Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Dark Religious Comedy Aplenty in 'Hand to God' at Dobama Theatre

Posted By on Wed, Apr 26, 2017 at 9:47 AM

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The definition of a passion play is a dramatic performance representing the Passion of Jesus Christ, involving his suffering and death. It is a staple of many celebrations of Lent in several Christian denominations.

The thing is, that word “passion” can take you in more than one direction. And in this play by Robert Askins, there is plenty of passion set in a church building, but most of it is of the four-letter-word, violent and sexually-drenched variety.

Taking a cue from the outrageous puppets in Avenue Q, this dark comedy centers on a Sunday school classroom of a church in a small Texas town. This is where recently widowed Margery is trying to teach her charges Jason, Jessica and Timothy about the Lord, using puppets as a vehicle to reach them. Jason is her son, and it turns out she reaches him all too well, since timid Jason has apparently bonded with his puppet Tyrone in a dangerous way.

Indeed, it seems balls-to-the-wall Tyrone has taken over Jason’s fragile personality and is using him to lambaste everyone in sight, including Pastor Greg. As Tyrone says in his opening speech, speaking from a puppet stage in the classroom: “The same motherfucker who invented the group kill and team virtue—that ballsy piece of pig shit—topped all his previous work and invented the devil.”

And Tyrone is here to make sure the devil gets his due. As performed by Luke Wehner, Jason/Tyrone is a fascinating and at times abhorrent creation, giving voice to the unspeakable thoughts Jason has swirling around in his head—as most of us do, of course. Tyrone is all id and, since he's not actually President of the United States, he's hilarious.

Meanwhile, Timothy (Austin Gonser) is a walking adolescent hard-on with maximum sexual potency and very little focus, Jessica (Molly Israel) is trying to deal with Jason’s infatuation and Margery begins to let down her pretense of civility and starts to respond to Timothy’s insistent entreaties. During all this, Pastor Greg (David Burgher) is trying to make time with Margery.

In other words, it’s a pretty conventional church setting with all the hypocrisy, concealed emotions and screwed-up family relationships fully revealed. And that is what Askins is about, as he thrusts Tyrone into this supposedly calm and rational world.

Sure-handed director Matthew Wright keeps the pacing tight, even when the script tends to get bogged down in a bit too much repetition. And the ensemble performances are quite adept. But it is Wehner’s star turn as the man with the devil stuck on the end of his arm that steals the show and is worth the price of admission.

Hand to God
Through May 21 at Dobama Theatre, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights, 216-932-3396, dobama.org
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Next Year's Rock Hall Inductions to Take Place on April 14 at Public Hall

Posted By on Wed, Apr 26, 2017 at 8:20 AM

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The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductions will now take place in Cleveland every other year, and the Rock Hall has just announced a date (April 14) and a venue (Public Hall) for the 33rd annual ceremony.

A series of events, including a community celebration with free admission to the Rock Hall, a dedication for the 2018 Inductee exhibit, and other “rock and roll themed events and activities at the Rock Hall and throughout the city.”

Radiohead will be eligible for the first time and appears to be a likely candidate for induction.

Continue reading »

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

What Led to Councilman Brian Cummins' Last-Minute Flip-Flop on the Q Deal?

Posted By on Tue, Apr 25, 2017 at 2:58 PM

Councilman Brian Cummins
  • Councilman Brian Cummins
And just like that, the Gateway Six became the Gateway Five.

With his head down, Ward 14 Councilman Brian Cummins voted YES Monday night on a piece of "companion legislation" (469-17) that would add three new provisions to the existing Quicken Loans Arena renovation deal.

Shortly thereafter, in accordance with rumors, Cummins also voted YES on 305-17, the Q deal itself, which will commit a projected $88 million of city money from 2023-2034 to the project. Cummins' vote pushed the final count to 12-5, a super-majority that grants the ordinance emergency status and puts it into effect immediately. It also complicates the possibility of a voter-led referendum, though that effort should still technically be possible.

Cummins was one of six councilman — dubbed the Gateway Six by Mark Naymik on WTAM Monday morning — who had firmly opposed the deal in earlier votes and hearings. Cummins' opposition was largely philosophical. He'd told Cavs and City Council leadership to their faces that he "just couldn't get there." Among other things, Cummins found it outrageous that after the NBA's negotiation of a major new network deal (worth about $24 billion), a deal that is expected to lead to enormous increases in team valuation, Gilbert could come asking for a handout with a straight face.

