Summer camp, with togas

Cleopatra (Nick Hardin) gets acquainted with Julius Caesar (Doug Joseph) in Charles Busch’s Cleopatra, running through Sunday at Short North Stage’s Garden Theater. (Photos by Jason Allen)

By Richard Ades

Charles Busch’s Cleopatra could be called a funnier take on Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. Then again, the one time I saw the Bard’s original, it seemed pretty funny.

That’s because the lead actors overplayed the title roles so thoroughly that each seemed to be trying to upstage the other. What’s worse, Antony did his emoting in such a juicy fashion that while the audience was being bathed in pathos, poor Cleo was being showered with spit. Needless to say, the tragic ending failed to move anyone to tears.

The situation is entirely different in Columbus Immersive Theater’s intentionally humorous production of Cleopatra. Though Busch’s approach to comedy could never be called dry, at least the spit spraying is kept to a minimum. That’s fortunate, because the stage runs across the middle of the intimate Green Room, which means no viewer is far from the action.

Working under Edward Carignan’s direction (and in the colorful costumes he designed), the actors stay true to the work’s campy sense of humor.

Seeking friends in high places: Nick Hardin as Cleopatra

In the title role, Nick Hardin is spectacularly on target as the Egyptian queen who must curry favor with her country’s Roman conquerors. Hardin’s Cleo is a mixture of innocence and ruthless cunning, with occasional winking references to the 1940s movie stars who are a favorite camp inspiration.

The two Romans who become her love interests, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, are played with surprising restraint by Doug Joseph and Rob Philpott, respectively. Fans of Joseph’s drag performances will be happy to know he later gets the opportunity to appear as Caesar’s justifiably jealous wife, Calpurnia. Though all too brief, it’s one of the show’s more hilarious moments.

In another dual role, Kate Lingnofski is a convincingly naïve as Octavia, but on opening night she was less successful as Octavia’s brother, Octavian. That may be a reflection of this fundraising production’s speeded-up rehearsal schedule and isn’t necessarily indicative of how Lingnofski will do in remaining performances.

Cleopatra’s underlings are entertainingly played by Ricky Locci as Apollodorus (AKA “Dorus”), Kelsey Hopkins as Charmion and Laura Falb as Iras, a new hire who at first foments Charmion’s ire and later arouses another emotion entirely. Perhaps the actor who makes the most of his role’s potential is Nick Lingnofski, who’s a hoot as the anxiety-inducing (and anxiety-prone) Soothsayer.

It should be noted that all of the actors are performing gratis to support the work of Short North Stage.

If Cleopatra isn’t quite as funny as some of Busch’s other creations—for instance, Die, Mommie, Die!, a Short North Stage hit in 2016—it may be because the playwright was shackled by characters he didn’t invent. But the comedy is still fun, thanks to a cast and director who know how to make the most of its campy take on an iconic romance.

Columbus Immersive Theater will present Cleopatra through Aug. 6 at Short North Stage’s Garden Theater, 1187 N. High St., Columbus. Show times are 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 7 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes (including intermission). Tickets are $25. 614-725-4042 or shortnorthstage.org.

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Comedy offers horrific orgy of sex, blasphemy and puppetry

Jason (Danny Turek), a teenager possessed by his demonic hand puppet, threatens Pastor Greg (Jonathan Putnam) in Short North Stage’s production of Hand to God. (Photo by Jason Allen)
Jason (Danny Turek), a teenager possessed by his demonic hand puppet, threatens Pastor Greg (Jonathan Putnam) in Short North Stage’s production of Hand to God. (Photos by Jason Allen)

By Richard Ades

Hand to God has moments of hilarity, along with moments of horror. It starts, though, with a moment of disorientation.

Because set designer Bill Pierson has reconfigured the Garden Theater’s Green Room to resemble a church rec room, and because guests are handed a “church bulletin” on their way in, they may be unprepared for what happens next. A puppet appears on the “stage” of a miniature theater set up on one side of the room. But rather than offer the expected Christian message, he begins talking about “extracurricular fucking” and other things that are bad but “unavoidable.”

This, we learn, is Tyrone, and he’ll be saying and doing things that are even more outrageous before the show is over. Is he the devil, or is he simply a manifestation of a teenage boy’s inner thoughts and desires? That’s one of the questions playwright Robert Askins raises in his religion-taunting comedy.

The sacrilegious fun starts in earnest when we meet the flesh-and-blood characters who come into contact with Tyrone (and lose a little flesh and blood in the process).

