Capsule reviews of current area theater presentations.

On Stage
The Rose Tattoo -- No matter how good a mood playwright Tennessee Williams was ever in, he never doodled daisies in the margins of his manuscripts. His characters often suffer from dark torments such as mental instability, alcoholism, and other demons. But he set all that aside in The Rose Tattoo, a charmingly simple story that is essentially the master's mash note to audiences everywhere. Centered on the robust libido of Serafina, a Sicilian wife, mother, and dressmaker living in an immigrant community in a Gulf Coast state, this play focuses on the upbeat at every turn. It may be the 1950s, but Serafina is an emancipated woman when it comes to erotic fulfillment, having happily bedded her stud husband Rosario every day of their married life. But he is killed before he can make an appearance, and Serafina slides into a blue funk, padding around the house in a slip and pining for her adored sex machine, the man with a rose tattoo on his chest. Written in a lyrical style that at times seems a bit florid, the first act is cluttered with many characters, including Serafina's blossoming daughter Rosa (Molly MacLagan), her sailor boyfriend Jack (Stuart Hoffman), and assorted neighbor women who jabber and gossip constantly. But in acts two and three, the play targets the duo of Serafina and new arrival Alvaro, a dim but good-hearted truck driver who shows up on her doorstep and rapidly seems focused on rescuing Serafina from her erotic drought. Under the direction of Licia Colombi, Linda Castro is magnificent as Serafina, capturing every nuance of this robust, vulnerable, and determined woman. Almost as good is Peter Ferry as Alvaro Mangiacavallo. The performances of smaller roles in the 20-person cast range from competent to clumsy, but Tattoo is a vehicle for its two main characters. And you won't find a juicier tandem in these roles anytime soon. Through April 1 at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Avenue, 216-321-2930. -- Christine Howey

Song and Dance -- When it comes to high-concept theater, it's hard to beat a show that's exclusively sung (no dance, no dialogue) in the first act, then exclusively danced (no singing or speaking) in the second. And if that doesn't set your teeth sufficiently on edge, its coyly self-explanatory title, Song and Dance, just might. But the good news is that, against these odds, the show as staged at the Beck Center actually works, creating an emotional texture out of thin air and some extraordinary performances. The first half is essentially a one-hour opera sung by one woman, Emma, who has just landed in New York thanks to a plane ticket paid for by her musician boyfriend from Queens. Innocent and unsuspecting, she sings her inner thoughts as well as her side of conversations, as we watch her carom from one failed relationship to another, postulating most romance as just another "song and dance." In this demanding role, Tracee Patterson begins slowly, but eventually forges some deeply involving moments. After intermission, the dance half features members of the Verb Ballets company. As Joe, another old boyfriend of Emma's, muscular Mark Tomasic is the lead dancer, accompanied by eight female and two male hoofers. The dance numbers simmer with sexuality and personal confrontation, creating an accessible presentation to those who would normally steer clear of anything smacking of toe shoes and tutus. There is certainly a gender truth at the heart of this bipolar song-dance approach, since in most relationships women prefer to use words and men are more physical and immediate. Thanks to the rich sounds from the orchestra, conducted by Larry Goodpaster, and an evocatively simple set design by Trad A. Burns, most of the gaps in the piece are effectively smoothed over in Beck's supremely professional production. Through April 7 at the Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood, 216-521-2540. -- Howey

Thoroughly Modern Millie -- Based on the not-so-classic movie of the same name, this airheaded musical, directed and choreographed by Marc Robin, brings a whole new definition to the term "broad acting." While there's nothing inherently wrong with jumping on every gag with the size-48 brogans of a circus clown, you need a cast that can sustain that manic level of overreaching and still make the evening palatable. And that's where the Carousel crew falls a bit short. As for the story line, it's pure Broadway schmaltz: Millie, a rube from Kansas, shows up in the big city in the flapper decade of the 1920s, with her eye fixed on meeting and marrying a sugar daddy. She winds up at a rooming house owned by a suspiciously friendly Asian woman, Mrs. Meers, who, it turns out, shuttles the girls in the front door, finds out which ones have no family or friends, and then sells the grown-up orphans into Shanghai slavery as prostitutes. While ducking Mrs. Meers, Millie gets a job at an insurance company and sets her talons for the pompous boss, Trevor Graydon. But he falls instead for Millie's pal, Dorothy Brown. That's just the beginning of the confusion in this froth that involves a supposedly penniless loser, Jimmy Smith, who is really rich, and Mrs. Meers' two sons, who have their own agendas. Through April 28 at Carousel Dinner Theatre, 1275 E. Waterloo Rd., Akron, 800-362-4100. -- Howey

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