Capsule reviews of current area theater presentations.

On Stage
Red Light Winter -- Adam Rapp's play is a squalid little exploration of the back alleys of young, unrequited love. Even though the script careens wildly from lean and painfully pointed dialogue to lumbering passages, the three performers and director Sean McConaha manage to fashion an evening of theater that sticks with you, even if you wish it wouldn't. Two thirtyish American college chums, Matt and Davis, are sharing a nasty hotel room in Amsterdam's red-light district, where introverted Matt is futilely trying to write -- when he's not battling diarrhea or halfheartedly attempting suicide. Meanwhile, freewheeling Davis -- a successful literary agent -- is sampling the carnal pleasures of sin city. Smoking a joint and swigging vodka, he's a nonstop, unfeeling joke machine, making fun of Matt's intestinal troubles and pushing the smaller man around at will. It turns out that Davis has a secret agenda for Matt -- in the person of Christina, a French whore Davis picked out of one of the storefront windows on the street below. But it's clear that there's more going on here than one buddy helping another. The first half of the show sparks and sizzles with playwright Rapp's incendiary and gleefully obscene dialogue, easily outdistancing the plot wrinkles. But much of the promise engendered in act one is squandered when the scene shifts back to Matt's apartment in New York City a year later. Through March 25 at the Bang and the Clatter Theatre, 140 East Market St., Akron, 330-606-5317 -- Christine Howey

Stars Fell All Night -- In this world premiere of local writer Mike Geither's play, humor is mixed with word games, dream sequences, and cadaver puppets to shape a tantalizing evening. Though Geither at times is a bit too much in thrall of his own wide-ranging wit, he manages to keep the sometimes convoluted proceedings on course. Theo (Terrence Cranendonk) is a middle-aged mortician whose sister Carol died 16 years ago, and he's never gotten over it. To be more specific: He's thoroughly swallowed up by her absence. But Theo is suspended in the third stage of grief, and his bargaining takes a twisted form as he dons a dress and wig so he can play-act imagined scenes from her life with the corpses in his care. Constructed in short scenes, the play also introduces Theo's niece, Maria, and her boyfriend, as well as Theo's girlfriends and co-worker, Kirk. But the focus is placed relentlessly on Theo and his tortured existence without Carol. Director Jacqi Loewy keeps the interchanges fresh and spontaneous; her players craft characters that are individually distinctive yet work beautifully as an ensemble, each actor fitting comfortably into the playwright's quietly creepy yet oddly amusing little universe. Through March 17 at Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit Ave., 216-631-2727. -- Howey

The Trial of One Shortsighted Black Woman vs. Mammy Louise and Safreeta Mae -- The trouble with some of the hackneyed historical images of African Americans is that they can be so endearing, they camouflage the pain and hurt they cause. That error is corrected with a vengeance in this Karamu show. Structured as a quasi courtroom drama, it's set in the hold of a slave ship, and the defendants are two iconic representations of black womanhood: the good-natured Mammy and the sexually smoldering Safreeta Mae. Playwright Karani M. Leslie has imagined a stellar premise, and though some parts are overdone and redundant, there are scenes that are absolutely corrosive in their candor. Errin Berry is soft and sensuous as Safreeta Mae, looking like she'd just been ripped from the cover of a pulp novel about the Old South. Equally compelling is the testimony of Mammy, portrayed with understated power by Morris Cammon, who reveals a side that totally belies her shuffling, obsequious image. But perhaps the best performance is turned in by Michael May, a black actor who plays all the male roles. Through March 25 at Karamu Theatre, 2355 East 89th St., 216-795-7077. -- Howey

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