Favorite

Capsule reviews of current area theater presentations. 

Avail 4 -- Linda Fredrickson has channeled her personal search for a mate into this pastiche of comedy and perhaps unintended pathos. Composed of three parts improv comedy, two parts personal classified ads, and one part group therapy, the show is frequently amusing and sometimes cringeworthy; the whole experience floats in the netherworld between theater and a self-help encounter. It's loosely structured around four young performers who deliver scripted comedy bits, interspersed with close to 20 real single people, many well into their middle years, who stand up at their seats and deliver their pitches to any potential partners who might be in the audience. These preselected singles, referred to as "pop-ups" in the show, have been rehearsed by director Jacqi Loewy, so they exhibit sufficient confidence and never wind up staring mutely at their shoes. The mini-comedy monologues handled by the professionals break no new ground, but show that Fredrickson has a nice feel for a punch line. Through October 7 at the East 14th Street Theatre, East 14th St. and Prospect Ave., 216-241-5000. -- Christine Howey

Hamlet -- Some shows sound just about perfect on paper: When Beck Center envisioned a production of perhaps the best play ever written, directed by the supremely talented David Hansen and featuring a stellar cast highlighted by the chiseled and powerful Sarah Morton as the melancholy Dane, it must have seemed a sure winner. Alas, even the cross-gender casting of the Prince doesn't succeed in lifting this soporific effort above the merely competent. Perhaps it's the monochromatic off-white set, which unintentionally echoes the deliberate, one-gear pacing of this excursion into madness and tragedy. Or perhaps it's the fact that Morton, a splendid performer when delivering her own scripts, seems unable to harness this iconic role. The challenge is always to retain Shakespeare's musical lilt while making the dialogue expressive and understandable. Morton, however, either dismantles Will's melodies and delivers her lines naturalistically -- "Alas . . . [sigh, beat] . . . poor Yorick . . . [shrug, sigh, beat] . . . I knew him well" -- or she stiffly goes with the poetic flow and loses meaning in the process. She is supported gamely by fine actors (George Roth, Nicholas Koesters, Anne McEvoy), and there are a couple of electric moments -- especially when Hamlet confronts his (her?) mother Gertrude. But overall, this Hamlet is as colorless as its pasty surroundings. Through October 22 at the Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-521-2540. -- Howey

Porgy and Bess -- If you're looking for only one take on the African American zeitgeist in the Depression-era South, it's hard to beat this American icon written by two nice, white Jewish brothers from Brooklyn. The immensely powerful folk opera, crafted by George and Ira Gershwin, requires singers that can match the demands of a classic score. And on that count, the Beck Center cast does quite well. As Porgy, massive William Clarence Marshall is a force of nature onstage, bringing brute strength and tender nuance to "I Got Plenty o' Nuttin'" and "Bess, You Is My Woman." Dione Parker Bennett is equally gifted vocally as Bess, but she isn't able to handle the acting demands and remains a stick figure next to the pulsing humanity of Marshall's Porgy. Karen Clark-Green (Serena) and Brian Keith Johnson (Crown) excel in their roles, but the featured character of Sportin' Life is mishandled by Devon Settles. He settles for a super-slinky walk, but never captures the brazen electricity of this pusher and con man. Director Scott Spence seems to approach this honored material with excessive reverence, allowing the pace to drag and never making the Catfish Row tenement teem with life. As a result, this production makes for a pretty good CD, but not such captivating theater. Through October 8 at the Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-521-2540. -- Howey

Rabbit Hole -- There may be no more agonizing event than the death of a small child. There is no metaphor, no simile, no turn of phrase that can come close to expressing what a parent feels in such a tragic situation. Yet that is the assignment playwright David Lindsay-Abaire sets for himself. His courage is to be applauded, since he has to avoid Lifetime Channel mawkishness while conveying how a young life snuffed out would affect an otherwise normal family. Although the script is less than ideal in some respects, the Play House company delivers a nuanced, understated performance that is as affecting and funny -- yes, funny -- as it is believable. Becca and Howie Corbett are husband and wife but no longer mother and father of four-year-old Danny, who was killed accidentally by a passing car when he ran into the street in pursuit of his dog. Eight months later, there are many points of tension between Howie and Becca, as he wants to keep reminders of Danny around the house, while she wants them gone. In one of his best directorial efforts since taking the reins at the Play House, Michael Bloom orchestrates a symphony of quiet, lingering hurt that never becomes tiresome. It's gratifying to see the Play House handle such demanding material with smooth professionalism. Through October 8 at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Ave., 216-795-7000. -- Howey

Urinetown -- Artistic director Sean Cercone is to be commended for his courage: Given songs titled "Privilege to Pee" and "Snuff That Girl," it couldn't have been easy deciding to mount this edgy and hilarious show in the frequently placid confines of Carousel Dinner Theatre. In this piece about a desperate water shortage and restrictions on free peeing, director Jennifer Cody keeps the dialogue pace very slow -- consider it the "large-print" version -- presumably to make sure that no one in the sprawling, well-fed audience loses track of the proceedings. But fine performances abound, particularly from tiny Karen Katz, who brings a feisty vibe to Little Sally. Al Bundonis handles Officer Lockstock's meta-narration ("Welcome to Urinetown . . . not the town, the musical!") with slick precision. And Robert Stoeckle is a cloyingly venal presence as Caldwell B. Cladwell. Although Michele Ragusa is a bit too petite for restroom-diva Penelope Pennywise, she works her powerful voice to maximum effect. Thanks to excellent singing voices from top to bottom, some dazzling dance numbers choreographed by Brian Loeffler, and taut execution from a talented chorus, this Urinetown is a golden shower of pleasant surprises. Through November 4 at Carousel Dinner Theatre, 1275 E. Waterloo Rd., Akron, 800-362-4100. -- Howey

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