Along with the gloomier holiday aftereffects of hangovers and credit-card max-outs, for the past seven seasons the new year has also brought Cleveland Public Theatre's award-winning Big [Box] series. The series, says CPT head Raymond Bobgan, has become a main vehicle by which "we look to nurture artists who are developing adventurous new ways of making theater, and whose work may potentially be part of our future seasons."
What follows are scanty briefs, drawn from glimpses provided by the artists themselves. There's no guarantee, however, that this will completely describe what finally takes place onstage, given that creative evolution is the essence of the process and the ultimate purpose of the series.
The Beetlebug and the Bad Worm By Faye Hargate and Jeremy Paul
And Kissmet By Katherine Kurre; directed by Danielle Hisey
The first work blends physical theater and puppetry to recount the title duo's comic mishaps on an epic trek through fame and poverty that, in a quest to ultimately attain undying friendship, somehow evokes both Samuel Beckett and Tom & Jerry. Kurre rather enigmatically describes Kissmet as questioning "the vastness of the human condition, while demanding control and responsibility of individual capabilities" via a story aimed comprehensively at "the stoned and the throwers of the first stone."
Summer Nights and Fireflies By Bianca Sams; directed by Tony Sias
Zandra, the proprietor of a working-class bar, is hounded by a family legacy of alcoholism and abuse. Finally, prompted by circumstances, she's forced to decide between enslavement to the past or change as she struggles toward recovery and redemption.
And Then You Die (How I Ran a Marathon in 26.2 Years) By David Hansen; directed by Alison Garrigan
And Claus for a Moment By Jeff Glover; directed by Dan Folino
This double bill is graced by the series' most recognizable names. Veteran theater manager and playwright Hansen has penned another solo piece for himself. It's about a cartoonist who conceives of the last quarter-century of his life as a comic marathon he's been running around the Five Boroughs (presumably of New York City) and through various relationships and much heartbreak. Directing is actress-costumer-song stylist (and force of nature) Garrigan.
The evening's second half is also a comic monologue, authored by familiar actor Glover, in which a not-all-that-jolly Santa, suffering post-Xmas depression, mulls over the pluses and minuses of eternity as a legend. At the directing helm is Dan Folino, yet another member of the area's performing elite.
January 30-February 1
Nearly Nude Presented by MegLouise Dance A provocatively titled group of dance pieces that "reveal the human body in motion" and invite us to "reconnect with the flesh" through an exploration of such differing and defining concepts of body image as femininity, sexuality and obsession.
BACKspace Presented by FiveOne, Carly Dorman and Sara Lawrence
A melding of original choreography by dancers Carly Dorman and Sara Lawrence with new music from local classical ensemble FiveOne. "Rather than remain as two separate shows," enthuses Bobgan, "the groups have come together" to create "the kind of artistic intersection that makes Big [Box] so cool."
InCogNegro Presented by UMOJA Arts By Lisa Langford; directed by Jimmy Woody
Inspired by parallels between the emergence of Barack Obama and the protagonist of Ralph Ellison's classic novel, Invisible Man, Langford envisions a satirical look at black invisibility on the national stage. About this premiere, Bobgan says, "I get very excited when artists expand out of their comfort zones. With Jimmy Woody directing, I think this is going to be a great show."
Unethical By Margi Herwald Zitelli; directed by Lisa Ortenzi
The eternal cry is "God, do I need this job!" But when the omnipotent, faceless Company in this allegorical send-up of office politics issues a new Corporate Policy on Employee Ethics and Standard Conduct, the relationships of four co-workers are sorely tested as they find the only way to survive is to bargain away their rights to personal expression. About Zitelli, a writer he lauds as constantly striving to get her plays "out there," Bobgan says, "It's great to see a playwright working so hard to grow ... and I think Unethical shows that growth. It's funny, but it also has a depth to it."