Cleveland Play House
Yes, the tale of Ralphie and his BB gun is back. Of course, just when you say there's nothing new you can discover about this play, drawn from the fertile and clever mind of Jean Shepherd, there's a pleasant surprise. In this production, that happy occurrence (and a couple others) is crimped by one major fault that keeps the play grounded like Randy on his back in the snow. The wonderful aspect of this show is that Michael Heintzman, who plays The Old Man, is an absolute treasure. As directed by John McCluggage, he plays against the gruff dad established by Darrin McGavin in the movie, an approach replicated by most stage actors to follow. Instead, Heintzman is a jovial and goofy fellow who even battles his recalcitrant furnace with a sort of buoyant good cheer—even amidst the colorful obscenities he launches in fits of put-upon pique. His performance gives the show a rosy glow that it needs, especially considering that the narrator, the grown-up Ralphie, is a disappointment. As adult Ralph, Jeff Talbott has the right look and sound, but he rushes through Shepherd's glorious words (as adapted by Philip Grecian) at such a breakneck pace that the warmth of these recollections of a Christmas past is trampled in the process. The kids who run with Ralphie and his little bro Randy (Skipper Rankin) are mostly just okay, and this production's version of the bully Scut Farkas never quite establishes his ferocity. But Carisa Turner as Esther Jane is adorable as she shyly tries to bond with Ralphie. Even with its performance burps and blips, Shepherd's golden reminiscences are still there. And that's a holiday gift you can't just pick up at Higbee's (er, Dillards).
Through Dec. 22, 1407 Euclid Ave., 216-241-6000, clevelandplayhouse.com.
Blank Canvas Theatre
The farther we get from the early '70s, when this show originated, the less easy it is to swallow the too-hip-for-the-room vibe that authors John Michael Tebelak (book) and Stephen Schwartz (music and lyrics) fashioned. Built around well-known Biblical parables, this updated version features plenty of references to contemporary culture and technology. And the young cast is decked out in a galaxy of costumes ranging from Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band to a boy wearing long johns and fuzzy boots. Of course, the pop score featuring all-time hits such as "Day By Day" is mostly intact. And the group singing offers plenty of power and resonance. But the solo singers tend to be vocally challenged, and their inability to nail the less well-known songs prevents the show from casting the spell it desires. As Jesus, Noah Hrbek exhibits a wispy earnestness that works well enough, although he hardly seems magnetic enough to attract all those disciples. Isreal Spain has one of the stronger voices as he plays the dual role of John the Baptist and Judas. Director Patrick Ciamacco adds some clever touches, such as a soap bubble gun used as a baptismal fount, and he keeps the small BCT stage alive with action as he maneuvers the nine-person cast around the small stage. There are some chuckles, as when they sing, "Every man who humbles himself shall be exalted," and someone chimes in with a slight revision of the prize fight ring announcer's line: "Let's get ready to hummm-ble!" If you like stories with clear and unambiguous morals, delivered with plenty of youthful zest, then this Godspell may be a godsend.
Through Dec. 21, 1305 West 78th St., Suite 211, 440-941-0458, blankcanvastheatre.com.
Doug Is a D-Bag
Cleveland Public Theatre
Let's face it, we're all now one click away from doom—personal or professional—since our misdirected texts or elegantly composed crotch shots can be sent worldwide in a nanosecond. This is the modern technological rat's nest that is addressed in Doug Is a D-Bag now at Cleveland Public Theatre. Written and directed by Renee Schilling, it's basically a knock-off of the TV show The Office with one huge innovative twist: Audience members are encouraged to leave their phones on and use them during the show. Set in the office of Re-Imaginate, Inc., a human resources management firm, the play tracks the fraught relationship between co-workers Doug (Matt O'Shea) and Lorie (Emily Pucell). Corporate buzzwords and phrases pile up as a gaggle of other workers, as well as the firm's founder and his wife, try to resolve their own HR storms. Taken as an experiment, Doug seems like a mixed bag. It certainly explores the idea of audience participation via smart phone. And there are some very clever moments in Schilling's script, amid some more predictable palaver. But it's not clear how the audience texts impacted the show, other than distracting the texters themselves from the action on stage.
Through Dec. 14, 6415 Detroit Avenue, 216-631-2727, cptonline.org.