The Dark Lady of the Sonnets -- It's exhilarating to find a short show that's entirely diverting and worthwhile -- not to mention free. The title of this George Bernard Shaw piece refers to the 24 sonnets by William Shakespeare purportedly addressed to a "dark lady," who served as the bard's muse for a spell. Although her identity was never revealed, speculation has it that she was Mary Fitton, the maid of honor to Queen Elizabeth. So Shaw has placed Will on the terrace of the palace at Whitehall, eager to meet his dark lady and feed his urges. Since Shaw was of the opinion that Shakespeare was just a "snapper-up" of overheard talk, he portrays him as a shallow writer, an insulting cad and sycophant -- and David Hansen delivers the part with irrepressible zest. The show's rich language, sly humor, and pitch-perfect performances (including Michael Regnier as a frank and funny palace guard) make this a half-hour that keeps you laughing and thinking. Presented by the Great Lakes Theater Festival through May 7 at various locations; for more information, go to www.greatlakestheater.org. -- Christine Howey
Dark Room -- The conventional image we have of playwrights and poets is of lonely souls slaving away in a poorly lit basement. Well, you've got the location and the illumination right, but everything else about the Dark Room project is much cheerier. Sponsored by the Cleveland Theater Collective, it's a once-a-month workshop/cabaret for writers who want to try out their new efforts on a small but extremely encouraging audience. On this night, in a basement room in the Parish Hall at Cleveland Public Theatre, the quality of the pieces varied widely, as is to be expected with scenes or verses that are still being developed (thus, the dark room). But one monologue by Tom Huggins, describing the burnout of nurses dealing with psycho patients in hospitals, was as irreverent and hilarious as a David Sedaris essay. Other offerings, each under 10 minutes, touched on the obnoxious questions asked of "little people," a musical take on holiday haters, and a little girl's imaginary friend, who is a middle-aged Dame Edna type. Reading from scripts (and dragooning anyone nearby to fill out a cast), the writers express, share, and support. And that's a terrific environment for any embryonic artistic endeavor. Takes place the second Thursday of every month at Cleveland Public Theatre's Parish Hall, 6205 Detroit Ave., 216-631-2727, www.clevelandtheater.com. -- Howey
Midnight Martini Show -- There is a strange attraction in Frank Sinatra's loosely organized Rat Pack and their infamous, loopily disorganized Las Vegas shows that ran for a few golden years back in the 1960s. Frank, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. mixed pop songs, corny jokes, and Johnnie Walker into an irreverent, hip evening that seemed so easy. What the Midnight Martini Show at Pickwick & Frolic proves is that it ain't easy at all. This one-hour set attempts to capture the bored-with-it-all sophistication and the slightly inebriated intimacy that the Rat Packers achieved, but it fails on several counts, from the overly eager performers to the florid songs and lame drinking jokes. Which is not to say that this no-cover show doesn't provide a convenient glide path for those downtown on a Friday or Saturday night. Indeed, some of the American standards are sung well enough. Now the task is to find directors and performers who understand that being casually funny while delivering classic tunes takes a lot of work. Fridays and Saturdays at Pickwick & Frolic, 2035 East 4th St., 216-241-7425. -- Howey
110 in the Shade -- Musical theater has always had an affinity for con games, not to mention the naive innocence of the American West. These two elements collide like a head-on between The Music Man and Oklahoma! in this show, based on the play The Rainmaker, by N. Richard Nash. A melodic excursion through a drought-stricken little farm community in the 1930s, it benefits from intelligent direction by Paul F. Gurgol and some crackling sexual tension between the two leads. Allan Snyder is every inch a convincing Starbuck, the stranger who comes to town promising to bring rain in exchange for 100 clams, and Joan Ellison firmly establishes her no-nonsense character as his love interest, Lizzie, using her polished singing voice to coax beauty out of tender songs. And even though Lizzie's final decision may be less romantic than some might wish, there's a prairie full of passion along the way. Through May 21 at the Kalliope Stage, 2134 Lee Rd., Cleveland Hts., 216-321-0870. -- Howey
Poona the Fuckdog, and Other Plays for Children -- The power of fairy tales never seems to leave us, no matter how old and jaded we become. So it's difficult to know how our lives might have progressed differently had we benefited from the wisdom of an invisible Fairy God Phallus, or whether our view of the world might have changed had we met two aliens named Jasper and Cunt, or a man who would sell us anything as long as we didn't need it. These are just some of the characters that pop up in this collection of adult fairy tales. Uneven and often self-indulgent, this mélange of silly and sometimes salacious playlets from writer Jeff Goode is presented with such delight by the Convergence-Continuum players that you can forgive its excesses. As the only actor who doesn't handle multiple roles, Jovana Batkovic makes a slim and sexy Poona, the randy central character of each tale. Presented by Convergence-Continuum through May 13 at the Liminis, 2438 Scranton Rd., 216-687-0074. -- Howey
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