Capsule reviews of current area theater presentations.

Share on Nextdoor
Cleveland theater
A Christmas Story: Frozen tongue as cultural icon.
A Christmas Story: Frozen tongue as cultural icon.

Beauty and the Beast Back for its third and final appearance, the Beck Center production of this Walt Disney epic hasn't lost any of its charm. Dan Folino is still comically shivering as the Beast, and Natalie Green will warm any little girl's heart as the beauteous Belle. Even though the show is almost three hours (with intermission), the small fry stay glued to their seats, thanks to Fred Sternfeld's lively staging and the bright choreography by Martin Cespedes. And the kids (not to mention oldsters) have a great villain to laugh at in Josh Rhett Noble's Gaston, a muscle-headed doofus for the ages. More humor is added by smooth Larry Nehring and tightly wound Douglas Collier as the anthropomorphic candelabra and grandfather clock, respectively. As always, the Beck voices handle Alan Menken's music and the lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice with élan, leading to the fairy-tale conclusion, which can still bring a tear. And if you have small ones in tow, be sure to let them see the characters up close after the final curtain, in the hallway outside. The expressions of wonder on the kids' faces are worth the price of admission. Through December 30 at the Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood, 216-521-2540. — Christine Howey

A Christmas Carol Yes, Charles Dickens was a hell of a writer, but he could be a tad verbose. So it's convenient that there have been so many great stage and screen versions of his classic ghost story. One of them — required viewing for anyone with a Netflix membership — is the 1951 movie starring Alastair Sim as a Scrooge for all eternity. And the other is this Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival production, which never fails to engage and delight. Framed cozily as a story within a story in this Gerald Freedman adaptation, the production really comes alive once the ghost of Jacob Marley (Lynn Robert Berg) appears, dragging his chains and creaking eerily with every movement. Dudley Swetland's Scrooge is plenty nasty, and he manages quite a giddy transformation once the Christmas spirits have worked him over. There are also sparks of invention from Andrew May's staging and small but stellar performances by Aled Davies (his Topper is a hoot) and David Anthony Smith as a towering Christmas Present (pun intended). This annual tribute to knee-jerk liberal sentiments like compassion for the downtrodden is always a must-see, whether you've seen it before or not. Through December 23, produced by the Great Lakes Theater Festival, Ohio Theatre, Playhouse Square Center, 1511 Euclid Avenue, 216-241-6000. — Howey

A Christmas Story In this iteration of the now-classic movie, the parents and grown-up Ralphie are played by a solid trio of actors. Charles Kartali as The Old Man, Ralphie's dad, seems totally at ease and makes use of a colorful palette of near-obscenities in his rants against the smoke-spewing furnace and the next-door Bumpus clan. Elizabeth Ann Townsend is the very picture of the ideal mom — smart enough to answer all of her husband's crossword clues, and wise enough to back off when her sons need space. Christopher McHale once again handles his duties as old Ralphie with total focus. As the narrator, he lovingly describes many of the nostalgic fragments of a boy's life back then. As nine-year-old Ralphie, second-timer Billy Lawrence handles his lines well, but appears more like a junior-high kid, undercutting the innocence of Ralphie's monomaniacal desire for a Red Ryder BB gun. But Joey Stefano is just the right size for Randy, and he creates laughs with his nose-dive into his plate of food when Mom invites him to act like "her little piggy." And Kolin Morgenstern is perfectly adorable as Flick, Ralphie's put-upon pal, who gets his tongue freeze-welded to the school-yard lamppost. Director Seth Gordon, meanwhile, pushes all the right buttons. Through December 23 at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Avenue, 216-795-7000. — Howey

Demon Baby In moments of stress, we all turn to one thing or another (a good friend, a long nap, a bottle of Ketel One) to find solace. But in this play, children's author Wren finds herself psychologically shifted by the appearance of a "demon baby," a garden gnome who sits on her chest, cackles, and issues random questions. Wren has recently moved to London, where her hubby, Art (Tom Kondilas), has been relocated. Trouble is, she isn't having much fun — not in her flat, where she's afraid the nearby construction workers are staring at her, nor with Art's boring, artificial co-workers, Cat (a sharp and funny Amy Bistok) and Charles (Arthur Grothe). The elements are here for an amusing fling, but Erin Courtney's script consistently sacrifices idea-development for momentary wit, dooming the hour-long show. Dawn Youngs is remarkably believable as Wren, given the slender threads she's given to act, but neither she nor Wes Shofner (as the remarkably credible-looking gnome) can give this fluff any heft. First-time director Geoffrey Hoffman keeps the pace brisk, but he can't turn this Baby into anything other than a semi-intriguing irrelevancy. Through December 22, produced by Convergence-Continuum at The Liminis, 2438 Scranton Road, 216-687-0074. — Howey

