REVIEW: The Breakfast Club Musical (pH Theatricals)

Bouncy score gives this “Breakfast Club Musical” potential

 5 main characters of "Breakfast Club"

pH Productions presents

The Breakfast Club Musical

Directed and adapted by Jason Geis
with direction assistance from Scott Hogan
Music by
Jessica Hunt, lyrics by Jason Geis
musical direction by Jessica Hunt
Studio BE, Lakeview
Through April 29
(more info)

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

The archetypes of high school — The Brain … The Jock … The Princess … The Basketcase … The Criminal — surely live on in generation after generation, yet I confess I don’t understand the continuing fascination with John Hughes’ teen-angst film "The Breakfast Club." Set in Shermer High School, a fictional version of Hughes’ Northbrook alma mater, Glenbrook North, the film has led to dozens of YouTube video reenactments and two local stage productions this season alone — all from people who were surely in Pampers, or unborn, when the film premiered in 1985. Like other full casttributes, the latest homage, pH Productions’ The Breakfast Club Musical, takes its dialog and most of its humor directly from the film. The castDan Aho as Principal Vernon; Sally Anderson as Carla the Janitor; Brett Mannes as Brian Johnson, the Brain; Drew Current as Andrew Clark, the Jock; Martha Hearn as Claire Standish, the Princess; Tristan Tanner as Allison Reynolds, the Basketcase; and Matthew Gottlieb as John Bender, the Criminal; backed by a chorus — re-enacts the Saturday when five mismatched teens were unexpectedly stuck together for a day-long detention. More  fully realized than the staged version now at iO Theater, pH’s production, reportedly three years in the making, benefits from an original score of 17 songs by Jessica Hunt with lyrics by adapter and director Jason Geis. With Hunt accompanying on keyboards, this show feels like a workshop production with aspirations rather than a sketchy one-off, and as such, it deserves to be held to a higher standard.

Hunt and Geis’s bouncy pop sound fits well into the theme of the show. Songs range from "An Imperfect Place," a strong ballad sung by Bender to explain an illicitly closed door, to the campy "I’m Only a Virgin," performed by Brian when he’s caught exaggerating his conquests (and hammed to full extent by Mannes) to the lively "Bizarre" by Andy. As a lyricist, Geis is a little too apt to go for the cheap laugh. This show didn’t really need two songs about virginity, and the humor value of obscenities set to music is of the "funny once" variety. Other songs seem incomplete, such as "Come Monday," which just repeats the same line over and over again. And although the song-and-dance numbers refer to the plot, they often seem inserted rather than interwoven, like musical intervals spliced between reels of the film.

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The cohesiveness of the story may suffer a bit for anyone who’s never seen the movie. For example, the chorus adds impact to the songs but needs explaining. Who are these extra people and what are they doing there? When the full cast is on stage,Cassie Speerschneider’s choreography becomes a little cramped. Performances waver. Gottlieb, who resembles the young Marlon Brando, and the flexible-faced Mannes carry most of the show. Hearn and Current each shine in a couple of star turns, but fade when the focus isn’t directly on them. As a director, Geis needs better awareness of sightlines. It would have played better on stage, for example, for Allison to dump her purse on a desk where the audience could see it, but instead she upends it onto the floor, out of view of the back rows.

This isn’t the place for a lengthy discussion of why so many entertainment enterprises — from local troupes like this one to Broadway companies to Hollywood studios — seem bent on rehashing old movies instead of making up new stories of their own, but I like the way Mac Rogers put it in his commentary on the spate of screen-to-stage adaptations that hit Broadway a few years ago: "A musical doesn’t need to be original to be worthy, it just needs to not suck." The Breakfast Club doesn’t suck — in fact it’s quite engaging — but it doesn’t quite go far enough in re-imagining the original. There’s potential here that hasn’t yet been realized.


Rating: ★★½


March 14, 2010 | 1 Comment More

REVIEW: Trust (Lookingglass Theatre)

An uncompromising, heart-wrenching look at internet predators.



By David Schwimmer and Andy Bellin
Directed by David Schwimmer and Heidi Stillman
At: Lookingglass Theatre Company, 821 N. Michigan
Through April 25 (more info)

By Catey Sullivan 

Toward the final third of Trust, one of the supposed good guys tosses off a line that shows with stark authenticity how victims of internet pedophilia and so called “date” rape are brutally, casually and constantly re-victimized by mainstream society.

Raymond Fox, Allison ToremFourteen-year-old Annie (Allison Torem) has been raped by a 35-year-old she met online when he was posing as a high school sophomore. Her father Will (Philip R. Smith), having just jeopardized a major client at work, finally explains to a colleague that he’s been distracted because of the crime. The co-worker, horrified, sympathizes. Will keeps talking, explaining that Annie’s rapist groomed her for months in chat rooms before meeting her at a mall and then taking her to a hotel room.

Oh,” says the colleague (Keith Kupferer) with palpable relief. “I thought you meant she was attacked. “

It’s then that you realize that Annie hasn’t been victimized only by a pedophile. She’s also getting it from upstanding, law-abiding adults – the sort of good people charged with keeping children safe in any civilized community. Trust illustrates with harrowing accuracy the vast, ingrained and wholly accepted practice of how that safety is violated by a society that routinely diminishes rape’s violence by qualifying it: If the rape happened on a date, if it was by an acquaintance, if the victim wasn’t snatched by a stranger, if she went to the hotel room without screaming, if she sent suggestive e-mails before hand – well then, phew. That’s not so bad. At least it wasn’t the bad kind of rape.

