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Dobama christens a new theater without much bubbly

For any Clevelander who loves theater, it's time to celebrate. Dobama Theatre has finally opened their new space on Lee Road, and it is a treasure to behold. 

But as elegant as a theater is physically, nothing can compare in importance to what's put onstage. The initial production at Dobama's new home is the world premiere of Ten More Minutes From Cleveland by local playwright Eric Coble. And if this were compared to the christening of a ship, sadly, the champagne bottle bonked off the hull with nary a drop of bubbly spilled. 

The "more" in the title refers to another Coble play, Ten Minutes From Cleveland, which the theater produced in 2005. Both feature quickie skits, scattershot references to area communities, landmarks and businesses, and every tired joke about Cleveland you can imagine (east siders needing a visa to go to the west side, the Cleveland Clinic being, um, big). 

Sure, Coble can construct some pithy lines, and he does make a couple of trenchant observations, however miniscule, about the city (like the weird and sometimes terrifying bus lanes on Euclid). But the 10 brief vignettes never take any real chances. And when he tries to conjure up a genuine moment — like a second-generation waitress at Mama Santa's in Little Italy reflecting on her mother's serving philosophy — it comes out cloyingly maudlin. 

The six-person cast includes some very talented individuals (Nick Koesters and Laurel Johnson among them). But for some reason, the usually excellent director Joel Hammer either instructs or allows everyone to over-torque their roles. As a result, Coble's already unbelievable characters often end up screaming at each other in various states of mild to manic hysteria. 

There is plenty of humor, God knows, to be mined in this community's richly conflicted veins. But a ham-fisted play like this reduces our citizenry to babbling, drooling yahoos, which is neither true nor very funny.  

The good news is that Dobama will certainly do better in the future. It always has in the past.    

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