Sunday, September 21, 2014

OCCUPANT @ Cesear's Forum

Louise Nevelson, the subject of Edward Albee’s play, “Occupant,” now in production by Cesear’s Forum, may or may not be the person that is written about in the script.  The iconoclast artist, known for her monochromatic abstract expressionist sculptures, was an elusive figure.  Many of the accepted “facts” of her life have been proven to be untrue.  It matters not if Nevelson told the stories, or an art historian searched and found the information. No one knows exactly what is accurate.

Nevelson lived the “great lie theory.”  If you tell a lie over and over, after a while you can’t tell if it is the truth. 

Who is better to probe into Nevelson’s life than Edward Albee, America’s greatest existentialist playwright, whose works are representative of the Absurdist school of writing.  Absurd, meaning “out of sync” in one sense, “ridiculous” in another.  Yes, Nevelson led a life that was eccentric, when compared to the norm, and her fanciful exploits make for a bizarre story.

Who was Louise Nevelson?  Only she knows, and as we find out, she’s not telling.  Or, is she?

Albee sets up the investigation in what appears to be a clear format.  An interviewer is probing into Nevelson’s life, asking her questions.  But, suddenly the interviewer informs us, “I never interviewed someone who was dead!” Yes, the woman we see before us, is dead!

As the interview proceeds, we find that Leah Berliawsky was born in Kiev, Russia, on September 23, 1899.  (Well, maybe.)  She and her Jewish parents were driven out of the country during a series of pogroms.  They eventually settled in Rockland, Maine, where her father became a fairly wealthy lumber and real estate tycoon. (Maybe.)  Leah, tall, beautiful and shy, according to her, “suffered many anti-Semitic experiences.”  She escaped from Rockland to New York, via what may have been an arranged marriage to Charles Nevelson, an older, unattractive, but wealthy New Yorker. 

The stories of a life filled with lovers, expensive tastes, the Nevelsons losing much of their wealth, the birth of her unwanted son (she admits to being a “lousy” mother), her escape to Paris to attend art school, a return to New York, getting rejected by art reviewers and the buying public, finally making her breakthrough in the 1950s when museums began to buy her wooden sculptures, and her ultimate death in 1988.  She is recognized by many as one of America’s most innovative sculptors, but shunned by others as a “gimmick” artist.

Nevelson, always knew she was “special,” lived with the motto, “I am going to be my own special self.  I’m going to occupy that space if it kills me.”  This mantra kept her going when things looked bleak and life impossible.  Kept her going through suicide attempts, depression, and regrets.

The play is filled with droll humor.  And, as in many of Albee’s existentialistic theater creations, explores individual veracity, selective memory, and the process of self-fulfillment as he asks, “Why do we exist?”

The play’s title is taken from a real life happening.  Nevelson, near the end of her life, dying of lung cancer after being a chain smoker, was in the hospital, didn’t want visitors.  She had the sign on her door, which had been emblazoned with large letters spelling out her name, taken down and the word “Occupant” put up instead.  She was an eccentric to the end!

Julia Kolibab and George Roth are up to the challenge of performing the two-person, two-act, two-hour show, with great aplomb.  Roth chides, teases and challenges with a twinkle in his eye and sardonic and sarcastic vocal and physical tones.  Kolibab , wearing eccentric clothing and two pair of mink eyelashes, dominates the stage, fully capturing the very being of Nevelson. 

Director Greg Cesear keeps the action rolling.  This is difficult as the script is a long duologue with little action.  He manages to retain the audience’s attention by keying in on the humor and playing up the exaggeration.

Scenic designer Laura Carlson Tarantowski creates a clever set which imitates the sculpture style of Nevelson.  Make sure you get an up close and view Tarantowski’s clever use of castaway products that form the basis of the set.

Kennedy Down Under is a perfect space for this intimate piece. 

Capsule Judgement:  “Occupant” is one of those special plays and theatrical presentations that will be greatly appreciated by the serious theater-goer who likes to be exposed to a well-written, thinking person’s play, which gets a fine staging and interpretation.
“Occupant” runs through October 25 at 8 pm on Fridays and Saturdays and 3 pm for the Sunday performances at Cesear’s Forum, located in Kennedy’s Down Under, PlayhouseSquare.  The entrance to the theatre is off the lobby of the Ohio Theatre.  For information and reservations call 216-241-6000 or go to http://www.playhousesquare.org

Friday, September 19, 2014

CPH examines greed, ambition and misguided principles in THE LITTLE FOXES

 
Lillian Hellman, author of “The Little Foxes,” which is now in production at the Cleveland Playhouse, was a rebel with many causes.  An independent woman in an era before the women’s rights and liberation movements, she had strong political and societal opinions.  Because of her liberal affiliations she was blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee.  She was “a smoker, a drinker, a lover, and a fighter, who took stands against and placed a negative spotlight on greed, ambition and misguided principles.”  She was an advocate for the downtrodden.  These principles are at the foundation of “The Little Foxes.”

