Monthly Archives: September 2012

“The Motherfucker with the Hat” at Dobama a Grippingly Realistic Drama With Humor

“The Motherfucker with the Hat” at Dobama a Grippingly Realistic Drama With Humor
By Marjorie Preston
Brava!
www.marjoriepreston.com/brava

Dobama Theatre’s current production, “The Motherfucker with the Hat” by Stephen Adly Guirgis, is a well-written, well-acted, contemporary urban drama with humor.

Stern, tough Jackie (Jeremy Kendall) has recently lost his mother and completed a prison sentence. But things are looking up for him as he has begun to date his fiery, passionate Puerto Rican-born girlfriend Veronica (Anjanette Hall) again, though she, like seemingly everyone in the play, is an addict. The two of them have been in love since they were just teenagers growing up in New York City, where the play is set. He has gotten sober through Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and just got hired as a superintendent. But when he discovers another man’s hat in her apartment (“the bed smells like Aquavelva and dick”), he begins to unravel.

Jackie’s AA sponsor, Ralph (Charles Kartali) allows Jackie to move in with him and his frustrated wife, Victoria (Bernadette Clemens), ostensibly to prevent Jackie from getting a gun and doing something regrettable. Victoria informs Jackie that Ralph is actually a weaselly philanderer and that he doesn’t know Ralph as well as he thinks. Jackie learns that Ralph and Victoria’s marriage is not a fulfilling one for either of the partners. But then the characters in “The Motherfucker with the Hat” are all flawed in some way.

Despite Ralph’s preaching to Jackie about acceptance and change, Jackie still purchases a gun and pursues the man he thinks slept with his girlfriend. Jackie confronts the man, but afterward, gets nervous and the two of them go to Jackie’s cousin Julio’s house to hide the gun. Jackie’s Cousin Julio (Jimmie Woody) is Mercutio to Jackie’s Romeo, a super-thoughtful, though over-the-top affected gay man who is fiercely loyal to Jackie out of loyalty to Jackie’s late mother.

Kendall is wonderful as the ex-con who seems the most naïve and honorable of the bunch of characters. He is blunt and still poetic in his own way. Kartali and Kendall both have great moments where the lines are delivered so quickly – in typical NYC fashion refreshing to those who love the city – that it heightens the honesty and humor. These two characters seem the most fleshed out in the piece, as we follow their quest for happiness.

Director Dianne Boduszek has helped the actors to give emphasis to colorful expressions, hurried the dialogue to the appropriately realistic whiz-bang NYC speed, and kept us intrigued by the flawed characters. The direction was letter perfect, including a well-choreographed fight scene done by Fight Choreographer Larry Nehring.

Scenic Designer Connie Hecker has done a lot with the space, creating a fussy sitting room for Julio, a slob’s dark studio apartment in purple and brown for Veronica and a contemporary den for Ralph. The result is a great reflection of their personalities. The playwright leaves us wondering what Jackie’s place looks like, as we never see it. “The Motherfucker with the Hat” is a very good show which is, at its core, about things that aren’t what they seem, and deciding which of our faults we’re willing to live with.

“The Motherfucker with the Hat” plays at Dobama Theatre, 2340 Lee Road in the West Wing of the Cleveland Heights Main Library, Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. through October 7. Tickets are available at www.dobama.org or by calling (216) 932-3396. The play contains adult situations, language, use of weapons and violence.

River Street Playhouse’s Comedy “Belles” Showcases Six Isolated Sisters Longing for Connection

River Street Playhouse’s Comedy “Belles” Showcases Six Isolated Sisters Longing for Connection
By Marjorie Preston
Brava!
www.marjoriepreston.com/brava

The Chagrin Valley Little Theatre’s production of “Belles” by Mark Dunn at the River Street Playhouse is a treatise on the isolation and neediness of a group of far-flung sisters who are desperate for human connection in their adult lives. The script does paint a clear picture of each character, but because the characters never truly connect in person, the effect is unsettling and worrisome more than humorous.

These six sisters, everyday people in everyday situations, approach life in very different ways as a result of their upbringing by an alcoholic father. The audience members become witnesses to an unspoken crime with a permanent ripple effect. Dunn’s script is funny, but also cries out for the sisters, living miles from each other, to just go visit each other already and try to heal the wounds that have caused them to find comfort in the wrong people and things.

