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Outside the Box 

Innovative performers shine a bright light in CPT's Big [Box].

One of the most exciting theatrical venues in town, Cleveland Public Theatre is once again presenting its Big [Box] series -- an eclectic selection of works as unpredictable as the artists who conceive them. Essentially, CPT simply hands over its performing space to actors, composers, and others, who stage their own works by themselves without interference. The results can be thrilling.

For example, last weekend's debut performance was Mo Pas Connin -- or Torment, written and performed by Nina Domingue. This dazzling exploration of an African American family in New Orleans, beset by multiple phantoms both real and imaginary (the Creole title means "I don't know . . . what torments me so"), was a stirring production that deserves a longer run somewhere. Playing nine different characters with consummate skill, Domingue changed in seconds from a crack addict with a hair-trigger temper to a highly educated mom to a little girl who wonders why her teacher "always teaches us about the beige people" and not the brown ones.

Using the family's 65-year-old Aunt Miriam as a narrator of sorts, Domingue and director Hassan Rogers crafted a fascinating cross section of personalities and employed all of Domingue's many talents, including some funky dancing and spontaneous audience interaction. Domingue, who was mistakenly omitted from this page's year-end review of top performers in 2004, is an actor with powerful stage magnetism that dissolves any distance between her and the audience. And although her play is no longer being shown, she will be featured in next month's Venus, also at CPT. If you value riveting performers, it would be wise to mark your calendar now.

And since you've got your Sharpie out, consider the remainder of the Big [Box] series at CPT:

January 14-16: Citizenship in the Nation. This staged reading, written by Mike Geither and directed by Gregory Vovos, deals with a boy scout troop in which drinking and drug use are common, and where two scouts develop a sexual relationship.

January 21-23: GemINi. Created by Aaron Rapljenovic and Zoe Schultz, this performance duet is loosely based on the astrological sign in the title.

January 28-30: CONNECT. A combination of live music, dance, art, and interactive performance, this production created by Ryan Lott explores the potential of artistic partnership in myriad ways.

February 4-6: The Vampyres. In short, it's all about sex, blood, and rock and roll. Any questions? It's written by David Hansen and directed by Alison Hernan, two of the more gifted theater folk hereabouts.

February 11-13: Apply Within: Office of the President Available. Written and performed by Perren Hedderson, it's the tale of an ambitious worker, employed at a plant that manufactures prosthetic arms and legs, whose career path to CEO puts him out on a limb, so to speak.

Chances are, everything else in your post-holiday life is pretty predictable, depressing, or both. So why not take a flier on these fresh works? If they're anything like last weekend's production by Domingue, you're in for a giddy ride.

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