Fat Pig -- Written by Neil LaBute, who owns a burgeoning theatrical franchise specializing in callous and misogynistic characters, this play centers on a Rubenesque young woman named Helen, who is played by the lovely but definitely not anorexic Jenna Messina. The audience must deal not only with Helen's issues, as she pursues a romantic relationship with slim Tom, but also with the impact of the play on the actress herself. Fortunately, even though there are a number of fat jokes and jabs, one never has the sense that either Helen or Jenna is a victim. And that is only one of the many triumphs in this must-see evening. Helen is imbued with clear-eyed honesty about her body and image of herself, and Messina is tone-perfect in the role. As Tom, Sean Derry writhes on the pinpoint of pursuing his blossoming love at the risk of losing his status as a player and stud in his social circle. And the moral of the story? Fat chance. See it and decide for yourself. Through February 11 at the Bang and the Clatter Theatre Company, 140 East Market St., Akron, 330-606-5317. -- Howey
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
Other People's Money -- It seems almost quaint, thinking back on the 1980s and the financial scandals involving shady brokers and arbitrageurs. They look like pikers compared to today's corporate and war-profiteering felons, who make off with billions of taxpayer dollars with a wink and nod from the government. But this play by Jerry Sterner, now at Lakeland Community College Theatre, captures that past era well. Just like in the movie, Larry "The Liquidator" Garfinkle is out to feed on the carcass of a failing wire and cable (back then, cable referred only to thick wire, not TV technology) company. But Larry is fought by the company's president, his longtime assistant Bea, and her daughter Kate. It's worth a trip out windswept Route 90 just to see Andrew Narten chew many donuts and a bit of the scenery as Larry. Sporting an eccentric Bronx accent and Santa padding to make him portly, Narten crafts a deliciously greedy, sexist, obnoxious pig. And Amy Pawlukiewicz is believable as Kate, his beauteous foe until the all too realistic conclusion. Director Martin Friedman keeps the pace lively and manages to keep a couple weaker performers from interrupting the flow. Through February 18 at Lakeland Community College, SR 90 and 306, Kirtland, 440-525-7034. -- Howey
Permanent Collection -- Based on an actual situation that occurred at a Philadelphia arts foundation, Thomas Gibbons' play presents a pulsing montage of conflicts involving race, artistic taste, and egos on the rampage. Placed on a handsomely decorated stage at Karamu's Arena Theatre, the production suffers from too many one-dimensional performances to successfully deal with the many strands of discontent the script puts into play. The Morris Foundation, a museum housing masterpieces by Picasso, Renoir, Matisse, and more, has been bequeathed to a black university by the will of its cantankerous and eccentric founder, Dr. Alfred Morris. The foundation is now being led by new director Sterling North, an African American coming from his most recent post as VP of a large corporation, but without an art background. On a tour of the museum, North finds some extraordinary African art in storage and wants to bring it out. But he immediately clashes with Paul Barrows, the white director of education and the keeper of the founder's vision. Barrows claims the changes would be heresy, and the short-tempered North responds with charges of racism. Soon, the whole community is up in arms. The Karamu cast, under the direction of Terrence Spivey, largely work from a palette of primary colors in creating their roles, losing much of the shading that would resonate more fully. Through February 11 at Karamu Theatre, 2355 East 89th St., 216-795-7077. -- Howey
Thom Pain (Based on Nothing) -- Here's a one-man, one-hour careening toboggan ride down an ice chute of childhood miseries, adult terrors, trap-door surprises, and acidly cryptic observations about identity, love, and the meaning of existence. And if that sounds self-important and pretentious, this piece is also unremittingly funny -- funny in ways that simultaneously make you question why the hell you're laughing. The fellow at the center of this plotless 60-minute screed is a diffident, bespectacled nebbish who walks hesitantly over imaginary cracks and avoids eye contact. But then he changes for short bursts, and we see glimpses of other personalities: the affable host, the yearning lover, the lost little boy, the bully. In short, he's an everyman who contains within him the seeds and shards of people he might have been, absent the wounds that shaped his destiny. But in this case, the sharp points are all exposed, allowing the audience to bleed along with him. Scott Plate's performance of this challenging, whirling-dervish script is simply a revelation. This is a theatrical experience to see, cogitate on, and treasure. Don't let it slip away. Presented by Dobama Theatre through February 17 at Shaker Square (in the movie theater quadrant), 216-932-3396. -- Howey
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