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
Of Mice and Men -- As the consummate buddy story gone horribly awry, John Steinbeck's classic is about colliding passions, including the obsession for survival and human connection in a parched and hostile environment. On a farm in Depression-era California, clever George and his large, dim-witted sidekick Lennie try to eke out a living while trying to keep Lennie from accidentally offing people. Director Seth Gordon manages the pace well, but the intensity is largely missing. Harry Carnahan's George is more Clooney than Steinbeck, too smooth by half and failing to register the genuine tension between living his hardscrabble life and maintaining the relationship with his needy pal. And while Jeffrey Evan Thomas as Lennie is a lovable lunk, with delicate hand gestures belying his size, he doesn't succeed in making this man the dangerous, imminent threat he must represent in order for the story to resonate. With those passions banked, Lennie's confrontation with hot-tempered Curley's wife (played with a predictable bedroom drawl by Amanda Rowan) does not deliver the requisite shivers. But on the plus side, Wiley Moore as Crooks and John Woodson as Carlson draw rich and believable characters. Through January 28 at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Ave., 216-795-7000. -- Howey
Sleep Deprivation Chamber -- Expectations are the WD-40 of our lives, the lubricant that allows us to maneuver through the world and get things done. But what happens when normal expectations are reversed? What happens, say, to law-abiding blacks who are trailed through stores by security or stopped while driving through affluent neighborhoods, simply because their skin color has altered the expectations of their behavior? These are the tough questions addressed in this uneven but enormously affecting work by Adrienne Kennedy and her son Adam P. Kennedy. Based on an actual event that occurred in the lives of the African American authors (renamed Suzanne and Teddy Alexander), the play explores the corrosive and disorienting effects on individuals when a person is singled out, abused, and then falsely accused by seemingly intractable powers. Unfortunately, the mordant lyricism of the first part of this 90-minute work gives way to a perfunctory judicial procedural, with the playwrights relying far too much on what seems to be the actual trial transcript. But the dizzying disconnect of an individual who is unjustly under assault comes through loud and clear. Through January 27 at Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit Ave., 216-631-2727. -- Howey
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