Banana Shpeel – Cast announced for Chicago production

BananaShpeel

Stars from Broadway’s Jersey Boys and Wicked join cast

Playing at the Chicago Theatre from November 19 – January 3

Stars from Broadway’s Jersey Boys and Wicked will join the distinctive cast of comedic and dance talent in the brand new theatrical production, Banana Shpeel, presented by Cirque du Soleil and MSG Entertainment. Banana Shpeel begins performances at The Chicago Theatre on November 19, with an official Opening Night on Wednesday, December 2. The limited Chicago engagement concludes January 3, 2010, and Banana Shpeel debuts in New York at The Beacon Theatre in February 2010.

 

The Cast

 

banana-longoria-ashford Michael Longoria, who starred as Frankie Valli in the Broadway production of Jersey Boys, will portray Emmett, an innocent and romantic young actor, while Annaleigh Ashford, who starred as Glinda in Wicked on Broadway and in Chicago, portrays Emmett’s love interest Katie, and Remo Airaldi, a prolific resident company member of Boston’s acclaimed American Repertory Theater, portrays Schmelky, a cruel and irritable theater producer. Joining them is an international crew of comedic actors: Claudio Carneiro (Brazil), Daniel Passer (U.S.), Patrick de Valette (France), Gordon White (Canada), and Wayne Wilson (U.S.). In keeping with Cirque du Soleil’s unique and diverse performers, global talents showcased in Banana Shpeel include Russian hand balancer Dmitry Bulkin, Vietnamese juggler Tuan Le, Spanish foot juggler Vanessa Alvarez, and the American sister-brother tap dance duo, Joseph and Josette Wiggan. Completing the cast is a talented ensemble comprised of 10 “triple threats”: singer-actor-dancers Robyn Baltzer, Alex Ellis, Adrienne Jean Fisher, DeWitt Fleming Jr., Luke Hawkins, Kathleen Hennessey, Adrienne Reid, Anthony J. Russo, Melissa Schott, and Steven T. Williams.

The Band

 

Under the direction of Band Leader Robert Cookman, the Banana Shpeel original score is performed live on stage by Roland Barber (trombone), Bobby Brennan (bass), James Campagnola (multi-instrumental), Iohann Laliberté (drums), Jean-François Ouellet (saxophone), Peter Sachon (cello) and Scott Steen (trumpet).

The Show

Banana Shpeel is a roller-coaster mix of styles that blends comedy with tap, hip hop, eccentric dance and slapstick, all linked by a narrative that ignites a succession of wacky adventures. This is not circus, or a musical or a variety show, or even Bananas_Dancingvaudeville. It is Banana Shpeel!

Synopsis: Propelled by crazy humor and intense choreography, Banana Shpeel plunges us into the world of Schmelky, who dangles fame and fortune in front of Emmett, who has come to audition for him. Emmett soon finds himself trapped in a flamboyant, anarchic world where Schmelky sows terror and reigns supreme. Emmett falls in love with the beautiful Katie and meets a bunch of absurd characters, including the strange Banana Man. But who is this mysterious Banana Man and how can Emmett escape the clutches of Schmelky and his henchmen?

The Creative Team 

 

The Banana Shpeel Creative Team includes: Artistic Guides Guy Laliberté (Cirque du Soleil Founder) and Gilles Ste-Croix; Writer and Director David Shiner; Director of Creation Serge Roy; Composer and Musical Director Jean-François Côté; Comic Act Designer Stefan Haves; Choreographer Jared Grimes; Costume Designer Dominique Lemieux; Set Designer and Props Co-Designer Patricia Ruel; Props Co-Designer Jasmine Catudal; Lighting Designer Bruno Rafie; Sound Designer Harvey Robitaille; and Make-up Designer Eleni Uranis.

