Favorite

Capsule reviews of current area theater presentations. 

Jekyll and Hyde -- The ultimate story of split identities, Jekyll and Hyde (the musical) features a collection of similar-sounding musical numbers linked by less connective tissue than an anatomy-class skeleton. But the folks at the Beck Center manage to make J&H an entertaining excursion into the schizoid mind. Dr. Henry Jekyll is absorbed in his quest to isolate good from evil in a human being, but his study is rejected. So he tries his potion on himself and morphs into Edward Hyde, freelance sociopath. Actor Dan Folino turns Jekyll into an obsessive-compulsive geek, beaten up by the powers that be. But once he mainlines his joy juice, jerky Jekyll is replaced by a smoothly amoral Mr. Hyde with flowing locks -- a self-admiring and homicidal cross between Fabio and Dick Cheney. Folino's lustrous singing voice makes many of the tunes sound better than they actually are. And matching Folino in stage presence and singing power is Amiee Collier, who plays the whore Lucy Harris with street-wise sensuality. But no other characters are drawn with an ounce of interest or individuality. And once Hyde goes on his rampage during the "Murder! Murder!" number, director Scott Spence gives in to special-effects cheese better fit for the Itchy & Scratchy Show. The slick production, however, is abetted by a gorgeous set designed by Don McBride, and the musical direction by Larry Goodpaster is largely flawless. Through August 5 at the Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood, 216-521-2540. -- Christine Howey

A Narrow Bridge -- Clevelander Cliff Hershman's drama is another plunge into the crowded waters of suburban dysfunction. A merged family is living in upscale Toledo, with Mom Edie and her middle-school daughter, Kim, sharing a roof with Mom's second husband, Blue, and his estranged son, Willy. Squalid undercurrents in this plastic setting quickly bubble to the surface. Boozy Blue tries to conspire with his step-daughter against his wife; Edie is oblivious to her hubby's unfatherly activities; and Willy, who just hitchhiked from the desert Southwest, chimes in with the occasional philosophical riff ("I became the desert," "I'm a ghost," etc.) and tries to steer Kim away from his dad. Many plays delve into the underside of middle-class life, but Hershman demonstrates admirable restraint, sharing just enough information to keep the play taut, and a strong cast brings the well-written script to life. As Edie, Anne McEvoy draws a sympathetic portrayal. Chuck Simon, as Blue, underplays his role, making his sudden flare-ups more arresting. Jennifer Hoffman is a bit well developed to be a credible junior-high schooler as Kim, but she wisely focuses on Kim's pubescent dreams. Willy is portrayed by Tony Weaver with a cool detachment. Once all the cards are out on the table, the story totters into a sort of shaggy-dog ending. With a more powerful ending, A Narrow Bridge could be a thought-provoking stroll through suburbia. Through July 29 at the Bang and the Clatter Theatre, 140 East Market Street, Akron, 330-606-5317 -- Howey

Richard III -- Sure, there was a lot of killing in the sweaty flick 300, but Shakespeare was no slouch himself when it came to beheadings and other assorted homicides, as he proves in this play. Amid a swirl of dreams and prophecies, the deformed Richard pursues his how-to-be-a-king procedural with frightening ferocity. The role of Richard in this production by the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival is taken by Allan Branstein, an able actor, but one who, even with a lump and a limp, never becomes a true Dick. He lacks vocal resonance and doesn't shape his speeches so they thrill and disgust in equal measure. Better are Reagan Kendrick as the doomed Lady Anne and a fiery Cat Kenney as Margaret. Indeed, one could actually imagine Kenney doing quite a turn in the title role. Director Allan Byrne has some fun with unusual music cues (including "Send in the Clowns" when the two lunkheads are sent to assassinate the young princes). But he allows his actors to take root in too many scenes, making the entire proceeding feel a bit static. Still, it's Shakespeare, it's free, and it's outdoors. So what's to complain about? Through August 5 at different locations. Visit www.cleveshakes.org for more information. -- Howey

The Taming of the Shrew -- While Katharina's submissive curtain speech is sure to set feminist nerves on edge ("Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper . . . [women] are bound to serve, love, and obey"), it won't work if this freshly minted Stepford wife doesn't start with a serious attitude and a major set of cojones. The Cleveland Shakespeare Festival company gets this role exactly right, as Lisa Siciliano rages with true grit in the early scenes. Matching her sneer for sneer is Scott Esposito as the snarky Petruchio, and their chemistry makes this Shrew a lusty battle. Their wedding scene, when Petruchio enters wearing motley clothes and a necklace of sausages, is a riot. Even though some smaller roles are played by actors who are soft on lines and rely on too much eye-rolling, solid performances are turned in by Carli Taylor Miluk as dippy Bianca, Edie Hitchcock as Tranio, and Justin Brenis as Hortensio. These outdoor performances, directed by Larry Nehring, are compact (under two hours) and worth far more than the admission price (free). Through August 5. Visit www.cleveshakes.org for locations. No reservations -- bring a blanket or chair. -- Howey

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