 “The Little Foxes,” is set in the beautifully appointed home of Horace and Regina Giddens in a small Alabama town at the turn of the century.  Regina is one of three Hubbard siblings.  Her brothers, Ben and Oscar, have inherited a store that takes financial advantage of the area’s Black population.  

Regina married Horace, not out of love, but because he was her ticket to getting the “things” she wanted out of life.  Her brother, Ben, is a controlling schemer who wants to jump onto the success bandwagon of the Gilded Age of the 1900s, no matter the cost.  Brother Oscar, lazy, psychologically weak and undisciplined, married Birdie as his entrance into the prestige of being part of the “old south. “ He verbally and physically abuses Birdie, who is too timid to stand up to Oscar’s attacks. Their unlikeable son, Leo, is a carbon copy of his father, willing to be Ben’s pawn, in order to be financially successful. 

In contrast to the Hubbards, Horace, his daughter Alexandra, the black housekeepers, Addie and Cal, and Birdie, are decent and respectable people. 

The Hubbard’s latest scheme is the building of a cotton mill in their town.  The idea is sound, as it would avoid shipping the south’s raw cotton to the north, thus insuring profits.  The problem?  They don’t have the money to pull off the transaction, so they make a deal with a Chicago company.  They scheme to get the seed money from Horace, who is ill and in the hospital in Baltimore.  The opportunity comes when Leo, who is working at his uncle Horace’s bank, finds out that there are $80,000 worth of negotiable bonds in a strong box in his uncle’s office.

Intrigue increases when Horace returns home, and Regina’s disdain for everything about him, except his money, becomes obvious.  Horace has a heart attack.  Will Regina give him his needed medicine?  Will the stolen bond scheme work? Will Regina’s blackmail of her brothers succeed, or will Ben’s parting remark, “What was a man in a wheelchair doing on a staircase?” be the undoing of Regina?  Will Alexandra be swept up in the family intrigue or will she flee? 

The CPH production, under the focused direction of Laura Kepley, is intriguing.  The script, which is written in a traditional 1930s format of three acts (exposition, telling the tale, and resolution) has been compressed by eliminating the intermission between acts II and III, and tightening some dialogue.  The pacing fits the southern way of life, yet doesn’t drag.  Accents are finely honed, and character motivations clear.

The cast is universally excellent.  Maggie Lacey creates a Regina who is evil incarnate.  Cameron Folmar is scheming and snarly as Ben.  Jerry Richardson clearly creates Oscar as a despicable spineless bully.  Nick Barbato presents a Leo, who is as whining, weak willed duplicate of his father, Oscar.

Donald Carrier is a mirror of perseverance and moral strength as Horace.  The lovely Megan King creates an Alexandra who is the shining hope that something good may well emerge from this dysfunctional family. Heather Anderson Boll is appropriately bewildered and manipulated as Birdie, a true southern belle, better suited for cotillions than real life.  Sherrie Tolliver is impressive as the strong willed but gentle Addie, the Carrier family maid and Alexandra’s guide and protector.  Kim Sullivan has nice comic moments as Cal, the family butler.  Robert Ellis presents William Marshall as a businessman who may feel comfortable with being part of a scheme with some shady overtones.

One of the difficulties of doing a period piece is whether to be true to the period set and costume designs.  Lex Liang, the production’s scenic and costume designer, based on Kepley’s desire to give a modern feel to the production, has taken the influence of the 1900s transitional aesthetic era and eliminated the heavy look of the furniture and costumes, creating sleek modifications in the style, thus retaining the right feel and vision, but not being absolutely true to the era.  The gorgeous set and costumes work well in creating the right illusion.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Lillian Hellman’s “The Little Foxes” is a classic American play which probes into the values, ethics and morals of a group of southerners at the turn of the century.  This is a play and production well worth seeing thanks to Hellman’s writing, Kepley’s directing, the excellent acting, and well-conceived technical aspects.  It makes for a fine opening offering in this, CPH’s ninety-ninth year.

