Review: The Copperhead (City Lit Theater)

   
  

This ‘copperhead’ is worth every penny

 
 

The Copperhead - City Lit Theatre Chicago

  
City Lit Theater presents
 
The Copperhead
  
Written by Augustus Thomas
Directed by Kathy Scambiattera
at City Lit Theater, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr (map)
through May 15  |  tickets: $18-$25  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

While Chekhov was over in Russia writing about social upheaval, Augustus Thomas was stateside dipping into the American experience and crafting similar pieces of realism. The demise of the old aristocracy inspired Chekhov; Reconstruction and the economic decimation of the South following the Civil War instigated Thomas’ plays. Once proclaimed as the best playwright in the nation, Thomas has faded into obscurity over the last century. Watching City Lit Theater’s solid production of his most successful play, 1918’s The Copperhead, I was struck by how well-wrought Thomas’ style seems even today. Maybe director Kathy Scambiatterra’s show will kickstart interest in one of America’s original voices.

The Copperhead - City Lit Theatre Chicago 2The Copperhead is part of City Lit’s “Civil War Project,” a five-year theatrical exploration of the Civil War. Thomas sets his drama in southern Illinois, close to the border of the Confederacy. The play centers around Milt Shanks (Mark Pracht), a Southern sympathizer, claiming he wants peace above all else. In the Land of Lincoln, that doesn’t go down well. He earns the ire of his family and community, even going to prison for his murky connections to the Rebel cause. The second half of the play is set 40 years after Appomattox, and the beliefs Shanks’ held during the war are still affecting him and his descendants.

Unlike many of his peers, Thomas completely shuns melodrama. There’s a subtle pressure and conflict that flows throughout the play. Social roles and appearances run the world, just like with Ibsen or Strindberg. What people believe is as important as what people do.

Scambiatterra elicits great performances from her strappy cast. Pracht does a fine job with the austere Shanks, remaining strong and level, while still revealing glimpses of vulnerability – we know he is still a human being in a crazy situation. The real gem in the production is Kate Tummelson, who plays Shanks’ wife in the first half and his devoted granddaughter in the second. She really drives every scene she is a part of, scrounging up independence in a time where there was very little to be had for women. As Ma Shanks, she is torn by her devotion to her son, her husband, and her country. As Madeline, she has to look out for her grandfather and her own future. Another great performance is given by Judith Hoppe as the high-spirited Grandma Pearly, who constantly talks about how war takes a toll on women.

Thomas’ writing holds up surprisingly well. Scambiaterra finds loads of humor in the script—Pracht as the older Milt mines plenty of elderly jokes. And the cast finds layers with every character; there are unspoken ethos guiding every actor on stage.

The plays runs along pretty well, but the ending ties the show together a bit too neatly. It becomes like some sort of 19th-century James Bond flick. I was hoping for something more like Chekhov, where the house lights come up leaving the audience with unanswered questions and some moral ambiguity. But Thomas taps into good ol’ American sentimentality, breaking apart complexities he spends four acts building up.

City Lit brings an honest, down-the-line approach to the script. The Copperhead can feel a bit archaic, but never wooden. It’s great to see such an old play with a local connection being done here. Thomas will never have the name recognition or acclaim of Chekhov, and he seems afraid to dive as deep into darker territory. However, his play remains relevant to any culture familiar with war. The Civil War Project is a fascinating idea, and I hope they can keep churning out work like this.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

The Copperhead poster - City Lit Theater Chicago

  
  
April 20, 2011 | 0 Comments More

Review: Wreckage / Brutal Imagination (Caffeine Theatre)

     
     

Caffeine’s paired plays offer high concept with uneven material

     
     

Ian Daniel McLaren and Tim Martin in Wreckage

     

Caffeine Theatre presents

             
       
