Sunday, August 17, 2014

It’s a choppy RIDE with some interesting people @ none too fragile and avoid using the valet parking

Eric Lane is a prolific and prize winning playwright.  His plays include “Times of War,” “Filming O’Keefe,” “Floating,” and “Dancing on Checkers’ Grave.”  Never heard of them?  You are not alone.  In spite of his recognition for writing some episodes for TV’s “Ryan’s Hope,” his scripts are not on the list of the most published plays.

His “Ride,” which is now in production at Akron’s none too fragile theatre, is more of a performance device for three strong actresses, than a story that will grab and hold your attention.  In fact, the vignette writing format, in which there are more than ten scenes bridged together with music, often makes for a choppy sit.  An uneven ride, in this case.

The story concerns a young girl (Sam), her older sister (Carrie), and the sister’s fellow worker at a summer fruit stand (Molly). 

Sam, who is both brilliant and impulsive, and Carrie, are the children of a loving father, who died early, and a mother who is having trouble coping with her husband’s loss.  She works long hours.  She has daughters who are angst filled.  Sam has a fear of death and investigates all possible causes of demise…faulty tire brands, poorly working airbags, and non-healthy foods.  Carrie, who wants to go to college, is working at a summer fruit stand in order to make money to allow her to supplement her university scholarship.  She is concerned about how impetuous Sam will be able to survive with little parental supervision when Carrie goes off to college.

Molly, the daughter of a wealthy and abusive father, who makes up for his physical abusiveness by buying his daughter “things,” such as a new expensive car, to amend for his actions, is mad at her mother for putting up with the abuse, and with her father, not only for his aggressiveness, but also for his infidelities.  Full of revenge, she wants to “destroy” her father’s mistress, who resides in Florida.

The fragile friendship bond between Carrie and Molly manifests into a ride to the Sunshine State, as planned by Molly, for which, for some unrevealed reason Carrie agrees to participate in, while dragging along Sam. 

As their ride to Florida progresses, the emotional sense of each girl somewhat emerges. 

More than a plot driven play in which depth of problems and story intricacies emerge, Lane has written character studies, which are acting exercises.   Fortunately, none so fragile has cast three superlative actresses.

Young Ireland Derry creates Sam into such a realistic person that not a bit of role playing is present.  She doesn’t act Sam, she is Sam.  Every line, every gesture, every intonation are Sam!   Wow!

Alanna Romansky has a complex acting issue with portraying Carrie.  She both must be “in the moment,” being a sister to Sam and being conflicted with issues regarding her widowed mother, and the death of her father, but also must be a narrator to the audience, developing what may be the major issue of the play.  She shares with the audience her observations about Anne Frank, who was the topic of a high-school composition.  She wonders “if everyone isn’t living in hiding in their own secret annex.”   She pulls off both levels of performance with believability.

Rachel Roberts creates in Molly a definite presence of a lack of mooring.  Blessed with an abusive father, and a enabling mother, Molly needs to be both angst-driven and impulsive.  Roberts creates a Molly who is both.

The play’s structure, many short vignettes, makes for a choppy ride.  This is not helped by director Sean Derry’s adding long musical bridges between each of the scenes, and then adding a long intermission between acts, thus chopping up the conceptual flow.  In spite of the fact that the music was well selected to introduce each scene, the production would have been much more compact and enfolding if there was less or shorter musical interludes and the play had been done as a long one-act, with no intermission.  Since realistic scenery is not a necessity, the many set pieces could have been eliminated, thus eliminating the intermission which served mainly as a time to change the set.

Capsule judgement: Eric Lane’s RIDE is more a character study than a well-structured play.  It is both the strength and weakness of the script.  Regardless of the message, or lack of message, or quality, or lack of quality of the script, it is worth going to see the production, to be exposed to the talented cast, especially to seventh grader Ireland Derry.  You will be one of the first to experience “a star being born,” in this, her theatrical debut! 

 
“Ride” runs through August 30, 2014 at none too fragile theater which is located in Bricco’s Restaurant, 1841 Merriman Road, Akron. 

Warning:  There is free valet parking offered.  I’d advise against using it.  When I went out to get my car after the production, the valet had gone home.  When I found my car, the motor was running, the doors unlocked!  The car could have easily been stolen.  Bricco’s manager attempted to “get off the hook,” by saying that the parking is not done by the restaurant employees, but by an outside company.  Sorry, it’s on Bricco’s property. Bricco’s supplies the service!  They are responsible!   After numerous complaints, I avoid the restaurant because of continued poor service.  Now I also have to avoid the valet parking.  Not good!

For tickets call 330-671-4563 or go to http://www.nonetoofragile.com

The theatre’s next production is Cormac McCarthy’s “Sunset Limited,” a play in which Black and White, debate the meaning of human suffering, the existence of God, and the propriety of suicide.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Cleveland Orchestra: August 10...a lovely night at Blossom

Sunday, August 10, 2014 was a lovely night at Blossom.  The temperature was pleasant, the lawn was filled with brightly colored blankets, a few candelabras, kids ran and rolled down the gentle hills.  The pavilion was nicely filled.  On stage was the Cleveland Orchestra, playing the beautiful sounds of Stravinsky, Haydn and Felix Mendelssohn.

Conductor Jerry Kahane quickly established a connective rapport with the orchestra with his quiet, but demonstrative conducting style.  Reaching out with a flat hand, palm down, he often grabbed the air and pulled in the sound of a specific instrument or section of the ensemble.  At other times his hands floated like free floating clouds to create a soothing flow of music.  His animated body often bounced with the music, keeping time to the rhythm.

Igor Stravinsky’s “Suite from Pulcinella” was ballet-like in its lilting melodies.  Traditional in its format, it contained some modernistic sounds.  Written for a smaller orchestra, the arrangement omitted clarinet and tuba, creating a light sound. The nine movement piece, as advertised, was “elegant and courtly,” with inserts of jolly interludes.

“Violin Concerto #1 in C major, was as close to perfection as could be expected of the F. Joseph Haydn composition.  Clad in a bright blue and black geometric patterned shirt, Peter Otto, the orchestra’s First Associate Concertmaster, like the orchestra, played his 1769 crafted G. B. Gaudagnini violin with crispness and precision.  In the high spirited composition, the orchestra often introduced a theme, which was then elaborated upon by the soloist.

Mendelssohn’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” is based on the composer’s long acquaintance with Shakespeare’s comedy, which young Felix supposedly read as a boy. Originally written when he was seventeen, he expanded the overture into a full set of music half a lifetime later by writing twelve short pieces based largely on themes from the earlier overture.  Containing sounds from a lullaby to a wedding march, the popular piece is both delightful and pleasant.

Mendelssohn’s “Symphony #4 in A major, Opus 90, was written while the composer was on a trip to Italy.  He called the composition, “the jolliest piece I have so far written.”  And, jolly it is.  From the extroverted opening movement, the composition delights.  Both the conductor and orchestra seemed to relish creating the encompassing sounds, especially the fourth movement, which echoed of Italian folk music.

Upcoming experiences at Blossom include Yo-Yo Ma (August 16) performing Edward Elgar’s “Cello Concerto.”  On August 23, the chorus, orchestra and soloists  perform Carol Orff’s “Carmina Burana,” and on August 30, Labor Day weekend welcomes kids to share the magical experience of Blossom and the orchestra with tunes such as “The Little Mermaid” and “The Wizard of Oz.”  Add to that family-friendly activities and a post-concert fireworks show.

For information and tickets to orchestra offerings go on-line to clevelandorchestra.com.


(Musical comments by Alexander L. Berko, Cleveland Institute of Music preparatory graduate, winner of the Baldassarre Competition, and composing  student at the Jacobs School of Music/Indiana University.)



Sunday, August 10, 2014

"Amazons and Their Men" script better than convergence-continuum staging

In 1932, Leni Riefenstahl attended a rally where Adolf Hitler spoke.  She was so mesmerized by his public speaking ability that she reported that she had an apocalyptic vision that included a stream of water touching the sky and shaking the earth.

