On Stage

Capsule reviews of current area stage shows.

Raising Helen
Carousel -- One look at the small Kalliope performing space, and you'd wonder why anyone would try to mount a show requiring 25 cast members, some involved crowd scenes, and a couple of ballet sequences here. But director Paul F. Gurgol manages to shuttle everyone in and out while giving his singers room to massage the incredible music of Rodgers and Hammerstein in this reality/fantasy classic from a more naive era. The boyishly brash Aaron Ramey is physically perfect as husband Billy; Joan Ellison, as the wife who loves him despite his abuse, sings like an angel. Some of the best voices, however, reside with the secondary players. As the rigid but loving fisherman Enoch Snow, stocky William Clarence Marshall literally shakes this storefront theater's rafters with his powerful pipes, making one wish he had two or three more songs. This production is superbly handled, from spot-on costuming to ballet choreography that avoids seemingly imminent collisions with walls and poles. Through June 6 at Kalliope Stage, 2134 Lee Rd., Cleveland Hts., 216-321-0870. -- Christine Howey

Dojoji -- One of the missions of Cleveland Public Theatre is to bring new works and fresh performers to the area, and Dojoji accomplishes that exactly. Produced in conjunction with the New York City-based Active Eye group, this 11th-century Japanese fable combines Noh and Kabuki theatrical traditions with Zenlike piano accompaniment, isolated percussive accents, and stylized dance. In short, this isn't Guys and Dolls. The minimalist stage setting is calming, but the thrust of the script is more like Fatal Attraction. A young monk on a pilgrimage has spent the night at a house where a nubile woman resides, and it's love at first glance. But when he disappears, she obsesses over him, and eventually her unrequited passion transforms her, both physically and spiritually. The story has its moments, but the real attraction here is an almost hypnotic performance that blends movement, music, and words in intriguing ways. For most people, the evanescent meaning of this play will "float like ashes above the fire." But the performance itself resonates like a bell across a calm lake. Through June 5 at Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit Ave., 216-631-2727. -- 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 Hanna Theatre, 2067 E. 14th St., 216-771-4444. -- Howey

Jar the Floor -- Mother-daughter relationships can be as toxic as a fertilizer bomb. And when you multiply the moms by three and put four generations of an African American family in one room, you'd best break out the Kevlar vests and shatterproof goggles. That's the scenario playwright Cheryl L. West creates in Jar the Floor, a play with sizzling dialogue and a terrific cast, but an inability to deliver fully on its theme of women's aspirations denied and dreams deferred. They're gathered for a game of psychological paintball at the 90th-birthday celebration for matriarch MaDear, at which three of the four have no compunctions about brashly and repeatedly taunting each other for their shortcomings. It's just too bad the second act doesn't cash in on the enormous momentum created earlier. West's narrative engine sputters through a series of revelations and fairly predictable family convulsions. Eventually, the arguments start repeating themselves, and the dramatic tension slowly slips away. Through June 13 at Karamu House, 2355 East 89th Street, 216-795-7070. -- Howey

Oliver Twisted -- It has been claimed that there's a gene in some people's DNA spiral that compels them to seek out risky, potentially harmful activities, such as rock climbing, deep-sea diving, and parking at expired meters in Cleveland Heights. True to their risk-adoring genes, the seven-member group titled Oliver Twisted (made up of former members of the now-defunct Second City Cleveland) does audience-inspired material exclusively, without the safety net of scripted modules. And thanks to a fortunate blending of physical types and personalities among the performers -- along with their determined insistence on yanking every loose comedic thread -- this is an improv experience that will leave you laughing far more often than wincing. The troupe's resident nutcase, Randall Harr, is a fairly normal-looking fellow who transforms into a maniacally, often hilariously intense embodiment of whatever animal, vegetable, or mineral he's been assigned. Mondays at Hilarities Comedy Club at Pickwick & Frolic, 2035 E. 4th St., 216-736-4242. -- Howey

Reefer Madness -- A spirited cast has turned this adaptation of the 1930s film into a giddy send-up of adult-authoritarian bullshit. We are led through the dark corridors of hemp hell by a high school official who is using his cast from the recent class play to illustrate the ravaging results from flying Mexican Airlines. Jimmy and Mary are two squeaky-clean teens who adore swapping lines from Romeo and Juliet to share their affection. But once Jimmy is lured into trying pot, his fate is sealed: Soon he's using a scandalous new kissing technique and running down an old man; of course, Mary follows him and also gets hooked. From there, the moralistic lessons come fast and furious, and are often helpfully spelled out on cards (e.g., "Reefer makes you kill poor old men") carried across the stage by a chorine. Leaving no ghastly narcotic result unimagined, the comical hyperbole includes a cannibalization, a baby sold for weed, a suicide, and a final, retributive electrocution. This production is addictively entertaining, thanks mostly to its appropriately over-the-top characterizations. Through June 20 at Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-521-2540. -- Howey

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