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Capsule reviews of current area theater presentations. 

Amadeus -- If your mortal enemy were in the same profession as you, chances are you'd wish him every failure possible, so that you could wallow in all the attendant misery. But Amadeus author Peter Shaffer might advise that you be careful what you wish for. Indeed, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a giant thorn in the side of Antonio Salieri, court composer to the emperor of Austria. And for a long time in this drama, Salieri's dreams do come true: Mozart's brilliant music is often greeted with a shrug by his patron and the public, while Salieri's comparatively primitive tunes were hailed and richly rewarded. Yet this becomes Salieri's most exquisite torment, since only he appears able to recognize Mozart's genius. In the linchpin role, Andrew May stows many of his theatrical pyrotechnics and crafts a cramped and hollow Salieri. He is well matched by Ben Nordstrom's wildly careening yet believable Mozart, a man who, for all his excesses, still knows the score. The entire cast, under the deft direction of Gordon Reinhart, is so accomplished, one almost doesn't notice how unnecessarily padded and overlong the script is, landing at three hours with intermission. Presented by the Great Lakes Theater Festival through October 22 at the Ohio Theatre, 1517 Euclid Ave., 216-241-6000. -- Christine Howey

Cabaret -- Kalliope's brutally magnificent staging of this show, popularized on film in 1972, strips it down to its core. The result is a metal-on-metal screech of bleak sexuality in a backwards world where survival demands isolation from others. The Kit Kat Club is bustling with activity as you take your seat at a small table: Leather boys abound, a transvestite is swinging overhead, and the stage is set for the emcee, played by John Paul Boukis, to launch into "Wilkommen." The emcee's performances, supported by a splendidly sullen chorus line of junkies, whores, and perverts, serve as the framework for a curiously traditional Broadway musical formula: two couples teetering on the brink of relationships. This Cabaret gets even the small things right, from background vignettes (an S&M bottom getting paddled by his top) to a contortionist clown-mime (the amazingly limber Joseph Haladey III) who continually fuels the production's spooky aura. And even though the first-act pacing goes a little slack, the show's breathtaking ending will drive home the stark terror that can appear with the flick of a switch. Through October 16 at Kalliope Stage, 2134 Lee Rd., Cleveland Hts., 216-321-0870. -- Howey

Dark Room -- The conventional image we have of playwrights and poets is of lonely souls slaving away in a poorly lit basement. Well, you've got the location and the illumination right, but everything else about the Dark Room project is much cheerier. Sponsored by the Cleveland Theater Collective, it's a once-a-month workshop/cabaret for writers who want to try out their new efforts on a small but extremely encouraging audience. On this night, in a basement room in the Parish Hall at Cleveland Public Theatre, the quality of the pieces varied widely, as is to be expected with scenes or verses that are still being developed (thus, the dark room). But one monologue by Tom Huggins, describing the burnout of nurses dealing with psycho patients in hospitals, was as irreverent and hilarious as a David Sedaris essay. Other offerings, each under 10 minutes, touched on the obnoxious questions asked of "little people," a musical take on holiday haters, and a little girl's imaginary friend, who is a middle-aged Dame Edna type. Reading from scripts (and dragooning anyone nearby to fill out a cast), the writers express, share, and support. And that's a terrific environment for any embryonic artistic endeavor. Takes place the second Thursday of every month at Cleveland Public Theatre's Parish Hall, 6205 Detroit Avenue, 216-631-2727, -- Howey

Footloose -- Twenty years ago, as Kevin Bacon shook his booty to film stardom, this story about a small town's dancing ban seemed far-fetched. But these days, who knows? The stage version, now at the Carousel Dinner Theatre, is a faithful retelling of the yarn, down to young Ren McCormack's (Mike Backes) mischievous needling, Reverend Shaw Moore's (Paul Floriano) grim Christian rectitude, and his daughter Ariel's (Kyli Rae) swooning crush on Ren, the rebel with the prancing feet. This production has a strangely enervating feeling in the first act, a combination of an uneven sound system and a couple of less than dynamic characterizations. But it hits the ground kicking in the second stanza, with an energetic "Still Rockin'" and an appealing rendition of "Let's Hear It for the Boy" by Vanessa Ray, who brings a bundle of fun to her portrayal of Rusty. SuEllen Estey, as the Reverend's wife, Vi, nails two of the quieter songs, evoking genuine sentiment from "Learning to Be Silent" and "Can You Find It in Your Heart?" Although the singing voices of Backes and Rae seem a bit thin at times, the final result makes you want to hit the dance floor. Through November 12 at Carousel Dinner Theatre, 1275 E. Waterloo Rd., Akron, 800-362-4100. -- Howey