Banana Shpeel writer and director David Shiner started out as a mime in Paris. His career took off in 1984 when he was discovered at the renowned circus festival Cirque de Demain. Shiner later teamed up with Bill Irwin to create the wordless two-man show Fool Moon, which played from 1992 to 1999, including three Broadway runs. Fool Moon picked up numerous prizes, including a Tony Award, Drama Desk Award and an Outer Critics Circle Award. In 2007, Shiner directed his first Cirque du Soleil production, the big top touring show KOOZA.

Performance Schedule

Banana Shpeel performs from November 19, 2009 through January 3, 2010 at The Chicago Theatre

Ticket Information

Tickets are available now for all performances and can be purchased at www.cirquedusoleil.com or www.thechicagotheatre.com or by calling 1-800-745-3000. Regular ticket prices range from $23 to $98, with limited Premium and Tapis Rouge VIP Experience tickets also available. Discounts are available for groups of 20 or more, by calling 1-866-6-CIRQUE (1-866-624-7783).

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October 15, 2009 | 0 Comments More

Review: Strawdog Theatre’s “St. Crispin’s Day”

Strawdog season-premiere struggles to find the funny

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Strawdog Theatre presents:

St. Crispin’s Day

by Matt Pepper
directed by Christopher Fox
thru October 31st (buy tickets)

reviewed by Oliver Sava

Crispin-2 Strawdog’s St. Crispin’s Day looks pretty, but just isn’t all that funny. The show’s striking set (Anders Jacobson, Judy Radovsky) and lighting design (Sean Mallary) is weighed down by the plodding rhythm of the action, and the production seems to drift in a haze of average with the occasional flash of promise.

Matt Pepper’s anti-war comedy, set during the Battle of Agincourt of Shakespeare’s Henry V, tells the story of three soldiers that find themselves engaged in a plot to kidnap the king, masterminded by Irishman Will (Kyle Hamman). Along the way they’ll have their way with French prostitutes, rob a few churches, and occasionally fling shit at each other like monkeys. The problem is that director Christopher Fox and his cast haven’t found the humanity behind the humor, creating caricatures instead of characters.

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Pepper’s script juggles themes of patriotism, conscientious objection, and pacifism with slapstick physical antics and toilet humor, but the contrast would be more effective if the comedy came from a place other than lowest common denominator sight gags. The laughs begin to feel stale and cheap after a while, and the slow pace of the dialogue sucks the energy out of scenes, creating jokes that crash to the ground long before landing in the audience’s laps.

Marika Engelhardt and Caroline Heff bring a much-needed spark to the proceedings as two French prostitutes with ulterior motives, and Heff’s scenes with Carlo Garcia, playing sheepish young soldier Tom, capture all the innocence and naïveté of young love. Unfortunately, the rest of the show lacks the nuance of these few scenes and does not ever manage to rise above being a didactic farce.

Rating: ««

 

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October 15, 2009 | 1 Comment More

Review: Marriott Theatre’s “Hairspray”

Marriott Lincolnshire brings the beat and never stops

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Marriott Theatre presents:

Hairspray

by Marc Shaiman, Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan
directed/choreographed by Marc Robin
thru December 6th (but tickets)

reviewed by Oliver Sava

Hairspray4 The genius of Hairspray is its pulse; when the show starts moving it never slows down, a feat accomplished by the retro rock n’ roll stylings of Marc Shaiman’s music and a hilarious but socially conscious book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan. Exquisitely directed and choreographed by Marc Robin, Marriott Lincolnshire’s Hairspray captures the limitless energy of the early 60’s with the kind of finesse that makes it all look so easy.

Not enough can be said about Robin’s creative prowess, seamlessly maneuvering his actors around the tricky stage of Marriott’s in-the-round theater. When all 29 actors in the cast perform the show’s final number to all four sides of the house, the rush is exhilarating. Of course, it helps that Robin is assisted by a cast of the city’s top musical theater talent and Chicago newcomer Marissa Perry, who comes straight from Broadway where she played the fifth and final Tracy Turnblad.

