Also On Stage
Christmas Is Comin' Uptown
Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is sort of like a theatrical Mr. Potato Head, with adaptors sticking new elements onto it to fit into various cultural motifs. And why not? Chuck is long dead and the story of redemption for Scrooge (picture Dick Cheney, but with a heart) is always a crowd pleaser. In this take now at Karamu, with music by Garry Sherman, lyrics by Peter Udell and book by Philip Rose and Udell, the scene is urban and Scrooge is an African-American slumlord who is due for a comeuppance. That all works fine and there are some clever moments in the script, such as when a transformed Scrooge wants to buy food for the Cratchit family and the only places open are a Chinese restaurant and a Jewish deli. The songs, however, are mostly forgettable, a fact that is not enhanced by some sketchy performances. At this performance, stand-in Miguel Osborne played Scrooge and he threw himself into the proceedings, although his vocals went flat fairly often. Jacqueline Lockett tears it up a bit as Sister Hopkins, and Glenn Burchette as Christmas Future generates some laughs as the Little Richard-inspired character flouncing through his Act 2 numbers. Director Richard H. Morris Jr. manages the large cast well, but allows a plethora of slow patches to slacken the pace of a show.
Through Dec. 29, 2355 East 89th St., 216-795-7077, karamuhouse.org.
Fool for Love
There are some plays that must feed on the tension they generate, and this is one. Written by Sam Shepard, it sketches a love-hate triangle employing contentious lovers, Eddie and May, and the Old Man who fathered them both with different mothers, then took off. In this production, ably directed by Amy Bistok-Bunce, the conflicted feelings of the lovers—they can't stand each other except when they're making love to each other—comes through like a gritty dust storm off the Mojave. And the Old Man's tequila-fueled dream state (he thinks he's married to Barbara Mandrell) is fascinating to watch as Robert Hawkes spins the codger's fractured memories. As May, Rachel Lee Kolis does a fine job as the emotional tether ball that swings this way and that depending on what hit her most recently. And her rage at Eddie's on-going relationship with a rich woman called the Countess is palpable. Clint Elston is also adept at navigating these kinds of turns, although he needs a bit more emotional heft to make this quicksilver character as threatening as he is enticing (to May). The fourth character, May's innocent and mostly hapless suitor Martin, is handled well by Stuart Hoffman. In a play about serial abandonment and reconnection, it's important to navigate each of the beats with precision. And this production does that often enough to make the one-act simmer with Shepardian misery and hope.
Through Dec. 22, 2438 Scranton Rd., 216-687-0074,convergence-continuum.org.
A Christmas Story
Cleveland Play House
Yes, the tale of Ralphie and his BB gun is back. As if any of us needed a refresher course, after watching the 1983 movie play continuously during marathon showings on cable over the past 30 years. 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, playhousesquare.org.