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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Lots of Songs, Not Much Plot in 'Everything is Okay (and other helpful lies)' at Cleveland Public Theatre

Posted By on Tue, Oct 30, 2018 at 10:50 AM

  • Steve Wagner Photography
Can female masturbation save us? Based on the “Masturbation Song” which occurs in the second act of this musical, you might think so. It is an inventive and effusively upbeat tribute to womanly self-love in which three women and their hand-fans take on a variety of anatomical shapes. That is entirely in keeping with a show written and composed by two women, Melissa Crum and Caitlin Lewins, who also perform as part of the six-member cast.

Good for them, for defying the male-dominated world of American musicals. We should all celebrate their gumption and fortitude by voting on November 6, and using our voices to support women and their dreams.

Unfortunately, as good as the “Masturbation Song” and dance is, there is way too much mental masturbation in the remainder of this show, which runs 110 minutes with the help of an unnecessary 15-minute intermission. In trying to express the rage of millennials at the state of the world and their lives, EIO only succeeds in taking navel-gazing to new heights on the faltering wings of a couple dozen songs that are randomly arranged in a rather plot-less landscape.

It all begins with the death of the father of Keno (Lewins), who we learn quickly was a major jackass. And before Act One is concluded there is another death, this time of one of this posse’s young friends. One death, used as a deus ex machina to lend gravity to the proceedings of a play, is a bit much but forgivable. Two deaths is wretched excess—especially when they stage a “FUN-eral” for the dead guy, borrowing without shame that ironic premise from the musical Fun Home.

In addition to Crum and Lewins, the performers also include Madelyn Hayes, Joshua McElroy, Matt O’Shea and a virtually silent bartender played by Jerry Tucker. They give it their all, and that is not as condescending as it sounds because the book and the music for this show are, to put it kindly, a work in progress.

All the activity occurs in a bar, nicely outfitted by scenic designer Aaron Benson and lushly lighted by Benjamin Gantose. It is there that five young folks booze it up while alternately wallowing in their fate and then being spontaneously defiant in songs titled “Bathroom Love,” “Shitty Sad Luau Song,” and “Slut Song.” These tunes try hard and sometimes border on effective. But more often the songs feel truncated and are bedeviled by absent melodies and lyrics that don’t offer even the modicum of wit displayed in the show’s title.

Also, character development is slight to non-existent since there is little effort devoted to making the tunes fit into a narrative. Instead, the various performers just start singing, at a stand-up mic or elsewhere, when they’re not cussing a blue streak and tossing down shots of alcohol in plastic glasses. (Here’s a tip: If you’re young and in a bar and they’re serving you drinks in plastic shot glasses, they’re making fun of you. Go to another bar. What’s next, tequila shooters in sippy cups?)

Director Matthew Wright is an inspired actor and director, but in this production he allows far too many lines, both spoken and sung, to be lost due to volume or enunciation problems. And if he helped Crum and Lewins edit their catalog of songs, it doesn’t show.

Still, there is that “Masturbation Song.” While it’s not exactly worth the price of admission, it comes (ha) close.

As for all the dirty language, is it true that millennials are attracted to profanity? Okay, then try this: HEY YOU ASSHOLE YOUNG PEOPLE, PLEASE FUCKING VOTE THIS TIME! Then you can drink all you want from real shot glasses and maybe your children won’t die in a school shooting or drown in an ever-encroaching toxic sea of plastic waste. Maybe.

Everything Is Okay (and other helpful lies)
Through November 10 at the Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit Ave., 216-631-2727,

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