Jessica (Kate Lingnofski) is a recently widowed mom who is supervising a puppet-making project at the Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Cypress, Texas. Taking part in the project are teenagers Margery (Barbara Weetman) and Timothy (Chad Goodwin), along with Jessica’s son, Jason (Danny Turek). Overseeing it all is Pastor Greg (Jonathan Putnam), who hopes the puppets will be used to spread the Gospel.

Thanks to Tyrone, that never happens. Created by Jason and attached more or less permanently to his left hand, the puppet appears to have a mind of his own. And what a disturbing mind it is—by Texas Lutheran standards, at least. He insists on blurting out thoughts that the shy and conflicted Jason would prefer to keep private, such as his carnal feelings toward Margery. Saddled with what amounts to a dual role, Turek does an admirable job of switching back and forth between the put-upon Jason and his vicious alter ego.

Jessica (Kate Lingnofski) watches as Pastor Greg (Jonathan Putnam) confronts an amorous Timothy (Chad Goodwin).
Jessica (Kate Lingnofski) watches as Pastor Greg (Jonathan Putnam) confronts an amorous Timothy (Chad Goodwin).

Working under Edward Carignan’s exuberant direction, the other cast members perform at the same high level. Weetman makes Margery an appealing combination of sweetness and pluck, while Putnam gives Pastor Greg a believable blend of human fallibility and heroic strength. As the frustrated Jessica and the hormone-driven Timothy, Lingnofski and Goodwin create big laughs while acting out an encounter that is aggressively kinky and probably illegal.

My only quibble with Askins’s comedy is that it tries too hard to be outrageous. OK, I can buy that Bible Belt Christians have secret frustrations and desires that sometimes lead them into unspeakable acts, but would they really drop so many F-bombs in the process? That’s a minor point, though.

Overall, the show is a provocative delight. As a bonus, it even leaves viewers with a final thought from Tyrone that gives them something to mull over on the way home.

Short North Stage will present Hand to God through March 5 at the Garden Theater, 1187 N. High St., Columbus. Show times are 8 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday (no 3 p.m. show Feb. 25), and 3 p.m. Sunday. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes (including intermission). Tickets are $30. 614-725-4042 or shortnorthstage.org.

Terrified prisoner seeks help from cinematic heroine

kiss-of-the-spider-woman-molina-and-valentin-argue

Molina (Scott Hunt, left) has an uneasy relationship with cellmate Valentin (Joe Joseph), a leftist revolutionary, in Short North Stage’s production of Kiss of the Spider Woman (photo by Jason Allen)

By Richard Ades

Molina prefers fantasy to reality. Small wonder: As a gay man living in a South American dictatorship in the 1970s, he’s too shy and scared to act on his romantic desires.

One of his fantasies involves his fevered friendship with Gabriel, a straight man who can’t give him the love he craves. Mostly, though, his fantasies revolve around Aurora, a movie star who embodies the feminine grace and beauty he tries to re-create in his job as a department-store window dresser.

Then Molina is thrown into prison on the trumped-up charge of making advances on an underage male. It soon becomes evident he’s being pressured by the warden to glean information out of Valentin, the leftist revolutionary who shares his cell. After avoiding reality all his life, Molina suddenly finds himself in a horrifying dilemma that not even fantasies of his beloved Aurora can block out.

Kiss of the Spider Woman is based on a novel by Manuel Puig that previously inspired a 1983 stage play and a 1985 movie starring William Hurt and Raul Julia. The stage musical—with book by Terrence McNally, music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb—opened on Broadway in 1993 and won that year’s Tony for best musical.

After seeing the film, the play and the musical, I still find the film the most moving interpretation of the story. But Short North Stage’s production of the musical, directed by Michael Licata (who also helmed 2015’s wonderful A Little Night Music), is impressive on several levels.

Scott Hunt gives a relatable portrayal of the in-over-his-head Molina and backs it up with a beautiful singing voice. Joe Joseph is macho but vulnerable as Valentin and also displays strong pipes, especially in an Act 1 lament about Marta, the woman he loves.

As Aurora, the movie star who dominates Molina’s fantasies, Eli Brickey often is required to sing while swinging (upside down, even) from a suspended sash. Though she aces this dizzying task, at other times her breathy voice seems stretched by the role’s vocal demands. She also projects less glamour than one would expect from such a fantasy figure, though she has no trouble projecting a satirical take on glamour, as she does during a Betty Boop-style number in Act 2.

