Fall Theater Preview: Dozens of Theater Companies, Scores of Productions, All of the Fun

I've been a theater critic for about 20 years, so people will sometimes ask me how many plays I see. I tell them it averages out to two or three a week, and they always seem surprised. Especially since I don't typically review shows at our vast array of accomplished and industrious community theaters, such as Chagrin Valley Little Theater, Clague Playhouse, Cassidy Theatre and TrueNorth Cultural Arts.

But that shouldn't be so surprising, since there are dozens of theater companies or theater-involved organizations presenting familiar scripts as well as brand-new ones to the area. So let's look at a small sampling of the shows on deck for this fall. And later, I'll give you a Google-ready list of other theaters you should check out for yourself.

If familiar scripts are your thing, the Beck Center is staging Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, written more than 55 years ago but still a powerful piece. It's a knock-down, drag-out battle between a husband and wife (and their multiple demons) that opens Oct. 5.

Of course, you like your plays even older than that, so how about a classic romantic comedy, Pride and Prejudice at the Great Lakes Theater? Ms. Bennett and Mr. Darcy are at it again in this adaptation of the Jane Austen novel that's so love-struck you may find yourself looking for a fainting couch. It opens Oct. 5. And there's also East of Eden, the American epic based on the John Steinbeck novel, on the boards at Ensemble Theatre beginning Oct. 19. Sorry, James Dean is not involved.

Familiar theater also comes in musical form, as Hello, Dolly! will prove when it visits Playhouse Square starting on Sept. 30. This revival features awesome Betty Buckley as the irrepressible matchmaker at the turn of the 20th century. And in another musical vein, the 15–year-old wit and wisdom (i.e., "Everybody's a little bit racist") of Avenue Q hits the stage at Blank Canvas Theatre on Dec. 7.

In the semi-familiar category is the return to Cleveland Public Theatre of the hysterical troupe working at Conni's Avant-Garde Restaurant. It's a play performed during a five-course meal served to the audience by the performers — with kitchen utensils used in remarkably naughty ways. The crazy opens on Dec. 4.

Fortunately for those who relish new stuff, several theaters specialize in producing new material. While Dobama Theatre's current tagline is "Cleveland's Off-Broadway Theatre," that was more true three or four decades ago than it is now. To wit, at None Too Fragile Theater, a play titled Freakstorm, by Matt Pelfrey, probes a moral dilemma with a touch of macabre comedy. It opens on Sept. 28.

And more off-Broadway style material is on the boards at Convergence-Continuum Theater, where wedded bliss is a target in This Much (Or an Act of Violence Toward the Institution of Marriage). 'Nuff said; it opens Oct. 12. And yes, Dobama is also in the game with the play John by Annie Baker, which will take us into a mystical puzzle composed of toys, figurines, and a very odd American Girl doll. The mystery begins on Oct. 19.

The intrepid little theater in the basement under the Ohio Theater lobby at Playhouse Square, Cesear's Forum, will give us a taste of something different in Plath and Orion, two one-act plays — one by Lanford Wilson and one by company founder and artistic director Greg Cesear. Each features dialogue between the two women. It is running now until Oct. 27. And beginning on Oct. 25, all the black people from one town suddenly disappear in Day of Absence at Karamu House.

Wrapping up the plays you haven't see before is Sweat, at the Cleveland Play House, a Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about union lockouts and worker layoffs in a small Pennsylvania town. That opens Oct. 13.

As you know, all these theaters are producing other plays during this season, so it would behoove you to visit their websites for further details on that impressive galaxy of upcoming plays.

Still, this only scratches the surface of the activity in this theater-drunk town. So your assignment is to check out the productions at these other venues. Here they are, with a small sampling of their wares:

Near West Theatre: An intergenerational production of Newsies running now until Sept. 30.

Ohio Shakespeare Festival: A family theater experience, Treasure Island: An Adventure with Music, opens Sept. 28.

Talespinner Children's Theatre: The Boy Who Stole the Sun, adapted and directed by theater founder Alison Garrigan.

Weathervane Playhouse: The Hunchback of Notre Dame, opening Oct. 11.

New World Performance Lab: An energetic, engrossing and bilingual telling of Don Quijote (That's Spanish for Quixote), running now through Sept. 29.

Also, keep an eye out for productions by Playwrights Local, Lakeland Civic Theatre, Maelstrom Collaborative Arts, Powerful Long Ladder Ensemble and the Ohio City Theater Project.

And that's not even mentioning the theaters that only perform in the summer: Mercury Theater Company, Cleveland Shakespeare Festival, Cain Park, Porthouse Theatre and the Oberlin Summer Theater Festival.

That's enough to float you away on a permanent theater-induced high. Ah, and what a glorious glow it will leave!

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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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