Arts » Theater

Capsule reviews of current area theater presentations.

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A medical student (Tim Keo) lets an old flame (Sadie - Grossman) get under his skin in Cleveland Public Theatres - The Vampyres.
  • A medical student (Tim Keo) lets an old flame (Sadie Grossman) get under his skin in Cleveland Public Theatres The Vampyres.
Amadeus -- If your mortal enemy were in the same profession as you, chances are you'd wish him every failure possible, so that you could wallow in all the attendant misery. But Amadeus author Peter Shaffer might advise that you be careful what you wish for. Indeed, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a giant thorn in the side of Antonio Salieri, court composer to the emperor of Austria. And for a long time in this drama, Salieri's dreams do come true: Mozart's brilliant music is often greeted with a shrug by his patron and the public, while Salieri's comparatively primitive tunes were hailed and richly rewarded. Yet this becomes Salieri's most exquisite torment, since only he appears able to recognize Mozart's genius. In the linchpin role, Andrew May stows many of his theatrical pyrotechnics and crafts a cramped and hollow Salieri. He is well matched by Ben Nordstrom's wildly careening yet believable Mozart, a man who, for all his excesses, still knows the score. The entire cast, under the deft direction of Gordon Reinhart, is so accomplished, one almost doesn't notice how unnecessarily padded and overlong the script is, landing at three hours with intermission. Presented by the Great Lakes Theater Festival through October 22 at the Ohio Theatre, 1517 Euclid Ave., 216-241-6000. -- Christine Howey

As You Like It -- This rendering of one of Shakespeare's tastiest comedies -- set amid the tangles of disguised identities and loopy crushes -- is spirited, but less than thoroughly inspired. Under the direction of gifted Risa Brainin, it generates merriment in myriad ways while following the convoluted love trail of Rosalind and Orlando. Even so, some of the characterizations don't exhibit the sharpness and snap that one would desire in this crowd-pleasing romantic comedy. Julie Evan Smith is a willowy Rosalind, with just enough fire, wit, and spine to make her drag-king masquerade as Ganymede borderline credible. And while Jeff Cribbs is entirely likable as Orlando, he doesn't quite ignite the spark necessary to light up Rosalind's life. Brainin employs some original 1930s-style music by Brad Carroll, sung by suave Scott Plate with his backup crew, to help place the time. But that mood is broken when the singers launch into a contemporary hip-hop number. Presented by the Great Lakes Theater Festival through October 22 at the Ohio Theatre, 1519 Euclid Avenue, 216-241-6000. -- Howey

Cabaret -- Kalliope's brutally magnificent staging of this show, popularized on film in 1972, strips it down to its core. The result is a metal-on-metal screech of bleak sexuality in a backwards world where survival demands isolation from others. The Kit Kat Club is bustling with activity as you take your seat at a small table: Leather boys abound, a transvestite is swinging overhead, and the stage is set for the emcee, played by John Paul Boukis, to launch into "Wilkommen." The emcee's performances, supported by a splendidly sullen chorus line of junkies, whores, and perverts, serve as the framework for a curiously traditional Broadway musical formula: two couples teetering on the brink of relationships. This Cabaret gets even the small things right, from background vignettes (an S&M bottom getting paddled by his top) to a contortionist clown-mime (the amazingly limber Joseph Haladey III) who continually fuels the production's spooky aura. And even though the first-act pacing goes a little slack, the show's breathtaking ending will drive home the stark terror that can appear with the flick of a switch. Through October 16 at Kalliope Stage, 2134 Lee Rd., Cleveland Hts., 216-321-0870. -- Howey

Dark Room -- The conventional image we have of playwrights and poets is of lonely souls slaving away in a poorly lit basement. Well, you've got the location and the illumination right, but everything else about the Dark Room project is much cheerier. Sponsored by the Cleveland Theater Collective, it's a once-a-month workshop/cabaret for writers who want to try out their new efforts on a small but extremely encouraging audience. On this night, in a basement room in the Parish Hall at Cleveland Public Theatre, the quality of the pieces varied widely, as is to be expected with scenes or verses that are still being developed (thus, the dark room). But one monologue by Tom Huggins, describing the burnout of nurses dealing with psycho patients in hospitals, was as irreverent and hilarious as a David Sedaris essay. Other offerings, each under 10 minutes, touched on the obnoxious questions asked of "little people," a musical take on holiday haters, and a little girl's imaginary friend, who is a middle-aged Dame Edna type. Reading from scripts (and dragooning anyone nearby to fill out a cast), the writers express, share, and support. And that's a terrific environment for any embryonic artistic endeavor. Takes place the second Thursday of every month at Cleveland Public Theatre's Parish Hall, 6205 Detroit Avenue, 216-631-2727, www.clevelandtheater.com. -- Howey

The Designated Mourner -- The plays of Wallace Shawn boast scripts that distill the essence of arguments about morality and self-awareness into poetically compressed streams of thought. This largely static play centers on three characters who move only incidentally, but whose minds are feverishly at work. Set in an unnamed country where the government is hostile to intellectuals, Jack is a recovering member of the inner circle of the educated. He decides to desert the sinking ship of those who adore books and revere art; thus he avoids the fate of many friends, who are eventually arrested and either die in prison or are executed by the state. These ghastly events are never seen and only mentioned in passing, as Jack obsesses about his disconnection from his body and the tumultuous world around him. One of the undeniable pleasures in this production is the language the playwright uses to spin his static tale of dread. As Jack, Randy Rollison masterfully conveys the impotent rage of a man who considers the thoughts and memories that make up his very self as a random collection of bric-a-brac, signifying less than nothing. Through October 22 at Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit Avenue, 216-631-2727. -- Howey

