Tag Archives: Hanna Theatre

Great Lakes Theater Sets a (Death)trap for Entertainment

Enter to win 2 tickets to Cleveland’s all-new Home and Remodeling Expo at the Cleveland Convention Center. You can tweet once a day for extra entries!

There are some weeks that make me want to crawl into bed and never come out, and I feel like the last few weeks have been that way. It got to a point by the end of last Thursday where I just couldn’t function. Stringing together a sentence that made sense was nearly impossible.

However, I finally had a chance this weekend to recharge. There are two things that help me find my way back to normal. One — relaxing in bed and reading comic books until 10:30 on a Saturday morning. And two — going to see a show.

Theatre, regardless of whether it’s a comedy, drama, musical or play, does something to lift my brain out of a funk. I think it has to do with the fact that the action is unfolding live, in the same room as me. Unlike a two dimensional movie, all of my senses are engaged at a play. The exercise of such incredible focus allows my brain to clear.

Fortunately, over the weekend, I had the opportunity to take in two great shows which I’ll discuss in two posts this week. Although very different, they each provided me with what I needed.

First up was Social Media Night at Great Lakes Theatre. It’s a fantastic program that GLT’s Audience Engagement Manager Chris Fornadel has created, inviting bloggers and active CLE tweeters to learn more about their shows.

Actors Tom Ford (left, as scheming playwright Sidney Ruhl) and Nick Steen (right, as Clifford Anderson) in Deathtrap (Photo by Roger Mastroianni)

Actors Tom Ford (left, as scheming playwright Sidney Ruhl) and Nick Steen (right, as Clifford Anderson) in Deathtrap (Photo by Roger Mastroianni)

The latest meetup was for Deathtrap, Great Lakes Theater’s current production onstage at the Hanna through March 16.

I’ve written time and again of my love for murder mysteries, and Deathtrap is one of the genre’s masterpieces. It’s not just the longest-running comic thriller on Broadway, but was also made into the 1982 film featuring Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve. However, in my 31 years, I still had never seen it.

I count myself lucky that Great Lakes’ production was my first time. Trying to figure out the twists and turns is my favorite part of a mystery, and it’s difficult to recapture that feeling on the second or third viewing/read.

And, boy, does Great Lakes’ Deathtrap have a lot of twists. In fact, with so many shockers, it’s the perfect homage to the classic whodunit.

Ford explains his scheme to actor Tracee Patterson, who plays his wife Myra Bruhl

Ford explains his scheme to actor Tracee Patterson, who plays his wife Myra Bruhl (Photo by Roger Mastroianni)

On the surface, the premise is simple: Sidney Bruhl used to be a successful Broadway playwright. However, he can’t come up with his next big hit. In fact, he’s had so many flops, the money is running out.

It’s just his luck that a former student has written a thrilling script with the potential to make lots of money. He has sent it to Sidney, looking for writing advice. Instead, Sidney hatches a plan (which may or may not include murder) to steal the script.  

Before the show, Cleveland mystery writer Les Roberts spoke about Deathtrap, murder mysteries, and his time in Cleveland. It is always a treat to hear Roberts speak and you can read a bit about his journey to Cleveland in my review of his novel Whiskey Island.

His talk was an excellent way to prepare for the show, and his comment of life imitating art (playwright Ira Levin had a series of unsuccessful plays and movies after Deathtrap) was especially interesting. 

Les Roberts talking at Great Lakes Theater's Deathtrap pre-show

Les Roberts talking at Great Lakes Theater’s Deathtrap pre-show

We got to try something new with this production’s Social Media Night: tweeting during the show. By placing us in the Hanna Theatre’s boxes, we could tweet without disrupting other audience members’ experience.

Although it was interesting to livetweet the performance, I will admit to being so engrossed in the show’s details that I didn’t tweet too often.

However, these three tweets captured my thoughts on some of the highlights:

I couldn’t find a fault with the performance. The cast and crew made excellent use of an intriguing script. And while Tom Ford as Sidney Ruhl was a treat, Tracee Patterson (Sidney’s wife), Nick Steen (Clifford), Lynn Allison (the psychic Helga Ten Dorp), and Aled Davies (Sidney’s lawyer) made up an airtight ensemble around him. It also balances the murderous mayhem with biting oneliners.

I recommend this production for anyone looking for a good laugh, a little murder, and a lot of surprise. Deathtrap runs until March 16. Purchase tickets here and use promo code GLT to receive a discount.