Lillian Hellman’s “The Little Foxes” runs through October 5, 2014 at the Allen Theatre in PlayhouseSquare.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to http://www.clevelandplayhouse.com

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Meet Ricky Ubeda,the winner of TV's, "So You Think You Can Dance" who will be performing in Cleveland

When the tour of “So You Think You Can Dance” comes to the Connor Palace Theatre in Cleveland on October 20, it will expose the local community to the top ten contestants and some of the other dancers who got the attention of the judges.

Since its premiere in 2005, “So You Think You Can Dance,” has been a television sensation. Created by Simon Fuller and Nigel Lythgoe, the show, which is a multi Primetime Emmy Award winner, has sparked the nation’s interest in dance and produced some top-ranked performers.  Many of the dancers have gone on to professional careers, including a number presently appearing in Broadway’s NEWSIES and hopefully in Cleveland when that show comes to town as part of the Key Bank Broadway series

A panel of dance experts select 20 dancers to appear in a competition.   They then whittle the number down to a final 10.  The jurists, plus votes by viewers, then select a winner.

The performers, who come from a variety of  dance styles including classical, contemporary, ballroom, hip-hop, street, jazz, tap and musical theatre perform all the genres on their march toward stardom.   Interestingly, two of the four 2014 finalists, were mainly tap dancers.

This year’s winner was Ricky Ubeda, who won a cash stipend of $250,000 and the offer of a part in the forthcoming Broadway production.

I interviewed Ubeda, who was in Los Angeles, during the rev-up to the national tour.  He indicated that he started hip hop dancing around age 12.  Raised by a single Cuban mother who “has always encouraged me to be myself, especially in dance, and be a leader,”  he was also “fortunate to go to Coral Reef High in South Miami.”  It has “a liberal atmosphere and advocates for being yourself.”  “There was no harassment over dancing.  In fact they had a co-ed dance team.  The attitude was, if you are talented, you were a hero. It definitely wasn’t like other schools.”

During the “So You Can Think You Can Dance” telecasts, Ubeda showed a great deal of emotion and emotional vulnerability, both as a dancer and in receiving comments from the judges.  Reminded that this is somewhat unusual for a male, he stated, “My mom was always open and vulnerable.  She taught me that it’s a beautiful thing to let the emotions show.”

Ubeda showed both amazing discipline and breath of ability in each of the dance styles.  He contends that his training helped, but that, in fact, “I was never taught half those styles.”  He contends that “having each choreographer for one and one-half hours the first day and five hours the second day, and then having the duets practice a lot on their own,” helped him hone his skills in each style.

Ricky is grateful to Miami’s Stars Dance Studio who held fundraisers and watch parties during the competition to raise money to send his mom, his siblings, his aunt and his best friend to the shows each week.

As for the competition itself, I probed whether he felt pressure since he was dubbed the potential winner by the judges from the first show on.  He stated, “it put pressure on me, but I listened to the judges’ feedback and took it as an opportunity to improve.”

What was the most difficult challenge he had during the competition?

“The physical exhaustion near the end was tremendous.  The stress and pressure added up.  There were times when we all felt that we just couldn’t keep going.  By the final four shows, we were all absolutely exhausted.” Also, since “we were a tight-knit group, and relationships formed as the competition went along, when friends were voted off it was tough.”

The top ten and some additional dancers, who were eliminated earlier, are going on a 75-city tour, which opens in New Orleans on October 1, 2014, and lasts until mid-February.  Each of the top routines will be included.  “Choreographer Mandy Moore will put the show together. All of the dancers are getting paid.”

After the tour, Ubeda has many decisions to make.  As the competition’s winner, he has have been offered a part in Broadway’s “On The Town.”  As of now, he plans to take the part.  He has already met the cast and has “an interest in getting to know Broadway.”

As for the prize money, he plans to “invest it, life’s crazy, you have to have backup.”

Ricky Ubeda is a dynamic and talented young man.  His future looks bright.

To get tickets to see Ubeda and the rest of the 2014 “So You Think You Can Dance” top ten, on Monday, October 20 at the Connor Palace (formerly the Palace Theatre), call 216-241-6000 or go to http://www.playhousesquare.org/events/index/20

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Thought provoking "The Sunset Limited" @ none too fragile

--> Cormac McCarthy, the author of “The Sunset Limited,” which is now on stage at none too fragile theatre, probes, in his script, the topics:   Why would someone want to commit suicide?  Why does one person turn to religion when angst-filled, while another rejects the concept of a deity?  Is traditional education a negative or positive influence in dealing with problems?  What is the meaning of life?  Can a person change from killer to saint?  It probes the decisions to end one’s life, as well as human suffering.