Except for of course, it was. All rape is bad. And those facts are driven home relentlessly in Trust, penned by David Schwimmer and Andy Bellin (based on a screenplay by Bellin and Rob Festinger).

Directed for the Lookingglass Theatre Company by Schwimmer and Heidi Stillman, Trust isn’t a perfect play. It has its movie-of-the-week moments. But it also packs a high-intensity emotional wallop, thanks to an overall excellent ensemble and an extraordinarily powerful performance from Torem as Annie. Moreover, it’s with merciless authenticity that Trust depicts the ever-increasing circle of damage that occurs as a result of Annie’s rape. The high-school soccer player is the immediate victim, but Trust also shows how her attacker (Raymond J. Fox) thoroughly poisons her whole family.

The piece is also uncompromising in its refusal to tie everything up. Unlike on television’s CSI, sex crimes tend to drag on for months and often, even years. The cops are understaffed. The FBI spends most of its budget fighting terrorists. And guys like the one who devastated Annie? The know how to vanish. As Torem’s heart-breaking performance illustrates, they also know how to manipulate the victim until black seems white and bad seems good. Despite what police, her therapist and her parents tell her, Annie “knows” that the man who raped her loves her. Even as her behavior grows erratic and her moods ever darker, she believes all would be well if only she were left to be with the man that she loves as deeply as he loves her.

Were it an easier play, Trust would end when Annie finally faces the worst about her attacker, the promise of recovery a certainty. But to its credit, this is no an easy play. Annie confronts the worst, and then spirals dangerously downward, moving from angry to suicidal in the time it takes to call up a Myspace page.

Amy J. Carle, Allison Torem, Morocco Omari, Philip R. Smith Philip R. Smith
Spencer Curnutt and Allison Torem Trust-porch

With an equally vivid and disheartening sense of truth, Trust also shows how  mass-marketed pop culture  often seems designed to provide pedophiles with constant stimulation. Structurally speaking, it’s a bit contrived that Annie’s father is immersed in an ad campaign that glorifies adolescent sexuality. Contrived or not, it works. It’s tragic and ironic that Will’s career has him bringing the ‘tween market to the Academic Appeal (read: American Apparel) clothing corporation via images of barely pubescent boys and girls posing in their underwear. If Annie’s rapist wants to stoke his libido, all he has to do flip though Elle for Girls.

The taut, 90-minute drama also knocks the foundation out from under the fallacy that allows wealthy, stable and loving families to believe they are immune to tragedies like the one that unfolds in Trust. Victims like Annie, so many misguidedly insist, are the product of neglectful parents, poverty or broken homes. Yet Annie’s Wilmette family is close. They eat together. Her parents monitor her chat room buddies. Against the wiles of a predator, they’re sheep obliviously headed for the slaughter.

There is no happy ending here, just a sense that maybe Annie and her family will somehow survive, perhaps stronger, perhaps wiser, certainly sadder and angrier and robbed of a priceless, innocent confidence in the basic goodness of their world.

With  its final scene, Trust leaves the audience heart-wrenched and exhausted .

Whether the script would have that same emotional heft with an even slightly less seasoned cast is a valid, question. Annie’s parents, her best friend, the assorted social workers and FBI workers – all are saddled with characters who react more than anything else. In an ideal dramatic world, the story that propels the characters as much as the characters propel the story. Here, the latter dominates.

Despite that, Trust works dramatically. It is also visually strong, with appropriately tech-heavy use of computer projections, video (Tom Hodges), and IMs appearing as characters type them.

Slick and riveting, Trust is a show of urgency and – sadly – great timeliness.

Rating: ★★★½



Resource Guide

Our Lead Community Partner, Rape Victim Advocates, has created the following resources on families and technology.

March 14, 2010 | 3 Comments More

An interview with Andrea McArdle – an orphan no longer

Andrea McArdle  – On the road since 1977

Interview by Novelist Amy Shearn

Andrea McArdleAt the Wilmette Theatre, Sunday May 16th at 2:30pm, Chicago residents (and beyond) will have an opportunity that would make me – if I was still seven-years old – shriek with joy.  No, it’s not a pet unicorn or a canopy bed: it’s a performance by the talented show business veteran Andrea McArdle, who created the role of Annie in the Broadway musical Annie in 1977.

AS: Okay, I’m sorry, you’re probably tired of talking about “Annie”…

AM: (laughing) I’ve made my peace with it.  During the whole thing I was not that fun to deal with.  It’s just so different when you’re in it.

AS: I was obsessed with “Annie” as a kid.

AM: I always meet gay guys who are like, “The red album! The red album!” [The original Broadway cast recording]

"The Red Album"

AS: Exactly.  I read that you were pulled from the chorus of orphans to play Annie on Broadway.

AM: I was the toughest orphan.  The only reason they never considered me for Annie was that I wasn’t a redhead. I was on the soap opera “Search for Tomorrow” and I was contracted with long brown hair.  Then they realized not to look for what’s outside — you could dye hair or wear a wig, not that my mother would have let me dye my hair — but to look for the soul of the character, and I got the role.

AS: What was it like to be cast as Annie? 

AM: The show wasn’t a hit then. To me, I treated it the same way I treated the school play — I didn’t really see the difference between that and Broadway.  I had no idea what a Tony award was. When I was nominated for one I was like, “Oh, cool.”  It was just another gig.

I have great parents.  I was always the daughter before  a commodity.   I was a gymnast before theatre and it was just like that — being part of a team.  Afterwards, it became a hit.  When it hit we knew we were the toast of the town.  It could have been terrible, but like I said, I had great parents.

