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On Stage This Week

Dawg Day Afternoon

The Kardiak KidLike many people who grew up in Cleveland, playwright Eric Schmiedl has a special love for the Browns of his childhood. His team was the 1980 "Kardiac Kids," the lineup whose wild, heart-stopping wins, often in the final two minutes, are still fondly remembered by fans of a certain age.

Browns games were a way for then 12-year-old Schmiedl to bond with his mom. "She was a huge Browns fan," he says. "She grew up in a family of all boys." But it was Schmiedl's Nigerian-born wife's devotion to the team that helped inspire his new one-man play, The Kardiak Kid, in which he portrays a cast of characters telling stories about that legendary season. Schmiedl was amazed to see his wife enacting, as many fans do, a series of sacred rituals meant to influence the outcome of the game.

"Watching with her is a painful experience," he says. "She has so many rituals: touch the floor, turn your back, hold your left ear to the ground. It's fascinating to me that there's a connection that we as fans have: the belief that if I do something right, they'll win."

One of the characters in Schmiedl's play believes that his failure to perform his customary rituals caused the Browns' infamous "Red Right 88" play that, on a brutally cold day in January 1981, cost the Browns the game to Oakland with less than a minute left. "That particular play was such a pinnacle moment that we [fans] keep going back to," Schmiedl says. "It's so much a part of our identity." Alongside "The Drive," "The Fumble," "The Move" and "The Decision," it's one of the permanent traumas tattooed on the hearts of long-suffering Cleveland fans.

Schmiedl is fascinated by Clevelanders' emotional bond with the Orange and Brown. "There's some sort of connection in my cultural DNA," Schmiedl says, "and I'm a theater geek! Yet I'm connected in some fashion. It's part of who we are." —Pamela Zoslov

The Winter's Tale Is it a comedy? A romance? Shakespeare's bittersweet The Winter's Tale doesn't fit easily into either category, with three acts of intense psychological drama followed by two acts of comedy and a happy ending. The 1623 drama concerns King Leontes of Sicilia, who imprisons his queen, Hermione on suspicion of infidelity and exiles his newborn daughter, who grows up to fall in love with a Bohemian prince. Jesse Berger, founder and artistic director of New York's Red Bull Theatre, makes his Great Lakes Theater directing debut. Friday, Sept. 28 at 7:30 p.m. at the Hanna Theatre. 2067 E. 14th St.. Tickets are $15 to $70, students $13. The play runs through Nov. 4; beginning Friday, Oct. 5, it is performed in repertory with Moliere's The Imaginary Invalid, through Nov. 3. Curtain times are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, October 11 and Friday Oct. 12 at 7:30 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 14 and 21 at 3 p.m. and Saturday, Oct. 20 at 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 to $70, students $13. Call 216-241-6000 or go to greatlakestheater.org.

The Normal Heart Thirty-two years after the emergence of AIDS, there's a lot of retrospective examination going on – film documentaries about AIDS activism and a revival of activist/playwright Larry Kramer's angry 1985 The Normal Heart. The Broadway revival won the 2011 Tony Award, and the play – an indictment of government and gay-community indifference to the growing AIDS crisis – is the opening production at Ensemble Theatre. Kramer's play, about a writer who nurses his dying lover, was a conscience-shaking landmark, addressing AIDS when no one would talk about it. Much has changed since then, but The Normal Heart remains an emotionally potent drama. Sarah May directs the play, which opens Friday, Sept. 28 and runs through Oct. 21 at Ensemble, 2843 Washington Blvd., Cleveland Heights. Curtain times are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets $20, seniors $18, students $10. Call 216-321-2930 or go to ensemble-theatre.com.

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