Wreckage Brutal Imagination
     
Written by Caridad Svich
Directed by Joanie Schultz 
at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont (map)
thru April 17 | tickets: $20 | more info
Written by Cornelius Eady
Directed by Jason Beck
at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont (map)
thru April 17 | tickets: $20 | more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Cross-cultural playwright Caridad Svich often takes characters straight from classical theater and advances their story past death itself, into a new incarnation or a new dimension or perhaps a murky purgatory, where their past haunts their present existence yet remains the vaguest of memories. Disconnection and forgetfulness reign alongside repeated abuse; violent emotions unleashed in the past mold perceptions and choices, propelling the characters forward into an equally perilous future. Her 12 Ophelias: a play with broken songs has Ophelia emerge from watery depths to relive her relationship with Hamlet, renamed as Rude Boy. In Wreckage, produced by Caffeine Theatre under the direction of Joanie Schultz, the sons of Medea awaken on a beach, stunned and with no clear recall of their murder at the hands of their mother. Even in the afterlife, though, they can’t quite get away from dark, manipulative women or being exploited for sexual or other uses.

Cornelius Eady’s verse play Brutal Imagination also contains a mother murdering her sons. Yet, under Jason Beck’s direction, it takes on an entirely different aspect in the reflection of the Medea myth—it focuses not so much on the murder of young boys as the murder of black male identity through repeated narratives that dehumanize and, ultimately, criminalize black men.

Stephen H. Carmody’s intelligent scenic design and Thomas Dixon’s sound design accommodate both plays brilliantly. Gorgeously evocative projections (Rasean Davonte Johnson) amplify the abstract, fragmented pieces of beach onstage. The set shifts with only minor variations from one play to the other, signifying unity between the two productions that is quite sophisticated.

If only the material was matched as evenly as the production’s visual conception. With Wreckage, Svich’s poetic dialogue excessively pounds out the torrid language of bad romance. Once the First Son (Tim Martin) and the Second Son (Ian Daniel McLaren) become separated, they are thrown into twisted sexual situations. The First becomes adopted by a Woman (played with powerhouse glamour by Dana Black), who feminizes the boy and uses him as a pawn in manipulative emotional and sexual games with her Husband (Jeremy Van Meter). The Second Son becomes drawn into a life of sex traffic by the Nurse (Sean Thomas), now a pandering beachcomber.

The trouble is Svich just doesn’t know when to quit. Artistically, if not in life, brevity is the soul of wit—it’s also the soul of pain, shame, longing, rank passion and bitterness. The cast makes a valiant effort to sustain their dreamy or fervent monologues but, sooner or later, one speech about the terrible things love makes you do eventually sounds much like another. While her characters hit high points expounding on overwrought passion, jealousy, possessiveness, dominance or feverish love, they also go on well past the point of interest. There can be little an actor can do to circumvent the ennui that sets in. Once the panderer turns out the Second Son, McLaren and Thomas deliver an interesting and amusing riff/sales pitch that serves as social commentary. Van Meter pointedly encapsulates his bitter sexual dependency on the Woman he must share with the First Son. Black captures the dark, ritualistic evil of the Woman who reflects Medea. But all in all, the very excessiveness of the script besets the production.

D'wayne Taylor and Samantha Gleisten in Brutal Imagination

Brutal Imagination, on the other hand, gets right to the point. “I’m not the hero of this piece,” says Mr. Zero (D’Wayne Taylor), “I’m only a story, a thought, a solution to a problem.” Susan Smith’s (Samantha Gleisten) problem is that she has murdered her children and now tries to cover it up with a fictitious story of a black man hijacking her car and driving away with her boys in the back seat. For a short while, Mr. Zero is her cover–based on a true incident of “racial hoax” that took place in Union, South Carolina in 1994.

Brutal Imagination explores the racism behind Smith’s “necessary fiction,” examining it from all angles as it goes step by step through the whole nine days of a small Southern community thrown into the turmoil of the police searching for the children and the black man in question. Susan Smith receives support with prayer vigils and rallies, while Union’s African American community is put on notice with arrest after arrest of suspected black men.

