American Slander has nothing to do with Harvey Pekar -- or any other grumpy Clevelander, for that matter. The new show from the Habitat for Insanity comedy crew consists of 25 sketches culled from previous shows spanning the troupe's three years. A typical entry: "Racist Barbershop Quartet," about a woman who hires a foursome to sing at her parents' anniversary party, only to learn they specialize in off-color lyrics. "They open their mouths, and out comes the slander," says director Rick Ferguson.
The war-themed sketch "Miscom" plays on the military practice of editing soldiers' letters to prevent classified information from leaking out. Habitat tweaks the correspondence of a war-weary GI into a "wish you were here" letter from the front lines. "It sounds like he's on the most wonderful vacation of his life," says Ferguson.
Habitat itself ain't on vacation either. Ferguson is skipping town once American Slander comes to an end, and cast members are deciding on a new director and performance venue. "We're definitely about to enter a transitory period," says original member Marlene Kelly. "It feels a little bittersweet, because we're both nervous and excited about what will happen to us next." Habitat for Insanity's American Slander plays at 8 p.m. Monday at Second City Cleveland, 2037 East 14th Street. Tickets are $8; call 216-466-2222. -- Cris Glaser
Pine and Dandy
The Cleveland Play House calls its annual Festival of Trees a "twinkling wonderland." Dozens of trees line the venue's promenade and front lobby, including a stately 22-footer that towers in the rotunda. This year, the decorating theme evokes the '50s -- a complement to the Play House's holiday production of Plaid Tidings (which runs November 18 through December 21). "It's an opportunity for people to get ideas for their own holiday decorations, with things you normally don't see on a Christmas tree," says spokesperson Julie Fogel. Festival of Trees starts Tuesday and runs from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily through January 2 at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Avenue. Admission is free; call 216-795-7000. -- Cris Glaser
Holiday Harmony is all about alleviating seasonal stress without that bottle of Johnny Walker. "Essential oils are really some of the original medicines on the planet," says Reggi Bennetts, a physical therapist who leads the workshop. Just apply these oils externally and remedy those holiday hang-ups -- like anxiety, fatigue, colds, and urges to punch in-laws. Bennetts will explain the ins and outs of essential oil usage and coach attendees in the art of meditation. "When people are caught up in the moment, they're not really grounded," she says. Holiday Harmony happens at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Cleveland Botanical Garden (11030 East Boulevard). Admission is $15; call 216-721-1600. -- Keith Gribbins
A wicked substitute teacher saves the day in Miss Nelson Is Missing (right), the family-friendly musical about a sweet-natured educator who mysteriously vanishes. In her place, the curmudgeonly Viola Swamp steps in to tame an unruly class. "She's mean, she yells, she rules with an iron fist," says Colleen Porter, Playhouse Square's education director. Suddenly, Miss Nelson returns to a roomful of perfect students. "If you're a smart little audience member," Porter says, "you'll know she was dressed up as Viola Swamp to teach those kids a lesson." It happens at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Allen Theatre, 1407 Euclid Avenue. Admission is $12; call 216-241-6000. -- Cris Glaser