Favorite

Capsule reviews of current area theater presentations. 

The Dark Lady of the Sonnets -- It's exhilarating to find a short show that's entirely diverting and worthwhile -- not to mention free. The title of this George Bernard Shaw piece refers to the 24 sonnets by William Shakespeare purportedly addressed to a "dark lady," who served as the bard's muse for a spell. Although her identity was never revealed, speculation has it that she was Mary Fitton, the maid of honor to Queen Elizabeth. So Shaw has placed Will on the terrace of the palace at Whitehall, eager to meet his dark lady and feed his urges. Since Shaw was of the opinion that Shakespeare was just a "snapper-up" of overheard talk, he portrays him as a shallow writer, an insulting cad and sycophant -- and David Hansen delivers the part with irrepressible zest. The show's rich language, sly humor, and pitch-perfect performances (including Michael Regnier as a frank and funny palace guard) make this a half-hour that keeps you laughing and thinking. Presented by the Great Lakes Theater Festival through May 7 at various locations; for more information, go to www.greatlakestheater.org. -- Christine 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 Ave., 216-631-2727, www.clevelandtheater.com. -- 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

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers -- According to Plutarch's telling of the mythological rape of the Sabine women, ancient Rome was losing population and females were in short supply, so some horny soldiers glanced over at the hotties down the road and figured, hey, let's go get us some of that. This mass felony is also the central theme of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, the theatrical interpretation of the 1954 film. This iteration tries to capture some of the electric Michael Kidd choreography that made the movie so watchable. But despite consistently strong singing voices and a load of earnest effort, the production is sunk by leaden pacing and uninspired dancing, along with tunes and dialogue that rarely elevate above the mundane. There are so many dead ends in this work that it might more accurately be named Seven Weddings and a Funeral. Through April 29 at Carousel Dinner Theatre, 1275 E. Waterloo Rd., Akron, 800-362-4100. -- Howey

This One Thing I Do -- We're familiar with some of the bumper-sticker quotes from icons of the feminist movement: "Marriage is legal death" and "I don't want to be a man, I want to be a person." But it's still a good idea to revisit the era when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were swimming against the national current of gender stereotyping and social prejudice. And the staged reading now being presented by Red Hen Productions fills that bill by animating a script written by Claire Braz-Valentine in collaboration with Michael Griggs. Comprising snatches of the two women's lives from 1840 to 1902, the play traces their close relationship, along with some milestone events. In the best sequence, Anthony (Sara H. Kunchik) stands trial for sneaking her vote into a ballot box some 50 years before the Suffrage Act would be passed by Congress. The reactionary judge won't allow her to testify on her own behalf, terming her deranged, but Anthony doesn't flinch. Although a bit short on character development, this performance is a salutary reminder that we aren't that far removed from the days when women, like children, were to be seen and not heard. Presented by Red Hen through March 19 at the Cleveland Arts Theater, 11619 Euclid Ave., 216-556-0910. -- Howey

When the World Was Green -- For most of us, the myths and memories of childhood are a bubbling brew of joys and terrors that stay with us our whole lives. And no matter how big we grow, there are always nagging issues from our formative years that we keep trying to resolve or eradicate. Fortunately, it's rare when a youngster is saddled with the assignment of killing his own cousin in retribution for a family conflict dating back several generations. That's the baggage carried by the aging master chef in this play by Joseph Chaikin and Sam Shepard. The playwrights have subtitled their work "A Chef's Fable," which apparently gives them license to freely twirl lyrical pretensions at the expense of reason. Even so, ill-fitting details keep getting in the way of this Cesear's Forum production, in spite of the best efforts of a talented two-person cast. Through March 18 at Cesear's Forum at Kennedy's Down Under, 1519 Euclid Ave., 216-241-6000. -- Howey

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