Monday, September 30, 2013

Richard III, Great Lakes Theatre

(Lynn Robert Berg as Richard III)

It has been observed that corporate CEOs (okay, some of them) share a disturbing number of traits with sociopaths. Both groups tend to be narcissistic, care little to nothing about the fates or feelings of others, and are able to, um, kill people with impunity.

This comparison is brought home with powerful clarity in Richard III at the Great Lakes Theater. It features a gleaming, contemporary set comprised of glass and steel that any corporation could easily move into at a moment’s notice. And the power brokers vying for dominance in these halls are conniving and vicious.

None more so than the crippled “rudely stamp’d” King Richard, who prowls the bloody halls of England’s ruling class, eliminating his competition with a ruthless efficiency that has immediate bottom-line results.

Directed by Joseph Hanreddy, this production literally drips with blood. Queen Margaret, the widow of King Henry VI, pours a few gallons of plasma off the balcony into a waiting tub every time another person is dispatched.

It’s a stylish way to handle the gore, reflective of a production that is slick and entertaining from start to finish. The cast is led ably by Lynn Robert Berg as Richard, limping about on his twisted legs as he coos and snarls to put people in their place. It is a masterful and often witty performance that never becomes tiresome.

As Richard’s doomed henchman the Duke of Buckingham, David Anthony Smith cadges some chuckles along the way before his demise. And Laurie Birmingham as Queen Margaret almost out-does Uzo Aduba, the “crazy eyes” convict in TV’s Orange Is the New Black, flashing her haunted orbs as she looks daggers at Richard while lathering him with insults.

The double-cast J. Todd Adams is excellent as both hapless George, Duke of Clarence and as Richard’s merciless capo, Sir William Catesby. And Tom Ford uses his wry delivery to fine effect as Lord Hastings.

The production ends with a teeth-rattling battle scene that ends Richard’s brief tenure in the corner office. If only CEOs could be dislodged as easily.

Richard III
Through November 2 at Great Lakes Theater, Hanna Theater, 2067 E. 14th St., 216-241-6000

Monday, September 23, 2013

Boeing, Boeing, Lakeland Civic Theatre

(From left to right: Beth Lee, Tess Elizabeth Burgler, Brian Zoldessy, and Jeffery Grover)

If humor is based on truth, then it’s probably not a good idea to build a comedy around a concept such as: Airline schedules are infallible! These days, the arrival and departure times for airplanes are more like rough estimates scrawled on a cocktail napkin that are easily amended or crumpled up entirely.

Not so back in the 1960s, when the French playwright and farceur Marc Camoletti wrote Boeing, Boeing. In this production at the Lakeland Civic Theatre, directed by Martin Friedman, fulltime lothario Bernard relies on the clockwork precision of airlines so that he can rotate three stewardess “fiancĂ©es” through his Paris flat without any of them being the wiser.

Once you accept the show’s premise as a charming anachronism, the stage is set for lots of door-slamming hijinks. And that does happen at times.  But the over-long and repetitive script, as translated by Beverly Cross and Francis Evans, eventually wrings a lot of the humor out of what should have been a sprightly romp.

Bernard is busy romancing an international goulash of stews: Gloria from TWA, Gabriella from Alitalia and Gretchen from Lufthansa. So feel free to duck as the stereotype characterizations and jokes, um, fly fast and furious. A complicating element is added when Bernard’s old pal Robert, a dweeb from Wisconsin, stops by for a quick visit and then decides to stay.

The suave Bernard is intent on educating Robert in his technique of engaging but never marrying women—two of whom who are flying to all parts of the world while he’s boffing the third one who’s on the ground. He is aided in this carousel of carnality by crusty Bertha, his aging maid with a nasty attitude.

The script, however, is quite creaky. There is so much repeated exposition of Bernard’s game plan early on that you want to scream, “Get on with it, already!” But it doesn’t, and we are past the one-hour mark of this 2½ hour piece before any comical sparks start flying.

