A group of people in a bar encircle a Black person who is singing into a microphone.
Last Night in Karaoke Town at Factory Theater Credit: Candice Conner

Kim Boler directs Mike Beyer and Kirk Pynchon’s Cleveland-set comedy about gentrification, nostalgia, and karaoke; not necessarily in that order. A group of regulars meets up on a frigid winter night for what they think will be just another night of singing their songs at their favorite local hole-in-the-wall. Little do they know that it’s their last chance to belt out “Sister Christian,” “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” “I Will Survive,” or any one of the hundreds of titles contained in the binders scattered about the antiquated confines of the Karaoke Korner—a Cleveland institution since 1989. The trouble is that outside the bar’s doors it has not been 1989 in quite awhile. They don’t know that the building’s been sold and the new owner’s intent is yet to be revealed.

Last Night in Karaoke Town
Through 4/30: Fri-Sat 8 PM, Sun 3 PM; also Thu 4/21 and 4/28, 8 PM, Factory Theater, 1623 W. Howard, 866-811-4111, thefactorytheater.com, $10-$25.

What starts out as a sweet and funny comedy (first produced by Factory in early 2020) about a uniformly likable bunch of underachieving schlubs gains gravitas as the fate of their meeting place becomes clear. A slice-of-life story widens into a nuanced exploration of the tensions caused by gentrification and other inevitable changes caused by changing times. What this play nails most accurately is the way time stops when you enter a good tavern. The reason people come back to their local is that the cares of their day-to-day are left out there; in here, they’re free to be what they hope to be, rather than what they are. But this dream state always has a sell-by date, after which it runs into the harsh light of day. As the crew at Karaoke Korner admits in the end, perhaps the changes that the outsider they hate at first is bringing may be long overdue. There’s a sign above the karaoke rig saying “Don’t Stop Believin’” will never be played on the premises, and yet someone puts it on this night. It’s proof positive that it’s time to move on into the present, if not the future.