Capsule reviews of current area theater presentations.

Cleveland theater

The Break Up Notebook: The Lesbian Musical Thirtysomething Helen is the dumpee, left alone in her Los Angeles bedroom, wearing the dress of her departed lover of two-plus years. She is soon joined by a predictable support network consisting of her gay co-worker Bob and a butch-femme couple, Monica and Joanie, who are on their way to a commitment ceremony. Helen works her way through a quick series of failed dating encounters, including a recovering-addict line-dance instructor (a "12-stepping two-stepper"), until she finally meets Frances. This quiet motorcycle chick attracts Helen in a most compelling way. In the demanding role of Helen, the vocally strong Jodi Dominick is loose and endearingly gawky. But the most riveting person onstage is Tracee Patterson, who imbues Frances with such a smoldering sexual intensity, it seems she might spontaneously combust at any moment. When she saunters up to Helen, it's as if a cougar is approaching a defenseless lamb. Also excellent are Eric Van Baars as swishy Bob, Kayce Cummings as Casey and the "other woman," and Alison Garrigan as uptight, Paxil-popping gal pal Sheila. But as good as she is, even Garrigan can't save the show's worst tune, "Polynesian Dance," a supposedly comic ditty that lumbers on forever without triggering a chuckle. Similarly, the play itself is too long, but it's worth the wait, since the last two songs, "Lucky, Lucky Me" and "Do It All Again" are tender, touching, and the best of the bunch. Through March 22 at the Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-521-2540. — Christine Howey

Colder Than Here Myra is a 60-ish wife and mother in England whose body is beset by bone cancer. Still ambulatory and in possession of all her wits, she is attempting to help her family cope with her imminent demise. This clan includes her two grown daughters, uninhibited Jenna and uptight Harriet, and Myra's husband, Alec, who uses pointed sarcasm to keep his kin and his emotions at bay. Played without intermission on Ben Needham's set, one almost feels the life being squeezed out of Myra as she pluckily tends her organized death spiral, visiting possible grave sites and, hilariously, making a PowerPoint presentation called "My Funeral," which outlines certain likes and dislikes, including bans on unctuous funeral directors or throwing flowers. As Myra, Anne McEvoy touches all the emotional bases without leaning too heavily on any particularly bleak notes. Robert Hawkes is perfect as Alec, his frustration with getting the boiler fixed representing his helplessness in the face of his wife's disease. Heather Lea Anderson Boll skates perilously close to scenery-chewing as Jenna, but manages to keep her character under control. And Liz Conway is marvelously evocative as constrained Harriet. Director Joel Hammer brings out everything Wade's script has to offer, giving the production a life-affirming power that feels warm and right. Through March 23, produced by Dobama Theatre at the Pilgrim Congregational Church, 2592 W. 14th St., 216-932-3396. — Howey

Essential Self Defense In March, when Bang and Clatter opens its new theater venue in Cleveland, it will be committed to producing 16 shows a year that have never been seen in Ohio. That may be foolhardy, since there can be valid reasons why some shows are never staged. Case in point: the tedious exercise now on the boards at their Akron location. Written by the eager but tin-eared nihilist Adam Rapp, it's two and a half hours of preening weirdness and pretentious pseudo-intellectual disdain for popular culture. Centered around the clearly psychotic Yul, a former television-knob installer and now a human dummy in a self-defense academy, the play has nary a moment of credible human interaction. After student Sadie accidentally knocks out one of Yul's teeth, she becomes fixated on getting close to him, even visiting his rat-infested apartment. Then there are the extraneous characters and pointless scenes, including the cartoonish butcher Klieg, a karaoke bar that prohibits karaoke music, and lots of missing kids (if any of that sounds interesting in any way, it's not). The actors work hard and can't be blamed, since the script is aggressively self-congratulatory and director Jim Volkert appears clueless about, among other things, pacing. Through March 22 at the Bang and the Clatter Theatre Company, 140 E. Market St., Akron, 330-606-5317. — Howey

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