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Cleveland Public Theatre’s ‘Can I Touch It?’ is thin at the top

There are a number of things that are fundamentally wrong with the Cleveland Public Theatre's production of Francisca Da Silveira’s “Can I Touch It?” now on stage in the James Levin Theatre.

The show’s synopsis states, “Shay Solomon’s got a lot going on between trying to find funding for her daughter to go to college, trying not to fire an opinionated rogue employee who happens to be her niece and dealing with the white banker who’s trying to touch her hair—that is, her Black beauty supply store which is on the brink of foreclosure in the midst of ongoing neighborhood gentrification.

Can I Touch It?” takes an often-humorous look at the politics of the Black hair care industry while prompting a dialogue about the inequities that entrepreneurs face within a community on the verge of forced change.”

First the bad news. To start with, the show lasts one hour and fifty minutes WITHOUT INTERMISSION. The problem with this was evident after the first hour as members of the sparse audience shuffled off to the WC. No show should be allowed to go past 90 minutes without a break. As for comedy, this was not exactly of the knee slapping variety here.

Next is the title. It is totally misleading. It conjures up images of men of power wanting to fulfill their erotic fantasies when in fact none of this happens at all during the course of the play. What we do get is a glimpse of gentrification where disused and distressed sections of a city are bought out by greedy speculators in cahoots with the city and the banks who build up the area after displacing the poorer residences and businesses by increasing their loan rates.

Then there is the one scene where a cosmic earthquake hits sending mannequin heads and wigs tumbling off the shelves. Meeka and Ruth frantically rush around looking for a book (that is in plain sight on top of one of the display cases). After reading a question out of the book. “Does it hurt?” Meeka launches into a soliloquy of the pain that being black and beautiful causes. The earthquake abruptly stops. The entire scene made no sense whatsoever. There is also the problem of the rapidity of responses from Meeka’s Facebook post as there seems to be more comments that there are people in Boston.

You have five actors taking on the roles of ten characters but there never seems to be enough distance between the roles. This is especially telling with the Mark/Nicky/Leo triplets. Another problem is the actors talking directly to themselves instead of to the audience. Their words end up floating to the wings and key elements are lost on the audience. As for the ending, it amounts to Shay winning the war but losing her business which seems to be a shallow victory. There is also the delay of the actors taking their places on stage as dead air fills the theater. Lastly, the role of Lili with that screeching laugh that had me putting my fingers in my ears in order to escape it.

On the plus side, Josee Coyle’s lighting design is spot on and the scenic design by Kix works well so that we know exactly where we are with each scene. Christina Johnson does a well enough job as Shay bringing a sense of real to the role. The wigs in their own right are interesting with each one having a name.

I would never wish to be someone who would discourage anyone from going to the theater but I had a lot of issues with this performance. Judging by the subdued and polite applause at the end I feel that most of us were in agreement. Be that it may, buy a ticket, check it out and discuss among yourselves the pros and cons of the show.

The Cleveland Public Theatre production of “Can I Touch It?” will be on stage in the James Levin Theatre, 6415 Detroit Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio through May 13, 2023. For more information and tickets go to or call (216) 2727 x501.

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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.  

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