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Capsule reviews of current area theater presentations. 

Theater Ninjas Aphrodisiac explores the politics of - bedding interns.
  • Theater Ninjas Aphrodisiac explores the politics of bedding interns.
Aphrodisiac -- That beltway stud Henry Kissinger knew what he was talking about when he said power is the ultimate aphrodisiac (though imagining Hammerin' Hank in full rut is another issue altogether). But the sex scandals of the powerful in D.C. move quickly, and a play based on the ultimately tragic affair between Congressman Gary Condit and intern Chandra Levy back in 2001 runs the risk of being eclipsed by fresher scuzz. In this three-person work, playwright Rob Handel uses the role-playing grown son and daughter of a congressman to plumb the depths of the politician's affair with a female intern. Handel has a nice way with insider jokes, but the fact is there isn't much depth in material like this: Horny powerful guy, ambitious underling, case closed. This brisk 70-minute piece is cleanly handled by the new Theater Ninjas group, even though Faye Hargate speeds through too many beats as daughter Alma. But Scott K. Crim is believable as the son, and Maggie Arndt has an interesting if rambling turn as Monica (yes, that Monica). Director Jeremy Paul finds the humor in the script, but any larger theme proves as elusive as the culprit who offed poor Chandra. Presented by Theater Ninjas through December 17 at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Ave., 440-773-4719. -- Christine Howey

A Christmas Carol -- As we grow into adulthood, most of us become keepers of certain family traditions at the holidays. Then, it falls to us to decide which aspects of the season to hold on to without variation and which others to improve by tweaking slightly. That's the task faced by the folks at the Great Lakes Theater Festival as they mount their annual production of A Christmas Carol. This is the 18th year in a row they've sent Ebenezer off on his ghostly time travels, and while they continue to get much of it splendidly right, a few new twists here and there probably would help keep their guests -- particularly the short, wide-eyed ones -- happy. Dudley Swetland once again invests the part of Scrooge with bountiful amounts of bile, and eventually whimsy. Presented by the Great Lakes Theater Festival through December 23 at the Ohio Theatre, 1519 Euclid Ave., 216-241-6000. -- Howey

Greater Tuna -- Say what you will about the decline of America, but there's still no better country in the world for poking fun at rural hicks. More than 20 years ago, the trio of Jaston Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard decided to make a buck off rube-roasting with Greater Tuna, a slapped-together montage of scenes involving various lip-movers and bottom-feeders from the tiny fictional backwater of Tuna, Texas. Beck Center is reviving this show once again, with the same two-person cast that presented it some six seasons ago. And while the actors perform with energy and goofy diligence, it's apparent that the comedic half-life of this material is getting a bit short. Structured limply around Thurston Wheelis and Arles Struvie, two yahoos who yell into the microphones at the local radio station, the show cuts away to introduce the various short-bus denizens of Tuna. A large part of the entertainment value of Tuna is in the constant costume changes and cross-dressing, as Kevin Joseph Kelly and Nicholas Koesters switch in and out of clothes backstage at breakneck speed. But as diverting as that can be, some aspects of the piece don't seem to be aging gracefully. Through December 17 at Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-521-2541. -- Howey

The Long Christmas Ride Home -- If you are lamenting the inevitable procession of familiar holiday entertainments, you may be pleased to hear that there is a production now onstage -- putatively about Christmas -- that will challenge you on many levels and entertain you on nearly all. In The Long Christmas Ride Home, playwright Paula Vogel gathers the emotional shards of a seriously dysfunctional suburban American family and arranges them into a sad but hypnotic mosaic that's touching in a number of unexpected ways. Using third-person Our Town-ish narration and dialogue scenes, along with life-size puppets, shadow puppets, and small snatches of dance, this remarkable work by the Bang and the Clatter Theatre manages to involve the audience in ways that at times are darkly humorous, but always thoroughly captivating. Through December 23 at the Bang and the Clatter Theatre, 140 E. Market St., Akron, 330-606-5317. -- Howey

Nite Club Confidential -- The 1950s had some musical high points that didn't involve Elvis and Jerry Lee, and those are captured to some degree in this mildly pleasant show at Kalliope Stage. A couple dozen lounge tunes are draped on a rickety storyline, which follows Sinatra wannabe Buck (a game but ultimately uncharismatic Steve Parmenter) as he tries to weasel his way into showbiz stardom. Schmoozing with fading chanteuse Kay Goodman (Trudi Posey in a Norma Desmondish turn) and crooning with his buddies Mitch, Sal, and Dorothy, Buck flits from one nightclub to another, searching for the big break. The show is dominated by the original songs of its creators, Dennis Deal and Albert Evans, with a few Johnny Mercer classics sprinkled throughout. And some of those original tunes work nicely, such as "The Long Goodbye," sung with rueful sadness by Kay. In a mostly workmanlike cast, Liz O'Donnell is particularly sharp and funny as Dorothy, a young singer on the rise, and Charles Statham's Mitch ignites a couple laughs with physical humor. Director Paul F. Gurgol has sport with the faux-noir tone of the work, but a dull Sal (Mark Ludden) and a weak premise make this highball less than fully intoxicating. Through December 9 at the Kalliope Stage, 2134 Lee Rd., Cleveland Hts., 216-321-0870. -- Howey

Pack of Lies -- There are falsehoods aplenty in this play by Hugh Whitemore. Based on a real spy case in 1960s Britain, it traces the story of Barbara and Bob Jackson, simple London suburbanites who are suddenly thrust into a cold-war espionage dust-up. The intrigue involves their best friends and neighbors of five years, Helen and Peter Kroger, who, unbeknown to the Jacksons, are KGB agents. In the first act, the playwright fashions a credible friendship between the Jacksons and the Krogers, who claim to be from Canada. Helen Kroger, boisterous and effusive, is the flip side of placidly passive Barbara, but it's easy to see how the two could forge a bond of trust and confidentiality. But that connection is ripped asunder when Stewart, a Brit intelligence officer, arrives to set up a stakeout in the Jacksons' house, where he and his minions can spy on the spies across the street. By intercutting dialogue scenes with mini-soliloquies from various characters, Whitemore creates a fascinating portrait of a quiet, predictable life gone horribly wrong. Director Greg Cesear brings beautifully modulated performances out of his talented cast. This subtle play goes beyond its international-spy-thriller trappings to ask a profound question: Is real friendship based on truth or appearances? And are we better off not knowing? Presented by Cesear's Forum through December 9 at Kennedy's Down Under, 1518 Euclid Ave., 216-241-6000. -- Howey

The Santaland Diaries -- When David Sedaris wrote this humorous, slightly acidic commentary for public radio, he never could have envisioned that it would become a Christmas staple. But his mini-memoir of his days as an Elf named Crumpet in Macy's giant Santaland complex has become as ubiquitous during the holidays as fruitcake jokes. Fortunately, the lines in this piece have plenty of snap, as delivered by Andrew Tarr, a young man with no shortage of elfin qualities himself. From lamenting his life in a hideous green velvet tunic to getting frothed up about the hot but fickle stud elf Snowball, Tarr plays Crumpet with a dry, self-deprecating wit that fits the material nicely. In this, his second season in this role at CPT, Tarr could probably stand to loosen up a bit and play off the audience more. And director Mindy Childress Herman could clean up a few of the transitions, since some of the brief vignettes tend to blur into each other. But generally, this is a can't-miss satire of Christmas crazies, with just enough heart to make you wish there really were a Santa and a battalion of elves. Through December 23 at Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit Ave., 216-631-2727. -- Howey

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