Capsule reviews of current area theater presentations.

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Always, Patsy Cline -- You'd think a play about an iconic singer who died in a plane crash at 30 would present a chance to take a profound emotional journey. But Ted Swindley, author of Always, Patsy Cline, turns this show's namesake into a walking jukebox. Still, even such a wretchedly written show can't torpedo Always, thanks to an outstanding performance by Christine Mild in the lead role. Before Patsy nose-dived into a Tennessee forest, she established herself as a transformative and riveting crossover country singer. Always is seen through the eyes of Louise, an inveterate fan, who spends her time making moon eyes and telling the audience how down-to-earth the singer is. But, thankfully, Cline's songbook dominates the show, with Mild's clear notes rising effortlessly to capture Patsy-perfect phrasing. Mild handles almost 30 of Cline's numbers with such hypnotic grace and sure-handed control, you want to ease back and let her sing all night long. Lily Mercer plays Louise with a good-ol'-gal sensibility, but overdoes the two-finger "look at me" gesture, and her performance feels constrained by the playwright's one-track love fest. Director Donna Drake squeezes out a couple of nice moments between the two women. But mostly, Drake wisely gets out of the way and lets Mild do her thing. When you leave Carousel, you'll have to admit, in the words of the Act One closer, "She Got You." Through August 26 at the Carousel Dinner Theater, 1275 East Waterloo Road, Akron, 800-362-4100 -- Christine Howey

Spawn of the Petrolsexuals -- Bringing an underground comic to life is the task of Spawn of the Petrolsexuals, a new play by local writer Christopher Johnston. In an oil-depleted dystopian world, a band of homeless survivors -- Angerboy, Freegirl, Ingen, and Holyman -- imagine themselves superheroes in battle with repressive corporate evil and plan an attack on suburbia. But the whole post-apocalypse thing has been done to death, and accusing suburbanites is played out. Moreover, there are no fully dimensional characters. Geoffrey Hoffman, as Angerboy, does a lot of scowling and cussing, but little more. Freegirl is played by Jovana Batkovic with the hollow-eyed look of Lindsay Lohan between rehabs. Robert J. Williams does what he can with Holyman, mouthing random quasi-religious platitudes, and Lauren B. Smith contributes a spirited reading of her unfocused character, Ingen. While Johnston can put words together in an interesting way, he has no self-editing function, which results in too much repetition and useless wordplay ("You are your own worst enema," etc.). He also achieves perhaps the year's theatrical low, when Holyman provides liquid refreshment by pissing in his fellow travelers' mouths. The Convergence-Continuum crew, under the guidance of director Clyde Simon, does put a lot of energy into this production, and there's a bit of trickery that may fool you. If the playwright could've sustained that sort of imagination, Spawn might have achieved a unique comic-book sensibility. Through August 11, produced by Convergence-Continuum at The Liminis, 2438 Scranton Road, 216-687-0074. -- Howey

Sweet Charity -- A Neil Simon story about a woman hoofing it for money, but hoping to find her dream guy, Charity was dated four decades ago. This Porthouse production, under the direction of Terri Kent and choreographed by John R. Crawford, gathers some credible performances and generates real hilarity in a couple scenes. But the vapid plot and pacing problems keep this version from soaring. Our heroine is a dance-hall hostess who's had her wares thumbed through by too many grubby-fingered customers; she falls for nearly every one of them, and they stomp on her dreams. MaryAnn Black taps into Charity's vulnerability and cute-as-a-chipmunk spunk, but Black's no spring chicken, and this demanding role sometimes leaves her visibly gassed. The other dance-hall gals add a gloss of verisimilitude with their impassive, seen-it-all expressions; the stage heats up in "Big Spender" as the girls lure their clientele with clenched butt cheeks, shoulder shrugs, and crooked come-hither fingers. Meanwhile, Charity stumbles into an encounter with movie star Vittorio Vidal (Jim Weaver). Some of the biggest laughs occur in Vidal's flat, where Charity, channeling Lucille Ball, tries to bed the lothario even as he's putting the moves on his pouty girlfriend, Ursula (Sara Hymes). In between these high points lie some arid stretches, but the Porthouse players generally acquit themselves well, resulting in a Charity that's sweeter than it might be in less capable hands. Through August 12 at the Porthouse Theatre at Blossom Music Center, 1145 West Steels Corners Road, Cuyahoga Falls, 330-672-2197. -- Howey

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