Set in 1962 Baltimore, Hairspray tells the story of spunky teenager Tracy’s mission to become a star on “The Corny Collins Show” and date hunky Link Larkin (Billy Harrigan Tighe) while overcoming her overprotective mother Edna (Ross Lehman) and the bitchy Barbie mother-daughter duo of Velma and Amber Von Tussle (Hollis Resnick, Johanna McKenzie Miller). When the dance moves Tracy learns from black classmate Seaweed J. Stubbs (Joshua Breckenridge) in detention make her Baltimore’s hottest sensation, she sets out to integrate her favorite television show with the help of best friend Penny Pingleton (Heidi Kettenring) and Seaweed’s brassy mother Motormouth Maybelle (E. Faye Butler).

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Perry is pitch-perfect as the show’s protagonist, and she brings an infectious energy to the stage that not only spreads to her costars, but the audience as well. When she squeaks out the first notes of the show’s opening number “Good Morning Baltimore” there is no doubt that this is a role that fits her like a glove. The powerhouse vocals and amazing comedic timing of Butler and Kettenring make their scenes with Perry crackle with energy, and watching Lehman’s Edna burst out of her shell and embrace her buxom beauty is heartwarming. Breckenridge gives Seaweed an unbridled sensuality that adds a layer of grit to his dirty dancing, (but there were moments when his vocals paled in comparison to his costars). Marriott’s Hairspray is musical theater at its finest, and should not be missed.

Rating: ««««

 

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October 15, 2009 | 4 Comments More

Review: “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity”

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Victory Gardens and Teatro Vista presents:

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity

by Kristoffer Diaz
directed by Eddie Torres
thru November 1st (buy tickets)
reviewed by Catey Sullivan 

Midway through rehearsals for The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, actor Christian Litke took a foot to the face that landed him in the emergency room, suborbital socket bone beneath one eye pulverized. Opening night, he went on with a Technicolor shiner you could see from the back row. Per Kristoffer Diaz’s strict must-not-look-like-fight-choreography stage directions, Litke proceeded to take another half a dozen “camel kicks” in the kisser – as well as a few spine-rattling power-bombs. As it is in real life, the professional wrestling world depicted in Chad Deity is a brand of fakery that’s truly brutal.

Chad-Deity-1 While audiences aren’t apt to suffer physical damage like Litke, The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity is a knock-out victory of equal parts brains and brawn.

Power-bombs (wherein one’s spine hits the floor at a velocity surely spines were not intended to withstand) and lightning-quick roundhouses aside, Diaz’ ground (and bone) breaking take on the world of professional wrestling isn’t rooted in violence for the sake of shock, although it’s plenty violent and often shocking. It doesn’t traffic in the pandering stereotypes that fuel the WWE, although it uses those stereotypes point out their ridiculousness. This is a tale of race, racism and all-American boys grasping at the shiny, illusive brass ring of the All American Dream. It unfolds in hip-hop rhythms and is infused with some of the most politically incorrect language you’ll hear outside a meeting of the Alabama Chapter of the John Birch Society.

In director Eddie Torres, Diaz has a collaborator able to grasp and convey this incendiary material without missing a beat. The script requires a keen ear for both polyglot urban rhythms and the unctuous whitebread idiocy. Torres hears them all, and makes them resonate.

Chad Deity (Kamal Angelo Bolden , looking like the after photo in one of those back-of-the-magazine protein powder ads) is a professional wrestling champ who – as his bigot boss Everett K. Olsen (James Krag, a perfect mix of oiliness and ignorance) likes to say – makes people glad to be American. When Chad wins a fight, the terrorists lose.

But the real hero of Chad Deity is Macedonia Guerra (Desmin Borges, in a breakout performance that should have every agent in town clamoring to meet with him), aka The Mace. Macedonia’s job is to make the likes of Chad Deity look good. Stars like Chad Deity can’t exist without people like the Mace willing to act like they’ve lost every bout. Borges is a wholly endearing mix of self-deprecation and fierce pride. He knows he’s far more intelligent than his boss will ever be. He also knows that all his innate intelligence isn’t worth a slap in a world that prefers its villains and heroes in simple, black and white terms.