Eady cunningly pairs Susan with her fiction, Mr. Zero, like a couple in danger of coming apart as the truth unravels. For the most part, the play is Taylor’s and he exhibits exemplary versatility with difficult exposition, not only pertaining to his character, but also a string of images of black men, from Uncle Tom to Buckwheat to Stepin Fetchit to Stagolee. Yet, Gleisten holds her ground with her frail, nervous depiction of Smith–sanctimonious in her portrayal herself as a mournfully desperate mother, pathetic once the sheriff suspects her of the crime. Susan and Mr. Zero’s final waltz before the truth separates them is a shrewd touch on the part of Beck’s direction. The racism that brought these two together colors their last swan song. Now, this is a bad romance we can all relate too, as American as apple pie and Aunt Jemima syrup.

   
Ratings:
  
  Brutal Imagination   ★★★
          
  Wreckage   ★★½
    
     

Samantha Gleisten and D'Wayne Taylor in Brutal Imagination

  
  
April 20, 2011 | 0 Comments More

Review: Before and After (Theatre Momentum)

     
     

Too many actors in the kitchen muddle interesting concept

     
     

'Before and After' at the Apollo Theater, presented by Theatre Momentum

  
Theatre Momentum presents
  
Before and After
  
Directed by Tony Rielage
at the Apollo Theater, 2540 N. Lincoln (map)
through May 7  |  tickets: $8-$10  |  more info

Reviewed by Jason Rost

In Chicago, improv is as synonymous with comedy as the Cubs are with losing. However, there is nothing about improvisational performance that inherently means humor. Most any acting school uses improv as experimentation in training to create performances that are urgent and honest. Theatre Momentum is an exciting theatre company poised to illuminate this fact with their mission of creating narrative based improv. Within the basement space at the Apollo Theater, director Tony Rielage and his company of improvisers have taken upon a notable artistic endeavor with their new production, Before and After. In the end, unfortunately it proves too overwhelming to succeed. While they 'Before and After' at the Apollo Theater, presented by Theatre Momentummay continue to evolve the structure, presently it exists in a state that is fairly entertaining in its high points, yet despite talented performers, falls flat more often than not during this extraneously long show.

The conceit of director Tony Rielage and his troop is to create a fresh narrative each performance, through improvisation, that follows a single character in the midst of a life-changing event, played by two actors in two different stages of the character’s life. The rest of the cast fill in the supporting roles. The performance I attended revolved around a Mark Zuckerberg type character that created a lucrative website encapsulating every internet obsession: web videos, online dating and the sale of ironic Jesus t-shirts. Derek Van Barham and Adam Ziemkiewicz played the central character in different moments of his life. Van Barham was exceptionally sharp as the younger version of the character in his cold manipulative discovery of how the internet can give him power. While Ziemkiewicz added heart to the story, the details of the events surrounding his version of the character were muddy. The life changing event was apparently the marriage of his lifelong love (played by Julie Chereson grounded with charming truthfulness).

As the format exists currently, 90 minutes seemed to cause the group to have to stretch for time and devise improvised scenes that were meaningless and bordering on incoherence. Also, the need to include each of the dozen cast members throughout the show takes too much focus away from the central relationship to carry any gravity. Nevertheless, there were a few impressive moments where these intelligent actors developed some heartfelt relationships, such as Van Barham and Peter Athans in a scene in which a son interviews his divorced father for a dating video to be posted online. Theresa Ohanian brings life and vitality to every scenario she is involved in, proving to have the sharpest wit and most guts in this cast. Athans is also a standout bringing the most truth, empathy and maturity to the stage. All the while, these strong actors come across as wasted talent in the daunting task to create a meaningful piece of theatre with few structural setups to guide their journey.