Movie queen Aurora (Eli Brickey) performs with dancers (from left) Edgar Lopez, James Schoppe, Kevin Ferguson and Patrick Carmichael. (photo by Jason Allen)
Movie queen Aurora (Eli Brickey) performs with dancers (from left) Edgar Lopez, James Schoppe, Kevin Ferguson and Patrick Carmichael. (photo by Jason Allen)

Key supporting roles are nicely handled by Todd Covert as the manipulative warden; Alex Armesto and Amari Ingram as the abusive prison guards; James Schoppe as Molina’s friend, Gabriel; Danielle Grays as the sexy but unreliable Marta; and Linda Kinnison Roth as Molina’s loving mother.

Visually, the production boasts a weathered-looking two-story set designed by Jason Bolen. Though not lit as dramatically as it might be by Adam Zeek, it allows the action to skip effortlessly between terrifying reality and the musical fantasy sequences that represent the inner workings of Molina’s troubled mind.

Speaking of those fantasy sequences, they benefit from Edward Carignan’s playful and sometimes kitschy choreography and are ably accompanied by musical director Philip Brown Dupont and his mighty backstage band.

As a final bonus, every word of dialogue and lyrics comes through clearly, not the easiest feat in the Garden Theater’s acoustically challenging auditorium.

Add all this to the fact that this is the area premiere of Kander and Ebb’s award-winning work, and the show becomes a top priority for fans of musical theater.

Short North Stage will present Kiss of the Spider Woman through Nov. 20 at the Garden Theater, 1187 N. High St., Columbus. Show times are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes (including intermission). Tickets are $25-$42. 614-725-4042 or shortnorthstage.org.

Tony-winning portrait of a flawed man

Troy Maxson (Mujahid Abdul-Rashid, right) shares a conversation with co-worker Bono (Victor Little) and wife Rose (Rita Gregory) in an early scene from Fences. (photos by Jason Allen)
Troy Maxson (Mujahid Abdul-Rashid, right) shares a conversation with co-worker Bono (Victor Little) and wife Rose (Rita Gregory) in an early scene from Fences. (photos by Jason Allen)

By Richard Ades

Troy Maxson, a black man who collects trash for the city of Pittsburgh in the 1950s, is a combustible mixture of pride and anger. In many ways, that’s good.

At work, it allows him to question the assumption that only white guys get the relatively cushy job of driving the truck. But at home, it sometimes complicates his relationship with his wife and sons.

Troy is a complex man, and it will be interesting to see what Denzel Washington does with the role (which he’s already played on Broadway) when a film version of August Wilson’s Fences comes out in December. Meanwhile, we get to see what Mujahid Abdul-Rashid does with the part at Short North Stage.

Directed by Mark Clayton Southers—the main force behind the troupe’s yearlong August Wilson Festival—this is a handsomely mounted production. Edward Carignan’s scenic design is a realistic depiction of the Maxsons’ yard, complete with a two-story brick house and massive tree. Mark Whitehead’s sonic design adds realistic ambient sounds.

Against this backdrop, the cast gives gutsy and naturalistic performances, even if they don’t always gel is the most dramatically effective way.

Abdul-Rashid is solid as Troy, who is stern toward teenage son Cory (Taylor Moses), sarcastic with perpetually broke older son Lyons (Bryant Bentley) and affectionate but dictatorial toward wife Rose (Rita Gregory). As the breadwinner, he expects his word to be law.

Troy (Mujahid Abdul-Rashid, left) has a guilt-ridden relationship with his brother, Gabriel (Lawrence Evans), who was seriously wounded fighting in World War II.
Troy (Mujahid Abdul-Rashid, left) has a guilt-ridden relationship with his brother, Gabriel (Lawrence Evans), who was seriously wounded fighting in World War II.

About the only time Troy relaxes is when he shares an after-work swig with friend and co-worker Jim Bono (Victor D. Little). And the only time he shows compassion is when he comes to the aid of addled brother Gabriel (Lawrence Evans), who hasn’t been the same since he suffered a head wound fighting in World War II. However, this compassion may stem from guilt as much as brotherly concern, as Troy was able to buy a house only because he appropriated the compensatory payment Gabriel received for his injury.

All of the cast members—including Faith Bean, who plays a late-arriving character—bring ample talent to the production. Yet at Thursday’s preview, the emotional nuances and crescendos sometimes failed to develop. And a key scene, which should have been a combination of sorrow and joy, seemed to ignore the former in favor of the latter.

