On Stage This Week

You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up!

PlayhouseSquare, 14th St. Theatre

All the predictable milestones of a romantic relationship are hit in this two-person comedy: the early break-up, the reconciliation, the wedding, the pregnancy, the kid, and so forth. And there are some genuine laughs, especially since it starts out with Annabelle being the one who's scared of commitment and Jeff as the romantic one. But soon, Jeff's romantic mindset morphs into simple-minded sitcom horniness and Annabelle's edgy cynicism softens and then eventually disappears under the onslaught of their cute baby. In short, we've seen a lot of this stuff before, from Lucy and Desi all the way up to Claire and Phil. So if you're in the mood for some gentle teasing of the bonds of love and matrimony, this is your ticket. But don't expect too much of the in-your-face candor promised in the title.

Through February 17 at Playhouse Square, 14th Street Theatre, 1501 E. 14th St., 216-241-6000 Next to Normal

Lakeland Civic Theatre

It isn't often we are able to witness a work of performance art embedded in a stunning art installation. But such is the case in the very satisfying production of Next to Normal, the Tony and Pulitzer Prize winning rock musical. Director Martin Friedman and scenic/lighting designer Trad A Burns, who are frequent collaborators, knock the theatrical stuffing out of this staging. And even while there are some acting details that land with a small thud, this visually-arresting and beautifully sung show still captivates and haunts in memorable ways.

Through February 17, produced by the Lakeland Community College Arts and Humanities Division at Lakeland Civic Theatre, Lakeland Community College, 7700 Clocktower Drive, Kirtland, 440-525-7134 A Star Ain't Nothin' But a Hole in Heaven

Karamu House

Every life has turning points and for many, one of the biggies is when you leave home for college. That wrenching decision to leave the comforts of home for a new, unknown world are hard for everyone, but particularly for a poor African-American farm girl in Alabama in 1969. This is the setting for A Star Ain't Nothin' But a Hole in Heaven by Judi Ann Mason, now at Karamu House. Mason's script captures the rhythm and lilt of her characters' language, and a couple of the actors distinguish themselves with fine performances. In particular, Corlesia Smith as the innocent, earnest Pokie and Joyce Linzy who is sweet and poignant as Aunt Mamie. But the tempo of the production is often excessively sluggish, with sketchy performances in smaller roles. And that makes for a fairly long 2½ hours.

Through February 24 at Karamu House, 2355 E. 89th Street, 216-795-7070

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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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