“The Sunset Limited” is a two-person character study centering on dialogue rather than being a traditional action driven play.  In fact, the real action of the play takes place before the initial lights come up.

The ninety-minute poetic drama takes place in a small inner-city project apartment.  It is a conversation between two unnamed men, “Black “ and “White,” whose identifications match their skin color.  The former is very large and speaks Black English, while the latter, sometimes addressed as “Professor,” is slender in build and obviously well-educated as represented by both his language, and the way he formulates his ideas.

As their histories unravel, we become aware that Black has been in jail for murder.  While there, he became an evangelical Christian, having found “Jesus.”  His world revolves around reading and believing in the “Bible.” 

Just before the duos’ entrance into Black’s apartment, White had attempted suicide by jumping off the platform in the path of The Sunset Limited, a train that travels from New Orleans to Los Angeles.  Black grabbed him and stopped White’s flight to death.

As director Sean Derry revealed in a conversation following the production, he needed to “cut a lot of the dialogue,” which, in form, “is really more novel than a play script.”  It is not by accident that the subtitle of the piece is, “A Novel in Dramatic Form.”

The script is filled with well-conceived, insightful written lines, such as:  “Education makes the world personal.”  “All knowledge is vanity.”  “The darker story is always the correct one.”  “You are walking around dead.”  “There is a lingering Scent of divinity.” And, “There is a hope of nothingness.”

The men sit at a table, share coffee and food, move into the living room area, constantly talking.  There are no physical battles, no strong display of emotional outbursts.  Not much physically happens, but ideas flow. 

Myron Lewis, as Black, is an imposing presence.  He creates a real person who comes across as someone with an honest bent on “saving” White, both physically and spiritually.  His is a nicely textured performance.

Richard Worswick, as White, also develops a believable being, filled with angst, overwhelmed by life, having few friends, and possessing little reason to live.  He makes us believe that he has rejected the basic human need for survival and is ready to depart from his earthly existence.

Capsule judgement: “The Sunset Limited” is a thought-provoking script, which gets an intelligent production at none too fragile.  It is a play that will hold the attention of those interested in a philosophical delving into life, religion, and the human condition.

Big news from none too fragile: The company will present “Possum Dreams,” a play they staged in June of this year in New York in March, 2015.  Watch for the official announcement!

“The Sunset Limited” runs through September 27, 2014 at none too fragile theater which is located in Bricco’s Restaurant, 1841 Merriman Road, Akron. For tickets call 330-671-4563 or go to http://www.nonetoofragile.com

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Martin Céspedes creates a delightful "Forever Plaid" at Beck

Do you like close-harmonic singing?  Are you harking back to experience the “good” old days?  Do you like to escape from the stressful world and just “yak” at comedy shticks and revel in the ridiculous?   Then the place for you to be is Beck Center where Cleveland’s multi-award winning choreographer, Martin Céspedes, has added “creative director” to his résumé. 

“Forever Plaid” is a quirky, fun script, which takes the audience back to the 1950’s, a time of innocence, songs with words you could understand and identify with, with an occasional rock-and roll ditty thrown in.  This was the era of close-harmony boy groups (e.g., The Four Aces,  Four Coins, Four Preps).  Each step and gesture were pre-planned and in hopefully in sync.  Costumes and hair styles all matched. 

Ever hear of the group, “Forever Plaids?”  Probably not.  They weren’t a real boy group, but an imagined one by Stuart Ross, who invented them as the center-piece of his musical review, “Forever Plaid.”   Ross shoehorned songs of the era, melodies such as “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “Undecided,” “Perfidia,” “Catch a Falling Star,” “Heart and Soul,” “Lady of Spain,” and “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing,” between far-fetched stories to develop one of the most commonly produced theatrical reviews.

The premise is that the clean-cut quartet, Jinx, Sparky, Francis, and Smudge, had finally landed their first big gig at an airport bar in 1964.  To mark the event they ordered matching plaid tuxedos.  Unfortunately, on the way to the event, the high school chums’ dream of success, including their envisioned first album, ended when a bus filled with Catholic schoolgirls, on their way to see the Beatles’ American debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” slammed into their car, killing all four boys.  All they wanted was to get their chance, to wear those tuxes, to appear on a real stage, before a real audience.  But, those dreams were all snuffed out.  But . . ..

