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On Stage 

Capsule reviews of current area theater presentations.

The Exonerated -- Outside the friendly confines of Texas, some Death Row inmates are actually freed when unmatched DNA or belated confessions from real perps pop open the jail doors. This concert-style production, assembled from interviews with formerly doomed inmates by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, interweaves the stories of six people who spent from 2 to 22 years on Death Row for murders they did not commit. It's a stark and stunning piece of theater, but it isn't pretty stuff. The Dobama cast, under the perceptive direction of Joel Hammer, turns in some remarkable performances. While the script does an admirable job of tracing each survivor's tragic journey through legal hell, we never truly experience what it feels like to be totally innocent, behind bars, awaiting death. This shortcoming, plus the absence of broader context for each of the main stories, mutes the overall impact of the work. Through March 20 at Dobama Theatre, 1846 Coventry Rd., Cleveland Hts., 216-932-3396. -- Christine Howey

Long Day's Journey Into Night -- In the annals of theater, there is probably no family so gloriously screwed up as the Tyrones in Eugene O'Neill's brilliant and largely autobiographical Long Day's Journey Into Night. With Mom a passive-aggressive morphine addict, dad a quick-tempered miserly hack actor, elder son Jamie a drunken lout, and younger son Edmund racked with tuberculosis, you've got a family that would have buried the Osbournes or the Gottis in a reality-show pain-a-thon. One might think it difficult for such a morose collection of people to be thoroughly captivating for three hours, but that's what happens in this splendid production by Ensemble Theatre. True to the company's moniker, director Licia Colombi has crafted a smooth group presentation from five gifted actors. But the evening truly belongs to Annie Kitral, who invests mother Mary with so many flickering changes of attitude and tempo that one is left slack-jawed. Presented by Ensemble Theatre through March 13 at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Ave., 216-321-2930. -- Howey

Menopause the Musical -- Everybody enjoys musicals dealing with energetic young people on the brink of conquering the world. But what about the people in the audience: the nearsighted, overweight, and wrinkled denizens of middle age, who rarely see their own physiological mysteries put into song? For them, there is Menopause the Musical, a hoot of a show written by Jeanie Linders. It's a foot-stomping 90-minute revival meeting for women who've had to deal with The Change while also trying to maintain their careers and family relationships. Menopause is frequently repetitious, even teetering on the brink of tiresome, but the energetic cast of four and spirited direction by Patty Bender and Kathryn Conte maintain the flow, so to speak. All women with a few decades on them -- even those who only use "menopause" as an excuse to get out of going to football games -- will probably get a stiff neck from nodding in agreement and a tender side from all the laughter. Through May 30 at Playhouse Square Center's 14th Street Theatre, 2037 East 14th St., 216-241-6000. -- Howey

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