None Too Fragile Theater
Sometimes, a playwright sets himself a challenge he can't surmount, such as writing three penetrating monologues for three Caucasians who are racist in different but very familiar ways. That's what J.T. Rogers attempts in his play White People, now at None Too Fragile Theater in Akron, and it never quite gets off the ground. The trio of intercut speeches—by a white-trashy woman, an arrogant lawyer and a "politically correct" college prof—have their strong points (the lawyer has the best lines). But the clichés become oppressive and the presentations irritatingly self-absorbed. Director Sean Derry does what he can with this static material. His production only falls short because his actors, unlike the actor Sean Derry, can't stand and deliver this kind of wordy, tangled-up-in-your-neuroses stuff with the necessary texture and pace changes that are required.
Through May 11 at None Too Fragile Theater, 1841 Merriman Road, Akron, 330-671-4563
When a theatrical property has been turned into a movie and also a TV show, you can be sure it has some popular appeal. And so it is with Sordid Lives by Del Shores, the down-home Texas comedy that explores a big ol' dumpster full of white trash with joyful abandon. This is a make-fun-of-the-low-IQ-rubes show that is primarily an exercise in shooting dad-gum fish in a gol-durn barrel, and it does so without apology. There's a pickup-load of laughs in Sordid Lives, and it all would land more effectively if playwright Shores weren't so keen on making everything work out perfectly for the gay characters. Pinning a pink paper heart on these raucous proceedings is too cloying by half.
Through April 20, produced by convergence-continuum at The Liminis, 2438 Scranton Road, 216-687-0074.
The House of Blue Leaves
This is a play that's chock full o' nuts. These include. but are not limited to, a Queens zookeeper (Artie) who aspires to be a songwriter in Hollywood, his wife who is nicknamed Bananas (because she is), his AWOL son (Ronnie), and his hot-to-trot girlfriend (Bunny) who stokes his dreams and wants to run away with him. And it's all happening on the day the Pope is visiting New York City. It seems like a farce, and often plays like one, but this is a tragedy of substantial proportions. This juxtaposition is where Guare's genius resides, and where director Russ Borski finds all the right notes to play, unlike his musically challenged protagonist. Robert Ellis is a near-perfect Artie, glowing with the promise of an impossible career in Lala Land while dealing with his mentally scrambled wife. And Juliette Regnier is simply hypnotizing as Bananas, staring out from under her flat hair and registering a plethora of emotions that can change in a nanosecond. Her Bananas is a fully realized, deeply layered character that gives the production much of its heft.
Through April 21 at the Beck Center for the Arts, 17801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood, 216-521-2540
Next to Normal
Beck Center and Baldwin Wallace University
Now that we've proven that there is no subject too awful to write a musical about (see: serial killers and people on roller skates pretending to be choo-choo trains), the challenge becomes mounting such shows in ways that thoroughly involve the audience. In Next to Normal, the musical about a woman with bi-polar mental issues, Beck Center goes a long way towards that goal. The music is enhanced by the performance of Katherine DeBoer as bedeviled Diana, and she is matched by Scott Plate as her husband Dan, dutifully and lovingly trying to keep Diana moving forward while questioning himself along the way. Plate's rendition of the Act One closer, "A Light in the Dark," is tender and shattering.
Through April 21 (not a typo, this is an eight-week run!) at Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood, 216-521-2540