On Stage 

Capsule reviews of current area theater presentations.

Oh, Mary, Don't You Weep -- Whether or not you go to church, you've been touched by African American gospel music in many ways. Proof of this is evident in this Cleveland Art Theatre presentation, written by Margaret Ford-Taylor and Joyce Meadows (each of whom does double duty, the former as director and the latter as performer). The show is essentially a gospel concert, with songs and brief monologues telling the story of Christ's good works, crucifixion, and resurrection. While the stories are all familiar (loaves and fishes, miracle healings), what sets this production apart are the smooth vocal chops and earnest expressions of faith conveyed by the six-woman cast, each of whom portrays a different Mary from the New Testament. Moving easily around on desert-hued platforms and backed by a sharp three-piece combo led by Glen A. Brackens, the performers sing a variety of gospel songs that range in style from tender ballad to digging, percussive blues. As Mary of Bethany, Shirley Cain Johnson testifies with uncompromising passion, and Susan E. Hughes gives Mary of Galilee a bit of bitchy edge. Celebrating the unity of body and soul, this glorious music is a balm in a cacophonous and conflicted world. Presented by the Cleveland Art Theatre through March 27 at the CSU Factory Theatre, corner of Chester Avenue and East 24th Street, 216-229-9718. -- Christine 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

Midnight Martini Show -- There is a strange attraction in 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 so easy. 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 downtown on a Friday or Saturday night. 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. Fridays and Saturdays at Pickwick & Frolic, 2035 East 4th St., 216-241-7425. -- Howey

Rounding Third -- In probing the bizarre behavior of little league coaches and parents, playwright Richard Dresser has put his finger on a rich topic, combining as it does the innocent aspirations of children with the often more complex motivations of their adult supervisors. But he manages to whiff on nearly every score. The jokes emanate mostly from Dresser's glib facility with clichés and stereotypes, not from any deeper source of personality or plot development. This two-character piece sets blue-collar manager Don against his new assistant, the baseball-ignorant Michael. Each man has a son on the team and, of course, Don's kid is the star pitcher, while Michael's stepson is a nearsighted klutz. Under the brisk direction of Jane Page, Michael David Edwards works hard to make Michael credible, and stocky and balding Tony Campisi has the perfect look and comic timing for Don. But Dresser is more interested in staging punch lines than in mounting a thoughtful comedy, so he relies on nonsensical reversals to fuel the flaccid story line. Given the unfulfilled potential on display here, a more accurate title might be Picked Off at First. Through March 27 at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Avenue, 216-795-7000. -- Howey


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