Cleveland Public Theatre’s “Lines in the Dust” Powerful, Meaty Drama About The Educational System

Cleveland Public Theatre’s “Lines in the Dust” Powerful, Meaty Drama About The Educational System

By Marjorie Preston

Brava!”

www.marjoriepreston.com/brava

Cleveland Public Theatre‘s current production of “Lines in the Dust” by Nikkole Salter delves behind the scenes in the lives of three New Jerseyans: a school principal, a parent and an investigator hired to investigate “district hopping.” The script is meaty and gets right to discussion as there is much to discuss – and there is some occasional comic relief.

Millburn, New Jersey is a desirable suburb for its high-performing schools and safe streets. But underneath it is a latent racism that is challenged when a student at Millburn High School is shot and the student is found to actually be from Newark. The school district sets out to find out how many of its students have been similarly “district hopping,” living in one school district, but illegally sending kids each day to a different district.

Principal Beverly Long (Kimberly Sias) is charged with the task of compiling a report to the school board with the help of Michael DiMaggio, Private Investigator (Skip Corris). A parent at the school, Denitra Morgan (Nicole Sumlin), who has close ties to the principal, has been falsifying records to the school for a year when it is found that she and her daughter live in Newark and are trying to get out of sub-par schools there. They aren’t the only ones.

Sias capably plays the frazzled yet competent principal struggling to make sense of a new city and new job where her role has shifted to keeping people out. Her strong and caring portrayal of the professional with a conscience illuminates the battle she is fighting internally as well as externally, to come to grips with her own desire for upward mobility.

Sumlin plays her character nimbly, flying just under the radar, dismissing the red flag on her daughter’s account as a clerical error in an attempt to stay in the district. She is selflessly working for her daughter, and her struggle is palpable just under the surface, to help her daughter see things with hopeful eyes. We feel that while she is breaking the law, she is learning to have confidence and fight for a different future for her daughter than she had.

Corris, skillful in a role he inhabits seamlessly, works because he expects a suburb to have a certain character and he fears the “outside element.” His cloaked racism and entitlement is challenged, and as he works on his presentation to the school board, he shows his character begins to change as he understands why kids don’t want to go to school in a district with such concentrated poverty.

Director Beth Wood has assembled a stellar, perfect cast for “Lines in the Dust.” The drama is chock full of thought-provoking opinions which change as the characters learn more background on the subject they are living daily. The script allows for the characters’ slow transformation from selfishness to confidence in a greater purpose, and this is visible and palpable to the audience. Set Designer Douglas Puskas has created an island of education surrounded by a high fence and the audience can’t miss the symbolism. There is also great use of projection surfaces for the presentation to the school board. Sound Designer Daniel McNamara has set the story to a thoughtful mix of jazz and rap.

Lines in the Dust” asks the question: how can we transcend race and class and create great schools for everyone? Hopefully, we all can work to do that in our own lives.

Lines in the Dust” runs at 7:00 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Monday through June 18, at 6415 Detroit Avenue in the James Levin Theater. For tickets, call (216)631-2727 or visit www.cptonline.org. The play contains pejorative language and adult themes.

None Too Fragile’s “A Kid Like Jake” Intense, Smartly Written, Weighty with a Sense of Humor

None Too Fragile’s “A Kid Like Jake” Intense, Smartly Written, Weighty with a Sense of Humor

By Marjorie Preston

Brava!”

www.marjoriepreston.com/brava

None Too Fragile’s current production of “A Kid Like Jake” by Daniel Pearle gives voice to the private lives of the parents of New York City Pre-K student Jake as the couple struggles for acceptance into the über-competitive world of NYC private schools. The script is intense and smartly written, and although it addresses weighty subjects, there is humor suffused throughout.

New York City-based parents Alex (Rachel Lee Kolis) and Greg (Geoff Knox) are working with Jake’s preschool admissions coordinator Judy (Laura Starnik) to navigate their Pre-K student son Jake’s entry into the extremely competitive world of NYC private schools. As a side plot, Alex is newly pregnant following a previous miscarriage, and is balancing some concern for her health, whereupon we meet a Nurse (Katie Wells) who, in a dual role, returns in a dream sequence to discuss Cinderella.

Alex, a lawyer turned stay-at-home-mom, has shifted all her attention to play dates and preparing Jake for tests and interviews for private schools. While Alex is hyper-focused on Kindy prep, Greg, a therapist, doesn’t get much time with his son or much affection from his wife. Their communications with each other are so focused on this transition for Jake, they have lost sight of caring for themselves and each other. It is when Judy mentions Jake’s “gender-variant play” outside their home that the couple begin to dig into unexplored feelings and unchallenged assumptions.