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So Mace suits up like a Frito Bandito outfit every fight, declares that he lives to steal American jobs and send American money back to drug lords in Mey-hee-co and lets Chad beat the crap out of him. Because when Chad Deity wins, Americans know why they’re fighting in Afghanistan, E.K. declares. To which the Mace sighs under his bright red sombrero and resignedly shakes his maracas.

For Macedonia, a way up in the wrestling world presents itself in Vigneshwar Padujar (Usman Ally), a multi-lingual Brooklyn-born Indian kid who is, no matter where he goes, “the most amazing thing in the room.” Charisma might owe Chad Deity money, but VP owns the entire fricking bank.

“I’m gonna get you a job,” Madedonia tells VP, and so begins the career of Chad Deity’s next enemy. E.K., in a move so awful it’s hilarious, has VP hit the ring as The Fundamentalist, a “Moslem” who enters flanked by women in burkas and praising Allah. In the lead up to a pay-per-view bout with Chad, the Fundamentalist beats up guys with names like Billy America (Litke, draped in a confederate flag and entering to a blast of Sweet Home Alabama) and The Patriot (also Litke, this time wearing an American flag). The fights manage to be both a tragic commentary on ugly Americans like E.K. and a wildly amusing mockery of them.

As animosity in the ring starts bleeding into real life, the dynamic between wrestlers becomes ever more complicated. As Macedonia worriedly notes, without community among in-ring enemies, wrestling gets dangerous. So as Chad and VP come to despise each other for real, the looming bout between them become fraught with the possibility of unscripted danger.

By having greased up, impossibly muscle-y men tear through the audience waving flags and shouting threats, Chad Deity manages to instigate the kind of audience participation you’d find at ringside at a Vegas championship bout. It’s wildly fun, wickedly funny and deeply provocative. In the so-called fake world of professional wrestling, Diaz captures profundity, adventure, aspirations and true triumph. The result is a theatrical prize.

Rating: «««½

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity continues through Nov. 1 at the Victory Gardens Biograph Theatre, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets are $20 – $48.For more information call 773/871-3000 or go to www.victorygardens.org.

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October 14, 2009 | 5 Comments More

Chicago theater openings/closings this week

chicagoriverblast

show openings

Anna, in the Darkness: The Basement

Dream Theatre

Bastards of Young - Tympanic Theatre

Calls to Blood - The New Colony

Cats - Cadillac Palace Theatre

Dooby Dooby Moo - Lifeline Theatre

Everyone’s Favorite Lobster - Gorilla Tango Theatre

The Flaming Dames in Vamp II - New Millenium Theatre

Heroes - Remy Bumppo Theatre

The House on Mango Street - Steppenwolf Theatre

The Last Unicorn - Promethean Theatre

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow - Filament Theatre Ensemble

The Man Who Was Thursday - New Leaf Theatre

Mrs. Gruber’s Ding Song School - Gorilla Tango Theatre

Plans 1 Through 8 from Outer Space - New Millenium Theatre

Rachel Corn and the Secret Society - Corn Productions

You Can’t Take It with You - Village Players Performing Arts Center

 

Skyline-Chicago

show closings

Ah, Wilderness! - Loyola University Chicago Theatre

Bad Touch and the Deep End - Annoyance Theatre 

Dirty Talking Amish - Gorilla Tango Theatre

Dracula - Oak Park Festival Theatre

The History Boys – Timeline Theatre 

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom - Court Theatre

The Night SeasonVitalist Theatre

Rent - Big Noise Theatre

Sleeping Beauty - Big Noise Theatre

Stripped: An Unplugged Evening with Marilyn’s Dress - Gorilla Tango Theatre

October 14, 2009 | 0 Comments More

Wednesday Wordplay: Miles Davis, Oprah and “cactus legs”

Quotables

Your best shot at happiness, self-worth and personal satisfaction – the things that constitute real success – is not in earning as much as you can but in performing as well as you can something that you consider worthwhile.
            — William Raspberry

It’s a shallow life that doesn’t give a person a few scars.
            — Garrison Keillor, in Salon.com