'Before and After' at the Apollo Theater, presented by Theatre MomentumAs time goes on, this cast may find ways to tighten up their stories and create higher stakes in scenes. While it may go against their mission, I hope that this company may take moments that work well and carry it over to following performances to build upon. I would love to see this very same cast and director tackle a slightly more developed production still utilizing their improvisational skills. If there were a solidified structure for these actors to play in, I feel that it would result in even more creativity. What we get now is far too large a canvas, too many paints and too many artists to give the audience a finished product that can be appreciated in its totality.

Still, Before and After may prove to be an interesting and worthwhile outing for hardcore fans or practitioners of improvisational performance. It certainly offers something different than the likes of iO and The Annoyance. While focused on dramatic narrative, there are still a handful of laughs and sketch moments. Nevertheless, as a piece of theatre it doesn’t quite hold up. It especially doesn’t hold up for a full 90 minutes. It’s a delicate balance between keeping the performances fresh and improvised, while also achieving a consistently coherent narrative within the structure Rielage has devised. The format may benefit from either adding a more preconceived plot to their plays, or condensing the action and losing a few cast members. Theatre Momentum has yet to figure out the correct formula, but they are worth keeping a close eye on.

  
  
Rating: ★★
  
  

'Before and After' at the Apollo Theater, presented by Theatre Momentum

Before and After is a 90-minute long performance at the Apollo Theater Studio, 2540 North Lincoln Avenue, and runs Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 PM through May 7, 2011. Tickets are $10 Fridays and Saturdays, and $8 Thursdays. Reservations may be made through the Apollo Theater box office at (773) 935-6100 and at www.ticketmaster.com.

  
April 19, 2011 | 0 Comments More

Review: Dixie’s Tupperware Party (Royal George Theatre)

     
     

There’s a different use for a Tupperware decorating pump?!?

  
  

Dixies Tupperware Party - Chicago Royal George Theatre

  
Royal George Theatre presents
  
Dixie’s Tupperware Party
  
Written by Kris Andersson
Directed by Patrick Richwood
at Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted (map)
through June 12  |  tickets: $44-$49   |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

There is nothing like a good old Southern woman with big hair and a big heart. I knew a few Dixie Longate types in my youth and still to this day. The authentic Dixie Longate is the hostess of Dixie’s Tupperware Party” at the Royal George Theatre. Ms. Dixie is a hoot making her way through the audience before the show passing out mints from her favorite Tupperware container. She warned me not to eat it until I had finished my glass of wine or it “will taste like ass”. Noted Ms. Dixie – I did not try the mint until well Dixies Tupperware Party - Chicago Royal George Theatre 2after the glass was drained.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this is a real Tupperware party where one can purchase all varieties of the American classic food storage product. Dixie gives the history of the Tupperware party, starting with Brownie Wise over 65 years ago.

Now, Ms. Longate is a very special lady, and has what could be called chutzpah or as we like to say on the South Side “she’s got a real set of stones on her”. The bio reads that she left her kids in an Alabama trailer park to become a Tupperware superstar and never looked back. The great thing is that it is a true story for thousands of American women over the last half century. Dixie feeds her three children –Wynona, Dwayne, and Absorbine Jr. – by selling the practical and colorful plastic goods.

The show starts with Dixie filling a Tupperware tumbler (complete with the no-leak straw hole) with a healthy serving of Jack Daniels. Along with an actual catalog, the audience is given name tags in case one wakes up behind a dumpster at the truck stop and forgets their order. There are malapropisms, double entendres, and sight gags aplenty. Ms. Dixie’s persona is a tribute to all of the women who have ever cried in their cheap whiskey to a country song. I’m not talking contemporary country either. You have to reach back to the great ones: Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, and the fabulous Dolly Parton. Few can wear the gingham and the lacquer hair spray with such panache as these ladies and Dixie Longate.