She became a National Socialist, commenting about Hitler, “I felt very happy that such a man had come.”  She requested and had a meeting with Hitler, was hired to direct the movie, “Victory of Faith,” a propaganda film about a Nazi Party rally at Nuremberg in 1933.  This was the first of many films she would direct, funded by the Nazi Party, including “Triumph of the Will,” which was recognized as an epic, innovative work of propaganda filmmaking.

Riefenstahl was invited to film the Olympic Games in Berlin.  Her film, “Olympia” included technical and aesthetic achievements never before seen in sports filming, including slow motion shots and using multi-cameras to shoot a single scene.

“Amazons and Their Men,” a play by Jordan Harrison, which is in production at convergence-continuum, relates the tale of The Frau (as Riefenstahl was called), trying to make a film about Penthesilea, an Amazon queen who falls in love with Achilles during the Trojan War.

The Frau used to direct beautiful films for a fascist government. Now she's trying to make a film that's simply beautiful. She casts herself in the lead role of the Amazon queen, Penthesilea.  To portray Achilles, she recruits a male (The Man)  from the Jewish ghetto. Her own sister (The Extra), plays all the nameless Amazons killed in the background.  The Extra also moves scenery and props.  She casts a beautiful young telegraph youth (The Boy) to play a young Trojan.  Complications set in when The Man and the Boy fall in love.

The movie hits a further snag when the Minister of Propaganda, who has been footing the bills for the filming, pulls his support and financial backing due to the eminent start of the Second World War.
Jordan Harrison, the playwright, has written a number of plays, but is probably best known for his writing of the Netflix hailed series, “Orange is the New Black.”

 “Amazons and Their Men, has been called “a brash play,” “a dramatic masterstroke,” a play “filled with dazzling wordplay.”  It is, in fact, a well written, creative, often funny script.  In a good production it would not only grab and hold the audience’s attention, but educate about an era of film and history, little known to many.

Unfortunately, con-con’s staging is not an effective production.  Actors stumble over lines; characterizations are not well developed; the contrast between the stylized acting needed for the scenes of the film, and the realism for actors in real life, is not well developed; the scenic design and special effects don’t always work; accents are inserted at odd places; the costumes fail to complete the images they are intended to create. 

Jack Matuszewski as The Boy, portrays his role as it should be.  His acting in the “film” is stylized, contrasting with his realistic “real” speeches.  He also physically fits the role.

Clint Elston (The Man) is generally unbelievable in his scenes.  He failed to texture the character and did not separate his “film” acting from his “real” self. 

I saw the staging on opening night, and maybe that was why usually rock-solid Lauri Hammer seemed to be having line problems as the Frau.  Hopefully, as the run goes on, this problem abates.  The stumbling made it impossible to evaluate how she will develop the role.  As presented, she did not grab and hold the characterization.

Jaclyn Cifranic did a nice job of playing multiple roles as The Extra.  Her film scenes tended to have the right stylized acting, which separated those characters from those in which she portrayed The Frau’s sister.

Capsule Judgement: Jordan Harrison’s “Amazons and their Men” is a well written play that tells a fascinating and revealing story of filmmaking and Nazi Germany.  Unfortunately, the convergence-continuum production does not live up to the potential of the script.
“Amazons and their Men,” runs through August 30, 2014 at 8 pm 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.

Con-con’s next show is “The Pillowman,” a dark dramatic comedy of a writer who is accused of violence against children.  It the runs September 26 through October 18 .

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Fall 2014 Fall Theatre Calendar


The Greater Cleveland area has a vital theater scene.  Though they are usually exciting, there is more to experience on stage than the Broadway series.  Listed are some of the offerings that will be staged from September through the end of December, 2014.  SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL THEATRES along with the big Broadway hits!

BECK CENTER 
216-521-2540 or http://www.beckcenter.org

FOREVER PLAID (September 12-October 12)—Musical revue centers on four singers killed in a car crash on the way to their first big concert, but are revived to sing once again!

BABES IN ARMS—IN CONCERT (September 18)—Kent State University’s Musical Theatre students sing the score from Rogers and Hart’s “lets put on a show” musical.  Also at KSU’s Stump Theater on September 21.

[title of show] (October 10-November 16)—A musical comedy about two guys writing a musical comedy about two guys writing a musical comedy!  (For mature audiences)

MARY POPPINS (December 5-January 4, 2015)—The supercalifragilisticexpialidocious musical in its local premiere.

BLANK CANVAS 

440-941-0458 or www.blankcanvastheatre.com

HAIR (August 29-September 13)—The American Tribal love-rock musical which examines the tumultuous 1960s search for truth, peace and love, featuring such hit songs as “Good Morning, Starshine,” and “Aquarius.”

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (October 17-November 1)—eight people spend a terrifying night where the dead rise to feast on human flesh, complete with a now-famous Blank Canvas splatterzone!

2014 BENEFIT (November 7 & 8)—A concert version of a musical whose name is yet to be announced…raffle, music, food and ?????????

HIGH FIDELITY, A MUSICAL (December 5-20)—A sexy rock musical that examines the intricacies of life and music which is not just told with music, but entirely is about music.

CLEVELAND PLAY HOUSE
 216-241-6000 or go to www.clevelandplayhouse.com

THE LITTLE FOXES (September 12-October 5)--Lillian Hellman’s drama of ambition and greed warns us to keep our friends close and our relatives closer.

HOW WE GOT ON (October 24-November 16)—A lyrical journey of dreaming big and discovering your voice.

CLEVELAND PUBLIC THEATRE
 216-631-2727 or go on line to www.cptonline.org

SHE’S WEARING WHITE (October 9-25)—An interactive performance art installation that investigates purity, ideal femininity, and sexual role playing on a virgin bride’s wedding night.

SPIRITS TO ENFORCE (October 9-25)—Twelve superheroes take up residence in a secret submarine to hold a fundraising drive for their upcoming production of “The Tempest.”

TEATRO PUBLICO DE CLEVELAND (October 16-19)—A new original performance based on the stories, dreams and musings of Cleveland’s Hispanic community (title TBA).

THE NEIGHBOR’S GRIEF IS GREENER (October 23-25)—In partnership with the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, CPT presents The Visual Theatre of Emmanuelle Amichai’s production, a macabre visual performance that takes place in an archetypal suburban kitchen.

CLAIRMONDE (October 31-November 1)—A world premiere opera which combines fiction, fantasy and magical realism in a classic tale of the supernatural as performed by Opera Per Tutti.

AMERICAN FALLS (December 4-December 20)—A drama about eight people in a small town—six are living and two are dead.

CONNI’S AVANTE GARDE RESTAURANT (December 4-20)—A musical performance of cabaret, comedy, dancing and game-show competitions within a five course meal.

convergence continuum
convergence-continiuum.org or 216-687-0074

THE PILLOWMAN (September 26-October 18)—In the totalitarian state of Katurian, a writer of short stories, which depict violence against children, has been arrested by detectives because some of his stories resemble recent child murders.

TERMINUS (November 21-December 20)—Singing serial killers, avenging angels and love sick demons are part of the goings on when three people are ripped from their daily lives and catapulted into a fantasy world.

DOBAMA 
216-932-3396 or dobama.org

BELLEVILLE (September 5-October 5)—A Hitchcock-inspired suspense play by Pulitzer Prize winner Amy Herzog.

THE NORWEGIANS (October 24-November 16)—A profane dark comedy about some really nice Norwegian hit men, and the women who hire them to whack their ex-boyfriends.

A CIVIL WAR CHRISTMAS:  AN AMERICAN MUSICAL CELEBRATION (December 5-January 5, 2015)—A musical that weaves together characters, story lines and pieces of music about hope, joy, and the beauty of human spirit.

ENSEMBLE THEATRE 
216-321-2930 or http://www.ensemble-theatre.com

ANNA CHRISTIE (September 26-October 19)—Eugene O’Neill’s love story which is played out against the tempestuous sea.

THE GREAT GATSBY (November 14-December 14)---A self-made millionaire passionately pursues an elusive woman in Simon Levy’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s  Jazz Age classic.

GREAT LAKES THEATRE
 http://www.greatlakestheater.org or 216-241-6000

THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR (September 26-November 2)—William Shakespeare’s raucous domestic comedy re-imagined by director Tracy Young.

LES MISÉRABLES (October 3-November 9)—Based on a Victor Hugo novel, the musical of the French Revolution which features Fantine, Cosette, Jean Valijean, and Javert and “One Day More.”