AS: What was it like being a child star?

AM: I’m lucky that it wasn’t television, which uses you up and spits you out.  You know, sometimes I’m still waiting for my “Norma Rae” role and think it just hasn’t happened yet.  (laughs.)   After “Annie,” I had offers to go on sitcoms but they were all terrible and luckily we knew better.  It would have had a horrible outcome, just trashed my reputation.  They didn’t know what do with kids when I was hot.

Today they have the Disney channel, I would have had my own show, a whole franchise.  But then, American Broadway was dying — it was the beginning of the British Invasion and all major producers were on their last legs.  There were really no projects around, so we just didn’t get to ride the momentum.  That’s why it’s nice to also be a singer.  It was hard to cast me — I looked like an eight-year-old boy until I was eighteen and then suddenly grew up one summer — so no one knew what to do with me.

AS: You appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and performed with Liberace. What was that like?

Liberace (photo from

AM: It was amazing. I wasn’t phased. I did the Carson show three times. I played Judy Garland in the movie Rainbow on NBC and Liberace saw it. I was in school writing a paper on JFK and got a call to go to Las Vegas. Liberace gave me my sweet 16 party, which was wrong on so many levels, but great.

AS: What do you think of contemporary child stars?

AM: Ugh, so many of them are puppets for sick parents.  It’s so different from getting into business because a child has talent. I feel horrible for them; I would never want to grouped into the child star group.

AS: Do you ever get tired of being Annie?

AM: Well, sometimes I think the Annie thing has held me back.  If I had arrived on scene at 18 or 19 it would been better — you can’t be an adolescent girl in mary janes and a red dress forever.  But I wouldn’t change a thing.

AS: What were some of your favorite roles?

AM: I got to play Belle in “Beauty and the Beast.”  I was 37, and I was surprised they were calling me.  I thought they were calling me for Mrs. Potts and I was like, Mmm, I don’t know if I’m ready to play a teapot.  But I loved playing Belle.  My daughter was 12, and it was great to be in something she was so in to.  I think that’s the best Disney story, too.  It’s not just for kids.  It has universal appeal.

I loved played Sally Bowles — it’s really fun to play a bad girl.

AS: Many Ageless North Shore readers are redefining or reevaluating their lives and careers at midlife.  How have you managed to maintain such an active career in a field notoriously interested in youth?

Andrea at New York’s Metropolitan Room. (photo by Richard Termine )

AM: Well, you know, I’m in a period of crossroads.  I’ve been mature enough to play mothers for almost a quarter of a century.  This business owes us nothing.  Who wants to wait two years to sing two great songs in a show?  That’s why cabaret is so incredibly appealing. No one wants to see, you know, a “seasoned” 17-year-old sing cabaret.  It took me years to feel comfortable  with cabaret; it’s easier to sing for 6000 people than for 60.  You have to deal with the people and their energy…but once you face it, it’s liberating.

Now I have so many great stories and I can chat with the audience.  It’s a live version of what a book would be, but it’s all off the top my head.  I’ve had a lot of funny experiences! Who else performs for the queen at 13? I mean, Catherine Zeta Jones was my Molly in London.  No one could pronounce her name — we called her Zeetie.  It’s just interesting to see where everybody ends up.

My story is a success story — theater is what I love. I was lucky.  Now you have to go and do tv just to get the roles you want.  Since Broadway went corporate it’s just such a machine.  It changed everything.  It’s all marketing.  I mean, when you see reality tv show stars getting roles…it’s tough.  But in theater,you do it for the love of it.  And I love what I do.

For tickets to an “Evening of Song, ANDREA MCARDLE with Doug Peck on the piano”, Sunday, May 16th at 2:30pm click here.

Amy Shearn is the author of  How Far Is the Ocean from Here. Her work has appeared in Jane, West Branch, Salt Hill, and elsewhere. She lives in Brooklyn with a husband, a baby and a dog. Visit her online at

NOTE: This interview is re-posted, with permission, from Ageless Northshore:

March 13, 2010 | 0 Comments More

REVIEW: Wild Nights with Emily (Caffeine Theatre)

The dead lesbian’s poet society?



Caffeine Theatre presents:


Wild Nights with Emily

by Madeleine Olnek
directed by Meghan Beals McCarthy
at Lincoln Square Arts Center, 4754 N. Leavitt
through April 11th
(more info)

review by Catey Sullivan 

Emily Dickinson: Spinster virgin in perpetually buttoned-up white, or sensual lesbian lover who let loose after dark in wild nights entwined with her sister-in-law? Wild Nights With Emily would have us believe the latter. To those who would argue it’s Dickinson’s poetry and not her sexuality that matters, we’ll point out that the title of Caffeine Theatre’s roll in the literary hay is taken directly from the Belle of Amherst herself.

emily5 The lady love Dickinson pined for when penning “Might I but moor/ To-night/in thee?”. That would be Susan Dickinson, her brother’s wife. Or so it would according to Madeleine Olnek’s curious, quirky portrait of the poet as a lesbian lover. In Wild Nights, director Meghan Beals McCarthy instills Olnek’s time-tripping tale with the playfulness this 90-minute romp demands.

But while Caffeine’s literary production is as fun as flirting, it falters in one significant aspect, and that is in the person of Emily herself. Reciting passages of longing and frustration and ecstasy from Dickinson’s body of beautiful work, Jessica Bennett’s Emily is more slouching, angsty, over-dramatic adolescent than anguished mature woman.

