Capsule reviews of current area theater presentations.

On Stage
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, -- Christine Howey

Dream on Monkey Mountain -- When dreams are translated into performance art, the results can be mixed. In this massive show by Trinidadian Derek Walcott, folklore and dreamscapes combine to forge a performance that is at times engrossing and viscerally stimulating. But there are arid patches in this long production (approaching three and a half hours) that soften the impact of Walcott's fevered visions. Employing a rich, rasta-jambalaya of language, including poetic riffs, Caribbean patois, and backstreet slang, Walcott (who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1992) attempts to portray the restless search for a genuine black identity in a West Indies chafing under British colonial rule. To that end, he embroils an old hermit named Makak (Cornell Calhoun III) in a drunken row during a rare visit to town; it lands him in a jail cell. Abused by a sneering Corporal Lestrade and mocked by two other natives in an adjoining cell, Makak longs to return to Africa, his spiritual home. From that point on, the dream takes flight, as pounding drums and waves of dancers accompany Makak on his glorious quest. Despite the show's faults, it's a pleasure to see Karamu and director/co-choreographer Terrence Spivey grapple with such weighty material. Through May 21 at the Karamu Performing Arts Theatre, 2355 East 89th St., 216-795-7077. -- Howey

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