Capsule reviews of current area theater presentations.

On Stage
Coming to America -- Spend an afternoon with Comedy Central, and you'll notice that plenty of the comedians freely traffic in f-bombs and scatological references. This is a comedic style called "working blue," a phrase originated around the turn of the 20th century, when vaudeville performers were given blue envelopes that warned against using salacious material. Even so, singers and comics managed to maintain plenty of irreverence in their acts, making such presentations the dominant entertainment venue for their audiences, which happened to include many folks recently landed on these shores. These dynamics all coalesce in this Kalliope Stage world premiere, an energetic tribute to the immigrant spirit presented in the context of a vaudeville show. Although the show is overlong, with a few of the 70 period songs exuding more mildew than magic, director Paul F. Gurgol and his tight five-person cast create plenty of laughs and more than enough entrancing musical moments. Through March 12 at Kalliope Stage, 2134 Lee Rd., Cleveland Hts., 216-321-0870. -- Christine Howey

Dark Room -- The conventional image we have of playwrights and poets is of lonely souls slaving away in a poorly lit basement. Well, you've got the location and the illumination right, but everything else about the Dark Room project is much cheerier. Sponsored by the Cleveland Theater Collective, it's a once-a-month workshop/cabaret for writers who want to try out their new efforts on a small but extremely encouraging audience. On this night, in a basement room in the Parish Hall at Cleveland Public Theatre, the quality of the pieces varied widely, as is to be expected with scenes or verses that are still being developed (thus, the dark room). But one monologue by Tom Huggins, describing the burnout of nurses dealing with psycho patients in hospitals, was as irreverent and hilarious as a David Sedaris essay. Other offerings, each under 10 minutes, touched on the obnoxious questions asked of "little people," a musical take on holiday haters, and a little girl's imaginary friend, who is a middle-aged Dame Edna type. Reading from scripts (and dragooning anyone nearby to fill out a cast), the writers express, share, and support. And that's a terrific environment for any embryonic artistic endeavor. Takes place the second Thursday of every month at Cleveland Public Theatre's Parish Hall, 6205 Detroit Ave., 216-631-2727, -- Howey

The Death of Frank -- The sexual relationships at play here are intriguing enough to sustain interest, despite playwright Stephen Belber's faux lyricism and some cringingly obvious punch lines. At the core of the story are Natalie (Sadie Grossman) and Peter (Thomas White), seemingly average siblings in their 20s who find themselves in a rather uncomfortable place: Peter has the hots for sis, who is focusing her own lustful attentions on being the bottom for the rough boss of a construction company. Although Peter's sexual orientation spins like a compass in a magnet factory, he finds himself attracted to a woman he meets after her lecture on linguistics and violence. This plot contrivance serves Belber's central theme, that we all try to use language to control the world around us -- not to mention our own twisted and delirious passions. Director Adrienne Moon establishes an easy, off-the-cuff style for the actors, and it works splendidly for brother and sister, if not for the other two characters. Presented by Dobama's Night Kitchen through March 12 at Pilgrim Congregational Church, 2592 W. 14th St., 216-932-3395. -- 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. 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

When the World Was Green -- For most of us, the myths and memories of childhood are a bubbling brew of joys and terrors that stay with us our whole lives. And no matter how big we grow, there are always nagging issues from our formative years that we keep trying to resolve or eradicate. Fortunately, it's rare when a youngster is saddled with the assignment of killing his own cousin in retribution for a family conflict dating back several generations. That's the baggage carried by the aging master chef in this play by Joseph Chaikin and Sam Shepard. The playwrights have subtitled their work "A Chef's Fable," which apparently gives them license to freely twirl lyrical pretensions at the expense of reason. Even so, ill-fitting details keep getting in the way of this Cesear's Forum production, in spite of the best efforts of a talented two-person cast. Through March 18 at Cesear's Forum at Kennedy's Down Under, 1519 Euclid Ave., 216-241-6000. -- Howey

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