The latest offering by Cleveland’s most invisible theater company, Cesear’s Forum, Lanford Wilson: Take Five, is an untrammeled delight. Hidden away in the basement under the glorious, newly renovated lobby of the Ohio Theatre, Greg Cesear and his loyal troupe of thespians keep churning out unusual and unexpected work. And this time, they’ve hit the jackpot.
This is a collection of five one-act plays that Wilson, a very well-known playwright and Pulitzer Prize winner, wrote from the 1960s through the 1980s, and they are each interesting in different ways. None of them are exactly perfect, since they were authored when he was still an emerging playwright. But taken individually or together they are fresher and more stimulating than many other shows you might see this year, under or above ground.
In the opener, “Wandering,” a 16-year-old young man is being hectored by his parents and others during the Vietnam War. They think being in the army is just what he needs, but he’s not too sure. When he resists, indicating he’d rather not kill people, others say, “It’s not killing, it’s just nudging out of the way.” Thanks to Cesear’s finely detailed direction, the piece clicks along to a satisfying conclusion.
In “Sextet (Yes),” all six actors in the cast gather for a fine ensemble performance as they offer revelations about their intertwined relationships and respond by saying “Yes.” Tricia Bestic and Beau Reinker are particularly effective in this smoothly meshed effort.
“A Betrothal” is essentially an extended skit with a delicious punch line, but the performances by Adina Bloom and Brian Zoldessy lift it above the mundane. They are two flower show exhibitors, very concerned about the judging and their own botanical charges, her “Little Soldier” and his “Little Tanya.” Bloom is amusing as she shares her worries and Zoldessy quivers with comically repressed rage. Although too long by several minutes, it is a lovely piece of writing and acting.
After the intermission, Mary Alice Beck takes the lead role in “Brontosaurus,” in which she plays a wealthy antiques dealer who is dealing with her sullen nephew who is staying with her. Again, this piece is overwritten by Wilson, but Beck is compelling in her portrayal of this woman who is locked inside a claustrophobic world of her own making.
In the final play, “ A Poster of the Cosmos,” Sean Booker plays a man whose lover has just died from AIDS. He evidently created a scene at the hospital, and so he is being interrogated by the police. Starting off defensive and hostile, he soon begins to recall a flood of details that show the commitment the two men had for each other. Booker is focused and on point throughout, never lapsing into easy sentimentality, so the final takeaway is quite shattering.
If you want to taste some new theatrical material, executed with professionalism and creativity, head on down to Cesear’s Forum soon.
Lanford Wilson: Take Five
Through October 29 at Kennedy’s Down Under, Playhoouse Square, 1501 Euclid Avenue, 216-241-6000.