Lengthy scene changes also weakened the work’s dramatic arc, especially when the accompanying music bore little relationship to what came before.

Despite such problems—many of which likely will recede over the course of the run—the production is sturdy enough to reveal why the play won both a Tony and a Pulitzer Prize after opening on Broadway in 1987.

Corey (Taylor Moss) picks up a bat in a confrontation with his father, Troy (Mujahid Abdul-Rashid).
Corey (Taylor Moss) picks up a bat in a confrontation with his father, Troy (Mujahid Abdul-Rashid).

Part of Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle of plays about African-American life in the 20th century, Fences had its first performance in 1985, only one year after Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (which was presented by Short North Stage in the late spring). As a result, there are obvious similarities between the two, but there also are key differences.

The biggest is that Fences seems less self-consciously representative of African-American struggles. Troy, for example, complains that Major League Baseball’s old segregated ways kept him from pursuing a professional career in the sport, but it’s suggested that he was hampered by his age as much as his skin color, having spent 15 of his young-adult years in prison.

Fences is filled with social consciousness, but it’s primarily the tragic story of one flawed but very human man. By the end, we’ve gained enough understanding of the forces that shaped him that we can’t help mourning—not the man he’s become but the man he could have been.

Short North Stage will present Fences through Sept. 25 at the Garden Theater, 1187 N. High St., Columbus. Show times are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes (including intermission). Tickets are $25-$42. 614-725-4042 or shornorthstage.org.

Blues-centered drama could use more tonal modulation

Ma Rainey (Wilma Hatton) sings the blues with Toledo (Will Williams, in front) and the rest of her band (from left): Levee (Bryant Bentley), Cutler (Chuck Timbers) and Slow Drag (Ron Jenkins) (photo by Mark Clayton Southers)
Ma Rainey (Wilma Hatton) sings the blues with Toledo (Will Williams, in front) and the rest of her band (from left): Levee (Bryant Bentley), Cutler (Chuck Timbers) and Slow Drag (Ron Jenkins) (photo by Mark Clayton Southers)

By Richard Ades

As near as I can tell, I’ve reviewed exactly one August Wilson play during all the decades I’ve been covering Columbus theater. That suggests there’s a real need for Short North Stage’s yearlong August Wilson Festival, which allows viewers to get acquainted with a prominent African-American playwright whose works are seldom seen locally.

However, it’s an open question whether the festival’s current production is the best way to get acquainted with Wilson. As seen in the Garden Theater’s intimate Green Room, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom comes off as talky and occasionally preachy.

Though that’s partly because the script itself is talky and occasionally preachy, I suspect it might be partly due to the way it’s presented by director Mark Clayton Southers and his cast. It’s not that the players aren’t strong. In a way, they’re too strong.

At last Thursday’s performance, nearly every scene was filled with so much heat and passion that there was little room for dramatic ebbs and flows.

One big caveat: This was a preview performance, so it’s possible Southers and his cast hadn’t finished honing the production. The director has done wonderful past work at Short North Stage (I’m thinking of 2013’s Passing Strange), so there’s no reason to believe he can’t get equally fine results out of the talented cast he’s assembled for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.

Set in the 1920s at a white-owned recording studio in Chicago, the play’s loose plot revolves around a recording session with real-life blues singer Ma Rainey (Wilma Hatton).

Arriving first are backup musicians Cutler (Chuck Timbers), Toledo (Will Williams), Slow Drag (R. Lawrence Jenkins) and Levee (Bryant Bentley). As the four squabble about matters both large and small, tensions develop among band leader Cutler, the philosophical Toledo and the ambitious Levee, who dreams of starting his own band. A major disagreement arises over Levee’s insistence that they perform his updated arrangement of the title song, which he claims is more in line with current tastes.

Meanwhile, studio owner Sturdyvant (Geoffrey C. Nelson) becomes nervous when Rainey doesn’t appear at the promised time and takes out his frustrations on her long-suffering manager, Irvin (Jonathan Putnam). It only makes matters worse when Rainey finally arrives with an angry cop (Ryan Kopycinski) in tow following a minor traffic accident. Adding to the confusion is her entourage: Dussie Mae (Rachel Bentley), her glammed-up girlfriend, and Sylvester (Taylor Martin Moss), her shy and stuttering nephew.