Dixie’s Tupperware Party is an interactive show wherein Ms. Dixie will single out a few audience members and take them through potentially embarrassing exchanges. One young woman became just “Lesbian”, which was said by Dixie with a pseudo-offended fundamentalist sneer. Ms. Dixie was aghast that the Lesbian team beat the nice Christian boys in the Tupperware Rimming contest. She also heard a lot of homo-sectionals cheering for the nice Christian boys. Hmmm?

There is an audience Q&A for special Tupperware questions and testimonial er…Tuppermonials for those of you with fond memories of America’s finest plastic ware. I was amazed to find out that Ms. Longate really is the number one sales person for Tupperware in the USA and Canada, and you can see why – she knows her stuff and is wickedly funny at the same time! There are raffles with really cute prizes of Tupperware miniatures, and for the winners of the Rimming Contest there is collapsible Tupperware. (In case you are wondering, rimming in Tupperware-speak is sealing the top on a bowl. Duh!)

If you are offended by drag, truck stop sex, or freaky uses for a whipped topping dispenser with five decorating tips, please come and bring a friend. Ms. Dixie is a gifted comedienne with a knack for improv and will make great use of your discomfort, much to the audience’s amusement. Now get your mind out of the truck stop, y’all, and get your fannies over to the Royal George Theatre!

  
  
Rating: ★★
     
     

Dixies Tupperware Party - Chicago Royal George Theatre 3

Dixie’s Tupperware Party has been extended through June 12th and is not to be missed. For tickets call the Royal George at 312-988-9000 or but tickets online at Ticketmaster

Performances continue Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 3 and 8pm, Sundays at 3pm.

Visit dixiestupperwareparty.com for more details on Ms. Longate’s escapades. It’s great grown-up fun and empowerment for all the big-haired ladies of America.

     

Artists

Kris Andersson (Creator, Dixie); Patrick Richwood (director); Richard Winkler (lighting); Christopher K. Bond (sound); Steven C. Kemp (set)

     
     
April 18, 2011 | 1 Comment More

Review: Twinkie and the Beast (MidTangent Productions)

  
  

Beastly, bawdy fun!

  
  

The cast of MidTangent Production's 'Twinkie and the Beast' at Hydrate Night Club in Chicago

  
MidTangent Productions present
 
Twinkie and the Beast
  
Written and Directed by Tony Lewis
at
Hydrate Nightclub, 3458 N. Halsted (map)
through April 30  |  tickets: $10  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

I always have a good time in Boystown whether it’s shopping at some of the more interesting stores (hellooo Tulip!) or sipping a citron and cranberry at Hydrate. I had the great pleasure and bonus of seeing the MidTangent production of Twinkie and the Beast to go with my libation.

This show is a brilliant send up of the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ story. It was refreshing and quite hysterical to see it done so irreverently with the denizens of Boystown.

Loren Agron as Swell and Omicah House as The Beast in MidTangent Production's 'Twinkie and the Beast' at Hydrate Night Club in ChicagoThis is the story of a hot little twink named Swell who is looking for love and won’t give up the goodies until he finds it. Loren Agron plays Swell with delightful aplomb. Swell is pursued by the cocksure swain Piston played by Aaron Michael Adamkiewicz. Piston is a great caricature of the villain Gaston in the original fairy tale. Adamkiewicz struts about the stage in various rough trade attire as a porn star who always gets his man. I loved the obviously stuffed jeans which reminded me of Led Zeppelin back in the day. Piston later emerges in homage to Larry Blackmon of Cameo in leather  pants and a codpiece – hysterically sexy!

Swell runs to his Fairy Godmother, played by drag star Madame X, to avail of her advice on the pressure to give in to Piston or wait for true love. This scene is truly about the beauty and artistry of drag. Madame X is a surreal vision in Fellini pink and kabuki mannered gestures.

The story gets more surreal when Swell enters the Beast’s manor and trades his life to save Fairy Godmother from the dungeon. We meet all of the enchanted characters who used to be regular Boystown folks.