According to firebrand (or lightning rod, depending on who you talk to) feminist scholar Camille Paglia, Dickinson’s brutality “would stop a truck.” You’d never know to watch this version of Emily. Here, the poet is skittish, fragile, birdlike and childlike in a portrayal that doesn’t hint at the strength within a lioness of arts and letters.

Yet despite that flaw – and since Dickinson is the focus of the piece, it is not inconsequential – Wild Nights is a winning endeavor. There’s a delicious humor to be found as cartoon academics peer down their weighty spectacles into pronouncements such as “We cannot say whether Emily Dickinson was gay any more than we can conjecture that Ben Franklin would have chosen a car with airbags.”

With her ensemble bending gender portraying Dickinson’s contemporaries as well as a parade of posthumous editors, biographers, and tourists (the last tramping through various Dickinson exhibits with amusing degrees of enthusiasm), McCarthy keeps the pace spritely and the visuals vivid.

Wild Nights is a crazy quilt of times and places, bouncing between imagined scenes from Dickinson’s life (and death) and contemporary declarations about the poet’s life. Liberal sprinklings of irreverence (including one memorable wherein an earnest speaker during Mount Holyoke Parents Weekend assures the assemblage that one or two or even three “homosexual” encounters does not a lesbian undergrad make) ensure that this pseudo-biography of Dickinson never gets fusty.

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As Emily and Susan (Dana Black, hold that thought for just a moment please) rapturously discover oral sex, as Susan’s husband (Ian Novak) splutters angrily about insinuating secrets discovered folded among his wife’s “underthings,” as whist games play out and formal dances twirl about, the hidden life of Emily Dickinson unfurls as a colorful collage of eccentricity seemingly at odds with the deliberate, controlled beauty of her writing.

With the exception of Emily and Susan, McCarthy has the cast playing with the broadness of caricatures – which is wholly appropriate given the intermittent over-the-top bubbles of lunacy Olnek instills into many of her scenes. Novak, long one of the Off-Loop’s curiously unsung talents, makes great comic hay as prototypically saucy Irish maid and – more significantly – as Susie’s increasingly suspicious and snappish husband. As Emily’s biographer, Amanda Hartley is a primly outrageous, scissor-happy villainess.

Then there’s Susan, the most complex and intriguing person in this story thanks to Black’s deceptively gentle performance. She’s the quintessential still water running fathoms deep, richly contemplative one moment, smoothly calculating the next, head-over-heels-fall-down-crazy-in-love the next.

The core problem with the performance? It’s difficult to imagine this woman infatuated with the pretty but superficial snip we’re given as Dickinson.

Samantha Umstead and Alarie Hammock’s gorgeous and lavishly detailed costumes add a layer of lush visual beauty to the production and an intriguing contrast to the minimalist velvet drapes and framed poetry fragments of Stephen H. Carmody’s simple, effective set design.

The secret life of Emily Dickinson may forever remain just that. Even so, there’s intrigue in speculating what may have gone on between the lines.


Rating: ★★½


Wild Nights With Emily continues through April 11 in the Berry Methodist Church (Lincoln Square Arts Center), 4754 N. Leavitt. Tickets are $15 – $20. More information is available buy going to


March 13, 2010 | 0 Comments More

REVIEW: AjaxAntigone (The State Theatre)

State Theatre brings guts and talent to successful production


The State Theatre presents:


By Sophocles
Adapted by
Tim Speicher and Ross Matsuda
Directed by Tim Speicher
at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, 621 W. Belmont
through April 3rd
(more info)

review by Barry Eitel

The men and women that put together The State Theatre, a company that delivered their first ever production just last year, radiate ambition. It is ballsy choice for a brand new theatre company to tackle anything Greek—the Classics are some of the best-known dramas of all time, and they can really, really suck if done poorly. But as if Production stills from the play "Ajaxantigone" putting up just one millennia-old play wasn’t a big enough risk, adapter/artistic director Tim Speicher mashed-up two Sophoclean tragedies. With the straightforward title AjaxAntigone, Speicher’s amalgamation shreds up and stitches together SophoclesAjax and Antigone. With anything this daring there is bound to be hiccups and missteps, but the State’s bravado pays off and solidifies the company as a powerful new voice in Chicago theatre.

This isn’t some ancient version of those crossover episodes of CSI where one team travels to another’s city; Ajax never officially meets Antigone. Both stories are told concurrently, with a lot of thematic overlap. Antigone, if you recall, is one of the first obstinate teenagers in literature, disobeying the laws of the king in order to bury the body of her dishonored brother. Ajax is a more obscure play that revolves around the warrior Ajax, hero of the Trojan War. Basically, he slaughters some innocent livestock in a stroke of madness and then has to deal with the consequences. Speicher’s creation cuts, pastes, deletes and inserts from Sophocles. Never skimping on the physical, the State’s production plays out Ajax’s battle with the sheep, something that would never be shown in Mediterranean amphitheaters. Teiresias is cut from this Antigone. Also, Speicher’s version plays up Antigone’s story and plays down Creon. This is a sharp divergence from Sophocles’ play, where Creon is the real focus, not the titular teenager.

The grand Greek chorus is pared down to just one woman, the sparky Sarah Sapperstein, who does a majestic job of navigating us through both plays as well as portraying some of the smaller characters. Both plays are performed by an ensemble of six, with a lot of doubled-casting. Kyra Morris is a rich Antigone, stoic and proud—she makes the character a tragic hero. Chris Amos does double duty as Odysseus and Creon with charm and passion. Mark Umstatd’s shirtless Ajax overpowers the space with his yelling. This mars several scenes and draws the audience out of the play.

