Cagelove — In this hash of a script by Christopher Denham, Katie and Sam are a young couple teetering on the brink of matrimony. But their life is clouded by the fact that Katie was raped by her ex-boyfriend, a male model whom she's photographed. Sam, meanwhile, is a successful white-collar computer dude with a mean jealous streak. In a series of clipped and sometimes abrupt scenes, we learn that Sam has been following Katie and discovered that she's been visiting her ex. This sends Sam into an ugly southbound spiral, which includes a brief grab-and-grope with Katie's not-so-well-intentioned sister, Ellen (a professional but doomed-by-the-script Dawn Youngs). The acting by the two principals feels exhausted. Rachel Lones, as Katie, mumbles and sighs her lines. Scott Shriner never finds a through-line for his character. The production bears little of Bang and Clatter's incisive style and attention to detail. Sean Derry's cramped and dingy set design appears inappropriate for an aspiring corporate executive and a big-time artist. And director Sean McConaha's pacing is glacial. The scene breaks are interminable. Even light cues are fumbled. Bang and Clatter is taking on an enormous challenge, mounting 16 shows a year in two locations miles apart. Let's hope that the increase in quantity doesn't force a reduction in quality, as it seems to have done in Cagelove. Through May 24 at the Bang and the Clatter Theatre, 140 E. Market St., Akron, 330-606-5317. — Christine Howey
Damn Yankees — When this classic musical comedy was first performed in 1955, the Washington Senators were used as the model of American League futility, since they hadn't won a World Series since 1924. That's nowhere near as long as it's taking our beloved featherheads to cop a championship. So it's fitting that this Carousel production morphs the original script's hapless Senators into the 1958 Injuns. But the book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop remains the same, as portly and graying Indian fan Joe Boyd is turned into legendary slugger Joe Hardy with the help of the devil incarnate. In a play designed to create star turns for the devil and his henchwoman, it's Nathaniel Shaw's Joe Hardy who shines brightest, with a strong singing voice and an aw-shucks jock demeanor. As the soul-stealing devil Mr. Applegate, Mark David Kaplan has moments of Beelzebubian sliminess, but he's not as comically craven as he should be. And Ashlee Fife lacks the physical sensuality that Lola needs to lure Joe into fondling something other than his rosin bag. Still, director Marc Robin keeps the pace lively, and the tunes by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, such as the wonderful "(You Gotta Have) Heart," evoke the innocence of hope undimmed. You listening, C.C.? Through June 28 at the Carousel Dinner Theatre, 1275 E. Waterloo Rd., Akron, 800-362-4100. — Howey
Mr. Marmalade — This play by Noah Haidle centers on a four-year-old girl named Lucy who's armed with the vocabulary and wit of Paula Poundstone. Left alone by her working single mom, Sookie, Lucy conjures visits by imaginary Mr. Marmalade, a busy businessman, who squeezes in play sessions with Lucy when he can. Mr. M. has a lot of problems, including a sadistic streak and some serious substance-abuse and kinky-sex issues. On the surface, it's a funny premise. But in Haidle's writing, all the humor is predicated on the dissonance of having adult observations coming out of a child's mouth. As a result, Lucy's too-hip-for-the-playpen personality quickly becomes predictable. Wes Shofner, as Mr. Marmalade, is a capable performer, but he's old enough to be Lucy's grandfather, which adds an uncomfortable dynamic to Lucy's fantasy world. If the younger Stuart Hoffman, who plays Marmalade's personal assistant, Bradley, had switched roles with Shofner, it would have made more sense from Lucy's perspective. And some of the later events — when Lucy and Marmalade run off to Cabo San Lucas, get married, and have a child — might have resonated more strongly. Even so, the players, under the direction of Arthur Grothe, give this flawed material their all, including Lauren B. Smith as Lucy, who's energetic and extremely lithe. But she never finds a deeper truth in the little girl — if there is one somewhere in this script. Through May 28, produced by Convergence-Continuum at The Liminis, 2438 Scranton Rd., 216-687-0074. — Howey
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