Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

The Lake Effect
Karamu House
Review by Mark Horning | Season Schedule

Also see David's review of The Diary of Anne Frank and Mark's review of The Art of Longing

Ammen T. Suleiman, Natalie El Dabh
and LaShawn Little

Photo by Michelle Berki
For those of us living in Northeast Ohio the phrase "lake effect snow" is perhaps the most well known yet least understood of weather terms. While meteorologists can issue warnings of probability, no one can really accurately predict when, where and how much transportation-halting white stuff we will be blessed with. The Karamu House production of Rajiv Joseph's The Lake Effect is aptly named, as the play takes one unpredictable twist after another.

It is winter in Lakewood, Ohio, in 2013 and yet another lake effect snow warning has been issued. First generation Indian-American Vijay (Ammen T. Suleiman) has returned home after being fired from his day trading job on Wall Street. His father Vinnie is ill and no longer able to run the small Indian cafe that has supported the family for many years.

From out of the storm enters Bernard (LaShawn Little), a carefree black man who had befriended Vinnie over the last few years. Vijay is surprised to learn that Bernard was his father's friend since Vinnie was traditionally leery of black men. He is further surprised that, although Bernard knows nearly everything about Vijay's family, Bernard knew nothing of Vijay's existence. Even more surprising is that Vinnie has been betting heavily on football, using Bernard as his go-between with the bookies. Although the bets are long shots, Vinnie has managed to win big nearly every week.

Vijay tried his best to be the perfect son by getting straight A's throughout his schooling and getting a good job in New York City. His sister Priya (Natalie El Dabh) has had a life of bad decisions, and her father was forced to bail her out of jail on numerous occasions. When he was 12, Vijay's mother was killed in an auto accident, and Vinnie and Priya were passengers in the car. Vijay became estranged from his father when, after the memorial service, his father stopped at Edgewater Park to seemingly callously dump his wife's ashes into Lake Erie.

This play is a fascinating puzzle; as each piece is interlocked with the others, a picture unfolds of sibling rivalry, forced friendships, race identities, and the true meaning of family, when the play is drawn to a satisfactory conclusion.

While LaShawn Little provides a true representation of Bernard, other performances do not quite measure up to his efforts. While Natalie El Dabh as Priya and Ammen T. Suleiman as Vijay know their lines, their delivery does not seem to be honest and natural. In spite of this flaw, the true spirit of the play still manages to come forth, due to the excellent writing of Rajiv Joseph (Cleveland Heights playwright and Pulitzer Prize finalist). While a bit of the acting relies more on loud demonstratives, the core of the writing makes for an intriguing evening of entertainment. Sometimes it takes a perfect stranger to be the holder of deep family secrets.

While renovations continue on Karamu's mainstage, shows are being performed in the Center's newly repurposed black box acting space, Concert Hall, which is an intimate and well-appointed area.

The Lake Effect at the Karamu House Concert Hall Black Box Theater, 2355 East 89th Street in Cleveland, Ohio, through November 26, 2017. Tickets can be purchased online at or by calling (216) 795-7070.

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