Kolis plays the all-too-familiar “mom trying to do it all” with strong commitment to the role. She plays mom Alex capably on an arc from concerned to anxious to full-blown anger and back down through despair. Knox commits equally well to his role, beginning as supportive, turning exasperated and then truly ugly as he scratches under the surface to regain some control of family decisions he had relinquished to his wife. Though very believable and strong actors, the script places them almost in separate worlds at this point in their lives, so they very rarely seem to be connecting as a couple.

The talented Starnik maintains her composure as a professional in a tense confrontational scene. Her body language and delivery make for a very realistic feel in the office of a woman who constantly deals with frantic parents. Wells is compassionate and smooth in her dual roles.

Director and Set Designer Sean Derry keeps the action moving, directing the close-knit group to talk over each other, indicating the interweaving of their lives as caretakers for such a special boy. A simple set utilizing rehearsal cubes is all that fits, though this quickens the pace of the set changes. Props are minimal and all costume changes take place in front of the back curtain, with actors changing in the blackouts. It’s interesting to watch, but may pull some audience members out of the story briefly. Sound Designer Brian Kenneth Armour’s ticking clocks, buzzing phones and Grey’s Anatomy-style slow jams about innocence and sacrifice add a sense of urgency and depth.

Preschool test prep and gender-variant play in children are definitely conversation sparkers. While audiences may disagree about their approach to the issues raised in this play, there is no doubt that None Too Fragile’s performance of “A Kid Like Jake” is superbly written, strongly acted and thought-provoking.

A Kid Like Jake” runs through March 26, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., Sunday, 3/20 at 2:00 p.m., Monday 3/21 at 8:00 p.m. and Thursdays 3/17 and 3/24 at 8:00 p.m. at 1835 Merriman Road, Akron, Ohio. Entrance is through Pub Bricco. For tickets, call (330) 962-5547 or visit www.nonetoofragile.com. The play contains adult language and themes.

Marjorie Gearing up for Tenth Year on Index to Jewish Periodicals

Marjorie is gearing up to be Assistant Editor on the Index to Jewish Periodicals for a tenth year. She started this project in 2005 and only took 2008 off for the birth of her first child.  Marjorie enjoys the unique challenges of editing a periodicals index and it is always a learning experience. This project happens in January and February of every year.  Hopefully she’ll be done with it by mid-February!

Beck Center’s “Mothers and Sons” Capable Acting Can’t Overcome McNally’s Penchant for Monologue

Beck Center’s “Mothers and Sons” Capable Acting Can’t Overcome McNally’s Penchant for Monologue

By Marjorie Preston

“Brava!”

www.marjoriepreston.com/brava

The Beck Center’s Studio Theater’s current production of the funereal drama “Mothers and Sons” features strong acting but long-winded and implausible writing.

Frosty recent widow Katharine (Catherine Albers), now living in Texas, plucks up the courage to visit her late son Andre’s ex-partner, Cal (David Bugher) several years after her son’s death. She arrives in New York City and begins a stilted conversation with Cal, where she refuses to sit down, take off her coat or have anything to drink. It becomes clear that she is afraid and frustrated by the mere presence of gay people while simultaneously wanting to connect over her son’s death. Once Cal’s new partner, Will (Scott Esposito) arrives, she assents to a drink, but does not shake Will’s outstretched hand. She is surprised to learn that the two live successful lives as money manager and writer, and further taken aback to learn that they are raising a son, Bud (Ian McLaughlin).

The world has been changing around these characters, leading Cal and Will to be happily legally married with a child and Katharine to assess who she is if she is not “Andre’s mother.” Katharine questions why her life has gotten progressively worse and why Cal’s has gotten better in the ensuing years following Andre’s death.

Albers’ thoughtful portrayal of the unstable widow conveys the beliefs of some in the Silent Generation who disapproved of homosexuality and judged others for it. Her struggle with loving someone she didn’t understand during his lifetime comes across as a yearning for happiness. Bugher as Cal plays the father figure with gravitas, as the encounter leaves him realizing, now that he is a father, that he was judging Katharine all these years. Esposito plays the writer Will as the more emotionally-charged younger man now in Cal’s life, and he does so with a malleable physicality. The adorable McLaughlin shows range, though his lines get lost in the space at times. It’s simply implausible that Katharine would “just drop by” and indeed Will says this out loud in the play.

