Monday, September 27, 2010

An Ideal Husband, Lakeland Civic Theatre

( Katherine DeBoer as Mabel and Diane Mull as Lady Chiltern)

If you prefer your Oscar Wilde with a whiff of social relevance, then An Ideal Husband might be your cup of tea. It deals with an instance of political intrigue that ignites a blackmail plot, which is a lot of heavy lifting for a playwright whose wealthy characters usually just indulge in trivial and insanely witty banter while munching cucumber sandwiches.

And if this is your kind of play, you have two chances to see it. The Great Lakes Theater Festival opens their version on Saturday, October 2, and the Lakeland Civic Theatre’s production is up and running now. While the Lakeland effort struggles to find its pace in the rather lengthy first act, things perk up after intermission and a Wildean good time is had by (almost) all.

Sir Robert Chiltern, an apparent paragon of virtue, is waylaid at a party by Mrs. Cheveley, a snarky woman who knows a secret in Chiltern’s past. It seems Chiltern sold a state secret for the money that continues to finance his luxurious lifestyle. For her own financial reasons, she forces Chiltern to reverse his negative report on the Suez Canal, lest she release the proof of his previous indiscretion.

Meanwhile, Chiltern’s best pal, Viscount Goring, goes meandering about as an air-headed dandy, the scourge of his father, the Earl of Caversham (Michael Rogan). Goring has most of the best lines, structured in the familiar tempo Wilde uses. As he observes: “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”

As Chiltern and Cheveley battle it out, Chiltern’s wife (a steely yet loving Diane Mull) stands by her man, until facts, intercede, and Goring tries to woo Chiltern’s lovely sister Mabel.

The Lakeland cast battles to a draw with the first half of the play, as the actors try to find their footing. In the central role of Sir Robert, Jeffery Grover provides a solid presence. But his fencing with Mrs. Cheveley doesn’t spark as it should, because Jennifer Davies, as Cheveley, delivers many of her lines with an unchanging tempo and a single facial expression trapped somewhere between a sneer and a wince. Playing a nasty person should be a lark, but here it seems a chore.

On the other hand, Katherine DeBoer as Mabel is a delight, capturing the frivolous essence of Wilde’s words. In the smaller role of Lady Markby, Maria Thomas Lister also has a fine time with her few speeches, tossing them off with just the right upper-crust attitude.

In the juicy part of Goring, who is really a thinly disguised Wilde, Doug Kusak labors (under a wig as thick as a beaver pelt) to find his character, failing to take enough chances with shape and texture in delivering the clever wordplay. But Kusak comes out of his shell after intermission, cranking up the energy and turning Goring into an impish cad with a heart of gold.

Even though the play, at more than 2 ½ hours, is a good deal longer than it should be, director Martin Friedman keeps everyone on point so that the laughs Wilde is due eventually come through.

An Ideal Husband

Through October 10 at Lakeland Civic Theatre,

Lakeland Community College, 7700 Clocktower Drive,

Kirtland, 440-525-7526

Monday, September 20, 2010

Closure, Karamu House

(Shambrion Treadwell)

A single line from this production sums up the trauma of losing one’s home to the ravenous forces of our financial meltdown: “Foreclosure papers shredded, left on the lawn.” You can feel the frustration and anger that throbs in those few words.

That is just one of many telling thoughts in Closure by Mary Weems, now at Karamu House. This collection of poems—performed alongside and weaved into snatches of music, dance, singing and yodeling (!)—is an intriguing production. Most of the short poems are written in the voices of a variety of inanimate objects, the things that people leave behind when forced to abandon their homes.

This is a challenging format to sustain, since there are no characters to follow and no way to build tension. But under the direction of Terrence Spivey, aided by fluid choreography by Dianne McIntyre and evocative photographs by R.A. Washington, the 80-minute performance (with an essentially unnecessary intermission) manages to sustain interest for much of the time.

Plenty of objects have thoughts they want to share, including a drawer, a hairbrush, a light bulb, a hallway, and many more. Since the poems are fairly brief, these snapshot observations go down easily. On the flip side, the bite-sized bits (there are 27 of them) begin to get repetitive and you start to long for some interaction with the real people who were affected.

The six-person ensemble includes Rodney Freeman, Cameron Dashiell, Amanda Lanier, Saidah Mitchell, Shambrion Treadwell and Kyle Carthens. Each has featured moments and they all perform seamlessly as a group, lending the evening a sense of unity the material itself doesn’t supply.

Ultimately, the clever premise devours itself, since objects can’t grow, change or rage against these sad situations. And that drains a lot of passion from the proceedings. Still, the production is often enthralling, lovely to look at, and even quite amusing. And that ain’t half bad.


Through October 10 at Karamu House,

2355 East 89th Street, 216-795-7077

Friday, September 17, 2010

Altar Boyz, True North at French Creek

(The Boyz from left: Colin Bigley, Matthew Ryan Thompson, Josh Rhett Noble, Eric Fancher, and Alex Arroyo)

Even though the whole “make a word plural with a z” thing is totally played, the up-beat musical Altar Boyz, now being produced by True North at French Creek, can still generate a lot of grinz. This tuneful romp about five diverse young dudes in a Christian rock band oozes with charm, mixing sincere God talk with enough wry asides and winks so that even agnostics and atheists in the audience can find a foothold.

The music and lyrics by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker dominate, since the whole show is presented as a concert in progress. The differentiating gimmick is that there’s a computerized, glowing cross that shows how many audience souls have been saved from the clutches of Satan. If you feel a cringe coming on, relax. It’s all executed with boyish verve and none of the fundamentalist fervor that can get downright scary.

