Capsule reviews of current area theater presentations.

Cleveland theater

Bourbon at the Border Set in 1990s Detroit, this ambitious play by Pearl Cleage explores the toll that 1964's Freedom Summer in Mississippi took on its participants. During the almost 90 minutes before intermission, the playwright slowly introduces us to quiet, sixtysomething May and her apartment-house pal Rosa, a snappy, slightly younger soul sister with a fast mouth. We soon learn that May's husband, Charlie, has been in a mental institution for depression, a long-standing ailment triggered by the horrific events of that summer. He has recently been released and soon arrives at May's home. But there, the three engage in so much small talk, the serious issues Charlie and May are dealing with become submerged in prattle. Something actually happens in the second act, when Charlie is fired from his new job. That trauma triggers a flashback for May, during which she relives being brutalized at the hands of a Mississippi sheriff and his mouth-breathing deputies. The actors acquit themselves remarkably here, and director Terrence Spivey drives the pace as well as he can, but there are so many squishy and undramatic sequences that even his hyperactive blocking can't cover up the flaccid writing. There are no doubt great stories to be told about Freedom Summer, but this one takes too long to get to the heart of the matter. — Produced by Ensemble Theatre in collaboration with Karamu House, through January 20 at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Avenue, 216-321-2930. — Christine Howey

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