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The Screwtape Letters

The 1942 book The Screwtape Letters, an epistolary novel on the nature of good and evil by the famous writer and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis, has a special place in the popular culture. References to the book show up in a U2 video (Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me), the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, in a concept album by Called to Arms, and at the top of the late novelist David Foster Wallace's list of his ten favorite books. The novel is a series of letters from senior demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood about the nephew's responsibility for securing the damnation of a British man known only as "the Patient." A witty, exuberant stage adaptation of the novel by the Fellowship for the Performing Arts arrives at the Ohio Theatre this week for three performances. The production, starring Max McLean as Screwtape, earned raves from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the National Review, and sold out in New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and L.A. Curtain times are Friday, Oct. 12 and Saturday, Oct. 13 at 8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 13 at 4 p.m. Tickets are $41 to $91. Go to playhousesquare.org or call 216-241-6000.

The Imaginary Invalid

So influential was Molière on French culture that many French phrases in current use originated in his plays. A tartuffe (from the play of the same name) is a hypocrite who displays exaggerated moral piety. A harpagon, after the protagonist of The Miser, is an extremely greedy cheapskate. Belle marquise, derived from a scene in Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, means two different sentences that mean the same thing. But one of the most famous stories about Molière involves his last play, Le Malade imaginaire. The playwright, who suffered for many years from tuberculosis, collapsed onstage in a fit of coughing and hemorrhaging while performing in the play, a comedy about a wealthy hypochondriac. The playwright recovered briefly, insisted on continuing the performance, collapsed again and died a few hours later. Despite its unfortunate and accidentally ironic early history, the play, also known as The Imaginary Invalid, is brilliantly witty. The title character, Argan, thinks he's suffering from every imaginable disease, and is encouraged in that delusion by a pack of quack doctors. To "cure" his imaginary ailments and finance his medical bills, Argon tries to marry off his daughter to a doctor, with hilarious results. A new production of The Imaginary Invalid, updated with a 1960s setting, pop culture references and original music by Paul James Prendergast, continues through Nov. 3 at Great Lakes Theater, at the Hanna Theatre, 2067 E. 14th St. Tickets are $15 to $70. Call 216-241-6000 or go to playhousesquare.org.

The Little Dog Laughed

Playwright and screenwriter Douglas Carter Beane's signature is stamped on several of the productions on Cleveland's 2012-13 theater roster. He scripted Xanadu, the musical that was Beck Center's opening production, and helped rewrite Sister Act: The Musical, which will be seen next March as part of Playhouse Square's Broadway Series. The witty New York writer's 2006 play The Little Dog Laughed, a satire of Hollywood hypocrisy about sex, opens at Beck's Studio Theatre Friday night in a production directed by Beck artistic director Scott Spence. The play concerns a top Hollywood agent, Diane, who wants to make a movie adaptation of a New York hit play about male lovers and to star her closeted gay client, Mitchell, in it. The control-freak agent tries to coerce the playwright into turning his play into a hetero romance while concealing the sexual preference of Mitchell, who has fallen for a bisexual rent boy. The funny, perceptive show-biz comedy was nominated for a 2007 Tony for Best Play. Beck's production runs through November 4, and curtain time is 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Sunday 3 p.m. 17801 Detroit Ave., 216-521-2540, beckcenter.org.

Next Fall

Ben Brantley, the theater critic of the New York Times, called Geoffrey Naufft's Next Fall "an intellectual stealth bomb." At first glance, the story looks like just another breezy comedy about a mismatched gay couple – the devoutly religious actor Luke and the nebbishy, Woody Allen-like atheist Adam. But the play packs an unexpected emotional wallop. Luke and Adam's five-year committed relationship is tested by a near-fatal accident; at a New York City hospital, flashbacks tell the story of their relationship, from their meeting at a dinner party (when waiter Luke saves Adam with the Heimlich maneuver) to their sometimes strained relationship complicated by Luke's Christian faith. The Tony-nominated play, dubbed "the little play that could" by New York theater critic David Cote, continues through Oct. 21 at the little theater that could, the Blank Canvas Theatre, founded last November by Patrick Ciamacco to bring high-quality theater to Clevelanders at affordable ticket prices. The play is directed by Ciamacco, and curtain times are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday, and tickets are $15. Blank Canvas is at 1305 W. 78th St., Suite 211. For more information and tickets, go to blankcanvastheatre.com.

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