The play starts as the Plaids wander onto the stage and realize that they have been given a chance to  “live out” their dream.  What follows is a series of well harmonized songs, references to stars of the day, including Perry Como, Eddie Fisher, Buddy Holly, Patsy Cline, and the Ames Brothers, and lots of high jinx.   There are instances when the boys wander into the audience and interact with viewers, even bringing one startled lady on stage to help them out and do a synchronized dance.  They tease with the audience, and reminisce about the 1950s.

One of the show’s highlights is the reenactment of  the Ed Sullivan show, complete with appearances by Topo Gigio, Señor Wences and Johnny the puppet drawn on his hand, The Great Plate Spinner, and the Bersoni Chimps.

The Beck show, under the creative direction of Céspedes, delights.  The multi-award winning choreographer shows great skill in envisioning not only a perfect depiction of boy band moves, but letting loose with shtick that would have made Borscht Belt performers proud. 

The performers are Brian Altman as Smudge, the oft-confused member of the group, Shane Patrick O’Neill as Frankie, the leader with a tendency to hyperventilate when he gets stressed, Matthew Ryan Thompson as Jinx, the shy tenor with recurrent nose bleeds, and Josh Rhett Noble as the lovable, eager, adventurous, often goofy Sparky.  All have fine singing voices and display good comic timing.

On opening night, many audience members were heard singing along with the group, yelling out the names of the characters in the three and one-half minute capsulation of the “Ed Sullivan Show,” and being willing pawns in the audience participation segments.

Musical Director Bryan Bird and his orchestra (Bill Hart on percussion and Kevin Aylward on bass) created the right moods as they flowed from ballads to folk songs to rock and roll with musical ease. 

Joseph Carmola’s lighting, Aaron Benson’s night club set design, Carlton Guc’s sound design, and Aimee Kluiber’s costumes, all added to the overall effect.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Director Martin Céspedes’s creative directing and choreography, the excellent talents of Shane Patrick O’Neill, Matthew Ryan Thompson, John Rhett Noble and Brian Altman, and the fine musicianship of Bryan Bird, Bill Hart and Kevin Aylward, all combine to create a most pleasurable theatrical experience in Beck’s “Forever Plaid.”  It’s a relaxing, fun filled, “you’ll enjoy” it experience.

“Forever Plaid” is scheduled to run through October 12, 2014 on the Mackey Main Stage at Beck Center for the Arts.  For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go online to http://www.beckcenter.org

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

KSU + Musical Theatre Project = "Babes in Arms"

There’s a new couple in town.  The musical Theatre Project and Kent State’s Musical Theatre program are joining forces to do a staged reading/sing-through of the musical “Babes in Arms.”

People familiar with “Babes in Arms” usually think of it as the “hey let’s us kids, put on a play.”  The 1939 wholesome movie starred Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney.  What might surprises many is that a 1937 theatre version preceded the film. 

To add to the surprise, the original play had political overtones which delved into the concept of Nietzscheism, had a Communist character, and showcased two African-American youths who were victims of racism.   The play was redone in 1959 and was, as the publicity heralded, a “sanitized, depoliticized rewrite.” The script was again adapted in 1999 by John Guare. 

The score includes such classics as “The Lady Is a Tramp,” “Johnny One Note,” “I Wish I Were in Love Again,” and “My Funny Valentine.” 

An interview with Terri Kent, chair of the musical theatre program at Kent State shared some interesting information about the “Babes in Arms” production and the KSU program.

Kent State got involved in this project when Terri was contacted by Bill Rudman, Artistic Director of the musical Theatre Project.  The duo discussed several shows and honed in on “Babes In Arms” because many of the roles are populated by characters the ages of the University’s student body.  Besides the age parallel, Kent liked the idea that the show was set in the mid-thirties and “allows students to gain an understanding of the society of that time.”

Though Kent and Rudman had never worked together, she knew his work and “admires him as a musical theatre historian.”

The twelve students selected for the production tried out in three days of auditions which the KSU musical theatre program holds for all their main stage shows.  In addition to the students, four adults were cast to play the “mature” members of the story.  These are MaryAnn Black, Ron Thomas, Rudman and Kent.  The cast will be supported by musical director, Nancy Maier.

