A Day in the Death of Joe Egg -- Did you hear the one about the couple with the severely handicapped child? That's not a surefire intro to a joke, but it is the setup for this 1960s play, which shows how a British family uses humor -- often of the blackest sort -- to deal with a child described chillingly by Dad as a "living parsnip." Playwright Peter Nichols himself is the father of a similarly handicapped child, and he pulls no punches as Sheila and Bri (given an acidly witty turn by Jeffrey Grover) use laughter to deflect despair. Bri takes the lead in these efforts and Sheila goes along, even as she harbors hope for her daughter's miraculous recovery. In the immensely challenging role of Sheila, Jacqi Loewy is interesting, but not totally involving. Surely there is a psychic price to be paid as Sheila faces her husband's bruising, sardonic pessimism every day, but we don't fully sense that tension. Still, director Sarah May keeps the pacing taut and the comedy piercing, and helps one contemplate how people cope with such a corrosive reality. Through December 10 at various locations. For details, go to www.charenton.org. -- Christine Howey
I Am My Own Wife -- Charlotte von Mahlsdorf was a German transvestite who managed to live through two of the 20th century's most repressive regimes -- the Nazis' and the Communists' -- sporting a simple black dress, a black headscarf and string of pearls, and orthopedic shoes. While her story, laid out in this award-winning play by Doug Wright, is undeniably engrossing, the script is strangely empty of any emotional connections that could make it resonate long after the curtain falls. It focuses on Charlotte (played by Mark Nelson, in an awesome bravura performance) and a few dozen other people in her life, including the playwright. She turns out to be a shape-shifter in many ways, rather than the uncomplicated heroine Wright envisions when he first hears about her. As the episodic script unreels, we learn that some of Charlotte's stories turn out to be lies and that she may not be an unsullied transgender pioneer in a hostile land. These revelations lend a fascinating perspective to her identity, but the structure of the play never allows the audience to fully engage this complex persona. Through November 27 at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Ave., 216-795-7000. -- Howey
Menopause, the Musical -- Everybody enjoys musicals dealing with energetic young people on the brink of conquering the world. But what about the people in the audience: the nearsighted, overweight, and wrinkled denizens of middle age, who rarely see their own physiological mysteries put into song? For them, there is Menopause, the Musical, a hoot of a show written by Jeanie Linders. It's a foot-stomping 90-minute revival meeting for women who've had to deal with The Change while also trying to maintain their careers and family relationships. Menopause is frequently repetitious, even teetering on the brink of tiresome, but the energetic cast of four and spirited direction by Patty Bender and Kathryn Conte maintain the flow, so to speak. All women with a few decades on them -- even those who only use "menopause" as an excuse to get out of going to football games -- will probably get a stiff neck from nodding in agreement and a tender side from all the laughter. Playhouse Square Center's 14th Street Theatre, 2037 East 14th St., 216-241-6000. -- Howey
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