"The Snow Queen” Rocks, But Will It Endure?
Victory Gardens presents:
The Snow Queen
reviewed by Paige Listerud
Based on the tale by Hans Christian Anderson, best friends Kai (Andrew Keltz) and Gerda (Leslie Ann Sheppard) enjoy playing together in a garden above the city. Once winter separates them, they must stay in doors, but they still wave to each through frosty windows. Brought together one night by Gerda’s grandmother, the two hear for the first time about the Snow Queen, who longs for a little boy to keep her warm. Caught up in a magic spell, Kai is abducted by the Snow Queen and Gerda must embark upon a life-changing odyssey to get Kai back.
I was startled by something that perusing reviews from past years had not prepared me for–composer and lyricist Michael Barrow Smith relies on rock opera for the most powerful numbers accompanying this children’s tale. As the Storyteller, returning Cheryl Lynn Bruce remains the undisputed mistress of ceremonies. However, Smith benefits mightily from the talents of Sue Demel, of the Sons of the Never Wrong, and Barbara Barrow, of the Old Town School of Folk Music, to rock out the arias reserved for the grandmother, the Snow Queen, the Enchantress, and Robber girl. These, by far, are the production’s most haunting and dynamic moments.
Other musical genres bring levity and fun to the proceedings—honky-tonk for Bob Goins reindeer and blues for the gang that waylays Gerda on her quest. But not every musical genre that Smith pulls out of his sleeve is as successful. In fact, the effect can be rather hodge-podge; some moments venturing into Sondheim-esque lyrics subvert direct appeal to a younger audience. Even if those moments are intended for adult consumption, they contribute to the patchwork feel of the overall production.
Visually, the show still amazes with puppetry designed by Blair Thomas and Meredith Miller. While in charge of most of the puppet performance, as Elves Jackson Evans, Genevieve Garcia, and Nicole Pellegrino bring joyful energy to their storytelling. Curiously, the production lags in demonstrating a stronger emotional connection onstage between Kai and Gerda, so that the stakes can be raised for the story’s loss and radical journey. Whether this is a result of new direction from Jim Corti or just the introduction of Sheppard as a new member to the cast is uncertain, but hopefully it will be rectified in the course of the run. Best friends can’t return if they were never best friends to begin with.
Chicago’s Christmas Play
Theatre at The Center presents:
The Christmas Schooner
reviewed by Timothy McGuire
I now have a new favorite holiday show, and I hope it runs as a yearly tradition in the Chicagoland area. The Christmas Schooner ran for many years at the Bailiwick Theatre and this year is currently at Theatre at The Center (an Equity theatre in nearby Munster, IN.)
The Christmas Schooner is a based on a true local story and written by Chicago’s John Reeger (book) and Julie Shannon (music.) The story involves a German family living in Wisconsin on the shore of Lake Michigan and working on the schooners that carry cargo to other ports along the lake. At home the Stossel family has a strong respect for the German traditions as well as generous hearts that feel compassion for those less fortunate. When a letter from Peter Stossel’s (Brandon Dahlquist) sister arrives, addressing her disappointment in not having a Tannebaum for Christmas and how many Germans in Chicago were left feeling homesick without their traditional Christmas symbol, Peter, the father and man of the family, feels a sense of duty to bring the people of Chicago Christmas trees.
Almost this entire story is told through the everlasting music. Shannon’s songs tell the whole story, including witty conversations between family members and acted as if reacting to real dialogue. It is a complex diverse score that moves with the changing tide in the play and allows the astonishing voices on stage to fill the house with the emotion of their characters.
The dialogue succeeds in bringing out the everyday humor in each situation, and Peter Kevoian plays it best as the Opa Gustav Stossel. Kevoian moved me in all direction, having me laughing throughout the play and crying at the end. Each performer created their own individual and, as a whole, the chemistry between each member of the family brings out the strongest sense of family spirit. The message of pride and sacrifice for others is brought out in action and the bonds of love and dependency in one another builds as they set out to please others less fortunate.
As in all true stories, there are moments of disappointment and sadness, but the courage and strength of the Stossel family bring out the true meaning of Christmas. Their kindness reached people of all ethnic backgrounds and the joy they brought to others made their difficult journeys worth their sacrifice.