The season concludes with As You Like It (April 9-24) and the HANNApalooza fundraiser (June 14).  Great Lakes Theater returns in the fall with their 2014-2015 season: Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor and The Tempest, as well as Dial “M” for Murder and Les Miserables.

I’ll be back later this week with my thoughts on Theater Ninjas’ [sic].

Disclosure: I was invited to attend Deathtrap Social Media Night in exchange for tweeting or blogging about it. My opinions are 100% my own.

Great Lakes Theater’s Social Media Night at Blithe Spirit

Great Lakes Theater's Social Media Night at Blithe Spirit

Attendees at Great Lakes Theater’s Social Media Night: @FrankZupan, @TLColson, @KaseyCrabtree, @MaryLeeS, @KTOinCLE, @HungryinCLE, @WearingMascara, @BalletinCleve, @RCoristin05, @ADHicken (me!) and @SOS_jr

Between our anniversary and Jump Back Ball, Scott and I decided to make a mini Cleveland vacation out of last weekend. So we extended our stay at the PlayhouseSquare Wyndham to include both Friday and Saturday nights.

While Scott’s ideal vacation plan was to take a night off to relax in the hotel, mine was an evening out at the theatre for Great Lakes Theater’s Social Media Night.

I’ve been a longtime fan of Great Lakes Theater since I started blogging 3 years ago. (You’ll find links to a few of my favorite GLT experiences at the end of this post.) But it had been about a year or so since I’d been back.

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Recap: SPANK! The Fifty Shades Parody at PlayhouseSquare

SPANK at PlayhouseSquare - Girls Day Out

Girls Day Out at PlayhouseSquare’s SPANK! (at Hanna Theatre now-Jan. 27)

This weekend was spent loading new furniture into our house. After more than a few speedbumps (like half our couch arriving in the wrong shape and color), I was clamoring to escape for a couple hours.

SPANK! The Fifty Shades Parody at PlayhouseSquare was to the rescue.

I’ll be honest. Before the curtain went up on Sunday’s performance, I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. I never had any huge desire to read Fifty Shades of Grey, but having worked backstage on another parody musical for two years, I have a soft spot for them.

And the one thing I learned while working on Menopause the Musical is when you stage a spoof, you have to completely give yourself over to the source material.

If the crowd at Sunday’s show was any indication, the cast of SPANK! did just that.

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GIVEAWAY: Girls’ Day Out at PlayhouseSquare’s SPANK!

One of my favorite Girls Days Out from last year at Jen’s wedding

UPDATE: In addition to entering my giveaway below for SPANK! at PlayhouseSquare, you can increase your chances of winning by checking out Smitten in Cleveland’sWhyCLE’s and Life in the CLE’s giveaways going on now.

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I find that when I need to blow off steam, a Girls’ Night (or Day) Out is the best remedy – whether it’s yoga with Poise in Parma or @CLEYogi, or a Sunday of Les Mis, crafting and Downton Abbey.

If you want to make like Cyndi Lauper and have fun, I have 2 upcoming girls’ nights and a giveaway for you:

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Two Gentlemen of Verona at Great Lakes Theater Festival

In Great Lakes Theater Festival's production of Two Gentlemen of Verona (one of Shakespeare's earliest plays), Proteus and Valentine (played here by Paul Hurley and Neil Brookshire, respectively) vie for the love of Silvia even though Proteus has already sworn himself to Julia. (Photo by Roger Mastroianni

In the Great Lakes Theater Festival’s last production, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), there is a bit where the performers combine the plots from all of the Bard’s comedies into one madcap, convoluted reading. The justification is that all of his comedies recycle the same plot devices. And with the prevalence of cross-dressing, mis-matched, young lovers in his comedies, this justification has a good deal of truth in it.

This is what I had on my mind when I saw their current play Two Gentlemen of Verona with fellow Cleveland theatrephile Poise in Parma – because Two Gentlemen is not just one of Shakespeare’s 15+ comedies, it’s also considered by many to be his earliest.

As one of his earliest, Two Gentlemen of Verona is sometimes criticized as one of Shakespeare’s weakest plays.  When reading it, you can see a playwright’s first tentative steps in exploring the themes he would go on to master in later works such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream (one of my personal favorites).

And while you can view it in a negative light (my biggest criticism being the characters are rough sketches with questionably flighty motivations), you can also choose to view it as a sign of great things to come, a sampling of Shakespeare’s early potential.