During that time, there is a lot of set-up palaver between Bernard, Robert and Bertha that never ignites. As Bernard, a smooth and assured Jeffery Grover firmly establishes Bernard as a master of his universe. But he is so cool early on you never feel the passion of this man outside of his cringingly-intense, Al Gore-style kisses when a couple of the stews arrive.

The role of snarky Bertha calls for an actor who can create her own comedy magic (as Thelma Ritter did in the movie version). But Beth Lee makes Bertha unpleasant without being particularly funny, a rather deadly combination for this kind of farce.

Katie Nabors is cute and amorous as Gloria. But her momentary infatuation with Robert is based on a quirk that doesn’t track (and that isn’t worth repeating at the play’s conclusion).  Nancy Telzerow does the hot-tempered Italian thing as Gabriella. But neither her nor Nabors’ roles allow them to vent in more interesting ways

A couple of elements of this production work splendidly. As Robert, Brian Zoldessy is a limp, human sock-puppet of a man and, after the stultifying early scenes, he’s often hilarious. Using his bespectacled, sad-sack face and slumped posture, Zoldessy is a sight gag without even saying a word.

Benefitting from one of the best-written roles, Tess Elizabeth Burgler makes Gretchen a Teutonic tower of uncompromising need. Bossing Robert around before a surprising turn of affection, Burgler is a treat. And her scenes with Zoldessy crackle with the perfect pacing for fluff of this sort.

There are laugh-out-loud moments in Boeing, Boeing, but not nearly as many as one might desire. Cut out an hour of the scripting fat, and this could be a fast-paced one-act comedy sprint. But that’s as much of a dream as hoping, these days, for an on-time flight.

Boeing, Boeing
Through October 6 at the Lakeland Civic Theatre, Lakeland Community College Campus (Just south of Rt. 90 and Rt. 306 in Kirtland), 440-525-7034.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Woody Sez, the Life and Music of Woody Guthrie, Cleveland Play House

(David M. Lutken as Woody Guthrie)

If a combination of folk music and liberal politics (remember those?) sounds perfect for you, then you best hustle down to see Wooody Sez at the Cleveland Play House.

While the production is unsatisfying in some respects—acting being one of the primary shortcomings—the four talented musicians display a range of songs that have the potential to amuse, enlighten and even shock.

In a linear and dutiful manner the show tells the story of Woody Guthrie, the iconic songwriter and performer known for penning classic songs such as “This Land Is Your Land.” Finding his true voice during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, Guthrie sang and composed songs that fought for the rights and the pride of the common men and women who are often trampled by society.

The piece is devised by David M. Lutken (with director Nick Corley and others) who also plays Guthrie and triples as the music director. In his Woody persona, Lutken has a comfortably rumpled down-home style of delivery that works well for the most part. And when he slows down to present a powerful song, such as “Dust Bowl Disaster,” you can feel the dirt and sand creeping into your pores.

The other three musician/actors are all fine as they smile a lot and expertly play a variety of instruments from fiddles and guitars to a dulcimer and a couple soup spoons. And the songs, from the lovely "Pastures of Plenty" to the rollicking "Biggest Thing That Man Has Ever Done,"are often thoroughly entertaining. But Helen Jean Russell, David Finch and Leenya Rideout never succeed in creating memorable minor characters who interact with Guthrie.

This throws all the responsibility onto Lutken, who manages to charm the audience for most of the show. Of course, the script suffers from the same old problem of many such musical bios: in trying to cover all the Wikipedia high points, it never takes the time to explore its subject in any depth.

And there is a lot of depth to be had, since Guthrie lived through many challenges including service in World War II and his family history of Huntington’s disease.

Absent a more penetrating perspective, we are left with a pleasant and well-executed raft of songs, which makes for a fine folk music concert. But as a theatrical piece Woody Sez doesn’t say nearly enough.

Woody Sez, the Life and Music of Woody Guthrie
Through October 6 at the Cleveland Play House, Allen Theatre, 1407 Euclid Avenue, 216-241-6000