On Stage

Capsule reviews of current area stage shows.

Amy's View -- Love may conquer all, but eventually we're forced to face the reality that love, however genuine, is just one more mutable illusion leading us to our personal endgame. This idea is addressed in David Hare's richly textured Amy's View, presented with sublime professionalism by Dobama. Spanning 16 years, the show brings us three complex Brits whose lives are headed in remarkably different directions. At the beginning, Esme (an intriguing Catherine Albers), a well-known fiftyish stage actress, is also an edgy and judgmental mom when she's with her grown daughter, Amy (Derdriu Ring, excellent). The two clash over Amy's boyfriend, Dominic, a filmmaker prone to mocking the slow-footed tedium of theater. Time passes, and Amy becomes pregnant, Dominic's career soars, and Esme is relegated to a TV soap-opera role. As the drama rises, Hare's gifts for dialogue and trenchant cultural observations collide with his flaws (most notably a fondness for using convenient offstage events to heighten tension). But for all the excessive thematic thrusts, Hare's results are powerfully engaging. And the final scene is equal to any, in terms of its stark honesty and quiet intensity. Through March 21 at Dobama Theatre, 1846 Coventry Rd., Cleveland Hts., 216-932-3396. -- Christine Howey

Broadway Memories -- Memories are precious; we wouldn't want anyone going through our photo albums, drawing mustaches on our ancestors. Neither do we want our remembrances of the great, glossy show tunes from the 1940s and '50s delaminated by singers who either don't have the pipes or don't have the interpretive chops to do them justice. Yet that's what's happening at the Cleveland Play House Club while Broadway Memories is in session. Indifferently written and directed by Paul Floriano, who also performs, this musical pastiche conjures no magic from some 30 works by Gershwin, Porter, Hammerstein, and the other gods of the Great White Way. Maryann Nagel's soprano sounds tired, and her uptempo shredding of Miss Otis Regrets is borderline indictable, while Ian Atwood possesses a mediocre voice, further diminished by a virtually nonexistent stage presence. Animated Ryan Bergeron is unfortunately hidden away at the piano, and Floriano struts his threadbare baritone like a dollar-store Dean Martin. This carelessly assembled cabaret show, unwisely unamplified and performed in front of what appears to be a red fabric shower curtain, is less a remembering than a dismembering. Through April 3 at the Cleveland Play House Club, 8500 Euclid Ave., 216-795-7000. -- Howey

I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change -- The promotional material dubs this musical revue "Seinfeld set to music." But in reality, it's more like The Bachelor set to a metronome, with predictable book and lyrics by Joe DiPetro and a mechanically repetitive musical score by Jimmy Roberts. Just pick your courtship cliché, and there's a song to address it, whether it be the serious shortage of desirable single men or the characteristics of testosterone-poisoned males who date chicks. The first act focuses on the foibles of the dating scene, and the second plumbs about an inch or two into the depths of marital misunderstandings. It's rescued by some amusing dating and family-life gibes, and a cast of Cleveland-based performers that squeezes every ounce of good humor out of what, in lesser hands, would come off as threadbare material. Larry Nehring, in particular, is a delight to watch in every role, from dazed boyfriend one moment to TV huckster the next. Through June 27 at the 14th Street Theater, 2037 East 14th St., 216-241-6000. -- Howey

Loud Americans: A Punk Saga -- The irony of fringe forms of music being co-opted by mainstream America takes center stage in this half-baked Night Kitchen production. The three male slackers who make up the Cleveland punk band the Mutilators add a female guitarist to the group, hoping to take the next career step. Then comes the shitload of problems: The drummer's no good, the alpha-male lead singer's always wasted, and the bassist is chronically detached. There's plenty of grist here for some dramatic friction, but the script, by director Christopher Johnston and Gregory Vovos, spends too much time mucking about in the petty squabbles and shifting alliances among the band members and not enough dramatically engaging the larger question: How can creatively inspired rage and alienation be sustained in a commercial environment? It's too bad the show's structure is so shaky, because the shadow band, which plays original punk songs between scenes, is great. Admission to the show includes a CD of the music, so feel confident you'll get your seven bucks' worth. Through March 20 at Dobama Theatre, 1846 Coventry Rd., Cleveland Hts., 216-932-3396. -- Howey

Off the Wall -- It's damn hard to be instantaneously funny, which is why true improvisational comedy is among the most demanding of the live performance arts. So it is to the immense credit of the Off the Wall troupe that they are working without a net and doing genuine improv work. The suggestions fly in from the audience, and the cast then tries to craft those ideas into a semi-cohesive skit with a blackout-worthy exit line. Unfortunately, a number of Off the Wall's participants don't yet have the comic imaginations, performance chops, or fast-twitch recall of cultural references to make this trapeze-act version of comedy really soar. This observation comes with the qualifier that every show is different, folks who bomb one night can kill the next, and the troupe is now into its third month of performances at Playhouse Square. Still, a January show provided enough moments of dead air and desperation (signaled by the frequent use of "fuck" to garner an easy laugh) that one could conclude this is how the group usually performs. Through March 20 at the 14th Street Theater, 2037 East 14th St., 216-241-6000. -- Howey

The Underpants -- Proper pantaloon positioning around the turn of the last century forms the crux of this Play House show, comedian Steve Martin's clever adaptation of a German farce. The one-joke premise is that Louise, wife of an uptight and boorish government bureaucrat, recently dropped her drawers in public while craning to see the king pass by on the street. The descent of her skivvies causes a tizzy all over town, and soon a couple of gentlemen appear on the the couple's doorstep, trying to rent their available room and find a way into Louise's notoriously loosely lashed undergarments. Chuckles abound, thanks to Martin's hair-trigger patter, but the production never attains the height of truly liberated farce. There are a couple of missing pieces -- namely, the beautiful Tanya Clarke's uncertain performance as Louise and director Peter Hackett's lethargic pacing, which is burlesque and Germanic to a fault. Hackett also tends to have his players pound on obvious character traits while ignoring subtleties that could provoke more amused reactions. With so many great lines, this show should be more likable than it is. Through March 28 at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Ave., 216-795-7000. -- Howey

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