Jekyll and Hyde -- The ultimate story of split identities, Jekyll and Hyde (the musical) features a collection of similar-sounding musical numbers linked by less connective tissue than an anatomy-class skeleton. But the folks at the Beck Center manage to make J&H an entertaining excursion into the schizoid mind. Dr. Henry Jekyll is absorbed in his quest to isolate good from evil in a human being, but his study is rejected. So he tries his potion on himself and morphs into Edward Hyde, freelance sociopath. Actor Dan Folino turns Jekyll into an obsessive-compulsive geek, beaten up by the powers that be. But once he mainlines his joy juice, jerky Jekyll is replaced by a smoothly amoral Mr. Hyde with flowing locks -- a self-admiring and homicidal cross between Fabio and Dick Cheney. Folino's lustrous singing voice makes many of the tunes sound better than they actually are. And matching Folino in stage presence and singing power is Amiee Collier, who plays the whore Lucy Harris with street-wise sensuality. But no other characters are drawn with an ounce of interest or individuality. And once Hyde goes on his rampage during the "Murder! Murder!" number, director Scott Spence gives in to special-effects cheese better fit for the Itchy & Scratchy Show. The slick production, however, is abetted by a gorgeous set designed by Don McBride, and the musical direction by Larry Goodpaster is largely flawless. Through August 5 at the Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood, 216-521-2540. -- Howey
Malicious Bunny -- Once a couple is married, it isn't long before the "Honey-do" list appears. But it usually doesn't include tasks such as "Kill my parents." Yet this is what faces Jonathon when his bride, Angela, urges him into double homicide in the well acted and sporadically amusing Malicious Bunny by Matthew A. Sprosty, now being mounted by Fourth Wall Productions. There are two more items on Angela's list -- they involve becoming a millionaire and moving into a penthouse apartment -- but since her targeted parents are super rich, the first chore will likely take care of the rest. Though the material is drenched in dark motives, Sprosty presents it with a light touch, and he's abetted by Rebecca Cole's taut direction, a thoroughly likable and engaging performance by Nate Bigger as the reluctant hit-man hubby, and a believable turn by Stephanie Ford as the pouty and diabolical Angela. Even though Sprosty tends to become entranced by the sound of his own writing, which leads to extended scenes and a running time of more than two hours (easily a half-hour longer than necessary), he blessedly writes about an actual event and finds a way to bring it to a satisfying, slightly Shakespearean conclusion. Through July 29, produced by Fourth Wall Productions at Kalliope Stage, 2134 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights, 330-283-2442. -- Howey
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 cool detachment. Once all the cards are on the table, the story totters into a 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
Richard III -- Sure, there was a lot of killing in the sweaty flick 300, but Shakespeare was no slouch himself when it came to beheadings and other assorted homicides, as he proves in this play. Amid a swirl of dreams and prophecies, the deformed Richard pursues his how-to-be-a-king procedural with frightening ferocity. The role of Richard in this production by the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival is taken by Allan Branstein, an able actor, but one who, even with a lump and a limp, never becomes a true Dick. He lacks vocal resonance and doesn't shape his speeches so they thrill and disgust in equal measure. Better are Reagan Kendrick as the doomed Lady Anne and a fiery Cat Kenney as Margaret. Indeed, one could actually imagine Kenney doing quite a turn in the title role. Director Allan Byrne has some fun with unusual music cues (including "Send in the Clowns" when the two lunkheads are sent to assassinate the young princes). But he allows his actors to take root in too many scenes, making the entire proceeding feel a bit static. Still, it's Shakespeare, it's free, and it's outdoors. So what's to complain about? Through August 5 at different locations. Visit www.cleveshakes.org for more information. -- Howey
Spawn of the Petrolsexuals -- Bringing an underground comic to life is the task of Spawn of the Petrolsexuals, a new play by local writer Christopher Johnston. Set in an oil-depleted dystopian world, a band of homeless survivors -- Angerboy, Freegirl, Ingen, and Holyman -- imagine themselves superheroes in battle with repressive corporate evil and plan an attack on suburbia. But the whole post-apocalypse thing has been done to death, and accusing suburbanites is played out. Moreover, there are no fully dimensional characters. Geoffrey Hoffman, as Angerboy, does a lot of scowling and cussing, but little more. Freegirl is played by Jovana Batkovic with the hollow-eyed look of Lindsay Lohan between rehabs. Robert J. Williams does what he can with Holyman, mouthing random quasi-religious platitudes, and Lauren B. Smith contributes a spirited reading of her unfocused character, Ingen. While Johnston can put words together in an interesting way, he has no self-editing function, which results in too much repetition and useless wordplay ("You are your own worst enema," etc.). He also achieves perhaps the year's theatrical low, when Holyman provides liquid refreshment by pissing in his fellow travelers' mouths. The Convergence-Continuum crew, under the guidance of director Clyde Simon, does put a lot of energy into this production, and there's a bit of trickery that may fool you. If the playwright could've sustained that sort of imagination, Spawn might have achieved a unique comic-book sensibility. Through August 11, produced by Convergence-Continuum at The Liminis, 2438 Scranton Road, 216-687-0074. -- Howey
The Taming of the Shrew -- While Katharina's submissive curtain speech is sure to set feminist nerves on edge, 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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