Saturday, March 19, 2011

Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men
by Roger Smith

John Steinbeck took the name for one of his most famous works from Robert Burns’ poem, “To a Mouse.” As we all know, our plans do oft go awry, and for George and Lennie – the main characters in the current production of the G. B. Community Theatre at the Ashtabula Arts Center – that seemed to be a way of life. Their dream of working up a ‘stake’ and buying a piece of land where they could farm and live off the fat of the land was always just a dream, until they found their way to the next ranch where they just might be able to see that piece of land just across the river.
Directed by Joe Petrolia, “Of Mice and Men” is a tragic tale of two migrant ranch workers in California during the Great Depression. George and Lennie are friends, and because of Lennie’s mental capabilities, George has become his caretaker. Lennie has a penchant for touching and petting soft things – his downfall.
“Of Mice and Men” can be a study of characters like no other. The central character around which everything eventually turns is Lennie, portrayed by Clay Nielsen.
Nielsen obviously worked long and hard on this role, for his performance was nothing short of outstanding. His friend and caretaker, George, was played by Michael Breeze.
No stranger to the local stages, Breeze’s interpretation of George was excellent; he convinced the audience that he truly cared about Lennie.
Marvin L. Mallory, as Crooks, wove his feelings of resentment and hopefulness into his words and his mannerisms like the professional he is. Jim Powers, cast in the role of the gentle and understanding Slim, did first-rate work in his portrayal. The sadness and hopelessness which surrounded Candy was made evident by David Bucci.
The character of Curley (Raymond Perts) wore his arrogance like a new set of clothing, overdressed to the point of being comical.
Ryann Angelotti, as the only woman on stage, didn’t convince me (or any of the other characters on stage) that all she was interested in was someone to talk to. Her husband, Curley, went looking for her in the bunkhouse many times. Angelotti let the dubious side of Curley’s wife show through.
Larry Gasch as Carlson, Denny Dixon as Whit, and Tom Udell as Boss all were good in their roles, simply adding to the enjoyment of the evening’s performance.
The language is strong in “Of Mice and Men.” That not withstanding, the production which lasts a bit over 2 hours is worth the visit to the Arts Center. The show runs tonight and tomorrow night, with the curtain going up at 8:00 p.m. To inquire about tickets, please phone the Ashtabula Arts Center Box Office at 440-964-3396.

Bill W. and Dr. Bob

Bill W. and Dr. Bob
by Roger Smith
“…and the wisdom to know the difference.” Powerful words, when one stops to really think about them. Powerful words for a powerful program. And it is possible to see the beginning of it here in 1935 Northeast Ohio. Bill W. and Dr. Bob, the story of how Alcoholics Anonymous got its start, is on the stage at The Cleveland Play House at 8500 Euclid Avenue.
Because alcoholism touches 1 out of 4 of us, it is easy to understand why this show is playing to sold out houses wherever it goes. The history and the script are entertaining and enlightening; the production is riveting – so much so that there were tears shed throughout the audience at several points during the evening.
Sean Patrick Reilly (Bill W.) comes to the Play House stage loaded with talent and experience. His portrayal of the drunken failed stockbroker Bill W. was true to life as seen through the eyes of anyone who has ever held hands with a drinker. Matching him drink for drink and emotion for emotion, Timothy Crowe was fall-down dead on as Dr. Bob, a surgeon who operated with alcohol on his breath.
Denise Cormier and Margaret Daly as Lois Wilson and Anne Smith, respectively, gave performances that were sincere in their doubt laced with serenity and courage.
In supporting multi-persona roles, Heather Anderson Boll (woman) and Charles Kartali (man) rounded out the excellent cast.
The set for Bill W. and Dr. Bob is one of the most intricate workings this writer has experienced in a long while. Staged amidst an array of empty liquor bottles, the transformation from scene to scene is amazing.
One can take away much from this offering. The most important thing to be learned is that it is necessary for one who has ‘been there and done that’ to be the ear for one who has taken Step 1.
Because of understandable audience demand, the run of this play has been extended until Sunday, May 9. Tickets may be reserved by phoning The Cleveland Play House box office at 216-795-7000 ext. 4, or by visiting

