Walkin' Talkin' Bill Hawkins: In Search of My Father -- What kind of man would abandon his child? That is a question that haunts many children who have been left behind when an irresponsible semen-squirter hits the bricks. But before you answer with the obvious reply -- an asshole -- it seems only fair to look for more complex motives. Such is the task playwright and sole performer W. Allen Taylor assigns himself in the autobiographical Walkin' Talkin' Bill Hawkins: In Search of My Father, now at Dobama. Taylor is an actor of considerable skill and immense charm, which goes a long way in saving a script that never really digs into the pain of dealing with an absent parent. The play's title is the sobriquet of Cleveland's first African American disc jockey. From his storefront studio near East 105th and Cedar, Hawkins spun street-slick rhymes from 1948 through the 1950s and built an impressive following in the black community. Quite the ladies' man, the married Hawkins had an affair with Sarah Taylor, who gave birth to William Allen in 1953. Since Hawkins decides not to leave his wife, everyone keeps mum about the baby's father. And so it remains until W. Allen graduates from Ohio State University. At his graduation party, Sarah finally admits to her son that his father is the famed hometown DJ. Excited at the news, W. Allen's hopes for a meeting are dashed when he learns that Hawkins has died. Obviously, there are plenty of juicy familial issues on the table here, accented by some ironic touches -- including when the young man, an aspiring DJ himself, was actually interviewed by his father. That poignant interview scene demonstrates why this production never achieves the emotional traction it needs. Director Ellen Sebastian Chang stages this moment in shadows, with Hawkins barely visible, and Taylor has written it so that we only hear Hawkins speaking. By denying us the opportunity to experience this meeting in all its awkwardness and intensity, the audience is kept at arm's length from Taylor's pain. Sadly, we get only a couple of short snatches of Bill Hawkins himself, so we're left to imagine how magnetic his personality, on- and off-air, really was. Even though the show is fairly short, there are too many irrelevant scenes, although as a performer, Taylor is an immense pleasure to watch. But overall, the audience needs to love Bill Hawkins so that they can sense the hurt and loss his son feels. To do that, we have to see Hawkins in action more. Without that, any factual recitation of Hawkins' life, even one as well-acted as this, pales in comparison to actually experiencing the man himself. Through June 24, produced by Dobama Theatre at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Avenue, 216-932-3396. -- Howey.
West Side Story -- When it opened 50 years ago, West Side Story's leaping, shiv-brandishing chorus boys created quite a stir. The Sharks and the 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 very preppy-looking 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. On the distaff side of this gender-bifurcated work is Julie Kotarides, who is slim and fiery as Anita, Maria's best 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 urban score requires a cast that can dance almost nonstop. And here the Carousel players excel, delivering sharply defined dance numbers, whether they're on the 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