Cleveland’s convergence-continuum theater continues its season of romance and love with an absolutely charming production of “Based on a Totally True Story.” The effect of this play is actually magnified, considering that the theater explored the “dark side” of love earlier this season with a play based on Leopold and Loeb the rich bright college students who murdered for fun in the 1920s, and another about a female serial killer. That these were in fact based on totally true stories made them even creepier.
So, now we have a complete work of fiction that is delightful entertainment. Zac Hudak is Ethan Keene, a successful New York writer of “The Flash” comic books who falls in love with Michael Sullivan, an equally successful journalist. Ethan is the narrator, speaking directly to the audience at the play’s start. He introduces Michael, who joins in the story.
“Based on a Totally True Story” has multiple plot threads. Each one of them becomes a sort of interlocking metaphor with others, and so the play can be viewed superficially or at levels as deep as the viewer chooses to go. The play has deep structure.
Consider Ethan’s relationship with his parents back in Philadelphia. They are “good sports” about his nontraditional romance. Clyde Simon is Ethan’s somewhat stoic father who is simple, direct and generally does not go too deep in conversations. He is of the generation and sensibility that do not talk about problems, including a romance that is no longer romantic. I love the messages father Keene leaves on his son and partner’s answering machine.
Hudak does not stretch himself as a performer in this key role, but what he does, he does very well. We don’t see any new sides of the actor, but he connects perfectly with the audience.
Partner Michael Sullivan is Stuart Hoffman. Hoffman plays the role as a more muted character, which is in nice contrast to Ethan. That gives greater impact to the show’s second act, in which there are some fireworks in their relationship and Michael gets a chance to “blow up.”
Clyde Simon gives a quiet dignity to father Keene that is at times touching. Lisa Wiley has a blast as California-based literary agent-producer Mary Ellen Eustice. Her breathless energized phone conversations with Ethan chronicling the progress of a movie script are comedic masterpieces.
Completing the cast is Bobby Coyne in multiple roles, including a sexy beach boy actor, and Ethan’s comic book editor. Editor Tyler readily admits that “comic book fans are mostly serial killers living in their mothers’ basements.”
“Based on a Totally True Story” moves from a light, brisk “comic book panel” approach to some more serious moments discussing relationships. It does this effortlessly. You’ve probably never heard of playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, but you’ll recognize some of his work. In this piece he deftly moves us from a theatrical sitcom to moments of deep emotion. Ethan’s dad says, “You’ve hurt someone, and now you’re hurting.”
I saw “Based on a Totally True Story” at a final preview through the courtesy of director Cory Molner. His direction gives excellent service to the script and clarity to the audience. Clyde Simon’s set is a clever series of comic book panels where scenes are played in a tight space, giving more weight to the words. Costumer sade wolfkitten scored big with producer Eustice’s outfits.
I’ve become a strong booster of convergence-continuum theater, located on Scranton Road in the Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland. This show is an excellent one to introduce theatergoers to this creative coalition of artists. “Based on a Totally True Story” runs weekends through Sept. 14. Give them a call at 216-687-0074.