Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Not the Flying Stupendas, Cleveland Public Theatre

(Liz Conway and Joe Milan)

It is said that all of us learn through failure. From the moment we’re born, we constantly strive to overcome our inabilities as we struggle to do what we want to do.

From that perspective, there should be a ton of learning going on during the world premiere of the devised play Not The Flying Stupendas by Jill Levin (and others), now at Cleveland Public Theatre. This is a production loaded with first-timers or novices—playwright, director, two of the five actors—and it turns out to basically be an hour-long pratfall. But not in a particularly entertaining way.

To CPT’s credit, these are the kind of risks they take, en route to producing some of the most riveting theater in town. Their myriad venues and programs for nurturing theatrical talent give playwrights, directors and performers the space to flop, in necessary, so they can do it better in the future.

In this instance, director Renee Schilling is a CPT Directing Fellow, part of a new program to foster fresh directing talent in the area. And that is an untrammeled benefit.

This time however, true to the title, Stupendas does not take flight. Playwright Levin, Schilling and the cast have come up with a clever conceit. The leader of the famed aerial act The Flying Stupendas breaks his leg (offstage, unfortunately). So the snarky ringmaster browbeats her backstage minions to trot out and perform for the audience long enough so she doesn’t have to issue refunds.

There follows a series of micro-acts performed by non-performers, and that turns out to be as interesting as it sounds (which ranges from not very to not at all). The multiple faults of the production, without assigning blame by name, include over-acting, high-volume acting, slow pacing, maudlin sentimentality, sloppy execution, inappropriate eye contact with the audience, and lack of character or plot development.

Experienced actors Joe Milan, Liz Conway and the playwright (who takes the role of the ringmaster), along with young actors Frank Levin and Ivy Pedaci, have small moments--sometimes lasting only nanoseconds--when they are either vaguely amusing or fleetingly touching. But it is all ultimately for naught.

This, of course, creates a rich and vibrant environment for learning. And it is hoped that all participants will nurture themselves accordingly.

Not The Flying Stupendas
Through May 5 at Cleveland Public Theatre, 6515 Detroit Avenue, 216-631-2727

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