Category: Actors Gymnasium
In a theater community as diverse and talented as Chicago’s, every aspect and genre of stage productions can be found throughout the city on a given week. 2015 was no exception to this fact, as one can see from our reviewers’ picks of the year’s greatest and most memorable works.
The Little Prince
Adapted by Rick Cummins and John Scoullar
Energetic production will charm, warm and wow you
|The Actors Gymnasium presents|
|Lost and Found: a Recycled Circus|
|Created by Larry DiStasi and Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi
at Noyes Cultural Arts Center, Evanston (map)
thru March 13 | tickets: $10-$15 | more info
Reviewed by Paige Listerud
There’s something rather “Mad Max” about Lost and Found: a Recycled Circus. Its child performers are costumed in ragged, industrial odds and ends, recalling Tina Turner and the Thunderdome more than an Actors Gymnasium production at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. An apocalyptic circus at the end of the world suits, with its the rag-tag cast carrying on with life’s basic concerns and recreating new wonder out of the old and nearly forgotten. Under the direction of Larry DiStasi, a circus tradition is handed down to younger generations—a little worn and hodge-podge, but no less exciting for all that.
Andrew Adams, Zoe Boyer, Will Howard, Matt Roben, Meredith “Tommy” Tomlins and Lindsey Noel Whiting make up the adult members of the cast, stumbling clownishly through their own dilemmas of losing and finding love. Matt Roben, in baggy clown pants, timidly and haltingly pursues Lindsey Noel Whiting who, prior to the start of the show, tries to sell concessions that include uncooked parsnips and cans of spam. Roben, who has enough on his hands with mischievous kids cramping his dating game, has a rival in the hilariously portly Will Howard, who gives Whiting a date she’ll never forget—for all the wrong reasons.
DiStasi’s direction intersperses sly and nuanced clowning with aerial work on some pretty tough and industrial circus apparatus. Imposing an almost threatening presence is an aerial ring attached to ladders that form a cone at the top and bottom. Besides an elegant performance on it rendered by two young women in synchronized movement, Whiting also takes a daring turn on it to the tune of Queen’s “Somebody To Love.” If that were not enough, on a spare tire hung from the ceiling, Whiting’s acrobatic work alone thrills with its inherent danger. Meanwhile, Andrew Adams creates wordless, impressive poetry with two suspended cords and an umbrella to an instrumental version of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters.”
Lost and Found is brilliant in bits and moments. Some of these inspire with Dada-esque disjointedness, as when Hannah Schwimmer sings “Poor Wandering One” with the introduction of Howard. But the integration of Actors Gymnasium Teen Ensemble into the storyline between Roben, Whiting and Howard seems to almost be an afterthought. Their numbers create a brilliant visual impact during a choreographed juggling sequence with Adams and their drumming with the younger cast members boosts the excitement of the show. But for a high-concept sort of circus, it’s curious that their acrobatic work is not integrated with the rest of the story. DiStasi tacks their turn at the teeterboard at the end—and as an encore to the production.
Still, it’s an encore that produces a burst of energy and that’s the most beautiful thing about Lost and Found. On these final chilly and rainy days of winter, this production will charm, warm and wow you.
Lost and Found: A Recycled Circus, featuring aerial acrobatics, live music, and magical, found-object invention, continues through March 13th at the Noyes Cultural Center. Performance schedule: Fridays 7:30pm, Saturdays 4:30 and 7:30pm, Sundays 3:00pm.
A vaudeville-circus-magic-show-theater extravaganza!
|Lookingglass Theatre and The Actors Gymnasium present|
|Adapted and directed by David Catlin
Adapted from the stories of Lewis Carroll
at Water Tower Works, 821 N. Michigan (map)
through August 1st | tickets: $32-$64 | more info
reviewed by Katy Walsh
Shoes drop, floors open, balls fly, it’s a typical vaudeville-circus-magic show-theatrical extravaganza.
Lookingglass Theatre presents Lookingglass Alice, the adaption of the classic fairytales that also gave birth to the theatre company’s name and mission – Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass”. Alice swallows a ‘Drink Me’ potion that sends her on a fantasy journey. She interacts with nonsensical characters like the Red Queen, Cheshire Cat, and Mad Hatter. Unlike most childhood fable storylines, Alice isn’t looking to be rescued by a prince. She wants to experience life, meet interesting people/talking animals and become queen. Lookingglass Alice is the perfect illustration of independent thinking for the next generation. Lookingglass Theatre imagines Alice’s adventures as a whimsical array of slapstick, aerial, hocus-pocus and dramatic spectacle.
