For reviewers of equity theater, a whole different set of criteria is in effect for community performances. When an actor has his lines down, it's a major triumph. If a plot isn't mangled beyond recognition and if the costumes and sets bear some relationship to the play, we can sing "Hallelujah." Yet there is something infinitely touching and sweet about an audience composed of friends, relatives, and well-wishers. East Cleveland Theater may be the most "community" of all community theaters. It's like stepping into a family reunion where, if you don't duck, you may be hit by a pot roast. All this was evident in East Cleveland's Murder on the Nile, where the actors perform their Christie with an odd reticence, as if they were doing it in a second language. Many of the performers had never been onstage before. Director Dawn Pierce achieved the miraculous as the event's den mother, making the cast look like they were all in the same play. Through October 24.
This Bad Epitaph Theater production by Wendy MacLeod is a clever sleight of hand, updating and gentrifying the old morality play Everyman as reimagined by the writers of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Here that symbol of eternal humanity is Avery Bly (Sarah Morton). Instead of the long-ago pastoral landscapes, we are taken through 1989 San Francisco. Director Roger Truesdell causes his cast to sizzle and reach new highs in their careers. Morton gives a performance of pure oxygen: She's a WASPy variation on Woody Allen. Equaling her in charismatic intensity is David Hansen. Thomas Cullinan, last year's Hamlet, turns anal retentiveness into a trendy new spectator sport. Sly magic makers have transformed this old period piece into a spin on the latest Disneyland thrill ride. Through October 31 at Inside gallery. Reviewed October 14.