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
When a theatrical property has been turned into a movie and also a TV show, you can be sure it has some popular appeal. And so it is with Sordid Lives by Del Shores, the down-home Texas comedy that explores a big ol' dumpster full of white trash with joyful abandon. This is a make-fun-of-the-low-IQ-rubes show that is primarily an exercise in shooting dad-gum fish in a gol-durn barrel, and it does so without apology. There's a pickup-load of laughs in Sordid Lives, and it all would land more effectively if playwright Shores weren't so keen on making everything work out perfectly for the gay characters. Pinning a pink paper heart on these raucous proceedings is too cloying by half.
Through April 20, produced by convergence-continuum at The Liminis, 2438 Scranton Road, 216-687-0074.
Cleveland Play House
Sometimes a bland title can hide a funny and even gripping show, and such is the case with Good People now at the Cleveland Play House. Written by the talented playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, this deceivingly amusing script tracks the travails of divorced Margie Walsh. The "g" in Margie's name is hard, just like her life—this lifelong resident of hardscrabble South Boston loses her clerk job at a dollar store, fired by neighborhood buddy Stevie within a couple minutes of the curtain rising. In this playwright's hands the laughs come fast and furious. Sure some of the set-ups are a bit contrived, such as the rat-a-tat straight line/punch line conversations taking place at a Bingo hall where these Southie friends go for recreation. Still, Good People is good show. Often very good.
Through April 14 at the Cleveland Play House, 1407 Euclid Avenue, 216-241-6000
Cleveland Public Theatre
Created and performed by the eponymous Nick Riley and Jeremy Paul, the evening is a casual assemblage of thoughts and musings (ie. Did you ever have the urge, while standing on a high bridge, to throw yourself off? Did you ever want to write a letter to your younger self?). These forays try to gently pry apart the differences between imagination and reality. between personal awareness and universal interconnectedness. Philosophy is fine, as far as it goes. But there's a reason plays by real philosophers, such as Sartre and Camus, feature actual characters and real (if sometimes obscure) plot lines. The theatrical experience demands genuine characters and conflict, not just two guys hanging out who get along great and, you know, totally get where the other is coming from.
Through April 13 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