The Christmas Schooner is a timeless musical that should be seen by all those dwelling near the Great Lakes, and across the U.S. This is a truly American Christmas story of family relations, traditions and generosity in the melting pot of the Midwest.
TV Classic Transfers Smoothly to the Stage
The Annoyance Theatre presents:
The Annoyance Christmas Pageant: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
review by Keith Ecker
I have a distinct memory of sitting in my pajamas as a boy on a brisk winter evening in Texas. The light of the television provided a mock warmth. The big networks had suspended their regular prime-time programming to honor the Christmas season. The usual annual cartoon fair flashed on the screen including the likes of Garfield and Charlie Brown, intermittently interrupted by messages from Campbell Soup and Coca-Cola, both of which wanted me to have a happy holiday and a stocked cupboard of their products.
Amid this Technicolor blend of holiday and commercial cheer were the unforgettable Rankin/Bass-produced featurettes. The most popular—amongst my household anyway—was Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, a strange telling of the history of Rudolph from birth to ostracization to, for all intensive purposes, canonization. The characters, like in all of the Rankin/Bass specials, appear as stiff, herky-jerky figures. That’s because the specials used stop-motion animation, a method where animators painstakingly pose figurines from shot to shot to give them the appearance of movement. Cheesy songs, a feel-good moral and a narrating snowman completed the show, which has now regularly played on television for the last 45 years.
That’s why it’s high time that the cartoon transitioned from the television and onto the stage. And thankfully the classic gets the top-notch treatment it deserves from the talented folks at The Annoyance Theatre.
For those expecting the usual adult-themed fodder of the Annoyance (the same theatre that brought us Co-Ed Prison Sluts), you will be sorely disappointed. The show is intended for children. However, those who have fond memories of the childhood classic will enjoy the staged retelling, recalling the whimsy of youth and the exuberant holiday spirit that seems to fade with age.
The production stays true to the t.v. special with only slight adjustments. Sam the Snowman (Jason Geis) narrates the story, setting the stage for Rudolph’s birth and his unfortunate deformity—his bright, shiny red nose. Rudolph (Leslie Nesbit) tries to join the other reindeers in their reindeer games. These games are basically a training camp to teach the young calves to fly and one day join Santa’s sleigh team. Their coach (David Jennings) discovers Rudolph’s red nose, which had been concealed with a prosthetic, and bans him from practice. Meanwhile, in Santa’s workshop is Hermey (Alex DiGiacinto), an elf who doesn’t want to be an elf, but instead aspires to be a dentist. His boss, the head elf (Tim Soszko), sends him home for his disobedience.
Hermey and Rudolph meet and become fast friends. The two run away together and encounter Yukon (Collin Blackard), an arctic prospector. The three continue together on a journey, which takes them to the Island of Misfit Toys. Here they meet an assortment of outcast playthings including a jack-in-the-box unfortunately named Charlie (Tim Soszko).
Meanwhile, the Bumble (Steven Whitney), an abominable snow monster, is on the trail of the adventurers, in part because of Rudolph’s nose, which shines like a beacon. In an effort to protect his friends, Rudolph separates from the pack to find his reindeer family.
Nesbit does a wonderful job mimicking the voice of Rudolph from the televised special and brings a genuine childlike charm to the role that will certainly have children relating to the central character. Geis plays the snowman with absolute commitment. His awkward shuffling, which is meant to resemble the animation of the t.v. program, and detached, over-the-top facial expressions are subtly hilarious. Children probably won’t give it a second thought, but for the adults in the audience, his extreme jolliness is delightfully unsettling. Tahnee Lacey, who has a small role as Mrs. Claus, stands out for her unrelenting homage to the original text. She moves in stop motion, as if each second an unseen hand is adjusting her appendages.
There are a few musical numbers throughout, and it is obvious that the cast was not chosen for their vocal talents. Sounding much like a children’s choir, voices are slightly off key at times. This is forgivable, as the whole production has the intentional feel of an amateur pageant rather than a polished play. However, the lack of vocal projection is a distraction, causing the audience at times to strain to hear the performers over the piano.
