Review: Season on the Line (The House Theatre)

| October 2, 2014
Ty Olwin, Maggie Kettering and Marika Mashburn star in The House Theatre's "Season on the Line" by Shawn Pfautsch, directed by Jess McLeod. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)        
      
Season on the Line

Written by Shawn Pfautsch 
Directed by Jess McLeod
at Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division (map)
thru Oct 26  |  tickets: $25-$35   |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets 
    
        
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House’s love letter to theater is life-affirming

     

Marika Mashburn, Allison Latta, Thomas J Cox, Andy Lutz, Abu Ansari, Danny Bernardo, Marvin Quijada and Ty Olwin in The House Theatre's "Season on the Line" by Shawn Pfautsch, directed by Jess McLeod. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

    
The House Theatre of Chicago presents
    
Season on the Line

Review by Lauren Whalen 

Season on the Line is not typical House Theatre fare. Since its origins in 2001, the House has gained a reputation for bringing flashy spectacle and moments of magic (the latter is appropriate, as the company was co-founded by magician Dennis Watkins). Season on the Line doesn’t have any of this, and – at over three hours – it’s longer than most House shows to boot. However, the show possesses the clear direction, cohesive storytelling, robustly talented cast and gorgeous production values that have made the House one of Chicago’s most innovative ensembles.

Thomas J. Cox in The House Theatre's "Season on the Line" by Shawn Pfautsch, directed by Jess McLeod. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)Billed as “a love letter to the American theater,” Season on the Line chronicles one year in the life of the Bad Settlement Theatre Company, through the eyes of the Narrator (Ty Olwin). Young and fresh-faced, he’s answered an ad for Assistant Stage Manager despite having never worked in the performing arts, but he’s quickly shown the ropes by the no-nonsense resident stage manager, Day Starr (Maggie Kettering). Bad Settlement has all the trappings of a small but mighty ensemble, complete with a hardworking associate director (Allison Latta) who does everything from grease the fundraising wheels to play the ingénues; a semi-famous hometown hero (Shane Kenyon) who is woefully miscast at least once; and a lighting designer/operator (Mary Hollis Inboden) who dryly works the set designer’s freak-outs into every tech schedule. At the center of Bad Settlement is Artistic Director Ben Adonna (Thomas J. Cox), a brilliant but tyrannical soul who obsesses over the season’s closing production of Moby-Dick. As coffers are emptied, tempers explode and opening night of Moby-Dick grows closer, everything’s at stake: the sanity of cast and crew, and ultimately the survival of the struggling company.

I admit to wincing when I heard the running time of Season: on the rare occasions I review such a long play, it’s more often than not doddering and glacial. Not so in this case: director Jess McLeod keeps the pacing fast and tight, and the action plentiful. House company member Shawn Pfautsch has crafted a script with substance and structure – each of the three acts covers one production in Bad Company’s season, from first rehearsal to opening night party, giving the audience a sense of beginning and end while providing mostly thorough character growth and development.

Tiffany Yvonne Cox in The House Theatre's "Season on the Line" by Shawn Pfautsch, directed by Jess McLeod. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)Ty Olwin, Maggie Kettering and Marika Mashburn in The House Theatre's "Season on the Line" by Shawn Pfautsch, directed by Jess McLeod. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow) Shane Kenyon and Thomas J Cox in The House Theatre's "Season on the Line" by Shawn Pfautsch, directed by Jess McLeod. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)Thomas J Cox, Maggie Kettering, Tiffany Yvonne Cox, Ty Olwin and Shane Keynon in The House Theatre's "Season on the Line" by Shawn Pfautsch, directed by Jess McLeod. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

Pfautsch pulls no punches, celebrating the universal spirit of scrappy theater companies everywhere while also highlighting their challenges: directors who can’t see dollar signs, only their Vision; actors who must balance late nights of unpaid labor with the day jobs that pay their rent; and the constant tension when the word “budget” is spoken. Bad Settlement is a modern-day allegory of the Melville classic: the hunt for the mythical white whale becomes the quest for a production flawless beyond compare. Only a few spots ring slightly less-than-true: Kenyon’s pretty-boy actor Amos Delaney borders on stereotypical Hollywood doofus (and sticks around longer than is realistic); flamboyant dancer Kaku (Danny Bernardo) starts as an Obi-Wan Kenobi for the Narrator but quickly fades into the background; and B’hai guru Faye (Tiffany Yvonne Cox) drifts in and out of the final act without explanation of why she’s there in the first place. Thankfully, these blips don’t impede the House’s inherent sense of narrative, as the audience find themselves rooting for Bad Settlement to stage the perfect Moby-Dick, one that will make critic Arthur Williamson (Sean Sinitski) forget every bad review he’s ever written.

