Highway Ulysses -- One of the saddest commentaries on human existence is the universality of righteous violence and the damage it wreaks on everyone it touches. In Homer's classic tale The Odyssey, we follow the travails of battle-weary Odysseus (that's Ulysses to you) as he wends his way home after his diabolically clever defeat of Troy. A new take on this old theme is now on display in Dobama's Highway Ulysses, a hypnotic sampling of the Homeric tale, recast as the story of a Vietnam War vet who, a dozen years after his return, is trying to rejoin his son after the death of his estranged wife. Employing an operatic score that swoops from dissonance to odd melodiousness, and using recitative to move the action forward, Eckert and director Sonya Robbins create a splendidly theatrical experience that offers enormous rewards for those who don't struggle against the play's innovative, disjointed structure. While not a commentary on war per se, Highway Ulysses invites us to see one man's journey through that brutal prism -- and who are we to say this isn't widely applicable? We are often taught, in subtle ways, to love the trappings of war -- perhaps enough to forget its dreadful outcomes. Through December 12 at Dobama Theatre, 1836 Coventry Rd., Cleveland Hts., 216-932-3396. -- Howey
The Lark -- The story of Joan of Arc -- the 15th-century teenager who led the French army to victories over England, urged on by the voices of saints -- is endlessly fascinating: Combining aspects of feminism, militarism, religious inspiration, sociological upheaval, and cross-dressing, Joan's story is one in which nearly everyone can find a cause to cheer or deride. In the Cesear's Forum production of Jean Anouilh's The Lark, Joan's brief bio is sketched out during the trial that eventually condemns her to a flaming death at age 19. Blending two adaptations of the original script by Christopher Fry and Lillian Hellman, director Greg Cesear attempts to capture a fresh perspective on the intersection of politics and morality -- not such an irrelevant issue right about now. Unfortunately, what's been created here is an oddly sterile, bloodless recitation of a story that should fairly pulse with glory and pain. Joan's confounding qualities of insolent confidence and devout humility are portrayed convincingly by chisel-jawed Laura Borgione, but the other key roles add little. Presented by Cesear's Forum through December 11 at Kennedy's Cabaret, Playhouse Square Center, 1501 Euclid Ave., 216-241-6000. -- Howey
Plaid Tidings -- Yes, the boys in plaid are at it again in the Play House's seasonal encore of four-part guy-harmony. The conceit is that some 1950s-era projection-club geeks from high school formed a singing group, à la the Four Freshmen, and started to perform pop tunes in the nascent era of rock and roll. But their careers were cut fatally short by a car crash -- that is, until they revisit Earth on a mission to create a holiday TV show. And so they do, with songs ranging from "Let It Snow" to "Moments to Remember." The chaps are in fine voice, but the overall timing seems a bit flabby this time around. And the supposedly comic character of Jinx (he gets nosebleeds on high notes) is filled by Paul Binotto, a fellow with no discernible flair for comedy. Rodney Peck as Sparky and Christopher Youngsman as Smudge are intermittently amusing, but the best performance is turned in by Scot Fedderly, who seems to have more energy than the other three put together. If you like those syrupy-smooth sounds, this is an inoffensive way to get your holiday fix. But don't expect to laugh yourself silly. Through December 19 at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Avenue, 216-795-7000. -- Howey
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