Four of the five chaps are named Matthew, Mark, Luke and Juan (you’ll never guess, he’s Hispanic!). And they are joined by Abraham, a wandering Jew who stumbles upon the group and is taken in because he knows how to write lyrics. These personalities, as written by book author Kevin Del Aguila, are one-dimensional, and it’s up to the performers to shake that shallowness and make these guys come alive. In this task, the True North cast is only partly successful.

The group is led by the (supposedly) pure-of-spirit Matthew, played by Josh Rhett Noble who is reprising a role he played at Beck Center a couple years ago. Noble sings well in a gentle, lyrical way—his “Something About You” solo is a tender highlight—and he establishes a firm center for the other players. Matthew Ryan Thompson makes the most of Mark, a juicy role since he’s the token gay boy who’s smitten with a non-comprehending Matthew. Thompson is always on point with his characterization, and he gives his star turn, double-meaning song “Epiphany” a rockin’ good feeling.

As Juan, Alex Arroyo starts off a bit heavy handed, making too much of the guttural “j” sounds as he teeters on caricature. But he gradually loosens up and turns an emotional event in the second act into a surprisingly affecting moment.

Eric Fancher plays Luke, the “bad boy,” but he never takes enough risks and one never senses the real rough side of this potentially interesting character. Luke should be generating constant friction with the other “do-gooders,” but that tension never develops. And Colin Bigley is largely transparent as Abraham, failing to find a through line for his character. Since he is a linchpin in the play’s climax, where the boys face a tough decision, this concluding moment fails to resonate.

Although the individual performances vary in quality, the boys are sharp when doing their group numbers. The voices blend pleasingly and they execute director/choreographer Sarah Clare’s often inventive dance moves with energy and precision. They are supported in fine fashion by music director Jordan Cooper’s tight four-member band.

Performed in a spacious theater/gallery in a handsome nature center facility, this show wears it’s belief openly and proudly. And it’s often quite a blast, even if you are a heathen.

Altar Boyz

Produced by True North Cultural Arts

at the French Creek Nature Center,

4530 Colorado Ave., Sheffield Village,


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Say You Love Satan, convergence-continuum

(Lukas Roberts as Jack and Scott Gorbach as Andrew)

If falling for a “bad boy” is compellingly attractive to many women and gay men, then being swept away by the son of Satan himself would have to qualify as the ultimate hard-on. Especially if that hellacious offspring was hot, smart, and able to chill a bottle of beer with a wave of his hand.

This is the situation that forms the core of Say You Love Satan by Roberto Aguirre-Sacassa, now at convergence-continuum. And while the play revolves around a contemporary incarnation of beelzebub, it never comes to grip in any significant way with a number of heavy issues raised on the periphery. Instead, the focus here is on laughs, and the con-con crew delivers plenty of those thanks to fine performances and deft timing.

Andrew is a kind of nebbishy gay guy who is between relationships (with nice Jarrod and egomaniacal Chad), and re-reading The Brothers Karamozov in a laundromat. In steps Jack, who proceeds to strip to the waist and starts doing pushups while waiting for his clothes to cycle. Andrew is instantly smitten by Jack’s other-worldly gorgeousness, and soon they are spending the evenings together.

This new relationship shunts wonderful Jarrod (he volunteers at an orphanage where he holds babies that have been neglected) off to the side. But Andrew is a bit bothered by Jack’s “666” tattoo in his hairline, and his difficulty in walking when the sun’s about to rise.

As Andrew and Jack grow closer, things heat up in unforeseen ways and Andrew’s gal pal Bernadette is called upon to help save her buddy from the fires of the damned. And further assistance comes winging in from a most unexpected source.

The playwright sprinkles plenty of punch lines throughout the script (Jack: “Are you Russian?” Andrew: “No, I’m just sullen.”), and even when the gags are predictable, they manage to click. This is due in large part to Scott Gorbach, who invests Andrew with just enough earnest naivete to make his character endearing and relatable. For instance, Andrew insists on keeping his eyes open during a kiss, which becomes hilarious during his frequent lip-locks with Jack.

As Jack, Lukas Roberts has a sizzling bod and a matching manner that will steam your glasses (and if you don't wear specs, he'll fog up your corneas). He’s a passionate, sexy handful, and when his amorous smoldering turns into flames of anger, you can feel the raging heat. Ultimately, when Jack’s real identity is revealed, Roberts has the acting chops to make it feel real.

Zac Hudak, double cast as the preening Chad and surprise visitor Raphael, is spot-on in both roles, while Stuart Hoffman is wistfully charming as angelic Jarrod. Lauren B. Smith garners a number of laughs as the put upon Bernadette, although her high decibel rants become a bit wearying.

The script works hard to develop a thematic connection between the patricide-centered plot of the Dostoyevsky novel that Andrew lugs around and Jack’s supposed conflict with his dad, but this juxtaposition never quite jells. This makes Andrew’s frequent mini-lectures on The Brothers Karamozov a bit of a bore.

And ironically, for a play that makes fun of Disney musicals (Jack admits there’s a special place in Hell for people in those productions), Aguirre-Sacassa tacks on a pat, smiley-face ending that doesn’t really feel true to the characters he’s created. Indeed, it’s a conclusion the Disney studios might have dreamt up.

Director Clyde Simon once again reshapes his small playing area to maximum effect, and keeps the pace brisk and amusing. However, con-con's obsession with using video in all their plays is once again a loser, as the video segments are either unnecessary (people dancing in a bar while live actors dance in a bar) or tedious (watching Jack and Andrew exit a car and walk across a street, watching laundry tumble).

Still, there are giggles aplenty in this piece. And that makes it easy for anyone to love this particular six-packed, stone cold sexy Satan.

Say You Love Satan

Through September 25, produced by convergence-

continuum at The Liminis, 2438 Scranton Road,