When I think about it this way, there’s a certain level of excitement in seeing his early experimentations in playwriting.  There are techniques and variations on themes he employs which are quite good for early writing and, above all else, he does an excellent job in his usage of the Clown character to mock the romantic love that is central to the plot.

 

GLTF embraces the experimentation in Shakespeare's earliest play by taking a more contemporary approach through music, costume and scenic design. (Photo by Roger Mastroianni)

Charles Fee, Two Gentlemen’s Director and GLTF Producing Artistic Director, embraces that spirit of experimentation throughout the production’s staging (you can read his Director’s Note for more background). As with their Fall production of Othello, there is a contemporary feel to Two Gentlemen through the use of modern costuming and setting.

For instance, Silvia, the daughter of the Duke of Milan and Valentine’s and Proteus’ (the two gents) love interest, enters and exits the stage often to the flashing of cameras much like a modern-day celebritante. It is this dazzling style that even Julia (Proteus’ former love) notes as a reason why Proteus so quickly changes his attentions from his own betrothed love to that of his best friend’s.

Designer Star Moxley’s costumes help achieve that runway feel in the production, which is very fitting for modern Milan. Silvia’s appearance is chic and worldly and I loved how Proteus – in an attempt to woo Silvia – sheds his more relaxed, light look for the sunglasses and dark colored garb of a male model.

GLTF also weaves modern music into the play with a live band tucked very subtly upstage and some of the actors – ‘invisible’ to the main characters – singing around the action. Subsequently, the play opens and ends with this band of musicians and various scenes throughout are punctuated by it.

I enjoyed the idea because Shakespeare’s script, in fact, calls for musicians and the indie, modern folk and rock songs furthered the contemporary feel. However, unlike last year’s Midsummer Night’s Dream whose placement of Beatles songs throughout added something specific to each scene, there were times in Two Gentlemen where I didn’t feel the individual song choice added much besides a bit of moodscaping. They sometimes felt interchangeable.

Above all other aspects of the production design, though, it was Russell Metheny’s scenic design that impressed me most. It was reminiscent of Metheny’s Othello design from earlier in the season, with a multi-use, framework setpiece dominating the stage. However, its subtle arches and the stylized windows that were flown in to mark a difference between Verona and Milan really added an urbane feel. It was the perfect complement to Moxley’s costumes and I thought that even the forest design (my favorite design, actually) had a stylized, fashionable sense to it.

Despite the contemporary setting, Great Lakes Theater Festival’s production stayed true in their portrayal of the characters.  Neil Brookshire and Paul Hurley, as Valentine and Proteus, were spot-on with their depictions of the love-sick gentlemen, while Lee Stark made me sympathetic for the fawning and abandoned Julia and Nika Ericson for the strong-willed Silvia who finds herself stuck as the object of affection for too many young men.  Although the characters themselves are not my favorite pairs of Shakespearean young lovers, the actors did an excellent job in conveying the rich, romantic language of the play.

 

GLTF veterans David Anthony Smith (left) and M.A. Taylor (right) play my two favorite characters in Two Gentlemen of Verona - Launce and Speed, servants to the Two Gents who often mock their masters' ludicrous behavior in love. (Photo by Roger Mastroianni)

As usual, though, it was the comedic servants of Valentine and Proteus that in my mind were the best part of the show. Speed and Launce, played by veteran GLTF actors M.A. Taylor and David Anthony Smith, respectively, are the characters I turned to when the young lovers became a bit too frustrating. Launce and his cur Crab (played by canine actors Mojo and Rallo) were the first time in his writing that Shakespeare was successful in employing the Clown archetype. And it’s Speed and Launce’s various mockeries of romantic love that help me overlook and laugh at some of the play’s flaws as Shakespeare seems to poke fun at it himself.

So, although the play itself is not the strongest of Shakespeare’s works, I’d recommend seeing GLTF’s production. The costumes and scenic design are fun to behold and the actors in typical GLTF fashion are skilled in their portrayals. Plus, if you tire of some of the characters’ ludicrous behavior, just laugh along at them with Speed and Launce.

Great Lakes Theatre Festival 411:

Two Gentlemen of Verona

The Hanna Theatre

Great Lakes Theater Festival's An Ideal Husband: An Ideal Complement to Othello

Sir Robert Chiltern (actor, Richard Klautsch, right) seeks advice from Lord Goring (actor, David Anthony Smith, left) in the Great Lakes Theater Festival production of Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband. Photo by Roger Mastroianni.