Peggy Reece (Yvonne E. Pilarczyk), a widow now caring for her aging mom, is the obvious caretaker of the group. Her attempt to reason with a prank phone caller in one scene brings her buried emotion to the surface. Aneece Walker (Denise Larkin), single and married to her job, is also an alcoholic who longs to reconnect with her mother, with whom she is estranged. She has stuffed down her feelings for so long, it is almost a given she will choose a bottle over a person.

Roseanne Johnson (Claudia Lillibridge) is a preacher’s wife and great judge of character, except when it came to choosing a mate. When she receives a disturbing call from her husband, the resulting darkly comic monologue summarizing her sisters’ brands of crazy – and why she shouldn’t bother calling them – is a highlight of the show. Audrey Hart (Jenny Barrett) is married to a man who seems to prefer hunting with his buddies to being home with his wife, leaving her to get overly attached to her ventriloquist’s dummy, to great comic effect.

Paige Walker (Macey Staninger) is a grad student who can’t commit past the first date with any man she meets. The perfect man she’s seeking may in fact exist, but she may discover that he is “not her type.” Sherry “Dust” Walker (Sarah Doody) is a new age, free-love, poetic and passionate woman. When tested, she turns out to be petty, angry and fickle, not the serene picture she paints.

Director Barbara L. Rhoades has cast six women who seem to be on six different planets, each having found a wobbly orbit away from their past. In the set design by Technical Director Edmond Wolff, six different phone nooks show the ways these women differ even in their telephone use, be it sitting on the floor, standing in a kitchen, or sitting at a table and chair.

The scenes where the sisters talk to men – husbands, dates, club managers or even prank callers are, funny and interestingly, the most telling about themselves and move the plot forward most. When speaking with their sisters, the women often criticize each other or rehash past events. The script for “Belles” doesn’t foster big changes among the characters, and it might be said that these characters may already be too damaged for dramatic change, but it is surely bold storytelling.

“Belles” runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through August 25th at the River Street Playhouse, 56 River Street, Chagrin Falls. For tickets, call (440) 247-8955 or visit www.cvlt.org. All tickets to the River Street Playhouse are $10.

Fairmount Performing Arts Conservatory’s “Urinetown” a Witty Musical Filled with Gallows Humor

Fairmount Performing Arts Conservatory’s “Urinetown” a Witty Musical Filled with Gallows Humor
By Marjorie Preston
Brava!
www.marjoriepreston.com/brava
August 15, 2012

Fairmount Performing Arts Conservatory’s (FPAC’s) current musical is “Urinetown,” with book and lyrics by Greg Kotis and music and lyrics by Mark Hollmann. The spectacle features a compelling plot, witty writing, a variety of song styles and a committed cast with several talented standouts.

Bobby Strong (Adam Hass-Hill) works for a private company running public urinals, Urine Good Company. He’s a clerk in the only local pay-to-pee bathroom facility on the wrong side of the tracks. Bobby’s conflicted about his work, which requires that he turn away those who can’t afford to pay the fee. His boss, the strong-handed and grumpy Penelope Pennywise (Christina Ciofani), scolds him and maintains order and allegiance to the company. One morning, Bobby happens to meet bright-eyed, naive Hope Cladwell (Leah Saltzer), daughter of smarmy Caldwell B. Cladwell (Austin Riley), the owner of Urine Good Company, and the two follow their hearts and start an uprising against the entire system.

Hass-Hill puts his best foot forward leading a revolt in “Look at the Sky,” and is a strong actor, though seems to have moments of uncertainty about melody throughout the show. Saltzer’s voice is showcased in the lilting melody of “Follow Your Heart.” Ciofani shines in “Privilege to Pee” with great control of her capable voice.

Police officers Officer Lockstock (Jerry Shepherd) and Officer Barrel (Neil Kelly) are fun to watch throughout. Shepherd busts out a mean rap in “Cop Song” and Kelly has great physicality and ad libs. Little Sally (Joelle Rosenthal) is wise beyond her years and holds down her part with aplomb. Silly callbacks involving character actors are consistently amusing.

“Urinetown” is chock full of a variety of catchy styles of music. The second act alone has a klezmer-influenced number in “What is Urinetown,” a 20s-feel “Snuff That Girl” and a spiritual, “Run, Freedom, Run,” complete with a capella choir section.

