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Region's best theater of 2011 (News-Herald)

Posted December 30, 2011 in Articles

We're grateful for so many mentions in the Lake County News-Herald's "Best Theater of 2011" list, including Best Drama and Best Musical. Click here to read the full list.


Every year, local theaters devote themselves to putting on the best shows possible. Although some theaters have deeper pockets, more equity contracts or a grander facility than others, truly superb work is created regardless and, in some cases, in spite of these things. Talent always makes itself known, and creativity rises to the surface no matter the pay scale and no matter the palace.

The News-Herald wishes to recognize excellent productions and excellent performances from the past year. There was no shortage of either on our local stages.

Only those productions staged in the greater Cleveland area and seen by this reviewer are considered. All performances were seen during their opening weekend. National touring company productions are purposefully barred from consideration; they get enough attention.

Best Drama

“My Name is Asher Lev”

Cleveland Play House

Walk through any art museum anywhere in the world and you will find people staring and silent. When in the presence of masterworks, there is the tendency to get lost in thought, overcome by emotion, and want to get as close to the art as possible, to see what genius saw, to fill the space that genius occupied, and to share the same air as the artistic immortals. “My Name is Asher Lev,” a play by Aaron Posner adapted from the novel by Chaim Potok, is the theatrical equivalent of this. In one act, on the now silent Baxter Stage at the old Cleveland Play House, we were afforded the opportunity to see, breath and touch genius up close and personal in the form of Asher Lev, a young artist growing up in a strict Orthodox Jewish community in post-World War II Brooklyn, New York. This intriguing, thought-provoking play was directed by Laura Kepley and featured Noel Joseph Allain, Tom Alan Robbins and Elizabeth Raetz.

Best Musical “Daddy Long Legs”

Cleveland Play House

Written as a novel by Jean Webster in 1912 and recently transformed into an intimate, two-person musical by John Caird with music and lyrics by Paul Gordon, “Daddy Long Legs” is set in early 20th-century New England, where Jerusha Abbott is the oldest orphan in the John Grier Home. That is, until an anonymous benefactor recognizes her intelligence and creativity and sends her to college to be educated as a writer. Required to write him a letter each month, each song is a correspondence being written by Jerusha, played wonderfully by Megan McGinnis, or read by the secretive man who has become her patron saint, played with immense charm by Robert Adelman Hancock. The harmonies between these two performers were mesmerizing, as was everything else about this production.

Best Director of a Drama

Timothy Douglas, “The Trip to Bountiful”

Cleveland Play House In 1953, when it aired on NBC, Horton Foote’s play “The Trip to Bountiful” fit the need for a small story about simple people to be told on a tiny TV screen. “Bountiful” revolves around an elderly widower living in the claustrophobic, urban confines of her son and daughter-in-law, who desperately wants to get back to her hometown one last time before she dies. Production values were expanded when this play went to Broadway and, later, when it became an Academy Award-winning film, but the Cleveland Play House production let the writing once again tell the story. Director Timothy Douglas and scenic designer Tony Cisek created a nondescript, impressionistic landscape for this production, and Douglas added a layer of underlying complexity by casting black actors in the featured roles to shed some light on the little known black middle class in the 1940s.

Best Scenic Design

Daniel Conway, “The Game’s Afoot”

Cleveland Play House

It is rare when the curtain opens and the scenic design gets a standing ovation. Such was the case with Cleveland Play House’s world premiere production of Ken Ludwig’s “The Game’s Afoot.” The comedy takes place in famed stage actor William Gillette’s Connecticut mansion, which was an authentic replica of a multi-tiered medieval castle complete with oak beams and banisters, massive doors, huge glass windows overlooking a snowstorm, and walls adorned with tapestries and weaponry. Daniel Conway’s set filled the Allen Theatre from wing to wing and from floor to fly-space and was awesome. Sometimes budget can help bring to fruition creative vision.

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