It isn’t kind to cultivate a friendship just so one will have an audience.
            — Lawana Blackwell, The Courtship of the Vicar’s Daughter, 1998

The toughest question has always been, "How do you get your ideas?" How do you answer that? It’s like asking runners how they run, or singers how they sing. They just do it!
            — Lynn Johnston, Lynn on Ideas

My future starts when I wake up every morning… Every day I find something creative to do with my life.
            — Miles Davis

I believe the choice to be excellent begins with aligning your thoughts and words with the intention to require more from yourself.
            — Oprah Winfrey, O Magazine, December 2003

Ask not what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive… then go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
            — Howard Thurman

 

Urban Dictionary

cactus legs

the feeling on a woman’s legs as a result of not having shaved.

–Steve is mad at me!
–why?
–cuz last nite, he wanted to touch my legs and i didnt let him
–why?
–cuz, i got cactus legs, i have shaved in a week

October 14, 2009 | 0 Comments More

Review: Raven Theatre’s “Death of a Salesman”

 Salesman chippies: Devon Candura, Greg Caldwell, Alexis Atwill, Jason Huysman, Chuck Spencer

Raven Theatre presents:

Death of a Salesman

by Arthur Miller
directed by Michael Menendian
thru December 5th (buy tickets)

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

Perusing Raven Theatre’s season this year, you get the impression they are playing it pretty safe. The three plays in their season are 20th-Century American classics, and all have become community theater staples. They kick off with Arthur Miller’s Death of Saleman, follow that with Reginald Rose’s courtroom drama Twelve Angry Men, and serve up Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple for desert. Not a particularly daring season. With such well-known fare, Raven must face the challenge of proving these plays can still be invigorating even though the audience have probably seen them a couple of times already. If they can maintain the success of their opener, Miller’s 1949 masterpiece, they’ll prove that these familiar plays still have a lot of mileage left in them.

Right from the start of the show, I was reminded how different the American brand of realism is compared to its European counterpart. While dramatic geniuses like Miller, Tennessee Williams, and Eugene O’Neill were drawing stylistic inspiration from traditional realists like Chekhov and Ibsen, they also reveled in theatricality. Death of a Salesman, for instance, presents a very feasible and realistic story juxtaposed with scenes illustrating the delirium and fuzzy memories of a decaying mind. By intertwining the realistic and the psychological, Miller suggests the American dream doesn’t amount to much more than a mass delusion.

 

Salesman cards: Chuck Spencer, Jerry Bloom, Ron Quade Salesman dress: Susie Griffith, Chuck Spencer

Director Michael Menendian makes clear that he both respects Miller’s text but isn’t afraid to do some tinkering. While Kimberly Senior’s All My Sons refused to take risks, Menendian and his team embrace Miller’s stylized vision. Andrei Onegin’s moveable set creates all of the varied settings required, from a two-story house to a restaurant to an office. The machinations of Willy Loman’s mind are nicely emphasized by Amy Lee’s lights. Menendian helps both of them out by exploring the entire space with his staging. All sections of the audience get good views; sometimes characters even invade the house. By not falling into a proscenium trap, Menendian confirms that the 60-year-old piece is as engaging as any of this season’s world-premiers.

Menendian’s choices wouldn’t mean anything, though, if the casting wasn’t superb. The success of a production of Salesman more or less depends on the quality of the actor portraying Willy. Fortunately for all involved, Chuck Spencer is completely tuned to Miller’s text. He is simultaneously charming, vindictive, unstable, yet feeble. We visibly witness Willy’s mind breaking apart as his hopes collapse around him. Most of these hopes are for Biff, whose restlessness, passion, and self-loathing are captured by Jason Huysman. Greg Caldwell’s Happy is a slimy and callous “other son.” Caldwell makes it clear that Hap, although he doesn’t seem to be aware, is following in his father’s delusional footsteps towards self-destruction. The weakest performance of the bunch is Joann Montemurro’s matriarchal Linda. It takes a few scenes for her to key in with the rest of the ensemble. Once that happens, though, she can be as devastating as anyone else in this “common man’s tragedy.” The pace of the piece stays at a gallop and the cast skillfully pulls off the frenzied energy needed for Willy’s nostalgic hallucinations. The only other issue of note is that the actors become too physical with each other too fast. This dissipates the enormous tension of Miller’s words; the impassioned grappling and grabbing that come into almost every scene would have a better effect if saved up for a few hyper-intense moments.

