Cleveland Public Theatre
"It's a rare and wonderful opportunity to find out what is true." That line is spoken to describe a stroke suffered by Tannis Kowalchuk, who is one of the two performers on stage, along with Brett Keyser. Struck explores this "cerebrovascular accident" from the inside out, utilizing captivating and often startling digital video effects projected on an ever-changing scrim-screens that are pulled across or dropped into the playing area. Director Ker Wells and more than a dozen artists and entities have combined their talents to fashion this visceral as well as intellectual experience. And even when you're not sure what's going on there are enough touchstones to keep you grounded and moving forward with the players. If theater can be truly immersive—employing light, sound and movement in continually surprising ways—then Struck is the perfect example. And just like the fuzzy basal ganglia that floats above the set, activating and pulsing in different colors, your synapses are going to light up in new and different ways when experiencing this amazing event.
Through April 6 at Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit Avenue, 216-631-2727
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