Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Last Romance, Chagrin Valley Little Theatre

(Don Edelman and Mary Jane Nottage)

If the idea of a play involving two oldsters who meet cute in a dog park sets off your “cloying alert” alarm, you’re not alone. 

But this play at the Chagrin Valley Little Theatre features some genuinely funny lines and benefits from delightful performances by two longtime Cleveland acting pros. 

Mary Jane Nottage plays the 70-something stylish Carol who is hit on by rumpled octogenarian Ralph, played by CVLT fixture Don Edelman. And although the first act seems overly long, playwright Joe DiPietro studs it with a number of surefire jokes (“Ralph is quite a catch, he can still drive at night!” says his sister Rose at one point). 

The arc of Ralph and Carol’s relationship is not entirely predictable, which is an unexpected treat. But the real joy is watching these two performers do their thing. Nottage is continually engaging as Carol, a woman who is dealing with an ill husband and, now, a rather seriously wrinkled admirer. 

And while Edelman may inventively recreate some of his dialog as the opera-loving Ralph, he’s so experienced on stage that you rarely see any blips. Plus, his comic timing, like Nottage’s, is spot on. 

They are supported by a solid Margo Parker as Rose and Andrew Kondik, who gamely sings some interstitial snatches of arias as the younger Ralph. 

Although there are some static stretches in the blocking, first time director Cindee Catalano-Edelman allows Nottage and Edelman the room to find their own beats and tempos. And that is a pleasure to watch.

The Last Romance

Through May 10 at the Chagrin Valley Little Theatre’s River Street Playhouse, 56 River Street, Chagrin Falls, 440-247-8955.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Aesop’s Pirate Adventure, Talespinner Children’s Theatre

Pirates are on the prowl in this latest offering from the always engaging folks at Talespinner.

Written by Michael Sepesy, this frequently amusing journey hooks us up with Bluebeard (Carrie Williams), Redbeard (Katelyn Cornelius) and Peach Fuzz (Christopher Walker) as they search for treasure in the Greek isles.

Along the way they meet a spirit, Aesop, who always has another tale handy that throws the pirates into new characters and provides a helpful lesson. Eventually, the pirates learn it all and are back on their ship, a wiser bunch.

Sepesy’s sense of humor infuses much of the proceedings, his pirate version of the alphabet song—every letter is “Arrr!”—being a prime example. This keeps the kiddies as well as their adult handlers amused. But there are a few too many meta digressions that lengthen the production and tend to convolute the story line.

The five-person cast handles their chores well, involving the audience and animating their characters with verve under the spirited direction of Cathleen O’Malley.

Kate Miller and Benjamin Gregg stand out as the Gray Sisters, a strange, muumuu attired duo that lures the bearded ones onto a magical island. This in-joke is evidently based on the real-life Beale sisters from the film doc and then the stage musical Grey Gardens, who lived on the magical isle named Long. It’s a subtle reference that will fly high above kids’ heads but be enough to keep Big Edie and Little Edie fans squirming with glee.

However, the best character may be Gregg’s falsetto “muskrat/cow” that looks and sounds like Mickey (or Minnie?) Mouse, right down to the puffy white-gloved hands. Sepesy should get to work immediately on writing a fable around this creature, trademarks be damned.

Thanks to colorful costumes and go-for-broke acting, this is another in Talespinner’s ever-growing line of wonderful shows for little tykes.

Aesop’s Pirate Adventure
Through April 27, produced by Talespinner Children’s Theatre at The Reinberger Auditorium, 5209 Detroit Avenue, 216-264-9680.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

As You Like It, Great Lakes Theatre

(David Anthony Smith as Jaques and Torsten Johnson as Orlando)

If you are seeking a balm from this past horrendous Winter we’ve all barely survived, listen up. If your soul aches from hearing storm warnings and shoveling wet snow and cowering from the next polar vortex, pay attention. If you are worn out and in need of comfort and a laugh or 20…Great Lakes Theater has just the prescription.

Their production of As You Like It, directed with wit and snap by Edward Morgan, is a simply glorious romp that lands in C-town at the perfect moment. You needn’t wait until May 2nd for the world’s largest outdoor chandelier to light up, down the street—this play will dazzle PlayhouseSquare for the next two weeks. And you’re a bigger fool than Touchstone if you don’t samples its many delights.