A CHRISTMAS CAROL (November 29-December 23)—For the 26th year, the Charles Dickens story, as adapted by former GLT’s Artistic Director Gerald Freedman, with new costumes, sets and upgraded lighting and special effects.




LAKELAND COMMUNITY THEATRE
440-525-7134 or http://lakelandcc.edu/academic/arts/theatre/index.asp --AUGUST:  OSAGE COUNTY (September 19-October 5)—The Weston family are all intelligent, sensitive crates who have the uncanny ability of making each other miserable.

MAMAI THEATRE
  http://www.mamaitheatreco.org
WOMAN AND SCARECROW (OCTOBER 30 - NOVEMBER 16)—On her deathbed a woman with eight children and a cheating husband surveys her life and imagines what could have been.

none-too-fragile 
www.nonetoofragile.com or 330-671-4563

THE SUNSET LIMITED (September 12-27)—Two nameless characters, identified by their skin colors, debate the meaning of human suffering.

IN  A FOREST, DARK AND DEEP (October 10-25)—Neil LaBute’s tale of a sister and brother, who have little in common, explores the dark territory of “the lies you tell yourself to get by.” 

TOP DOG UNDER DOG (November 14-November 29)—Chronicles the lives of two African American brothers, Lincoln and Booth, as they cope with women, work, poverty, gambling, racism, and their troubled upbringings.

EXACT CHANGE (December 12 & 13)—Cleveland theatre critic Christine Howey’s one-person story of her gender transition!

PLAYHOUSESQUARE
 216-241-6000 or go to www.playhousesquare.org.

EDWARD ALBEE’S OCCUPANT (September 19-October 25 @ Kennedy’s Cabaret Theatre @ PlayhouseSquare)—A tribute to American sculptor Louise Nevelson, the biographical play examines self-determination, starring local performers Julia Kolibab & George Roth.

MOTOWN (October 3-19)—The musical journey of Berry Gordy, from featherweight boxer to heavyweight music mogul who launched the careers of Diana Ross and Michael Jackson.

DISNEY’S NEWSIES (November 4-16)—A high energy explosion of song and dance! 

IRVING BERLIN’S WHITE CHRISTMAS (December 2-14)—The classic movie comes to the stage for the whole family.


THE MUSICAL THEATER PROJECT

http://www.MusicalTheaterProject.org or 216-529-9411 for tickets and information
(productions staged in review form with narration)

BABES in ARMS (September 18 @ Beck Center for the Arts, 8 PM), (September 21 @ Stump Theatre, Kent State University, 2 PM)—The “Hey-let’s us-kids-put-on-a-show”

ETHEL MERMAN--Loud but honest! (October 12---2 PM @ Stocker Arts Center, Lorain County Community College)—The belter, who was the most important vocalist of the 20th century, gets center stage attention with songs from Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Jerry Herman and others.

MARY MARTIN—America’s Sweetheart (October 26—2 & 7 PM @ Mixon Hall, Cleveland Institute of Music)—The “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” Broadway star is center stage.

A CHRISTMAS CABARET (December 12 @ 8 PM, December 23 @ 2 and 8 PM—Stocker Center, Lorain County Community College, December 14 @7 PM, December 16 @ 7 PM, December 17 @ 7 PM—Nighttown)—Holiday songs from Irving Berlin.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

"The Philanderer" trumpets Shaw's views on women' rights

To truly understand, and to go beyond just enjoying a George Bernard Shaw play, it is required that you are aware that the Scotch/British writer was known as “A Theatrical Terrorist.”  He wrote realistic plays, much in the style of Henrik Ibsen, which attempted to change the actions and thoughts of the public. 

Shaw’s naturalistic style put his characters in real situations that could be used as the basis for illustrating the ills, or Shaw’s perceptions of the ills of society.  He took on the medical profession, the upper classes, conservative governmental attitudes, the educational establishment, and the attitudes of lesser beings.  He was a rebel writer with a cause, in fact, many causes.


His “The Philanderer” takes on the cause of the subjection of women, awareness of social problems and criticism capitalist behavior.  The Shaw has found the play such an audience pleaser that it has staged it four other times.


Written in 1893 as one of three plays Shaw published as “Plays Unpleasant,”  it was so controversial that the British Censorship Board refused to allow it to be performed until 1902.  The script was ahead of its time.  Shaw was looking at the newness and changes taking place in society.  The staid British, reluctant as they are to change, were resisting the alterations.  Changes that eventually led to the rise of socialistic views, the advancement of universal health care, respect for woman and minorities, and the advancement of scientific research. (In the present day U.S., the restrictive attitudes would be parallel to that of the Tea Party.)


Shaw, in his manuscript, writes of the start of the play, “A lady and gentleman are making love to one another in the drawing room of a flat in Ashley Gardens in the Victoria district of London.”  As it turns out, the lady is Grace Tranfield, a young widow.  The man is Leonard Charteris, noted as being a philanderer and carrying on with many women at the same time.  When caught, he falls back on the idea that he is not at fault as “half the women I speak to fall in love with me.”


Shaw once wrote, “A philanderer is a man who is strongly attracted by women.  He flirts with them, falls half in love with then, makes them fall in love with him, but will not commit himself to a permanent relation with them, and often retreats at the last moment if his suit is successful—loves them but loves himself more—is too cautious, too fastidious, ever to give himself away.”


Throw in multi-dalliances, a supposed illness, a drama critic, mixed messages on marriage, a woman who shocks others by dressing as a man, a doctor named Paramore, a disproven cure for an illness, and a controversy over whether a philanderer can be a fit husband, and you have the makings of a delightful and meaningful play.


Interestingly, many early critics disliked the play. This was only Shaw’s second play.  Still open to considering criticism, he subsequently rewrote the ending, added a third act, and the play took on a different meaning.  (Apparently, there is some value to theatre critics.)  The present Shaw production uses the “new” third act.  The result is a less sentimental and more purposeful play.


The play foreshadows Shaw’s beliefs about the role of “powerhouse women” as highlighted in many of his future plays. 


The acting is universally strong.  Gord Rand reeks philanderer in the title role…suave, beguiling, and devious.  Moya O’Connell as Julia Craven and Marla McLean as Grace Tranfield are on target as “womanly women.” Jeff Meadows is properly flustered and cowed as Dr. Paramore.  Michael Ball (Cuthbertson)  and Ric Reid (Craven) delight as the “older” characters. Harveen Sandhu is character perfect as Sylvia, a “manly woman.”


The sets, the costumes, the musical interludes all help enhance the production.


Capsule judgement: The Shaw production of “The Philanderer,” under the creative direction of Lisa Peterson, is filled with farcical interludes, melodramatic acting, and slapstick, while bannering Shaw’s many political and social causes.  All in all, it is both an enlightening picture of the past, carries implications for the present, and totally entertains.

Shaw's "When We Are Married," is an audience pleasing farce

John Boynton Priestley is a master of writing audience pleasing overblown farce, with underlying political messages.  He is also noted for his “time-slip” writing style that allows him to link past, present and future in interesting ways without following a time order sequence.  This time usage is clearly shown in “When We Are Married.”

The story centers on three couples who were married on the same day, twenty-five years ago.  It is now September, 1908 and they gather to celebrate their silver wedding anniversaries.  As the evening proceeds, through a series of bizzare experiences, they find that since the young vicar who presided over their ceremonies was not authorized to perform marriages, they are, in fact, not married.  Of course, these uptight, very Brit Brits, are hysterical since they have been “living in sin.”  What to do? 


 This is a chance to reevaluate their commitments.  Each couple examines what the consequences would be of their not being married.  Throw in an inebriated cook, a drunk photographer, a noisy reporter, an ADD afflicted housekeeper, and the result is a hysterically funny theatrical experience.
 

Besides the fun, the play has serious undertones.  Such topics as the aloofness of the British upper class, the self-absorption of these people which is assumed without considering those who they exploit, and the reluctance of the aristocracy to change, all get their due from Priestly.

To fully understand these attitudes it must be noted that the writer is known for his strong left-wing beliefs, which brought him into conflict with the British government.  He is credited with influencing Britain’s march toward becoming a Welfare State. 


