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CPT's annual Big Box series starts by laying out the Rules.

Myron J. Lewis rules -- and so does his one-man show.
  • Myron J. Lewis rules -- and so does his one-man show.

For most adults, the mere idea of working with kids in the juvenile justice system would trigger back sweats and twitchy eyelids. Heck, dealing with regular teenagers is intimidating enough; add a rap sheet to the mix, and the communication barrier looms even larger.

So it's a damn good thing that people like Myron J. Lewis exist. As a probation officer for the Summit County Juvenile Court, Lewis worked with tough and troubled kids, and then turned his experiences into a one-person show, starring himself. Mr. Lewis Rules: Stories From the Juvenile Justice System, the first production in this year's Big Box series at Cleveland Public Theatre, offers a poignant glance at how one man grows tall by reaching down to help young people who have fallen through the cracks.

The burly Lewis was a nose tackle in college, and he occasionally uses his bulk along with his acting chops to control his clients in situations that might otherwise have spun out of control. At one point, he takes pride in giving a rebellious youth a growling rendition of "Mean Myron in all his splendor." But the focus of this piece is more on Marshmallow Myron, the officer who, on one of his home visits, took time to show the sister of a client how to properly broil a steak.

Weaving a collection of stories into an hour-long presentation, Lewis touches on both the absurd and the tenderly moving aspects of his job. One boy was intent on committing suicide by drowning himself in a toilet. In another case, when Myron hugged a teen for doing well on a school paper, the boy's smaller siblings then brought him their "papers" -- including coloring-book pages -- so he could gush over them too. Throughout the vignettes, Lewis' message rings clear: "See a child for what he could be, not just what he is, and he'll become what he should be."

Co-created by director Jacqi Loewy, Rules began and ended its brief run last weekend. But there are four more shows in the Big Box series, each with its own distinctive personality and fascinating performance profile.

Love Suicide (January 13-15), a multimedia movement theater piece by Daniel Elihu Kramer, is based on a classical Japanese play, but also brings together contemporary elements such as internet chat rooms.

Coming of Age (January 20-22) offers two explorations of change: one by Lynn Deering, who dances with video projections of male/female duets, and one in which Chris DiCello traces nine decades in a woman's life through words and movement.

In New American Appliances (January 27-29), Eric Alleman performs his own script about a writer whose closest relationships are with household appliances.

Family Outing (February 3-5), a dance play created and performed by Joe Booth, revolves around Joe telling his father all about himself and his gay life.

Holiday gift wrap may already be in the landfill, but this is one Big Box you can rip into over and over again. A unique experience awaits every time.

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