Ajaxantigoneproductionstill10of11 Production stills from the play "Ajaxantigone"
Production stills from the play "Ajaxantigone" Production stills from the play "Ajaxantigone" Ajaxantigoneproductionstill9of11

Speicher’s treatment of both plays is layered and lyrical, although there are missteps. African-American spirituals are used throughout, but they do nothing but distract from the stories on-stage. Kylie Edmonds’ costumes are appropriately distinguished, while the set is less complete. The scenic design consists of two mobile boxes that are used to create a myriad of environments among walls draped with white cloth. The abstraction is great, but the boxes beg more aesthetics and less functionality. And although Mbo Mtshali’s choreography is striking and spot-on much of the time, the production also has sloppy moments: actors get too close to the audience, and in one fit of madness, the barefoot Ajax accidentally stepped on the “blade” of his “sword” (made of wood). Forgivable offenses, but one has to think that they could be avoided, given the precision of the beautiful and demanding choreography.

The State’s audacity is evident in all aspects of the production. On opening night, they actually encouraged the audience to flip open their phones and tweet, text, snap, and update away (although I think Patti Lupone’s thoughts on the subject were still ingrained in most people’s heads). The State Theatre presents itself as bold, new, and edgy—AjaxAntigone proves that the company is good as well.


Rating: ★★★

Production stills from the play "Ajaxantigone"

Extra Credit

March 13, 2010 | 0 Comments More

REVIEW: Mimesophobia (Theatre Seven)

One of the most refreshing plays to land this season


Theatre Seven presents:



Written by Carlos Murillo
Directed by Margot Bordelon
At Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago Avenue,
through April 4th (more info)

By Oliver Sava

I knew Mimesophobia was going to be Brechtian when I saw the costume rack on stage. Underneath the hanging clothes? A shelf of props. Double Brecht. No actors, no dialogue, and it is obvious who is running the show: everyone’s favorite pioneer of epic theatre, Bertolt Brecht. My suspicions are confirmed when the two narrators take the stage, Man-Who-Speaks-Omniscient-Between-the-2nd-and-3rd-Person-a.k.a. Brian (Brian Golden) and Woman-Who-Speaks-in-the-2nd-Person-Omniscient-a.k.a. Jessica (Jessica Thigpen). With the articulation of newscasters, the duo introduces us to the world of the play, continuously reminding us that what we are seeing is, without a doubt, a staged retelling.

T7_Mimesophobia_07 Suddenly the empty stage is Grauman’s Chinese Theater, where two young screenwriters are premiering their new film about the murder-suicide of a New England couple. Henry (Michael Salinas) and Aaron (Brian Stojak) break down the final scene of Before and After frame by frame – don’t forget, this is a retelling – and questions begin forming. Who died? How? And who is this woman going on The Charlie Rose Show and why is this elderly Hyde Park couple terrified of her? These questions will be answered by the end, but more will be left unanswered.

Mimesophobia juggles three storylines, each informing the others but also doubting them. Truth is relative. Cassy (Cassy Sanders), the sister of the murdered woman, tries to understand the events that lead to the killing by reconstructing her sister’s journals, burned on the night she was killed. At an artist’s colony, Henry and Aaron are working on a first draft of Before and After, but struggling with a bad case of writer’s block. Shawn (Cyd Blakewell) is the rambling genius writing One Night Only: Actual Death and the Future of American Entertainment, a nonfiction novel about cultural fascination with the recreation of deadly situations. Stuck on the middle chapter – “the cat burglar’s pick that once turned will drop the tumblers in place opening a door” – she is also living on a cot at the artist’s colony, eating peanut butter tortillas and murmuring like a maniac.

After the Chinese Theater prologue, the history of Shawn and how she crosses paths with Henry and Aaron. The script is clever, the narrators are beginning to have a little more fun – Jessica is playing Beth, Shawn’s mother – and Blakewell delivers each line in a detached monotone that is creepy as hell. Brecht rears his adorable little head with costume changes on stage and actors as set crew, but it works with the play’s theme that entertainment survives by fictionalizing fact. Theater is inherently a lie, but it is the collective experience of the audience seeing a story together that creates truth by asking the viewer to question what they think they know. The play has us asking questions and thinking about the bigger ideas, but is there a human connection? Is this a seriocomic experiment in dialectical metatheatre or will this story resonate on a deeper emotional level?

T7_Mimesophobia_02 T7_Mimesophobia_12
T7_Mimesophobia_08 T7_Mimesophobia_04

Enter Cassy, the character most impacted by the central tragedy of the plot and our anchor to the truth. Sanders bring vulnerability to the production, her quivering voice and small frame a sharp contrast to the crisp confidence of the other performers, and her scenes are the most visceral of the production. As she uncovers hidden facts about her sister and her troubled marriage, Cassy begins to question her own relationship with the deceased.

The pieces are all in place, now the puzzle building begins, with Murillo’s script layering events to build suspense. Revelations that Cassy finds in her sisters journals provide major breakthroughs in the plot, which are then explored through the creative lens of Henry and Aaron. How Shawn fits into the narrative is the biggest mystery, and Blakewell offers few clues to her enigmatic character’s intentions, a captivating cipher.