Director Megan Kelleher does a nice job of maximizing the Annoyance’s tiny space. She occasionally spills the cast off the stage to create certain visual effects, such as when the heroes evade the monster by floating away on a tiny island of ice. However, there were times where the stage picture was cluttered with actors interrupting the view of the action from certain angles.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a nearly perfect holiday treat for children and adults alike. Don’t go in expecting a highly polished production. Rather, this is pure fun played out with a fancy that will bond you and your child through Christmas cheer and nostalgia.
Teatro Luna presents:
reviewed by Aggie Hewitt
Teatro Luna (Chicago’s only all Latina theatre company that produces a full season)’s Lunitic(a)s is a montage of scenes, vignettes and songs, which explore woman’s “everyday insanity” using the conceit of Mayan lunar mythology. It’s a great concept paired with a sophisticated execution that does not dwell in the academic or the poetic but manages to keep both feet planted firmly in the real. The piece features some of the most honest performing I have seen in the city, with talented and vibrant young actresses who rarely if ever take a misstep. Although the show has structural problems, stemming from cramming most of the darker pieces into the last third of the show, the play still maintains a grace and dignity that does not verge on the pretentious.
A collaborative, original performance piece about the everyday struggles of womanhood is a risky undertaking today, just as it was in 2007 when Teatro Luna first staged Lunitic(a)s. The concept of the show has an academic feel to it; it is so empowering to it’s actresses, so quietly reverential of their lives and performances, it could pass for the culmination of freshman year at a conservatory; but the execution—writing, acting and directing is strictly professional. These women take themselves and this project seriously, and it pays off. The end result is an honest, simple and refreshing piece of theatre that has the courage to be truthful, introspective and serious when so much theater strives to stay one step ahead of potential criticism.
The play is clearly collaboratively written, with each piece tailor made for the performer. These performances are so vulnerable that you feel like you could climb on stage and join in. These women take the stage with all of the technical astuteness of a trained actor but with the relaxed self-interest of the most charming un-trained performer. They live each moment with deep and open energy that is exactly what you want to see from an all female theater company. Each actor brings her own unique worldview to the stage in this perfectly balanced ensemble. Director Tanya Saracho tempers the course, dry wit of show with graceful movements, slick blocking and crystal clear focus. Mac Vaughey’s lush and communicative lighting design is nicely paired with the elegantly conceived set designed by Dan Matthews.
The piece is not without it’s problems. The vignettes seem to be arranged in order of darkness of subject, leaving the last third to drag and become a bit uncomfortable. By the end of the play, the audience has caught on to the possibility that a lot of these stories are autobiographical (partly because of their presentation and partly because it says so in the program) and the final third of the show is actually hard to watch. By the end of the play, the women seem broken: the worst parts of their lives have been on display. It’s so personal and dense, at times it feels more like therapy than art. Maybe it’s a choice, but it ends on a bleak view of womanhood. Which is not to say it is not affective. It’s a show that resonates and lingers for days after it’s been experienced. Go see Lunatic(a)s at Chicago Dramatists, you’d be crazy to miss it!
Yes! We have no bananas
Cirque du Soleil presents:
reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes
Yes, parts of Cirque du Soleil‘s new stage show are that bad.
Although a few elements of this remarkably uneven spectacle are terrific, it all adds up to a disappointing and chaotic whole. If you’re too impatient to sift through the details, the short version is that Cirque du Soleil’s effort to re-imagine the vaudeville variety show succeeds in the circus acts for which the company has become famous and fails in nearly all of its efforts to be vaudevillian and, notably, the comedy.
The humor of vaudeville was broad and slapstick – think the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy and The Three Stooges – often bawdy and coarse. While some of that era’s gags remain timeless, others have become unfunny through overexposure or because modern audiences have finer sensibilities than those of the minstrel era.
Banana Shpeel groans under the weight of hoary old bits that went dull before Groucho Marx was born and ragging jokes that most of us no longer laugh at. Cirque steers away from vaudeville’s most commonplace slurs and stereotypes, but still, within the first 15 minutes, Banana Shpeel pokes fun at old people and deaf people, uses a filthy Yiddish word in reference to an apparently Jewish character and tops it off with a pair of African-American tap dancers.