As with all House productions, the production values are breathtaking, though slightly more realistic. Izumi Inaba’s costumes perfectly embody working artists, drapey and comfortable fabrics with touches of bright color and shine. Lee Keenan’s set and lighting conjure a dusty low-budget set, the now-dry swimming pool of the Constellation Motel where Bad Settlement makes its home, and a few surprises along the way. Fight and dance choreography by Jerry Galante and Jessica Beth Redish, respectively, provide punch and bounce without looking out of place or overly polished. The 18-member cast feel like friends by show’s end, relatable in their struggles and triumphs. Standouts include Kettering as the ultimate stage manager (from her functional sneakers to her matter-of-fact demeanor), Olwin’s wide-eyed Narrator, Marika Mashburn as a yappy, disheveled actress/director and Sinitski as the much-feared critic.

Like the House’s Hammer Trinity, which will conclude early next year, Season on the Line is an epic tale of love, grief and the power of a story. It might not hold the box-office appeal of the company’s annual Nutcracker, but art can’t be measured in ticket sales. As a three-hour embodiment of the Chorus Line ode to performance “What I Did For Love”; as a searing exploration of the frustrations and nobilities of creation; as a funny and tragic look at theater from all sides, Season on the Line is a resounding and enduring success.

  
Rating: ★★★½
  
   

Season on the Line continues through October 26th at the Chopin Theatre, W. 1543 Division (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays and Mondays 7pm.  Tickets are $25-$35, and are available by phone (773-396-2875) or online at PrintTixUSA.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at TheHouseTheatre.com. For more about Bad Settlement Theatre Company, visit BadSettlement.org. (Running time: 3 hours 30 minutes, includes 2 intermissions)

Sean Sinitski stars in The House Theatre's "Season on the Line" by Shawn Pfautsch, directed by Jess McLeod. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

Photos by Michael Brosilow 


     

artists

cast

Thomas J. Cox (Ben Adonna), Maggie Kettering (Day Starr), Ty Olwin (Narrator), Marika Mashburn (Elizabethe Fricke), Abu Ansari (Muwangi “Mickey” Ndwaddeewaibwa), Danny Bernardo (Kakuemon “Kaku” Wada), Mary Hollis Inboden (Ashley Salt, u/s Elizabethe Fricke), Bob Kruse (Sydney Smithe, u/s Peter), Molly Lyons (Ensemble, u/s Valerie Dent and Ashley Salt), Tiffany Yvonne Cox (Faye), Shane Kenyon (Amos Delaney), Allison Latta (Nan Tucci), Andy Lutz (Peter Trellis), Sean Sinitski (Arthur Williamson, u/s Ben), Marvin Quijada (John Green), Christopher M. Walsh (Joao, u/s Arthur Williamson), Jessica Dean Turner (Valerie Dent, u/s Day), Rawson Vint (Ensemble, u/s Narrator and Amos Delaney)

behind the scenes

Jess McLeod (director), Brian Desgranges (stage manager), Izumi Inaba (costume design), Lee Keenan (scenic design, lighting design), Kevin O’Donnell (sound design), Jessica Beth Redish (choreographer), Rebecca A. Barrett (associate lighting design), Jerry Galante (fight choreographer), Adam Goldstein (dialect coach), Eleanor Kahn (properties master), Diana Lawrence (music director), Will Dean (lighting and sound supervisor), Sarah JHP Watkins (assistant scenic design), Emily Arnold (assistant costume design), Tamara White (assistant props master), Derek Matson (development workshop dramaturg), Rachael Koplin (assistant stage manager), Kate Grudichak (wardrobe crew), Seagull Works Scene Shop (set construction), Jon Woelfer (scenic supervisor), Jerica Hucke (costume manager), Sydney Rosenfeld (wardrobe supervisor), Michael Brosilow (photos)

Maggie Kettering and Thomas J. Cox in The House Theatre's "Season on the Line" by Shawn Pfautsch, directed by Jess McLeod. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

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Category: 2014 Reviews, Chopin Theatre, House Theatre, Lauren Whalen

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