dame College in South Euclid (tickets: 216-245-8687 or go online to musicaltheaterproject.org).

The show will be co-hosted by Bill Rudman and Nancy Maier and will feature Shane Patrick O’Neill, Michelle Pauker, Fabio Polanco and George Roth.

If you are interested in seeing the show in a full staged production, from May 13th to the 29th, Great Lakes Theater will present THE FANTASTICKS with direction by Victoria Bussert and choreography by Gregory Daniels at the Hanna Theatre. (Tickets:  216-664-6064 or www.greatlakestheater.org)

(Footnote:  some material in this article is based on http://www.fantasticksonbroadway.com)

Sunday, April 17, 2016

TALLEY’S FOLLY, a tale of love overcoming prejudices and uncertainty, at Actors’ Summit

Theatre, as do all of the arts, represents the era from which it comes or is written about.  For example, Lanford Wilson’s TALLEY’S FOLLY places the spotlight on Missouri in 1944, the border state that, until this day, is noted for its laws and customs regarding prejudice against Jews, Catholics and Blacks (e.g. the Ferguson incidents).  It also showcases many of the feelings of border Southerners regarding “proper” etiquette, the sanctity of the roles that women are to play in society, and the power of gossip.  All this is folded into a charming tale.

Wilson, one of the most prolific playwrights of his generation, was born in Lebanon, Missouri and lived most of his life.  His writing reflects his attitudes toward the traditions of the area.

His themes are often gentle, but what appears to be simple digs deep and reflects “politics, religious discrimination, war, family history [patterns that run deep], money, greed, death and all the mysterious longings of the human heart.”
Because of his stances on social change, he is often compared to Anton Chekov, the late 19th and early 20th century writer, who is sometimes referred to as the predictor of the Russian revolution. 

His characters frequently speak in a flowing dialogue, identified as “musical” in tone.   For example, in TALLEY’S FOLLY, Matt, the thirty-something year old statistician, tells the audience at the start of the play that what they are about to see is a “waltz.”  He not only demonstrates the dance, but the cadence of his words pick up the 1-2-3 beat of the music. 

The “ninety-seven minute” TALLEY’S FOLLY takes place in a single night and exposes the unlikely matching of Matt Friedman and Sally Talley.  He is Jewish, she a member of a wealthy family filled with long held prejudices and social “rights and wrongs.”

Sitting at a dilapidated boathouse next to a river on the Talley farm,  Matt, in a speech given directly to the audience, explains not only the setting, but why he is there. 

He relates that the year before, while summer vacationing in Lebanon, he and Sally met.  He fell in love and sent her a letter each day, and talked to her aunt on the phone at least once a week.  Sally sent only a single letter, which contained little hope for a romantic union.

As the play develops we learn of her eccentric uncle who built “follies,” all over town, because he wanted to do so, no matter the attitudes of others.  Follies like the town bandstand where Matt and Sally met the year before.  Eventually they each share a major secret that both have held, which explains why they are who they are.  As the lyric, sad, funny, touching play comes to its end, we are left with the idea that Matt believes that “an angel has guided” his path to Sally and she agrees to marry him, move to St. Louis, and they vow to return to the boathouse every year so they don’t forget the place where they fell in love.

TALLEY’S FOLLY is part of the author’s Talley Trilogy which includes TALLY’S FOLLY, TALLEY & SON, which tells of a power struggle between Sally’s father and grandfather, and FIFTH OF JULY, which centers on societal attitudes regarding homosexuality and the disposition of the Talley estate. 

The Actors’ Summit production, under the insightful direction of Kevin P. Kern, is charming, humorous and well performed.  Seemingly a true romantic who believes in naturally formed unions, rather than matchmakers or computer dating, Kern states “This is a love story that shouldn’t be possible. . . .But in it’s uncertainty, the love affair is more real, more honest, more true than can be provided by a dot com. He concludes, “It’s certainly more interesting.”

Keith Stevens (Matt Friedman) and Shani Ferry (Sally Talley) have a natural connection that makes their relationship seem totally real.  Stevens creates a Matt who is awkward, uncertain, troubled, yet likeable and charming.  Ferry’s Sally is an injured woman whose resistance to happiness has a rightful cause.  As written and performed, these two wounded birds are meant for each other.

The set, costumes, props, and lighting all add to the success of the production.

Capsule judgement: TALLEY’S FOLLY is a fine play that gets an excellent production.  The cast (Keith Stevens and Shani Ferry) create real, accessible characters.  The story showcases the kinds of prejudices that often cause problems in people’s lives and gives a hopeful glow that there is hope, even in light of hate and gossip mongering.  This is a go-see evening of theatre!

For tickets to TALLY’S FOLLY, which runs through May 1, 2016 , call 330-374-7568 or go to www.actorssummit.org

Actors’ Summit’s next show is the Tony nominated TINTYPES, a nostalgic musical review of the popular songs from 1890 to 1917, featuring such tunes as “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag.” (May 19-June 19, 2016)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST—lesser script done with extended farce @ GLT

LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST, a production of which is now on stage at Great Lakes Theater, is one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays.  As such, some critics believe that it is the “work of a playwright just learning his art.”  Though many of Shakespeare’s plays are brilliant and have effected the course of Western Literature, Shakespeare scholars tend to view this script as a minor work in the Bard’s folio.   It has never been one of the playwright’s more popular works.

Termed a comedy, it does not have the brilliance or the cleverness of such  comedic works as the writer’s AS YOU LIKE IT, ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL or THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR. 

The story centers on the King of Navarre and his three lords, Berowne, Longaville and Dumaine.  The quartet swear an oath to avoid contact with women for three years and dedicate themselves to scholarship and chastity.  A vow which, of course, will be almost impossible for four hot-blooded English playboys to keep.

