Monthly Archives: December 2012

The World Premiere of “The Secret Social” at Cleveland Public Theatre Mysterious, Raucous and Delightfully Tacky

The World Premiere of “The Secret Social” at Cleveland Public Theatre Mysterious, Raucous and Delightfully Tacky
By Marjorie Preston
Brava!
www.marjoriepreston.com/brava

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.

Dobama Theatre’s “4000 Miles” Treats a Sad Time in a Young Man’s Life with Candor and Subtle Humor

Dobama Theatre’s “4000 Miles” Treats a Sad Time in a Young Man’s Life with Candor and Subtle Humor
By Marjorie Preston
Brava!
www.marjoriepreston.com/brava

Dobama Theatre’s current production, “4000 Miles,” by Amy Herzog, is a quiet play with a lot of tell and not quite enough show, luckily populated by a skilled cast including standout Dorothy Silver. “4000 Miles” is saved by its openness, and finding the funny in the everyday.

When 21-year-old Leo Joseph-Connell (Matt O’Shea) sets out on a cross-country bike trip with his friend Micah, he doesn’t count on witnessing Micah’s gruesome death. After Leo calls his parents and Micah’s parents, he finds himself alone with no one to turn to, and decides to continue the trip from Seattle to NYC because as he says, “I came to finish something I started.” When even his driven, good-hearted college student girlfriend Bec (Rachel Lee Kolis) turns him away, he ends up at the door of his feisty Communist grandmother, Vera (Dorothy Silver) 70 years his senior.

At one point, Leo ventures out for the evening and meets Amanda (Kat Bi), a flashy, fast girl presumably picked up in a bar. She goes for his “mountain man” scraggly look and his sad story, until Vera walks in on the two of them and kills the mood.

The trouble with the script is that there are so many good stories told but the juicy stories are not happening on stage: Micah’s gruesome death, Leo’s kiss with his adopted sister while they were on peyote, Vera’s husband’s philandering and the subsequent drama with Vera and his mistresses, the death of one of Vera’s neighbors – the list goes on. The characters are fascinating, so seeing them on a quiet, average day, with the true-to-life slow pace of that day, is fine for those who enjoy a slice of life with realistic characterizations, and nothing more.

What “4000 Miles” is good at is asking deep questions, treating a sad time in a young man’s life with candor and subtle humor, and giving us a reason to hang out with Vera, who is a fascinating and worldly character, skillfully acted by the talented Dorothy Silver.

Director Joel Hammer has done right with casting Dorothy Silver, who brings a sly wit and a breadth of experience heads above the other cast mates. The rest of the cast is talented as well, though, and the chemistry between them works very well. Scenic Designer Laura Carlson has furnished Vera’s apartment very simply, with green patterned wallpaper, a sofa and upholstered chair, coffee table, TV stand and dining set. Only the bright red bicycle stands out, clearly showing the difference in tastes between young and old.

“4000 Miles” 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., Sunday, December 9 at 7:30 p.m. and remaining Sundays at 2:30 p.m. through January 6. Tickets are available at www.dobama.org or by calling (216) 932-3396. The play contains adult language and themes.

We Feel Harry’s Pain and Depression Acutely in “Harry’s Christmas” At Tri-C East

We Feel Harry’s Pain and Depression Acutely in “Harry’s Christmas” At Tri-C East
By Marjorie Preston
Brava!
www.marjoriepreston.com/brava

The Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) Eastern Campus Theatre Arts Department production of the one-man show “Harry’s Christmas” by Steven Berkhoff, now at the Tri-C East Studio Theatre, is a study in depression and anxiety. “Harry’s Christmas” is powerfully, deeply expressed through the rantings of an alcoholic, pill-addicted man so sad and unhinged that the voice of reason in his head is being slowly drowned out.

Single, forty-year-old Harry Glebe (Allen Branstein), alone in his flat somewhere in England, is counting down the days until Christmas. Unfortunately, the tree is a little light on Christmas cards as decorations and Harry is beginning to get desperate to feel less lonely and unpopular. “Christmas is like an avalanche coming,” he moans.