My first inclination when Great Lakes Theater Festival announced their Fall Repertory of Othello and An Ideal Husband was to focus on the differences between the two plays. The first is a tragic, psychological, Shakespearean thriller.  The second, a witty “social comedy” by Oscar Wilde.  However, after seeing the second half of the Fall Rep when Scott’s parents recently visited, I realized they were surprisingly very complementary.

At the heart of both plays are the ideas of trust and truth, how they can be manipulated, and how others react to that manipulation. In Othello, there’s Iago’s manipulations of Othello, which corrupts the title character’s trust in his wife Desdemona with disastrous consequences.  In An Ideal Husband, Sir Robert, a prestigious member of the House of Commons, is trusted by his supporters and his wife, the proper Lady Chiltern, to be the exception to the rule — an upstanding politician without  fault. However, a mistake Sir Robert made as a young politician threatens his success and marriage when the scheming Mrs. Cheveley uses his past to blackmail him into supporting a fraudulent scheme he was planning on denouncing. 

Although there is political intrigue in An Ideal Husband and Othello (much of which can be tied into the current election season), Sir Robert is fortunate to have much better counsel than Othello did in Iago.  And in a nice twist of casting, GLTF company member David Alan Smith portrays both main characters’ confidantes. As Iago, Smith’s standout performance drove the action in Othello with his manipulations and lies. In An Ideal Husband,  Smith humorously plays the charming bachelor Lord Goring who may seem like he only wants to socialize all night (according to his father) and talk about nothing (according to himself), but instead is the voice of brutal honesty and subtle reason that reunites Sir Robert and Lady Chiltern and saves his friend’s career.  Casting the same actor in these two roles was a clever way to connect the overlapping themes in both productions.

Even without Othello to complement it, the Great Lakes Theater Festival’s production of An Ideal Husband would stand on its own beautifully (and if I had to choose, I actually preferred it). When I walked into the Hanna, I was first struck by the sparseness of the scene. I had partially expected an ornate set inspired by Wilde’s time; rather, four simple columns, a series of steps, a handful of chairs, and a white curtain dressed the stage.  

A simple yet elegant set provided the perfect canvas for GLTF actors Richard Klautsch (as Sir Robert) and Jodi Dominick (as Lady Chiltern) in An Ideal Husband. Photo by Roger Mastroianni.

However, by the end of the first few scenes, I’d argue that Nayna Ramey’s design was more effectively used to tell the story than a period set would have been. The formal, classic simplicity reflected the societal demands for propriety, while the open starkness echoed the unveiling of secrets. To fill the canvas of the set were Jason Lee Resler’s costumes. Each character or couple had its own color note that carried throughout the show — the bright blues and turquoises of Sir Robert and Lady Chiltern, the oranges of Viscount Goring and Mabel Chiltern, the ostentatious fuchsia of Mrs. Cheveley.  

These technical aspects were an excellent foil to the cast’s performances. Sara M. Bruner, who had played the faithful Desdemona in Othello, was cast as Mabel Chiltern, the dizzying and fickle younger sister of Sir Robert who has a particularly shining moment in the last scene when she sums up Wilde’s theme of reality vs impossible idealism.  Richard Klautsch and Jodi Dominick both did excellent jobs capturing the moral dilemmas their characters (Sir Robert and Lady Chiltern, respectively) struggled with.  And Laura Perrotta, a twelve-season veteran of GLTF, portrayed a devious Mrs. Cheveley whose persuasiveness and Machiavellian cunning rivaled Iago’s. In the background, a tableau of footmen set each scene and provided their own ongoing, comedic backstory – a nice touch to the main action.

If you haven’t seen either production yet, Othello runs until this Sunday (10/31) and An Ideal Husband until Saturday (10/30). I’d recommend seeing both for a clever and unexpectedly complementary experience.   Great Lakes Theater Festival will then return in December for A Christmas Carol, and in March and April with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) and Two Gentlemen of Verona.

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As a side note (which I’ve apparently become fond of making): After Saturday night’s production, Scott, his parents and I stuck around for that night’s installment in GLTF’s Nightcap Saturday series. I’ve been to other Audience Enhancement events at the Hanna, but this was my first time at Nightcap Saturday. I may have been distracted when we walked into the theater or just unobservant, but I have to credit the GLTF staff because I didn’t notice that they had a full band set up in the back corner of the theatre. As the applause from the final bow faded and the house lights came up, the Helen Welch Quartet struck up their jazz and blues covers in the lounge bar. Having the opportunity to relax in our banquette seats right in front of the bar, talk about the show, and enjoy a drink or two was a delightful way to end another night at the Hanna.

