Saturday, August 19, 2017

A Doll’s House, Mamai Theatre Company

(Anjanette Hall as Nora and Abraham Adams as Thorwald)

Great theater often comes alive in the details, and there are gorgeous details aplenty in the outstanding production of A Doll’s House now at Mamai Theatre Company. This talented troupe has taken an adaptation by Thornton Wilder of the Henrik Ibsen script and turned that old Norwegian play into a fresh and compelling look at a restless and unfulfilled woman in a confining marriage.

But, oh, the details! Take the line “I can’t spend the night in a strange man’s house.” Those words are uttered by Nora, later in the play, when she decides to leave her husband of eight years, Thorwald, much to his surprise. And it sums up, in an instant, the profound disconnection between these two remarkable characters.

In this production, those two characters are given precisely crafted interpretations by Anjanette Hall as Nora and Abraham Adams as Thorwald. Hall’s role has a sweeping trajectory—from childlike “doll” to a self-realized young woman—and Hall brings each aspect of this woman to life with the exactitude of a pointillist. And Adams provides an equally fascinating portrayal of a man who is often rendered as a two-dimensional dufus. Indeed, there are often times when you feel great affection for Adams’ Thorwald, which makes the play resonate even more powerfully.

They are supported in splendid style by four other players. Rachel Lee Kolis is beaten but unbowed as Christina Linden, Nora’s less fortunate gal pal. She shares secrets with Nils Krogstad (a determined yet vulnerable John Busser), a functionary in the bank run by Thorwald. And Tim Keo makes the most of his turn as Dr. Rank. In his scene with Nora, when she entices him with her silk stockings, you can feel the tension ripple through his yearning and unmoving body. Like I said: details.

Director Christine McBurney has found exactly the right pace for this material, and it grabs hold of you from the first lines all the way to the end, some 2½ hours later.  The design team has also done exceptional work, from the multi-level scenic design by Don McBride to the subtle lighting design by Marcus Dana. Kristine Davies’ period costumes are spot-on, and equally effective are Richard Ingraham’s sound cues, capturing party sounds from a floor above, and Monica Plunkett’s specific and appropriate props.

A Doll’s House created a furor back in the day, with a wife and mother willing to forsake her duty to husband and children to assert her own individuality. It’s an early sketch of the feminist mindset, and it is given a stellar production by Mamai that is hugely satisfying from the smallest details to the largest themes.

A Doll’s House
Through August 27 at Mamai Theater, The Helen Rosenfeld Bialosky Lab Theatre, 1407 Euclid Avenue, 216-241-6000,

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Music Man, In Concert; Cain Park

It’s been a few years since the gorgeous Evans Amphitheater at Cain Park in Cleveland Heights has played host to a full production of a Broadway show, and that’s a damn shame. This park has been known for years for its artistic credentials, of all kinds, and it seems like a fully-staged musical in the big theater, not just in their small Alma Theater, should be an annual part of that mix. (God knows, those of us who live there pay enough taxes to maybe swing one such production per year. Ahem.)

Anyhow, I suppose the next best thing is to have a concert version of a show. And so we now have The Music Man, in concert, which has a brief two performance run that opened last night and closes this afternoon.

This Meredith Willson musical about an itinerant con man is a treasure of the American musical form, and it is given a sumptuous aural treatment thanks to the talents of the Contemporary Youth Orchestra under the direction of Liza Grossman. More than 45 musicians strong, this young but highly skilled orchestra provides a lush symphonic arrangement for the classic tunes. That part of the show is a triumph.

Other high points of this tune-fest include some notable performances. The barbershop quartet is manned by an existing singing foursome, and the voices of Fred Locker, Chris Folsy, Mike Sabo and David Hipp blend quite well. Chris Richards as reformed travelling salesman Marcellus, Jim Bray as the anvil salesman Charlie Cowell, and Jeanne Task as the Mayor’s wife add some well-timed humorous touches.

In the lead roles, Nicole Sumlin sings superbly as Marian, the skeptical librarian who is wary of Prof. Harold Hill’s arrival in town. As Hill, Eric Fancher also sings well, and he’s off-book while others carry their scripts. But he never quite seems to find the spark of a con man who is reveling in his element among the hicks of River City, Iowa. Sure, it’s a bit unfair to critique the acting in a concert version, but it seems Fancher could amp up Harold’s energy a tad.

As for the rest, director Joanna May Hunkins plays traffic cop to a cast of more than 60 (that’s in addition to the orchestra). And with so many performers doing so many things, the amplification of individual voices is not consistent.

But this is a true community event, with many participants, including very little ones, who are on stage for the first time. So here’s a 76-trombone salute to Cain Park and everyone involved in this production. Let’s hope this wedges open the door for an actual big-stage musical production in the future!

The Music Man, In Concert

Through today at 2 PM at Cain Park, 14591 Superior Road in Cleveland Heights,