In one moment he’s decrying the type of person who sends out bunches of Christmas cards as a person who prepares for “war or an obstacle course,” and the next he’s jumping up and down, running maniacally to receive a seventh Christmas card.

But with Harry, any happiness is short-lived. Even a phone conversation with his mother or a friend with whom he’s been out of touch provokes tremendous social anxiety, which provokes feelings of worthlessness, with which Harry copes by downing more and more alcohol and pills. “My whole body feels like one giant verruca,” he complains.

At first, his inner, judgmental voice – possibly his conscience, or that of a former therapist – is confident and even a bit bullying, calling him a “frightened little worm,” or telling him to “make an effort, extend a hand and be brave.” But during the five days in which the play takes place, Harry gives in to his anxiety and his growing addictions, and this inner voice falls silent as Harry seeks to eliminate his pain completely and descend into fantasy.

Branstein’s range is wide, from being giddy at the receipt of a Christmas card to being awash in sadness, holding an imaginary woman and pouting, “This space to let.” He capably shows us Harry’s brief manic periods, his many depressed periods, and his confident inner voice, switching emotions quickly and maintaining each distinct voice.

Director Brian Zoldessy has mined the script for Harry’s many changes of dynamic and voice while maintaining a core personality for Harry that is unmistakably one depressed man. Set Designers Marcus Dana and Connie Hecker have created a set that surrounds poor Harry with dozens of happy Christmas cards and good wishes, presumably from years past, while Harry’s reality reflects his living room containing a sad little Christmas tree, minimal furniture and a phone, a TV and radio, but mostly four pill bottles and five bottles of alcohol scattered around.

“Harry’s Christmas” is one most of us don’t like to think about, the Christmas endured by the sad, the lonely, the depressed. In Zoldessy and Branstein’s capable hands, the “desperately sad” man in “Harry’s Christmas” is real and we feel his pain acutely.

“Harry’s Christmas” plays through December 16, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Free parking is available in the B lot during performances, near the entrance to the Liberal Arts/ Performing Arts building. For tickets or more information, call (216) 987-2438 or visit www.tri-c.edu/easttheatre. There are mature themes and language, alcohol and drug use.

**Edited on 12/10 to include Connie Hecker as one of the scenic designers. -mp

The World Premiere of “A Carol for Cleveland” at Cleveland Play House A Touching Postcard from Cleveland

The World Premiere of “A Carol for Cleveland” at Cleveland Play House A Touching Postcard from Cleveland
By Marjorie Preston
Brava!
www.marjoriepreston.com/brava

The World Premiere Cleveland Play House production of “A Carol for Cleveland” by Eric Coble based on the novella by mystery author Les Roberts, is a touching postcard from the gritty side of 1970s Cleveland at Christmastime, with a few clever nods to Dickens. “A Carol for Cleveland” will leave a lump in your throat.

When steelworker Ed Podolak (Charles Kartali) steps off the bus from Western Pennsylvania, where he’s left his wife, Diane (Anjanette Hall) and two kids while searching for work, his journey has an inauspicious beginning as he immediately slips on black ice and ends up flat on his back. His reaction to the event, however, portends a happy ending, as the narrator, This Guy (Stephen Spencer) notes: “Ed Podolak got back up.”

Not that life will be easy for Ed Podolak – this modern-day Scrooge looks for work but tends to think he’s wasting his time living off pumpernickel and peanut butter and that he might as well keep leaving his family behind and struggle alone. Back in the 70s, among the colorful cast of characters Ed meets while staying in one of Cleveland’s seediest hotels is an old road dog friend of Ed’s named Jake Wilkins (Robert Ellis), who stops in to the seedy hotel just long enough to rob it. Through a series of 60s flashbacks, we see happier Christmases past, when Ed meets his wife, attends parties with friends, or finds out he will be a father.

When Ed, at his lowest point, is estranged from his family and desperate enough to steal from a Salvation Army kettle at Public Square, he is fortunate to meet a perceptive kid named Charlie Torbic (Elliot Lockshine) who notices his transgression. Along with Charlie’s mother, Helen (Lena Kaminsky) and father, Steve (Ellis, in a dual role), Charlie and family take Ed in for the evening, feed him and try to help him find his way back.

