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. -- Christine Howey
Red Light Winter -- Adam Rapp's play is a squalid little exploration of the back alleys of young, unrequited love. Even though the script careens wildly from lean and painfully pointed dialogue to lumbering passages, the three performers and director Sean McConaha manage to fashion an evening of theater that sticks with you, even if you wish it wouldn't. Two thirtyish American college chums, Matt and Davis, are sharing a nasty hotel room in Amsterdam's red-light district, where introverted Matt is futilely trying to write -- when he's not battling diarrhea or halfheartedly attempting suicide. Meanwhile, freewheeling Davis -- a successful literary agent -- is sampling the carnal pleasures of sin city. Smoking a joint and swigging vodka, he's a nonstop, unfeeling joke machine, making fun of Matt's intestinal troubles and pushing the smaller man around at will. It turns out that Davis has a secret agenda for Matt -- in the person of Christina, a French whore Davis picked out of one of the storefront windows on the street below. But it's clear that there's more going on here than one buddy helping another. The first half of the show sparks and sizzles with playwright Rapp's incendiary and gleefully obscene dialogue, easily outdistancing the plot wrinkles. But much of the promise engendered in act one is squandered when the scene shifts back to Matt's apartment in New York City a year later. Through March 25 at the Bang and the Clatter Theatre, 140 East Market Street, Akron, 330-606-5317. -- Howey
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