Equus -- Written by Peter Shaffer, Equus (that's horsie in Latin) opened on Broadway in 1974 and created a dustup of controversy with both its plot -- about a teenage boy who blinds six horses with a spike -- and the frontal nudity that takes place in the climactic second-act scene. Since then, the play has become a cultural touchstone representing alienation and psychosexual torment. Alan Strang (Dan Folino) is the 17-year-old who has mutilated the horses while working as a stable hand and is under the care of Dr. Martin Dysart at a psychiatric hospital in England. The script attempts to suss out why the adolescent would harm the very animals he reveres to the point of obsession. Some of this shrink-inspired speculation amounts to pretentious hog wallow, but many of the subthemes tap into rich veins of philosophical, familial, and sexual tension. As the treatment of Alan progresses, Martin, who is locked in a loveless marriage and a mediocre career, begins to question his role: "This boy knows a passion more furious than any I've had. And I'm jealous." Through February 25 at Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-521-2540. -- Howey
Motown! -- Ask any boomer about the best dance music ever, and you're bound to get a one-word answer -- the title of this revue now at the Cleveland Play House Club. A tribute to the music hatched in Berry Gordy's tiny "Hitsville USA" studio, it features an impressive song list of 26 well-known toe-tappers. But the energy and exuberance of that great music are only occasionally in evidence in this cabaret-style production. Produced, written, and directed by Paul Floriano, accomplished local actor and budding Flo Ziegfeld, the show conjures up an unnecessary premise of a record store and its constantly singing owners and manager. Whatever. It's really just about the music, and here the performers get it only partly right. Geoff Short is the most talented singer, and his take on "Just My Imagination" is splendid. Trinidad Snider also has strong moments, especially on "Heat Wave." But the third singer, Colleen Longshaw, often slides into a sharp edginess when reaching for higher notes or more volume. And while the three-piece band is adequate, the sledgehammer backbeat of the original backup group, the Funk Brothers, is not there. As Marvin Gaye once musically opined, "Ain't nothin' like the real thing, baby." Through February 24 at the Cleveland Play House Club, 8500 Euclid Ave., 216-795-7000, extension 4. -- Howey
The Music of Jacques Brel -- Cleveland has a notable history with this Belgian musician, since Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris played more than 500 performances at Playhouse Square and had a role in preventing those grand theaters from becoming parking garages. Brel himself was a composer and lyricist of immense passion, commenting on the vagaries of love, loss, and war with unabashed emotionalism, often shaded with irony and veiled resentment. When performing his own work, he employed a broad, energetic style that left nothing to the imagination. Director Paul F. Gurgol attempts to snare that energy, but it doesn't work often enough in a show that frequently feels off-center. The five-person cast features performers who have garnered rave reviews in previous Kalliope offerings, and at times their skills shine through; the women generally fare better than the men, particularly Joan Ellison and Jodi Brinkman. Through March 11 at Kalliope Stage, 2134 Lee Rd., Cleveland Hts., 216-321-0870. -- Howey
Other People's Money -- It seems almost quaint, thinking back on the 1980s and the financial scandals involving shady brokers and arbitrageurs. They look like pikers compared to today's corporate and war-profiteering felons, who make off with billions of taxpayer dollars with a wink and nod from the government. But this play by Jerry Sterner, now at Lakeland Community College Theatre, captures that past era well. Just like in the movie, Larry "The Liquidator" Garfinkle is out to feed on the carcass of a failing wire and cable company (back then, cable referred only to thick wire, not TV technology). But Larry is fought by the company's president, his longtime assistant Bea, and her daughter Kate. It's worth a trip out windswept Route 90 just to see Andrew Narten chew many doughnuts and a bit of the scenery as Larry. Sporting an eccentric Bronx accent and Santa padding to make him portly, Narten crafts a deliciously greedy, sexist, obnoxious pig. And Amy Pawlukiewicz is believable as Kate, his beauteous foe until the all-too-realistic conclusion. Director Martin Friedman keeps the pace lively and manages to keep a couple weaker performers from interrupting the flow. Through February 18 at Lakeland Community College, SR 90 and 306, Kirtland, 440-525-7034. -- Howey
Thom Pain (Based on Nothing) -- Here's a one-man, one-hour careening toboggan ride down an ice chute of childhood miseries, adult terrors, trap-door surprises, and acidly cryptic observations about identity, love, and the meaning of existence. And if that sounds self-important and pretentious, this piece is also unremittingly funny -- funny in ways that simultaneously make you question why the hell you're laughing. The fellow at the center of this plotless 60-minute screed is a diffident, bespectacled nebbish who walks hesitantly over imaginary cracks and avoids eye contact. But then he changes for short bursts, and we see glimpses of other personalities: the affable host, the yearning lover, the lost little boy, the bully. In short, he's an everyman who contains within him the seeds and shards of people he might have been, absent the wounds that shaped his destiny. But in this case, the sharp points are all exposed, allowing the audience to bleed along with him. Scott Plate's performance of this challenging, whirling-dervish script is simply a revelation. This is a theatrical experience to see, cogitate on, and treasure. Don't let it slip away. Presented by Dobama Theatre through February 17 at Shaker Square (in the movie theater quadrant), 216-932-3396. -- Howey
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