Wiggins used to be the Beast’s fag hag before he was cursed to wear the leather mask and seriously big wig. Wiggins was rewarded for her loyalty by being turned into a big pile of wigs. Erin Daly has a phenomenal voice and exquisite sense of timing as Wiggins. The other characters are from a drag queen’s cosmetic case as well. There is Karla Meyer as Lipour, the living lipstick attired in a stock French maid outfit.

Michael Elm plays the role of Pouf, a powder puff who channels Ernie Kovacs as Percy Dovetonsils. Elm is hilarious with his droll and imperious delivery. And then there is Doobie – yes a giant human joint who can roll one off of himself. Poor Doobie just came to deliver a pizza and voila, he is what he smokes. Andrew Kain Miller embodies the skateboarding slacker in the Dunkin Doughnuts parking lot but with a much better physique.

     
Omicah House as The Beast in MidTangent Production's 'Twinkie and the Beast' at Hydrate Night Club. A scene from MidTangent Production's 'Twinkie and the Beast' at Chicago's Hydrate Night Club in Boystown.
A scene from MidTangent Production's 'Twinkie and the Beast' at Chicago's Hydrate Night Club in Boystown. A scene from MidTangent Production's 'Twinkie and the Beast' at Chicago's Hydrate Night Club in Boystown.

The Beast is played by Omicah House. He wears sky high acrylic platform knee high boots and a nice series of corsets. Mr. House delivers every line with booming ferocity which actually gets to be a bit much when the Beast is supposed to be softening and falling for Swell.

Twinkie and the Beast has fantastic choreography. Every cast member is synchronized and on beat. It was like watching a queer Soul Train-awesome. Not everyone is a great singer in this cast and the music is literally carried by Erin Daly, who is a powerhouse singer. I suspect that she leads her own band or she should anyway.

Although there were sound glitches and several painful feedback moments (that the cast played through in a professional manner), Twinkie and the Beast is still a fun and naughty night on the town. Get a drink from the really cute bartender and settle in for a raucous evening of laughs, one liners, and visual delight!

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

A scene from MidTangent Production's 'Twinkie and the Beast' at Chicago's Hydrate Night Club in Boystown.

The MidTangent production of Twinkie and the Beast runs through April 30th at Hydrate Night Club, with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 9:00pm. Hydrate is located at 3458 N. Halsted (map). Tickets are $10, and can be purchased online or by phone (773-835-0420). More information on their Facebook page. Get there early and take a walk through the neighborhood. It’s beastly fun!

     
     
April 17, 2011 | 0 Comments More

Review: The Alchemist (Nothing Special Productions)

     
     

17th-century farce delivers rich hoaxes, prosperous laughs

     
     

A scene from Nothing Special Production's 'The Alchemist', written by Ben Johnson and directed by Gregory Peters. Photo credit: Michael Laird

  
Nothing Special Productions presents
  
The Alchemist
  
Written by Ben Johnson
Adapted by Gregory Peters
Directed by Jack Dugan Carpenter
at Heartland Studio
, 7016 N. Glenwood (map)
through April 30  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

Love? Riches? Fairytalk?  Whatever you’re in the market for, the alchemist is selling it for cash or velvet.  Nothing Special Productions presents The Alchemist.  A trio of swindlers conjure up dreamy elixirs for the villagers in need.  The scams are housed in a deserted mansion.  Dazzling promises lure the customers into the illusion. The people are foolish. The hoaxes are elaborate.  The payoff is pure gold.  The Alchemist guarantees riches and delivers it as prosperous laughs!

