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A CAROL FOR CLEVELAND, a world premiere holiday play, at Cleveland Play House

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)

What do the Cleveland Play House, Les Roberts and Eric Coble have in common?  They are all integral parts of the Cleveland arts scene and co-participants in the development of A CAROL FOR CLEVELAND, a new holiday play, which is getting its world premiere.

The Cleveland Play House, which is producing A CAROL FOR CLEVELAND, was founded in 1915 as the first permanently established professional theatre company in the country.  Its move last season to PlayhouseSquare, into the newly refurbished Allen Theatre, was a major addition to the heart of the city and has been a very positive change for the company, with attendance skyrocketing in their new three-theatre setting.

Les Roberts, who is past president of the Private Eye Writers of America, moved to the area in 1990 after a long and successful career in Hollywood.  While in tinsel town, he wrote and produced more than 2,500 television segments including scripts for THE LUCY SHOW, THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW and HOLLYWOOD SQUARES.  He has written 23 novels, with his series about Milan Jacovich being his most famous.  Jacovich is all Cleveland…born in a Slovenian area in the inner city, a Kent State football player, American Vietnam vet, has an old aunt in Euclid, lives in Cleveland Heights, frequents a neighborhood bar, and solves local area crimes. One of his short stories is the basis for A CAROL FOR CLEVELAND.

Eric Coble, who is another area transplant, is on a roll.  Not only is he the author of CPH’s holiday show, but he wrote, THE VELOCITY OF AUTUMN, which was produced by Beck Center earlier this year, with Cleveland legend Dorothy Silver in the lead.  The play is scheduled for a Spring, 2013 Broadway production starring Estelle Parsons and Stephen Spinella.  A member of the Playwrights’ Unit at CPH, his GIRLS GUIDE TO COFFEE, was produced at Actors’ Summit in February and MY BARKING DOG ran last season at Cleveland Public Theatre.  Numerous productions of his plays are being done throughout the country this season.

A CAROL FOR CLEVELAND, which is told in flashback, is all North Coast.  The street and area names, winter weather notations, lake effect snows, references to Public Square and the flats, visual images of The Higbee and May Company department stores, references to the Browns and Steelers rivalry, all set the show squarely in “The Best Location in the Nation.”

Yes, it’s Cleveland in the late 1970s.   The steel belt, with LTV and the other plants closing and the city in recession.  Not the best time to move to the area, but Ed Podolak, from a small town in Pennsylvania, who has lost his job, his hope and dignity, and maybe even his family, takes a Greyhound into the area on a snowy day, proceeds to slip on black ice outside the bus station, and winds up living at a fleebag motel.  For a year he lives hand to mouth, picking up odd jobs, and, on Christmas eve, goes to see the holiday lights at Public Square, steals some money from a Salvation Army kettle, is caught by a boy who befriends him, and, as is the custom in holiday tales, learns a lesson that makes for a major attitude and life style change.

Coble’s script, based on Roberts’ short story, is typical holiday escapism.  The story line with its obvious happily every after conclusion, is sometimes humorous, a little emotional, and filled with presents, trees, sad tales and visual pleasure.  Lacking in high humor or much action it is dependent upon stimulating the holiday spirit that encompasses most people this time of year.

There are no tongues sticking to frozen lamp posts, no danger of “shooting out eyes” with a b-b gun, no bullies threatening the kids, like in THE CHRISTMAS STORY, but there is a crippled kid, and a dad carrying him on his shoulder, as in A CHRISTMAS CAROL.  The cleverest bit takes place before the curtain opens when carolers warn of no texting, turning off phones, 90-minutes with no intermission, and encourage the unwrapping of candy before the show starts.

The CPH production, under the direction of Laura Keply, has some nice highlights, though its pacing is languid and begs for some more action, humor, excitement.

Charles Kartali, as he did when he starred for many seasons as The Old Man in CPH productions of THE CHRISTMAS STORY, plays Ed Podolak to the hilt.  He is totally believable as the frustrated, down on his luck guy who finds life almost too much to bear.

Stephen Spencer, as This Guy, who at the play’s conclusion, has a secret to share, is wonderful.  He has a nice dynamic Cleveland attitude and embraces the role.

Young Elliot Lockshine becomes Charlie, the boy who teaches Ed a major lesson of life.  He doesn’t act the part, he is Charlie.

The rest of the large cast, which includes former county commissioner Peter Lawson Jones, is up to their parts and, hopefully, as the show runs, they will pick up the pace, let loose verbally and emotionally, and make the production more enfolding.

Nice visuals, snow falling, the lights in Public Square, and images of the area in the 1970s help set the right mood.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  A CAROL FOR CLEVELAND, is a pleasant holiday diversion, written by local playwright Eric Coble, based on a short story by Cleveland mystery writer Les Roberts, which is getting its world premiere at CPH.  It is a look at how recessions cause frustrations, the importance of family, and how an accidental incident can make a  difference.

A CAROL FOR CHISTMAS runs through December 23 at the CPH’s Allen Theatre.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to