The Princess of France arrives for a visit, but because of the King’s pledge, the beautiful woman and her three fair ladies cannot meet with the him at court.  The men agree to visit the women at their camp outside the castle.  Of course, as happens in comedies of love, the octet all fall in love as they banter, exchange witty and biting rhetoric, and tease and taunt each other.   After much subterfuge, the four couples are ready to pledge their troth. 

Usually at the end of Shakespearean comedies, all ill-will is put aside and the couple (TAMING OF THE SHREW) or couples (A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM)  are married.  Not so with LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST.  (Spoiler alert) As the lovers are about to marry, a messenger arrives to tell the Princess that her father has died. 

Berowne states, “Our wooing doth not end like an old play;/Jack hath not Jill:  these ladies’ courtesy/Might well have made our sport a comedy.”  Thus by Shakespearean tradition, a character has alerted us to one of the script’s conundrums.  In this case--the woman have to leave and they and their suitors agree that in a year they will marry.

The themes of the play center on masculine desire, moral judgments, and the conflict between fantasy and reality.   The Bard uses lots of wordplay, humor and some dated allusions.

The script’s noted accomplishment is that it has the single longest word in all of Shakespeare’s plays:  “honorificabilitudinitatibus.”

In her attempt to spark up the very long and often tedious script, director Tyne Rafaeli has decided to use shticks, gimmicks, and farcical devices to enhance the humor level. Ladder after ladder falls, actors scale the mountain high-library set, they perch and lay on shelves, knock books hither and yon, hang from pieces of scenery, scream, yell, rant and rave.  Visual stimuli abound to the delight of many in the audience. 

The four male leads:  Jonathan Dyrud (Ferdinand), Christopher Tocco (Berowne), Jeb Burris (Longaville), and Nick Steen (Dumaine) all create unique characterizations.  Their ladies fair, Erin Partin (Princess of France), Laura Welsh Berg (Rosaline), Christine Weber (Maria) and Heather Thiry (Katherine) also are excellent.  Juan Rivera Lebron does a nice turn as Costard, a clown. 

Kristen Robinson’s library set works as a type of jungle gym for Ferdinand and the boys as they jump all over the well built towering wall for comic effect.  It doesn’t work as well for the out of doors scenes as there is nothing to indicate changes of setting.  Andrea Hood’s costumes, Rick Martin’s lighting and Josh Schmidt’s sound designs all help in developing the production.
Capsule judgement:  LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST is a lesser Shakespearian comedy.  It gets an over-the-top farcical production under the direction of Tyne Rafaeli.  The liking or disliking of the show is going to depend on your reaction to lots and lots of shticks and gimmicks replacing letting the script speak for itself.  The opening night audience seems to have been evenly split…many stood and cheered at the final blackout, others sat politely clapping or silently looking on.  

LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST runs through April 24, 2016  at the Hanna Theatre.  For tickets: 216-664-6064 or www.greatlakestheater.org

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Cleveland Orchestra and Joffrey Ballet combine for a thrilling evening

Roy Berko

What happens when you bring together the music of composer Béla Bartók, noted for developing new sounds for a new century, The Cleveland Orchestra under the direction of Franz Welser-Möst, and The Joffrey Ballet, under the creative vision of Ashley Wheater, and the sounds of two well-trained opera singers?   The result is a creative, spell-binding visual and musical concert of high audience pleasing quality.

Bartók was a “derivative” composer, part of a group of noted artists, whose voices derived from everything around them.  They refashioned the sounds of everyday life into artistic visions.  Included in this group were Debussy, Shakespeare and Eugene O’Neill. 

“Throughout his life, Bartók composed amid a cloud of influences.  He was a sponge for musical idioms, eagerly soaking up the new and the old, the local and the exotic, the simple and the arcane, integrating them with his musical personality and following them to the limits of his imagination.” Bartók always looked for new ways to create.  He painted music in strong and unexpected shading of colors.

The Hungarian would have been pleased to know that his “Miraculous Mandarin,” a pantomime-ballet, and “Bluebeard’s Castle,” a short story opera, had been effectively incorporated into a stimulating evening of ballet and opera. 

The Cleveland Orchestra, is, of course, recognized as being among the world’s handful of “best” orchestras.  This program advances the organization’s “ongoing commitment to offering dramatic stage works not just as great musical experiences, but also as opportunities for dynamic creativity,” and “unshakeable commitment to innovation and a fearless pursuit of success,” a vision which has highlighted the ensemble since its 1918 founding, and stressed in the present tenure of Welser-Möst.

The Chicago-based Joffrey Ballet is a dance company that is noted for its performances of classical ballets and modern dance pieces.  It was founded in 1956 by Gerald Arpino and Robert Joffrey as a touring company.  It moved into its permanent home, the Joffrey Tower, in 1995.  It has a history of performance with the Cleveland Orchestra, mainly joining together at the Blossom Center.

THE MIRACULOUS MANDARIN, tells the tale of a Young Woman (Victoria Jaiani), who plays the decoy game.  She stands by a window and entices men to come to her so that they can be robbed by three thugs (Raúl Casasola, Paulo Rodrigues, and Joan Sebastián Zamora).  The dance showcases three robbery attempts. 

In the first attempt, an old man (Miguel Angel Blanco) approaches.  The exercise is a failure since he has desire, but no money.  The second attempt also ends in frustration as the shy man (Temur Suluashvili) who is interested, also has no money.  The third attempt finds The Mandarin (Yoshihisa Arai), a man of intense power and sexual appeal, walking away with aloof interest.  He returns and their bodies engage with intensity.  The Thugs steal his money and decide to kill him.  They hang his body up, he is suspended by a rope but does not die, is released by The Young Woman, who embraces him as he expires.