The other opponents in the resistance were Jeff Johnson, Zack Reed, Mike Polensek, Kevin Conwell and T.J. Dow. Despite Cummins' objections, he was thought to be somewhat susceptible because he's a newer member of council leadership — he chairs the health and human services committee — and was the lone opposing councilman from the city's west side.

Council Chambers were packed last night with resident opponents who more than once erupted in chants directed at Cummins and Council President Kevin Kelley. "Hey hey, ho ho," etc. (Note: Supporters of the Q deal, including many representatives from the labor unions, were also in attendance.) Yet despite the vocal opposition from citizens and councilmen, the Q deal has been ratified virtually untouched.

Never once did an elected leader at the city or county level attempt to scrap the current deal and re-negotiate on behalf of their constituents. County Councilman Jack Schron merely wanted to postpone the deal to assess it in the context of state budget cuts. County Councilwoman Nan Baker made one alternative suggestion, that the Cavs themselves bear the burden of the financing, but did so in somber final remarks that were shrugged off as a fantasy. There was never any "creative" negotiating, as Armond Budish has repeatedly bragged; a seven-year lease extension represents the one publicized perk for taxpayers.

But in a last-ditch effort to "polish the turd," in the words of one observer, the deal was subject to a "major announcement" Monday afternoon. The Cavs said they'd sweeten the deal by refurbishing 22 gym floors at rec centers citywide and refurbishing gym floors at CMSD high schools. The other two announced provisions were insignificant public-relations gestures. Though Kelley bristled at the suggestion Monday night, the entire afternoon event seemed oriented toward the city's predominantly black east side community, where opposition to the deal is concentrated.  

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"Q Deal Will Provide Jobs for Blacks," read one sign that framed the lectern on the steps of City Hall. "Vote Yes!!"

According to Frank Jackson, it was Kelley himself who worked this weekend to negotiate these additional community benefits.

The gym floor promise is nice, but it bears no resemblance to a negotiated community benefits agreement that organizations like Greater Cleveland Congregations have proposed. As a point of clarification: GCC's position all along has not been to reject the deal outright, but to renegotiate the deal with specific community benefits attached — they've proposed a Community Equity Fund. (The "CBA" touted by the city is in fact merely a labor agreement. That's crucially important, but according to the GCC, ensuring baselines in local and minority labor should happen anyway.)


These final amendments were evidently sufficient to persuade Brian Cummins to change his mind. It is well-known by now that the Cavs and their team of negotiators had been lobbying the council opposition hard all week. Dan Gilbert himself even called Councilman Zack Reed to try to turn him. In a conversation Tuesday with Scene, Cummins said that the new provisions were important.

"It's hard to say whether they're substantial," Cummins said, "but the admissions tax piece — over the last five years, that's been on average, about a million per year. And that's a lot better than where we were at two weeks ago."

Not just an insignificant public-relations gesture, in other words.

But it was clear, in talking with Cummins, that political pragmatism played a far greater role in his decision-making than these new alleged benefits (to which no specific dollar values were attached, as Mike Polensek noted last night). Cummins said he hated that he was forced to make this difficult decision, but ultimately, preserving his relationship with council leadership and the mayor's administration was a more beneficial approach for his ward.

"I had to think hard and long about this," Cummins said, "but if I'm trying to garner funds from the mayor's administration, competing with 16 other wards, things like this matter. And that's just a non-debatable fact."

Cummins was frustrated. He said he maintains his objections to the deal on ethical grounds and reiterated that his leadership role on council was not explicitly threatened. But as a former Green party member who was ostracized for years, Cummins said he's had to work harder than most to rehabilitate relationships with council Democrats. It's been an "uphill battle."

"I'm not a lone wolf, but it's hard to always feel like you're leading the opposition," Cummins said. "It's a challenge, and quite frankly, it's tiring."

In the past week, Cummins said he spent more time gauging his constituency and said many of the people he works closely with in Ward 14 recognize that in order to accomplish the development goals that they have for the ward, political relationships are essential.

"As an elected leader, if you're gonna run for office," Cummins said, "you have to play the political game in a good way, to try to get more for the people you represent. This was a really difficult decision, but I was putting my ward first."

Cummins acknowledged the anti-democratic manner in which the legislation passed through legislative bodies at the county and the city, and said that it was extremely difficult to change the ordinance by the time it arrived on city council desks. (As in prior controversial political issues, the debate often hinged on tactics when it should have hinged on fundamentals). But without strong executive leadership from the Mayor and the County Executive, a small caucus of city council opponents could do very little to effect change.

