Maurice Hines is Tappin' Through Life
If you're lonely for the kind of polished and unabashedly sentimental lounge acts that Vegas is famous for, then you need to take a relaxing dip in Maurice Hines is Tappin' Through Life, now at the Cleveland Play House. Back in the day, the now 70-year-old Maurice was one-third of the tap dancing act Hines, Hines and Dad. Maurice lived somewhat in the shadow of his younger and more famous brother Gregory, who died in 2003. But now Maurice is center stage, and he has the smooth patter and unctuous manner of a tried and true vaudeville performer.
Although the title of this touring show refers to dancing, the first hour is almost entirely made up of familiar American songbook-style tunes, delivered by Hines in a warm, jazzy vocal style. He is backed by the all-female Diva Jazz Orchestra that swings energetically under the direction of Dr. Sherrie Maricle (who contributes a most inventive drum solo during "Caravan"). There are a lot of predictable show biz stops (meeting Ella, meeting Frank, getting invited to sit on Johnny's couch). These are handled with wide-eyed wonder, and he never shares any juicy behind-the-curtain tidbits. Finally, in the last half hour, tap dancing takes the stage as Hines proves his feet can still fly with the best of them. He is aided immeasurably by, appropriately, another brother team of tappers, John and Leo Manzari. Their aggressive and innovative steps inject a needed jolt of adrenaline to this mostly mellow production. Through June 29 at the Cleveland Play House, 1407 Euclid Ave., 216-241-6000, clevelandplayhouse.org.
Stranded on Earth
In this one-hander by local playwright Eric Coble, brilliantly performed by Derdriu Ring and directed by Jeremy Paul, Alexa is a 40-something visual artist who is discussing her life in terms of before and after. She is switching from reports of mundane daily tasks to sweeping, extended poetical ruminations on existence. It's a daring format for a play, and while there are telling moments throughout, the entire piece seems a bit forced and often a tad trite. Coble, a very successful playwright nationally, is a supremely witty, compassionate and intelligent writer (not to mention an affable and generous human being). He can craft sentences that bristle and heave with such lush imagery that you just want to take a few and cuddle up with them over a glass of brandy. Unfortunately, he has a tendency to overload his text with so many bulging sentences jammed together that the human ear and mind cannot keep pace. Since half or more of the show happens inside Alexa's head, many of the mini-monologs feel like disconnected, random thoughts that exist in their own sphere apart from the real world. As Alexa, Ring is splendid—as tight and intense as her pulled-back hair. She admirably conveys the need this woman has to make sense of an existence fraught with banal chores and life-shattering consequences. If the script gave Alexa (and Ring) more room to breathe, thereby allowing the audience to more fully appreciate her situation, Stranded On Earth would not leave the audience so often on the outside looking in. Through June 22, produced by Mamaie Theatre Company and Theater Ninjas at Pilgrim Church, 2592 West 14th St., theaterninjas.com.