The ballet was performed on the apron of Severance Hall.  Using the 12 feet of space in creative ways, the dance works well.  Yuri Possokhov’s choreography was creative, well performed and told the story well, though the handsome, athletic young Thugs visually were not as menacing looking and as intense as they could be.  Jaiani and Arai make an attractive and sensual team as the Young Lady and the Mandarin.

BLUEBEARD’S CASTLE, with both words and music by Bartók, was the composer’s only opera.   The story concerns a young woman (Katarina Dalayman) who “enters the world of a mysterious older man and gradually learns of his history of imprisoning and/or murdering women.”   His castle is filled with doors, seven of which are locked.  As she demands, and he agrees to open the portals, she finds wealth, jewelry, armaments, a garden, a lake, and finally, his biggest secret, the room of women.  As the psychological archetype is acted and sung out, three of the survivors (Amanda Assucena, April Daly, and Victoria Jaiani) emerge and dance with his newest conquered damsel. 

Staged with a series of sheer drapes representing the doors, which obscured the orchestra during most of the piece, the effects of electronic projections cast upon the drapery were compelling, as was the visual effect of each panel floating down from the very high proscenium arch.

Mikhail Petrenko (Duke Bluebeard) is a Russian bass who, while making his Cleveland Orchestra debut, has sung at many of Europe’s most prestigious opera houses.  Katarina Dalayman (Judith, the young woman), is a Swedish soprano  renowned for her dramatically intense stage performances.   Their soaring voices filled the performance hall with powerful musical sounds.

Capsule judgment: BARTÓK ON STAGE was a special evening of music and dance at Severance Hall.  Combining the eminent Cleveland Orchestra and the well-respected Joffrey Ballet, with a duo of world renowned singers led to a stirring aesthetic experience.  Bravo!
BARTÓK ON STAGE was presented on April 7, 8, 9 and 10, 2016 at Severance Hall s part of the 2015-16 Cleveland Orchestra season.

Upcoming concerts at Severance Hall include:  AT THE MOVIES:  BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (April 26 @ 7:30 p.m.) and STRAVINKSY’S THE FIREBIRD (May 5 @  7:30 p.m., May 6 @ 11 a.m. and 7 p.m., and May 7 @ 8 p.m.)

For tickets and information to future Cleveland Orchestra performances go to clevelandorchestra.com or call 26-231-1111.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

MR. WOLF, thought-provoking, dark, confounding @ Cleveland Play House

Over the last several years much attention has been drawn to the abduction of children and, in rare cases, their return.  A short time ago, the Cleveland area had the spotlight placed on it when three young ladies, Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, were freed after their many years of captivity in the Tremont home of Ariel Castro.  This event makes one of the basic tenets of MR. WOLF, now on stage at Cleveland Play House’s Outcalt Theatre, quite inciting to local audiences.

In MR. WOLF, Cleveland area native, Rajiv Joseph, one of the new breed of young emerging playwrights, has taken the theme of child abduction and looks at it from what happens to a child who was not abused during her years of capture, but treated as a special being.

Joseph, a Cleveland Heights High graduate, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for his BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHDAD ZOO, which starred Robin Williams on Broadway, and was staged by Ensemble Theatre several years ago.  A multi-award winner, he most recently was recognized with the Laurents/Hatcher Foundation $150,000 Award for his THE GUARDS AT THE TAJ. 

Joseph is noted for writing about faith, belief, survival and closely-held truths.  His MR. WOLF is no exception.

As the play starts, we are exposed to a tween, doing what appears to be designs of the universe on a blackboard.  She then walks a pattern on a braided rug on the floor of a large room, with a massive wall of books.  This is her “home.”

We soon find out that Theresa, the girl, lives with Mr. Wolf, an astrophysicist and a teacher at a local college.  He has taught Theresa, obviously a very gifted child, how to think in scientific terms of reasoning and thought.  She seems to be on the brink of understanding the concept of infinity, a term used to apply to whatever we don’t understand.

Mr. Wolf refers to her as a prophet and encourages her to always ask questions and seek fact answers.  Her mantra is that ideas and information must be, “specific to me.” 

He explains that she understands things no one else will understand, but now, “the world is coming!”  He gives her her first taste of chocolate, a new pair of tennis shoes and a coat.

Who is this man?  Is he her grandfather, a teacher, or maybe family friend who is tutoring this gifted child?  No, as we soon find out.  He abducted her at age three in his quest to find a child protégé who could fulfill his dream of creating a “prophet.”  The “world is now” coming in the form of the authorities to free her from his grasp.

In a series of scenes, we are exposed to her father, Michael, who has maniacally searched for Theresa, at the expense of his marriage.  Her wealthy mother, Hana, who appears to have run from facing the stress of the child’s disappearance by moving to a far-away city.  She did, however, offer a million dollar reward, which eventually led to the exposure of Mr. Wolf.  And, Julie, a woman whose young daughter was also abducted, who met Michael at a meeting of survivors of child abduction, and eventually married him. 

Much like a change in the heavens, the script examines the cosmic fallout from a major shift in the dynamics caused by Theresa’s return.  An explosion that not only affects the family, but Theresa, herself.

Questions abound.  Were Mr. Wolf’s influences on Theresa good or bad?  Will her coping mechanism of finding a world full of conundrums be more than she can psychologically handle.  Will she be able to return to the “normal” world without lingering effects of Mr. Wolf?  Will Julie and Michael continue to find solace in each other now that his journey to find his lost child is ended, but her emotional ravages continue?   Will Michael agree to reunite with Hana in order to preserve the family unit?  What will be the fallout of revelation that Theresa was not the only child Mr. Wolf abducted?