"But if it's this difficult to influence current structures of government," Cummins said, "it's a sign that they need to be changed."

(Cummins said he would be releasing a full statement on his rationale this afternoon.)

Speaking of change, the city council challengers in Ward 14 (the Clark-Fulton and Stockyards area, home to the city's densest concentration of Hispanics) are pouncing on this opportunity to criticize the incumbent Cummins. As we've reported, city council challengers intend to use council support of the Q deal as a lynchpin in their campaigns.

In Ward 14, that's certainly the case.

"I am greatly disappointed that Ward 14’s City Councilman Brian Cummins voted to allow the residents of Cleveland be the LOSERS in this deal!" Challenger Jasmin Santana wrote in a statement, the first we'd received from her. She is one of three candidates, in addition to Cummins, who has pulled petitions (Control-F: "Ward 14"). All three are Hispanic.

"Councilman Cummins was the 12th and LAST vote needed to get the majority to approve the Mayor’s request to give away an additional $88 million of our tax dollars to the Quicken Arena sports palace," she wrote.

Santana contended that the deal was a "perfect example of income inequality" in Cleveland, and said she supported using those funds for services that residents "really need," things like job-training programs and solutions to drugs and crime in the neighborhood.

Santana wrote that she supported "putting the brakes" on the proposal and re-negotiating a better deal for Cleveland residents. Furthermore, she said she supported putting the Q deal on the ballot in November.

Former City Councilman and perennial challenger Nelson Cintron is another candidate in Ward 14. His campaign contacted Scene to alert us that Cintron was "shocked" that Council had passed the legislation, "especially with our schools and crime being among the worst in the country."

Pastor Omar Medina, the third and final challenger, said that he, too, has been opposed to the Q deal from the beginning. He felt that Cummmins' reversal actually would make it more difficult for Ward 14 residents to get their "fair share," something he said he would continue to fight for.

It's worth noting that while Cummins' reversal was indeed the most pivotal, as it facilitated the ordinance's emergency status, and was also a stark departure from his publicly stated opposition, 11 other city councilpeople also voted in support of the deal, none of whom (in this reporter's recollection) expressed any moral reservations whatsoever.  

In the meantime, Mayor Frank Jackson signed the Q Deal legislation into law on Facebook live. "I know this is a great deal," Jackson said, in one of very few public comments he has made on the deal to date. "This is one of the best deals the city of Cleveland has ever made in regards to investing very little of public dollars and getting huge returns in terms of public benefits."

Jackson repeated the lie that the Cavs would be covering all shortfalls on the project — the county will be covering those out of a dedicated reserve — and lauded the Cavs' generosity for covering cost overruns on the construction. In theory, this is true, but the costs of the project are not yet known and may be dramatically overestimated. The public will have no way of learning the actual costs, as the Cavs will manage the construction themselves and are not obliged to open their books. They never have in the past.

The Mayor characterized the recent amendments — the gym floor provision et. al — as "the best community benefits that I've ever witnessed in my life as a public official since 1990."


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Arrest Warrant Issued for Man Who Brought Cocaine to Lorain Courtroom, Dropped Cocaine in Lorain Courtroom

Posted By on Tue, Apr 25, 2017 at 2:36 PM

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Police are looking for a man who decided on April 20th that when he made an appearance in an Lorain courtroom that he couldn't possibly do so without bringing a small bag of cocaine with him. Which isn't a great decision. Even worse when the bag, covertly stashed in his hat, fell to the ground after he took it off and fiddled with it.

It was discovered later that morning and tested positive as, ya know, cocaine.

An arrest warrant has been issued for the unidentified man, according to the Morning Journal.

Video of the oopsie-daisy moment below.



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Fourk to Bring New Life to Old Matchworks Building in Mentor

Posted By on Tue, Apr 25, 2017 at 12:22 PM

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The iconic Matchworks Building in Mentor has seen more than its fair share of restaurants over the years. Concepts such as the Perfect Match, Blue Tip Grill, Wallaby’s, Match Works Tavern and Harry’s Hofbrau House have come and gone over the past three decades.

Come May 1, Fourk will occupy that notable structure, but this new restaurant has more than a few things going for it that most of its predecessors did not. For starters, chef-partner Ryan Scanlon’s experience has provided him not only with the culinary chops to turn out great food, but also a pragmatic mindset that will likely appease the diners who walk through his door.