 

Great Lakes Theatre Festival 411:    

The Fall Repertory    

The Hanna Theatre    

John Lithgow: Teller of Tales at the Hanna Theatre

 

Photo Credit: Nigel Parry

 

Why do we love to be told stories?         

This past Sunday, actor John Lithgow returned to the Great Lakes Theater Festival for a performance of “Stories by Heart” which examines why people are entranced by listening to — and in some cases, telling — stories.   Both a former member of GLTF and the son of its founder Arthur Lithgow, the younger Lithgow gave two performances of his show — a donor event on Saturday night and a public performance on Sunday afternoon.       

Stories by Heart” was born from Lithgow’s visits to his father when the older Lithgow was seriously ill and recovering from a very difficult surgery.  John Lithgow, who joked he was the only sibling out of work at the time, went and stayed with his father and mother to help them while Arthur recovered.  As can often happen when recovering from an illness, his once jovial father was reduced to a quiet shell of his former self.        

When nothing seemed to be bringing his father out of this despondency, John happened upon the idea of reading stories to his parents each night at bedtime.  With Tellers of Tales in hand – a collection of short stories compiled by W. Somerset Maugham that his father used to read – John would re-tell these stories to his father and mother, and amazingly his father was able to find his humor and strength again.       

From this experience, Lithgow created two theatre pieces – performances of the short stories “Haircut” by Ring Lardner and “Uncle Fred Flits By” by P.G. Wodehouse.  Lithgow initially performed them separately in 2008 and 2009.  Now, he’s combined them into “Stories by Heart” which he’ll start touring nationwide this fall. Prior to the tour, he very fittingly returned to the Great Lakes Theater Festival to run the full show in front of an audience.         

In “Uncle Fred Flits By,” Lithgow portrays nine characters in a story about Wodehouse’s lively Lord Ickenham and the misadventures he carries on with his sheepish nephew ‘Pongo.’ Pongo, who is always reluctant to have his Uncle visit, is pulled into a hilarious scheme of impersonations and on-the-spot plottings that the mischievous Uncle Fred puts into play. In reenacting the story, Lithgow plays all the characters with gusto — from Pongo and Uncle Fred, to a young ‘Pink Chap’ and his fawning love interest, to the disapproving mother of said love interest and even a parrot.  Uncle Fred’s madcap machinations to bring ‘sweetness and light’ were the first thing after Arthur Lithgow’s surgery that made him laugh. And with John Lithgow’s dynamic retelling of Wodehouse’s tale, it’s no wonder.       

In the second act, Lithgow performs “Haircut” by Ring Lardner. Lardner was an American sports columnist and short story writer, as well as the father of Ring Lardner, Jr. – one of the blacklisted Hollywood Ten and screenwriter of M*A*S*H*.  Originally from the Midwest himself, Lardner Sr.’s “Haircut” is a wry look at what goes on in a small Michigan town through the eyes of the town’s barber.  Over the course of a haircut that the barber gives to a nameless customer, he weaves a tale of love triangles, revenge, seemingly inconsequential gossip, and the kindness and wickedness that often go hand-in-hand in a small town.        

John Lithgow as The Trinity Killer in Showtime's Dexter - a striking difference from his performance in 'Stories by Heart.' Photo from Showtime's Dexter.

 

Prior to the retelling of “Haircut,” Lithgow shares stories of his childhood growing up in the Midwest.  Specifically, he recounts how his family moved a lot due to his father’s theatre and teaching engagements. When he was an adolescent, they moved to a small town in Ohio close to the Michigan border. Early on that year, he read “Haircut” for the first time in a textbook and the peculiar combination of decency and maliciousness resonated with him.  He recalls a fellow classmate who showed kindness to him as the new kid in school, then shortly after bullied him with a horrible game of ‘Squirrel.’ Or the teacher whose excessive use of corporal punishment was later celebrated by his classmates when they graduated.  Given Lithgow’s recent portrayal on Dexter of a barbaric serial-killing family man who exhibits this same disparity,  I definitely geeked out when he reflected on these ideas.       

Telling both of these short stories in the same show was an excellent choice for Lithgow as they were definite contrasts to one another. Although humorous at times, “Haircut” was much more darkly tinged than “Uncle Fred.”  And with “Uncle Fred” written by a notably British author and “Haircut” by an American short story master, the styles and sensibilities of both were also quite different.  By playing their differences against one another, Lithgow aptly demonstrated how storytelling can have very different purposes for the storyteller and contrasting effects on the audience.      

