Never Bored on the Boards

From race-baiting to gay-bashing, there was rarely a dull moment onstage in 2007.

Cleveland theater best theater of 2007
Look out, AARP: Laura Perrotta (left) and Lynn Allison in Arsenic and Old Lace.
Look out, AARP: Laura Perrotta (left) and Lynn Allison in Arsenic and Old Lace.

So you're sitting there in your purple Crocs, woozy from steroids and HGH, eating your locavore plate of Northeast Ohio veggies and watching your pit bull rip into a Tibetan mastiff, while you replay the last episode of The Sopranos to decide whether you liked the ending. In other words, you're a fully realized product of the year 2007. The only missing element is a recap of the past 12 months of theater in Cleveland.

Well, here it is, in capsule form. Use as directed.

Getting Frontal
Plenty of nasty bits were visible front and center last year, and performers of both sexes were part of the skin parade. On the male side, Dobama's Take Me Out peeled the jockstraps off a locker room full of ball players, as they showered and opined about their recently outed gay superstar. No Full Monty tease-and-giggle, this production gave you the whole package. And in Equus at Beck, Dan Folino bared all to go bareback on all the pretty horsies. On the female side, Dawn Youngs meandered out starkers in Demon Baby at Convergence-Continuum as she tried to put some exceptionally unsubtle moves on her hubby's co-worker.

Pop Go the Impersonators
There were a number of impressions of pop-song stylists, most of which were remarkably on-target. In the flawed play Reflections at the Beck Center, Laura Theodore nailed Peggy Lee, capturing her velvety purr and boudoir growl. Down at Playhouse Square, Stephen Triffitt channeled Frank Sinatra's inimitable phrasing in The Rat Pack: Live at the Sands. And swingin' buddy Sammy Davis Jr. bounced to antic life, thanks to David Hayes. At the Cleveland Play House, Tina Fabrique captured the essence of hipper-than-thou Ella Fitzgerald in the song-filled Ella. But maybe the best was Christine Mild, who soared above the awful Always, Patsy Cline script at Carousel to deliver C&W tunes with Patsy's distinctive gloss.

Gross Dousing
The wet and wild finale to the squeamish, insect-infested Bug at the Bang and the Clatter Theatre Company.

Grosser Dousing
The hapless actor who received repeated spit takes from Georgia Engel in The Drowsy Chaperone at Playhouse Square Center.

Grossest Dousing
One character helpfully pissing into the mouths of his thirsty fellow travelers in Spawn of the Petrosexuals at Convergence-Continuum.

The Art Carney Memorial Award
When the Sewerman emerged from a manhole at Kalliope Stage, the audience was treated to an enchantingly comical singing and dancing turn by Omri Schein. Among many fine performances in that production of Dear World, his had the whiff of greatness.

The Race Card
Racism is always a fecund area for dramatic exploration, and Karamu took a shot with Permanent Collection, a study of how race and art intersect. While Collection was intellectually interesting, more sparks flew in their production of a quasi-courtroom drama that also won for the longest title of the year, The Trial of One Shortsighted Black Woman vs. Mammy Louise and Safreeta Mae. In its kick-ass second act, playwright Karani M. Leslie and a fine cast peeked under the rock of racial hatred with humor and chills.

Also of note was the Lakeland College staging of To Kill a Mockingbird. Martin Friedman directed a solid cast and revealed the jarring ugliness of color-based prejudice.

Girls in Trouble
Oh, where to begin. There was Charity Hope Valentine (a game and talented MaryAnn Black), the chirpy dance-hall diva in Sweet Charity at Porthouse Theatre, who hoofed her way into men's cold hearts. Then there were the dippy, homicidal Brewster sisters (played hilariously by Lynn Allison and Laura Perrotta) in the wonderful Great Lakes Theater Festival production of Arsenic and Old Lace. But the female most in distress was probably Helen, the woman referred to in the title Fat Pig. This severely realistic play by Neil LaBute, at the Bang and Clatter, took on body image with a vengeance and allowed Jenna Messina, in the title role, to shine brightly.

Mitt's Least Favorite Play
You might think that uptight presidential candidate Romney would have detested any of the shows that dealt with gay sex — especially the sensational lesbian-love-romp-with-a-happy-ending Pulp at Cleveland Public Theatre — now that he's refashioned himself as a born-again homophobe. But nope. The play to break his veneer of robotic calm was CPT's production of Two-Headed, in which a band of marauding Mormons massacres more than 100 innocent people on a wagon train crossing the Mormons' land in the mid-1800s. Try turning that into a righteous talking point on Meet the Press.

Putting the "Playhouse" in Playhouse Square
Great drama: Twelve Angry Men. Spectacular staging: The Lion King. Diverting comedy: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Great solo act: Chita Rivera: A Dancer's Life.

Putting the "Square" in Playhouse Square
The banal torture that was Legends!, a monumental evening of agony, in which Joan Collins and Linda Evans proved their inability to act live onstage was no baseless rumor.

Spectacular Flip-Flop
Based on its production of Stained Glass Ugly in the spring, it seemed that the fledgling Fourth Wall Productions was going to bite the large one. That awkwardly written script about a disfigured man was given a dolorous performance by two hardworking but out-of-their-depth actors. But happily, FWP gained its footing just a couple of months later with the well-acted dark comedy Malicious Bunny, featuring a sprightly script by Matthew A. Sprosty and an engaging performance by Nate Bigger. Thus, there is much hope for their four-play season coming in 2008.

The "Golden Ticonderoga No. 2" Award
The nod for the best play by a local scribbler goes to Mike Geither for Stars Fell All Night. As performed at Cleveland Public Theatre, this mash-up of word games, dream sequences, and cadaver puppets had some bright and witty dialogue, along with some heavy messages about loss. And although their plays were flawed, hats off to Clevelanders Christopher Johnston (Spawn of the Petrosexuals), Tom Fulton (Reflections), and Eric Coble (The Dead Guy) for putting their blood, sweat, and tears into script form.

Memorable Shows We Forgot to Remember
Eyes Wide Shut, Osama the Hero, and Our Town at Cleveland Public Theatre; Thom Pain (Based on Nothing) and Shorn at Dobama; The Price and The Rose Tattoo at Ensemble; Hay Fever and The Tempest at Great Lakes Theater Festival; Passion at Beck Center; The Unexpected Man at Cesear's Forum; References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot and Act a Lady at Convergence-Continuum; King Hedley II at Karamu; Peter Pan at Porthouse; The Comedy of Errors and Othello by the Ohio Shakespeare Festival; Nine at Cain Park; The Taming of the Shrew by the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival; Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure and The Chosen at the Cleveland Play House; A Shayna Maidel by the Jewish Community Center and Tri-C East; White Christmas at Carousel; and all the traditional holiday shows.

Happy New Year! And let's hope 2008 on the boards is just as interesting.

About The Author

Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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