On Stage

Capsule reviews of current area stage shows.

Open Water
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) -- Covering (sort of) 37 of Shakespeare's plays in about two hours, this free-for-all careens wildly from a hip-hop Othello to Titus Andronicus performed as a cooking show. Anachronisms abound, but the centerpiece is Shakespeare's body of work, represented at the start by a gigantic volume sitting on a pedestal, where a rosin bag hangs to aid the grip of anyone attempting to heft it. That's the only heavy lifting required, however, as precious few of the Bard's real lines are intoned, exchanged as they are for raucous infighting among the three actors, snatches of familiar tunes (including the theme song from The Love Boat), and stuffed dummies flying through the air. Director Charles Fee doesn't help his performers quite reach the manic pace for which the piece yearns, but there are still buckets of laughs, from broad and naughty physical humor to sly puns and wordplay. Through August 22 at the Ohio Theatre, Playhouse Square Center, 1519 Euclid Avenue, 216-241-6000. -- Christine Howey

Last Call Cleveland's Corvette Summer -- When it comes to stand-up or sketch comedy, wielding a sledgehammer wears thin pretty quickly if more nuanced material isn't mixed in. This is where the talented group Last Call Cleveland appears to be mired. Integrating live skits and video segments with characters and snatches of scenes overlapping from one medium to the other, the new show aims its guns at a series of familiar targets and blasts each into dust without ever using the cast's inventive skills a little more dexterously. Some of the best vignettes are those that don't resort to extreme punch lines: A video clip shows what might have happened in World War II if a platoon of cowardly soldiers fed off an equally lily-livered sergeant; and, in an office scenario, a beefy CEO sends love notes to a male employee, with other white-collar chaps giggling about it like schoolgirls. Here's hoping that Last Call Cleveland keeps putting shows together and starts working more characterization into the sketches while disdaining the shortcuts to easy (or uneasy) giggles. Once that happens, the laughs will go on for a long, long time. Friday, August 20, at the Cleveland Black Box Theater, 1210 W. 6th St., www.lastcallcleveland.com. -- 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

The Taming of the Shrew -- While many theater companies steer clear of this Shakespearean work because of its questionable stance on dominant-submissive relationships, Great Lakes Theater Festival giddily jumps into the gender-role melée. Director Drew Barr has attempted to blunt negative reactions to the play's message by emphasizing the artificiality of the play-within-a-play structure. Indeed, the first few words are spoken by an unseen stage manager who's dealing with a clumsy technician. From that moment on, reality and identities are up for grabs as a drunken tinker becomes a lord, a servant morphs into a gentleman, a schoolmaster is transformed into a nobleman, and combative Katherine is reborn as a languid Stepford wife. As the battling duo, Andrew May and Laura Perrotta are perfectly mated; when the two meet, sparks of laughter fly in all directions. There are also sterling supporting performances, among them Wayne Turney as a foolish old coot, Scott Plate as an ardent suitor, and Dudley Swetland as the frequently baffled Baptista. It would be a crime to miss this extremely un-tame Taming. Presented through August 21 by the Great Lakes Theater Festival at the Ohio Theatre, 1519 Euclid Ave., 216-241-6000. -- Howey

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