Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

Everything Is Okay (and other helpful lies)
Cleveland Play House
Review by Mark Horning

Also see David's reviews of Sweat and Pride and Prejudice

Melissa Crum, Matt O'Shea, Caitlin Lewins,
Madelyn Hayes, and Joshua McElroy

Photo by Steve Wagner
What does Cleveland Public Theatre's world premiere production of Everything Is Okay (and other helpful lies) have in common with Rent and American Idiot? Unfortunately, not a whole heck of a lot. While all three deal musically with twenty-something millennial's attempts to find some kind of substance in their lives, which reek of drugs, booze, sex and self indulgence, Everything Is Okay seems to miss the mark.

Willow (Melissa Crum), Keno (Caitlin Lewins), Blazer (Madelyn Hayes), Jackson (Joshua McElroy), and Pablo (Matt O'Shea) have gathered at their local dive watering hole (a masterful set by Aaron Benson that features 330 liquor bottles that climb up to the ceiling). They are there for Keno's father's wake. Keno's eulogy begins OK, telling about her father's love of fishing and gardening on Saturdays, but it soon veers off as she recalls the physical and emotional abuse dealt out by good ol' dad to her and her mother. In short, the man was a bastard with little redeeming qualities and a mean drunk.

This "Eulogy Song" kicks off the show following the two opening musical numbers, "No One I Love Is Gonna Die Today" and "The Settling Song". In all, 25 songs penned by Melissa Crum, Caitlin Lewins, Buck McDaniel, Tim Moon, and Jake Briggs fill the show. The titles, such as "Shitty Sad Luau Song", "Masturbation Song". "Keep Fucking Going," and "Slut Song," give you an idea of what is happening behind those bloodshot eyes.

Jackson, who is trying to get a job in his field with Pablo's father's company, is gay but has been with Keno, who has slept with Pablo who has slept with Willow who really loves him and may be pregnant. Blazer is Steve's girlfriend, but unfortunately he dies alone in the bar's basement where he had lived. Rounding out the cast is Jerry Tucker who plays the roles of bartender/priest/Steve's dad.

The group decides to hold a fun-eral for Steve with tiki drinks in plastic coconuts, plastic grass skirts, large plastic sunglasses, and plastic leis as they attempt to pontificate about their late friend. There is even an altar of sorts, with his favorite beer logo hat, Nine Inch Nails CD, Rock Star guitar, boom box, Gone with the Wind metal lunchbox, Monster Energy drink, laptop, and favorite rock logo hoodie.

The problem is that, while the cast is enthusiastic, there is no real connection to the audience. It's hard to really connect or for that matter care about any of the characters. While the songs are cute to a degree in their rudeness, they dominate the landscape in such a way that the stories of the people themselves get lost in the shuffle.

The orchestra is made up of Buck McDaniel on piano, Chris DeMarco on bass, John Karkosiak on guitar, and Evan Mitchell on percussion (with Melissa Crum at times on ukulele) and they do a marvelous job. There just needs to be more dialogue between the players so we have some idea of who they are. For one, I would like to know how they can afford their bar bill, since nobody works.

The show is directed by Matthew Wright and produced by Raymond Bobgan with the aforementioned Aaron Benson as scenic designer, Benjamin Gantose as lighting designer, Nina Rossi as choreographer, Cyrus Tayler as sound designer, and Jaclyn Vogel as costume designer.

What began as a CPT Test Flight workshop item previewed during the CPT Entry Point New Play Festival, looks to be in need of a little more time in development. Some telling dialogue between participants could go along way in helping us relate to their problems and fears. It's not bad, just not as good as it could be.

Everything Is Okay (and other helpful lies), through November 10, 2018, at Cleveland Public Theatre, James Levin Theatre, 6415 Detroit Ave, Cleveland OH. Tickets may be purchased by calling 216-631-2727, Ext. 501 or online at Tickets are $15 to $35.

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