Lunacy -- Playwright Sandra Perlman has come up with an intriguing premise in Lunacy, now at Dobama Theatre: A lauded actor rehearsing to play King Lear is invited to interact with a man in an insane asylum who believes he is Lear. Although this piece has some interesting moments, the central conceit and an ever-shifting tone pose more questions than Perlman or director Mark Alan Gordon has answers for. Edwin Forrest is a confident young actor in 1827, preparing to portray the aged regent at a Philadelphia theater. As he struggles to remember his lines, he is interrupted by a woman, Cornelia, who has a request. Her father, Benjamin, has been ensconced in an asylum. Ben has taken on the identity of King Lear and speaks only in lines from Shakespeare's play. So Cornelia wants Edwin to use his knowledge of the play to lead Pops out of fantasyland. And to entice the actor, she suggests that Edwin can learn to be the perfect Lear by witnessing the "real" thing. Eventually, Edwin shows up at the loony bin and bats around some line readings with the old man. Trouble is, neither gent has anything at stake in these interchanges: Edwin has no compelling reason to help rescue the head case, and old Ben, for his part, is just out of it. That leaves Cornelia, who also gamely tries to act lines from the play to help her dad. But it's hard to care about people we aren't allowed to know on any realistic level. An engaging Dan Hammond plays Edwin broadly -- an odd fit with talented Bernadette Clemens, who plays Cornelia as straight as a mission chair. And with Michael Regnier chewing the scenery in his own world as Benjamin, the tone of the play continually flip-flops. Perhaps Perlman wants to make the point that all of us are merely actors, sane or otherwise. But Shakespeare did that long ago, and all in one line. Presented by Dobama Theatre through May 27 at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Avenue, 216-932-3396. -- Christine Howey
References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot -- Sex is a vital part of any intimate relationship, but it's how two people relate when not exchanging DNA that determines whether they fit together. This subject is dealt with in José Rivera's References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot, now being presented by Convergence-Continuum. At times dense with beautifully poetic imagery, this production dissects a run-of-the-mill couple and finds moments of genuine truth. Gabriela has been married for 11 years to career soldier Benito, but the past decade has taken its toll on the couple, and Gabriela is looking for something more. Stuck in a small house in a California desert, she feels deprived of wonder, so we share her dream life as her cat and a horny coyote negotiate their own love tryst, while at night, the desert moon tries to seduce her in ways far more than metaphoric. Director Clyde Simon brings effective performances out of the cast: As Gabriela, Jennifer Turpeau smolders with anger and swoons under the ministrations of Benito and the moon man. Tom Kondilas plays Benito with understatement, allowing the character's strength to show through. As the cat and coyote, Amy Bistok and Geoffrey Hoffman tease about devouring each other, sexually and otherwise. And Wes Shofner, as a most tumescent full moon, gets off some good gibes. The production is enhanced by colorful screen graphics, designed by Eric Wahl, of an ever-so-slightly-changing desert and moon. Salvador, we're guessing, would approve. Presented by Convergence-Continuum through May 26 at the Liminis, 2438 Scranton Road, 216-687-0074. -- Howey.
The Unexpected Man -- The finest conversations we will ever experience will always be the ones that happen between our ears. Interior speeches -- perfectly shaped and brilliantly cadenced -- are so pristine, it's easy to see why a writer would be drawn to them. And in The Unexpected Man, playwright Yasmina Reza devotes almost all of her 90-minute one-act to such flights of rhetoric. At times self-deprecatory and occasionally self-revealing, the alternating monologues of two unacquainted passengers sharing a train compartment from Paris to Frankfurt present a juicy challenge for a pair of actors at Cesear's Forum. The two passengers include an elderly gentleman and novelist and a not-so-young woman. She is a faithful reader of his books and recognizes him from the moment they begin sharing their traveling space. However, she does not have the gumption to engage him in conversation. So we hear each of them in turn as they share their thoughts, from the small irritations -- his troubles with the poop shoot, her frustrations with a married potential paramour -- to more weighty matters. Director Greg Cesear keeps the pacing brisk, and the two performances are intelligent and nuanced, bringing out much of the script's intricacies. Glenn Colerider is an elegant silver fox, finding much of the humor in his lines. But he doesn't fully inhabit the persona of a true Euro pessimist. As the woman, Linda Castro negotiates a number of moments with a sly, wounded precision that brings her character into sharp focus. And toward the end, she makes a case for the author's negative slant on existence that he couldn't have phrased better. Even though the welcome final interchange is a bit startling, there's a hollowness that remains afterward. Perhaps that can't be avoided when two characters live most of a play in their own heads. Produced by Cesear's Forum through June 10 at Kennedy's Down Under, Playhouse Square Center, 1501 Euclid Avenue, 216-241-6000. -- Howey.