Capsule reviews of current area theater presentations.

On Stage
Fat Pig -- Written by Neil LaBute, who owns a burgeoning theatrical franchise specializing in callous and misogynistic characters, this play centers on a Rubenesque young woman named Helen, who is played by the lovely but definitely not anorexic Jenna Messina. The audience must deal not only with Helen's issues, as she pursues a romantic relationship with slim Tom, but also with the impact of the play on the actress herself. Fortunately, even though there are a number of fat jokes and jabs, one never has the sense that either Helen or Jenna is a victim. And that is only one of the many triumphs in this must-see evening. Helen is imbued with clear-eyed honesty about her body and image of herself, and Messina is tone-perfect in the role. As Tom, Sean Derry writhes on the pinpoint of pursuing his blossoming love at the risk of losing his status as a player and stud in his social circle. And the moral of the story? Fat chance. See it and decide for yourself. Through February 11 at the Bang and the Clatter Theatre Company, 140 East Market St., Akron, 330-606-5317. -- Christine Howey

Motown! -- Ask any boomer about the best dance music ever, and you're bound to get a one-word answer -- the title of this revue now at the Cleveland Play House Club. A tribute to the music hatched in Berry Gordy's tiny "Hitsville USA" studio, it features an impressive song list of 26 well-known toe-tappers. But the energy and exuberance of that great music are only occasionally in evidence in this cabaret-style production. Produced, written, and directed by Paul Floriano, accomplished local actor and budding Flo Ziegfeld, the show conjures up an unnecessary premise of a record store and its constantly singing owners and manager. Whatever. It's really just about the music, and here the performers get it only partly right. Geoff Short is the most talented singer, and his take on "Just My Imagination" is splendid. Trinidad Snider also has strong moments, especially on "Heat Wave." But the third singer, Colleen Longshaw, often slides into a sharp edginess when reaching for higher notes or more volume. And while the three-piece band is adequate, the sledgehammer backbeat of the original backup group, the Funk Brothers, is not there. As Marvin Gaye once musically opined, "Ain't nothin' like the real thing, baby." Through February 24 at the Cleveland Play House Club, 8500 Euclid Ave., 216-795-7000, extension 4. -- Howey

Permanent Collection -- Based on an actual situation that occurred at a Philadelphia arts foundation, Thomas Gibbons' play presents a pulsing montage of conflicts involving race, artistic taste, and egos on the rampage. Placed on a handsomely decorated stage at Karamu's Arena Theatre, the production suffers from too many one-dimensional performances to successfully deal with the many strands of discontent the script puts into play. The Morris Foundation, a museum housing masterpieces by Picasso, Renoir, Matisse, and more, has been bequeathed to a black university by the will of its cantankerous and eccentric founder, Dr. Alfred Morris. The foundation is now being led by new director Sterling North, an African American coming from his most recent post as VP of a large corporation, but without an art background. On a tour of the museum, North finds some extraordinary African art in storage and wants to bring it out. But he immediately clashes with Paul Barrows, the white director of education and the keeper of the founder's vision. Barrows claims the changes would be heresy, and the short-tempered North responds with charges of racism. Soon, the whole community is up in arms. The Karamu cast, under the direction of Terrence Spivey, largely work from a palette of primary colors in creating their roles, losing much of the shading that would resonate more fully. Through February 11 at Karamu Theatre, 2355 East 89th St., 216-795-7077. -- Howey

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