All Hail Hurricane Gordo — Written by young playwright Carly Mensch, this script leans on quirky characters acting in humorous but less than interesting ways. It starts with twentyish Gordo playing a game of Nerf basketball, first by himself and then with his slightly older brother Chaz. It turns out Gordo is developmentally challenged, with intense hyperactivity and a self-abusive anger reflex, and completely dependent on Chaz. Their parents have split and they are on their own, until Chaz decides to advertise for a roommate. Enter a young female renter named India, who shares many of the manic characteristics of Gordo. All pop-eyed and trembling with nervous energy, India (an initially overtorqued Tracee Chimo) decides the boys' hovel is perfect. Patrick James Lynch (who plays Gordo) and Matthew Dellapina (Chaz) wrestle believably as brothers, both literally and figuratively. But moments when Chaz tries to reflect on his destiny in life — as Gordo's full-time babysitter — never go beyond easy kitchen-towel aphorisms. In the second act, the wild and crazy emoting calms a bit, and India's dad, Oscar, shows up, portrayed by William McNulty with a welcome air of gruff sanity. Demonstrating different anger-management techniques than Gordo, who prefers running into walls, Oscar gives Chaz a tutorial on familial love and commitment. It's another example of playwright Mensch's ear for dialogue. But ultimately, the strained story is a bit too pat to be truly engaging. Through May 11 at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Ave., 216-795-7000. — Christine Howey
The Blacks: A Clown Show — Jean Genet's The Blacks: A Clown Show is a brutally confrontational tone poem that will leave an imprint on your mind. Genet — the white French playwright who spent a good chunk of his youth as a thief and male prostitute — was a master at creating theatrical ceremony and ritual. And in director Terrence Spivey's perhaps finest work to date, Genet's lyrically cruel and teasingly absurd script is brought vibrantly to life. A troupe of black performers is called before a tribunal of five, who are played by black actors wearing white masks. The players, embodying various black stereotypes, then act out the murder of a white woman, which they have been accused of committing, to the titillation and astonishment of the white power elite. Although the subject matter is heavy, the Karamu production is thoroughly entertaining. Archibald, the leader of the acting troupe, is given a galvanizing portrayal by Jason Dixon. Taking the character profile of the emcee in Cabaret several steps further, Dixon prowls the stage like a decadent cougar, ready to pounce on other performers and even an audience member or two. He is supported in grand fashion by glowering Joseph Primes as Deodatus Village, the supposed murderer, Erin Neal's attitude-heavy Augustus Snow, and Saidah Mitchell as the tribally bedecked Felicity Trollop Pardon. As good as some individual performances are, the real triumph is the ensemble work, tied together by Spivey's energetic movement and hip-hop-tinged choreography. Through May 10 at the Karamu Performing Arts Theatre, 2355 E. 89th St., 216-795-7077. — Howey
Cagelove — In this hash of a script by Christopher Denham, Katie and Sam are a young couple teetering on the brink of matrimony. But their life is clouded by the fact that Katie was raped by her ex-boyfriend, a male model whom she's photographed. Sam, meanwhile, is a successful white-collar computer dude with a mean jealous streak. In a series of clipped and sometimes abrupt scenes, we learn that Sam has been following Katie and discovered that she's been visiting her ex. This sends Sam into an ugly southbound spiral, which includes a brief grab-and-grope with Katie's not-so-well-intentioned sister, Ellen (a professional but doomed-by-the-script Dawn Youngs). The acting by the two principals feels exhausted. Rachel Lones, as Katie, mumbles and sighs her lines. Scott Shriner never finds a through-line for his character. The production bears little of Bang and Clatter's incisive style and attention to detail. Sean Derry's cramped and dingy set design appears inappropriate for an aspiring corporate executive and a big-time artist. And director Sean McConaha's pacing is glacial. The scene breaks are interminable. Even light cues are fumbled. Bang and Clatter is taking on an enormous challenge, mounting 16 shows a year in two locations miles apart. Let's hope that the increase in quantity doesn't force a reduction in quality, as it seems to have done in Cagelove. Through May 24 at the Bang and the Clatter Theatre, 140 E. Market St., Akron, 330-606-5317. — Howey
This Is How It Goes — The first play at this new venue embodies many of the strengths, and a couple of the weaknesses, of this company, which is committed to producing plays never before seen in Ohio. It's structured around a romantic triangle involving an interracial married couple and a male friend, referenced pretentiously as "Man." All three attended high school together 10 years earlier, and the play seeks to use their interrelations to address race, prejudice, and the scummy underside of the male psyche. This production wrings plenty of tension from the conversations among the three characters, as Belinda (a smart and compelling Leighann Niles DeLorenzo) confesses her shallow reasons for marrying and bearing children by African American athlete-turned-businessman Cody: "I got a thrill walking through Wal-Mart with my two brown children in tow." But Cody, portrayed by Michael May in a well-modulated performance, has become distant and perhaps abusive. Uncertainty arises from the playwright's device of establishing the Man as an admittedly undependable narrator and (could it be?) a closet racist. This "maybe-maybe not" conceit becomes tiresome — even in the capable hands of Doug Kusak, who gives Man a friendly, accessible demeanor. It all leads up to a slimy scheme, cooked up by the guys, that feels artificial and out of character. But there are enough sparks lit along the way to maintain interest, if not total credibility. Through May 10 at The Bang and the Clatter Theatre, 210 Euclid Ave., 330-606-5317. — Howey
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