In writing Salesman, Miller wanted to toss out the Aristotelian notion that tragedy could only involve kings and royalty (Oedipus, Hamlet, Lear). He shows us through Willy Loman that even the middle-class can have tragic flaws. Instead of a vast kingdom, however, it is single household that is torn asunder. And just like we can be moved by Euripides and Shakespeare today, Raven’s crushing production verifies that Miller’s opus is still terrifyingly resonant.

 

Rating: «««½

 

Salesman punch: Kevin Hope, Jason Huysman, Chuck Spencer, Greg Caldwell

October 12, 2009 | 6 Comments More

Theater Thursday: “Death of a Salesman” at Raven Theatre

Thursday, October 15

Death of a Salesman

by Arthur Miller

at the Raven Theatre

6157 N. Clark St., Chicago

raven-deathThis week’s Theater Thursday event will offer free drinks and light appetizers before the show as well as a talk-back with the actors and crew following the production.Willy Loman, Miller’s quintessential Everyman, is a traveling salesman who spends his entire life chasing a dream driven by his misguided mantra, "Be liked and you will never want". After years of pouring all his energy and resources into his older son Biff, whom he is convinced will rise to greatness with his Adonis-like features and athletic prowess, Willy is faced with the crushing realization of the utter failure of his pursuit for a better life.  One late spring night Willy returns to his Brooklyn home from an aborted sales trip to New England, and over the course of the next 24 hours Arthur Miller takes us on a journey through the past and present of a man whose life is reeling beyond his control.
Event begins at 7:30 p.m.
Show begins at 8 p.m.

TICKETS ONLY: $25
For reservations call 773.338.2177 and mention "Theater Thursdays."

October 12, 2009 | 0 Comments More

Review: SiNNERMAN Ensemble’s “Ivanov”

For love or money

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SiNNERMAN Ensemble presents

Ivanov

by Anton Chekhov
directed and adapted by Sheldon Patinkin
thru November 7th (buy tickets)

reviewed by Timothy McGuire

SiNNERMAN Ensemble’s production of Ivanov rises above most in that it is performed in the style in which Anton Chekhov wrote the play: not as an adaptation set in modern times or filled in with action to keep the attention of the modern audience, but set instead in the 1800’s, a time dull in activity but vibrant with conflict underneath the passive text and assumed action taking place off-stage. The complex characters portrayed by the lead roles makes this Anton Chekhov play a play worth seeing at Viaduct Theatre, as the ensemble rises to the difficult challenge of maintaining Chekov’s dark tragic feelings with the wittiness of Ivanov’s comedic comments on life.

Ivanov_4 Anton Chekhov’s Ivanov tells the story of self-loathing land owner Nikolai Ivanov (Jeremy Fisher), whose wife is dying of tuberculosis and who is drowning in personal debt. Once a desirable young man – fun, kind and respected – Nikolai married Anna (Cyd Blakewell). After marriage, Anna converted from Judaism to Russian Orthodox and therefore was denied her large family inheritance that many neighbors claim is the only reason Nikolai married Anna in the first place. Stuck in a depression that he cannot shake Nikolai sulks and is unmoved by Barkin’s (Ryan Martin) constant ideas to acquire financial prosperity and The Count’s (Sean Bolger) pleas for companionship or at least entertainment. The honest doctor (honest to the point of being self-righteous) informs Nikolai of his wife’s terminal diagnosis. No additional sadness sweeps Nikolai, for he has already reached an emotional bottom, and – respecting the doctors bluntness – he opens up to him about his own depression and lack of empathy for his wife.

