Othello, the Moor of Venice -- In Bad Epitaph Theater Co.'s version of Shakespeare's Mediterranean bloodbath, director Alison Hernan has boldly top-dressed the formerly controversial theme of interracial marriage with gender politics, featuring a fiendish lesbian villain who happens to be in a same-sex union. You can almost hear the fundamentalist wingnuts screaming, "What's next? Iago having sex with a golden retriever?" That's unlikely, since no self-respecting canine would come within 10 feet of Iago as played by Meg Chamberlain. Using her rapier-sharp diction and some regrettably broad sarcastic glances, Chamberlain manipulates her hated boss Othello into a froth of jealous rage -- focused on his entirely innocent and devoted wife, Desdemona (Magdalyn Donnelly, in a lovely and heartbreaking turn). While it's successful on several counts, this production misses the deeper soundings of love and betrayal, largely due to an unimpressive rendering of Othello himself. Performed in the Orthodox, a quaint church now taken over by CPT, the show boasts a few resonant moments that never add up to the full Shakespearean symphony. Through October 23 at the Orthodox, Cleveland Public Theatre, 6203 Detroit Avenue, 216-556-0919. -- Howey
Summer of '42 -- Yep, it's a musical version of the movie, and it's a good thing Kalliope decided to do it, since it requires adolescent boys to sing and act. Thankfully, this company's dedication to splendid voices and evocative presentations has landed it some very talented local high schoolers, who perform like seasoned troupers. Alex Wyse plays the lead, Hermie, with such a cute and fragile boyishness, you just want to hug him (and it doesn't hurt that he looks like a teenage Fred Astaire). Hermie falls for an older woman (of say, 30) named Dorothy, acted and sung to perfection by Jodi Brinkman. The original music by David Kirschenbaum ranges from average to excellent, with the high points being a hysterical double-date song sketching the awkward moves boys make on girls in "The Movies" and a tender ballad titled "Promise of the Morning." In supporting roles, Aaron Dore is terrific as Hermie's rough-and-tumble pal Oscy, and Jay Strauss gets some laughs from his Walter Winchell bits. Director Paul F. Gurgol finds all the nooks of sentiment and crannies of humor (a boy buying his first "rubbers" in a drugstore) to give everyone a twinge of longing for the blissfully naive good ol' days. Through November 7 at Kalliope Stage, 2134 Lee Rd., Cleveland Hts., 216-321-0870. -- Howey
Triple Espresso -- If Lawrence Welk had been a jokester and not a bandleader, this is the kind of comedy show he would have created. Squeaky-clean and with all the edge of a Nerf ball, this mildly humorous pastiche of familiar gags, magical flimflam, and shadow puppets (yes, shadow puppets!) is the perfect production to send your not-so-hip grandparents to on their anniversary. The plotless exercise is based on the entirely believable premise of a miserably unfunny 1970s comedy trio, back for a reunion at a coffeehouse owned by an unseen native of Zaire with a funny, African-sounding name (ha-ha). Thus the reason for a title that does not, alas, refer to the level of stimulation provided. Co-authors (with the absent Bill Arnold) Michael Pearce Donley and Bob Stromberg overdo their signature mugging, with the latter working his baffled-Dickie-Smothers double takes way too hard. Triple Espresso has been playing for a long time in some cities, thanks to its genial good humor. But if you like your comedy with bite, this one will gum you to death. Through January 30 at the Hanna, 2067 East 14th St., 216-241-6000. -- Howey
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