Each member of the cast carries out their assignment with the right level of farcical underplay, while retaining the needed realism. 


Jennifer Dzialoszynski, as Ruby, the maid, darts around the stage like the comic book character “The Road Runner,” causing chaos.  Mary Haney delights as Mrs. Northrop, the drunken cook.  


Peter Krantz , as photographer Henry Ormonroyd, quickly established himself as an audience favorite with his inebriated actions.  Each member of the “married” couples, Claire Jullien and Thom Marriott as the Helliwells, Patrick Galligan and Kate Hennig as the Soppitts, and Patrick McManus and Catherine McGregor, as the Parkers, establish clear characterizations, enhancing the farcical style.

Capsule judgement: The Shaw’s “When We Are Married” is a total delight. The laughs run throughout.  The farce is extremely well-keyed by Director Joseph Ziegler. The comic timing is excellent, the exaggerations done to the point of ridiculousness without going overboard.  This is a perfect example of what British farce is all about and how it should be done. 

"A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur" isn't Williams at his best

From the mid-nineteen forties until the mid-nineteen fifties, Tennessee Williams was at his theatrical peak.  His plays, many carrying traces of biographical information and characters, were highlighted by his portrayal of women.  Women caught in the headlights of living in a society which they didn’t understand and which didn’t understand them.  High strung Southern women, often showing signs of mental illness, demonstrating delusional tendencies.  Blanche in “Streetcar Named Desire,” Amanda in “The Glass Menagerie,” and Maggie, in “Cat on the Hot Tin Roof,” all were well-defined William’s protagonists.

Though his writing style and subject matter had changed, by the seventies, near the end of his writing career, ironically, the lead female character in “A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur” seems like a kissing cousin to Blanche, Amanda and Maggie.  

“A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur” premiered at the Spoleto Arts Festival in 1978 to praise.  The production, which starred Shirley Knight and Jane Alexander, was called, “tender, poignant and measurably human,” though it was noted that the play was “a work in progress.”

The final version of the play is now on stage at The Shaw Festival’s Court House Theatre.

Set in 1935 St. Louis, with many references to Williams’ life, including one to the shoe company which is the same as that referred to in “Glass Menagerie,” and where Tennessee worked.  The plot centers on Dorothea, a school teacher, who shares an apartment with her elderly friend, the slovenly, hard of hearing, Bodey.  Upstairs lives a frazzled German-speaking neighbor, who is mentally ill and is afraid to be left alone.

Dottie, as she is called by Bodey, lacks a clear sense of self.  She fantasizes about her “relationship” with Mr. Ellis, her school’s principal, who seduced her in the back seat of his car.  He could be her way out of her present life.

Bodey wants her to date and get married to her twin brother, Buddy.  In order to further their relationship, Bodey has arranged for the trio to go on a picnic to Creve Coeur Park.  Dottie delays going as she anxiously waits for a call from Mr. Ellis.

A haughty fellow teacher, Helena, with motives all her own, wants Dorthea to move out of the “squalor” of her present apartment and move into an upper-end apartment with her.  As part of her manipulation, Helena has brought along a copy of a newspaper, which reveals that Mr. Ellis has recently announced his engagement to another woman.  Dottie is crestfallen.

Will she move in with Helena?  Will she go on the picnic with Bodey and Buddy?
Will she realize that she can be a whole person without having a man in her life?

The play, though it is not the quality of Williams’ earlier works, does have some substance and provokes looks at such topics as female dependence on having a male to complete them, the definition of “friendship,” ethnic stereotypes, and how does one go on after suffering a life-altering experience?

Blair Williams, director of the Shaw production, has developed a watchable, if not encompassing production.   Is the problem Williams staging or the script itself?

Cameron Porteous has designed a claustrophobic set that perfectly fits the mood and uncomfortable living area required.

The cast is quite good.  Deborah Hay moves well through her roll as Dorothea, but to develop a “full blown” Williams woman, she could have been more fragile and desperate.  She seemed to take her rejection and walk toward a wrong solution to her life problems with too much pluck.

Kate Hennig is right on character as the well-meaning, earth mother, Bodey.

Kaylee Harwood portrays the manipulating and overbearing Helena, with just the right level of aloofness.

Julain Molnar is a little over the top as the psychotic Miss Gluck, but the lines Williams gives her allow for little else.

Capsule judgement: “A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur” is not one of Tennessee Williams best plays.  The script just doesn’t have the depth of his major works, and imitates much of the concepts better written about in “Streetcar Named Desire.”  The Shaw production gives the script a credible, but not compelling staging.

Shaw's "The Cabaret" brilliantly staged, but the ending confounds

When “Cabaret,” with book by Joe Masteroff, and music and lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb, opened on Broadway in 1966, audience members were fascinated by the lack of a stage curtain blocking their view beyond the proscenium arch.  Instead, a huge convex mirror was placed center stage.  As each person walked down the aisle to their seats, their distorted figures reflected back at them. 

The musical, based on John Van Druten’s play, “I Am A Camera,” and stories by Christopher Isherwood, showcases the Nazi rise to power in Germany.   Hal Prince, the director, not only wanted to tell that story, but also to make each member of the audience aware that what happened in that time period could happen to their society as well.  To do this, he used the “distancing effect” made famous by Bertolt Brecht, which centered on the theatrical techniques of “historification,” “alienation” and “epic.” 

“Historifiction” centers on presenting a story illustrating some action that has happened in such a way that the audience is aware of it also being applicable to their lives, to today. 

“Alienation” centers on using staging techniques, such as the convex mirror, to stop the audience from losing themselves completely in the play’s narrative.  It forces them to be conscious, critical observers, realize that they are in a theatre watching a play.  Actors speak directly to the audience, viewers see the lighting fixtures, and view the exposed back wall of the theatre.

“Epic” refers to the topic being discussed being bigger than ordinary, not just everyday happenings.  What the play is about is an important issue.

Most musicals of that day started with an overture.  Prince added to the distancing by staging “Cabaret” with a drum roll and symbol crash leading into the opening number.  Social commentary was inserted between scenes and songs to alert the audience to the issues being illuminated.  The unexpected was present, such as having a gorilla and the master of ceremonies do a soft shoe dance, while illustrating a poignant Nazi issue, equating Jews with being animals, not humans.

The musical takes place in 1931 in the seedy Kit Kat Klub, an entertainment venue for gays, prostitutes and the “slumming” Berliners, whose entertainment is presided over by the Emcee.  That character speaks and sings directly to the audience, serving much like a Greek chorus, to comment on what is happening.  

The story centers around a 19-year old English cabaret performer, Sally Bowles, who develops a relationship with Cliff Bradshaw, a young American writer.  A subplot involves a doomed romance between Cliff’s landlady, Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, a Jewish fruit vendor. 

The Broadway opening in 1966, ran for 1655 performances, with Clevelander Joel Grey as the Emcee, Jill Haworth as Sally, Bert Convey as Cliff, and Bertolt Brecht’s wife, Lotte Lenya, as Fräulein Schneider. 

The 1968 London show used basically the same script as the Broadway show.

The script was changed considerably for the 1993 London revival. The Emcee morphed from the asexual character as portrayed by Grey, to an edgy, highly sexualized Alan Cummings, bare-chested, clad in suspenders slung around his crotch and red painted nipples. Songs were sexually charged and the music took on a sharp and often grating synthesized sound.  “Money,” “I Don’t Care Much,” “Mein Herr” and “Maybe This Time” were added to the score.  The latter two were taken from the multi-Academy Award winning movie which featured Joel Grey and Liza Minnelli.

The Shaw Festival’s “Cabaret,” a cross between the original and revival script, is brilliantly staged by Peter Hinton, though his choice for an ending confounds.

Michael Gianfrancesco’s stylized, metal tinker toy, multi-leveled, contemporary set, placed on a revolving turntable, is both a work of art and ingenious.   It allows Hinton and choreographer Denise Clarke to twine bodies into various sexual and compelling positions.  The flow of characters on the various flat and step levels provides for a texturing to the story and the interweaving of relationships. 

Clarke’s choreography is excellent, often compelling.  The only flaw might be the decision to have the Gorilla in “If You Could See Her” pick its nose and scratch for bugs.  This distracts from the serious intention of the song and adds misleading humor.