The Trip to Bountiful

The Trip to Bountiful
by Roger Smith

Thomas Wolfe admonished that ‘You Can’t go Home Again’ in his book by the same title. Widow Carrie Watts, the main character in The Trip to Bountiful, refused to put any stock in that adage, all the while insisting on returning to her coastal childhood home of Bountiful, Texas. She wanted to visit her childhood girlfriend who still lived in Bountiful, she wanted to go back to where she lived and raised her family, and she wanted to spend some fresh air time away from the apartment where she had done Houston ‘city living’ with her son and daughter-in-law for twenty years.
This production of The Trip to Bountiful features an African-American family cast, pointing out that trauma, arguments, and traditions have no color boundaries. Heading a cast that is packed full of experience and awards, Lizan Mitchell in the role of the widow is nothing short of spectacular in her portrayal of one who wanted to and did go home again – albeit for one day. Mitchell’s Broadway, Off-Broadway, regional theater, television, and movie involvement speak to why she received the Helen Hayes Best Actress Award; Black Theatre Alliance, Best Actress Award; Audelco, Best Actress Award; and Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Nominations.
Ludie Watts, Carrie’s son, was played by Howard W Overshown. Overshown was a last minute replacement in the role, having been flown in 48 hours in advance of the show to learn the lines and staging for this production. None of that haste showed in his performance; what did show was his professionalism in the portrayal of his character as he warmed up and softened toward his mother’s wants and needs as the play progressed.
Jessica Frances Dukes, in the role of Thelma, won the hearts of the audience as she worked the lines of the script to become a warm, caring companion to widow Watts on the bus. Dukes holds a Masters of Fine Arts from The Catholic University of America, and has worked at several regional theaters. She was nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in the Helen Hayes Award Competition.
Chinai J. Hardy, as Jessie Mae Watts, hit the nail on the head as the needy, pushy, uncaring daughter-in-law who was putting pressure on her husband to ‘watch out’ for his mother and her pension check. Hardy roused dislike for her character. Doug Brown and Lawrence Redmond, as Roy and the sheriff, respectively, were convincing as their characters, rounding out the professionalism of the cast.
The Trip to Bountiful is a show well worth seeing. It is entertaining from start to finish, and those who are ‘Bountiful’ fans of Geraldine Page will enjoy Mitchell’s interpretation as well.
The show runs until February 27 at The Cleveland Play House at Euclid and E. 85th. Tickets may be ordered by phoning (216) 795-7000, ext. 4, or online at

Lost In Yonkers

January 20, 2010
‘Lost in Yonkers’ keeps them laughing
CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Play House audiences are being treated to yet another smash hit.
Neil Simon’s “‘Lost in Yonkers” is wowing patrons at the East 85th Street theater and those patrons are responding with spontaneous laughter — a good sign that the show is well-received. Armed with a cast loaded with talent from top to bottom and a sure fire playwright’s script, there can’t be anything but success on the stage.
Actors young and old with resumes that boast experience from around the country set about to entertain, and entertain they do.
The young boys in the play (Maxwell Beer as Arty and Alex Wyse as Jay) are the spigots through which the comedy begins to flood the stage. Their aunt Bella, played by Sara Surrey, is a comic-tragic figure who wraps her fingers around the hearts of everyone in the theater but her mother.
Rosemary Prinz as Grandma Kurnitz to the boys and mother to Bella is staid and staunch in her child rearing, denying hugs and words of love that youngsters need in order to feel complete. Looking and acting every bit the part, Prinz made it perfectly clear she knew what she was doing in her portrayal of a demanding matriarch.
Anthony Crane, John Plumpis and Patricia Buckley in the roles of the adult children of Grandma were convincing in their continued childhood fear of the woman.
Though the script by Simon is somewhat predictable, its interpretation is what makes the house ring with laughter. The Play House sets are usually eye-catching; the interior of Grandma’s house is no exception.
“Lost in Yonkers,” directed by Michael Bloom, won a Pulitzer Prize and it received the Tony Award for Best Play. The show runs through Jan. 31 at the Drury Theatre. For tickets, call 216-795-7000, est. 4 or visit

My Name is Asher Lev

My Name is Asher Lev
by Roger Smith

Simply put, this play at The Cleveland Play House about an artist who survives his conflict with tradition, custom, and expectations is a masterpiece. It is a learning piece through which the audience is made aware of what the cost of being an artist in Goyim and Christian Goyim is for an observant Jew - a Hasidic Jew. Written by Aaron Posner, this take on Chaim Potok’s book is true to the theme in the hard copy.
Noel Joseph Allain not only portrays Asher, but narrates the show by having conversations with the audience. Allain’s portrayal of the title character is outstanding.
He is picture-perfect in his attempt to dispel the myths associated with the artist’s journey through all the things that were important to him and his attempt to balance and yet defy those same things, including his mother’s desire for him to “make the world pretty.”
Tom Alan Robbins plied his craft as he played 4 different roles in this production. As Asher’s father he was superb, and he maintained that level in each of his additional portrayals - especially that of art mentor Jacob Kahn.
Elizabeth Raetz went from mother to gallery owner to nude artist’s model in her contribution to the success of this show. Raetz was convincing with her interpretations, but they lacked the ‘oomph’ demonstrated by the other actors. Her accented voice did not convey the same power as that when the men spoke. Nonetheless, she got her points across.
“My Name is Asher Lev” is shown on the Baxter Stage of The Cleveland Play House, the most intimate of theaters at the East 85th Street location. It would not have worked in any other Play House venue. The show runs through April 3, and is well worth the drive into the city. Tickets may be ordered by phoning the box office at 216-795-7000 or at