Director Sarah May might have created more interest had she slowed the pace occasionally to emphasize specific moments, but the play had only minor changes in pacing or volume.  McNally’s characters go on so long that one of them even says in the middle of a long monologue, “I’m almost done.” The few bits of comic relief from the tension were highlights, as Cal’s “maple syrup does not recognize state lines.” Scenic Designer Richard Gould has laid everything out in the open, as NYC apartments generally go, with muted Christmas paint colors, tasteful furniture and framed Haring and Cezanne prints on the walls.

“Mothers and Sons” shows us a glimpse of life after a loved one’s passing from AIDS. Those affected by AIDS will be forever scarred by the devastating effects of the disease, which was once a life sentence with no cure in sight, particularly for gay men and their families. Unfortunately, despite capable acting, the pathos McNally was attempting to convey is muddled and timeworn and the characters, while sympathetic, become lost for all the telling. It is sad indeed, however, that perhaps the characters, on their journey, have not arrived at the introspectiveness needed to express it to us fully.

“Mothers and Sons” runs 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays through November 15 at the Studio Theater at Beck Center for the Arts. For tickets, call (216) 521-2540 or visit www.beckcenter.org. The play contains adult language and themes.

Marjorie as Assistant Editor, Index to Jewish Periodicals for Ninth Year

Marjorie is gearing up to be Assistant Editor on the Index to Jewish Periodicals for a ninth year. She started this project in 2005 and only took 2008 off for the birth of her first child.  Marjorie enjoys the unique challenges of editing a periodicals index. This project happens in January and February of every year.  Hopefully she’ll be done with it by mid-February!

Mamaí Theatre Company’s Inaugural Production “Medea” is Haunting and Fearless

Mamaí Theatre Company’s Inaugural Production “Medea” is Haunting and Fearless

By Marjorie Preston

“Brava!”

www.marjoriepreston.com/brava

 

New Cleveland Heights-based theater company Mamaí has brought as its inaugural production the U.S. Premiere of Brendan Kennelly’s translation of “Medea” by Euripides. This production of “Medea” is dark, fearless and haunting.

 

Medea (Tracee Patterson) is betrayed by her husband Jason (Jason Kaufman), when he beds another woman, princess Glauce, the daughter of King Creon (Robert Hawkes). Patterson is powerful as the grieving, forsaken wife facing exile from King Creon’s land, making her a lonely refugee. This prospect, coupled with her shock at her husband’s broken oath, sends her reeling into hatred.

 

Medea’s vengefulness doesn’t stop at anger toward her husband or his new bride-to-be. The mother of two makes plans to kill the princess with poison. Her poison also kills the king. Knowing the authorities will come for her, and fearing the way her daughters will be treated when the scandal breaks, and perhaps extending her revenge to the people her husband loves most of all, she murders her own children (Grace Hoy and Julia Ashkettle) in cold blood. “Nobody on this earth will call me weak,” Medea insists.

 

Patterson is riveting and her Medea is multifaceted, by turns stunned, cold, proud, consumed by hatred and deeply hurt. She communicates sly looks to the audience and embodies cunning during the scene where she is selecting a weapon. Kaufman deftly shifts from an arrogant liar to a broken, destroyed man.

 

The supporting cast carry their parts deftly. A lovely comic relief comes from Sarah Doody as a naïve, mouth breathing barista obsessed with moderation like some sort of new age cult.

 

Director Bernadette Clemens has assembled a fiercely talented cast that, coupled with the fresh script, breathe new and stinging life into this tragedy. Set Designer Trad Burns has covered the stage with AstroTurf, practical for catching fluids, and bedecked the set with simple pieces like the picket fence and plant boxes of a homestead or cafe tables and chairs of a Starbucks. Set changes are quick and punctuated with dances from cast members.

 

Whether Medea has gone mad is for the audience to decide. Her murders are cold and vicious, and yet it’s hard not to feel she achieved payback in a way her husband never anticipated. Euripides writes about a murderer and asks us to see her as a victim. Kennelly’s update of “Medea” is bold and substantive, and the production is populated with talented actors.

 

“Medea” runs through June 30, Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at 2843 Washington Boulevard, Cleveland Heights in residence on Ensemble Theatre’s main stage. For tickets, call (216) 570-3403 or visit www.mamaitheatreco.org. The play contains adult language and themes.

Mercury Summer Stock’s “Shrek” A Lively Journey Full of Surprises

Mercury Summer Stock’s “Shrek” A Lively Journey Full of Surprises
By MARJORIE PRESTON
Brava!

www.marjoriepreston.com/brava

Mercury Summer Stock’s current musical production, “Shrek,” with music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire, based on the DreamWorks film and book by William Steig, tells the tale of an ogre who embarks on a quest that will change the lives of many. A talented group, principals and supporting cast all, make “Shrek” a lively journey full of surprises.