The Hanna Theatre - home to GLTF

 

The afternoon with John Lithgow at the Hanna Theatre was a very intimate and entertaining experience.  We not only got to sit in our favorite seats – the banquettes, support one of our favorite Cleveland theatres, and enjoy delicious pumpkin ice cream during Ice Cream Social Sunday, but we also had the rare opportunity to listen to a gifted storyteller of Lithgow’s caliber weave a variety of imaginative, touching and humorous scenes for us.       

By rereading “Uncle Fred Flits By” and “Haircut” to his father when he was ill, Lithgow realized how storytelling was a powerful healing force and raised his father’s spirits. And in sharing “Stories by Heart” with audiences, he continues to spread a ‘sweetness and light’ akin to the inimitable Uncle Fred.      

Great Lakes Theater Festival 411:        

John Lithgow’s Stories by Heart  
The Hanna Experience and Seating Options
Parking and Directions
Tickets and Subscriptions

No 'offending shadows' at the Great Lakes Theater Festival

The Hanna Theatre at PlayhouseSquare, home of the Great Lakes Theater Festival

 

Before I moved to Cleveland, I worked for a couple of theatres in Philly.  I enjoyed it a lot — working in subscriptions and marketing departments and working backstage on a show for a year.  Even when I stopped being involved, I still loved experiencing Philly’s vibrant theatre community and the shows it produced. Because of this, I get very excited by seeing well-executed theatre.     

When I first got to Cleveland, I saw a number of touring productions at PlayhouseSquare, and while they were all consistently entertaining, I missed seeing a show that was produced in house. To me, there’s something extraordinary when you have a theatre company with a group of actors, technicians and administrative professionals working together under an established mission.  Oftentimes these teams have worked together on previous productions and have an established sense of community that shines through in a show.  Subsequently, when I found out about the Great Lakes Theater Festival, which stages productions at PlayhouseSquare’s Hanna and Ohio Theatres, I couldn’t wait to see a performance.    

The Festival features a resident artistic company committed to producing Shakespeare and other classic theatre in a rotating repertory throughout the year. It was initially founded in 1962 when members of the Lakewood Board of Education wanted to fill the Lakewood Civic Auditorium with cultural events during the summer.  They reached out to a Shakespeare troupe founded by Arthur Lithgow who made the Auditorium their home.  Over the years, they moved into PlayhouseSquare and expanded their scope to include non-Shakespearean classics and musicals; however, each season still sees a few productions by the Bard.    

The 2009-2010 season included The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Twelfth Night, A Christmas Carol, Bat Boy: The Musical and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Although I missed out on the Fall Repertory, I was determined to see their Spring Repertory of Bat Boy and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Since they’re produced in a rotating repertory, on days when there is a matinee and an evening show, the crew has to quickly strike the set of the first and load in the second in between.  Additionally, the majority of the actors pull double-duty — featuring as characters in both Bat Boy and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.    

From greatlakestheater.org: "Don’t deny your beast inside!" exclaim the residents of Bat Boy’s hometown in "Bat Boy: The Musical." (Photography by Roger Mastroianni)

 

I saw Bat Boy on its opening night on April 10. Now, Bat Boy may seem like an unusual choice for a theatre company focused on classic works, as Director Victoria Bussert mentioned in her Director’s Notes.  However, as she explained, the plot of the musical – inspired by a tabloid story about a half-boy/half-bat found in West Virginia – has a level of tragedy and an underlying story about prejudice and acceptance that are the backbone of a lot of classic fare.  And even though GLTF is more accustomed to traditional theatre, they still produced an amazing version of Bat Boy that was both campy and beautiful, entertaining and relevant.  The actors and musicians did a wonderful job with an unusual set of characters and loud gospel-rock score. Particularly, I thought that Lynn Robert Berg who played Dr. Parker was outstanding. I found myself in one second despising how villainous he was, and then feeling sad for his pathetic state of affairs.  I was equally impressed by the set – loving how they worked the cows (which served as a sort of MacGuffin to the story) at odd angles into the set pieces.  Between the set, the music and the storyline, Bat Boy definitely proved to be a surreal experience.    