It’s a sign of the production’s problems that the character who generates the most sympathy in this black-centered drama is Rainey’s white manager, played by Putnam with a permanent hangdog expression. The character who generates the least sympathy is Rainey herself, who insists on getting her way no matter how unreasonable her demands. Hatton would make the character more likable—or, at least, more relatable—if she added a touch of vulnerability, making it clear that Rainey’s diva-like ways are a reaction to the white racism she’s had to fight throughout her career.

Bentley earns a little more of our sympathy as Levee, whose ambitions run into their own racist roadblock. But he and some of the other “musicians” need to moderate their portrayals to give a sense of progression as the play moves forward. On Thursday, their arguments tended to be equally fierce throughout, adding up to a fatiguing viewing experience.

Not surprisingly for a play set in a recording studio, the characters sometimes break into song. Hatton, Bentley and Jenkins all excel at bluesy vocals, while the other “musicians” do a good job of miming in time to the recorded accompaniment.

Rob Kuhn’s set design is full-featured despite having to depict two separate rooms in the cramped space. Cheryl M. El-Walker’s costume designs are colorful and era-appropriate.

First staged in 1984, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is part of Wilson’s 10-play Pittsburgh Cycle, which depicts African-American life in each decade of the 20th century. As such, it’s an important political and cultural document. With a little more honing, Short North Stage’s production could also become a rewarding dramatic experience.

NOTE: This production is historic for reasons beyond the play itself, as it’s an opportunity to see local theater stalwart Geoffrey Nelson one more time before his upcoming move to Louisville. It’s an added treat that he shares the stage with frequent collaborator Jonathan Putnam. Thanks to Short North Stage for arranging this nostalgia-filled reunion.

Short North Stage will present Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom through June 19 at the Garden Theater, 1187 N. High St., Columbus. Show times are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes (including intermission). Tickets are $25-$30. 614-725-4042 or shortnorthstage.org.

Buffalo pals prepare to let it all hang out

Unemployment turns factory workers into strippers in The Full Monty (photo by Heather Wack)
Unemployment turns factory workers into strippers in The Full Monty (photo by Heather Wack)

By Richard Ades

How desperate would you need to be to go onstage and bare it all before a few hundred friends and strangers?

The men in The Full Monty are plenty desperate, having lost their jobs when the local steel mill closed down. Some are afraid they’re going to lose even more if they don’t find work soon.

Adapted by Terrence McNally from the 1997 film, the musical version of The Full Monty relocates the action from Sheffield, England, to Buffalo, N.Y., and adds melodies and lyrics by David Yazbeck. But the basic situation remains the same.

For some of the characters, their very manhood feels threatened by the role reversals they’ve experienced since losing their jobs. After being the main breadwinners throughout their marriages, they now find themselves relying on their wives to bring home the paycheck.

The central protagonist, Jerry (David Bryant Johnson), has an even more basic worry. He’s separated from his wife (Jackie Comisar) and fears he’ll lose joint custody of his son (Kyle Klein II) if he doesn’t find a way to pay up on his child support.

For Jerry and the others, all of this adds up to more than enough reason to throw caution (and their clothes) to the wind by staging a striptease act that goes the Chippendales one better by climaxing in full frontal nudity.

Though the men’s emotional stress is well expressed in McNally’s script and Yazbeck’s catchy tunes, it doesn’t come across as well as it could in Short North Stage’s production. This is largely due to the central relationship between Jerry and his weight-obsessed friend, Dave (John McAvaney). Johnson’s Jerry is more laid back than one might expect for someone in his situation, while McAvaney plays Dave as a goofy sidekick.

Perhaps director/choreographer Edward Carignan decided to keep things light to find the laughs inherent in the characters’ situation, but “light” mostly comes off as simply “bland.” A bit more gritty reality is needed to sustain our interest in a tale that demands nearly three hours of our time.

On the other hand, little needs to be added in terms of music, movement or spectacle. Other than some songs and scenes that end in an awkwardly anticlimactic fashion, the production excels on all three fronts.

Johnson has a particularly nice voice, and the rest of the cast sings serviceably, at least, and often beautifully. Backing them up, music director Jeff Caldwell leads a band that is equally adept at the jazzy overture, the bluesy Big Black Man and the pretty You Rule My World.

Carignan’s choreography is fun and funny, particularly in a number (Michael Jordan’s Ball) that mimics basketball moves. Just as impressive is Dick Block’s set design, which features weathered interiors and exteriors that roll in and out of sight with dazzling efficiency.

