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Holiday capers and sexual battles are on area stages

The first Christmas gift of the year has arrived from Clague Playhouse, our community theater in Westlake. A repeat of last year’s successful  “A Broadway Christmas Carol,” this year’s production features a new cast and mostly new creative staff.

The show has elements of parody much like the decades-old “Forbidden Broadway” productions, combined with a theatrical retelling of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” This may sound strange and it is strange, but also a hoot.

If you like Broadway musicals, this show is for you because it uses the showstopping numbers from 30 classic shows. If you’re fond of the Charles Dickens classic, you probably will enjoy the clever way the show’s creator used the structure of the story. And if you’re not familiar with either, there’s an energized cast that bring their talent up close at the intimate Clague stage.

Veteran director Mark Moritz assembled Derrick Winger as Scrooge and Sean Cahill and Bernadette Hisey who play a dozen roles each in this whirlwind musical romp. All three are musical theater pros who also possess rubbery faces as expressive as Jim Carey, and twice as funny. Audience members with no knowledge of musical theater or Dickens will revel in the clever writing of creator Kathy Fenninger, direction by Moritz, and choreography by Laura Workman. Musical director Ryan Bergeron plays keyboard and gets into the act as well.

“A Broadway Christmas Carol” will be popular and runs through Dec. 8.

Play House offers psycho-sexual battle on stage

One of our local professional theaters, The Cleveland Play House is presenting the Tony-nominated play “Venus in Fur” through Nov. 30. It’s a bold play, but not for everyone due to language and the sexual substance.

The simple framework of the show is that an actress arrives late for an audition with an unproven playwright/director who has not had success in finding the female lead for his adaptation of the erotic novel “Venus in Fur.” The extended audition includes both the entire play script and the secondary power struggle between the two characters.

On the plus side, “Venus in Fur” does not fall into the trap of most shows about performers. Generally, theater people are not as interesting as they think they are. The David Ives script is at once a battle of the sexes as the director and performer fight for dominance, and also the novel/script in miniature which are the words they read. The Play House production is directed with energy and clarity by Laura Kepley. Michael Brusaco is an initially confident Thomas Novachek, setting out on his first major production. He is methodically stripped of his power, manhood, and even clothes through the audition. His indifferent reading of  his play character’s lines at the start of the show is a wonderful stepping off point.

Vanessa Wasche is frazzled Vanda who moves from the leather clad auditionee to a muslin dressed liberated 19th century woman. Billed as a comedy, the audience did not laugh much at the performance of “Venus in Fur” that I attended. The cat and mouse nature of the script comes through loud and clear, and the intermittent storm outside of the beautiful set is reminiscent of  “Young Frankenstein.”

I’m only a lukewarm fan of playwright David Ives, and “Venus in Fur” did not raise my enthusiasm. To The Cleveland Play House’ credit, they have started an active promotion to attract younger audience members. Generous discounts are available for high school students, but parents may want to think twice about this show. For the under 35 crowd, there are special nights of post performance revelry in a pseudo (I hope) S and M club environment.



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