This version features a brilliant updating by Morgan, setting the play in New England during the Scott Joplin era. This brings in a couple tunes of the time (“I Don’t Care”) as well as a barber shop quartet at the top of Act Two.

Betsy Mugavero as a feisty Rosalind begins as a Gibson Girl and then evolves into a Suffragette. Trying to avoid the heavy hand of Duke Frederick, the threatened Rosalind and her gal pal Celia (Christine Weber) dash off to the Arden Forest where Roz, disguised as the courtly dude Ganymede, sort of/kind of seduces her heartthrob Orlando (Torsten Johnson).

They are accompanied into the safe embrace of the forest by Touchstone, a clown whose verbal and physical hijinks are maximized at every opportunity by the relentless Dustin Tucker. Fortunately, he is quite funny most of the time, otherwise he would become a serious irritant. And his lustful pursuit of the goat-herd Audrey is both desperate and hilarious.

The preternaturally morose Jaques is played by David Anthony Smith, which means this downer of a character is actually one of the funnier folks on stage. Once again, Smith works his magic, turning Jaques’ classic line: “I can suck melancholy out of a song as a weasel sucks eggs” into a signature laugh line. And he adds so much contour to the “Seven Ages” speech that it seems almost fresh to the ear.

Then there is Silvius (Joan Rivera Lebron) who is pursuing the much-disinterested and plain-looking Phoebe, given a wonderful turn by Jodi Dominick. When Rosalind advises her to “sell when you can, you’re not for all markets,” the comment is made funnier thanks to Dominick’s dour mien.

Indeed, there are no weak parts in this production, and the neatly efficient set designed by Russell Metheny—starting with Industrial Age rusted metal and changing to a dark and welcoming glade of trees—allows the flow of the show to sweep the audience along.

So put away your chemical hand warmers, pry yourself out of the La-Z-Boy imprinted with your body shape, and welcome Spring with As You Like It. You’ll love it.

As You Like It
Through April 19, produced by Great Lakes Theater at the Hanna Theatre, 2067 E. 14th Street, PlayhouseSquare.

Gidion’s Knot, None Too Fragile Theater

(From left, Jen Klika and Alanna Romansky)

Did you ever think that the rows of desks in an empty classroom sort of look like the precisely arranged headstones in a graveyard? Neither did I, until I saw Gidion’s Knot now at None Too Fragile Theater.

No, this isn’t a play about a school shooting, but there certainly is some psychological carnage left in the wake of this flawed but fascinating piece by Johnna Adams. And NTF’s two-person cast, Alanna Romansky and Jen Klika, negotiate many twists and turns with powerful emotional clarity.

Set in a vacant fifth grade classroom, teacher Heather is surprised by a visit from the mother of one of her students. Corryn has arrived for a previously scheduled parent-teacher conference, but Heather had erased the appointment for a reason we learn a bit later.

Turns out Corryn’s son Gidion was suspended and mom wants to find out why. This leads both parent and teacher through a maze of suppositions and accusations. Was Gidion being bullied by a classmate? Was he aware that a girl sitting next to him had a crush on him?

These very normal 11-year-old moments of angst are played off against much deeper and more disturbing issues, especially when Heather is forced to read a gruesome story Gidion wrote that led to his suspension.

Corryn’s unexpected reaction to that story, and the discussion it ignites, send the two women into reflections on art, education and morality that are truly intriguing. Sure, Adams’ script veers off into a little too much didacticism. And a faint subplot about Heather’s ill cat, thrown in as a counterpoint to the other events, is just ridiculous.

But in the main, this is a play about real ideas. Under the direction of Sean Derry, the actors ride the many pauses where real conversation hides its true nature.

As Heather, Romansky tries to keep her physical and emotional distance from the seething Corryn and still manages to register her own responsibility and humanity in this difficult confrontation. And Klika lands several telling moments as Corryn—especially when, she excoriates Heather for her reaction to the story: “He couldn’t fit into a box cut to your dimensions!”

In less than 80 minutes, Gidion’s Knot provides a snarl of feelings generated by the animal protectiveness of parents and the subversive yet unavoidable influence institutions have on our lives. In short, it leaves you plenty to talk about for the rest of the evening.

Gidion’s Knot
Through April 19 at None Too Fragile Theater, 1835 Merriman Road, Akron (Enter through Bricco Pub), 330-671-4563.