- Gaston woos Belle in Beck Centers Beauty and the Beast.
Aphrodisiac -- That beltway stud Henry Kissinger knew what he was talking about when he said power is the ultimate aphrodisiac (though imagining Hammerin' Hank in full rut is another issue altogether). But the sex scandals of the powerful in D.C. move quickly, and a play based on the ultimately tragic affair between Congressman Gary Condit and intern Chandra Levy back in 2001 runs the risk of being eclipsed by fresher scuzz. In this three-person work, playwright Rob Handel uses the role-playing grown son and daughter of a congressman to plumb the depths of the politician's affair with a female intern. Handel has a nice way with insider jokes, but the fact is there isn't much depth in material like this: Horny powerful guy, ambitious underling, case closed. This brisk 70-minute piece is cleanly handled by the new Theater Ninjas group, even though Faye Hargate speeds through too many beats as daughter Alma. But Scott K. Crim is believable as the son, and Maggie Arndt has an interesting if rambling turn as Monica (yes, that Monica). Director Jeremy Paul finds the humor in the script, but any larger theme proves as elusive as the culprit who offed poor Chandra. Presented by Theater Ninjas through December 17 at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Ave., 440-773-4719. -- Christine Howey
Beauty and the Beast -- Merging seamlessly enriching sound effects and a couple of dazzling feats of illusion with his thoroughly committed cast, director Fred Sternfeld creates a spectacular stage experience that should be required viewing for two groups of people: children under the age of 12, and everyone else. Reprising their title roles from last year's Beck Center production, Natalie Green and Dan Folino make beautiful music together and separately. Green's Belle is sweet without being sticky, and her solos are wonderfully clear and pristine. While he sings with power and depth, Folino is best when emitting his low growls of displeasure and dealing with the Beast's social dysfunctions (urged by his servant to say something about Belle's fancy dress, he stares and then snaps: "It's pink"). Buoyed by choreographer Martin Cespedes' witty dance numbers, the production rarely loses its pacing and punch. This is an admirably well-conceived show performed to near-perfection. Hard to ask for more on a holiday evening. Through December 31 at Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-521-2450. -- Howey
A Christmas Carol -- As we grow into adulthood, most of us become keepers of certain family traditions at the holidays. Then, it falls to us to decide which aspects of the season to hold on to without variation and which others to improve by tweaking slightly. That's the task faced by the folks at the Great Lakes Theater Festival as they mount their annual production of A Christmas Carol. This is the 18th year in a row they've sent Ebenezer off on his ghostly time travels, and while they continue to get much of it splendidly right, a few new twists here and there probably would help keep their guests -- particularly the short, wide-eyed ones -- happy. Dudley Swetland once again invests the part of Scrooge with bountiful amounts of bile, and eventually whimsy. Presented by the Great Lakes Theater Festival through December 23 at the Ohio Theatre, 1519 Euclid Ave., 216-241-6000. -- Howey
Greater Tuna -- Say what you will about the decline of America, but there's still no better country in the world for poking fun at rural hicks. More than 20 years ago, the trio of Jaston Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard decided to make a buck off rube-roasting with Greater Tuna, a slapped-together montage of scenes involving various lip-movers and bottom-feeders from the tiny fictional backwater of Tuna, Texas. Beck Center is reviving this show once again, with the same two-person cast that presented it some six seasons ago. And while the actors perform with energy and goofy diligence, it's apparent that the comedic half-life of this material is getting a bit short. Structured limply around Thurston Wheelis and Arles Struvie, two yahoos who yell into the microphones at the local radio station, the show cuts away to introduce the various short-bus denizens of Tuna. A large part of the entertainment value of Tuna is in the constant costume changes and cross-dressing, as Kevin Joseph Kelly and Nicholas Koesters switch in and out of clothes backstage at breakneck speed. But as diverting as that can be, some aspects of the piece don't seem to be aging gracefully. Through December 17 at Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-521-2541. -- Howey
The Long Christmas Ride Home -- If you are lamenting the inevitable procession of familiar holiday entertainments, you may be pleased to hear that there is a production now onstage -- putatively about Christmas -- that will challenge you on many levels and entertain you on nearly all. In The Long Christmas Ride Home, playwright Paula Vogel gathers the emotional shards of a seriously dysfunctional suburban American family and arranges them into a sad but hypnotic mosaic that's touching in a number of unexpected ways. Using third-person Our Town-ish narration and dialogue scenes, along with life-size puppets, shadow puppets, and small snatches of dance, this remarkable work by the Bang and the Clatter Theatre manages to involve the audience in ways that at times are darkly humorous, but always thoroughly captivating. Through December 23 at the Bang and the Clatter Theatre, 140 E. Market St., Akron, 330-606-5317. -- Howey
The Rocky Horror Show -- The film version of Richard O'Brien's oddball rock musical was largely ignored and probably would have disappeared without a ripple back in the '70s. But some funky movie theaters started mounting midnight showings, drawing fans who dressed in extreme fetish outfits as a salute to the weird characters, if not just for the chance to dress in extreme fetish outfits. The result is an ongoing kinky love affair with a show that is immensely improved by the shouted comments from the regulars -- called "sluts" -- who know the script inside out and are ready with snappy jokes, puns, and insults. A capable and nicely twisted cast, gender-wise and otherwise, manages to invest the first act with plenty of raw energy and just enough edgy nastiness to keep Rocky rolling. From there, however, the casting decisions by director Scott Plate become a little dicier. Alison Garrigan, an actress of enormous strengths, plays wacko Dr. Frank in a twist on a role typically played by a male. While it might seem innovative, in this case it's one bend too many, and a character who ought to be dangerous and menacing in corset and heels turns out to be merely fabulous-looking. Through December 23 at Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit Ave., 216-631-2727. -- Howey
The Santaland Diaries -- When David Sedaris wrote this humorous, slightly acidic commentary for public radio, he never could have envisioned that it would become a Christmas staple. But his mini-memoir of his days as an Elf named Crumpet in Macy's giant Santaland complex has become as ubiquitous during the holidays as fruitcake jokes. Fortunately, the lines in this piece have plenty of snap, as delivered by Andrew Tarr, a young man with no shortage of elfin qualities himself. From lamenting his life in a hideous green velvet tunic to getting frothed up about the hot but fickle stud elf Snowball, Tarr plays Crumpet with a dry, self-deprecating wit that fits the material nicely. In this, his second season in this role at CPT, Tarr could probably stand to loosen up a bit and play off the audience more. And director Mindy Childress Herman could clean up a few of the transitions, since some of the brief vignettes tend to blur into each other. But generally, this is a can't-miss satire of Christmas crazies, with just enough heart to make you wish there really were a Santa and a battalion of elves. Through December 23 at Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit Ave., 216-631-2727. -- Howey