The Importance of Being Earnest -- In the hands of professionals such as those at the Great Lakes Theater Festival, this century-old classic leaps to life with astonishing vigor. The play hinges on bachelors Algernon and Jack, who are in pursuit of two lovely young women who are insistent on marrying a man -- any man -- named Ernest. Algernon, a man of voracious appetites, is played with splendid ease and casual good humor by David Anthony Smith. As Jack, Douglas Frederick is a bit too stiff and not quite ditzy enough to bring out all the fun of his character. But he loosens up in the third act and handles the collision of borrowed identities with affecting aplomb. Laura Perrotta as Gwendolyn mixes cool refinement and simmering passion into a heady concoction, and Kelly Sullivan is equally adept as the teenage heartthrob, Cecily. The first meeting of these two women quickly turns into claws-out hostility, as they assume they're engaged to the same man. Director Charles Fee gives his actors room to invent, while keeping the whip-smart language the star of the show. It's a hilarious must-see for anyone who hasn't taken a recent walk on the (Oscar) Wilde side. Presented by the Great Lakes Theater Festival through October 16 at the Ohio Theatre, 1519 Euclid Avenue, 216-241-6000. -- Howey
La Turista -- Almost 40 years ago, Sam Shepard wrote La Turista, a play that takes place in two temporary rooms inhabited by a young, white American couple adrift in the world and beset by difficulties both physical (sunburn, raging dysentery) and cultural. Written a decade before Shepard's better known plays (True West, Buried Child), this script is a hugely self-indulgent and determinedly mysterious collection of symbols and swirling speechifying. But as performed by the ever-courageous Convergence-Continuum group, it never fails to engage, even as it confounds with its oblique approach. As with all Convergence-Continuum works, the pace never flags, and the surprises pile one atop the next. Director Clyde Simon charges Shepard's passionate language --and frequently overlong perorations -- with a physical immediacy that commands attention, even as the mind scrambles to catch up. Indeed, almost every square inch of the tiny Liminis theater space is used by Simon's energetic cast, as they leave none of Shepard's symbolic stones unturned. Presented by Convergence-Continuum through September 25 at the Liminis, 2438 Scranton Rd., 216-687-0075. -- Howey
Leading Ladies -- One might think that, by this time, the titillation of seeing a man in a gown and makeup would have gone the way of Hedwig's other inches, but there's a new play now at the Play House that would claim the opposite. In Leading Ladies, playwright Ken Ludwig has perfectly captured the vibe of an audience-pleasing, mid-20th-century stage comedy: broad characters who frequently run in and out of doorways spouting predictable gag lines, while nary a naughty word is spoken. The script's comic approach frequently has the feel of a predigested meal served lukewarm, and anyone who's seen even one TV sitcom could easily forecast the eventual outcome. But the show is so filled with spirited performances that it survives the alternately forced and hackneyed story line. It's sure to be a community-theater staple for many years to come. Through October 3 at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Avenue, 216-795-7000. -- Howey
Midnight Martini Show -- There is a strange attraction toward Frank Sinatra's loosely organized Rat Pack and their infamous, loopily disorganized Las Vegas shows that ran for a few golden years back in the 1960s. Frank, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. mixed pop songs, corny jokes, and Johnnie Walker into an irreverent, hip evening that seemed to come so easy to the performers. What the Midnight Martini Show at Pickwick & Frolic proves is that it ain't easy at all. This one-hour set attempts to capture the bored-with-it-all sophistication and the slightly inebriated intimacy that the Rat Packers achieved, but it fails on several counts, from the overly eager performers to the florid songs and lame drinking jokes. Which is not to say that this no-cover show doesn't provide a convenient glide path for those who are downtown on a Friday or Saturday night and want to do something else before heading home. Indeed, some of the American standards are sung well enough. Now the task is to find directors and performers who understand that being casually funny while delivering classic tunes takes a lot of work. Or maybe a whole lot of real drinking. Fridays and Saturdays at Pickwick & Frolic, 2035 East 4th St., 216-241-7425. -- 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 E. 4th St., 216-736-4242. -- Howey
Our Town -- One of the major pitfalls to avoid when producing Thornton Wilder's 1938 classic is to ensure that the simple folk and homespun stories from Grover's Corners don't lull the performers into a kind of sub-hypnotic lethargy. Informing all the mundane activities in the play -- making breakfast, feeding chickens, sharing an ice-cream soda -- is the enormously invigorating theme of people trying to live every moment actively and joyously. Ensemble's production is languorous to a fault, with many of the characters speaking in the same contemplative rhythm. This is a pace well suited to the Narrator, played with avuncular warmth by Ron Newell, but director Lucia Colombi allows virtually everyone else to speak as if a briskly limned phrase might rend the space-time continuum. Bernadette Clemens as Emily Webb is fresh and sharp, tracing the arc of the young woman, and Julia Kolibab is thoroughly believable and engaging as Emily's mother. But Tom Kondilas, in the key role of Emily's boyfriend, doesn't deliver the required shadings of innocent exuberance. Wilder's plaint is that life goes too fast and we don't have time to look at one another. Well, it sure slows down while you're watching this production. Through September 26 at Ensemble Theatre, Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Ave., 216-321-2930. -- Howey
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