Capsule reviews of current area theater presentations.

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On Stage
Porgy and Bess -- If you're looking for only one take on the African American zeitgeist in the Depression-era South, it's hard to beat this American icon written by two nice, white Jewish brothers from Brooklyn. The immensely powerful folk opera, crafted by George and Ira Gershwin, requires singers that can match the demands of a classic score. And on that count, the Beck Center cast does quite well. As Porgy, massive William Clarence Marshall is a force of nature onstage, bringing brute strength and tender nuance to "I Got Plenty o' Nuttin'" and "Bess, You Is My Woman." Dione Parker Bennett is equally gifted vocally as Bess, but she isn't able to handle the acting demands and remains a stick figure next to the pulsing humanity of Marshall's Porgy. Karen Clark-Green (Serena) and Brian Keith Johnson (Crown) excel in their roles, but the featured character of Sportin' Life is mishandled by Devon Settles. He settles for a super-slinky walk, but never captures the brazen electricity of this pusher and con man. Director Scott Spence seems to approach this honored material with excessive reverence, allowing the pace to drag and never making the Catfish Row tenement teem with life. As a result, this production makes for a pretty good CD, but not such captivating theater. Through October 8 at the Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-521-2540. -- Christine Howey

Respect -- This ode to the travails and triumphs of women as they have clawed their way from second-class citizenship to empowerment skims over far too much history while trying to cram in the personal journey of playwright Dorothy Marcic, but imaginative staging and a relentlessly effusive cast make it all work disarmingly well. Marcic, possessor of a Ph.D. and a penchant for didacticism, assembled the show as a spin-off from her scholarly treatise on women and popular music. She found that the songs we sang along with and hummed, at various stages of recent history, were a fairly accurate barometer of the status of women in society at that time. The result is an evening featuring more than 60 songs -- some presented in full, some only in fragments -- that evoke regret and celebration of what women have been put through. Of course, any theatrical presentation that tries to encompass massive social movements of several decades in two hours is going to be accused of shallowness. But once you accept the fact this production is plopped in the kiddie pool, intellectually speaking, there's plenty of fun to be had in stomping around and splashing. Through October 1 at the Hanna Theatre, East 14th St. and Prospect Ave., 216-241-6000. -- Howey

Romance -- The legal system offers ripe fodder for the stage, and in a way it's surprising that playwright David Mamet doesn't make more of it here. He's more interested in setting off farcical firecrackers than in developing a searing and coherent portrait of jurisprudence run amok. But so what? The laughs in these furiously fast-paced 90 minutes are so frequent that it's easy to forgive the absence of any larger purpose. The play begins midtrial in New York City, where the defendant is being grilled by the prosecuting attorney. The proceedings are continually interrupted by the judge, who is sneezing, popping allergy pills, and apologizing for being late. Each of the attorneys also has a problem that is unrelated to the trial itself (the defense attorney and his client are at each other's throats for religious reasons, etc.). Mamet has decided to swim a few fast laps in a pool brimming with the stereotypes his critics have often derided him for. The Bang and the Clatter cast does a rousing job with this material, and director Sean Derry wisely performs this script without intermission, allowing the manic Mamet momentum to build to a strange and oddly satisfying conclusion. Presented by the Bang and the Clatter through October 1 at the Summit Art Space, 140 East Market St., Akron, 330-606-5317. -- Howey

Urinetown -- Artistic director Sean Cercone is to be commended for his courage: Given songs titled "Privilege to Pee" and "Snuff That Girl," it couldn't have been easy deciding to mount this edgy and hilarious show in the frequently placid confines of Carousel Dinner Theatre. In this piece about a desperate water shortage and restrictions on free peeing, director Jennifer Cody keeps the dialogue pace very slow -- consider it the "large-print" version -- presumably to make sure that no one in the sprawling, well-fed audience loses track of the proceedings. But fine performances abound, particularly from tiny Karen Katz, who brings a feisty vibe to Little Sally. Al Bundonis handles Officer Lockstock's meta-narration ("Welcome to Urinetown . . . not the town, the musical!") with slick precision. And Robert Stoeckle is a cloyingly venal presence as Caldwell B. Cladwell. Although Michele Ragusa is a bit too petite for restroom-diva Penelope Pennywise, she works her powerful voice to maximum effect. Thanks to excellent singing voices from top to bottom, some dazzling dance numbers choreographed by Brian Loeffler, and taut execution from a talented chorus, this Urinetown is a golden shower of pleasant surprises. Through November 4 at Carousel Dinner Theatre, 1275 E. Waterloo Rd., Akron, 800-362-4100. -- Howey

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