Seeing these pieces come together is the fun of Mimesophobia, so the less you know, the better. Margot Bordelon’s direction moves the production at a quick pace that doesn’t sacrifice emotion, and the actors have a firm handle on Carlos Murillo’s stylized dialogue and the relationships, especially Cassy’s with her dead sister. Funny, provocative, and poignant, Theatre Seven’s Mimesophobia is a huge success for the young company, and one of the more refreshing plays to land this season.


Rating: ★★★★


March 11, 2010 | 0 Comments More

Steppenwolf Theatre announces 2010-2011 Season


Explores theme of “public/private self”


34th Season Kick-Off Celebration by Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Steppenwolf Theatre’s 2010-2011 Season


We live in public space. We live in private space. What happens when the door between them opens? Our public/private self. It’s an animating tension in each of us. A landscape both familiar and strange. Home to our darkness and our brilliance. Steppenwolf’s 2010-2011 season: five stories that navigate the fluid borders of our public/private self and illuminate the mysterious ways each acts upon the other.


  a new play by Lisa D’Amour
featuring Kate Arrington and Robert Breuler 
September 9 – November 7, 2010


  Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
  by Edward Albee
directed by Pam MacKinnon
featuring Tracy Letts and Amy Morton
December 2, 2010 – February 6, 2011


  Sex with Strangers
  by Laura Eason
directed by Jessica Thebus
featuring Sally Murphy and Stephen Louis Grush
January 20 – May 15, 2011


  The Hot L Baltimore
  by Lanford Wilson
directed by Tina Landau
featuring Alana Arenas, K. Todd Freeman, Yasen Peyankov
March 24 – May 29, 2011


  by Will Eno
directed by Les Waters
featuring Alana Arenas
June 16 – August 14, 2011


steppenwolfAbout Steppenwolf: Committed to the principle of ensemble performance through the collaboration of a company of actors, directors and playwrights, Steppenwolf’s mission is to advance the vitality and diversity of American theater by nurturing artists, encouraging repeatable creative relationships and contributing new works to the national canon.  The company, formed in 1976 by a collective of actors, is dedicated to perpetuating an ethic of mutual respect and the development of artists through on-going group work.  Steppenwolf has grown into an internationally renowned company of 42 artists whose talents include acting, directing, playwriting and textual adaptation. For additional information, visit, and

Season subscriptions go on-sale to the public on Wednesday, March 10 at 11 a.m. Subscription Series packages start at $135.  Dinner/Theatre and Wine Series packages are also available.  To purchase a 2010-2011 subscription, contact Audience Services at 1650 N. Halsted, (312) 335-1650 or visit




March 11, 2010 | 0 Comments More

REVIEW: Jerry and Tom (Idle Muse Theatre)

Searing thriller or side-splitting farce?  Who knows.


Idle Muse Theatre Company presents:


Jerry and Tom

By Rick Cleveland
Directed by Lenny Wahlberg
At the side project, 1439 W. Jarvis Ave.
Through March 21st
(more info)

Reviewed by Ian Epstein 

It’s unclear what brought Jerry (Matt Dyson) and Tom (Brad Woodward) together.  It’s unclear why they’re both in the line of work that they’re in.  It’s unclear who the man with the black bag over his head with his hands bound behind his back, sitting in the spotlight, is (though the role of corpse-recurrent is played by Brian Bengston). 

JT4 But it is clear what will happen to the man in the black bag when the phone rings and it is clear that Tom has done this many times before–has answered the phone, has green-lighted close quarters death by buckshot – even if Jerry, wielding the weapon like an amateur with a baton in a parade, is the one playing our trigger-prone young hot shot. And what is the natural response of our corpse-in-waiting to impending assassination? Tell bad animal jokes.

As the rest of the play unfolds in multiple vignettes spanning years of training and development as a team, it becomes clear that Jerry and Tom are hitmen.  They’re not your thrilling, glamorous, Hollywood hitmen living life bruised and wandering the world over with forged identities or double-O assignments. And they’ve got no clear relationship to the comedic cat-and-mouse duo Tom and Jerry.  Nope. These are just your everyday hitmen, with kids and wives and all the burdens of regular life tucked away offstage and only occasionally discussed in the long spells of waiting to kill-off targets of indeterminate importance for a clandestine, potentially criminal organization with unknown leadership.

JT9 JT10

Lenny Wahlberg‘s directing would benefit from tidier, tighter transitions, although good blues in the dark does provide some enjoyment to audience members stranded in it.  Rick Cleveland‘s script overflows with crude situational jokes and it’s never clear whether the show is supposed to be taken seriously or comedically, as it lacks the high-stakes pacing, poetry or strong choice direction to support being a drama and accomplishing both.  Though the program explains the duration of time between scenes, they unfold so similarly that there’s no apparent logic that justifies the jumps in time and the play feels instead like a linear litany of melodramatic death after death after death.  If Idle Muse Theatre’s Jerry and Tom was trying for a searing, seat-gripping, anxious thriller (like Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth), it didn’t succeed.  If Jerry and Tom was trying for a side-splitting Chaplin-esque romp where the same character dies again and again and again and can’t seem to escape death, it came closer but ultimately failed to elevate the stakes high enough to become that kind of farce.  In the end, we’re just annoyingly disinterested.





Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors. Thursday nights are industry nights. $5 ticket with headshot/resume.  Running Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8:PM, Sunday matinee at 3PM, through March 21.

Cast: Jerry – Matt Dyson, Tom – Brad Woodard, and Billy, Karl, Vic, etc. – Brian Bengston.