Paul Sportelli’s musical arrangements help build the play’s underbelly. “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” Kander and Ebb’s “Nazi National Anthem,” are downright scary.  (Yes, that song was written for “Cabaret,” it is not a historical Nazi song.)

The cast is excellent.  Juan Chiorann, though he might have been more sensual, develops a clear characterization as Emcee.  Deborah Hay fortunately does not do a Liza Minnelli imitation as Sally.  Hers is a unique characterization.  Her interpretation of the song, “Cabaret,” adds a foreboding dimension to what many don’t perceive as a strong message song.  She is totally believable as the angst driven, conflicted Sally.

Gray Powell develops a convincing Cliff, a young American trying to escape from his sexuality and his nation’s traditions against it, by entering into a world of decadence, but who still has scruples.  Corrine Koslo as Fraulein Schneider and Benedict Campbell as Herr Schultz each create an authentic person.  Her “What Would You Do,” is a clear message of the personal conflict of non-political Germans as they face the reality of the power of the Nazis and the implications for not giving in to Hitler’s intimidation.  Herr Schultz’s naivety of believing because he perceives he is a German first, and a Jew second, and that he, and his fellow religious community will be spared by Hitler, is highlighted.

Hinton’s decision to end the production as he did ruined what was, until then, a completely amazing production.  As presented, the production ended as Cliff was leaving the country.  A body was revealed hanging in the midst of the steelwork.  Blackout!

A discussion at our B and B table the next morning revealed that most people did not see the body.  Those who did didn’t understand its presence.  Others wondered why the play had “No message ending.”  It was explained that in the newer versions of the play, the Emcee and gay Kit Kat male dancers, with pink triangles attached to their costumes, and Herr Schultz and others with gold stars of David attached to them, were dragged off stage in the opposite direction of Cliff.

That ending brings full circle the use of the “distancing effect” and highlights the intent of the authors.  It would have given the audience the needed message that, as Cliff says to Sally, “If you’re not against all this, you’re for it,” and emphasizes each person’s responsibility, as explained in philosopher Edmund Burke’s concept, “All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

Capsule judgement:  “Cabaret” is one of the American musical theatre’s greatest scripts.  The Shaw production is technically and musically extremely well done.  The production loses its compass as the conclusion leaves issues unresolved, with the shock value eliminated.  Audiences who want entertainment should be very satisfied, those wanting clarity of purpose will be frustrated.

"The Philadelphia Story" delights at The Shaw Festival


When the title “The Philadelphia Story” is mentioned, most people knowledgeable about movies think of Katharine Hepburn.  What they aren’t aware of is the depth of Hepburn’s stamp on the play and the film versions of the script.  The play was written specifically for Ms. Hepburn.  The language, the speech cadence, the style of presentation were direct reflections of one of the theatre’s and Hollywood’s most identifiable and legendary stars.

Philip Barry’s 1939 stage comedy tells the story of socialite, Tracy Lord, whose wedding plans are complicated by not only the arrival of her ex-husband, but an attractive journalist.  The Lord part was inspired by Helene Hope Montgomery Scott, whose sexual and personal hijinks were well known.  She married a friend of Barry’s, and thus,  the facts of her often bizarre life were known to him.   Hepburn loved the script so much that she agreed not only to star in it, but to financially back it by foregoing any salary in return for a percentage of the play’s profits.  She starred in the Broadway production with Joseph Cotton, Van Heflin and Shirley Booth.

The film rights were bought by Howard Hughes, who gave them to Hepburn as a gift.  It was adapted into a film in 1940 and starred Cary Grant, Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart.  It was adapted in 1956 into the MGM musical, “High Society,”
which featured Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra and had music and lyrics by Cole Porter.

“The Philadelphia Story” is an American drawing room comedy which parallels the tone and style of a Noel Coward British humorous investigation and expose of the upper privileged classes.  

Tracy Lord, of the “Philadelphia Lords,” is headstrong and spoiled.  What Tracy wants, Tracy gets!  She is divorced from C. K. Dexter Haven, and is now engaged to George, an uptight, obsessive compulsive snob.  The duo is about to get married at the Lord family’s estate.  This is an era of newspapers reporting on the upper classes, so a reporter and a photographer (early day era paparazzi) are present for the coverage of the impending wedding.  Tracy becomes interested in the reporter and goes skinny dipping with him in the estate’s pool.  The next morning George smugly forgives her actions, but Tracy, now seeing George’s shallowness, breaks off the engagement just as the wedding is to take place.  What happens next?  In order to get the answer you need to see the play, get a copy of the script, or rent the movie! 

After a slow first act, the second act of the Shaw production picked up the pace and became a delightful, cheery, smile piece.

Moya O’Connell, complete with red hair, not only looks like Kathryn Hepburn, but has some of same vocal inflections and mannerisms.  Though imitation is often considered the highest form of flattery, but the lowest form of art, in this case it works well.  The role was written specifically for Hepburn’s speaking cadence and emphasis patterns.  Reinventing the character would not have been wise, so the duplication works.

Thom Marriott makes George so very, very uptight.  Patrick McManus makes Mike into a man of compassion.  Gray Powell is endearing, and makes one wonder why Tracy ever divorced him.  The rest of the cast is excellent.  They each create an individual character that is consistent and caricature correct. 

The sets are eye appealing and appropriate to the era and the opulence of such an estate.  The clothing styles are well designed to fit the mood and reflect the characters. 

Capsule judgement: The  Shaw’s “The Philadelphia Story,” under the able direction of Dennis Garnhum, is a delightful theatrical experience, much in the mood of a Noel Coward drawing room comedy, set in the United States. It is well staged, well acted, and nicely paced.

A Clevelander Visits the Shaw Festival--2014

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“By the time the show is over, you will have been taken on a journey more compelling and magical than you could have imagined.  For this, I think, is our principal function—as we delight, provoke and entertain, we must always surprise.”  These are Jackie Maxwell, the Shaw Festival’s Artistic Director, hopes for those who attend one or more of the theatre offerings.

The  Shaw is one of two major Canadian theatre celebrations, the other being The Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario.  Both are professional, high quality venues.

The 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, to participate in theatre, tour the “most beautiful little city in Canada,” shop, and eat at the many wonderful restaurants.

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 (www.wellington.house@sympatico.ca), directly across the street from The Festival Theatre, within easy walking distance of all the theatres. For information on other B&Bs go to www.niagaraonthelake.com/showbedandbreakfasts



There are some wonderful restaurants.  My in-town favorite is The Grill on King Street (905-468-7222, 233 King Street).  Another small delightful eatery is Ginger Restaurant (905-468-3871), 390 Mary Street.

Having just returned from the Festival, I offer these capsule judgments of some of the shows on the schedule:

“When We Are Married”-- The Shaw’s “When We Are Married” is a total delight. The laughs run throughout.  The farce is extremely well-keyed by Director Joseph Ziegler. The comic timing is excellent, the exaggerations done to the point of ridiculousness without going overboard.  This is a perfect example of what British farce is all about and how it should be done.  


“Cabaret”-- “Cabaret” is one of the American musical theatre’s greatest scripts.  The Shaw production is technically and musically extremely well done.  The production loses its compass as the conclusion leaves issues unresolved, with the shock value eliminated.  Audiences who want entertainment should be very satisfied.  Those wanting clarity of purpose will be frustrated.

“The Philanderer”-- The Shaw production of “The Philanderer,” under the creative direction of Lisa Peterson, is filled with farcical interludes, melodramatic acting, and slapstick, while bannering Shaw’s many political and social causes.  All in all, it is both an enlightening picture of the past, carries implications for the present, and totally entertains.


“A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur”-- “A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur” is not one of Tennessee Williams best plays.  The script just doesn’t have the depth of his major works, and imitates much of the concepts better written about in “Streetcar Named Desire.”  The Shaw production gives the script a credible, but not compelling staging. 

“The Philadelphia Story”-- The  Shaw’s “The Philadelphia Story,” under the able direction of Dennis Garnhum, is a delightful theatrical experience, much in the mood of a Noel Coward drawing room comedy, set in the United States. It is well staged, well acted, and nicely paced.

