The World Premiere of “The Secret Social” at Cleveland Public Theatre Mysterious, Raucous and Delightfully Tacky
By Marjorie Preston
The World Premiere Cleveland Public Theatre production of “The Secret Social,” created by the ensemble under the direction of Cynthia Croot, is by turns mysterious, raucous and delightfully tacky, but never ceases to be a vibrant spectacle of an evening. “The Secret Social” also includes a borscht dinner and dancing, a free foxtrot/swing lesson and party games in its ticket price.
Guests of “The Secret Social” arrive through back passageways and are guided through a series of crumbling concrete passages to view mysterious relics and the fabled chamber of the twelve princesses. They then participate in a ritual paper boat launch before arriving in the grand hall where they will dine and be entertained by performers in berets, fezzes, princess garb and breakaway pants covered in stars.
The ensemble tells the story of how their mysterious and secretive order (of which the audience is now a part) called “the twelve and twelve” formed to reunite brothers who have been separated. They also are preparing to initiate new member Boris (Val Kozlenko) through a series of three trials.
The first of these trials is vanquishing the wild boar, played with enthusiasm during a strobe light sequence by Clarence, the reliquary (Tony Cintrony), who has never left his neighborhood and instead stays close to his relics. The second trial is for Boris to make himself invisible with the help of the dark, poetic, sleep-deprived Madame X (Lucille Duncan). Finally, he is asked to make a sacrifice with the help of his crush – sweet, bubbly Etude (Lauren Joy Fraley) – and he is not sure he can follow through.
Sassy, authoritative Piper (Dionne Atchison) is the welcoming President of the secret society, and delightfully tacky party animal couple Cady (Connie Hall) and Ray (Jeffrey Frace) have come in from the national chapter of the order to witness Boris’s initiation. Cady, in 1940s hair snood and fabulous dress, and Ray, complete with 1970s swagger and star-patterned suit, seem to have stepped out of some B-52s video. Sally (Amy Schwabauer) is still a child at heart and plays her role in a sweater adorned with Beanie Babies.
From the original opening number “The Secret Social” to the closing cover of “Last Chance for Love,” both fully choreographed, the first a Russian-inspired number and the last a 70s dance number with attitude, the cast shows great range, flexibility and humor. They play instruments, they take off some of their clothing, and though they host party games, the production never teeters into wedding reception cheesiness. Cady and Ray’s raucous cover of “Somebody to Love” is a highlight.
Director Cynthia Croot has created a unique and fun social experience that also happens some of the city’s best talent. The plot line gets a little hazy amidst all the party games, but the show is about having fun. Set Designer Ian Petroni has decorated the main hall with tapestries as well as utilizing space in the theatre not often seen. Let loose and enjoy the kitchy fun that is “The Secret Social,” a production that is anything but your typical dinner theater experience.
“The Secret Social” runs Wednesdays through Mondays at 7:00 p.m. through December 23 in the James Levin Theatre. For tickets, call 216.631.2727, x501 or visit www.cptonline.org. There are adult themes and partial nudity.