Kent has 85 musical theatre students.  This addition to the regular on-campus productions, and Porthouse Theatre’s summer program, the MTP involvement gives the future “professional theatre stars” a chance for more roles.  KSU grads have gone on to star on and off-Broadway, in cruise ship productions, work at such entertainment venues as Disneyworld, and have become school and college drama teachers and professors.

One of the emerging aspects of the KSU theatre offerings is the Returning Professional Program, in which college graduates, who have been involved in theatre productions, return to campus to finish their advanced degree. Ken Howard, Broadway  (“1776,” “Promises, Promises,” and “See Saw”), film (“The Country Girl,” “Strange Interlude, and “J. Edgar” and television  (“The White Shadow” and “The Thornbirds”), who went on to be president of the Screen Actors Guild, was the first participant in the degree program.  Graduates include Cleveland area performers Tracy Patterson, Greg Violand, and Mark Moritz.  Paul Floriano is now a student.

Kent is looking forward to staging the first student production of the new musical, “My Heart Is The Drum,” in February, 2015.    The show, which has an all Black cast, takes place in Ghana, and centers on Efua Kuti who flees her village when she is forced to marry, but wants to get an education.  It is filled with driving rhythms and rich vocal harmonies.  http://www.myheartisthedrum.com.     

“Babes In Arms” will be presented on September 18 @ Beck Center for the Arts, 8 PM and September 21 @ Stump Theatre, Kent State University, 2 PM.  For tickets call (Beck) 216-521-2540 X10 or visit http://www.beckcenter.org or KSU 330-672-2787, http://www.kent/edu/artscollege/

Monday, September 08, 2014

A Review of the Reviewer: Nicci Cassara, Choreographer


I just wanted to take a moment and introduce myself. We have never met in person but I have been reading your reviews forever and I believe you have seen some of my work. I just wanted to thank you for all you do. It's not an easy job but you help keep theater alive and thriving in Cleveland. It is much appreciated. Much continued success to you.always,
Nicci Cassara
Choreographer


Sunday, September 07, 2014

Spellbinding “Belleville” opens the 55th Dobama season

Dobama may be entering its 55th year (I was present the moment founding artistic director Don Bianchi declared its existence), but it is actually in its first season.  What?   Late last season, the Dobama board voted to change the status of venue to that of a full professional theatre.  This makes Dobama, like Great Lakes Theatre and Cleveland Play House, a stage where all actors are paid by equity standards and the production staff are members of the appropriate staging unions. 

The change in professional designation may be new, but as evidenced by “Belleville,” Amy Herzog’s compelling mystery-drama, the opening play of the 2014-15 season, Bianchi’s vision of producing relevant, well-crafted, important new plays is still on the theatre’s masthead.

“Belleville” is a spooky play, not in the sense of ghosts or spirits, but in the sense of taking the viewer to a place in the theatre landscape which is scary, penetrating into personal psyches, forcing the questions of “OMG what’s going to happen next?,” “who is fooling whom?,” and “is this for real?”

Pulitzer Prize winner, Amy Herzog, is one of today’s most esteemed playwrights.  Locals were exposed to her Chekov-like writing when Dobama staged “4000 Miles” several years ago.  Herzog, like Chekov, is noted for her naturalistic writing.  Her language is the pattern and style of real people, in real situations.  There is nothing theatrical about her characters.  The actors can’t act the roles she writes, they must live them.  They must listen to their fellow performers and react to what they say, not feign, but feel, think and present honesty.

Her plays revolve around secrets being revealed.  Her revelations emerge naturally, through pitch-perfect dialogue, rather than being imposed by the demands of plot.  Her written language is filled with intrigue as it explores what lurks in the world of relationships.  The audience gets rapped up in the naturalness of the characters and the tale they tell through a breathtaking intermissionless hour and three-quarters.

“Belleville” made its debut in 2011 at the Yale Repertory Theatre and was later performed off-Broadway.

The story revolves around newly married Americans, Zack and Abby, who are living in Paris, supposedly because Abby has always wanted to relive her parents wonderful experiences in the city of love.  The desire got stronger when Abby’s mother died.  The duo is renting an apartment in the multi-ethnic Belleville neighborhood, which is managed by a Muslim couple.

A series of small happenings escalate the tension between the newlyweds.   Questions arise about Zack’s MD degree from Johns Hopkins University, his employment in Paris as an AIDS researcher, why he can’t pay the rent and spends much time smoking pot, his laid back attitude and sudden maniacal mood swings.  Why has Amy dropped out of her French classes, become obsessed with her family back in the US, and the yoga classes she teaches but where no students show up?  What’s true?  What’s a lie? 

