- Pat McRoberts channels Buddy Holly at Akrons Carousel Dinner Theatre.
Beggars in the House of Plenty -- This early play from Pulitzer winner John Patrick Shanley purges family demons through a surreal, decade-hopping travelogue of the emotionally abusive landscape of an Irish Catholic clan. While the process of writing this screed-in-dialogue-form may have saved the playwright hundreds of hours on the therapist's couch, it lumbers as a theatrical enterprise. It begins in the Bronx, when Johnny is five years old, living with his volatile dad and a mother who adores her husband, but is less involved with the kids (including an older brother, just home from Vietnam). Shanley hopscotches through the years, providing snapshots of the parents' neurotic love-hate vibe. It all comes to a head in a final act that takes place in a sub-basement of Hades, where Johnny confronts the specters of his parents and their inability to share their love. Beggars is a challenging script, but the excesses of Shanley's highly personal take on nightmarish family life pose serious obstacles. By turning this family's agonies into time-fragmented set pieces, he fetishizes problems that deserve more cohesive exploration. Director Sean McConaha never quite masters the balance between reality and imagination. Through August 27 at the Bang and the Clatter Theatre, 140 East Market Street, Akron, 330-606-5317. -- Christine Howey
The Buddy Holly Story -- Almost comical in appearance, but possessing a fierce commitment to his distinctive sound, Buddy Holly was a primal force on the rock-and-roll scene of the late 1950s, and this Carousel show manages to harness his magic. Director Victoria Bussert coaxes small but telling moments from the flimsy book written by Alan Janes and Rob Bettinson, crafting a Holly who is entirely sympathetic without being a tragedy waiting to happen. In the title role, Pat McRoberts does a masterful job of embodying the obsessively talented artist. He adopts the stooped and head-tilted posture of a kid who spent every waking hour strumming. The best decision the authors made was to end each act with a concert set, allowing Holly's music a place of distinction. McRoberts and his duo (Tobia D'Amore and John Rochette) actually play and sing the memorable songs; their rendition of "Not Fade Away" is particularly kick-ass. For those old enough to remember, this is a great memory trip. And for younger folk, it's a journey to the roots of rock. Through September 2 at Carousel Dinner Theatre, 1275 E. Waterloo Rd., Akron, 800-362-4100. -- Howey
Hair -- This Summer of Love show, which has in recent years been consigned to the status of a quaint artifact, once again speaks to those concerned about the flag-draped coffins returning to our shores. Unfortunately, Cain Park's production stumbles badly in the first act and has to work feverishly to generate the passion and purpose it should. The graffiti-choked set looks more like a bad parody of the time than an attempt to revisit it with any earnestness. Director Victoria Bussert stages the bulk of the first act as if it were a concert version of the show. And while Phil Carroll has just enough of a shaggy mane and stage presence to bring hippie outlaw Berger to life, Mitch McCarrell plays counterpart Claude sporting a razor cut that would have pegged him as a narc back in the day. As a result, many lines about flowing locks in the title song come off as unintentionally funny. Bussert and her tribe manage to achieve liftoff in act two, when some of the more trenchant lines in the songs begin to hit home. "Let the Sun Shine In" has never felt more appropriate -- or more necessary. Through August 20 at the Cain Park Alma Theatre, corner of Lee and Superior roads, Cleveland Heights, 216-371-3000. -- Howey