Bell, Book and Candle
Cleveland Play House
This revival of a 1950 play (and its 1958 movie version), about a female witch who longs for human love, is a bit of a soggy biscuit. The plot, which is not much more sophisticated than an episode of the old sit-com Bewitched, telegraphs its conclusion from the first couple minutes (Will the sexy young witch succeed in finding human hook-up. Hmm, I wonder.) Even when there's not a last minute stand-in for the lead actress, as there was on the night this reviewer saw the proceedings, the play moves at a glacial pace. Director Michael Bloom tries to add some sparkle and dash around the edges with modern music and such, but this show needs more than a cosmetic makeover.
Through February 3 at the Cleveland Play House, 1407 Euclid Avenue, 216-241-6000
The Gospel According to James
This is an adventurous and risk-taking piece about an actual lynching of two black men, Abe Smith and Tommy Shipp, in Marion, Indiana in 1930. It is narrated by two people, Marie and James, who were intimately involved in the tragedy and who discuss the event, 50 years later, with divergent memories and wholly separate goals. Director Celeste Cosentino is to be congratulated for taking on such a complex play, and for helping shape several fine performances. But by not staging the show in a way that Marie and James can truly engage with each other and the audience in a visceral manner, the interesting "history of memory" conflict that playwright Smith sets up never comes to full fruition.
Through February 17 at Ensemble Theatre, 2843 Washington Blvd., Cleveland Hts., 216-321-2930
The Miracle Worker
TrueNorth Cultural Arts
The iconic story of Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan is brought to vibrant life in this production directed by Fred Sternfeld. Little Helen—who couldn't see, hear or speak—is a pint-sized terror until Annie shows up and teaches her obedience and then, amazingly, the ability to connect words to objects, people, and the world. A strong cast, led by Morgan Faith Williams as the feisty, ferocious and ultimately triumphant Helen, delivers believably and with surprising bits of humor. The tears in your eyes at the end, when Helen finally makes the connection, are well and truly earned.
Through February 3 at TrueNorth Cultural Arts Center, 4530 Colorado Avenue, Sheffield Village, 440-949-5200, ext. 221