Auditions. The show begins with an utterly lame, overlong act that introduces cigar-chomping impresario Marty Schmelky of "Schmelky’s Schmelktacular" (Jerry Kernion); his two would-be comic sidekicks, Daniel (Daniel Passer) and Wayne (Wayne Wilson); and three other clownish characters who are supposedly auditioning: Claudio Carneiro, a lame Brazilian impersonator of "ordinary people with knee problems"; Patrick de Valette, an exhibitionist modern dancer; and Gordon White, "The Oldest Mime in the World." Despite discouragement by Schmelky and company, this trio shows up again and again in different guises, the running gag of the show. This bunch of second bananas apparently inspired the name. No actual bananas were harmed in the making of the show. zero stars
Welcome to Schmelky Spectacular. Next, we get a not especially spectacular opening dance number, featuring lots of flappers and feathers and highlighting siblings Joseph and Josette Wiggan, two talented tappers who deserve better than to be exhibited like a revival of the vaudevillian "two-colored" rule. ★★
Juggler. In this more traditional Cirque act, Tuan Le adeptly juggles hats – getting up to six – using his hands, feet and head. ★★★
Eccentric dance. An ensemble dance number more remarkable for its fluorescent costumes and effective use of blacklight than for its choreography. ★★½
Duo hand to hand. Strongman Jeff Retzlanff and lithe Kelsey Wiens perform a pas de deux of acrobatic maneuvers that climax with her standing on his head on one foot. ★★★½
Clown restaurant. A long, painful episode involving all five clowns, an apparently well-coached audience member and some trite routines so antique they’ve fossilized. ★
Act II Clowns. More of the same. zero stars
Foot juggler. A hypnotic act in which dexterous, scantily clad Vanessa Alvarez spins mats with her feet while, among other things, standing on her head. In the background, three other young ladies pose with giant fans. ★★★
Magic dance. There’s nothing especially magical about this dance number. ★★
Magic. A stylized, slapstick magic act, set to music, disjointed and dumb. ★
Hand balancing. An awesome performance by Russian strongman and contortionist Dima Shine, a beautiful young man doing beautiful, sinuous, graceful, almost impossible things with his body on a lighted pole. ★★★★
Tap dance. If you thrill to the tap spectacles in old movies, this one will wow you. It starts off a bit slowly, but perks up fast. The Wiggans do some fine work here, as do the whole ensemble. This may be the one act that really justifies the "new twist on vaudeville" label, and would have made a much better opening act than those excruciating clowns. ★★★½
Charivari and finale. The lady from the audience is pulled back on stage for a tender scene with Daniel, while White clowns at one side. Surprise – there are actually a few laughs here! Then another chaotic crowd sequence brings the two-hour show to a merciful end. ★★½
Set and lighting. Set Designer Patricia Ruel and Lighting Designer Bruno Rafie did a noticeably impressive job. The shifting, colorful backdrop made from a huge, lightbox screen and a glossy, lighted, moving floor add real impact, especially to the dance numbers. ★★★★
Costumes. Costume Designer Dominique Lemieux evokes flamboyant vaudeville style with glittering, shimmering, iridescent and phosphorescent fabrics. ★★★
Music. Composer and Musical Director Scott Price has put together a good live band, but nothing in his score will leave you humming. ★★½
So, let’s do the math: 37½ points, divided by 16 items, equals 2.34. Do we average up to 2.5 stars or down to 2?
Given the incredible pre-show hype, which included spammers posting to local blogs, and the price of decent seats, I’m inclined to average down. Cirque fans who need a fix are advised to skip this and wait till March, when the perennially touring Alegria will play in Hoffman Estates.
Misery and Mystery Undergird Two Plays by Beau O’Reilly
Curious Theatre presents:
Two Plays by Beau O’Reilly
by Beau O’Reilly
thru January 3rd (ticket info)
review by Paige Listerud
Program notes handed out for Curious Theatre’s latest production at the Center Portion Gallery tell you nothing typical regarding the plays performed. They give a bit of history about their creation process–but nothing so conventional as actor biographies or promotional material about the company itself. Instead, playwright Beau O’Reilly writes about getting knocked out of commission at an unexpected moment:
I woke up on Wednesday with “No Longer a Rock” completely in my head and wrote it down . . . Celebrating, I got on a bike and headed down the dirt road . . . I was knocked unconscious, woke up to . . . a feeling of disassociation, which included watching language blend, dissolve, and wander away as if it was someone else’s province . . . rescued from the brain trauma unit by my friends, I did go to the theatre festival, but efforts to move on stage with lumpy grace were replaced by spinning vertigo . . . I sat instead in an armchair and told a half-remembered story, watching my mouth paraphrase my paraphrases as words would float away . . .