Though in some ways the script is captivating, some might question decisions Joseph made in the stories development.  Should the character of Mr. Wolf have been more fully fleshed out so we better understand what drove him to seek out the children?  Should the meeting and connection between Julie and Michael have been clearer?  What brought the shy Michael and the strong willed Hana together in the first place?   Is the opening scene so abstract that the audience may be overwhelmed and confused and turn off?

Even with those issues, the overall effect of the script is powerful.   The many questions it asks are all part of the strength, rather than a weakness of the story development.  That is, unless audience members like their theater to have a clear beginning, middle and end, all tied together for them, complete with a happy ending.

Giovanna Sardelli’s directing keeps the play moving along at an appropriate pace and the characters are as clearly developed as the script allows.

Timothy R. Mackabee’s set is a fascinating mélange of moving platforms, scenery that comes courtesy of the electronic traps in the theatre’s floor, a backdrop of stars and the universe, and an impressive wall of what appears to be hundreds of books.  It makes for smooth scene transitions.

The cast is outstanding.  Julie Brett, who has a long theatrical history that makes her fifteen year old looks, seem like an aberration.   She not only portrays Theresa fluently, but totally becomes Theresa.  This is an impressive and flawless performance.

Rebecca Brooksher gives us a Julie who is compassionate while deep in depression.  This is a character who could have faded into the background with a less competent performance.

Todd Cerveris gives life to Michael, a conflicted, communicatively challenged man who finds himself in grief, relief and then emotional conflict.

Jessica Dickey has little to work with as Hana, whose history is only sketchily laid out.  The lasting image is of a less than nice, self-absorbed woman, who puts her needs and wants above all else.

John de Lancie fascinates as the evil Mr. Wolf, whose life and motives are not made clear in the script, but is maniacal in his purpose for Theresa.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  MR. WOLF is a study of a girl, a man and a family in turmoil.  The dark drama leaves many unanswered questions that should tweak after-production discussions.  It is a play which will confound some, and exhilarate others (including me).  It is the kind of script that CPH should do more of in order to stretch the audience to be exposed to a wide range of theater.
MR. WOLF, which is part of “New Ground CPH” runs through April 24, 2016, in the Outcalt Theatre in Hanna complex of PlayhouseSquare.

Other offerings in the 2016 New Ground CPH, which runs from April 14-23 are:  THE GOOD PEACHES by Quiara Alegria Hudes, April 14-16, a collaboration with the Cleveland Orchestra;  FEED, Cleveland Heights’ playwright Eric Coble’s new play, in a reading on April 23 @ 2:30 in the Helen; and LITTLE ROW BOAT OR, CONJECTURE, Kristen Greenidge’s Roe Green Award Winner for New Play, in a reading on April 23 @ 5 PM in the Helen. For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to http://www.clevelandplayhouse.com.

Friday, April 08, 2016


As the curtain rises, it’s 1971, Carole King is on stage at Carnegie Hall.  She sings, “So Far Away,” one of her classic hits.  Thus starts BEAUTIFUL THE CAROL KING MUSICAL, now on stage at the Connor Palace as part of the Key Bank Broadway series

King is being portrayed by the very talented Abby Mueller.  Mueller.  Sound familiar?  Her sister, Jessie Mueller, won the Tony Award for her portrayal of Carol in the original Broadway production of the show.

BEAUTIFUL is a juke box musical in which a story is written, and previously released music is shoe-horned into the script.  Think MAMMA MIA!, JERSEY BOYS, AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, LOVE JANIS, and THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY.  No new music was written specifically for the show as the reason for selecting the person(s) or topic is that the songs have already been penned.

In contrast to many other juke box musicals, the songs for BEAUTIFUL seamlessly flow into Doug McGrath’s nicely honed story. The segues aren’t forced, the songs are logical choices for the tale being told.  They develop the story not only of King, but of rock and roll, itself.  

Not only are there King classics, and those co-written with her husband, Gerry Goffin,  such as “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “Take Good Care of My Baby,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” and “One Fine Day,” but there are reimagined performances by the likes of Neil Sedaka, The Drifters, and The Righteous Brothers, as well as tunes by Cynthia Weill, Barry Mann and Phil Spector.

The story tells the tale of Carole King, a 16-year old Brooklyn high school student, who goes into Manhattan to sell a song to music publisher Don Kirshner, the rock music producer, talent manager and songwriter, who was known as the “Man With the Golden Ear,” because of his ability to identify potential hit songs and match them with the appropriate talent.

Genie, her mother, is opposed to the idea.  Being a typical headstrong young lady and true to her Brooklyn heritage, Carole goes anyway.  She not only sells Kirshner “It Might As Well Rain Until September,’ but he asks for more.  Thus, her song writing career is launched.

While attending Queens College, she meets handsome lyricist Gerry Goffin  In spite of her inferior complex over her lack of beauty, the duo falls in love and start to collaborate not only as song writers, but as lovers.  When she gets pregnant, they get married. 

The duo meet fellow song writers, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann and develop a love/competition relationship. 

Eventually Goffin’s philandering ways destroys the marriage, King moves to California to write more hits, and becomes a performer with the success of her performance album “Tapestry,” which includes the poignant, “(You Make me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.”

The show ends on a high note.  When King comes back to New York to appear at Carnegie Hall, Goffin comes to her dressing room to apologize for all the ways he hurt her.  King comes onto the stage, sits at the piano, and sings “Beautiful.” 

Curtain!  Applause, applause, and more applause.

BEAUTIFUL premiered in San Francisco in 2013, and made its Broadway debut, with direction by Marc Bruni and choreography by Josh Prince in January, 2014, to rave reviews.  The touring production, with the same director and choreographer, started in September, 2015 with the projected run ending in San Francisco in August.

Talent obviously runs in the Mueller family.  Abby is as good as Jessie was in her recreation of Carole King.  She has a solid voice, sounds a lot like Carole King, complete with many of the physical mannerisms and vocal shadings.  She is a convincing actress and sings song meanings, not just words.

