After a strong Cleveland debut, The Bang and the Clatter hits the wall with Cagelove 

Look around in life, and you'll see plenty of people acting naturally, but few acting interestingly. That's just one of the problems with the "naturalistic" acting in Cagelove, now at the Bang and the Clatter Theatre in Akron. And when you combine underwhelming performances with an uncharacteristically sloppy production, you have the makings of a tedious 90 minutes.

In this hash of a script by Christopher Denham, Katie and Sam are a young couple teetering on the brink of matrimony. But their life is clouded by the fact that Katie was raped by her ex-boyfriend, a male model whom she's photographed. Sam, meanwhile, is a successful white-collar computer dude with a mean jealous streak.

In a series of clipped and sometimes abrupt scenes, we learn that Sam has been following Katie and discovered that she's been visiting her ex. This sends Sam into an ugly, south-bound spiral, which includes a brief grab-and-grope with Katie's not-so-well-intentioned sister, Ellen (a professional but doomed-by-the-script Dawn Youngs).

The acting by the two principals is not just tired; it feels exhausted. Rachel Lones, as Katie, mumbles and sighs her lines as if she were acting in a film. This approach might work in front of a camera — especially since her spoken stumbles could be edited out — but on stage she virtually disappears. Scott Shriner is little better as Sam, never finding a through-line for his character, which means that his later, supposedly shocking actions elicit nervous titters instead of chills.

There are other problems too. Perhaps B&C's co-artistic managing directors were distracted by the opening of their new venue in Cleveland a week earlier, because this production bears little of their incisive style and attention to detail. Sean Derry's cramped and dingy set design, for instance, appears inappropriate for an aspiring corporate executive and a big-time artist, who we're supposed to believe has a massive gallery showing in her near future. And director Sean McConaha's pacing is glacial. The scene breaks are interminable. Even light cues are fumbled: At the end of one scene, a lamp remains lit in the blackout until an actor snaps it off on his way out.

Bang and Clatter is taking on an enormous challenge, mounting 16 shows a year in two locations miles apart. Let's hope that the increase in quantity doesn't force a reduction in quality, as it seems to have done in Cagelove.

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