These Chekhovian Characters are played well in the opening scene, especially by Jeremy Fisher as Ivanov and Johnny Russel as the doctor. They have a dark, even-keeled yet sullen personality with a tint of humor in their lines, reflecting the absurdity of life.

Nikolai’s depression doesn’t keep him from gallivanting off at night to a party at the Lyebedev’s estate where his new wealthy attraction Sasha is celebrating her birthday. As the repartee repeatedly drones on about how bored they are (via comical comments on their unfulfilled lives), Nikolai and Sasha are intimately conversing. Once they believe that they are finally alone Sasha and Nikolai are caught in an adulterous kiss by Anna who disobediently followed her husband to the party.

True to Chekhov’s style, the drama (or fight) between the three love interests takes place off stage. Still together with Anna, and trying to be a better man, Nikolai avoids Sasha until two weeks later when she comes to his estate to see him. Sasha, played by Sue Redman, gives an intriguing speech about why women are attracted to whiny desperate men and plays the martyr by telling him to stay with his wife, but with Anna’s illness and Ivanov’s sinful tendencies there is still a lot to play out.

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The set, designed by Jacqueline Penrod, is able to switch from the outside porch of Nikolai’s property to the inside of the Lyebedev’s upper-class home. In the opening scene Nikolai sits void of emotions at his simply crafted chair and table on the wooden front porch of his wooden home with the eerie death cries of an owl. The outside porch is designed too similar to that of a ranch and there is not much in the set that shows the countryside in which the play takes place. When the wooden walls are removed the depth of the Lyebedev’s living room is shown with a large dining table in the back for the guest to play cards and open space to converse while entering and exiting through the back door. The family room is up front with two couches facing each other (so the eligible bachelors can gaze at the eager young ladies) and a chair at top where Pavel Lyebedev (Howie Johnson) sits in his complacent bliss.

The wardrobe designed by Frances Maggio brings more to the plays atmosphere than the stage design, with dated clothes that have the sense of the 1800’s when this play was written, and all dressed in black as if it were a funeral when outside of Ivanov’s estate.

The main characters of SiNNERMAN’s production are talented – keeping the plainness in Chekhov’s characters while also bringing to life the complexity behind their lives. Chekhov has written no complete villain or saint. We cannot empathize with Nikolai because we do not trust his character, but yet we also do not know if he actually has malicious intent; he may be the victim of gossip and bad luck.

Cyd Blakewell delivers a fantastic performance as Anna; tired, desperate for attention and naive to the true feelings of her husband. She speaks with great drama allowing the humor in her ignorance to hit the audience subtly as Anna herself has no idea that what she is saying sounds ridiculous. Her defense for her husband makes one feel pity for the mistreatment and neglect that she has endured.

For a Chekhov fan, this play is a chance to see one of his lesser known plays, and SiNNERMAN’s performance is worth seeing. It is performed by the book, and the brilliance of Anton Chekhov is supported well by the talented lead actors. Some of the supporting actors/actresses come off a little cartoonish and out of character, but overall this is a quality performance from a very cool theatre company. This is not a play for someone looking for a lot of physical action or even a lot of verbal action, but the conflicts are there and you will be surprised in the way Chekhov’s plays can entertain.

Rating: ««½

Ivanov is playing at Viaduct Theatre, 3111 Western, Chicago, through November 7th.

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October 10, 2009 | 0 Comments More

Review: Red Tape Theatre’s “Mouse in a Jar”

  Despite flaws, “Mouse In a Jar” is a feast of horror

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Red Tape Theatre presents:

Mouse in a Jar

by Martyna Majok
directed by Daria J. Davis
thru October 31st (buy tickets)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Red Tape Theatre’s world premiere production of Mouse In a Jar, by Martyna Majok, is just the sort of no-holds-barred, absolute commitment that always brings excitement to Chicago theatre. Majok’s play is flawed, but it is also a riveting and poetic drama, relaying the tragic story of an immigrant woman chained in a basement, forced to sexually serve a nameless man, even in the presence of two growing daughters. Recalling daily news about trafficking and domestic violence, Mouse In a Jar brings forth feminist themes, constructing their realism within a horror genre, all the more searing for asserting that there is no way out.