Pounding Nails in the Floor With My Forehead This 100-minute, one-actor rant features the acidly funny writing of playwright Eric Bogosian, whose 1987 Pulitzer-nominated play, Talk Radio, was made into a movie by Oliver Stone. But not all of Bogosian's writing made the cut here, and his material is treated with an energetic but monotone performance. In the original skit, several characters rant wildly; in one such tirade, a wild-eyed guy fantasizes about taking a pig doggy-style. But in this production, director Sean McConaha and performer Sean Derry, the co-founders of B&C, have decided to focus largely on Bogosian's most obviously unhinged males. And Derry, a talented actor with an apparent preference for returning to familiar character types, makes only passing attempts to craft different people in each scene. He does have his moments: He clearly channels Bogosian's angst and generates plenty of laughter and nervous tittering. His diatribe on the mind-ripping highs of indulging in jungle sex while stoned is especially effective, particularly when he contrasts it to the upper-class pleasures of skiing. But clad in predictable down-and-outer garb, the barefooted and greasy-haired Derry looks like a stereotypical slug. He's too accomplished an actor, and McConaha far too gifted a director, to settle for such easy choices. Through December 30 at the Bang and the Clatter Theatre, 140 East Market Street, Akron, 330-606-5317. — Howey

Pulp The storyline of this show will seem familiar to anyone who has ever thumbed through an old novel by Ann Bannon, considered the doyenne of old-school girl-on-girl fiction. Terry Logan (an impressively dude-like Maggie Arndt) is a small, slim butch gal traveling to Chicago. She meets up with a young woman, Pepper, who happens to work in a lesbian bar called The Well. Soon Terry is sharing sensuous glances with Eva Malone, a girl with a quick lip and a quicker, um, tongue who waits tables in the saloon. But the most compelling creature is Viviane Blaine, the elegant and refined owner of the bar, on whom Terry locks and loads from the moment they meet. Trouble is, Viv is an ice queen, and Terry can't melt her frosty facade. Under the pitch-perfect direction of Scott Plate, the performers channel old movie stars and other camp sources to craft their characters. As Viviane, Alison Garrigan is a combination of Bette Davis and Lauren Bacall, with a little of drag legend Charles Busch for good measure. Whether she's vamping in the doorways or giving advice about talking in the morning ("Before caffeine, only silence."), Garrigan is a sultry-voiced treasure. And her renditions of a couple original, bluesy songs — with lyrics by the playwright and music by Amy Warren and Andre Pluess — are surprisingly evocative. But Sheffia Randall Dooley, who plays Eva, almost runs away with the show, nailing each line like a human air hammer. All in all, this Pulp has the juice: hilarious in many places, with everyone happily paired up at the end. Through December 22 at Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit Avenue, 216-631-2727. — Howey

The Santaland Diaries It's a good thing that Cleveland Public Theatre mounts this play every Christmas season, to remind us that bitchiness and sarcasm still have an honored place in our sugarcoated holiday traditions. The David Sedaris essay, which morphed into a one-hour playlet, has all the signature elements of this writer's approach to humor, which can best be described as twisted. How else to describe a hired elf named Crumpet, in Macy's New York City "Santaland," who riffs on the unhygienic condition of elf tights, visiting groups of retarded youngsters, and a gay elf named Snowball, who flirts with all the other elves and even a few of the Santas. This year, the curly-toed shoes are worn by Doug Kusak, who starts off as a predictable curmudgeon, reeling off his lines with the forced conviction familiar to staged readings. But he soon warms to his task and eventually embodies the Sedaris snark. Although his Billie Holiday impression needs a lot of work (it sounds more like Billy Eckstine being garroted), Kusak and director B.D. Bethune fashion an easygoing show for those who insist on a dash of bitters with their eggnog. Through December 22 at Cleveland Public Theatre,6415 Detroit Avenue, 216-631-2727. — 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

Scroll to read more Arts Stories & Interviews articles


Join Cleveland Scene Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.