Arts » Theater

Capsule reviews of current area theater presentations.

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Custody of the Eyes -- John Patrick Shanley's Doubt, about a priest using his station in life to get into the pants of children, was given a powerful dramatic Broadway presentation last year. Now the Play House is chiming in with its world premiere of a play by Anthony Giardina that also obliquely refers to priestly pedophilia. The central struggle is built around the concept of what it means to be spiritual, and this production succeeds in making that issue immediate, resonant, and relevant for believers and nonbelievers alike. Switching back and forth in time and place, the playwright sketches out two perspectives on the spiritual journey: the road not taken (of a holy man who was tempted by an adolescent, but did not succumb) and the road being followed by the play's central figure, Father Edmond, toward deep personal involvement with a parishioner and away from the distancing rituals of prayer and solitude. A strong cast under the direction of Michael Butler keeps Shanley's vision down to earth. Through May 21 at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Ave., 216-795-7000. -- Christine Howey

Dream on Monkey Mountain -- When dreams are translated into performance art, the results can be mixed. In this massive show by Trinidadian Derek Walcott, folklore and dreamscapes combine to forge a performance that is at times engrossing and viscerally stimulating. But there are arid patches in this long production (approaching three and a half hours) that soften the impact of Walcott's fevered visions. Employing a rich, rasta-jambalaya of language, including poetic riffs, Caribbean patois, and backstreet slang, Walcott (who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1992) attempts to portray the restless search for a genuine black identity in a West Indies chafing under British colonial rule. To that end, he embroils an old hermit named Makak (Cornell Calhoun III) in a drunken row during a rare visit to town; it lands him in a jail cell. Abused by a sneering Corporal Lestrade and mocked by two other natives in an adjoining cell, Makak longs to return to Africa, his spiritual home. From that point on, the dream takes flight, as pounding drums and waves of dancers accompany Makak on his glorious quest. Despite the show's faults, it's a pleasure to see Karamu and director/co-choreographer Terrence Spivey grapple with such weighty material. Through May 21 at the Karamu Performing Arts Theatre, 2355 East 89th St., 216-795-7077. -- 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

110 in the Shade -- Musical theater has always had an affinity for con games, not to mention the naive innocence of the American West. These two elements collide like a head-on between The Music Man and Oklahoma! in this show, based on the play The Rainmaker, by N. Richard Nash. A melodic excursion through a drought-stricken little farm community in the 1930s, it benefits from intelligent direction by Paul F. Gurgol and some crackling sexual tension between the two leads. Allan Snyder is every inch a convincing Starbuck, the stranger who comes to town promising to bring rain in exchange for 100 clams, and Joan Ellison firmly establishes her no-nonsense character as his love interest, Lizzie, using her polished singing voice to coax beauty out of tender songs. And even though Lizzie's final decision may be less romantic than some might wish, there's a prairie full of passion along the way. Through May 21 at the Kalliope Stage, 2134 Lee Rd., Cleveland Hts., 216-321-0870. -- Howey

This Is Our Youth -- A couple of rich-kid college dropouts and drug dabblers, circa 1982, loll around a grubby New York apartment, whining about their lot in life and trying to think of something to do to fill out the rest of their day. Just the thought of watching twentyish mopes bitch and moan about their unfeeling fathers, harridan mothers, and Reagan in the White House is nearly impossible to tolerate. But somehow, playwright Kenneth Lonergan manages to dance through all the cliché land mines in this scenario and turn the rather grandly titled This Is Our Youth into a human and rather endearing piece of theater. The production by the Night Kitchen at Dobama Theatre is uneven, but manages to capture enough real moments to keep pace with the clever dialogue. Presented by Dobama's Night Kitchen through May 21 at Pilgrim Congregational Church, 2592 W. 14th St., 216-932-3396. -- Howey

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