The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner
by Roger Smith

If the two opening shows of the current season at The Cleveland Play House are omens of what is on the horizon for Cleveland theater audiences, we’re in for quite a treat – especially if the remodeling of the Allen Theater in Playhouse Square lives up to its renderings. “The Kite Runner” is the current production at the nation’s oldest regional theater.
“The Kite Runner”, based on the bestseller list novel by Khaled Hosseini and dubbed as one of the best films of 2007, has been adapted by Matthew Spangler to the stage in a format that gets across the story as it was intended to be seen by the mind’s eye. This production soars like the kites from which it takes its name.
Jos Viramontes, in the first act role of Amir – as his older and wiser self – narrates this story of history, political upheaval, family dynamics, servitude, and religion, allowing snippets of life in the area. Those same snippets are seen through the latticed divisions of time and place that compose part of the movable set. Viramontes continues as Amir throughout the play, slipping in and out of the role of narrator all evening, wresting those emotions that befit the horrible misdoing he committed. His performance was the tail on the kite.
Jose Peru Flores, acting the younger Amir persona, left nothing to the imagination in his portrayal of a young man who had every benefit of class when growing up in Afghanistan. Matt Pascua was spot on in his portrayal of Hassan, the servant boy who was totally devoted to his young master and as Sohrab, the orphan that the adult Amir risked all to save.
Cast as Rahim Kahn, Apollo Dukakis mastered his character’s patriarchal demeanor; he knew all but told nothing – until the opportunity for redemption arose. Nasser Faris, as Baba the father it the production, maintained an air that would have been expected from a member of the upper class.
In addition to a cast that sparkles in this effective stage version’s presentation of the color of life in Afghanistan, a set, costumes and lighting that transport the audience from Kabul to California add to the depth of believability one experiences when in the Bolton Theater. Contributing heavily to the aura of the evening is the talent of Saslar Nader, musical supervisor, who is an accomplished tabla player, composer and arranger. His musical presence on the stage serves to carry the audience to another world and time.
This not to be missed production runs through Sunday, November 7th at The Cleveland Play House. Tickets for “The Kite Runner” are available at The Cleveland Play House box office by calling 216-795-7000, ext. 4 or online at

Billy Elliot the Musical

Billy Elliot the Musical
by Roger Smith

“Billy Elliot the Musical” may be the best show to hit the stage since “Miss Saigon”. The winner of 10 Tony Awards, it is based on the 2000 film about miners fighting Britain’s Conservative P.M. Maggie Thatcher in an effort to preserve their way of life, and at the same time ultimately supporting the efforts of a young man who was trying to break away from that same way of life.
Billy Elliot was expected to enjoy his boxing lessons, pay his union dues at age 15, and spend the rest of his life digging coal, drinking beer, and frolicking with the lasses in the neighborhood. The plot moves forward from there when Billy accidentally stumbles into the ballet class and discovers that he likes it.
The lead is shared by several young men, each assigned to dance ‘Billy’ at a particular performance. This reviewer watched Giuseppe Bausilio, a 13 year old from Bern, Switzerland in the title role. Bausilio’s parents have two ballet schools, and his brother is a ballet dancer. Giuseppe is trained in ballet, modern, jazz, flamenco, hip-hop, and tap. He won dance competitions in Switzerland, France, Italy and the US. He has performed in the Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, Coppelia at the State Theatre of Bern, and the operas Mazzepa and Falstaff. This youngster enjoys cooking, skiing, swimming, reading. He speaks five languages, plays cello and piano, and knows Kung Fu. Needless to say, this youngster is extraordinarily talented, and he brought the Playhouse Square State Theater crowd to its feet.
Faith Prince, in the role of Billy’s ballet instructor Mrs. Wilkinson, continues to demonstrate why she has won Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards. Her character very ably stood up to what she referred to as the pig stubborn worker pride of the miners who looked no farther than the mine pits and beer halls; she risked much in order to support Billy in his effort to train with the Royal Ballet School.
The list of talented actors goes on and on, and each one on that list brings a history of theater experience that makes this production one that shouldn’t be missed.
If you’re looking for that ‘unforgettable’ holiday gift, tickets to “Billy Elliot the Musical” just might fill the bill. The music for this show is written by Sir Elton John, music that the New York Post calls his best score yet. The choreography is more than outstanding; it causes folks to leave the theater wanting to dance! Sets and costumes and technical aspects that dazzle are pretty much the wrapping on this well put-together package of musical/dancing talent.
“Billy Elliot the Musical” opened in London in 2005 and is now playing at Playhouse Square’s State Theater until December 12, 2010. Tickets may be ordered by contacting or phoning the box office at 216-241-6000.