To read the complete reviews of these shows go to:  http://www.royberko.info

Shows I didn’t see, but are part of the season are: ”The Charity that Began at Home,” “Sea,” “Arms and the Man,” “Juno and the Paycock.”  Another offering is “The Mountaintop,” a fictionalized story of the night before Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.  I saw a production on Broadway and was blown away.  Canadian friends, whose evaluations I trust, thought the Shaw production was compelling.



For theatre 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.

The Festival has announced its 2015 season.  It features 11 productions including  the reenvisioning of two Shaw comedies and two newly commissioned Canadian works.  The featured plays are:  “Sweet Charity,” “Pygmalion,” “Light Up the Sky,” “Peter and the Starcatcher,” “You Never Can Tell,” “The Divine,” The Lady from the Sea,” “Top Girls,” “The Twelve-Pound Look,” “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism with a Key to the Scriptures,” and “The Next Whiskey Bar—a Kurt Weil Cabaret.”

Go to the Shaw Festival! Find out what lovely hosts Canadians are, and see some great theatre!  Don’t forget your passport as it’s the only form of identification that will be accepted for re-entry into the U.S.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

The Cleveland Orchestra: Summer at Severance and Blossom

Cleveland has garnered another honor.  Based on its international survey Backtrack.com, an international concert finder, has declared The Cleveland Orchestra the world’s favorite orchestra.  This comes along with previous recognitions of the orchestra being one of the finest, if not the finest in the world.

Clevelanders can take advantage of hearing this musical source of pride at two venues this summer.  Since 1968, the group’s summer home has been Blossom, the gorgeous scenic wonderland situated in Cuyahoga Falls.  It is about 25 miles south of downtown Cleveland.

For those who want an even closer venue, Friday Night Summers @ Severance are now available.   From 5:30 to 6:30 PM, socializing on the complex’s open air terrace,  complete with a cash bar, takes place.  This is followed at 7 PM by a concert inside the hall.  After the concert, music, drinks and face time with new and old friends takes place back on the terrace.

Based on the large and excited crowd at the August 1st event, these come-as-you-are events are turning out to be a popular experience. 

The opening night’s program consisted of an hour-and-a-half concert beginning with Maurice Ravel’s “Pavane For a Dead Princess,” followed by Ravel’s “Piano Concerto in G major,” and  Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances, Opus 45.”  Though it appeared that the orchestra and guest conductor, Johannes Debus, didn’t seem to always be musically talking to each other, and wunderkind British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor seemed not to be totally in sync with Debus, the capacity crowd gave the concert a standing ovation.

The August 15 concert, “The Beethoven Experience,” will include “Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus, Opus 43,” “Symphony No. 4 in B-flat major, Opus 60,”  and “Fantasia in C minor (‘Choral Fantasy’), Opus 80” for piano, chorus, and orchestra.  Orion Weiss will be at the piano, Jahja Ling will conduct, and Robert Porco will direct the Blossom Festival Chorus.

August 29’s “Franz and Brahms,” will be conducted by Franz Welser-Möst.  Featured pieces are:  Jörg Widmann’s “Lied [Song] (for orchestra), Widmann’s “Flute en suite (for flûte and orchestra),” and Johannes Brahms “Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Opus 68.”

Future offerings by the Orchestra include “At the Movies,” the showing of classic films with live accompaniment.  The October 28 @ 7:30 PM offering features Todd Wilson at the Hall’s mighty Norton memorial organ playing “Phantom of the Opera.  December 11 @ 7:30 PM will find the Orchestra, under the baton of Brett Mitchell, allowing the audience to experience, “Disney Fantasia.”  On February 13 @ 8 PM, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” will be shown with Brett Mitchell conducting the Orchestra as they play Bernard Herrmann’s legendary score.

The Blossom Music Festival continues through August 31 climaxing with a “European Festivals Tour Send-Off Concert” featuring works by Widmann and Brahms.  Other highlights include an appearance by Yo-Yo Ma on August 16, “Carmina Burana” on August 23 and “A Beatles Tribute” on August 24.

There is still one gourmet matinee offering.  The “Divine Dvorâk” event will be held on August 27 from noon to 2 PM.

The July 20 Blossom concert, which included the works of Carl Maria Von Weber’s “Overture to Der Freischütz,” Mozart’s “Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat major, K595,” and Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Opus 47.” It was a fine evening of music, coupling excellent conducting with marvelous musicianship on the part of the Orchestra.  Piano soloist Francesco Piemontesi’s rendition of the Mozart composition was met with such applause that, contrary to tradition, he played an encore in the midst of the concert.

For information and tickets to orchestra offerings go on-line to clevelandorchestra.com.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

"The Frogs" fails to create much excitement at Cain Park

The Frogs,” Stephen Sondheim and Burt Shevelove’s musical adaptation of Aristophanes’ ancient Greek comedy, had a novel introduction to the stage.  In 1974 it was produced in Yale University’s Swimming Pool by the Yale Repertory Theatre.

The fact that the show closed in 8 performances should have been an omen of what was to come.

Like many Greek plays, “The Frogs” looks at serious issues.  In this case, it examines the challenges of human existence and confronts fear, understandings, life, death, the role of the arts in changing the course of human evolution, and whether the common man is coerced by dubious politicians, conservatives and right-wing thinkers.

The outrageous musical, like the play, follows Dionysos, the God of wine and theatre, as he attempts to go to Hades in search of a theatrical spokesman to spread the word about earthly problems.  Dionysos doesn’t think that present day playwrights have the ability to make major impact like Chekov did, who is, often referred to as the” father of the Russian Revolution.”  Dionysos’ intention is to get Irish/British playwright George Bernard Shaw to write plays about today as he did at the turn of the century when he attacked the British political, educational, social and medical systems in his uncompromising language. 

After an arduous trek, Dionysos and his slave arrive in Hades, convince the powers that be to hold a battle of words between Shaw and Shakespeare to determine who gets to come back to earth and help out society.  It’s like a prose/poetry slam.  Shakespeare wins and comes back with Dionysos, supposedly to “cure” the ills of the world with the powerful tool of theatre speech.

The musical “The Frogs,” as was the case of the original Greek version, is filled with pratfalls, satire, choral speaking, homosexual revelations, outlandish characterizations, and overblown situations.

In July, 2004, a version of the musical, which was revised “even more freely by Nathan Lane,” who starred in the production, opened in New York.  Though Sondheim added seven songs, none of them is memorable.

The show opened to mixed reviews.  Most commented on how “Lane used the stage as a forum” for his Borsht-belt shticks which were made possible by the “loose” nature of the plot.  The run lasted only 92 performances.

The Cain Park version makes allusions to people afraid of change (e.g., conservatives and Tea Party members), politicians who lie to get their needs met (e.g., G. W. Bush and Dick Chaney), and takes a general pro-liberal bent.  At the end of the show, Dionysos steps forward and addresses the audience.  He urges them to shake off lethargy, and to take action to resolve the earthly problems that plague our times.

In spite of the cast wearing microphones, The Cain Park is plagued by a sound system which makes much of the dialogue and singing unintelligible.  Since the lyrics are unfamiliar to many, the story is lost in the sloshing sound. 

The show is creatively staged by Martin Friedman, the local Sondheim maven.  Friedman understands the complexity of Sondheim’s story development and erudite lyrics, but not even he can overcome the script’s weaknesses.  

Dan Folino, portrays Dionysos as a 60s stoner.  This is a little strange as he relates that the play takes place “today.”  That withstanding, Folino has a strong singing voice, and displays a nice sense of the ironic.  He doesn’t have the Nathan Lane comic aura, so some of the extended humor that Lane added to the show is not present, but with the sound as it was, we probably wouldn’t have heard the asides anyway.

Michael Regnier (George Bernard Shaw) and Mitchell Fields (Shakespeare) both look amazingly like the men they are portraying, and are wonderful in reciting the writings of “The Shaw” and “The Bard.”

The standout of the production may well be wrestler turned dancer, Tom Sweeney.  The University of Michigan student lights up the stage with his dancing and expressive face.  He would make a great candidate for TV’s “Dancing With the Stars” competition and could step into a dancing role in Broadway’s “Newsies” right now.