If Bat Boy – as a non-classical show – was an unusual choice for GLTF, the uniqueness of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was in its execution. Directed by Charles Fee – who is also the GLTF’s Producing Artistic Director, this production was set in 1960s London. Taking the spirit of The Beatles’ songs and both directly and indirectly working them into the play placed a different spin on the story and demonstrated its timelessness.  Although purists may shy away from contemporary productions of Shakespeare, there was something amusing about the lover Lysander dressed in a young-Lennon-esque ensemble and his paramour Hermia dressed like a love-struck fanatical groupie.  On the other hand, Puck (played by Eduardo Placer) was a classic ‘flower-child’ whose master, the fairyking Oberon, was inspired by the later-Beatles’ Indian influences.  In what has become one of my favorite entrances of a character, Placer’s playful Puck literally swung onto the stage from a beautiful harvest moon. Not to be outdone, though, the Mechanicals – dressed as Srgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band — stole the show at the end with their play within a play.    

From greatlakestheater.org: the stylish fairy Puck (actor, Eduardo Placer) makes a grand entrance atop a 1960s Volkswagon Beetle in "A Midsummer Night’s Dream." (Photography by Roger Mastroianni)

 

In addition to exhilarating productions, the GLTF provides a unique theatre-going experience in how they approach the audience.  The non-traditional seating options – in addition to conventional fixed seats – allow for a more social environment.  While the balcony box provided a private setting for entertaining a group of people at Midsummer’s, the banquette – a  wraparound couch that we sat in for Bat Boy – was the most comfortable  experience I’ve had while seeing a show.    

A view from the Hanna Theatre's bar seating shows the GLTF crew switching out the sets for Bat Boy: The Musical and A Midsummer Night's Dream

 

 To make the most of the theatre experience, the Hanna is also opened 90 minutes before and after the show. So I can arrive early, grab a drink and watch the artistic company prep for the performance. And if I’m not ready to head home after the curtain, the bar at the back of the Hanna stays open where I can hang out with my friends and the artistic company on Night Cap Saturdays.    

The GLTF’s Spring Rep runs through next weekend closing on May 16. After the spring shows, the festival’s fundraiser has John Lithgow – former GLTF member and Arthur’s son – returning for 2 performances of ‘Stories by Heart’ on May 22nd and 23rd. The show has Lithgow invoking three generations of family history while looking at his own life as an actor and storyteller.  I’ll be there for the matinee enjoying the banquette seating again.     

After the Lithgow performance, the 2010-2011 Season starts back up in September with Othello and An Ideal Husband in the Fall, followed by A Christmas Carol, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) and The Two Gentlemen of Verona.  Now that I’ve finally found the Great Lakes Theater Festival, I’ll definitely be back for more.    

     

Great Lakes Theater Festival / Hanna Theatre 411:  

The Shows
Bat Boy: The Musical
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
John Lithgow’s Stories by Heart    

The Theatre
The Hanna Experience and Seating Options
Parking and Directions
Tickets and Subscriptions

Exploring Hidden Cleveland

Lolly The Trolley got us where we needed to go on the Hidden CLE Tour

UPDATE: This post is from the 2010 Hidden Cleveland Tours.  For more information about the Downtown Cleveland Alliance’s current series, check their site out here.

Although living in Cleveland the last couple of years has helped me get a decent grasp on what the city has to offer, my awareness of just how much can be found here has increased significantly in the short time since starting this blog. From organizations such as Positively Cleveland and Downtown Cleveland Alliance to blogs like 52 Weeks of Cleveland, I’ve been clueing into the city in ways I hadn’t thought of before.    

In particular this month, the Downtown Cleveland Alliance is making it easier to explore some places in my backyard that I would have typically been unaware of.  With the Hidden Cleveland Tours last Sunday and this Sunday, they’re highlighting a selection of buildings around downtown Cleveland that feature interesting architecture, city history and local culture.   

The Special Collections' Chess Library features a variety of unique chess sets

Lolly The Trolley took us to our first stop – the Main Branch of the Cleveland Public Library. We were met at the steps of the library by ‘Mayor Tom Johnson‘ – the Progressive mayor of Cleveland elected in the early 1900s who supported the Group Plan and creation of the Mall which the library borders.  After a brief history lesson, we entered the library for the main purpose of the stop – the Special Collections department.  Open to the public, the department houses a myriad of antique books and donated treasures for perusing. Among many other things featured in the department are a Sheet Music File, Miniature Books Collection and Tobacco Collection.  However, the highlight of the visit for me was The John G. White Collection of Chess, Checkers, Folklore and Orientalia.  The largest chess library in the world, its pieces document the history, development and technical aspects of chess, and feature many exquisite chess sets as well as a number of books related to the game (including a Birthday Book from the woman that Alice in Wonderland is named after). Located on the 3rd Floor, it’s definitely worth a return visit to explore everything that’s located there.    