Serious misery accompanies incapacitation. Both No Longer the Rock of the World and Dead to the World reveal lives of emotional and mental disability. Despair over what has been lost and won’t be recovered dwells side by side with miraculous possibility–the healing of longstanding wounds and the opening up of new worlds. Forgiveness and the recovery of humanity–heck, even the recovery of a reliable daily routine–allude to chance, fate, or the mystery of existence lying behind material reality. Is O’Reilly aware that he has written little mystery plays for the modern world?
Never mind. In No Longer the Rock of the World, Kelly Ann Corcoran and Guy Massey strike a nice dueling sardonic pair as Carol and Charles. Both are defensively mourning the death of Walter, an idiosyncratic performance artist who was Carol’s lover and also Charles’ brother. Walter’s dying wish brings them together, as much as they wouldn’t stand each other under any other circumstances.
Charles hurts from his own unfinished business with Walter, as well Carol’s limited judgments of him. Guy Massey immaculately conveys Charles’ brittle spirit, especially when he returns fire with, “You’re a snob, Carol.” But nothing frames their scene together like the black despair Carol sinks into when alone. Who needs who the most becomes the predominant question. O’Reilly’s original music, sung live by a character named Elsie, provides eerie accompaniment to the scene, performed on opening night by Sophie Sennard and Julian Berke. (Jenny Magnus will alternate with Sennard during the run.)
Dead to the World is essentially one long monologue about a man suffering unpredictable attacks of narcolepsy. Already living on the edge, his life’s journey is an uninterrupted dreamscape that, in its own grungy way, represents a descent into hell. Certainly, the building he lives in, with its gangsta-style vandalism and creepy neighbor lady, is a familiar renter’s hell. How survival happens at all for this guy is as much a mystery to the audience as to him. We are left to presume the kindness of many unmentioned strangers. It’s here where O’Reilly’s writing could use an editor’s eye, since the work threatens to devolve into a shaggy-dog story. But it’s a strong stroke of realism when his character’s escape from narcolepsy is as unpredictable and enigmatic as the rest of his experience.
Kate Teichman adroitly navigates the ups and downs of O’Reilly’s text. Thankfully, the writing exercises her full, versatile range. She’s an actor who gives quirky roles grounding and respect, avoiding clownishness, even while wearing oversize glasses and engaging in a few acrobatics. It’s a performance worth seeing, even with a text that could be tightened up. Not only do we buy her performance as a man, we believe the moments of epiphany along with the dips into despair and disorientation.
November 27 – January 3
Fridays & Saturdays 8 PM
Sundays 3 PM
Note: No shows Christmas week or New Year’s Day.
