In this play, novelist and short -story writer Ed Falco tries his hand at a two-hander that travels some well-worn territory: marital discord, kinky sex, and drugs to name a few. And it's mostly an amazing, intense experience, thanks to his deft script, two spectacular performances and the masterful direction of Sean Derry. Walter and Jan have been married for 18 years, but it's a relationship that is fraying around the edges in the opening moments of this 100-minute excursion. Walt is worried about his students' lack of respect and his prom-attending daughter's likely sexual activity. Oh, and speaking of sex, he eventually admits to having an affair with a student in his class, a 20–year-old male transsexual and bizarre taxidermist/artist named Cassie. Turned on by those encounters, he introduces Jan to a whole new sex toy. This throws Jan into some serious soul searching accompanied by copious amounts of pot, and things get uglier from there. The only fly in this bubbling stew of betrayal and resentment is the device of having the off-stage demon in the mix being a weird transgender person. Yeah, we get it, trannies are different. But to make Cassie the highly-sexualized fulcrum of this tale, immediately justifying Jan's shock and revulsion with most audience members, is just a tad too easy for a writer of Falco's skill. Other than that, this is a rip-snorting piece that rivals the intensity of Albee's George and Martha, and other renowned on-stage wedded disasters.
Through June 28 at None Too Fragile Theater, 1835 Merriman Rd., Akron, 330-671-4563, nonetoofragile.com.
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Another sure sign of summer is that the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival is up and running again, offering free productions of two of old Will's scribblings at various outdoor locations around town. Their first effort this year is the always-popular comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream, and this one is quite a hoot. Directed with infectious good humor and sprightly wit by Dusten Welch, the 90-minute intermission-less romp is, you should pardon the expression, fun for the whole family. Director Welch has double- and triple-cast these roles, which makes for some entertaining juxtapositions. There's plenty of running around and screaming, so even kids will enjoy this production. And adults will get a splendid dose of rowdy Shakespearian fun.
Through June 29, produced by the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival, free of charge at various outdoor locations, cleveshakes.com.
My Fair Lady
This show about the Cockney ragamuffin Eliza Doolittle being transformed into a refined lady never gets old, as long as the performers are up to the task. And happily, this production at the Porthouse Theatre has two stellar performers in the key roles. As Eliza, Porthouse regular Kayce Cummings spits and snarls as the roughhewn Eliza, setting the stage for her miraculous morphing at the hands of Professor Henry Higgins — played and sung with velvety panache by Greg Violand. These actors have appeared opposite each other before, and use their chemistry to fashion scenes that pulse with genuine feeling. Even though Violand could stand to be more of a demanding martinet, as Higgins puts Eliza through her paces, there's just enough edge to establish some believable conflict. Once again, Porthouse is using two-piano accompaniment for this show, evidently due to budgetary and other restrictions. Unfortunately, this often gives the production the feel of a rehearsal run-through, no matter how hard music director Jonathan Swoboda and his piano partner Melissa Fucci pound on the keyboards. This means the rich, full sound of an orchestra is missing, and does a disservice to the magnificent Lerner and Lowe composition. But hey, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld's take on the Iraq war, you do a show with the instruments you have, not with the instruments you might want. Director Terri Kent, as always, manages to get the most out of her ensemble. And the costumes by S.Q. Campbell are spectacular, especially the ladies' outfits in the Ascot Race scene — gorgeously inventive black-and-white confections. Even with just pianos, the songs you love are here and they are still as "loverly" as ever.
Through June 28 at the Porthouse Theatre, Blossom Music Center campus, 1145 West Steels Corners Rd., Cuyahoga Falls, 330-672-3884.
Maurice Hines is Tappin' Through Life
If you're lonely for the kind of polished and unabashedly sentimental lounge acts that Vegas is famous for, then you need to take a relaxing dip in Maurice Hines is Tappin' Through Life, now at the Cleveland Play House. Back in the day, the now 70-year-old Maurice was one-third of the tap dancing act Hines, Hines and Dad. Maurice lived somewhat in the shadow of his younger and more famous brother Gregory, who died in 2003. But now Maurice is center stage, and he has the smooth patter and unctuous manner of a tried and true vaudeville performer.
Although the title of this touring show refers to dancing, the first hour is almost entirely made up of familiar American Songbook-style tunes, delivered by Hines in a warm, jazzy vocal style. He is backed by the all-female Diva Jazz Orchestra that swings energetically under the direction of Dr. Sherrie Maricle (who contributes a most inventive drum solo during "Caravan"). Finally, in the last half hour, tap dancing takes the stage as Hines proves his feet can still fly with the best of them. He is aided immeasurably by, appropriately, another brother team of tappers, John and Leo Manzari. Their aggressive and innovative steps inject a needed jolt of adrenaline to this mostly mellow production. Even so, one wishes that Hines would be more forthcoming about some of the difficulties of his life. And he might even share some secrets of the demands of tap dancing, an art form most of us can't even imagine trying to attempt. But if you're looking for a mellow, undemanding evening of entertainment, Maurice Hines is all that. And a bag of chips.
Through June 29 at the Cleveland Play House, 1407 Euclid Ave.,
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