Some say that God created man because he likes stories. Why, then do we invent stories and what stories do we make of our lives? Cleveland playwright Mike Gaither’s new play, “Tear It Off,” shows just how funny it can be when we try living in our own fiction.
Two eccentric sisters take turns creating romance stories together as an exercise in bonding and as a way to pass their isolated days. Lucy Bredeson-Smith’s older sister Beth is winsome and dreamy, as she creates pulpy storylines which she acts out in front of her sister who keeps notes and tape recordings. By contrast when Lauren B. Smith’s Bridgit dives in to take a turn she is a no-holds- barred energy ball who pushes the limit and redirects with relish.
Their creative sessions are paused due to an air conditioning failure which brings local handyman Charles onto the scene. Charles immediately hits it off with the sisters and after auditioning some of his tortured kiddy lit rhymes for them, he is invited to join their game. There follows a series of mostly shirtless scenarios for him as he plays off the tag-teaming tale spinners.
Back at home, Charles’ life is complicated by the release from jail of his sleazy brother Tim who immediately begins to upset the proceedings with lies and intrigue until the real life drama rivals the invented ones.
Terrence Cranendonk is wonderfully awkward and enthusiastic as the group’s would-be romance hero striking poses and giving his all while trying to keep the social situation in balance. Beau Reinker’s brother Tim is immediately untrustworthy as a selfish and destructive unwanted guest wheedling and throwing tantrums.
The play is directed by Toronto based Karin Randoja, whose resume shows a string of impressive successes with experimental theatre pieces. Her touch here seems straightforwardly comedic. She keeps the action appropriately focused and easy to follow both with visual staging, sight gags and with a high energy rapid fire reading of Mike Gaither’s text.
Jeff Smith’s clever and efficient chalk line like set marks the versatile Liminis playing space off into two home bases and a wilderness between. It suggests a kind of real estate listing floor plan or a playing field boundary laid out by rules which can either be honored or fouled.
"Tear It Off’ is funny and upbeat with lots of over the top sequences. It is nicely paced, cleanly staged and amusingly underscored. The script is a welcome new title in the expanding cannon of Northeast Ohio homegrown plays and a tribute to Con-con’s commitment of talent and resources to full mountings of new work.
“Tear It OFF” runs Thu-Sat at 8 pm through Sept 5 at the Liminis theater, 2438 Scranton Rd. in Cleveland’s historic Tremont neighborhood. Tickets are $15 general admission, $12 seniors (65+), $10 students. Reservations and information at convergence-continuum.org and 216-687-0074.
Dana Hart is a Cleveland based professional actor and teacher. He holds degrees in English Teaching and Theatre Arts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.