Dobama’s founding director, used to say that the playwright is the predominant voice in the room (the theatre).  Corey Atkins, the director of “Belleville,” learned this lesson well.  He understandings underlying motives of Herzog’s writing style, and has honed his actors to carry out the author’s intent and purpose.  The psychology of the characters, the mystery and danger of the plot, are all accented.  The realism required to make the lines live is present. 

Llewie Nuñez takes on the role of Abby and wears it with tenacity.  She is always just on the edge of falling off the high wire of rationality.  She clearly creates a fragile woman caught up in a life of potential stumbles and disaster.

Matt O’Shea follows up his performance as the co-star with Dorothy Silver, in Dobama’s production of Herzog’s “4000 Miles,” with another spell-binding portrayal.   His Zack is an obsessed young man filled with contradictions.  Is he a liar, abuser, game player, or a psychopath?  Whatever, O’Shea is totally convincing.

Robert Hunter (Alioune) and Carly Germany (Amina) are character correct as the bi-lingual Muslim couple who manage the building in which Abby and Zack live.  Each develops a real person.  Their spoken French is excellent.  Whether they speak the language, or were well honed by dialect coach Donald Carrier, they are believable.

Jill Davis’s French apartment design of a living room-kitchen, with sight into a bathroom and bedroom, is completely realistic.  Marcus Dana’s lighting design well highlights scenes, as well as adding tension through special effects.  Sound designer Tom Linsenmeier has added outside street noises, running shower water effects and other sounds, which enhance the action.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: ”Belleville” is a dark, draining play.  It looks at the limits of trust, truth, deception and dependency.  Dobama’s production is superb.  The writing, acting, staging and technical aspects all blend together to make for a compelling evening at the theatre.  It’s a must see for anyone interested in theatre and the limits of the human condition.
“Belleville” runs through October 5, 2014 at Dobama Theatre.  Call 216-932-3396 or http://www.dobama.org for tickets.

No bombs greet this version of "HAIR," just heat and a simulation of an era

Theatre is representative of the era from which it comes.  Seeing a play that reflects a specific time period can reveal the cultural attitudes of the people and society of that period.

Seeing HAIR, “The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical,” can give a film clip of the 1960s and early 70s in the U.S.  It was the era of the anti-war movement and rebellion against traditional societal patterns.  It was the time of sit-ins on college campuses, hippie communes, flower children, pot smoking, tie-dyed clothing, long hair, swearing and public nudity.  It was a period of rage against the military-industrial complex. It was the time of a clear generational divide.  If the young people could find a way to upset their elders, it was the “in” thing to do. 

Written by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, the show’s book was put to music by Galt MacDermot.  Its slim story was based on the authors’ personal experiences.   It centers on Claude, a member of the hippie community, who sells out and allows himself to be taken into the Army rather than burn his draft card or flee to Canada.

When the show first opened, it engendered strong protests.  Yes, protests about the protests.  On April 25, 1971, for example, a bomb exploded in front of Cleveland’s Hanna Theatre during the Age of Aquarius show’s run at that venue.

HAIR broke all sorts of theatrical traditions.  Members of the cast, known as the “tribe,” constantly jumped off the stage and interacted with members of the audience, invited patrons to dance with them, and they gave flowers and hugs to  the unsuspecting.  The U.S. flag was used as parts of costumes and burned.  There was full-frontal nudity and simulation of sexual acts.  There was an intentional ignoring of theater’s proverbial “fourth wall,” a separation of the stage actions from the audience.   This was a musical that broke from the tradition of the “nice” musical and took on controversy and started a trend in musical theatre of taking on contemporary and controversial issues.

This is not a well-written book musical.  The plot meanders, some of the songs don’t fit into the story, often do nothing to move the plot along.  Again, a break from the traditional musical of the day. Though often referred to as the “grand daddy of the rock musicals,” it’s a mélange of music and imagery.  The sounds change from rock to country to ballad to African American rhythms.

The highlight of action centers on Claude’s hallucinatory drug trip in Act II where a series of horrifying visions, loaded with historical figures, are presented in the oddest contexts. It’s a microcosm of the whole show, which essentially unfolds like a tune-filled acid trip that gives HAIR its distinctive period edge.

