Capsule reviews of current area theater presentations.

On Stage
Griller -- When it comes to easy targets for satire, they don't come much fatter than suburbia and its self-satisfied denizens. This nine-character dark comedy by playwright Eric Bogosian features one role that meanders slowly from eccentric and crotchety to truly horrifying, making this a suburban nightmare that will get under your skin and stay there. The host of the proceedings is Gussie, an aging hippie turned travel-agency exec, who has invited his family over to his McMansion for a swim in the pool and a cookout on his new $5,000 grill. Though each character is sketched with comic precision, Griller would be only a rather dark sitcom without the looming presence of Uncle Tony, a friend of Gussie's dad, who's been around the clan forever. He starts out as a harmless old curmudgeon, but reveals a haunted intensity in his eyes, the source of which slowly reveals itself over the two acts. Director Sean Derry coaxes naturalistic, uniformly superior performances out of his players -- especially Jim Viront as Tony. The overall effect Derry creates serves the material beautifully. Through July 9 at the Bang and the Clatter Theatre Company, 140 East Market St., Akron, 330-606-5317. -- Christine Howey

Icarus -- Written in the form of a modern myth, Edwin Sanchez' Icarus depicts an impoverished sister and brother named Altagracia and Primitivo, who become squatters in a small cottage on an unnamed beach. Apparently the wheelchair-bound Primitivo is a world-class swimmer, and his facially disfigured sister is training him to swim so fast that he can "touch the sun" that bobs tantalizingly on the morning horizon. They are accompanied by a mental defective, Mr. Ellis (Clyde Simon), who tends to his stuffed cat, Betty, and is given to obsessive recitations ("I'm not staring, I'm not staring. Am I staring?"). This flawed trio is soon joined by Beau, a man in a stocking mask, who claims to have been horribly mangled in a car accident. In the first act, Sanchez and director Caleb J. Sekeres create a series of telling moments that seems to presage interesting events. But a refreshingly genuine and teasing relationship between brother and sister disintegrates in act two under the weight of too much rib-nudging symbolism. If Sanchez had pulled out all the unnecessary references to touching the sun (We get it -- it's in the freaking title!), Primi and Beau's forced swimming competition, and some clunky poetry, Icarus could have avoided another meltdown. Presented by Convergence-Continuum through July 15 at the Liminis, 2438 Scranton Rd., 216-687-0074. -- Howey

Kiss Me Kate -- You'd think a young cast would relish the opportunity to sink its claws into such a juicy slab of theater, since it features a fangs-out, love-hate battle between the two leads, and more witty and wonderful Cole Porter tunes than you can shake a Dove Bar at. But this exercise is only haphazardly as rousing and sprightly as it ought to be. The difficulties with this Cain Park production are summed up in the second-act reprise of the lovely Porter song "So in Love," which is sung by Steel Burkhardt, playing Fred Graham with virtually no sense of place, time, or character. The handsome but largely unemotive actor plays opposite Emily Krieger, who can't seem to surmount her chirpy-cheerleader good looks and give Lilli the edge and sensuousness she needs. Since their tumultuous relationship ignites only fitfully, the entire enterprise has to work doubly hard to make things click. Now and then, a moment works beautifully -- particularly a long and complex dance built around "It's Too Darn Hot," which displays a galaxy of moves designed by choreographer Martin Cespedes. But overall, this is a Kiss you may want to wipe off on your sleeve. Through July 9 at Cain Park, Lee Rd. and Superior Rd., Cleveland Hts., 216-371-3000. -- Howey

Lies and Legends: The Music of Harry Chapin -- Folk-pop artist Harry Chapin was a fine man, but only a marginally talented songwriter. Some of his strengths and a lot of his weaknesses are trotted forth in this Beck Center show, a reunion for the five-person cast (minus Ken Benz, who died more than a decade ago at age 37) that performed the show in 1990. It's an emotional event for those in the Beck family, but it doesn't make Chapin's body of work any better than mediocre. As a composer, he often relied on the same loosely linked melodic structure, which repeated itself with little variation. And his lyrics -- frequently trite and overly sentimental -- were often just so many square pegs that he kept pounding into round holes. But when Chapin hit the mark (as he did on the ubiquitous "Cat's in the Cradle"), the results could be memorable. Dan Folino, the new cast addition, does everything he can to pump energy and humor into the proceedings, but his soaring pipes are wasted on some of Chapin's less distinguished efforts. Director William Roudebush, who also helmed the original production, uses the set's multilevel platforms and ramp to keep the songs animated. But ultimately, one has to be a stone-cold Chapin fanatic to happily endure 22 of these folksy musings laid end to end. Through July 23 at Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-521-2540. -- Howey

Wicked -- Is it possible to reimagine the Wicked Witch of the West as a well-meaning woman gone wrong? That's the delicious conceit at the heart of this Broadway musical -- an ambitious theme that ignites a lot of laughter and some genuine sparks of emotion and romance. The show begins with the death of the Wicked Witch, but then jumps back in time to the Land of Oz, where a proud but troubled couple gives birth to that very same witch -- a baby who emerges the color of lima beans. The girl named Elphaba grows up, strong and smart and possessing certain paranormal powers. But since she never loses her verdant skin hue, she had a hard time attracting friends or color-coordinating her wardrobe. Meanwhile, the Good Witch, Glinda, is as shallow and superficial as Elphaba is compassionate and contemplative. Based on the novel by Gregory Maguire, Wicked follows these two witches as they room together, involuntarily, at a Hogwarts-style school. Effusive performances by Julian Murney (Elphaba) and Kendra Kassebaum (Glinda) keep the show airborne. Through July 9 at the State Theatre, 1519 Euclid Ave., 216-241-6000. -- Howey

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