Favorite

Capsule reviews of current area theater presentations. 

The Magic Fire -- The cast of The Magic Fire solidly creates a range of eccentric and likable characters in one extended family. But the effect is undercut by excessive talking and direction that more often muddles than clarifies. Speaking to the audience directly, Lise, a middle-aged immigrant living in the U.S., recalls the summer of 1952, when she was a young girl living under an oppressive Argentinean regime. Lise's parents are refugees from Europe: Her father, Otto, escaped Austria; the family of her mother Amalia (Carla Petroski) left Italy before the turn of the century. Otto strives to build a pleasant, private life for his family, but reality keeps intruding. Lise's Aunt Elena (Valerie Young), an actor, can't get work because she won't kowtow to the government, while Lise's 98-year-old grandmother rapid-fires strong opinions about Mussolini -- and everything else. Eventually, a threat to the family's safety emerges: The housekeeper's strike-fomenting brother Santo takes shelter in the apartment's back rooms, hiding from the searching police. As Lise, Pandora Robertson is a bit overly mannered, cluttering her characterization with many half-finished gestures and head turns. As Otto, Robert Hawkes provides a stable center for sometimes overwritten scenes. We feel his anxiety as it becomes clear the insulated world he's trying to create is dissolving around him and his family. Running almost three hours, with two intermissions, Fire is an ambitious excursion with many bright moments. But it ultimately fails to shed new light on the complex topics it raises. Through September 23, produced by Ensemble Theatre, at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Avenue, 216-321-2930. -- Christine Howey

Pump Boys and Dinettes -- Pump Boys is about some rumpled gas-station grease monkeys and the darlin' waitresses next door, and it's challenging to pull off: Its songs are only serviceable, and the jokes are old. If it's going to work, it needs down-home simplicity. But director Sean Cercone and lighting designer Paul Black are too fond of the haze machine, which fills the stage area with a light mist and makes visible the colored beams from swiveling and pivoting spotlights. The southern rednecks and rubes who sing the show's blues/country/rock/ gospel tunes are attacked by shafts of hot pink and throbbing purple. Playing the lead Boy is Pat McRoberts; he hits the notes, as do most of his compatriots, but the meanings of some songs disappear in the ever-present mist. Pianist and singer Steven Ray Watkins turns in a diggin' version of "Serve Yourself," even though he comes up dreadfully short in two other featured songs that require him to be amusing. And as for the Cupp sisters, hot Rhetta (Kate Margaret) is only lukewarm, and pixie-ish Prudie (Sarah Nischwitz) finds herself groping for the right melodies. If only this production had the straightforward honesty of director Cercone's program notes, in which he recalls the bluegrass music his dad played and shared with him -- now that could be a great show, no swiveling spotlights required. Through October 27 at the Carousel Dinner Theatre, 1275 East Waterloo Road, Akron, 800-362-4100 -- Howey

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