Design Team: Lighting Design: Steven Hill, Fight Choreography: Greg Poljacik

March 11, 2010 | 0 Comments More

REVIEW: Epic Proportions (Project 891 Theatre)

Shortness on vaudevillian style slows down “Epic Proportions”

 Cole Simon, Anna Shutz, 3

Project 891 Theatre presents:


Epic Proportions

by Larry Cohen and David Crane
directed by Ron Popp
at Chemically Imbalanced Theatre, 1420 W. Irving Park
through March 28th (more info | tickets)

review by Paige Listerud

I once looked down on broad physical comedy. Absorbed by witty dialogue and high concept situations, I relegated trips, pratfalls, and near misses to comedy for the lower orders. That alone makes me a bigger ass than any of the actors that manfully, enthusiastically sport their way through Beau Forbes’ fight choreography in Epic Proportions, Project 891’s latest production at Chemically Imbalanced Theatre. Physical comedy, perfectly timed and emotionally truthful, is like ballet—an athletic challenge that looks deceptively easy.

Anna Shutz, Cole Simon 2 The athletic end of acting has waned with the advance of modern theater, a loss that shows most when well-trained actors take on physically demanding comic roles. Today, the art and craft of physical comedy seems the province of specialists, dropped from the average actor’s repertoire like a hot potato.

Too bad. With the exception of the physical stuff, Ron Popp has assembled an excellent cast, with each actor fit perfectly to type. Benny Bennett (Matt Lozano) is a likable star-struck schlub, beginning his film career as an extra in, “Exuent Omnes”, a movie helmed by the egomaniacal director D. W. DeWitt (Robert Kearcher). Benny’s brother, Phil (Cole Simon), an all-around American boy-next-door, comes to collect Benny to take him home to the farm. But, since it is the Depression, and since extras get a dollar a day plus free meals, and since the last truck has left all 3400 cast members stranded in the desert—per Mr. DeWitt’s orders—Phil stays to become party to the madness of a runaway, overproduced picture that sees no end in sight.

As for “Exuent Omnes”, think “The Ten Commandments” meets “Ben Hur”, meets “Quo Vadis”, meets every other B-list sword and sandal epic. Both brothers fall for pert, cheerful Louise Goldman (Anna Schutz), assistant director to the extras, whose job of dividing the extras into ‘slave group” or “orgy scene group” already sets brother against brother. Add an assistant to Mr. DeWitt (Matt Allis) with the demeanor of a shark and a lesbian costume designer (Liz Hoffman) lusting after Louise and you have plenty here to entertain beyond the sturm und drang of jumbled comic fight scenes.

Cole Simon, Anna Shutz, Matt Lozano.jpg 2 Cole Simon, Anna Shutz

Obviously, the production strives to be consciously overwrought, in stylized parody of Cecille B. Demille films. Some moments are more successful than others. Tommy Culhane’s deliciously bug-eyed gaze and overarching gestures set the right tone for pronouncements about the glory of Rome. Hoffman’s sassy Queen of the Nile and voracious Continental lesbian are treats. If only Popp’s direction didn’t deprive her of a few critical comic moments. Gary Murphy’s Demille-like voice-overs, as well as the cast of the mockumentary that first introduces Exuent Omnes–Kate Konopasek, Floyd A. May, Manny Schenk and Larry Teagarden–round out the manic film enthusiasm for a fictitious cult classic.

The cast certainly exhibits all the exuberance typical of a 1930s comedy. However, the craft that is the legacy of vaudeville and screwball films needs to be tightened up for the sake of a fully realized work. Who knew silliness could be so complicated? Who knew everything old would be new, and necessary, again?

Rating: ★★½


Matt Lozano and Cole Simon


March 10, 2010 | 3 Comments More

REVIEW: Number of People (Piven Theatre Workshop)

Beck is #1 in this one man show


Piven Theatre Workshop presents:


Number of People

Written and directed by Emilie Beck
At Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes St., Evanston
Thru April 11th (more info)


By Katy Walsh

8, 11, 6, Leo Gold is a numbers guy. His wife is an eight. His daughter is eleven. And his concentration camp bunkmate is a six. Piven Theatre Workshop presents Number of People, a Holocaust survivor’s recollection of moments of his life. Leo Gold lived through the attempted annihilation of the Jewish people. Now, he is enduring the death of his wife and the onset of Alzheimer’s. In the past, a fixation on numbers has given him sequential order. From the muddled recesses of his mind, numerical disarray leads to total recall. Humans exterminating a segment of the population is unimaginable, undeniable, and unforgivable. How is it survivable? As a statistician, Leo counts on numbers, ‘a 1 is always a 1.’ Number of People is an ordinary man’s jumbled memoirs of his extraordinary life story.

Bernard Beck plays Leo Gold as an average Joe. He is a grumpy old guy waiting on his daughter to pick him up. Mr. Beck is understated and un-heroic in his portrayal of Leo Gold, maintaining that Leo Gold as a ‘regular corny joke telling’ nobody. It’s this established foundation that springboards to poignant discourse as Leo’s slipping self-containment is pried open. He relives amazingly horrific episodes of inhumanity.  There is a true sense from Mr. Beck’s performance that these stories are only being recounted because of the Alzheimer’s. Leo Gold is no longer able to focus on the numbers for a reality escape. His infliction forces nightmarish reminiscence; he’s particularly unforgettable in a moving scene with rainwater and numbers on a painting.

Emilie Beck is the tri-fecta of success as the playwright, director and daughter of Mr. Beck. As the playwright, she has brilliantly pieced together stories to chronicle Leo Gold’s life. She highlights his ordinary and sometimes disconnected relationship with his wife. Ms. Beck showcases Leo’s confusion and detachment with descriptive passages. Whether it is a matter-of-fact description of a hundred hanged Jews or delightful musings over drinking beer at lunchtime, she gives Leo’s imagery equal importance. It is powerful glimpses of one man’s startling existence.

