Cuttin' Up -- Written by Charles Randolph-Wright and based on a book of the same name by Craig Marberry, Cuttin' Up is a feel-good collection of barbershop quips, anecdotes, and sermonettes bursting with heart and soul. But even though a remarkably talented cast works wonders, the scattershot and oppressively instructive script is a continual irritant. A trio of barbers from different generations is at work at Howard's tonsorial establishment, placed in Cleveland for this run. Led by the avuncular and somewhat prickly Howard, they share memories of their lives and the heads they have tended. Howard's two other chairs are manned by Andre, who has recently landed in C-town after bumping around the country for many years, and young dude Rudy, who finds it difficult to stumble in to work on time. Adolphus Ward is warmly affecting as Howard, gently chiding Andre (Darryl Alan Reed) about his taste in music and his knowledge gaps, and ragging on Rudy (Dorian Logan) for his slacker tendencies and penchant for low-riding pants. But the script never allows the audience to discover character truths on its own; if a lot of the self-conscious tripe disappeared, this play could soar. Through February 25 at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Ave., 216-795-7000. -- Howey
Equus -- Written by Peter Shaffer, Equus (that's horsie in Latin) opened on Broadway in 1974 and created a dustup of controversy with both its plot -- about a teenage boy who blinds six horses with a spike -- and the frontal nudity that takes place in the climactic second-act scene. Since then, the play has become a cultural touchstone representing alienation and psychosexual torment. Alan Strang (Dan Folino) is the 17-year-old who has mutilated the horses while working as a stable hand and is under the care of Dr. Martin Dysart at a psychiatric hospital in England. The script attempts to suss out why the adolescent would harm the very animals he reveres to the point of obsession. Some of this shrink-inspired speculation amounts to pretentious hog wallow, but many of the subthemes tap into rich veins of philosophical, familial, and sexual tension. As the treatment of Alan progresses, Martin, who is locked in a loveless marriage and a mediocre career, begins to question his role: "This boy knows a passion more furious than any I've had. And I'm jealous." Through February 25 at Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-521-2540. -- Howey
Motown! -- Ask any boomer about the best dance music ever, and you're bound to get a one-word answer -- the title of this revue now at the Cleveland Play House Club. A tribute to the music hatched in Berry Gordy's tiny "Hitsville USA" studio, it features an impressive song list of 26 well-known toe-tappers. But the energy and exuberance of that great music are only occasionally in evidence in this cabaret-style production. Produced, written, and directed by Paul Floriano, accomplished local actor and budding Flo Ziegfeld, the show conjures up an unnecessary premise of a record store and its constantly singing owners and manager. Whatever. It's really just about the music, and here the performers get it only partly right. Geoff Short is the most talented singer, and his take on "Just My Imagination" is splendid. Trinidad Snider also has strong moments, especially on "Heat Wave." But the third singer, Colleen Longshaw, often slides into a sharp edginess when reaching for higher notes or more volume. And while the three-piece band is adequate, the sledgehammer backbeat of the original backup group, the Funk Brothers, is not there. As Marvin Gaye once musically opined, "Ain't nothin' like the real thing, baby." Through February 24 at the Cleveland Play House Club, 8500 Euclid Ave., 216-795-7000, extension 4. -- Howey
The Music of Jacques Brel -- Cleveland has a notable history with this Belgian musician, since Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris played more than 500 performances at Playhouse Square and had a role in preventing those grand theaters from becoming parking garages. Brel himself was a composer and lyricist of immense passion, commenting on the vagaries of love, loss, and war with unabashed emotionalism, often shaded with irony and veiled resentment. When performing his own work, he employed a broad, energetic style that left nothing to the imagination. Director Paul F. Gurgol attempts to snare that energy, but it doesn't work often enough in a show that frequently feels off-center. The five-person cast features performers who have garnered rave reviews in previous Kalliope offerings, and at times their skills shine through; the women generally fare better than the men, particularly Joan Ellison and Jodi Brinkman. Through March 11 at Kalliope Stage, 2134 Lee Rd., Cleveland Hts., 216-321-0870. -- Howey
The Price -- The set design of this multilayered play by Arthur Miller is made up of heavy old furniture -- an apt metaphor for the obstacles that clutter the relationships of its central characters. Thanks to a sterling cast and a gorgeously encumbered stage assembled by Ron Newell, Ensemble Theatre is offering a wise and incisive telling of this script that pits two brothers against each other and their shared past. Victor and Walter haven't spoken to each other for 16 years, since the demise of their father. The old man tipped over after losing a fortune in the Depression and living with cop-son Vic in an attic apartment crowded with stuff. Vic tries to unload the whole mess by inviting a used-furniture broker to buy it all. The dealer turns out to be 89-year-old Gregory Solomon, as wise as his namesake and equipped with enough one-liners to keep Victor (and the audience) thoroughly amused. This coot could easily be over-the-top, but as played by the absolutely perfect Reuben Silver, Solomon oozes warmth and believability. Complications arise as Victor's wife Esther shows up to lobby for the best price possible, so she can use the money to assuage her frustration with the financially modest life of a policeman's wife. And finally, wealthy brother Walter arrives to add fuel to the simmering blood feud. Few playwrights write family dramas better than Miller, and Ensemble's wonderful players -- under the precisely imagined direction of Dorothy Silver -- coax out every nuance of the words. Presented by Ensemble Theatre through February 25 at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Ave., 216-321-2930. -- Howey
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