Favorite

On Stage 

Capsule reviews of current area stage shows.

Agnes of God -- The existence of even a single Indians fan would seem to indicate that blind faith in miracles is alive and well in our world. But things become more complex with the spiritual issues of birth, death, parenthood, and the reason for our existence -- the weighty matters behind this play by John Pielmeier. A young nun recently gave birth to a baby in a convent, a fact of which people became aware when the infant was discovered dead in a wastebasket. The girl, Agnes, claims not to remember the conception, pregnancy, or birth. Her supervisor considers Agnes entirely innocent and apparently believes the event some sort of modern-day miracle birth. Enter the court-appointed clinical psychiatrist who must deduce Agnes's level of guilt. You'd think that would be enough for one play to chew on. But no, Pielmeier piles on a truckload of additional character entanglements, causing this florid melodrama to shred the bounds of theatrical believability and devolve into maudlin soap opera. Despite some captivating performances and tight, efficient direction by Seth Gordon, Agnes just thrashes about in its own overheated stew. Through May 2 at Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood, 216-521-2540. -- Christine Howey

Far Away -- This stunning and eerily prescient work was written by British playwright Caryl Churchill in 2000 -- long before the President's infamous "with us or against us" line. It begins as a girl named Joan (young Angela Holecko) wakes in the night, frightened by sounds that seem like human yelps. Her Aunt Harper (chilling Derdriu Ring) explains it away, but Joan isn't mollified, and we learn that she's seen and heard much more. In the span of less than an hour, the play moves forward more than a decade, to when Joan and her husband are sharing Aunt Harper's hovel in the midst of a world gone completely berserk. Everything, animate and otherwise, has taken sides: Deer and crocodiles have teamed up with Latvian dentists to pose a mortal threat, children under five are attacked on sight, and even a river's allegiance is in dispute. Director Peter Hackett's final effort in his 10-year career at the Play House makes for a splendid exit. The play itself will lodge in your mind like a burning coal. Through April 25 at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Avenue, 216-795-7000. -- Howey

Free Will and Wanton Lust -- The always intriguing Convergence-Continuum group does what it can with this tarnished work about a wildly dysfunctional family by playwright Nicky Silver. Early on, he seems on track in developing a daffy comedy around some seriously screwed-up but fascinating characters. But once the second act begins, it seems as if we've been forcibly shunted into a different play entirely, as the edgy farce devolves into pseudo-serious melodrama. Director Clyde Simon can often squeeze every ounce of humor and meaning from a juicy script, but he's got his hands wrapped around a dried turnip this time. In attempting to comment on the trenchant subjects of physical bonding, solitude, and identity, Silver ultimately became more enamored of his own wordsmithing than of the story at hand. And that's a recipe for wanton mediocrity. Produced by Convergence-Continuum through May 8 at the Liminis, 2438 Scranton Road, 216-687-0074. -- Howey

I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change -- The promotional material dubs this musical revue "Seinfeld set to music." But in reality, it's more like The Bachelor set to a metronome, with predictable book and lyrics by Joe DiPetro and a mechanically repetitive musical score by Jimmy Roberts. Just pick your courtship cliché, and there's a song to address it, whether it be the serious shortage of desirable single men or the characteristics of testosterone-poisoned males who date chicks. The first act focuses on the foibles of the dating scene, and the second plumbs about an inch or two into the depths of marital misunderstandings. It's rescued by some amusing dating and family-life jibes, and a cast of Cleveland-based performers that squeezes every ounce of good humor out of what, in lesser hands, would come off as threadbare material. Larry Nehring, in particular, is a delight to watch in every role, from dazed boyfriend one moment to TV huckster the next. Through June 27 at the 14th Street Theater, 2037 East 14th Street, 216-241-6000. -- Howey

Oliver Twisted -- It has been claimed that there's a gene in some people's DNA spiral that compels them to seek out risky, potentially harmful activities, such as rock climbing, deep-sea diving, and parking at expired meters in Cleveland Heights. True to their risk-adoring genes, the seven-member group titled Oliver Twisted (made up of former members of the now-defunct Second City Cleveland) does audience-inspired material exclusively, without the safety net of scripted modules. And thanks to a fortunate blending of physical types and personalities among the performers -- along with their determined insistence on yanking every loose comedic thread -- this is an improv experience that will leave you laughing far more often than wincing. The troupe's resident nutcase, Randall Harr, is a fairly normal-looking fellow who transforms into a maniacally, often hilariously intense embodiment of whatever animal, vegetable, or mineral he's been assigned. Mondays at Hilarities Comedy Club at Pickwick & Frolic, 2035 East 4th Street, 216-736-4242. -- Howey

Underneath the Lintel -- Human desire to leave a mark of our existence behind is the impulse that drives a nebbishy Dutch librarian on a globe-trotting quest in Glen Berger's one-person play. Its central conceit is that the librarian is lecturing about his search for a person who returned a way-overdue book. The philosophical core of the fable is finally reached when the fussbudget traces the book's borrower back to the moment when Jesus stopped to rest in an archway of a cobbler's shop on his way to crucifixion. Christ was turned away by the cobbler, and Jesus then condemned the man to a deathless and rootless existence. Clearly, Berger has big issues on his mind: dealing with a small man's newly ignited passion for life and hunger for an identity. Ironically true to its title, however, this production constantly teeters on the threshold without ever firmly charging off in any direction. This is due to a script that is almost too clever for its own good and a performance by the lone actor, Joe Gunderman, that never fully engages the imagination. Presented by Cesear's Forum through May 8 at Kennedy's, 1501 Euclid Avenue, 216-241-6000. -- Howey

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