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On Stage 

Capsule reviews of current area theater presentations.

The curtain closes June 4 on CPTs sharp-edged - The Secretaries (featuring Liz Conway, above).
  • The curtain closes June 4 on CPTs sharp-edged The Secretaries (featuring Liz Conway, above).
A Chorus Line -- This elegant metaphor for the human journey takes place in a stark theatrical version of a Skinner box -- an empty black space with mirrors on the back wall, where rewards and punishments are doled out by the frequently disembodied voice of the choreographer. He's the reigning deity in this claustrophobic universe, demanding honesty from the assembled hopefuls as he pierces their glib responses with insults or threats, trying to excavate the individual underneath the tinsel and tap shoes. By masterfully merging the performers' stories with songs, snatches of music, and lots of dance numbers, A Chorus Line became one of the longest-running productions in the history of New York theater. The Carousel production, under the solid but not particularly innovative direction and choreography of Donna Drake, makes excellent use of the expansive stage and still manages to capture many of the intimate moments that pull our emotional levers. Overindulgent pacing of many dialogue sequences ultimately allows the tension to seep away in the second act, but it remains a singular sensation to be in the presence of this iconic Broadway metaphor that can teach us all a little about ourselves. Through July 9 at Carousel Dinner Theatre, 1275 E. Waterloo Road, Akron, 800-362-4100. -- Christine Howey

The Imaginary Invalid -- This captivating, cacophonous production of Molière's play, adapted and directed by Timothy Mooney, translates the original into rhyming couplets, some of them decidedly contemporaneous. Mooney has created an arch anachronism -- call it 17th-century satire performed with the subtlety of a Three's Company episode. The result is a broad yet fascinating frolic in the elegant bedroom of Argan, an apparently entirely healthy aristocrat in Versailles-era France, who lives only from one exotic medical treatment to another. Although the play has a rather singular colon-related focus, it is leavened to some degree by the romantic attachment Argan's daughter Angelique has with a young nobody named Cleante. This is a problem for Pops, since he prefers her to marry Thomas, a local doctor, in order to cadge some invoice-free intestine hosings from his future relative. Refereeing this farcical fandango is Argan's uppity maid Toinette, who makes no bones about what an ass her master is. Matthew Wright's Argan anchors the cast with a stellar performance that blends his character's enthusiasm for sickness with his exhaustion over the remedies he must endure. Through June 12 at Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-521-2540. -- 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. Extended through July 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

The Secretaries -- It's no revelation that secretaries frequently lead lives of not-so-quiet desperation. But usually, their dissatisfaction with repetitious, brain-dead work and harassing co-workers is presented with good-old-gal humor and a golden light of redemption at the end of their carpal tunnel. This play, by the Five Lesbian Brothers collective of taboo-shattering female playwrights, is a view of office politics seen through the prism of a sadomasochistic fem-dom cult, whose members are addicted to Slim-Fast shakes, fetish wardrobes, and ritual murder on a rigid monthly timetable. While the piece aims at scathing satire, but misses -- due to a consistent lack of focus for the ridicule -- there are several outrageously sexual sequences, a couple of gross-out moments, slick staging devices, and three particularly effective performances -- all of which equal a stunning if intermittently queasy evening of theater. In the role of the imperiously elegant boss, Ms. Curtis, smoldering Alison Hernan lets her hair down as a despotic vixen, turning even a simple line such as "Isn't she terrific?" into a lascivious growl. Liz Conway is also excellent as slim and blonde Patty, a new receptionist who morphs from a sweet Midwest innocent to a chainsaw-wielding goddess of vengeance. Through June 4 at Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit Avenue, 216-631-2727. -- Howey

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