Canadian born, matinee star handsome, Liam Tobin, who has never been on a Broadway stage, has a strong stage history.  He has a big voice and hits the vocal and verbal notes well as the psychologically fragile Gerry Goffin.

Betsy Gulsvig, who will appear in the April 5-10 performances (she is triple cast), delights as Cynthia Weil.  She has a nice touch with comedy, and sings and acts with ease.  Playing opposite her is the scene stealing Ben Fankhauser, as the hypochondriacal song writer, Barry Mann.  Fankhauser has a wonderfully expressive face, and puppy dog eyes, which he uses to get laughs.  He has the verbal ability to clearly key his many funny lines.

Suzanne Grodner uses every Brooklyn mother’s stereotypical accent and attitude to milk laughs as Genie Klein, Carole’s mother. 

The rest of the cast is strong.  The singing and dancing are top notch.

The choreography is dynamic and creative.  “The Locomotion” had the audience rockin’ in their seats!

This is no cheap imitation of a Broadway show.  The scenic and costumes designs are high quality.  The orchestra sound is full.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  BEAUTIFUL THE CAROL KING MUSICAL is a solid script which gets a superior production that should delight local audiences.  Every element of the juke box show, the performances, the visual effects and the musical sounds are appropriately “beautiful!” 

Tickets for BEAUTIFUL, which runs through April 17 , 2016 at the Connor Palace Theatre, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or going to www.playhousesquare.org.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Well written SHINING CITY on stage @ Beck Center

SHINING CITY, Conor McPherson’s script now on stage at Beck Center, is a play about people who are in a search for “self.”  Each of the four characters has an unclear image of who they are, and are in a quest for clarity, love, and the need to emotionally and physically touch someone.

The play, which is performed without intermission, takes place in five scenes, each set about two months apart.  Each scene leaves a series of questions in the minds of the audience as to their intent and foreshadows later actions in the play.

The setting is an office in present day Dublin.  Ian (Adam Heffernan), who has left the priesthood, has established himself as a counselor.  His practice is housed in a sparsely furnished office.  His first client is John (Robert Hawkes), a middle-aged man who tells a tale of being haunted by the ghost of Mari, his dead wife, who was killed in an auto accident.  Afraid to be in his large house, with a ghost present, he has moved into a B&B.  Is the ghost real?  Is it a figment of John’s imagination?  Or is it a psychological manifestation striving to get out of the unconscious and into the man’s consciousness?     

Scene two reveals that Ian has an estranged fiancée, Neasa (Ursula Cataan), who is the mother of his child. Why has Ian left this women and the youngster?  Will Ian relent and come “home?”  Will Neasa’s confession of having a one-night stand seal the doom for this relationship?

Scene three finds John back for a repeat session.  He reveals that his marriage was not without conflict.  The couple had no children, felt isolated at social events when others spoke of their off-spring.  He tells of a failed attempt at an extra-marital affair and an unfulfilled visit to a prostitute.  Will John’s probing into his troubled marriage help him to gain an understanding of why his wife has “reappeared” as a ghost?  Will his recounting of his failed sexual liaisons clarify why he felt isolated in his marriage?  Will Ian help John to gain the clarity needed to move on with his life?

Scene four finds Ian bringing home Laurence (Nicholas Chokan), a male prostitute.  Ian admits that he has never sexual been with a man.  Why did Ian bring Laurence home? Does Ian bringing Laurence home explain his alienation from Neasa?  Will Ian and Laurence have sex, develop a relationship and move forward from there?

In the last scene, as Ian is packing up his office, John appears bearing a “thank you” gift.   John reveals that he is now dating a woman he likes, is no longer seeing his former wife’s ghost, is selling his large house and moving to an apartment, that he now realizes that the ghost was a manifestation of his need to punish himself for the intended affairs and his thoughts that he was responsible for his wife’s death.  Ian reveals that he, Neasa and the baby are being reunited.  As John leaves, Ian is left alone in the office, with the image of Mari lingering in his doorway. 

Why has Ian changed his mind about his relationship with Neasa?  What is the significance of Mari’s ghost?  What is the moral, lesson, and/or concept that McPherson is trying to share with the audience?

The reviews of SHINING CITY, both in its 2004 London production and its 2006 Broadway premiere, were generally exemplary.   In New York, the play received two Tony nominations, including being selected for consideration as Best Play. 

A critical comment about the script included that it was a “ haunting and glorious new play.”  Others called it “a marvel and delight” and “absorbing and witty,” and noted that “McPherson fuses extra-ordinary skill at shaping language with an aching awareness of difficulties of communicating.”

The comments about the productions, themselves, referred to the “flawless timing,” the “effective pace,” “the wit,” and that “time flies while the actors rivet your attention as this gripping story unfolds.”

The Beck production, under the direction of Bernadette Clemens, has some excellent performances, but lacks some of the “flawless timing” “effective pacing”  and “wit” that the reviewers of the other productions commented upon. 

Hawkes gives a splendid, textured realism to the conflicted John.  His guilt over the failed marriage, and his role in that failure, were crystal clear.  Verbally stumbling, gulping water, pacing with tension…Hawkes clearly creates a man in torment.  His relaxed mannerisms in the last scene showed the effect of his coming to terms with his issues and the character’s ability to move on.

Cataan was properly wrought as the confused Neasa.  Sometimes speaking at a lightning rate, she blurted out her tale of frustration, clearly conveying her confusion.  Her emotional cracking, while revealing her affair, is riveting.

Some of the stage movement, actor placement and lack of interactive tension was frustrating as was evidenced by the audience’s on and off attention and the polite applause at the curtain call.

