Capsule reviews of current area theater presentations. 

Always, Patsy Cline -- You'd think a play about an iconic singer who died in a plane crash at 30 would present a chance to take a profound emotional journey. But Ted Swindley, author of Always, Patsy Cline, turns this show's namesake into a walking jukebox. Still, even such a wretchedly written show can't torpedo Always, thanks to an outstanding performance by Christine Mild in the lead role. Before Patsy nose-dived into a Tennessee forest, she established herself as a transformative and riveting crossover country singer. Always is seen through the eyes of Louise, an inveterate fan, who spends her time making moon eyes and telling the audience how down-to-earth the singer is. But, thankfully, Cline's songbook dominates the show, with Mild's clear notes rising effortlessly to capture Patsy-perfect phrasing. Mild handles almost 30 of Cline's numbers with such hypnotic grace and sure-handed control, you want to ease back and let her sing all night long. Lily Mercer plays Louise with a good-ol'-gal sensibility, but overdoes the two-finger "look at me" gesture, and her performance feels constrained by the playwright's one-track love fest. Director Donna Drake squeezes out a couple of nice moments between the two women. But mostly, Drake wisely gets out of the way and lets Mild do her thing. When you leave Carousel, you'll have to admit, in the words of the Act One closer, "She Got You." Through August 26 at the Carousel Dinner Theater, 1275 East Waterloo Road, Akron, 800-362-4100 -- Christine Howey

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

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. 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


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