A Narrow Bridge -- Clevelander Cliff Hershman's drama is another plunge into the crowded waters of suburban dysfunction. A merged family is living in upscale Toledo, with Mom Edie and her middle-school daughter, Kim, sharing a roof with Mom's second husband, Blue, and his estranged son, Willy. Squalid undercurrents in this plastic setting quickly bubble to the surface. Boozy Blue tries to conspire with his step-daughter against his wife; Edie is oblivious to her hubby's unfatherly activities; and Willy, who just hitchhiked from the desert Southwest, chimes in with the occasional philosophical riff ("I became the desert," "I'm a ghost," etc.) and tries to steer Kim away from his dad. Many plays delve into the underside of middle-class life, but Hershman demonstrates admirable restraint, sharing just enough information to keep the play taut, and a strong cast brings the well-written script to life. As Edie, Anne McEvoy draws a sympathetic portrayal. Chuck Simon, as Blue, underplays his role, making his sudden flare-ups more arresting. Jennifer Hoffman is a bit well developed to be a credible junior-high schooler as Kim, but she wisely focuses on Kim's pubescent dreams. Willy is portrayed by Tony Weaver with a cool detachment. Once all the cards are out on the table, the story totters into a sort of shaggy-dog ending. With a more powerful ending, A Narrow Bridge could be a thought-provoking stroll through suburbia. Through July 29 at the Bang and the Clatter Theatre, 140 East Market Street, Akron, 330-606-5317 -- Howey
The Taming of the Shrew -- While Katharina's submissive curtain speech is sure to set feminist nerves on edge ("Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper . . . [women] are bound to serve, love, and obey"), it won't work if this freshly minted Stepford wife doesn't start with a serious attitude and a major set of cojones. The Cleveland Shakespeare Festival company gets this role exactly right, as Lisa Siciliano rages with true grit in the early scenes. Matching her sneer for sneer is Scott Esposito as the snarky Petruchio, and their chemistry makes this Shrew a lusty battle. Their wedding scene, when Petruchio enters wearing motley clothes and a necklace of sausages, is a riot. Even though some smaller roles are played by actors who are soft on lines and rely on too much eye-rolling, solid performances are turned in by Carli Taylor Miluk as dippy Bianca, Edie Hitchcock as Tranio, and Justin Brenis as Hortensio. These outdoor performances, directed by Larry Nehring, are compact (under two hours) and worth far more than the admission price (free). Through August 5. Visit www.cleveshakes.org for locations. No reservations -- bring a blanket or chair. -- Howey
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