Red Tape MIJ Pic 3 Martyna Majok’s work still shows all the signs of a young playwright struggling to develop structure for her vision and voice. She has won awards for previous work—among them, The Merage Foundation Fellowship for the American Dream, The Olga and Paul Menn Award for Playwriting, and first place at 2009’s Big Shoulder Fest (ATC). Enough here signifies Majok as a young playwright to watch out for.

However, Mouse In a Jar still suffers from a few critical flaws. The introduction of a new character in the middle of this 80-minute one-act disrupts the dramatic tension that cast and crew have already worked to a terrifying crescendo. It’s a cold start all over again, for both play and actor, Ben Gettinger, to establish his character Fip, as an integrated element to the story. That, and the cross dialogue between Fip, Daga (Tamara Todres) and Ma (Kathleen Powers) in the second half, creates more confusion about who is addressing whom than rebuilding lost tension. What attempts to be compelling dramatic analysis on the codependence of victims, Stockholm syndrome, or repeating patterns of abuse—with all their BDSM overtones—strays into a jumbled, frantic mess.

A lesser production could flounder under these shifts, but Daria Davis’ directorial vision and her cast have a never-say-die attitude.  Both their effort and imagination are uncompromising. No doubt, the strength of Majok’s poetic language and savvy humor helps to keep the fire burning.

Through it all, Kathleen Powers centers and grounds the production with her visceral portrayal of a woman surviving day-to-day imprisonment, sexual slavery, and loving but violently compromised parenthood. Powers performance shifts so quickly from motherly affection to wickedly wry insult to terrified, hypnotic resignation, one can almost see the strands of the entangled servitude to which she has submitted.

That servitude does not spare her daughters, Daga and Zosia (Irene Kapustina), who witness every night at 9 pm, the rape and subjugation of their mother by HIM, played convincingly by Don Markus. Kapustina’s delivery of Zosia’s lines fulfills the poetry of the play, but, unfortunately, some gets lost due to the poor acoustics of the brutally realistic set. The production’s theatre-in-the-round places the audience in the same imprisoned space as the characters, but care should be taken not to lose dialogue.

The relationship between Ma and Daga forms the vital center of the play, a relationship filled with intense love and merciless scarring. “Enjoy your rape,” Daga says, frustrated by her mother’s denial of all her attempts for both of them to escape. Todres pulls out all the humor possible as the desperate, sly Daga. “I’m home,” she tells Fip, as she manipulates him into her final rescue plan, “People are different when they’re at home.” But it will take stronger technique on from both Todres and Gettinger, and cleaned up direction, to clarify their confrontation with Ma’s adamant refusal to go with them.

There certainly are things to forgive about this production, but overall, Mouse In a Jar remains a compelling achievement in terror.

Rating: «««

 

Red Tape MIJ Pic 2

October 9, 2009 | 1 Comment More

Theatre-goer favorite, Garrett Popcorn, celebrates 60th-Anniversary

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Commemorating their 60th-Anniversary, Garrett Popcorn has announced that they will reopen their Michigan Ave. shop.  The grand opening will take place on October 15th, where festivities will include: 

  • 10 a.m. until noon – FREE small bags of  Garrett Popcorn’s irresistible Chicago Mix;
  • If rain, Garrett branded ponchos for customers in line, while supplies last;
  • “Scratch and Win” cards will be given to everyone in line for FREE one gallon tins
  • 60th Anniversary commemorative T-shirts and soft drinks
  • upgrades; and for 15% and 20%  off purchases. (A number of these cards also will be available at other Garrett locations in honor of the Mag Mile opening).

More info here.

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October 9, 2009 | 0 Comments More

Winner of the “Best Typo Ever”

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h/t: Daily What » Daily Dish

October 9, 2009 | 0 Comments More