The Bank Guards — In this premiere of local playwright Matthew A. Sprosty's script, four bank guards have come together with the bank owner's son to rip off the institution for "millions." But their plans go awry when the eldest member of the contingent doesn't show up for the pre-heist meeting, and a mysterious stranger knocks on the door, posing as a pizza-delivery guy. The young playwright is adept at conjuring interesting scenarios along with creating flash-frame moments of trenchant humor. But he's less able to interestingly shape extended dialogue scenes. Perhaps the most glaring weakness, though — the blame for which must be shared by director Rebecca Cole — is the absence of clearly defined characters. Sure, these are predominantly young fellows with larceny in their hearts. But that's no reason they should all talk at identical speeds, using similar vocabulary and cadences. Among the players, Ric Barr, Nate Bigger, Michael Riffle, and Benjamin Gates do what they can with their roles, given the limitations. On the other hand, D.J. Hellerman seems out of his depth, and regular Fourth Wall participant Dash Combs once again plays Dash Combs. When Sprosty learns to engage some serious self-editing capabilities, he may come up with scripts that crackle with insight as well as cleverness. And those will be shows worth everyone's time and attention. Through June 1, produced by Fourth Wall Productions at The Enterprise Center, 540 E. 105th St., 330-283-2442. — Christine Howey
The Cleveland Plays: Part I: Migration — Three otherwise-talented local playwrights and theater artists — Eric Coble, Nina Domingue, and Eric Schmiedl (who also directs) — have joined forces to write the first in a series of plays that purport to grapple with challenges facing our fair burg. In this opening effort, the problem is the brain drain of people leaving town for what they believe to be more promising, career-enhancing destinations. The result is a mishmash: truncated stories of two families, one in Slavic Village and one in Aurora. Fran (Leslie Ann Price) and Lenny (George Roth) are suburban empty nesters who are going through predictable midlife crises. Meanwhile, in the inner city, Nisha (Domingue) is pregnant and wants to stay in Cleveland, but hubby Luke (Robert Williams) has a hot job waiting for him in Columbus. These not particularly gripping micro-dramas are intertwined with the quasi-mystical appearance of Moses Cleaveland (Michael Regnier), the guy who started this whole mess. Having nailed down their thematic assignment with dutiful literalness, the troika of playwrights proceeds to craft the script with all the subtlety of a fifth-grade "Learn About Your City" primer. Combine that with juvenile humor — Moses wants to "get on TV," so he tries to climb on top of a bank of monitors at Best Buy — and unbelievable characterizations, and Migration could inspire dreams of relocation all by itself. Through June 1, produced by Dobama Theatre at The Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Ave., 216-932-3396. — Howey
My Favorite Year — Based on the film of the same name, My Favorite Year — a musical by Joseph Dougherty — revolves around the soused and skirt-chasing Alan Swann, a guest star on King Kaiser's Comedy Cavalcade. But the central character is Benjy, who's played with earnestness if not inspiration by Shawn Galligan. Benjy is a young writer on King's staff and a closet fan of Swann, a cinema star in the John Barrymore mold. When Swann shows up four sheets to the wind, Benjy is assigned to babysit the actor, so he doesn't turn up shit-faced on live television. The songs, by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, get off to a bright start with "Twenty Million People" — a delightful ensemble tribute, choreographed with style by Martin Cespedes. But as the show progresses and Swann mopes about his shallow life, the tunes turn introspective. Matthew Wright brings a matinee-idol elegance and bruised innocence to this lascivious lush. Rachel Spence dazzles as comedy writer Alice Miller, nailing her Imogene Coca-like character with a penetrating voice and impeccable timing. Under William Roudebush's crisp direction, Jean Zarzour harnesses her talents to create a larger-than-life but charmingly intrusive Belle, Benjy's mom. And John J. Polk manages to bluster his way through his scenes as King Kaiser, helping make this an enjoyable trek back to TV long before TiVo. Through June 8 at the Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-521-2540. — Howey
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