Essential Self Defense — In March, when Bang and Clatter opens its new theater venue in Cleveland, it will be committed to producing 16 shows a year that have never been seen in Ohio. That may be foolhardy, since there can be valid reasons why some shows are never staged. Case in point: the tedious exercise now on the boards at their Akron location. Written by the eager but tin-eared nihilist Adam Rapp, it's two and a half hours of preening weirdness and pretentious pseudo-intellectual disdain for popular culture. Centered around the clearly psychotic Yul, a former television-knob installer and now a human dummy in a self-defense academy, the play has nary a moment of credible human interaction. After student Sadie accidentally knocks out one of Yul's teeth, she becomes fixated on getting close to him, even visiting his rat-infested apartment. Then there are the extraneous characters and pointless scenes, including the cartoonish butcher Klieg, a karaoke bar that prohibits karaoke music, and lots of missing kids (if any of that sounds interesting in any way, it's not). The actors work hard and can't be blamed, since the script is aggressively self-congratulatory and director Jim Volkert appears clueless about, among other things, pacing. Through March 22 at the Bang and the Clatter Theatre Company, 140 E. Market St., Akron, 330-606-5317. — Christine Howey
Mad World — This selection of three short plays, produced by the young Theater Ninjas company, provides just enough style to make for a diverting 90 minutes. The first is a brief theatrical amuse-bouche, The Leader by Eugène Ionesco, in which lockstep acolytes await their honored leader, only to find he has no head. Naturally, this does little to diminish their ardor. In the second piece, Professor Taranne by Arthur Adamov, Andrew Marikis is sharp in the title role of an intellectual who is beset by accusations of exhibitionism and plagiarism. As in many absurdist scripts, his tragedy envelops him no matter what he does. And in the concluding work, The Underground Lovers by Jean Tardieu, two lovers experience relationship difficulties on a subway going somewhere — or nowhere. Directors Faye Hargate and Jeremy Paul (the founder of the group) exhibit a deft touch with this material, even though some of the performers aren't quite up to the stylized demands of the genre. Through March 2, produced by Theater Ninjas at the Centrum Theater, 2781 Euclid Hts. Blvd., Cleveland Hts., 440-773-4719. — Howey
Two Rooms — The inhabitants of the two rooms in question are Michael Wells, an American professor working in Beirut who has been taken captive, and his wife, Lainie, who has removed everything from her husband's office except a small mat, to try to share the deprivations and terror Michael is undergoing. While Michael is almost always alone, Lainie has a couple of visitors: a reporter named Walker Harris, who's trying to land an interview, and Ellen Van Oss, a government functionary who wants to keep Lainie quiet. The most difficult role here is Lainie, and Sarah Morton does a masterful job of balancing her character's loss, hope, and cynicism. Jeffrey Grover's Michael is a most believable victim. As he speaks the "letters" he would write to his wife — if only he could — he captures moments in their life together that are sweetly touching. As Walker Harris, the excellent Jason Markouc seems strangely detached, his eyes often shifting away from the action to land momentarily in some vague middle distance. As a result, we don't totally appreciate the tug-of-war between Harris' desire to score a reportorial scoop and his growing affection for Lainie. Also uncertain is Mary Alice Beck, who seems unsure of herself from the start as Van Oss. Director Jacqi Loewy creates some real tension as the drama of Michael's incarceration continues to build. But the uncredited set design becomes an unfortunate obstacle. Consisting of bare white walls with a scruffy, scratched-up floor, the single room is used for both Michael and Lainie, but doesn't work ideally for either. Through March 8, produced by Cleveland Public Theatre and the Charenton Theater Company. At Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit Ave., 216-631-2727. — Howey
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