The drama starts preshow. Upon entering the theatre, the room has been divided with a black curtain. In the middle of the curtain, it looks like a framed mirror. Upon inspection, it’s determined to be actually a window to the audience on the other side. Each side experiences a preliminary scene with either Alice or Charles Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll. The emersion of experiences happens in a black silk rippling flourish. Adaptor and director David Catlin uses multiple visual techniques to give the story a deserved quirky manifestation. Performers switch characters. Picnic baskets become doors. The audience joins the action. It’s all mirrors and illusions.
In the lead, Lauren Hirte (Alice) is petite. Hirte is believable as the precarious and defiant young girl standing up to the queen. Her childlike demeanor goes away as she balances a man on her knees and then tumbles into a series of stand-up somersaults. Knowing Hirte is actually not a kid helps when she goes aerial with some ‘does your mother know what you’re doing?’ stunts.
The entire ensemble is in sync with comedy and physicality. Molly Brennan (Red Queen and others) cuts off Alice’s “I mean to say” with a hilarious delivered, “I don’t think it’s mean to say- maybe rude. Off with her head.” Even draped in various vibrant costumes, Brennan’s facial expressions steal the comic focal point. Her interactions with Kevin Douglas (Mad Hatter and others) and Anthony Fleming (Cheshire Cat and Others) are synchronization fascination. Whether they are running across chairs or jumping on each other, their high jinx exploit the funny side of gymnastics.
Lookingglass Alice is Lookingglass Theatre’s loving, frolicking tribute to a father they never met. How inspired that it should be actualized as a family-focused showcase! The production kicks up the familiar story with imagination realization and spikes it with comedy. I prescribe that all families should swallow the ‘Drink Me’ potion and go on the fantasy journey together!
Running Time: Ninety minutes with no intermission
Cute kids, talented teens and a few pros create marvelous science-fiction circus
|The Actors Gymnasium presents|
|Science Fiction: An Experiment in Circus|
|Conceived, written and directed by Larry DiStasi
At Noyes Cultural Arts Center, Evanston
Through April 18 (more info)
|reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes|
Five professional performers, eleven up-and-coming members of The Actors Gymnasium Teen Ensemble and five pint-sized prodigies bring the high-flying Science Fiction: An Experiment in Circus to life in a whirl of color and sound.
Robots, aliens, monsters and an impressive lineup of circus acts come together in this show, conceived and directed by The Actors Gymnasium Artistic Director of Programming Larry DiStasi, a founder of Lookingglass Theatre. We start off with a quartet of mini mad scientists and their unfortunate subject (Griffin DiStasi, Jude Sims, Sadie Sims, Asher White and Julia White), and then segue into a black-lit, fluorescent team of talented, silk-rope-swinging aerialists (Jill Heyser and Kacin Menendez with Teen Ensemble member Meaghan Falvey).
A unicycle dance featuring all 11 members of the Teen Ensemble: Falvey, Gabby Aiden, Lucy Brennan, Sarah Buonaiuto, Lander Ellis, Emily Fishkin, Eleanor Goerss, Jackie Jarvis, Rachel Karn, Leah Orleans and Alison Tye — comes next, followed by Matt Roben as a monster Slinky twisting and contorting around the stage.
Karn, Tye and Nicole Pellegrino next perform an extraordinary and graceful contortionist sequence. Other noteworthy acts include a dance of "Stilts Creatures" by Heyser, Menendez and Pellegrino with Buonaiuto, Ellis and Falvey, a robot strong man act by Menedez and Will Howard, and a whirling Spanish web rope routine by Buonaiuto, Ellis, Fishkin and Orleans.
Another highlight is a vigorous drumming act choreographed by Jarrett Dapier featuring Pellegrino, Falvey and the five children, all delightfully clad as aliens in Spock ears and armor constructed from kitchen gear and designed by Larry DiStasi. Throughout, the costumes, a group effort, compliment the action beautifully, from blacklit neon leotards for aerialists to shiny lame robot outfits.
During interludes between the circus acts, a live band featuring Ellis, Goerss and Roben, sometimes supplemented by Griffin DiStasi, Fishkin and the Whites, plays original music by Greg Hirte, including an eerie trio on oboe, violin and musical saw. The circus acts themselves are performed in perfect time to a riveting soundtrack of found music put together by Larry DiStasi with aid of other cast members that ranges from part of "The Symphony of Science" to Daft Punk’s "Robot Rock” to Basshunter’s "I Can Walk on Water."
The science-fiction theme creates a cohesive and humorous narrative to hold things together. In all, Science Fiction comprises a notable 30 acts and intervening scenes. On opening night, there were a few missteps but everyone gamely kept on going. Having recently seen the world-class Cirque du Soleil, I don’t need a time machine to say that these young performers are well on their way, and you can see them now for a fraction of the price they’ll command in days to come.