Animatronics whiz John Merk of Euclid amps up the fear factor this weekend for the inaugural season of his Pandora's Box haunted-house complex in Mentor. Every weekend through the end of next month, a cast of 80 actors will scare the bejesus out of spectators who hop into "the Hellevator" that takes them down to the Reaper's Castle. "When the doors open up, there will be a giant reaper that'll fly out," says Merk. "And he tells you not to fear because the Angel of Death is here."
No kidding. As you walk the halls, you'll see gas chambers, torture dungeons and an exorcist's bedroom, where a bed rises and tilts in all directions. There's also a creepy psycho ward. "Patients are watching a fuzzy TV and yelling at [it]," says Merk. "There's a guy dressed as a woman playing with dolls. Oh, and you've got poop on the walls."
This weekend, Kane Hodder - who played hockey-masked Jason in four of the Friday the 13th flicks - will sign autographs, while local rockers Festivus, 1988 and Revolution Switch jam onstage next to an outdoor "backyard hillbilly scene." That's where you'll hear a beeping horn and skidding tires before a car crashes through a fence at the end of the 40-minute tour. "It may be shorter, depending on how fast you run," laughs Merk. "I won't say it's Disney, but we're gonna be awfully close." Get spooked from 7 to 11 p.m. Thursdays and Sundays, and 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays through October 31, at Pandora's Box, 9108 Tyler Blvd. in Mentor. Admission is $15 to $25. Call 440.821.8039 or visit www.pandorasboxinmentor.com. - Cris Glaser
Stand-up comedian Jason Robinson's cracks on religion make his audiences squirm in their seats. And that's just the way he likes it. "I'll tell girls, 'Most guys are nice to you until we get what we want,'" he says. "That's why in the Bible it says to hold out for two or three weeks. I don't want to debate scripture, but I think it's three weeks." That's about how long it took Robinson to switch careers after his boss laid him off as a sales consultant in his native Arkansas. After selling his house and cashing his severance check, he hit the road as a comic - only to be recently called back to his former job. Robinson turned down the offer. "I passed up an $85,000-a-year job to go back and do the same thing," he says. "It took everything in me to say no. But if you're unhappy, and it doesn't complete you, then it's sorta pointless if you have other options." Showtimes are at 8:30 tonight and 8 and 10:30 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday at the Funny Stop, 1757 State Rd. in Cuyahoga Falls. Tickets are $7-$12. Call 330.923.4700 or visit www.funnystop.com. - P.F. Wilson
FUR BALL BASH & MR. LEATHER BEAR OF CLEVELAND 2009
The Russian-born "Daddy" Lekc Zhdanov will use his reigning Mr. Cleveland Leather title to help stitch together a fragmented LGBT community at this weekend's Fur Ball Bash & Mr. Leather Bear of Cleveland 2009 competition. "I will use every opportunity to speak with whomever I can to tackle the ubiquitous problem of internal discrimination within our community against anyone that is deemed perfect," says Zhdanov. "We all come in many shapes and forms, backgrounds and status, yet we all bring valued contributions to the table and should not be carelessly deemed unworthy."
As part of his royal role, Zhdanov will host tonight's benefit for the Animal Protective League, where patrons can donate leashes, collars and pet food. Tomorrow night, he and "Boy Ian" will oversee a panel of judges, which will score contestants on their hairiness and burliness. Zhdanov will repeat his call for community unity there. "We simply cannot afford to lose even one voice that is willing to stand on our side and proclaim our dignity," he says. "Don't be part of the negativity." The blowout starts at 9 tonight and 10:30 p.m. tomorrow at Cocktails Cleveland/Daddy's, 9208 Detroit Ave. Tickets are $5 ($15 to compete). Call 216.961.3115 or visit www.cocktails-cleveland.com. - Glaser
Because members of the Italian media have painted velvet-voiced Patrizio Buanne as a "dark-suited Lotharian" who can charge up any gal's estrogen level, the 29-year-old Naples native promises to make Cleveland the most romantic city on the planet when he performs at the Palace Theatre. But don't expect him to croon an Italian aria by Verdi or Puccini. "That would be the same as if you would say that Italian food is only pizza or spaghetti and that every Italian is a character from The Godfather or The Sopranos," says Buanne. "I don't want to change anything about what people know of Italy and the Italians. I just want to add something to it." Buanne's contributions include tracks from 2005's The Italian and 2006's Forever Begins Tonight, which spotlight Italian translations of "Always on My Mind" and Crowded House's "Don't Dream It's Over." "It was so much fun doing all of that, I even thought of recording 'Don't Ya Wish Your Boyfriend Was Italian Like Me?'" laughs Buanne. "But that was a bit too cheeky."
The albums spawned a 2006 PBS special, which was followed by a six-week U.S. tour. At every stop, he trumpets his motto: "Viva la dolce vita" or "Live the sweet life." "There is so much negative stuff going on in the news, politics, media," he says. "Why go deeper into sadness and anger? My personal goal is to bring people up, not down, by painting the world colorful by smiling." The curtain goes up at 7:30 tonight at the Palace Theatre, 1501 Euclid Ave. Tickets are $12-$65. Call 216.241.6000 or visit www.playhousesquare.org. - Glaser
RACE: ARE WE SO DIFFERENT?
