Friday, May 17, 2013

The Rock & The Ripe, One Theatre World

This show, about “the bullied and bruised gay youth of America,” only appeared once in Cleveland—last week at the One Theatre World Festival that took place at the Idea Center downtown.

But it’s headed to off-Broadway this autumn, and likely other venues beyond that, so keep an eye peeled. Written and directed by Chicagoan Mark Blane, The Rock & The Ripe dives into the torments endured by gay kids in school. And while there are rough edges, Blane’s script has the courage of its own convictions, up to and including a downbeat and emotionally impactful conclusion.

In this condensed version, staged in a large classroom, four cast members from Chicago carry the story, as opposed to the eight in the original production. The kids meet in the Principal’s anteroom, having been sent there for being disruptive in class.

Billy (Justin Lance) is the latest to arrive, and he is immediately bullied by Brendan (a properly smartass Christopher Kervick), with Calvin (Colin Funk) and Erin (Alison Mouratis), wearing a tiara) looking on. As we learn more about each of these young people, insights are gained even as the mystery of where they are going deepens.

What becomes obvious, though, is how absent the adults in the school are. This accurately echoes the isolation LGBT teens feel in schools where their torments are often ignored.

Blane captures the back-and-forth of teen talk precisely, with plenty of dark humor included. And he takes interesting chances with symbolism, such as referencing a galaxy of doorknobs suspended from the ceiling.

It all doesn’t hang together perfectly, but by the end you begin to get a visceral sense of what it is like to be left on the outside, without help or hope. And that is a powerful communication all by itself.

Blane has also produced a video, watch at:
as well as a 160-page compact paperback book,which can be purchased at:

The rock in the title alludes to a quote by Phillip Parker, a teenager who loved Lady Gaga, adored wearing feathers, and felt the incessant bullying at school "like a rock on my chest." He committed suicide last year, at age 14. 

As for "the ripe," let's hope it means that the time is ripe for change.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Becoming Liv Ullmann, New Ground Theatre Festival, Cleveland Play House

If you’re looking for a tasty theatrical bonbon this weekend, try popping in on Becoming Liv Ullmann this Friday, May 10. It's part of this year's New Ground Theatre Festival at the Cleveland Play House, showcasing new work from nationally recognized artists.

Written and performed by Crystal Finn, the star of the recently extended Rich Girl, also at CPH, this is a two (or three) person show that keeps the laughs coming.

Crystal plays herself as she tries to get back into her boyfriend’s life by channeling the Swedish (Norwegian?) movie star. Lots of the humor is developed from Crystal’s utterly incompetent research into who Liv Ullman really is, mirroring her own lack of self-awareness.

Using a laptop computer, a suitcase full of costumes and props and other presentation aids, Finn turns bafflement into an art form. With audience participation!

Even though it ends on an off note (literally, a song that could easily be cut), this is a 60-minute joy ride through a young woman’s curious approach to life. Or is that Liv?

Becoming Liv Ullmann
May 10, 10 PM. "The Helen" Lab Theatre, PlayhouseSquare, 1407 Euclid Ave., 216-241-6000

Working, the Musical, Blank Canvas Theatre

(From left: Sarah Edwards-Maag, Ian Atwood, Derrick Winger, Tasha Brandt, Doug Bailey, Joanna May Hunkins)

Most of us spend most of our lives working, and then complaining about that work. But deep down, there are satisfactions and rewards to be found in even the most mundane jobs.

At least, that’s the theory behind Working, the Musical, adapted from the Studs Terkel book. Terkel interviewed lots of plain working people from all walks of life and simply recorded their thoughts about their work lives. And it turned out to be a best seller, since the stories are often amusing, poignant and surprisingly insightful.

This adaptation by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso, which has been localized by Blank Canvas, has many of the same qualities. We meet a dedicated fireman, a harried flight attendant, a conflicted housewife, and many other folks who spend their days working.

A couple of the people even emphasize how much they appreciate having a job at all, a cogent reminder of the long-term underemployment that this country (and city!) is still suffering.

BC’s six-person cast under the compassionate direction of Patrick Ciamacco presents more than two dozen distinctive people in different jobs. The songs, by a variety of composers, vary in quality but are often quite touching.

And the spoken words, taken directly from interviews with real people, pulse with genuine emotion. Although the individual performances vary and the singing voices aren’t always perfectly in tune, each member of the cast has strong moments.

Tasha Brandt delivers a solid rendition of “Millwork” by James Taylor, and she also sparkles in other roles including a harried flight attendant.

Doug Bailey has several telling moments, including as a fireman and a tech support person, and Joanna May Hunkins scores as project manager under the thumb of her boss.

Ian Atwood is a strong singer, even though his facial expressions tend to be a bit exaggerated. But he registers perfectly in “The Mason” by Craig Carnelia. And Sarah Edwards-Maag is splendidly oblivious as a fundraiser.

Derrick Winger is a credible ironworker and, at the end in another guise, his widower retiree Joe delivers a tender song written by Carnelia (“You wake at ten, fold up the bed/You don’t want to keep the couch open all day, it’s depressing.”).

However, the production is hampered by some questionable costume choices: an inner-city teacher who is dressed like a schoolmarm from Little House on the Prairie and a supposed $500-a-night whore who, based on her tight and ill-fitting pleather dress, would have a hard time charging $5 for a hummer).  

In addition, the multilevel platform dominating the small stage is great for posing the full cast. But it impedes free movement and gives the actors additional challenges to overcome, repeatedly hauling their buns up and down those steps.

Still, there is an undeniable sweetness to these real stories, and you won’t have to work hard to enjoy that aspect of this heartfelt show.

Working, the Musical 
Through May 18 at the Blank Canvas Theatre, 78th Street Studios, 1305 West 80th St., 440-941-0458