One of the factors that all of us who are mental health professionals are taught, is that for effective counseling to take place there must be a connectedness between client and patient.  Though the world of the stage takes some liberties because of “theatrical” needs, Ian’s sitting behind the desk during most of his first session with John created an emotional void.  The same occurred in the third scene when Ian sat across the room in a chair with a vast chasm between the two.  Even theatrically this was problematic.  The placement of the chair cheated the audience seated stage left, from having a vision of Ian’s face and made seeing John almost impossible.  The staging techniques could well have accounted for the lack of a feeling of a link between Ian and John.

At the end of the fourth scene, there was no connection between Ian and Laurence.  Why had Ian brought Laurence home?  Was he interested in probing his possible latent homosexuality?  If so, there should have been some sexual tension developed between the two.  If Ian discovered that he had made a mistake there needed to be some act of rejection.  As is, the scene didn’t help clarify Ian’s actions in the last act.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  SHINING CITY is a well-written script which tells a compelling set of stories.  Past productions of the play were praised for their emotional development and wit.  Though the Beck production had some excellent performances, the pace, staging and some shallow character connections, left some of the over-all effect missing.  Hopefully, as the show runs, the performers will add some of the missing or muted elements.

SHINING CITY is scheduled to run through May 1, 2016 at Beck Center for the Arts.  For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go on line to http://www.beckcenter.org

Next at Beck:  HEATHERS:  THE MUSICAL in its regional premiere.  It’s a heartfelt, homicidal, tune-filled reliving of the 1989 film of the same name.  (May 27-July 2, 2016)

Saturday, March 26, 2016

BOOTY CANDY pushes the envelope at convergence continuum

Both Cleveland Public Theatre (CPT) and convergence-continuum (con-con) are noted for producing “on the edge” theatre.  Ironically, both are now featuring plays that examine the human experience from the viewpoint of sexual orientation and race/ethnicity.

Yuval Boim’s SEXCURITY, in a short run at CPT, is a devised piece which delves into the angst of being gay and Jewish.  It probes into the deep need to define ourselves and the challenges of finding a safe corner of the world.  Boim, the author and Darren Katz, the director, contend that the play is not autobiographical, per se, but has bits of each of them, which have been extrapolated into a theatrical vision.

Now on stage at convergence-continuum, Robert O’Hara’s BOOTY CANDY is a series of interconnected sketches which portray growing up gay and black.  The piece, which is both dramatic and funny, is a biographical work that illuminates O’Hara’s personal pain and pleasure.

O’Hara is blunt in his language and story telling.  His kaleidoscope covers such topics as foreskin, mother-child relationships, a cross-dressing preacher, genitalia, gay sex, racial issues, playwriting techniques, teenage sexual identity, lesbianism, a noncommitment ceremony (the opposite of the gay marriage ceremony), rape, death, suicide, aging, and sexual perversion.  There is full male nudity, the mocking of religion, and lots of four letter words. 

It’s the author’s coming to terms with his sexuality and the damage that the American culture’s attitudes towards sexual orientation and race has had on his psyche.

Many of the scenes are filled with fun.  Others are empathic and soul searching.

Among the standout segments are the opening in which Sutter (the name the author has tagged on the character who represents him), creatively portrayed by Wesley Allen, asks his mother questions about his childlike awareness of sex and his “booty candy” (uncut penis). 

“Dreamin’ in Church,” is a hysterically funny segment in which Michael May, portraying a hyper-evangelical black minister, comments on the number of gay men in the church’s chorus, while scolding the church members for their “salacious spreading of rumors.”  Following his rant, he rips off his churchly robes to reveal a pink dress, red high heeled shows, puts on a female wig, and comes out to the parishioners.

A funny but revealing scene takes place when India Nicole Burton and Rochelle Jones portray four different black women having multiple phone conversations as they discuss the name, Genitalia, which one of them is about to give to her soon-to-be born daughter.

Another segment places the spotlight on Genitalia, now all grown up, as a lesbian who is in the process of dissolving her marriage from her girlfriend, Intifada, in what the author has named, a “noncommitment” ceremony.

“Last Gay Play,” is a troubling segment in which a drunk, psychologically fragile straight man who has just been abandoned by his on-line female date, approaches Sutter and his black friend.  He propositions them. (The scene would have been aided if Nate Miller, who plays the white man, was more drunk and out-of-control.) The trio go back to the man’s hotel room.  The now naked Miller, his gym-ripped body shaking and quivering, is properly pathetic as he pleads to be touched and sexually attacked, both physically and with a “large black dildo.”  The ending of the scene is the strongest serious segment of the play.

Under the direction of Terrence Spivey, the cast, India Nicole Burton, Wesley Allen, Rochelle Jones, Michael May and Nate Miller, are excellent as they flow from one part to another.

Capsule Judgement:  BOOTY CANDY, as is true with most con-con plays, will please many (including me), and offend others. It is funny, revealing and generally well-staged. As publicity for the show states, “PLEASE BE ADVISED:  This play is called BOOTY CANDY, so they’ll be talking about booty, and show some booty.  That means strong language, mature themes, and full nudity.  You’ve been warned!”

BOOTY CANDY runs through April 16, 2016, 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 http://www.convergence-continuum.org

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Groundworks Dance Theater stresses imagination you can see @ Breen Center; IT TAKES TWO--annual fundraising

The reconfigured Groundworks Dance Theater, with two new dancers this season, again proved that they are one of the area’s premiere dance companies in their presentation of “Falling Awake,” in its world premiere, and Artistic Director David Shimotakahara’s spellbinding, “Ghost Opera.” 

“Falling Awake” found the entire company interpreting choreographer Loni Landon’s creation about tension, connection/disconnection and how people relate to each other.

The piece, Landon said, was inspired “from a recurring image [she] had after several chaotic dreams following Hurricane Sandy.”  Her hope for the piece, “to have it feel like a continuous stream of consciousness—a dream—a movie,” was achieved.