Footloose -- Twenty years ago, as Kevin Bacon shook his booty to film stardom, this story about a small town's dancing ban seemed far-fetched. But these days, who knows? The stage version, now at the Carousel Dinner Theatre, is a faithful retelling of the yarn, down to young Ren McCormack's (Mike Backes) mischievous needling, Reverend Shaw Moore's (Paul Floriano) grim Christian rectitude, and his daughter Ariel's (Kyli Rae) swooning crush on Ren, the rebel with the prancing feet. This production has a strangely enervating feeling in the first act, a combination of an uneven sound system and a couple of less than dynamic characterizations. But it hits the ground kicking in the second stanza, with an energetic "Still Rockin'" and an appealing rendition of "Let's Hear It for the Boy" by Vanessa Ray, who brings a bundle of fun to her portrayal of Rusty. SuEllen Estey, as the Reverend's wife, Vi, nails two of the quieter songs, evoking genuine sentiment from "Learning to Be Silent" and "Can You Find It in Your Heart?" Although the singing voices of Backes and Rae seem a bit thin at times, the final result makes you want to hit the dance floor. Through November 12 at Carousel Dinner Theatre, 1275 E. Waterloo Rd., Akron, 800-362-4100. -- Howey

The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? -- The sexual union of man and beast is one of the darker byways of eros, a topic most civilized people steer clear of. But in 2000, the esteemed and provocative playwright Edward Albee created a minor uproar with this play, which addresses the issue with a combination of absurdity, comedy, and Greek tragedy. Dobama Theatre is now presenting this fierce exploration of the limits of tolerance, the boundaries of love and betrayal, and the allure of sloe-eyed quadrupeds. While frequently witty and often hypnotically fascinating, the play is rife with contradictions and flaws. But it's elevated by Joel Hammer's pitch-perfect direction and one performance that is so shattering in its honesty, variety, and rage that it transcends the material: Tracee Patterson, as wife Stevie, keeps all her reactions credible in the face of the incomprehensible revelation that her husband, Martin (Scott Miller), has been bedding a goat. Presented by Dobama Theatre through October 16 at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Ave., 216-932-3396. -- Howey

Menopause, the Musical -- Everybody enjoys musicals dealing with energetic young people on the brink of conquering the world. But what about the people in the audience: the nearsighted, overweight, and wrinkled denizens of middle age, who rarely see their own physiological mysteries put into song? For them, there is Menopause, the Musical, a hoot of a show written by Jeanie Linders. It's a foot-stomping 90-minute revival meeting for women who've had to deal with The Change while also trying to maintain their careers and family relationships. Menopause is frequently repetitious, even teetering on the brink of tiresome, but the energetic cast of four and spirited direction by Patty Bender and Kathryn Conte maintain the flow, so to speak. All women with a few decades on them -- even those who only use "menopause" as an excuse to get out of going to football games -- will probably get a stiff neck from nodding in agreement and a tender side from all the laughter. Playhouse Square Center's 14th Street Theatre, 2037 East 14th St., 216-241-6000. -- Howey

Midnight Martini Show -- There is a strange attraction in Frank Sinatra's loosely organized Rat Pack and their infamous, loopily disorganized Las Vegas shows that ran for a few golden years back in the 1960s. Frank, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. mixed pop songs, corny jokes, and Johnnie Walker into an irreverent, hip evening that seemed so easy. What the Midnight Martini Show at Pickwick & Frolic proves is that it ain't easy at all. This one-hour set attempts to capture the bored-with-it-all sophistication and the slightly inebriated intimacy that the Rat Packers achieved, but it fails on several counts, from the overly eager performers to the florid songs and lame drinking jokes. Which is not to say that this no-cover show doesn't provide a convenient glide path for those downtown on a Friday or Saturday night. Indeed, some of the American standards are sung well enough. Now the task is to find directors and performers who understand that being casually funny while delivering classic tunes takes a lot of work. Fridays and Saturdays at Pickwick & Frolic, 2035 East 4th St., 216-241-7425. -- Howey

The Vampyres -- This coagulated zombie of a play seems to keep stalking the area, having been performed in CPT's Black Box series and in an earlier iteration at Dobama's Night Kitchen. One can only hope that this version, staged in what is usually the lobby of the James Levin Theatre, will prove to be the cross, silver bullet, stake in the heart, or whatever is required to finally kill off the misbegotten effort. Playwright David Hansen and director Alison Hernan Garrigan have combined their estimable talents to bring forth a 75-minute specimen of quasi-humorous, faux-frightening vampire clichés wrapped in pseudo goth-rock. In it, a young medical student (a perpetually astonished Tim Keo) is serially insulted, abused, and seduced by three horny vampire wannabes he meets in a Starbucks-on-the-Styx coffeehouse. It's unclear whether the idea is to send up horror tales or to create a new, ironic take on Anne Rice's franchise. But the production fails in either case, due to a lack of focus and a meandering tone. Still, if you like watching kids play dress-up, slithery Doug Kusak is quite good as Lestat-lite, and Margi Herwald sulks capably as clerk Claire. Through October 16 at Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit Ave., 216-631-2727. -- Howey

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