So, how does the show wear over all those years?  The times they have changed.  Reaction to swearing, smoking of pot, nudity, and protest are mundane by today’s standards.  Many of the references are beyond the knowledge of the younger members of the audience.  Unless you are an uptight conservative or an evangelical, who are not candidates to attend this show, the goings on won’t evoke much reaction.  Only the wonder of “what was all the fuss about?”

Some of the music has lost its luster.  Aquarius didn’t send me off onto a journey of effervescence.  Hashish, in this age of rampant drug usage, is just a song.  On the other hand, I Believe in Love, Easy to be Hard, and Good Morning Starshine, have held up due to their timelessness.

The Blank Canvas cast, under the direction of Patrick Ciamacco, was enjoyable, with two glaring flaws.  First, Ciamacco states in his director’s notes:  “I was drawn to produce “Hair” because I feel our country is going through a very similar movement as we did in the 60’s.”  Sorry, my naïve young man, since the you were not yet born when the anti-war demonstrations and flower-child rebellions were going on, you are not aware of the dynamics, power, and out-of-control motivations that lead to whole college campuses shut down due to sit-ins, and the take-over of buildings due the anti-war vehemence.  Nationally, buildings were burned, students were shot for civil-disobedience (e.g., the Kent State massacre).  There may be some uprisings and protests today due to individual events, but the 60’s movements were national events.  The portrayals by the young cast, not imbued with the true feelings the play reflects, were on the surface, acting what they thought their characters went through, but not identifying with the real motivations, therefore not feeling the actual angst.

Second, the small space, over sold-out audience, sweating actor’s bodies, real smoking, and 80+ degrees of heat outside, led to a sweltering theatre.  When the cast shed their clothing at the end of the first act, many in the audience were tempted to join them, just to get some personal heat reduction.  Either the theatre needs to find a way to cool the space more effectively, or change its schedule and avoid producing summer time shows.  Whew!

Brad Wyner and his band were excellent, wisely avoiding letting loose with the heavy rock sound and drowning out the singers.  Jessie Cope Miller’s choreography was creative, especially considering that she was working with a large cast on a postage stamp sized stage.  The moves on “Abie Baby” were, in era language, “mellow.”

Perren Hedderson’s projections added to the creation of visual realism.

Though the choral vocal sounds were mostly volume over blendings, there were both individual strong singing and acting performances.

Scott Esposito was well focused as Claude.  Who knew that this stalwart of local dramas (he gave a ”bravo” performance last season in Ensemble’s “The Normal Heart”) could sing so well?   Becca Frick (Jeanie) did a nice job with “Air,” Jessie Cope Miller, she of big and well-toned voice, wailed in “I Believe in Love” and “Good Morning Starshine.” Neely Gevaart (Chrissy) tenderly sang “Frank Mills.”  “What a Piece of Work Is Man” was the show’s musical highlight.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:   HAIR is a classic musical, which entered the theatre into an era of reflection of the turbulent era of the 60s and broke many traditional theatrical formats.  For those who want to relive the era, or who want to generally get an idea of what was going on during those times, the Blank Canvas staging gives an opportunity to take a seldom reprised trip through the times.  Due to a generation gap in understanding the true angst of the era, this isn’t a great production, but it is entertaining.
Tickets for HAIR, which runs through September 13, can be ordered at 440-941-0458 or www.blankcanvastheatre.com

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!


ACTORS SUMMIT 
--> 330-374-7568 or go to www.actorssummit.org
MAKING GOD LAUGH (October 9-November 2)--Home is where the heart AND the laughter is!

HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (November 26-December 21)--A mystery/comedy adapted from Arthur Conan Doyle's novel about an ancient curse and the inimitable Sherlock Holmes.
 
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.


KARAMU   
 216-795-7077 or www.karamuhouse.org
IT AIN'T NOTHING' BUT THE BLUES (SEPTEMBER 19-OCTOBER 12)--A musical revue of over 50 blues and blues infused songs.

ONE MONKEY DON'T STOP NO SHOW (October 31-November 23)--A comedy which centers on a baptist preacher, clinging tenaciously to his position in a local black elite church.  

LEAP OF FAITH (December 5-December 28)--The Ohio premiere of a musical by eight-time Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken which tells the tale of a Reverend, who, in fact, is a con-artist. 

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.

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.

EVIL DEAD--THE MUSICAL (October 21-22)--Toronto's long running musical tells the outrageous story of five college friends spending the weekend in an abandoned cabin in the woods after accidentally unleashing an evil force that turns them all into demons.
 
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.