In a series of videotaped interviews, Native Americans give Tribe mascot Chief Wahoo a serious tongue-lashing as part of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History's newest exhibit, Race: Are We So Different?, which opens today for a 14-week run. And they have a trained biological anthropologist on their side. "Chief Wahoo is such a stereotype, with a big nose, grumpy and coarse-looking," says Linda Spurlock, the museum's human-health director. "What if someone made a caricature of Little Black Sambo with dark skin and kinky hair and made that a mascot for a sports team? Don't you think there'd be a huge outcry? Well, yeah. Chief Wahoo looks like a big dope."
The exhibit's collection of videos and text panels outlines anthropological research on the genetic make-up of different ethnic and racial groups. The findings conclude that white people are molecularly similar to blacks, Asians and Native Americans. "There's no one group of genes that characterizes any particular race," says Spurlock, who moonlights as a facial-reconstruction specialist for coroners' offices and cop shops in Cuyahoga, Summit and Portage counties. "Any gene a white person has can be found in the black population."
The exhibit - a collaboration between the American Anthropological Association and Minnesota's Science Museum - goes hand-in-hand with a series of brown-bag lunches, lectures and health fairs focused on race relations. They're all timed to coincide with the presidential election. "Do you want to vote for the black guy or the white guy?" asks Spurlock. "Is the black guy really a black guy? It's all how you self-identify." The exhibit is on display through January 4. It runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays and Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesdays at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, 1 Wade Oval Dr. Admission is $9 ($6 for kids). Call 216.231.4600 or visit www.cmnh.org. - Glaser
In his debut novel, Downtown Owl, ex-Akron Beacon Journal rock critic Chuck Klosterman places his three protagonists in the middle of an actual blizzard that swept through a small burg in his native North Dakota in 1983. He'll explain the details at this afternoon's book signing in the Rubber City. "It's a composite of all the towns that size in the upper Midwest," says Klosterman, who's now a columnist for Esquire. "We had no movie theater or bowling alley in my town. And I remember one day, we were running around town without jackets on. Suddenly, the wind hit the house in what I assumed a tornado would be like. It was the craziest blizzard, and I have never experienced a meteorological event that was so extreme." The story traces the lives of a young schoolteacher, a standout high-school athlete and a 73-year-old barfly in the fictional town of Owl. While they never cross paths, each character's fate is laid out during the blizzard. "On the one hand, it's the only book that will ever be written about rural North Dakota," laughs Klosterman. "At the same time, people in North Dakota feel uncomfortable when somebody from there uses them for a story. I hope they like it."
Klosterman will share book-signing time with three BFFs: ABJ columnist David Giffels (All the Way Home: Building a Family in a Fallen-Down House), NPR contributor Eric Nuzum (The Dead Travel Fast: Stalking Vampires From Nosferatu to Count Chocula) and author Michael Weinreb (Game of Kings: A Year Among the Oddballs and Geniuses Who Make Up America's Top High School Chess Team). For Klosterman, it'll be a homecoming of sorts. "More than any other place I've ever lived, Akron is the most interested in the culture of Akron," he says. "There's a sorta hyper-interest in elements like Devo, Chrissie Hynde and the Black Keys. I know people say, 'Of course, they're from here.' But Akron is not like anywhere else." The signings start at 2 this afternoon at the Akron-Summit County Public Library, 60 S. High St. in Akron. Admission is free. Call 330.643.9000 or visit www.akronlibrary.org. - Glaser
SUPERPOWERED!: THE FASHIONS OF COMIC BOOKS' MOST VALIANT AND VILLANOUS
If New Philadelphia native Gwendolyn Kiste hadn't sat through Batman Returns when she was in grade school, she probably wouldn't have gotten the idea for her ambitious new fashion line. She'll give props to the 1992 movie at tonight's reception in Kent for her 50-piece exhibit, Superpowered!: The Fashions of Comic Books' Most Valiant & Villainous. "I totally fell in love with Michelle Pfeiffer's cat suit," says Kiste, who owns Zombie Apparel. "This line has been percolating in my brain ever since."
The designs include a Wonder Woman-inspired miniskirt and bustier in red-white-and-blue, and an iridescent-green dress accented with artificial foliage patterned after a number Batman baddie Poison Ivy wears. "The line translates different comic-book costumes into wearable fashion," says Kiste, who ran a women's-clothing boutique in Alliance's Carnation Mall six years ago. "It takes these out-there elements of comic books and brings them to everyday clothes." The collection debuts at 8 tonight at Open Space Art Gallery, 612 N. Mantua St. in Kent. Admission is free. Call 330.676.1999 or visit www.zombieapparel.com. - Glaser
All year long, Kirtland's Penitentiary Glen Reservation serves as a hospital of sorts, where naturalists nurse thousands of injured creatures back to health. Their work is celebrated at today's Wildlife Festival, where you can see some of the rehabbed animals before they're set free into their natural habitats. "Many of them resume their life in the wild," says park spokesman John Venen. "This is just one element of what we do. Once healthy, we celebrate their resiliency."
The fest features nature exhibits, kids' crafts, arts demonstrations and hikes through the woods. There will also be a critter-calling contest, where competitors imitate their favorite animals. "This contest brings out some interesting sounds, some of which aren't exactly natural-sounding," laughs Venen. "But that's the fun of it. We encourage the individual call of the wild." The fest runs from noon to 4 p.m. today at Penitentiary Glen Reservation, 8668 Kirtland-Chardon Rd. in Kirtland. Admission is free. Call 440.256.1404 or visit www.lakemetroparks.com. - Chad Felton