 

The green-skinned ogre Shrek (Pat Ciamacco) lives alone in a swamp believing that “real life is grossly overrated” until Lord Farquaad of Duloc (Brian Marshall) banishes so many of his citizens that they begin to show up in Shrek’s neighborhood. On his journey to rescue a princess (in order to get Lord Farquaad off his back), he actually begins to make friends, including a Donkey on the run (Justin Woody) and the Princess Fiona (Sara Masterson), thrilled to be rescued from a tower after thirty years, even if it is by an ogre.

 

Ciamacco’s Scottish accent is wonderful, he is confident, pleasant and humorous to watch. Ciamacco gets his moment to show his singing skills in “Who I’d Be,” the first act closer. Marshall brings a sly, delicious quality to his short-statured Farquaad, with innovative choreography in his introductory number in the first act in a strong section between Woody’s toe-tapping “Don’t Let Me Go” and Masterson’s skillful mood-changing in “I Know It’s Today.”

 

Every number involving Woody is peppy and infused with soul, including “Travel Song.” His comic abilities are sharp. Masterson shows great versatility in the plum role of Fiona, including comic timing, great pipes and tap skills in her cheerful ode to daybreak, “Morning Person.” The major characters all come from storybook-bad childhoods, but the audience can sympathize and laugh at their foibles. In fact, the schadenfreude is one of the guilty pleasures of enjoying this show.

 

Director and Choreographer Pierre-Jacques Brault has assembled a wonderful cast and slipped in a few Cleveland references for fun. His hard work on the choreography shines most in Farquaad’s introductory piece and “Morning Person.” Set Design by Falcon Productions uses multifunctional rolling, rotating and hinged wooden set pieces painted tastefully to depict the grass and rocks of a swamp or high castle walls.

 

“Shrek” plays at Mercury Summer Stock, Regina Auditorium at Notre Dame College, 1857 South Green Road in South Euclid. Performances are Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. through June 29. For tickets visit www.mercurysummerstock.com or call (216) 771-5862. Parental guidance is suggested due to some crude humor and general naughtiness.

“The Momologues” at Jackson Community Theater-Ohio Honest and Hilarious

The Momologues” at Jackson Community Theater-Ohio Honest and Hilarious

By Marjorie Preston

Brava!

www.marjoriepreston.com/brava

 

Jackson Community Theater Ohio’s (JCT-Ohio) production of “The Momologues” by Stefanie Cloutier, Sheila Eppolito and Lisa Rafferty is a homespun, yet sharp production of a baudy, hilarious show aimed at moms and others looking to laugh at the challenges of motherhood.

 

The four actresses, Bridget Bazzinotti, Denise Dawson Geissinger, Chanda Marie Schmidt and Tawnya Schlabach Sutton, three of whom had never been on stage before, turn in a true-to-life performance. The show rarely feels like complaining, and though it’s not a traditional play with a plot line, it is a series of humorous monologues about mommy-hood book-ended with some equally funny group discussions.

 

Topics covered include the aches and pains of pregnancy and labor. The ladies ask: why take a pregnant woman’s blood pressure right after she gets off the scale? They discuss pregnant “charity sex” and the “access challenges” of pregnant sex. A late pregnancy baby is like “a guest that has stayed too long.”

 

Schmidt gets a laugh with her comeback to the doctor who tells her not to push: “Stop pushing? Fuck you!” Sutton suggests perhaps the doctor ask questions during labor of someone other than the pregnant woman – “Ask my husband – does he look like he’s busy over there?”

 

Bazzinotti delivers her line with aplomb about her emergency C-section: “She’s got the perfect C-section head. It’s not like those others…” and is immediately drowned out by peals of laughter from those familiar with natural birth and squeezed babies’ heads. A running gag has her repeatedly calling her mom with news, like her hemorrhoids or the sweet smell of a baby’s head. Finally she says of her baby daughter, “I think I finally forgave her, so we’re starting over now.”

 

The women commiserate over loss of privacy, the chance to eat lunch alone, and reading adult level literature. They discuss pregnancy tests, sick kids, and the cost of a date night for parents. Schmidt steals a scene with Geissinger by sliding – in slapstick fashion – out of a high stool while having coffee with her friend.

 

Director Holly Ellen Roby has put in the work to make scene transitions smooth, and the actresses genuinely seem comfortable and warm around each other. The cast and crew, acting as set designers, have pulled together a simple, no-frills set with wing chairs, pillows, childrens’ books and toys, plus a small coffee shop set to the side.

 

“The Momologues” finished its run on May 12, Mother’s Day. The production contained adult language and situations. For info on JCT-Ohio’s offerings, visit www.JCT-Ohio.com.