Director Bob Russell has cast well and there are many talented performers among the thirty-odd in the cast. Scenic and Lighting Designer Scott C. Chapman has created an appropriately bleak set in wood and metal that reminds one of an abandoned mine or a gallows. Choreographer Bebe Weinberg Katz brought ambitious, solid dance work to the stage. Music Director John Krol is part of the orchestra of five, which, obscured from the actors, experienced some moments where the singers and musicians were out of sync or hard to hear in the space. Overall, “Urinetown” is a fun, smart musical with a timely, dark plot concerning the place of freedom in an age of overpopulation.

Fairmount Performing Arts Conservatory’s “Urinetown” will be at the Mayfield Village Civic Center, 6622 Wilson Mills Road, Mayfield Village, through August 19. Performances are Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, August 19 at 2 p.m. For tickets, call (440) 338-3171 or visit http://fairmountcenter.tix.com.

Strong Ensemble in Mercury Summer Stock’s “All Shook Up” Brings High Energy Fun

Strong Ensemble in Mercury Summer Stock’s “All Shook Up” Brings High Energy Fun
By MARJORIE PRESTON
Brava!
www.marjoriepreston.com/brava
August 4, 2012

Mercury Summer Stock’s current musical production, “All Shook Up,” with book by Joe Pietro, the music of Elvis Presley and based on William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” is a high-energy, grooving good time, especially for fans of 1950s music.

A town somewhere in middle America in 1956 appears to have been stuck in reverse until wandering roustabout Chad (Matthew Roscoe) revs into town on his motorcycle and rousts them from their complacency. What’s hard to be believe is the ripple effect of his visit. After the town’s tomboy bike mechanic, Natalie (Dani Apple), falls madly for Chad, it seems like everyone in town has fallen in love.

Natalie’s nerdy, poetry-loving friend Dennis (Brian Marshall) has fallen for Natalie despite her crush on Chad. Meanwhile, Chad is in love with the sultry Miss Sandra (Dana Aber), the museum curator. And Natalie has disguised herself as a man named Ed in the hopes of endearing herself to Chad as his sidekick. Both Chad and Natalie’s widower dad, Jim (Dan DiCello), have fallen for sexy Sandra, but she has the hots for Ed, not knowing he’s really Natalie.

The sassy local tavern owner, Sylvia (Kelvette Beacham), pines for Jim while her daughter, the fresh-faced Lorraine (Lauryn Alexandria Hobbs), falls in love at first sight with the clean-cut mayor’s son Dean Hyde (Jesse Markowitz). None of this is pleasing to Mayor Matilda Hyde (Kathleen Caldwell), who spends all her time with Sheriff Earl (Carter Welo – yes, the South Euclid mayor’s husband), especially the fact that her son is seeing a “colored” girl. It is lovely to see the mayor finally confronted and asked by Earl, “Don’t you ever get tired of judging people?”

“Heartbreak Hotel” is a fierce, full and powerful ensemble number to start the show and there is a lovely tableau within. Hobbs and Beacham shine in “That’s All Right,” and Markowitz and Hobbs share a sweet moment in “It’s Now or Never.” Aber has a powerful solo in “Let Yourself Go,” and the power of a great ensemble really comes through in “Can’t Help Falling In Love” when the group stands together in the name of love and just belts it out.

Marshall sings his plaintive torch song in “It Hurts Me” and Apple sings “A Little Less Conversation” in such a flurry, it’s almost like a rap, and that’s a good thing – thankfully far from loungy Elvis. “I Don’t Want To” showcases Roscoe’s strong pipes and great comic timing. Walking away with the show was Beacham’s “There’s Always Me,” a kind, buttery ballad from a woman resigned to her truth, her love. “Fools Fall in Love” ends the show and it highlights Apple’s lovely, controlled voice as well as offering a festive “Soul Train” feel from the sizable ensemble.

Director, Set Designer and Choreographer Pierre-Jacques Brault has a universally strong cast in “All Shook Up.” Brault has decorated his set with eye-catching primary colors and the set is full of iconic 50s images like sunglasses and classic cars. A boldly colored bright red box frames the piano and drum section of the band and hides three more band members. Innovative choreography included license plates as percussion instruments, great ensemble numbers and a whole lotta shakin’ in blue suede shoes. “All Shook Up” is good fun – toe-tapping music and a talented cast.

“All Shook Up” 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. through August 18 and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. For tickets visit www.mercurysummerstock.com or call (216) 771-5862.

Marjorie’s reviews will also be seen at www.clevelandtheaterreviews.com.