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On Stage 

Capsule reviews of current area stage shows.

Stonewall Jackson's House -- It's easy to be controversial: Just make a statement that goes against the currently accepted "liberal" conventional wisdom, and you're sure to ignite some arguments and maybe get yourself a book contract with Ann Coulter's publisher. At least, that was true in the mid-1990s, when Jonathan Reynolds wrote this often amusing but relentlessly self-congratulatory diatribe on myriad racial, gender, and theatrical issues. Given an earnestly overcranked production by a talented Karamu cast, this play begins intriguingly but devolves quickly into an extended screed that feels like one of the hundred or so right-wing radio shows now glutting the airwaves. Here, the good ol' paternalistic welfare state is trundled out for abuse, ignoring the fact that, since this play was written, federal funding has been largely ripped away from the deprived and funneled into the coffers of needy multinational corporations. Of course, these events of the last few years aren't the playwright's fault, but the script of Stonewall fails at levels other than lack of contemporary relevance; Reynolds has some interesting and occasionally compelling points to make, but these gems are buried in an ultimately insufferable avalanche of familiar wing-nut tirades. Through November 21 at Karamu Performing Arts Theatre, 2355 East 89th Street, 216-795-7070 ext. 226. -- Christine Howey

Words & Weirds -- Tremont's Convergence-Continuum company has forged a reputation for presenting quirky, thought-provoking, and satisfyingly oblique works that other groups wouldn't dare touch. Of course, when you're working on that particular ledge, it's always easy to slip off. In their current production of two one-acts, both ends of risk-taking theater are on display. "Tone Clusters," by acclaimed novelist and short-story writer Joyce Carol Oates, is a true portrait in suburban American Gothic: Desperately normal Frank Gulick and his wife, Emily, sit facing the audience as they're interviewed by an unseen voice, apparently belonging to the reporter for an Inside Edition type of TV sleazefest. As the two field questions both mundane and profound, we learn that Carl, their 22-year-old son, has been arrested for the murder of a teenage neighbor girl. Under the direction of Douglas H. Snyder, Clyde Simon and Lucy Bredeson-Smith both give finely calibrated performances, nervously glancing at each other and squirming under the scrutiny of their community and the world beyond. As the Q&A goes on, we see how average people's lives can be distorted by events out of their control. In the second piece, "Whirligig," by Mac Wellman, a runaway punkette meets a space alien at an interstellar bus stop, where they are visited by a bus driver and three versions of the girl's tightass preppy sister. The playwright's trademark word games -- including free associations and alliterative avalanches -- amount to nothing more than grimly determined verbal masturbation. Director Clyde Simon evidently poured all his energy into his role in the first play and had little left over to deal with this mess. Presented by Convergence-Continuum through November 20 at the Liminis, 2438 Scranton Road, 216-687-0074. -- Howey

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