Also On Stage This Week

Earth Plays (Part Two of the Elements Cycle)

Cleveland Public Theatre

This assemblage of short pieces, conceived and directed by nine people and then further developed by nineteen cast members, addresses different aspects of our clusterfucked environment. This is part two of CPT's Elements Cycle, which began last month with the stunning Water Ways and will continue in the future.  While not as consistently enthralling as Water Ways, Earth Plays offers a number of memorable moments and only goes theatrically awry when it insists on delivering its worthwhile messages wrapped around a rock and repeatedly thumped on the audience's head. And it makes one wonder how activist, issue-oriented theater needs to fashion itself for the 21st century. when it may be too late for many things—including earnest skits and interesting dances.   Through March 9 at Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit Avenue, 216-631-2727

Blithe Spirit

Great Lakes Theater

This delightful bit of British fluff, penned by Noel Coward, requires a light touch and spot-on timing to keep the laughter bubbling for more than 2½ hours. But this wan production generates more faint smiles than laugh-out-loud moments. The central issue is a disturbing vacuum where the dominant character, Charles, should be. This shallow man, beset at first by one dead wife's apparition and then another, needs to hold the proceedings together. But in that role, Eric Damon Smith never crafts a believable character, relying on mechanical Coward-ian rhythms to fuel his lines. Even rich portrayals by Laurie Birmingham as ghost buster Madame Arcati and Shanara Gabrielle as the wise-cracking specter Elvira can't quite breathe life into this brittle exercise. Through March 10 at Great Lakes Theater, Hanna Theatre, 2067 E. 14th St., 216-241-6000

Sons of the Prophet

Dobama Theatre

This is the funniest mess of a play you're likely to see. Funny because playwright Stephen Karam's writing is frequently hilarious, especially as it deals with a litany of Job-like woes besetting the Lebanese-American family at the heart of the story. It's a mess because the loosely linked scenes never acquire cruising speed since there are too many storylines to follow, become involved in and then resolve. Fortunately, understated performances by Chris Richards as tormented Joseph and Anne McEvoy as his scattered, casually insensitive boss Gloria add luster to Karam's quips. Also, stellar cameos are turned in by Laura Starnik and Jeanne Task, turning ho-hum scenes into tiny treasures. Through March 17 at Dobama Theatre, 2340 Lee Road, 216-932-3396

Identity Theft

Cleveland Play House

In this devised work, seven grad student performers seek to explore the mysteries of identity in a work written and assembled by Anders Cato. The finished work provides often-stunning eye candy thanks to the lighting effects of Michael Boll and scenic designer Jill Davis. The non-linear and often fragmented scenes do a good job of mirroring the crazy-quilt nature of identity—how we are all many different people depending on the people we're near and what the situation is. But this show, like so many devised plays (which are put together with the input of the cast and designers), has one major flaw: no one on stage has anything at stake, nothing they're risking. Through March 9, produced by the Case Western Reserve University/Cleveland Play House MFA Acting Program, at PlayhouseSquare, The Helen (Lab Theatre), 1407 Euclid Avenue, 216-241-6000

Next to Normal

Beck Center and Baldwin Wallace University

Now that we've proven that there is no subject too awful to write a musical about (see: serial killers and people on roller skates pretending to be choo-choo trains), the challenge becomes mounting such shows in ways that thoroughly involve the audience. In Next to Normal, the musical about a woman with bi-polar mental issues, Beck Center goes a long way towards that goal. The music is enhanced by the performance of Katherine DeBoer as bedeviled Diana, and she is matched by Scott Plate as her husband Dan, dutifully and lovingly trying to keep Diana moving forward while questioning himself along the way. Plate's rendition of the Act One closer, "A Light in the Dark," is tender and shattering. Through April 21 (not a typo, this is an eight-week run!) at Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood, 216-521-2540

About The Author

Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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