@ Center Portion
2850-1/2 West Fullerton Ave
in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood
$15 or pay what you can at the door
$12 in advance online
Reserve advanced tickets at: https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/90439
THE AUTOMOTIVE GRAVEYARD
– University Theater at University of Chicago
BANANA SHPEEL - Cirque du Soleil
CAR CEMETERY – University Theater at University of Chicago
CHAD MORTON’S TV CHRISTMAS MIRACLE - Village Players Performing Arts Center
A CHRISTMAS CAROL – Paramount Theatre
COLD – Dream Theatre
THE D-CUP DIATRIBES - Gorilla Tango Theatre
THE DREAMERS – Theatre Building Chicago
THE EXONERATED – Gorilla Tango Theatre
FAITH OFF – Gorilla Tango Theatre
NAUGHTIER AND NICE – New Millenium Theatre
FLORIDA DEVEREAUX DOES THE HOLIDAYS – Prop Thtr
GIFT OF THE MAGI - EverGreen Theatre Ensemble
HANDEL’S MESSIAH – Pick Staiger Concert Hall
HOLIDAY DIVAS! – Theatre and Interpretation Center at Northwestern University
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE: LIVE AT THE BIOGRAPH – Victory Gardens Biograph Theater
LOW TONER: DECISION QUALITY – Gorilla Tango Theatre
MARK AND LAURA’S COUPLES ADVICE CHRISTMAS SPECIAL – Gorilla Tango
OH COWARD! – Writers’ Theatre
RUDOLPH THE RED HOSED REINDEER – Hell in a Handbag Productions
SHORT SHORTS – Annoyance Theatre
A SILENT NIGHT: GRANDMA GOT RUN OVER WITHOUT HEALTHCARE - Gorilla Tango
TAMING OF THE FLU - The Second City
TOWARDS THE SUN! - Gorilla Tango Theatre
A VERY MERRY UNAUTHORIZED CHILDREN’S SCIENTOLOGY PAGEANT – Next Theatre
THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS – City Lit Theater
BECOMING INGRID - Rubicon Theatre Project
DOOBY DOOBY MOO – Lifeline Theatre
AN EVENING WITH CHARLES BUSCH AND JULIE HALSTON - Victory Gardens
HOLES – Merle Reskin Theatre
HOLIDAY HOP - Center for Performing Arts at Governors State University
PHEDRA – New World Repertory Theater
RACHEL CORN AND THE SECRET SOCIETY – Corn Productions
ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD – Writers’ Theatre
A little less loud. a bit more funny.
The Factory Theatre presents:
review by Aggie Hewitt
The Factory Theatre is a quirky little theatre that produces comedic farcical productions. Hunky Dory, their late night show, introduces us to a Texas family that is part “Deliverence”, part “Rosanne”. But this family is not just poor, trashy and evil – they own a coach house that is absolutely irresistible to retired Sarah Lawerence professors and Chicago doctors looking for a quiet place to write their memoirs. Why? It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that this family is going to kill those upper-crust Northerners and collect their social security checks.
Performers at the Factory Theatre like to yell. They seem to have picked up the idea that this is how humor is communicated. In the world outside the theatre, a lot of people have this misconception as well, and I have never understood it. What is there about loud noises that is so funny to these people? Are they just all fighting for one’s attention? If that’s the case I have news for the Factory Theatre bombasts: all of the chairs in the house face the stage. If you are on stage, someone will pay attention to you. Please stop screaming.
Apart from that, the whole production just seems lazy; as if no thought at all were put into any aspect of it. The story, staging and writing in this show are unfortunately equally bland – monotone and without heart. Chicago performers, writers and directors looking to work in comedy have to understand that big does not equal funny. (Of course, big can be funny if it is an aspect of the entire joke, but it’s not a secret formula for it).
My advice? Steer clear from this production, but please do not write off the Factory Theatre. They’re a smart group that perhaps lost some guidance on this particular show. I look forward to smaller and brighter things to come in future productions.
Elmer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Blake Dalzin
Char . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sarah Rose Graber*
Momma . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Christine Jennings*
Aunt Sue . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Jennifer Pompa*
Guj . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Christopher Marcum
Grandpa Freddy. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Steve Welsh
Mr. Thompson/Snyder/Russell . . . . . . . .Justin Cagney
Mrs. Thompson/Snyder/Russell . . . . Erin Elizabeth Orr
Executive Producer……………Carrie J. Sullivan*
Sound Design…………………………….Nick Booth*
Stage Manager………………….Elizabeth Boros-Kazai
* connotates Ensemble Member
for cast bios, click on “Read More”
Turn your midlife crisis to your own advantage by making it a time for renewal of your body and mind, rather than stand by helplessly and watch them decline.
— Jane E. Brody
Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of.
— Benjamin Franklin, ‘Poor Richard’s Almanack,’ June 1746
The extra little bit of weight you put on during a period of being on holiday or vacation.