A view from the Hanna Theatre's bar seating shows the load-in for the set of A Midsummer Night's Dream

From the library, the trolley took us to nearby Hanna Theatre at Playhouse Square – home of the Great Lakes Theatre Festival.  The night before the tour, Scott and I had been at the Hanna to see GLTF’s production of Bat Boy. To go on a tour of the theatre the next day was a real pleasure. Originally built in the 1920s, the venue was reopened in 2008 after a major renovation transformed the space into a 550-seat thrust stage theatre. Although we had seen the theatre’s innovative setup in action the night before, we had a chance to really explore it on the tour. The theatre is set up to ensure that no audience member is further than 12 rows from the stage.  And non-traditional seating options – in addition to conventional fixed seats – allow for a more social theatre-going experience. There are lounges and boxes with movable seats, banquettes, and a bar area where you can grab a barstool and bottle of wine and enjoy the show.  When we attended Opening Night of Bat Boy on Saturday, we sat in one of the center banquettes.  A wraparound couch that fits four, it was the most comfortable and one of the more enjoyable experiences I’ve had while seeing a show. After seeing A Midsummer Night’s Dream (the other half of the GLTF’s Spring  Repertory), I’ll be posting a more comprehensive entry on the theatre and both productions.     

Mural from the Slovenian National Home's stage

I’d have to admit, as a theatre geek at heart, I was sad to leave the Hanna.  However, the next stop – the Slovenian National Home  – was definitely a hidden gem that the tour uncovered for me. The Home was built in 1924 by people of Slovenian descent for meetings and celebrations — including community opera productions on the beautiful stage in the main Hall.  Although originally built in the 20s, the Home is still used today and in pristine condition. Located next door is the Slovenian Museum and Archives, dedicated to preserving Slovenian artistic and ethnic works, as well as the history of Slovenian families who migrated to Cleveland — the largest Slovenian community outside of Slovenia.  Currently featured at the museum is an exhibit by Slovenian-American artist Gary Bukovnik titled ‘The Rebirth of Flora,’ as well as the Slovenian Genealogy Society Research Library’s Oral History Preservation Project. With everything it features, the Slovenian National Home and Museum & Archives are fantastic examples of well-maintained cultural history.     

The Ukrainian Labor Temple - now home to CR Studio, Inc.

We completed the tour at the Ukrainian Labor Temple. This stop did an excellent job in demonstrating how some older buildings in Cleveland have been repurposed.   The Ukrainian Labor Temple originially served as both a cultural center similiar to the Slovenian National Home, as well as the focal point for radical labor movements in the city.  However, after it fell out of use, the building was purchased in 1989 and then converted into a photography studio and living space for CR Studio, Inc. During the tour, we explored the studio which was housed in the main auditorium of the temple, as well as a showroom for Ideal Surface which produces concrete designs for commercial and residential projects. The most interesting point of this stop was the opportunity to see an individual’s current story overlay the original building’s function.    

Prosperity Social Club - a laidback, retro drinking establishment

Last Sunday’s Hidden Cleveland Tour was well-worth the $25 ticket price. In addition to the tour, the ticket included appetizers and drink specials at Prosperity Social Club down the street from the Ukrainian Labor Temple. Scott and I had been there before and our visit on Sunday did not fail to please. The bar resides in the building’s original 1938 barroom, and its art deco influence with wormy chestnut walls provides a nostalgic atmosphere that’s unpretentious and truly Cleveland. 
Although there is another tour this Sunday visiting four different Downtown spots, it’s already sold out.  This is the second year the annual tour has been held, so hopefully due to its popularity more opportunities will be offered to experience those parts of the city it may be easy to miss out on.    

       

Hidden Cleveland 411:

Hidden Cleveland Tour
Tour Details
Sponsored by Downtown Cleveland Alliance
@DowntownCLE         


Stop 1: Cleveland Public Library – Special Collections Department
Department Location and Contact Information     


Stop 2: Hanna Theatre at Playhouse Square
Great Lakes Theatre Festival     


Stop 3: Slovenian National Home
National Home Location
Museum and Archives     

 
Stop 4: Ukrainian Labor Temple
Labor Temple History
Prosperity Social Club
Location and Hours