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Running With The Dogs of Summer 

Our hot months are off to a scorching start with these upcoming shows

The "dog days" of summer —from now till the middle of August — are called that because Sirius, the Dog Star, rises at the same time as the sun. And that apparently makes us hot and prone to inactivity, not to mention liberally self-medicating with Margaritas.

Setting aside the issue of why we can't train that damn dog to get off his lazy haunches and rise in February, when we need him, let's consider some rudimentary activities you might indulge during these upcoming dog days. For example, there are many theaters producing some enticing work, in the open air and also in the chilly confines of air conditioning. So take your pick!

If you like being outside at dusk, listening to the flowing words of William Shakespeare, you have more than one option. The Cleveland Shakespeare Festival (cleveshakes.com) travels around the area, presenting productions of Old Will's stuff for people laid out on blankets and relaxing in their folding chairs. CSF opens The Merchant of Venice on July 17, at Peace Park in the Coventry Road area, and then tours it to eight more locations through August 2.

On the other hand, the Ohio Shakespeare Festival (ohioshakespearefestival.com) stays put, and for good reason. They're ensconced in the lovely lagoon area at Akron's Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, and one could not ask for a more beauteous venue. Their production of Much Ado About Nothing opens this weekend, and their staging of King Henry V opens July 31. If Shakespeare scares you off, relax. The OSF company, under the sharp direction of Terry Burgler, makes even dense Shakespeare marvelously accessible.

If you like being outside, but not totally, try the Porthouse covered outdoor theater on the campus of the Blossom Music Center (kent.edu/porthouse). This talented troupe, headquartered at Kent State, will be presenting two tuneful experiences: Violet, a fascinating Jeanine Tesori musical about a young woman who seeks out an evangelical minister to transform her disfigured face; and Hairspray, the Broadway musical that follows pleasantly plump Tracy Turnblad as she tries to dance on the Dick Clark (er, Corny Collins) TV show.

Now, we move inside to theaters that have artificial creature comforts, such as A/C (at least, some of them do). The Oberlin Summer Theater Festival (oberlinsummertheaterfestival.com) is back and get this: It's free! All you have to do is make a reservation, but keep your credit card in your wallet. First up is Treasure Island, recommended for ages 6 and up. Then it's All's Well That Ends Well by William you-know-who, along with Crumbs from the Table of Joy by Pulitzer Prize-winner Lynn Nottage. The shows run in rep through August 8.

Now just because theaters aren't doing summer theater festivals doesn't mean they're not doing theater in the summer. Take convergence-continuum (convergence-continuum.org), which is involved all summer long with shows such as The Train Play. It's running now, no pun intended, and it's a comic-poetic collision with time and other stuff. That will be followed by Tear It Off by Cleveland playwright Mike Geither, opening August 14.

At the Beck Center (beck center.org), they're doing American Idiot, a sung-through staging of the rock opera of the same name by popular band Green Day. It opens next week and runs through August 16. And Mamai Theatre (mamaitheatreco.org) is chiming in with the Tennessee Williams' classic A Streetcar Named Desire. Opening July 16, the play is directed by Mitchell Fields.

If you want a shot of big Broadway pizzazz while you're sweltering in your Bermudas, try Rogers & Hammerstein's Cinderella at Playhouse Square (playhousesquare.org), running — with or without both glass slippers — from July 21 to August 2. On a slightly smaller scale, the Mercury Theatre Company (mercurytheatre company.org) is doing their youthful, energetic and often quite talented thing with the musicals Camelot (July 10 to 25) and Mary Poppins (August 7 to 22).

If you like nothing more than a stage full of people, lots of them kids and acting their socks off, don't forget the Near West Theatre (nearwesttheatre.org) production of Hair (July 24 to August 9) in their wonderful new digs at Gordon Square.

And finally, as we emerge from the dog days, Blank Canvas Theatre (blankcanvastheatre.com) will train its often edgy sights on a classic: Thornton Wilder's Our Town, from August 14 to 29. Of course, that old astrological dog may not be rising any more at that point. But if you're a hound for good theater, these next few weeks may be more satisfying than a vigorous belly scratch, complete with the jerking leg.

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