A graduate of Johnson & Wales University, Scanlon was the first employee that Burntwood Tavern founder Bret Adams hired. Scanlon served as opening chef of the original Chagrin Falls location plus many others that followed before becoming Regional Culinary Manager for all of them. But after seven years at Burntwood, Scanlon jumped at the opportunity to open his own place.

“It was time to branch out and do my own venture with different food, and this project seemed like a good adventure,” he explains.

He partnered with Marc Wertenberger, the owner of the building, who has invested a significant amount of time and money renovating the historic structure. Past restaurants all suffered from a rambling, dark and tired interior that seemed out of step with the times. Not any more, says Scanlon.

“You won’t recognize the building now,” he says.

The crews stripped away the dark wood paneling, pulled up the carpeting, demoed many of the small nooks and crannies, created a seamless, one-level space, and laid down new hardwood flooring. Now guests will experience a space with a modern-industrial look with steel accents, concrete bartop and cool color patterns.

“Fourk” is play on words, the chef says, referring both to the four different food groups and the eating utensil. Scanlon describes the place as a modern American tavern, where classic dishes will be tweaked just enough to make them sing.

In the starter department, empanadas will be stuffed with lobster and topped with slaw and homemade hot sauce; BLT sliders feature thick-cut bacon and marinated tomatoes; Indian naan is topped with chorizo and goat cheese; tacos are filled with tuna ceviche and jalapeno lime slaw.

The sandwich category includes a bacon and cheese burger with an egg, a meatball and mozz sub, a fried fish sandwich with avocado and jalapeno lime slaw, and Cubano-style sandwich stuffed with cola-braised pork shoulder, Havarti cheese, Dijon and pickles.

For the mains, items like steak frites with salsa verde and grilled asparagus, brick chicken with mashed roasted cauliflower, and seared scallops over risotto cakes with peach and cracked-black pepper sauce are likely to hit home with diners. Also on the menu are dishes like fish & frites, salmon and polenta fries, and Cioppino-style seafood and grits.

All of the above is matched with a progressive beer, wine and cocktail program.

Ironically, Scanlon worked in these very kitchens as a young chef, back when it was the Blue Tip Grill. This time around, he’s in charge, and he intends for Fourk to be a fixture of the community for many years to come.

“I don’t by any means expect to start out of the gate full bore, packed-house every night,” he says. “I think it’s going to take some time to regain people’s trust around here and prove that we’re not those same places. I can’t speak to why some of those other restaurants were or weren’t a good fit because I wasn’t there, but we’re going to try and provide a fine-dining level of service but in a casual atmosphere.”

When it opens on May 1, Fourk will serve lunch and dinner seven days a week.
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On the Cavs' Sweep, Why Lindor's Not Sweating a New Contract, and ESPN's Dan Dakich on LeBron and College Basketball — The A to Z Podcast With Andre Knott and Zac Jackson

Posted By on Tue, Apr 25, 2017 at 11:49 AM

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Andre and Zac discuss the Cavs' sweep, why Frankie Lindor isn't sweating a new deal, the lingering quarterback question and more. Then, ESPN college basketball analyst and Indianapolis radio host Dan Dakich discusses why he'll never disparage LeBron again, why he doesn't miss coaching and the overall state of college basketball.

Subscribe to A to Z on iTunes here.


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Cuyahoga County Heroin Overdose Crisis Threatening Medical Examiner's Office Accreditation, Budget

Posted By on Tue, Apr 25, 2017 at 11:13 AM

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The heroin crisis has become so monumental in Cuyahoga County that the medical examiner's office could lose accreditation with a national organization. Pathologists' workloads have simply become too burdensome, and The National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME) has threatened penalties.

The office requested an additional $200,000 from Cuyahoga County; council will vote on the budget move this afternoon. The funds will allow the medical examiner's office to arrange contracts with pathologists and a toxicologist, and to reconfigure a DNA technician position.

NAME recommends that pathologists conduct no more than 250 autopsies per year. In 2016, three forensic pathologists in Cuyahoga County conducted more than 325 autopsies each — the threshold for penalties.

The toxicology lab has also exceeded a 90-day turnaround limit on lab results.

The ballooning workload is entirely attributed to the local heroin overdose crisis. Last year, the county saw more than 600 overdose deaths (from heroin and other various opioids). By all accounts, that number will almost certainly increase this year.

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