The highlight of the show is Martin Céspedes’s choreography.  The ability of his well-synced dancers to creatively change moods and step-styles is impressive.  The section where the dancers marched like Nazis, dressed in black suits, and waving little flags emblazed with The Tea Party emblem, was meaning-filled and delightful.  The dancing gives the show its only creative texturing.

Musical Director Nathan Motta’s orchestra is excellent, backing up rather than drowning out the singers.

Ron Newell’s scenic design, complete with a river of real running water, and Tesia Dugan Benson’s costumes help in setting the right mood for the production

Capsule judgement: Though the message of “The Frogs” is generally clear, and Martin Friedman’s directing is on target, and Martin Céspedes’s choreography is prime, the script, the music, and the lyrics fail to incite much excitement.  The tepid response of the audience on preview night brings into question the wisdom in selecting this script. 

“The Frogs” runs from July 31-August 17 in the Alma Theatre of Cain Park in Cleveland Heights.  For tickets call 216-371-3000 or go on line to www.cainpark.com

Friday, August 01, 2014

Musical Theatre Proejct and CPT to present "I Am What I Am" as part of the Gay Games

Are you ready?  From August 9-16 the eyes of the world will be focused on Cleveland as athletes, entertainers, and guests invade the city for the 2014 Gay Games.  Sponsored by the Cleveland Foundation, with the support of 23 diverse organizations, Cleveland and Akron will showcase sports and cultural festivals.

Cleveland, which is not known as a gay Mecca, beat out Boston and Washington, D.C. to host the events.  Some have questioned whether our Midwestern fairly conservative bastion is ready to put itself on display and will be open to same sex-couples walking downtown holding hands, public displays of affection, and yards and yards of rainbow ribbon and balloons.  Even our staid Terminal Tower will be festooned out in a display of rainbow-colored lights.

National news outlets have pointed out that  we don't have a 'gayborhood' like so many cities do.  Yes, Lakewood, Ohio City, Tremont and Coventry in Cleveland Heights are noted to be “open,” but not a “destination” place with gay bars, restaurants and entertainment.  Also, though gay marriage is legal in 19 states and The District of Columbia (as of the day this is written), Ohio is not one of them.   Media also related that area Muslim taxi drivers have refused to drive cabs that advertise the Gay Games.  Will conservatives, Tea Party members, and right wing church groups picket or try to disrupt the events?

The Games, which are open to all adults—regardless of sexual orientation or athletic abilities, has 35 different sports events from darts to triathlon, bowling to softball.  What may surprise some is that over 150 entertainment events are scheduled during Games week.

Entertainment venues, people and organizations that will be featured are The Cleveland Orchestra, Oven Productions, The Cleveland Indians, Goodtime III and The Nautica Queen, Boy George, Actors’ Summit Theatre, North Coast Men’s Chorus, Greg Louganis, The Cleveland Museum of Art, and Lance Bass.

A kick-off entertainment event will be jointly presented by The Musical Theatre Project and Cleveland Public Theatre.

“I Am What I Am:  Gays, Lesbians and the American Musical,” will be staged on Sunday, August 10, 2104 at 2 and 7 pm at Gordon Square Theatre at CPT, 6415 Detroit Avenue (Gordon Square Arts District).

Conceived by TMTP’s artistic director, Bill Rudman, the concert will be directed by Scott Plate and feature Katherine DeBoer, Molly Andrews-Hinders and Jared Leal, with Nancy Maier serving as the music director.

The material will span 85 years, featuring such highlights as the “coded” lyrics of closeted gay songwriters Cole Porter and Lorenz Hart, new material as heard in “Kinky Boots,” “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” and “Fun Home.”  Also included will be the unofficial Gay National Anthem, “I Am What I Am” from “La Cage Aux Folles,” and music from Michael Bennett’s “A Chorus Line,” “Kander and Ebb’s “Kiss of a Spider Woman” and Jonathan Larson’s “Rent.” 

For concert tickets call 216-631-2727 X 501. 

For information about the Gay Games and to purchase tickets, call 216-479-6470 or go to http://www.gg9cle.com/

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Porthouse's OLIVER doesn't get standiing ovation

I had one of my greatest experiences in the theatre when, on June 30, 1960, I attended the opening of “Oliver!” at the New Theatre in London, England.  I was seated 3rd row center! 

Peter Coe’s direction, Malcolm Clare’s choreography, and a cast consisting of Ron Moody (Fagin) Georgia Brown (Nancy) and Davy Jones (Artful Dodger) brought Lionel Bart’s music, lyrics and book to life.  Based on Charles Dickens tale of Oliver Twist, a tale of a child left at a London orphanage, the premiere got seventeen screaming standing ovations.  The show ran for close to 3000 performances and was transferred to Broadway where it had another successful run.  Interestingly, the Big Apple production featured sets built in London, shipped to the US by sea, complete with the actual brick wall London mural that I had seen in the British edition.

On the surface, “Oliver!” is the musical adaptation of the Dickens tale of a boy whose mother died in childbirth, was brought up in an orphanage, is sold to be an undertaker’s casket follower after he has the nerve to ask for more food.  He runs away from his employer, hooks up with a gang of boys who are trained to be pickpockets by Fagin, their elderly mentor, is caught by the police, befriended by a wealthy man who turns out to be his grandfather, and lives happily ever after.

In reality, as were many of Dicken’s stories, the tale was written as an attack on the English social welfare system of the day.  It is credited with having been the catalyst for the change of the orphanage houses of horrors.

Bart’s memorable score includes:  “Food, Glorious Food,” in which the mistreatment of the orphans is revealed;” “Oliver,” which introduces the audience to adorable scamp who won’t follow directions, and during its reprise later in the play reveals that Oliver will be loved and cared for; “Boy for Sale,” when Oliver is sold to a funeral director; “Where Is Love,” in which Oliver pleads for someone to show him some compassion; “Pick A Pocket or Two,” where Fagin teaches Oliver the skills of stealing; “My Name” introduces the fierce Bill Sykes, whose existence will have a profound effect on Oliver;  and “Reviewing the Situation,” in which Fagin evaluates his life and the aging process.  

Audiences at Porthouse Theatre are generous in their ovations.  They tend to stand and enthusiastically applaud at the conclusions of all the shows, well-earned, or not.  This season, “My Fair Lady” got a deserved ovation and “Starmights” (undeserved) also was met with standing bodies.  Meanwhile, “Oliver,” the theatre’s latest offering, concluded with very few standees the night I saw the show.

Why did “Oliver!” get a less than triumphant reception?  The reasons are numerous.  Among them was that, as a whole, the show’s pacing lacked the emotional power needed to sustain both the oppression and glee the tale requires.  This may have been caused by the script being haphazardly adapted.  The usual two and a half hour show was cut to less than two hours.  Some of the adjustments caused awkward bridging of scenes, breaking the story’s flow.

There were some questionable casting choices.  Though he has an impressive singing voice, Brian Keith Johnson’s beautiful tones did not fit the menacing sounds needed to create the evil Bill Sykes, nor did his smooth, underplayed oral spoken delivery.  Though she put out full effort, Cameron Nelson was too old and lacked the charisma and “cutesy” aura to portray Oliver.  Miriam Henkel-Moellmann has a marvelous singing voice, and her “As Long as He Needs Me,” was well sung, but she was both too young and was too orally and physically scrubbed clean to portray the warm-hearted prostitute, Nancy.  Patrick Kennedy, dressed in a costume that made him look like an oversized elder man, had some of the right qualities for Dodger, including a nice singing voice, but failed to add the delightful nature of the kid thief. 

On the positive side, Eric van Baars created an acceptable Fagin, though I would have preferred a little more eye-twinkling scheming and playfulness.  Lissy Gulick was delightful as Widow Corney.  MaryAnn Black’s choreography was well conceived, but many of the youngsters were just not comfortable enough to carry it off, often looking like puppets, rather than real live boys.  Nolan C. O’Dell’s multi-level stage set, with a small turntable to make for easy set moves worked moderately well.  Jonathan Swoboda’s well-tuned orchestra nicely supported the singers, rather than drowning them out.  “Oom-Pah-Pah” was a nicely conceived production number which added much needed joy.  “I Shall Scream” also added a nice comic dimension.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: “Oliver!” is a wonderful musical theatre script which tells a well conceived tale, has marvelous music, and, in a good production, pleases an audience.  Unfortunately, Porthouse’s version left much to be desired.