Danced to select music from the soundtrack of “The Great Beauty,” it incorporated redundant segments of action and feelings which would not go away.  The fragmented scenes, eerie electronic and piano music, and  effective lighting by Dennis Dugan, combined to create the desired image of a fracture dream.

The slight but powerful newcomer, Michael Marquez, continued to impress with his strong movements, controlled precision and fluidity.   Attractive Lauren Garson, the other company neophyte, fit seamlessly into the strong female corps  of Felise Bagley and Annika Sheaff displaying strong dance moves and a complete performance vocabulary.

“Ghost Opera” is a brilliant dance and theatrical experience.   Combining live music and ancient theatrical methods, it left an indelible impression.

The piece, Shimotakahara’s re-imagining of Tan Dun’s master work, brings spirits from the past present and future, from east and west culture, from nature and technology, together into an emotionally satisfying presentation.

First danced at the Cleveland Institute of Music on June 28, 2014, this is a piece that should be a permanent fixture in the Groundworks lexicon of works.

The multi-textured piece found the musicians (Solomon Liang, Andra Belding, Aaron Mossburg, Erica Snowden and Yihan Chen) moving from place to place on stage, interweaving with the dancers, filmy curtains and spectacular lighting effects by Dennis Dugan.   Using water in bowls, paper, Asian instruments such as the Pipa, and traditional Western musical instruments, they set a perfect mood for the performers’ use of Oriental hand, arm, leg and body movements.

A highlight segment of the dancing was an extended duet by the ever proficient Felise Bagley and Michael Marquez.   A wonderful segment centering on the manipulation of a large box was filled with humor and skill.

Capsule Judgement: An appreciative audience expressed their pleasure as the  final curtain fell on Groundworks Spring Concert at Breen Auditorium.  The company continues to smoothly integrate new dancers into their membership without losing any of their precision and living up to their motto of “Imagination You Can See.” 

Performance dates were:  March 18 and 19, 2016 at Breen Center for the Performing Arts

IT TAKES TWO…annual fundraiser
Seven local celebrities will be featured in fantastic and fun duets with seven GroundWorks artists. 2016 Celebrity Dancers
¥    Margaret Richards Frankel, Dentist, Richards Frankel Dentistry
¥    Ian Friedman, Attorney, Friedman & Nemacek, LLC
¥    Brian Marita, Managing Partner, Ciuni and Panichi
¥    Heidi Gartland, Vice President, Government & Community Relations, University Hospitals
¥    Kristen Morris, Chief Government and Community Relations Officer, Cleveland Clinic
¥    August A. Napoli Jr., Deputy Director and Chief Advancement Officer, Cleveland Museum of Art
¥    Sylvia Pérez, VP for Corporate Governance and Governmental & International Affairs, The Cleveland Foundation
Matt Zone, Cleveland City Councilman

¥    When: Saturday, April 2nd, 2016
¥    Where: The Cleveland Museum of Art
¥    Parking: Free indoor parking provided
¥    Suggested Attire: Casual, Cool, Cocktail

For information about GroundWorks go to http://www.groundworksdance.orgor call 216-751-0088

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Devised SeXcurity probes for sense-of-self and identity at CPT

Roy Berko

Member: Cleveland Critics Circle and American Theatre Critics Association

Native Clevelander Darren Katz and Israeli born, Yuval Boim, have many things in common.  The duo are gay, Jewish, have an intense interest in probing into the psyche of self-identity, security of identification, and victimhood.  As revealed in a face-to-face interview, they both seem to thrive on probing psychological barriers and delving into the layers of personal development as an artist.

That delving is at the very core of their SeXcurity.  The devised theater-piece is the kind of work that Raymond Bobgan, the Artistic Director of Cleveland Public Theatre, champions.

SeXcurity is billed as a darkly funny performance about the deep need to define ourselves and the challenges of finding a safe corner of the world – and our minds – in which to do so. It concerns an Israeli-American Jewish gay screenwriter whom, when confronted with a crisis, has to discover who he really is.

The character sees himself as a victim.  He has a boyfriend who is German.  His life and sexual actions connect with trauma, and have life and death ties.  He struggles to let go of his perceived victimhood and history, which, in reality, have nothing to do with his contemporary self.

Though Katz and Boim contend that the play is not autobiographical, per se, but thematically has bits of each of them. As they stated, “it is based in autobiography and then extrapolated."

Katz was brought up in Shaker Heights and graduated from University School in 1992.  He was a student of the late Michael LiBassi in the Heights Youth Theatre, worked with Victoria Bussert at Cain Park, and was influenced by Carol Pribble, his drama teacher at US.  He went on to earn a BA in Urban Studies and Architecture from Columbia University.  He now lives in New York with his husband and their child.

Like architecture, his philosophy of theatre directing centers on “working with the playwright to find the best form to tell their story in a three-dimensional way.”  He believes that “form follows function and that theater is a physical art.”  He contends that “theater should not be derivative, but should stress the invention of story.”

His NY credits include being the Resident Director of The Lion King, which entails rehearsing the understudies and crafting the performances of new cast members who are entering into the production.  He has directed such shows as the 2nd national tour of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. (For more professional information on Darren go to: http://www.darrenkatzdirector.com/)

He returns to Cleveland regularly as his family still resides here.  He nostalgically related that when he was young he used to take the rapid downtown to his father’s law office.  He remembers well the beauty of the marbled walls which used to be in the lower levels of the Terminal Tower.

Yuval Boim is a “Sabra.” He was born in Holon, a city on the coastal strip just south of Tel Aviv to a first generation Sabra father and a Romanian mother.  His family moved to Johannesburg, South Africa when he was young, back to Israel when he was three, and moved to Houston, Texas when he was thirteen.