Linda Kinnison  Roth as Jeanette Burmeister (photo by Heather Wack)
Linda Kinnison Roth as Jeanette Burmeister (photo by Heather Wack)

Along with all its other strengths, the production boasts two supporting players who are comedic standouts: Linda Kinnison Roth as veteran rehearsal pianist Jeanette Burmeister and R. Lawrence Jenkins as would-be stripper Noah “Horse” T. Simmons.

Two additional supporting players make indelible impressions playing spouses. Gina Handy combines a healthy libido with loving patience as Dave’s wife, Georgie. And as Vicki, wife of laid-off efficiency expert Harold (Ian Short), Danielle Grays kicks out all the stops on the Latin-flavored number Life With Harold.

Finally, something needs to be said for Adam Zeek’s lighting, which allows the show to live up to its name without becoming excessively graphic. Thanks to split-second timing, the inevitable male nudity is glimpsed just long enough to assure us that Jerry and his Buffalo pals do, indeed give us the “full monty.”

Short North Stage will present The Full Monty through April 24 at the Garden Theater, 1187 N. High St., Columbus. Show times are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Running time: 2 hours, 55 minutes (including intermission). Tickets are $25-$40. 614-725-4042 or shortnorthstage.org.

Time traveler meets man who broke baseball’s color barrier

By Richard Ades

This Black History Month is proving to be particularly educational.

The same week that the Jesse Owens biopic Race opened nationwide, Columbus Children’s Theatre opened Jackie & Me. Written by Steven Dietz and Dan Gutman, the drama is about a boy who time-travels back to 1947 just in time to see the legendary Jackie Robinson integrate baseball’s Major Leagues.

This may sound like science fiction, but it doesn’t come off that way because the time travel is simply a means to an end—the end being a chance to teach young viewers about a key event in African-Americans’ struggle for equal rights. The play also functions as an inspirational tale about how a young boy learns to deal with his own struggles by observing how Robinson deals with his.

Joey (Collin Grubbs) is a 10-year-old with one big passion—baseball. Unfortunately, he also has a hot temper that often gets him in trouble, including when he’s playing his favorite sport. Though the script doesn’t spell it out, the implication is that his anger stems from the fact that his parents (Jenna Lee Shively and Morgan Thomas Mills) recently separated.

Marital splits are a pretty mature topic for a play aimed at youngsters, and it’s not the only one tackled by Jackie & Me. The Polish-American Joey is taunted with ethnic slurs on the baseball diamond, and he faces even worse slurs when he travels back to 1947 and discovers, much to his surprise, that he’s been transformed into an African-American.

For viewers old enough to deal with the subject matter (CCT suggests a minimum age of 7), the play offers an important history lesson. Joey arrives in the office of Brooklyn Dodgers manager Branch Rickey (Brent Alan Burington) just in time to hear him offer Robinson (Eric Qualls) a spot on the previously all-white team. He then hangs around while Robinson deals with problems ranging from racist taunts to his own self-doubts.

Working under William Goldsmith’s direction, pretty much everyone in the cast gives a strong performance, including several actors who play multiple roles. However, the bulk of the dramatic load falls on the shoulders of 11-year-old Collin Grubbs, who meets the challenge with assurance. On opening night, his only problem was a tendency to race through his lines so fast that they were sometimes hard to catch.

As a matter of fact, the entire production might benefit from slowing down and taking a breath a little more often to let the emotions percolate. Despite all the amazing and frightful adventures Joey undergoes, we’re given time to feel neither amazement nor fear.

Truthfully, the script doesn’t help, keeping the characters one-dimensional and treating time travel as nothing special. Even Joey’s parents, who know of his era-hopping ability, send him off to 1947 as if they were dropping him off at the bus stop.

Making matters worse, a video sequence meant to symbolize Joey’s trek through time looks more like a trip through a body’s digestive system. On the other hand, Ray Zupp’s semi-realistic scenery and Brendan Michna’s expressive lighting serve the production well.

Despite the play’s dramatic limitations, Jackie & Me does fulfill its prime function. Namely, it gives young viewers a valuable history lesson while teaching them the importance of self-control. That makes it worthwhile family viewing.

Columbus Children’s Theatre will present Jackie & Me through Feb. 28 at the Garden Theater, 1187 N. High St., Columbus. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 10 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Friday, 1 and 5 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes (including intermission). Tickets are $20-$25, $15-$20 children, students and seniors; all tickets $12 on Thursday. 614-224-6672 or columbuschildrenstheatre.org.