For tickets http://www.porthousetheatre.com
 or 330-929-4416 or 330-672-3884

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Reimagined "Midsummer Night's Dream" a controversial production at Stratford


The topic at the breakfast table of the wonderful Avery House B and B table is always filled with opinions about what the guests have seen at the Stratford Festival. 

A number of people had viewed “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”  The conversations got animated when that play’s title was brought up.  On the positive side, it was generally agreed that the play was fun-filled.  On the other hand, a number of people thought the reimagining of the start of the production farce did little to enhance the already delightful script.  In fact, some people expressed the view that all of “the added stuff” took away from the delight. The latter view was strongly presented by a group who dubbed themselves, “Shakespeare purists.”  They like their Shakespeare as The Bard wrote it, without any “creative game playing,” as one person stated.

Just for the record, I am not a “purist.”  I tend to believe that some of the Bard’s, works, can be enhanced, made more appropriate to an era, by changing the setting, using modern rather than Elizabethan-era language, and blending costume styles to universalize the ideas. 

I also strongly believe, however, that when a director decides to bastardize what was originally perceived, s/he needs to have a clear idea of why the changes are being made, should be sure that those concepts become clear to the audience, and are carried through with fidelity.  

In the case of the “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Stratford production, I don’t believe that director  Chris Abraham carried out those requirements as well as he was obligated to do.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is one of Shakespeare’s most delightful comedies.  Filled with fantasy, romance, and farcical situations, the story centers four Athenian lovers and group of amateur actors who become controlled and manipulate by a group of fairies who inhabit the forest in which most of the play takes place.  But,  the script does, as is true with all of The Bard’s comedies, have some theme messages.  In this case The Bard of Avon dealt with the role of such concepts as the aristocracy, sexuality, loss of individual identity, feminism, and the cultural patterns of early modern England. 

The delightful romp centers on the tale of Theseus, the Duke of Athens, who is about to get married Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons.  A member of the Duke’s court wants his daughter, Hermia, to marry Demetrius, but she is in love with Lysander.  The Duke commands Hermia to marry her father’s choice or become a nun.  Of course, Hermia and Lysander ignore the dictate and run away.  They get lost in the woods, where Oberon, the king of the fairies reigns.  Oberon’s attempt to straighten things out results in a series of bumbles made by Puck, Oberon’s mischievous servant, who mixes up potions to that are to be dispersed.  Puck gives them to the wrong persons, with disastourous results.  The mismatched people fall in and out of love, a human becomes a donkey, and misidentifications take place.  The romp climaxes as a group of really bad performers present a play at Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding.  Eventually, all is well that ends well. 

The director  has taken many liberties with the script.  As the audience files in, there is an air of general chaos on the stage.  Actors were flooding into the audience, the children who were later to play fairies, ran around and up and down the aisles.  Eventually we were exposed to the fact that we were attending a gay interracial marriage.  Eventually the grooms were dispatched to be seated in the audience for the rest of the play.   Why they were included in the activities was unclear.  What was the role of the couple beyond being window dressing.  After their initial appearance, they never did become a meaningful part of the on-going play.

Abraham also incorporated a deaf character.  Nothing wrong with that, but the short and inconsistent use of sign language during the start of the play, never to be used again, appears to be a gimmick for the sake of adding a gimmick.

The director explains his devices as his attempt to “forge a sense of family and community as central to the play’s setting, and for this community to be inclusive, varied and diverse.”  If this is his goal, then why weren’t his additions incorporated completely into the body of the presentation, but tacked on as stage dressing?  Where does his “community” fit into the community of the play?

As for the rest of the production.  As should be expected with this script, humor reigned supreme.  The pacing was good, the action flowed right along, the farcical scenes were well developed, most of the characterizations worked well. 

The use of children as fairies could have worked if the children’s line and movements were more fully developed. Were the kids cute?  Yes.  Were their addition an effective addition to the production?  Doubtful.

Stephen Ouimette was delightful as Nick Bottom, who is transformed into the donkey.  Karl Ang (Snug), Lally Cadeaum (Quince), Keith Dincol (Snout), Victor Ertmanis (Flute) and Brad Hodder (Starveling) were perfect comic foils as the fools that put on the play for the Duke. 

Chick Reid disappointed as Puck, Oberon’s jester.  Not only was she difficult to hear but she lacked the necessary impish quality.

The song inclusions, special effects, lighting, set design and costumes all added to the quality of the production.

Capsule judgement: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is one of Shakespeare’s most delightful comedies.  Though the comic qualities were high, the Stratford production was filled with needless gimmicks and additions which added nothing to enhancing the basic script.  As evidenced by our B&B table discussion, audiences are going to love or hate this production.   

For individual tickets call 800-567-1600 or go on-line to http://www.stratfordfestival.ca.

"King Lear" rants, raves and compels at Stratford

Lightning flashes, thunder booms, fog pours forth, the rain descends in torrents, the smell of dampness and despair are present as Colm Feore, as King Lear, rants against the elements and humankind in the Stratford Festivals powerful and unnerving “King Lear.”

The role of Lear is one of the most coveted in theatrical history.  The script has been rewritten several times, but one thing remains clear.  The lead role is one of the most difficult, yet compelling characters ever written.   He is a Shakespearean  tragic character, “a man of noble stature who has outstanding qualities of greatness about him, but is destroyed because of a desire to accomplish a cause or standup for a principle.”

In Lear’s case, he is a man unwilling to face death.  He is forced to eventually realize his finitude when Cordelia, his youngest daughter, dies.  Psychiatrist Sigmund Freud said of the scene when the Lear carries his dead daughter onto the stage, her body causes him “to make friends with the necessity of dying.”  And, with this, Lear’s desire to skirt death psychologically destroys him, and his cause is lost.

The story concerns an aging king of Britain, who decides to abandon the throne and divide his kingdom evenly among his three daughters.  Lear’s daughters must, however, tell him how much they love him.  Goneril and Regan, the eldest, flatter their father.  The youngest, Cordelia, recounts that she has no words to describe her love.  Lear, assuming that his favorite daughter does not return his affection, rejects her, cutting her off from her entitled land.  Without a dowry, her prospects for obtaining a royal husband disappear.  Or so Lear thinks.  In fact, the King of France still desires her.  They wed and flee to France without Lear’s blessing.

Lear’s quick decision soon turns wrong as the daughters to whom he gave his land and powers, betray him.  As we observe, he descends into depression.   

Questions arise. What would cause a man to reject and ban his favorite daughter because she refuses to tell him why he is so wonderful, while he divides his estate between his two manipulative and false daughters ?  Is Lear psychologically insane or a victim of physical dementia?  Should the man be rejected or pitied?  Is he a tyrant or a pathetic soul?

Gloucester, a loyal nobleman, realizes what is happening and befriends Lear.  To get back at him, he is blinded by Regan and her dastardly husband.  Wandering in the heath, his son Edgar saves the blind Gloucester from falling off a cliff and is taken to Dover, where Lear has also been brought.  Cordelia, hearing of the plight of her father, brings French troops to help regain Lear’s power.  She is defeated, put in prison and is executed.  Lear, distraught, dies out of grief in an emotionally wrenching scene.

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

“King Lear,” under the definitive direction of Antoni Cimolino, is superb.  Every aspect of the production works.  The set design, the lighting and sound, the special effects, the costuming, all advance the story. 

There is not a single chink in the acting armor.  Feore traverses the ladder of emotions with ease.  The element underscored soliloquy is so effective that the audience literally gave a collective sigh of relief and a resounding roar of applause when it was completed.

Maev Beaty and Lisa Repo-Martell were properly obnoxious as Lear’s older daughters, while  Sara Farb was charming and appealing as Cordelia, the youngest daughter.  Scott Wentworth was excellent as Gloucester.  The scene in which he was blinded was wrenching.

Capsule judgement: Stratford’s “King Lear” is a must see production.  Every aspect of the staging works.  This is a presentation that teaches the audience what superb theatre is all about. 

For individual tickets call 800-567-1600 or go on-line to http://www.stratfordfestival.ca