- Dan Kilbane is a pianist who forsakes his career in Nocturne, a one-man production at CPT.
A Chorus Line -- This elegant metaphor for the human journey takes place in a stark theatrical version of a Skinner box -- an empty black space with mirrors on the back wall, where rewards and punishments are doled out by the frequently disembodied voice of the choreographer. He's the reigning deity in this claustrophobic universe, demanding honesty from the assembled hopefuls as he pierces their glib responses with insults or threats, trying to excavate the individual underneath the tinsel and tap shoes. By masterfully merging the performers' stories with songs, snatches of music, and lots of dance numbers, A Chorus Line became one of the longest-running productions in the history of New York theater. The Carousel production, under the solid but not particularly innovative direction and choreography of Donna Drake, makes excellent use of the expansive stage and still manages to capture many of the intimate moments that pull our emotional levers. Overindulgent pacing of many dialogue sequences ultimately allows the tension to seep away in the second act, but it remains a singular sensation to be in the presence of this iconic Broadway metaphor that can teach us all a little about ourselves. Through July 9 at Carousel Dinner Theatre, 1275 E. Waterloo Road, Akron, 800-362-4100. -- Christine Howey
Menopause, the Musical -- Everybody enjoys musicals dealing with energetic young people on the brink of conquering the world. But what about the people in the audience: the nearsighted, overweight, and wrinkled denizens of middle age, who rarely see their own physiological mysteries put into song? For them, there is Menopause, the Musical, a hoot of a show written by Jeanie Linders. It's a foot-stomping 90-minute revival meeting for women who've had to deal with The Change while also trying to maintain their careers and family relationships. Menopause is frequently repetitious, even teetering on the brink of tiresome, but the energetic cast of four and spirited direction by Patty Bender and Kathryn Conte maintain the flow, so to speak. All women with a few decades on them -- even those who only use "menopause" as an excuse to get out of going to football games -- will probably get a stiff neck from nodding in agreement and a tender side from all the laughter. Extended through July at Playhouse Square Center's 14th Street Theatre, 2037 East 14th St., 216-241-6000. -- Howey
Nocturne -- It's a rare pleasure to encounter a playwright who can construct a compelling storyline and present it with language that takes your mind to places it's rarely been. It appears that Adam Rapp is such a writer, and his one-act play, Nocturne, is a prime example of his gifts. Even presented as a work in progress, as it is now in a small upstairs room at the Cleveland Public Theatre, the play throbs with intelligence and the kind of no-nonsense poetic expression that is rarely in evidence on stages anywhere. While another of his plays, the comically unrestrained Stone Cold Dead Serious, is being given a full production on CPT's main stage, this 90-minute piece shows a quieter side of Rapp. Dan Kilbane is the sole performer, who, book in hand, explains how a young man abandoned his promising career as a pianist after his young sister died in a grisly accident while he was driving. Describing the Buick Electra they were riding in, Rapp says, "The car hummed like locusts in the fruit trees." There are bushels of those tellingly detailed gems in this work, which certainly deserves a full production. Through June 15 at Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit Ave., 216-631-2727. -- Howey
Talley's Folly -- War creates strangely disparate fates for people. For every buoyant investor clutching valuable shares of Halliburton, there are a few more dead or maimed people whose families will never be the same. War is hell -- and a hell of a good way to make money. This contrast of destinies is one of the themes in Lanford Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, in which a deeply scarred Jewish immigrant from World War II-ravaged Europe attempts to woo the daughter of a Missouri WASP family whose business has been revived by military contracts. Wilson's frequently amusing and borderline-maudlin two-person play puts a heavy burden on the brace of actors and their director, to show how Matt, the wisecracking but achingly sincere immigrant, attempts to break through Sally Talley's ingrained cynicism and mysterious pain. Unfortunately, director Lucia Colombi and her potentially talented cast manage to get almost everything wrong in this production, turning what Matt predicts will be a "1-2-3 waltz" with a romantically happy ending into a clumsy box-step, with far too many toes crunched in the process. Presented by Ensemble Theatre through June 12 at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Ave., 216-321-2930. -- Howey