We've all experienced that weird feeling when our car zips over a small rise in the road and our stomach floats and then starts to fall. It's kinda fun, if it lasts for a second or two. But when we experience the death of someone close, that feeling of gut-fall and disconnectedness lasts for hours, days, months. Years. And that's not much fun at all. In the fast-moving, fragmented and challenging play Black Cat Lost by Erin Courtney, now being produced by the Theater Ninjas, that feeling is expressed in a multitude of overlapping and intersecting moments. Structured around Zen death poems (written by audience members as they enter, or provided by the cast), the play both obsesses and frolics around all the ways we try to engage, and mostly avoid, such monumental loss. A Zen death poem is usually short, three lines but not a haiku. Such as: "Forever.../I pass as all things do/Dew on the grass." It tries to engage the mind just before death. An event that, you know, could happen at any time for any of us. There are telling thoughts in Courtney's piece. In one vignette, a woman relates how she visited her young son's elementary school class and observed him, through a window. struggling with his nap-time blanket. She notes, "Is this how death feels? To see the complexities and not be able to act?" The take-away from this non-linear presentation directed by Jeremy Paul, which includes a second short piece on the same topic, is a window into how we all experience life and loss. Remembering little, understanding less, but still willing to fight the good fight.
Through Nov. 9, various locations, www.theaterninjas.com.
Texas Chainsaw Musical
Blank Canvas Theatre
If you like blood and body counts in your play-going experience, but aren't that into Shakespeare, then consider a visit to this gory patch of Texas back country. This is where Eddy (otherwise known as "Leatherface," a tuneful sociopath) kills any living thing within reach. And thanks to director Patrick Ciamacco and his rowdy band of players, every homicide is a splatter-drenched comical treat. Based on the movie of almost the same name, the book by Christopher T. Minori and the music and lyrics by Cory Bytof are nothing that special. But the gore spills out practically non-stop as Eddy and his eventual partner in crime Lucretia (Kate Leigh Michalski) off everyone from Eddy's mom to a pregnant census taker to the UPS guy. As Eddy, Perren Hedderson is a quivering, twitching mass of psychopathologies—lighting his pet cat on fire before he moves on to his bipedal prey—and he's hilarious. Weirdly, in a production with so many gory special effects (anyone in the first two rows gets sprayed with blood, guaranteed), the quiet moments are some of the funniest. And the 10-person supporting cast, many of whom play multiple roles, wade into the carnage with cheerful abandon. This is a return engagement for TCM at Blank Canvas, and it's welcome back any time.
Through Nov. 2, 1305 West 79th St., 440-941-0458, blankcanvastheatre.com.
Richard III, Great Lakes Theatre
It has been observed that corporate CEOs (okay, some of them) share a disturbing number of traits with sociopaths. Both groups tend to be narcissistic, care little to nothing about the fates or feelings of others, and are able to, um, kill people with impunity. This comparison is brought home with powerful clarity in Richard III at the Great Lakes Theater. It features a gleaming, contemporary set of glass and steel that any corporation could easily move into at a moment's notice. And the power brokers vying for dominance in these halls are conniving and vicious. None more so than the crippled "rudely stamp'd" King Richard, who prowls the bloody halls of England's ruling class, eliminating his competition with a ruthless efficiency that has immediate bottom-line results.
Directed by Joseph Hanreddy, this production literally drips with blood. Queen Margaret, the widow of King Henry VI, pours a few gallons of plasma off the balcony into a waiting tub every time another person is dispatched. It's a stylish way to handle the gore, reflective of a production that is slick and entertaining from start to finish. The cast is led ably by Lynn Robert Berg as Richard, limping about on his twisted legs as he coos and snarls to put people in their place. It is a masterful and often witty performance that never becomes tiresome.
Through Nov. 2, Hanna Theater, 2067 East 14th St., 216-241-6000, playhousesquare.org.