Capsule reviews of current area theater presentations.

Cleveland theater

Bug — Focusing on a couple of down-and-outers in a fleabag Oklahoma motel, this play will make you itch in places that can't be scratched. Agnes is on the run from life, holed up in a pitiful roadside room. Her gal-pal R.C. (Jen Kilka) has brought over a quiet fellow named Peter, who winds up sharing the bed with Agnes. But when the smoke alarm goes off with its incessant chirping noise (or does it?), events begin to spiral downward at a frightening pace. Justin Tatum, as Peter, handles his early scenes well, but he doesn't take enough time within his scenes to build Peter's paranoia believably. As Agnes, Kellie McIvor hits all the emotional hot buttons as her character tries to numb herself with vodka and cocaine. But she doesn't convey the age or experience of a 44-year-old woman, so her lifetime of disastrous choices doesn't resonate. The show is purposefully unbalanced — a 90-minute first act followed by a 30-minute second — so that the audience can slowly be drawn into the sick, co-dependent love affair between Agnes and Peter, then slammed by the violent conclusion. The startling set change after intermission makes the last half-hour a screaming slide into mutual self-destruction. Through December 2 at The Bang and the Clatter Theatre Company, 140 East Market Street, Akron, 330-606-5317. — Christine Howey

Christopher Columbus or (Did You Say Sphere?) Let the title be your tip-off that this isn't your usual theatrical enterprise. Written by the fervently avant-garde Belgian playwright Michel de Ghelderode and presented by Cesear's Forum, this dramatic fairy tale is exuberantly unhinged. Columbus, played by a wacky but consistently charming John Kolibab, seeks escape from the droning world and sets off to find his Eden. But he is beset at all sides by craven royalty, grasping natives, and obfuscating intellectuals rendered creatively by Robert J. Williams, Nancy Telzerow, and Vincent DePaul. This is the kind of show that allows the director to go nuts with theatrical gamesmanship, and Greg Cesear adds plenty of fun, including a soap-bubble gun. But the whole piece is swamped by the oppressive presence of one performer, Jean Zarzour, who acts like she's doing a lounge act — if Motel 6 had a lounge, that is. Portraying different women, she uses the same insufferable mugging and tired comic shtick for each "character." She also apparently believes that revealing her matronly cleavage is drop-dead hilarious. If you can filter her out somehow, there's a delicate and defiantly skewed play trying to take wing. Presented by Cesear's Forum at Kennedy's Down Under through December 16, 1618 Euclid Avenue, 216-241-6000. — Howey

Forbidden Broadway: Special Victims Unit As musical-revue franchises go, they don't come much healthier than Forbidden Broadway, which has enjoyed several iterations over the past 25 years. Featuring comedy knockoffs of popular musicals, this most recent version is a mix of old material (Les Miz lampoons) and newer stuff, like spoofs poking The Lion King, wherein headdress-abused actors bemoan their lot in "Can You Feel the Pain Tonight?" The players throw themselves into one costume and wig change after another, with Greg Violand crooning a clever Robert Goulet parody and Tricia Bestic spoofing hyper Liza Minnelli. Also fine are Brian Marshall and Carmen Keels, who nails a brassy Ethel Merman. Keels and Bestic also turn in a great duet as dueling Anitas (Chita Rivera vs. Rita Moreno) in West Side Story. Some jokes are fresh, but a lot of the lyric gibes are repetitive, and some Broadway in-jokes get lost here in the hinterland. But it's fast and fun, and the voices are Broadway-quality. Through December 2 at the Hanna Theatre, 2067 East 14th Street, 216-241-6000. — Howey

We Gotta Bingo This is an audience-participation play — think Tony and Tina's Wedding, but substitute Bingo Night for Wedding Night. Basically, St. Patrick's church has been demolished by mistake, so two Catholic churches have combined to throw a bingo fund-raiser, and you're invited. Here's the problem: This kind of church affair has none of the emotional horsepower that a wedding does. Moreover, the dialogue and songs range from mediocre to total crap, despite the relentlessly upbeat performers, who manage to elevate the material to sporadically amusing. And before any bingo is even played, plenty of bad jokes must be endured as members of the cast roam the room, chatting up the audience. On stage, large Patrick Ciamacco is a force to be reckoned with as Bucky. And June Lang as Rosa adds some barbed commentary about the Irish interlopers. Director Ross Young also keeps the energy at a fever pitch, and the room is decorated up the wazoo with kitschy wall hangings and a proscenium-mounted fraulein lugging a tray of frosty beer mugs. But this premise needs some witty writing — at least snappy enough to equal the talent of the performers — before anyone can verifiably shout "Bingo!" Through December 15 at the East 14th Street Theatre, 237 East 14th Street, 216-241-6000. — Howey

White Christmas In the theatrical version of this much-loved flick, song 'n' dance dandies Bob Wallace and Phil Davis get tangled up with the trilling Haynes sisters, Betty and Judy. Phil and Judy fall fast for each other, and they conspire to hijack Bob up to the snows of Vermont, where the gals are booked. The Carousel production, under the direction of Stephen Bourneuf, makes excellent use of an ample stage, smoothly establishing several different locales. In the key male lead roles, Richard Roland and Josh Walden won't make you forget the chemistry of Crosby and Kaye, but the Carousel duo certainly has its moments. Roland has a strong, pleasing singing voice, and he manages to play the straight man to Walden's antics as the compulsively comical Phil. While Walden pumps plenty of energy, he's not a natural clown and doesn't take as many goofy chances as he might, especially when he and Bob reprise "Sisters" in halfhearted drag. Pouting prettily in the role of Betty, Susan Derry acquits her singing chores well — as does Ellen Zolezzi in the role of Judy. But this script doesn't allow either gal to create a character that can stand up to the guys, so they tend to recede into the background. But the biggest disappointment is that the title song is presented as a sing-along with the audience, and not as the island of reverie it is in the movie. Even so, this White Christmas has its heart in the right place. Through Dec. 31 at the Carousel Dinner Theatre, 1275 East Waterloo Road, Akron, 800-362-4100. — Howey

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