Bug — Focusing on a couple of down-and-outers in a fleabag Oklahoma motel, this play will make you itch in places that can't be scratched. Agnes is on the run from life, holed up in a pitiful roadside room. Her gal-pal R.C. (Jen Kilka) has brought over a quiet fellow named Peter, who winds up sharing the bed with Agnes. But when the smoke alarm goes off with its incessant chirping noise (or does it?), events begin to spiral downward at a frightening pace. Justin Tatum, as Peter, handles his early scenes well, but he doesn't take enough time within his scenes to build Peter's paranoia believably. As Agnes, Kellie McIvor hits all the emotional hot buttons as her character tries to numb herself with vodka and cocaine. But she doesn't convey the age or experience of a 44-year-old woman, so her lifetime of disastrous choices doesn't resonate. The show is purposefully unbalanced — a 90-minute first act followed by a 30-minute second — so that the audience can slowly be drawn into the sick, co-dependent love affair between Agnes and Peter, then slammed by the violent conclusion. The startling set change after intermission makes the last half-hour a screaming slide into mutual self-destruction. Through December 2 at The Bang and the Clatter Theatre Company, 140 East Market Street, Akron, 330-606-5317. — Christine Howey
The Chosen — In The Chosen, at the Cleveland Play House, playwrights Aaron Posner and Chaim Potok explore a battle between two segments of the Jewish faith — Hasidic Jews and Jews with more liberal religious practices. We are led through events that occurred during World War II by grown up Reuven Malter, the math-whiz son of a Judaic scholar named David Malter. Reuven meets an intense young man, Danny Saunders, who is the star of an opposing baseball team. Danny also happens to be the son of Reb Saunders, the honored leader of a local Hasidic Jewish community. Over time, Danny and Reuven grow close, but the gulf between their religious backgrounds expands and eventually causes a split between the two, sending the young men on unpredictable paths to adulthood. Given the script's flaws, the Play House cast skillfully fashions characters you care about. Jeremy Rishe and Andrew Pastides, as young Reuven and Danny respectively, have the eager yet unfocused energy of guys struggling to find their own identities in the dark of their fathers' shadows. Kenneth Albers is properly imposing as Reb Saunders, and in the role of the narrator, Adam Richman has a comfortable mien as the older Reuven. But while the play offers some intellectual stimulation, it never develops sufficient drama to keep the audience engaged, and it too often feels more like a tutorial than a pulsing, passionate drama. Through November 25 at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Avenue, 216-755-7000 — Howey
Christopher Columbus or (Did You Say Sphere?) — Let the title be your tip-off that this isn't your usual theatrical enterprise. Written by the fervently avant-garde Belgian playwright Michel de Ghelderode and presented by Cesear's Forum, this dramatic fairy tale is exuberantly unhinged. Columbus, played by a wacky but consistently charming John Kolibab, seeks escape from the droning world and sets off to find his Eden. But he is beset at all sides by craven royalty, grasping natives, and obfuscating intellectuals rendered creatively by Robert J. Williams, Nancy Telzerow, and Vincent DePaul. This is the kind of show that allows the director to go nuts with theatrical gamesmanship, and Greg Cesear adds plenty of fun, including a soap-bubble gun. But the whole piece is swamped by the oppressive presence of one performer, Jean Zarzour, who acts like she's doing a lounge act — if Motel 6 had a lounge, that is. Portraying different women, she uses the same insufferable mugging and tired comic shtick for each "character." She also apparently believes that revealing her matronly cleavage is drop-dead hilarious. If you can filter her out somehow, there's a delicate and defiantly skewed play trying to take wing. Presented by Cesear's Forum at Kennedy's Down Under through December 16, 1618 Euclid Avenue, 216-241-6000. — Howey
A Loss of Roses — This short-lived Broadway play focuses on a mother, Helen, and her grown son Kenny living in Kansas during the Depression. She's a nurse, he's an auto mechanic, and they're both unsatisfied with their lives. The tension increases when sexy Lila, Kenny's former babysitter, arrives for a stay. Trouble is, the script meanders too long in the past, as each character kicks around their personal histories while nothing much happens on stage. And it's bogged down by banal banter: A moment of compelling confrontation, when Kenny puts some semi-aggressive moves on reluctant Lila, gets lost in another torrent of pointless ramblings. Some of this pointlessness must be laid at the feet of director Bernard Canepari, who doesn't adequately shape the beats of these talky scenes. In the role of Kenny, though, Jason Markouc carves out a totally natural and believable portrayal of this immature, grasping young man. In smaller roles, Robert M.K. Daniels and Douglas Kusak acquit themselves capably. But by the time we get to the curtain speech, which explains the title, the talk-battered audience is likely to be less concerned about a loss of roses than it is about a loss of consciousness. Through November 25, presented by Ensemble Theatre at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Avenue, 216-321-2930. — Howey
Forbidden Broadway: Special Victims Unit — As musical-revue franchises go, they don't come much healthier than Forbidden Broadway, which has enjoyed several iterations over the past 25 years. Featuring comedy knockoffs of popular musicals, this most recent version is a mix of old material (Les Miz lampoons) and newer stuff, like spoofs poking The Lion King, wherein headdress-abused actors bemoan their lot in "Can You Feel the Pain Tonight?" The players throw themselves into one costume and wig change after another, with Greg Violand crooning a clever Robert Goulet parody and Tricia Bestic spoofing hyper Liza Minnelli. Also fine are Brian Marshall and Carmen Keels, who nails a brassy Ethel Merman. Keels and Bestic also turn in a great duet as dueling Anitas (Chita Rivera vs. Rita Moreno) in West Side Story. Some jokes are fresh, but a lot of the lyric gibes are repetitive, and some Broadway in-jokes get lost here in the hinterland. But it's fast and fun, and the voices are Broadway-quality. Through December 2 at the Hanna Theatre, 2067 East 14th Street, 216-241-6000. — Howey
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