Arts » Theater

Capsule reviews of current area theater presentations.

Frozen -- In Frozen, now playing at the Beck Center, playwright Bryony Lavery uses triangulation -- a process used to fix a location using three discrete reference points -- to pin down the essential nature of evil. By looking at a pedophile serial killer from three perspectives, the play attempts to plumb the horrifying depths of such unspeakable acts. Set in England in 1980, the torment revolves around Nancy and her two young daughters, Ingrid and Rhona. We never see the girls, but we listen as Nancy chatters on about them. Soon she begins wondering why Rhona, on her way to her grandmother's house, is late getting there. Cue perspective number two, in the person of Ralph, a young man with a stash of kiddie-porn tapes and an obsession for acting out his lethal fantasies. None of the awful details of how Ralph meets Rhona are presented, except for his soft, come-hither "hellos" as he stalks his prey. The third viewpoint belongs to Agnetha, an American psychologist with plenty of personal demons to negotiate who is researching serial killing as a forgivable act. Moving from intense monologues to dialogue scenes, Lavery constructs a tight little universe in which Nancy and Ingrid eventually move on with their lives. As for Ralph, he's been in prison for years, fencing with Agnetha on her visits, until he's finally confronted by Nancy herself. In the role of Nancy, Derdriu Ring is hard and strong without being brittle, conveying her deep loss without leaning on maudlin sentimentality. Brooding, black-haired Jason Markouc, as Ralph, personifies the banality of evil. Liz Conway's Agnetha, however, is too bland in presenting her scientific findings and overly torqued during her breakdowns, and although director Sarah May explores the script's layers, the pacing of many scenes is so similar that the production loses texture. Still, this is a view of the ghastly things humans do to each other, minus the sensationalism. And for that, it is important theater to confront. Through June 24 at the Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-521-2540. -- Christine Howey

King Hedley II -- August Wilson's King Hedley II, brilliantly directed by Caroline Jackson, is a three-hour production that never falters for a minute. Set in 1985 in Pittsburgh, the story revolves around King Hedley II, the 35-ish son of his namesake and ex-band singer Ruby. King is a quick-to-anger ex-con looking to score some fast money so he can open a video store with his buddy Mister. To that end, the two friends are trying to sell hot refrigerators for 200 bucks a pop while also contemplating a jewelry store heist. King lives with his mother and his wife, Tonya, who just found out she's pregnant and is considering an abortion. She and King already have a 17-year-old pregnant daughter, and Tonya isn't ready to do the motherhood thing all over again. Complicating matters further is Elmore, the slick gambler, con man, and former flame of Ruby, who shows up on the Hedleys' doorstep with truths to reveal. Heading up the dazzling collection of performances in the role of King Hedley is E.B. Smith, who's constantly stuffing his anger deep inside, so that when he explodes, the effect is startling. Wingman Mister provides much comic relief, thanks to a loose but totally appealing performance by Anthony Elfonzia Nickerson-El. Joyce Meadows, as Ruby, handles the vocalizing like a pro and the acting with style. And as Elmore, Cornell H. Calhoun III is every inch the conniving urban hustler, from his sinuous stride to the rolling cadences of his basso voice. The entire riveting production is transported to an even higher level by a gorgeously detailed set designed by Richard H. Morris Jr. Through June 17 at Karamu Performing Arts Theatre, 2355 E. 89th St., 216-795-7077. -- Howey

Two-Headed -- The driving event of the Julie Jensen play Two-Headed, co-produced by Cleveland Public Theatre and TITLEWave Theatre, is an 1857 Mormon-led massacre of nearly 120 people in Utah's Mountain Meadows valley. Beautifully performed by a two-person cast, the piece does an excellent job detailing the psychological trauma imposed on two Mormon women by this grisly event in our country's history. We first see the two at 10 years old on the day of the massacre and then at 10-year intervals until age 50. Lavinia, a high-spirited but sensitive girl, watches the carnage from a tree. Worse, she learns that the slaughter is being led by her father, a commander of the Mormon militia. A couple weeks later, Lavinia is teasing her friend Hettie about a two-headed calf kept in the nearby cellar. As children will do, they parrot comments about the incident that they heard from their parents, with Lavinia asserting, "They deserved it, they called their ox Joseph Smith!" As the girls become women and the decades pass, their lives and their friendship become much more complex. Lavinia longs for an unseen dead friend, Jane, and with polygamy and intermarriage the way of their world, Lavinia later marries Jane's ex, while Hettie becomes a wife of Lavinia's father. Playwright Jensen refers repeatedly to the two-headed calf and other monstrosities to symbolize the schizoid nature of the two women, who have been thrust into a world they accept, but can't understand. The perceptive direction of Greg Vovos keeps this material from unraveling; using set designer Lydia Chanenka's exposed-roots tree as a centerpiece, Vovos reveals the roots of Lavinia's and Hettie's tortured religious and moral existence. As Hettie, Chris Seibert is in total command of her somewhat dim but always intriguing character, while Holly Holsinger, as Lavinia, emits the rage that drives the production. Although this 90-minute play almost requires two viewings to fully appreciate it, you should be amply fascinated by just one. Through June 16, co-produced by the Cleveland Public Theatre and TITLEWave Theatre at the Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit Avenue, 216-631-2727. -- Howey

West Side Story -- When it opened 50 years ago, West Side Story's shiv-brandishing chorus boys created quite a stir. The Sharks and Jets are facing off again at the Carousel Dinner Theatre in a production that, while short of perfect, has enough telling moments to prevent your lasagna from backing up. Playing star-crossed Maria is Stephanie Iannarino, who applies her operatic pipes to the singing chores and crafts a spirited, spontaneous character. Her lover, Tony, is played by Nathan Scherich, a young man who sings a lot better than he acts. As the Romeo and Juliet of this doomed soul match, the two leads never create the musky chemistry that is necessary. Among the prominent gang members, David Villella as head Shark Bernardo is a glowering presence; unfortunately, his counterpart Riff is given a saggy rendition by Matthew Steffens. Julie Kotarides, however, is slim and fiery as Anita, Maria's friend and sister of Bernardo. Of course, beyond the central love connection, West Side Story is all about the flow of the timeless music, composed by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. The urgent score requires a cast that can dance almost nonstop. And here the Carousel players excel, delivering sharply defined dance numbers, whether they're on stage or dashing through the aisles. Director/choreographer Marc Robin keeps the pace electric while wisely allowing certain scenes the room they need to play out. This is especially true at the end, when Robin gives the tragic denouement all the space and silence it demands to register profound loss. That concluding scene almost makes up for other lapses in the production, making this Story a flawed but still worthy marker of a wonderful show's golden anniversary. Through June 30 at the Carousel Dinner Theatre, 1275 East Waterloo Road, Akron, 1-800-362-4100, www.carouseldinnertheatre.com. -- Howey

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