The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? -- The sexual union of man and beast is one of the darker byways of eros, a topic most civilized people steer clear of. But in 2000, the esteemed and provocative playwright Edward Albee created a minor uproar with this play, which addresses the issue with a combination of absurdity, comedy, and Greek tragedy. Dobama Theatre is now presenting this fierce exploration of the limits of tolerance, the boundaries of love and betrayal, and the allure of sloe-eyed quadrupeds. While frequently witty and often hypnotically fascinating, the play is rife with contradictions and flaws. But it's elevated by Joel Hammer's pitch-perfect direction and one performance that is so shattering in its honesty, variety, and rage that it transcends the material: Tracee Patterson, as wife Stevie, keeps all her reactions credible in the face of the incomprehensible revelation that her husband, Martin (Scott Miller), has been bedding a goat. Presented by Dobama Theatre through October 16 at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Ave., 216-932-3396. -- Howey

Menopause, the Musical -- Everybody enjoys musicals dealing with energetic young people on the brink of conquering the world. But what about the people in the audience: the nearsighted, overweight, and wrinkled denizens of middle age, who rarely see their own physiological mysteries put into song? For them, there is Menopause, the Musical, a hoot of a show written by Jeanie Linders. It's a foot-stomping 90-minute revival meeting for women who've had to deal with The Change while also trying to maintain their careers and family relationships. Menopause is frequently repetitious, even teetering on the brink of tiresome, but the energetic cast of four and spirited direction by Patty Bender and Kathryn Conte maintain the flow, so to speak. All women with a few decades on them -- even those who only use "menopause" as an excuse to get out of going to football games -- will probably get a stiff neck from nodding in agreement and a tender side from all the laughter. Playhouse Square Center's 14th Street Theatre, 2037 East 14th St., 216-241-6000. -- Howey

Midnight Martini Show -- There is a strange attraction in Frank Sinatra's loosely organized Rat Pack and their infamous, loopily disorganized Las Vegas shows that ran for a few golden years back in the 1960s. Frank, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. mixed pop songs, corny jokes, and Johnnie Walker into an irreverent, hip evening that seemed so easy. What the Midnight Martini Show at Pickwick & Frolic proves is that it ain't easy at all. This one-hour set attempts to capture the bored-with-it-all sophistication and the slightly inebriated intimacy that the Rat Packers achieved, but it fails on several counts, from the overly eager performers to the florid songs and lame drinking jokes. Which is not to say that this no-cover show doesn't provide a convenient glide path for those downtown on a Friday or Saturday night. Indeed, some of the American standards are sung well enough. Now the task is to find directors and performers who understand that being casually funny while delivering classic tunes takes a lot of work. Fridays and Saturdays at Pickwick & Frolic, 2035 East 4th St., 216-241-7425. -- Howey

Pterodactyls -- Just as shellfish have unique effects on every digestive system, each person has his own response to dark comedies about fractured families made up of determinedly zany individuals. Nicky Silver's latest is a prime example of the clever writing, free-form characterization, and blunt symbolism that mark plays of this genre. Intent on putting the "unction" in dysfunction, Silver performs a ritual sacrament for the death of the modern, upscale family in America. Much of the work rings hollow, but there are many moments that work -- thanks in large measure to director Clyde Simon's brisk pacing and some intriguing performances. As the lush matriarch Grace, Lauri Hammer hits precisely the right notes, ruling this demented roost with the fierce monomania of a control freak on monkey-gland steroids. Jovana Batkovic is also excellent as the tormented daughter Emma. Silver has some interesting thoughts about the folly and transience of life, but his fondness for taking the cute line over telling but less showy character interaction undermines any chance at truly edgy satire. What we are left with is a production that elicits many laughs, followed by a shrug. Presented by Convergence-Continuum through October 8 at the Liminis, 2438 Scranton Road, 216-687-0074. -- Howey

Urinetown the Musical -- The community devastation in Urinetown is an apt echo of the Hurricane Katrina misery, as it posits a fictional city in the grip of a multiyear drought so extreme, the government has privatized bathrooms to preserve water. In other words, you gotta pay to pee. This hilarious, satirical sendup of money-grubbing evil won three Tonys in 2002, along with the hearts of anyone who enjoys a musical that never takes itself seriously. The hero is Bobby Strong (played by Colin James Cook), a public-amenity attendant who sympathizes with the cross-legged, squirming denizens of the town and rebels against the corruption of the urinal and toilet monopoly: UGC (Urine Good Co.) and its malevolent CEO Caldwell B. Cladwell (rich-voiced Gregory Violand). Bobby falls for Cladwell's beautiful daughter Hope (Maggie Stahl), who's working as a fax/copy girl at UGC's gleaming headquarters tower. But Bobby runs afoul of the police and is sent to Urinetown, the mysterious place where pee and poop felons go and never return. Urine for a treat with this show. Through October 9 at Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-521-2540. -- Howey

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