Kartali is perfectly cast as Ed, the working man who makes questionable financial and personal decisions. Hall is sweet and effervescent as Diane, becoming exasperated with Ed’s pride. Ellis brings humor, versatility and believability to his roles as Jake and Steve, and Kaminsky is wonderfully trusting and kind as Helen.

Director Laura Kepley takes us on the journey of a desperate man who needs to find his way home, and she does so handily, with a winning cast and heartwarming script. Set Designer Antje Ellermann’s crowning jewels are the many screens showing projected scenes of Cleveland with animated but realistic snow falling that find the beauty in the stark, cold landscape. Some set pieces are simple – a couch, a chair – and others are clever, revolving set pieces such as those used in Ed Podolak’s seedy hotel.

“A Carol for Cleveland” has all the right elements to be a holiday success: a solid, gritty, and genuinely funny script from the minds of two of Cleveland’s most talented writers and a touching, family-friendly storyline.

“A Carol for Cleveland” runs Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2:30 p.m., Tuesdays at 7:00 p.m., Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, December 13th at 1:30 p.m. and Thursday, December 20th at 7:30 p.m. through December 23rd in the Allen Theatre at PlayhouseSquare. For tickets, call (216) 241-6000 or (866)546-1353 or visit www.playhousesquare.org.

“Wonder of the World” at River Street Playhouse is Lindsay-Abaire’s Signature Wacky

“Wonder of the World” at River Street Playhouse is Lindsay-Abaire’s Signature Wacky
By Marjorie Preston
Brava!
www.marjoriepreston.com/brava

The Chagrin Valley Little Theatre’s production of “Wonder of the World” by David Lindsay-Abaire is a dark comedy with Lindsay-Abaire’s signature wackiness. The first act is more accessible than, say, his “Kimberly Akimbo,” as the characters seem like our neighbors or friends, but the second act drags.

When we meet wide-eyed Cass Harris (Kacey Shapiro), she is hurriedly packing to leave her stilted, neurotic husband Kip Harris (Jerry Schaber). She has discovered his secret sexual turn-on and, disgusted, she wants nothing more to do with him. She boards a bus for Niagara Falls, determined to cross off dozens of items on her bucket list. Cass befriends the suicidal and alcoholic Lois Coleman (Catherine Remick), who confesses she is planning to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

Cass convinces Lois to be her roommate and do some sightseeing first, and they encounter widower Captain Mike (Don Knepper), who helms the famous Maid of the Mist sightseeing boat. They also encounter Karla (Kathy McPeak) and Glen (Mark DePompei) an inept pair of private investigators hired by Kip to track Cass down. Along the way, they meet a series of five sisters: a sightseer, three waitresses and a clown therapist, all played in drag by the brave David Malinowski.

Shapiro is bouncy and bubbly as Cass, crossing into manic. Schaber plays Kip as a sad, scared, secretive man. Remick’s portrayal of Lois seems jaded and tough, but turns out to be thoroughly romantic at heart. The supporting cast does a fine job, with special note of Knepper as the sweet, hopeful Captain Mike and Malinowski, who plays the tough clown therapist as believable and just scary enough to keep the cast in a hotel room to sort out their damage playing the Newlywed Game.

Director Yvonne E. Pilarczyk has in “Wonder of the World” an engaging script with clever plot twists, plus a good cast to take on the challenge of Lindsay-Abaire’s unique voice. One wonders if the second act drags due to Lindsay-Abaire’s lack of editing, or if it just needed to be prodded along a little faster. Cast and crew provided all the props for this show, with a simple design of single set pieces like a bed or barrel that came on and off. Most set changes were quick, though there was one set change in particular going into a helicopter scene that was so long that the audience wondered aloud if it was intermission.

“Wonder of the World” is wacky fun with a veneer of darkness thrown in, but as previously stated, the second act drags, perhaps because of the volume of details Lindsay-Abaire has included, or perhaps due to slow pacing.

“Wonder of the World” runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through December 15th 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. The play features adult language, adult themes and violence.