He is a graduate of the conservatory at the Boston University College of Fine Arts.  Following college he moved to New York to pursue a career in theater.  He also spent two years in London studying Lecoq at the London International School of Performing Arts, which “emphasizes methods of physical theater, movement and mime.”  The performance language of the school emphasizes the physical playing of the actor, which is Yuval's first approach to playwriting.

Boim’s conception and performance in SeXcurity harks back to his Lecoq training.

Boim has appeared in numerous television shows and movies including “That Awkward Moment” with Zac Efron and Miles Teller. (For more information on Boim, go to: http://yuvalboim.com/)

Natalie Gershtein, an independent New York based producer, is the producer of SeXcurity.  In her role as producer, her aim is to “support artists and connect the show to the right audience.”  She has become passionate about the work of Katz and Boim and hopes that through this workshop, they can pair the show with the right future audiences and venues. 

As they go forward Katz, Boim and Gershtein hope that they can cultivate mindfulness around the subject of identity, bringing this theme from the unconscious to the conscious.

SeXcurity (a workshop production),which is part of the OUT OF THE BOX series, will be performed March 24-26 at 7 PM.  For tickets call 216-631-2727 or go to www.cptonline.org

Saturday, March 19, 2016

A KID LIKE JAKE probes the effects of heredity & environment at none too fragile

In their catalog, Dramatists Play Service, which owns the production rights to Daniel Pearle’s A KID LIKE JAKE, states, “On the eve of the admissions cycle for Manhattan’s most exclusive private schools, Alex and Greg have high hopes for their son Jake, a precocious four-year old who happens to prefer Cinderella to G. I. Joe.  But as the process continues, Jake’s behavior becomes erratic and perplexing, and other adults in his life start to wonder whether his fondness for dress-up might be cause for concern.”

Yes, that’s a surface level description of Pearle’s explosive and thought-provoking play.   What the catalog description misses is the need to look beyond the story line and get into the psychological and sociological issues raised.

A major topic in theories in the social sciences centers on roles of nature and nurture.  Is a person destined to be and do what their genes dictate?  Can predispositions be influenced by a person’s environment?  Is a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, possible addictions (e.g., alcoholism, eating dysphoria, drug dependency) set by heredity or influenced by cultural inputs?

There is a ritual of competition that seems to arise from living in a place where it is difficult to gain recognition.  There is a mass of people competing for the same thing, whether it is for school placement or finding a parking spot.

Manhattan residents tend to be anxiety driven, failing to take a deep breath and relax.  They walk fast, talk fast, set extremely high goals, go to extremes. 

From the time an upper middle to upper class New York child is born, they are on a tread mill to get into the “best” pre-school, elementary school, high school and college, to rise to the top, be a winner, no matter the cost.

In A KID LIKE JAKE, Alex, Jake’s mother, is the product of not only wealth but an exacting mother.  She is obsessive compulsive.  Everything has to be right. Things must be preplanned and structured.  She obsesses over the selection of every single word in Jake’s school entrance essays.  Jake is prepped for ERB entrance tests, his every action is scrutinized. Alex constantly checks in at his pre-school regarding the boy’s actions.  His Halloween costumes and birthday parties must be “right.” 

Each night she reads him fairy tales, with an emphasis on Cinderella, just as Alex was.  He is surrounded by stereotypical “girl” stuff.  He has no “boy” toys and listens to no “boy’ stories. 

Is there any question of why Jake identifies with girls and girl things?

Wonder if his identity patterns would have been different if she had read him “boy” stories and exposed him to “boy” toys? 

Greg, his father, a non-athlete, doesn’t toss around a ball with his son in the park, they don’t share any rough-housing.   Environmentalists might conjure if this is also part of the reason for Jake’s actions and identity. 

Greg  is a psychologist who deals with adults and their issues.  He is in emotional control and approaches the world logically, but not in a non-flexible way.  A product of the public schools and a modest financial background, he seems less driven than his wife to find the “perfect” school.  He sneaks Jake out to McDonald’s, much against his wife’s wishes.

Is Jake reflecting his environmental influences when he states he wants to be a girl or does he have a pre-disposition toward awareness that he was born into the wrong gender body?

In an interview the author indicates that he went through a ‘Cinderella phase.”  He states, “My mom read me a lot of fairy tales when I was little.”  “Snow White was the first movie he saw.”

Pearle’s script encourages much discussion and thought regarding Jake.  The author might consider doing a follow-up, centering around Jake in early adulthood with not only a spotlight on his gender “decisions,” but the relationship of his parents, who we leave with Alex hinting at divorce and Greg saying, “Good luck on finding someone who will put up with you.”

Rachel Lee Kolis must be close to collapse at the end of each production.  With repeated physical gestures, facial expressions and vocal hysterics she creates an Alex who is on the very edge of psychological collapse because of her obsessive tendencies.  She is like a rubber band, about to snap.

 Geoff Knox develops a Greg who has learned well the mental health professional’s ability to control his emotions in the face of stress and chaos.  His speech where he confronts Alex’s potential divorce scenario was powerful.

Katie Wells is effective in her roles as a nurse and a grown-up Jake in a dream sequence.

The play’s pacing was hampered by time consuming and emotional stopping excessive movements of set pieces and costume changes.

Capsule judgement:  A KID LIKE JAKE is a well-developed, thought-provoking script, centering on the contemporary topics of gender identity, parental relationships, and the controversy of nature versus nurture.  The acting is excellent.  It is the type of production that incites discussion and will be appealing to a thinking audience.

For tickets to A KID LIKE JAKE which runs through March 26, 2016 at none too fragile theater in Akron, call 330-671-4563 or go to nonetoofragile.com

The next none too fragile production is Martin McDonagh’s THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE from April 22-May 7, 2016.