Man, when I get back to work I’ll have to start going to the gym again- I’ve put on some serious holiday pounds
American Theatre Company presents:
It’s a Wonderful Life: The Radio Play
Adapted from the film by Frank Capra
Screenplay written by Goodrich, Hackett, Swerling and Capra
Based on a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern
Directed by Jason Gerace
Thru December 27th (ticket info)
reviewed by Katy Walsh
“Man’s suicide thwarted on Christmas Eve” sounds like a newspaper headline, not the premise of a holiday tradition. In American Theatre’s 8th-annual production, Frank Capra’s 1946 film, It’s a Wonderful Life, based on the book The Greatest Gift, is re-imagined on stage as a radio play. Though most have seen the movie, the story deals with a distraught businessman George Bailey who eventually considers killing himself so his family may benefit from a life insurance policy. Clarence, angel second class, tries to earn his wings by helping George understand significance of his life. Performed in 80 minutes without an intermission, American Theatre Company’s It’s a Wonderful Life: The Radio Play is a nicely wrapped holiday gift.
It could possibly be said that Wonderful Life is the original dramedy. The plot is Hollywood’s schmaltzy tragedy with a “feel good” happy ending. Within the story of a suicide attempt, the Capra team has created strong characters delivering memorable lines. “Why don’t you kiss her instead of talking her to death?”, “Youth is wasted on the wrong people.”, “No gin tonight, son!”, “Get me…I’m giving out wings.”, “Excuse me! Excuse me! I burped!”, “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings,” and the ever powerful, “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” The timeless lines invoke the familiar swirl of sentimental tears and chuckles.
Starting with this strong, beloved script, director Jason Gerace adds a cast of nine members to perform the Christmas classic. The stage is the broadcast room at radio station WATC. The radio announcer (Alex Goodrich) begins the show by prepping the studio audience with “on the air” protocols and the importance of the APPLAUSE sign lighting up. Alan Wilder, playing two key roles – Clarence and Mr. Potter, perfectly mimics the original performances of Henry Travers and Lionel Barrymore. As crotchety old Potter, Wilder mockingly delivers, “You see, if you shoot pool with some employee here, you can come and borrow money.” Later, as Clarence, Wilder innocently requests, “Mulled wine, light on the cinnamon heavy on the cloves. Off with ya lad and be lively!”
Another player that provides dead-on imitations of multiple characters is Jessie Fisher. As man-eater Violet, Fisher seductively says, “What? This old thing? Why I only wear it when I don’t care how I look.” Then Fisher becomes 8 year old Zu-Zu with, “Not a smidge of temperature.” Although Kareem Bandealy is no Jimmy Stewart, his George Bailey gives a complex range of emotions of a dream seeker -small town hero- suicidal- “richest man in Bedford Falls.” Under the well-paced direction of Gerace, the multi-talented cast energetically lassoes the moon.
For a radio play performed as a stage play, the foley artist (the person who creates many of the natural, everyday sound effects for a live radio show) always adds an interesting element of sound production. With this show, this doesn’t seem to be occur. The foley artist (Rick Kubes) is set up on the side of the stage with various tools and techniques to add the sounds to the radio broadcast. Plunging in the river, clattering dishes, blizzard winds – these radio elements are not completely audibly realized. Kubes needs to crank up the volume! And speaking of audio, preshow, the audience is given an opportunity to write audiograms. During radio commercial breaks, the audiograms are delivered by the cast. Holiday greetings are mixed with requests for parking money as the messages are broadcasted to and from audience members. It’s a nice personal holiday touch and cheaper than buying cards.
Thursday, December 3
All the Fame of Lofty Deeds
Enjoy complimentary pizza in the famous Chopin Theatre lobby before the performance, then stick around for the world premiere production written by rock journalist Mark Guarino and based on and featuring the music and artwork of Bloodshot Records recording artist Jon Langford (Mekons, Waco Brothers). This phantasmic journey into the mind of a fictional country music legend is what an episode of Howdy Doody might look like if it were directed by David Lynch. Sadly reflective and yet hilariously surreal, House Theatre’s All the Fame of Lofty Deeds mixes rock biography, live music and stunning visual effects to tell a tripped out tale of the demise of America’s last living cowboy. Stick around after the performance for a talk back with the some of the show’s cast and creative team.
Event begins at 7 p.m.
Show begins at 8 p.m.
TICKETS ONLY: $25
For reservations call 773.251.2195 and mention "Theater Thursdays."
Read our review here.