If you Google the word "smirk," you will find definitions revolving around the idea of offensive smugness. And that's a pretty good capsule description of All This Intimacy by Rajiv Joseph. It's now at Ensemble Theatre as part of their Second Season of shows in their smaller studio theater. Joseph, the gifted playwright from Cleveland Heights who penned the marvelous Huck & Holden and the much-acclaimed Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, (and whose Animals on Paper is still playing Ensemble's main stage), here pounds out a symphony of wrong notes. While director Aaron Elersich crafts a few scenes that work quite well, and the ending is thankfully downbeat, the two hours getting to that point are a hard slog.
Ty is a young-ish poetry phenom who had a collection of his verse hit the best-seller list. It was about a man who had a super power enabling him to turn anything into a complicated maze. So now Ty is a poetry professor on the make and, as we learn in the first scene, has impregnated three women. So he created a labyrinth with no way out, just like his poetry protagonist, get it? This is all meant to set up a climactic second act where, just like a contrived episode of I Love Lucy, all the women are nonsensically invited by Ty to a dinner where he will announce his fatherhood to all assembled. Of course, this is all splained by the playwright in excruciating detail early on, so there are no surprises. This isn't helped by Ryan Edlinger, who plays Ty with an almost continual toothy smile that is his default facial expression for every emotion.
Through Oct. 27, 2843 Washington Blvd., Cleveland Heights, 216-321-2930, ensemble-theatre.org.
Cleveland Public Theatre
Some say dreams can be interpreted and provide information about yourself, reveal your hidden desires and maybe even ferret out some unknown strengths. Of course, others claim dreams are nothing more than random memories and imaginary flights stitched together haphazardly by a mischievous brain that is off duty and has time to kill. Whatever you believe, Insomnia: The Waking of Herselves at Cleveland Public Theatre is a dream sequence that will keep you awake and riveted. Written by Holly Holsinger, Chris Seibert and director Raymond Bobgan, this version feels more amusing and at times even more poignant than the original. The three performers are the same, as Anne McEvoy plays Evelyn, a middle-age woman beset by voices in her head that keep her awake at night. (Or is she asleep and they are her dreams?) So she visits her attic to discover Ev (Holsinger), a younger version of herself, and Zelda (Seibert), a playful scamp who seems like a core identity of the other two. In various combinations, the three "herselves" interact, play games, sing songs and explore this woman's identity. Director Bobgan keeps the action streamlined and cohesive so that this very internal play never lapses into navel-gazing. The result is a production that is tight, witty and often quite powerful.
Through Oct. 26, 6415 Detroit Avenue, 216-631-2727, cptonline.com.
Texas Chainsaw Musical
Blank Canvas Theatre
If you like blood and body counts in your play-going experience, but aren't that into Shakespeare, then consider a visit to this gory patch of Texas back country. This is where Eddy (otherwise known as Leatherface, a tuneful sociopath) kills any living thing within reach. And thanks to director Patrick Ciamacco and his rowdy band of players, every homicide is a splatter-drenched comical treat. The gore spills out practically non-stop as Eddy and his eventual partner in crime Lucretia (Kate Leigh Michalski) off everyone from Eddy's mom to a pregnant census taker to the UPS guy. As Eddy, Perren Hedderson is a quivering, twitching mass of psychopathologies—lighting his pet cat on fire before he moves on to his bipedal prey—and he's hilarious. Weirdly, in a production with so many gory special effects (anyone in the first two rows gets sprayed with blood, guaranteed), the quiet moments are some of the funniest. And the 10-person supporting cast, many of whom play multiple roles, wade into the carnage with cheerful abandon. This is a return engagement for TCM at Blank Canvas, and it's welcome back any time.
Through Nov. 2, 1305 West 79th St., 440-941-0458, blankcanvastheatre.com.