Number of People uses a minimal set with a surprising utilization of books. There is a room behind a room which works to establish Leo’s confused state of mind. Although music transitions his stories back to his number fascination, the song choices and cues seem simplistic and forced. It’s the only integer that doesn’t quite add up in a tightly constructed ninety minute oration of the unexpected depth of experience suppressed behind a man’s numerical defense mechanism.


Rating: ★★★


Running time: Ninety minutes with no intermission



Noyes Cultural Arts Center

March 10, 2010 | 1 Comment More

Wednesday Wordplay – Bette Davis and toilet mummies

Lots of intuitive quotes this week, including ones from Bette Davis, Victor Hugo, Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi.  And a funny quote from Edith Sitwell. Enjoy.

[Mostly] Inspirational Quotes

There are new words now that excuse everybody. Give me the good old days of heroes and villains. the people you can bravo or hiss. There was a truth to them that all the slick credulity of today cannot touch.
            — Bette Davis, The Lonely Life, 1962

I have often wished I had time to cultivate modesty… But I am too busy thinking about myself.
            — Edith Sitwell, As quoted in The Observer (30 April 1950)

Good habits result from resisting temptation.
            — Ancient Proverb

An ounce of loyalty is worth a pound of cleverness.
            — Elbert Hubbard

There is always more misery among the lower classes than there is humanity in the higher.
            — Victor Hugo, ‘Les Miserables,’ 1862

Joy is prayer – Joy is strength – Joy is love – Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.
            — Mother Teresa

You can’t turn back the clock. But you can wind it up again.
            — Bonnie Prudden

Honest differences are often a healthy sign of progress.
            — Mahatma Gandhi

Don’t gamble; take all your savings and buy some good stock and hold it till it goes up, then sell it. If it don’t go up, don’t buy it.
            — Will Rogers

If I have learnt anything, it is that life forms no logical patterns. It is haphazard and full of beauties which I try to catch as they fly by, for who knows whether any of them will ever return?
            — Margot Fonteyn

It’s not your painting anymore. It stopped being your painting the moment that you finished it.
            — Jeff Melvoin, Northern Exposure, Fish Story, 1994

Real, constructive mental power lies in the creative thought that shapes your destiny, and your hour-by-hour mental conduct produces power for change in your life. Develop a train of thought on which to ride. The nobility of your life as well as your happiness depends upon the direction in which that train of thought is going.
            — Laurence J. Peter

It is a sadness of growing older that we lose our ardent appreciation of what is new and different and difficult.
            — Elizabeth Aston, The Exploits & Adventures of Miss Alethea Darcy, 2005

Just because you are blind, and unable to see my beauty doesn’t mean it does not exist.
            — Margaret Cho, Margaret Cho’s weblog, 03-23-06

Consult your friend on all things, especially on those which respect yourself. His counsel may then be useful where your own self-love might impair your judgment.
            — Seneca

Never chase a lie. Let it alone, and it will run itself to death.
            — Lyman Beecher

Do not listen to those who weep and complain, for their disease is contagious.
            — Og Mandino

I feel good about taking things to Goodwill and actually, I do like shopping at Goodwill. It’s so cheap that it feels like a library where I am just checking things out for awhile until I decide to take them back.
            — April Foiles

Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.
            — Malcolm X, Malcolm X Speaks, 1965

We are rich only through what we give, and poor only through what we refuse.
            — Anne-Sophie Swetchine

Oh for a book and a shady nook…
            — John Wilson

The ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it.
            — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Whenever evil befalls us, we ought to ask ourselves, after the first suffering, how we can turn it into good. So shall we take occasion, from one bitter root, to raise perhaps many flowers.
            — Leigh Hunt

I have never been especially impressed by the heroics of people who are convinced they are about to change the world. I am more awed by those who struggle to make one small difference after another.
            — Ellen Goodman



Urban Dictionary


Toilet Mummy

When someone is so concerned about toilet seat germs, they cover the seat with half a roll of toilet paper, leaving it to appear like it has been mummified.

"I was going to use that stall to drop a deuce, but somebody left it looking like a toilet mummy."


To sum up a discussion composed largely of useless bullshit.

Person 1: "Tell me how the staff meeting went."
Person 2: "Allow me to recrap…"

March 10, 2010 | 0 Comments More

Theater Thursday: The Ring Cycle (The Building Stage)

Thursday, March 11 and Friday, March 12

The Ring Cycle: Not an Opera, a Play that Rocks

The Building Stage, 412 N. Carpenter, Chicago

ringcycleJoin The Building Stage for a two-night, special Theater Thursday and Friday performance of its most ambitious undertaking yet, The Ring Cycle, a six-hour theatrical event based on Wagner’s operas, complete with a live rock band. Usually performed in one six-hour day, this Theater Thursday is the only chance to see The Ring Cycle as two exciting shorter events! Join us Thursday evening for Act I, and return Friday evening for Act II. On both evenings, enjoy post-show refreshments and a discussion with directors Blake Montgomery and Joanie Schultz as they share their epic production process – from inception to opening night. (see our review here ★★★)

Show begins at 7:30 p.m. both evenings

TICKETS ONLY $25 per show ($50 for both)  

For reservations call 312-491-1369 and mention"Theater Thursdays," or purchase online at

March 9, 2010 | 0 Comments More