Category Archives: Brava

Chagrin Valley Little Theatre’s “God of Carnage” Tempers Intensity with Humor

Chagrin Valley Little Theatre’s “God of Carnage” Tempers Intensity with Humor
By Marjorie Preston
Brava!
www.marjoriepreston.com/category/brava

The Tony award-winning “God of Carnage” by Yasmina Reza, translated from the French by Christopher Hampton, is currently opening the mainstage season at Chagrin Valley Little Theatre (CVLT). “God of Carnage” is an intense play and this CVLT production wisely plays up the dry humor, much to the delight of its audience.

Because eleven-year-old Benjamin Raleigh has hit his classmate, Henry Novak, in the face with a stick, literally knocking two of his teeth in, the boys’ parents meet to draft a joint statement about what happened – for the insurance company, it is assumed – and the veneer of civility falls hard.

The aggressor’s father, Alan Raleigh (David Malinowski), a lawyer with his head glued to a cell phone, objects to the phrase “armed with a stick,” and the victim’s mother, Veronica Novak (Dawn Hill), a writer focused on Africa, offers to change it to something less inflammatory. Unfortunately, the gauntlet appears to be thrown down. The two sets of parents soon dig their heels in against each other, including Annette Raleigh (Evie Koh), wealth manager, and Michael Novak (Mark DePompei), owner of a retail store.

These four capable actors do not miss a beat in their portrayal of parents teetering on the line between discussing the actions of their kids and defending their unique perspectives and way of life. They confess their own struggles with balancing marriage, children and work, and end up in a candid group therapy session with no clear leader.

Malinowski is lizard-like as the darty-eyed lawyer, while his on-stage wife Koh is enjoyable as the tightly wound wife who comes unglued while drinking rum. DePompei is fun as the working man who turns crude when pushed and Hill, the writer incredulous at injustice, when under stress she can be more concerned with appearances and books than with the people in her life.

Director David Malinowski, in addition to stepping in to fill the role of Alan due to a family illness of another actor, ably directs the show and serves as set designer as well. He wears all hats well, as his cast is strong and his direction has brought out the dry humor in a play about an unfortunate and tragic event. His design of bright blue and red offsets the tasteful, modern Brooklyn home’s black and beige, and echoes the efforts to play up the lighter side of this drama.

With this play, Reza appears to be asking if, in fact, we are civilized at all, and her answer to that seems to be that humans are hopelessly selfish. But in this well-cast CVLT production of “God of Carnage,” we can laugh through our angst.

“God of Carnage” runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through October 20 at Chagrin Valley Little Theatre, 40 River Street, Chagrin Falls. For tickets, call (440) 247-8955 or visit www.cvlt.org. The play contains adult language and themes.

Ensemble Theatre’s Powerful “The Normal Heart” Examines the Beginnings of AIDS

Ensemble Theatre’s Powerful “The Normal Heart” Examines the Beginnings of AIDS
“Brava!”
www.marjoriepreston.com/category/brava

Ensemble Theatre’s current production, “The Normal Heart” by Larry Kramer, examines the early 1980s beginnings of the plague that is the continuing global AIDS crisis. Ensemble’s powerful and sobering production, filled with amazingly talented actors, is harrowing and unflinching, and shows humanity at its most vulnerable.

In 1981, when the esteemed Dr. Emma Brookner (Derdriu Ring) begins to discover cases of AIDS among gay men in New York City, she can’t get cooperation from government officials or agencies, the media, the general public or the gay community to raise awareness of the disease or make efforts to curtail it before it spreads.

Jewish writer and actor Ned Weeks (Brian Zoldessy) stumbles into the story at Brookner’s office and begins to enlist the help of everyone who could effect change, including journalists, government officials and gay men. He even founds Gay Men’s Health Crisis and begins to speak out on the reasons why gay men should come out (of the closet, even) and fight to get the disease studied and cured. His brother, Ben (Jeffrey Grover), a lavish-living, high-powered lawyer, gives him legal and financial aid but refuses to consider his firebrand gay brother an equal, claiming Ned is coming off too radical: “People don’t like to be frightened,” Ben says.

Many gay men volunteer to run an information hotline and distribute pamphlets, lobby the mayor’s office and alert the media, but Ned is the most active member. Unfortunately, his tactics, including public defamation of those who might help his cause, turns some in the organization against him. The disease becomes very personal for Ned when dozens of his friends die. Even his lover, New York Times Style writer Felix Turner (Scott Esposito), becomes sick with AIDS.

Zoldessy capably plays Ned as thoughtful, passionate and articulate, though his character is seething with anger and zeal. His monologue explaining why “weakness terrifies me” is inspired, filled with reasons why people should fight injustices and not allow themselves to be overlooked.

Grover is perfectly cast as the stoic, conservative Ben. Watching Esposito as Felix turn from stylish, smart and flirty to feeble and pitiable is heartbreaking. Ring, nostrils flaring, is powerful and angry as the polio-stricken Brookner, though she gets a laugh when she suggests that we just “tell gay men to stop having sex.”

Director Sarah May has a very intense, meaty play with “The Normal Heart,” and has a wonderfully strong cast, put to great effect at Ensemble. Set Designer Ian Hinz has created an appropriately stark, minimalist set with abstract painted floor and center panel in the rear with bold angular paint strokes in grey, brown and white. Three video screens hang in the back and keep a portentous count of the steady uptick of AIDS cases from 41 cases in 1981 to 75 million men, women and children at last count.

“The Normal Heart” is heartbreaking, but thirty years later, the story of the men who were at the front lines of the AIDS crisis still needs to be told. The secrets of the 80s are out in the open now, but that silence that pervaded society, as they remained “practical,” or “conservative” or claimed it was “tricky” for them to come forward at that time to publicly support research for a cure for a marginalized societal group, was deadly.

“The Normal Heart” runs through October 21, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. at 2843 Washington Boulevard, Cleveland Heights. For tickets, call (216) 321-2930 or visit www.ensemble-theatre.org. The play contains adult language and themes.

“The Motherf***er with the Hat” at Dobama a Grippingly Realistic Drama With Humor

“The Motherf***er 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 Motherf***er 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 Motherf***er 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 Motherf***er 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 Motherf***er 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.