A scene from Nothing Special Production's 'The Alchemist', written by Ben Johnson and directed by Gregory Peters. Photo credit: Michael LairdLike an ongoing ‘Saturday Night Live’ sketch, the buffoonery is riotous.  Jack Dugan Carpenter directs the huge cast through the mazed intrigue.  Carpenter paces the mega set-ups with a zippy revolving door feel.  At the core of the mayhem, the household rogues (Andrew Marchetti, Sean McGill, Melissa Imbogno) don numerous disguises and personas to work their magic.  It’s a burlesques-style slapstick! Continuous almost-being-found-out moments add to the hilarity.  In one scene, the threesome act out a fascinating elfin attack.  Their giggly enjoyment of the charade makes it feel improvised.  Marchetti and McGill are a dynamic duo.  Their synergy is perfected comedic timing. The talented ensemble add to the punch line with exaggerated spoofs.  In particular, two supporting actors stand out in stealing ways.  Matt Castellvi pontificates in grandiosity. His Laurence Olivier-like theatrics are hysterical.  A lanky Ken Miller escalates the joke with uttering one word, ‘sis-star.‘                      

Playwright Gregory Peters has updated Ben Johnson’s farce from the 1600’s.  Peters keeps the formal prose but weaves in a modern twist to the multiple entanglements.  By intermission, the number of grifts in progress is exhausting.  Not because the audience isn’t entertained but because they know ALL the scams must resolve before the show can end.  To adapt a play for the 21st first century, you need to adapt to an audience with a tweet-size attention span.  By limiting characters and eliminating scenes, this long con could be an excellent hustle!

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

A scene from Nothing Special Production's 'The Alchemist', written by Ben Johnson and directed by Gregory Peters. Photo credit: Michael Laird

The Alchemist continues through April 30th at the Boho Theatre in Rogers Park, with performances Thursdays, Fridays and, Saturdays at 8pm. Tickets are $15, and can be purchased online. The show’s running time is two hours and forty minutes, which includes an intermission.


Cast

Sean McGill (Face); Andrew Marchetti (Subtle); Melissa Imbrogno (Doll); Tony Kaehny (Dapper/Officer); Scott Sawa (Drugger); Chad Brown (Ananias); Matt Castellvi Mammon); Conor Burke (Surly); Patrick Byrnes (Tribulation); Ken Miller (Kastril); KaCee J. Hudson (Pliant); Joshua Razavi (Lovewit)

All photo by Michael Laird

  
  
April 17, 2011 | 0 Comments More

Review: White Noise (Royal George and Whoopi Goldberg)

        
        

Though it doesn’t quite rock the hard place, it still rocks

  
  

MacKenzie Mauzy and the ensemble in Whoopi Goldberg's 'White Noise' at the Royal George Theatre in Chicago.

  
Whoopi Goldberg presents
  
White Noise: a cautionary musical
  
Book by Matte O’Brien
Music/Lyrics by
Robert Morris, Steven Morris, Joe Shane
Directed and choreographed  by
Sergio Trujillo
at Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted (map)
through June 5  |  tickets: $50-$65  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

Neo-Nazism, maybe now more than ever, is definitely a lonely philosophy, with both sides of the political spectrum trigger-happy to brand their opponents as followers of the Fuhrer. Unlike the more fashionable discrimination against Latinos, Muslims, and gays, wholesale white supremacy is not in vogue these days. White Noise, the new “cautionary musical” produced by Whoopi Goldberg, asks what would happen if subtle and coded racist rhetoric went viral? It’s already sort of happening over on 4Chan; in this way, Matte O’Brien’s book is screamingly relevant. He’s assisted by well-wrought, if often disturbing, songs and Sergio Trujillo’s snappy staging. However, by using tired Nazi philosophy Emily Padgett and MacKenzie Mauzy in Whoopi Goldberg's 'White Noise' at the Royal George Theatreas its punching bag, White Noise fails to present a nuanced reflection on racism in today’s America—something we desperately need.

The events of the play were inspired by a little duo of white nationalists who formed a band called Prussian Blue. The two tween girls sang about race wars and crushes on skinheads, nearly immediately gaining the ire, and spotlight, of the national media. However, the pinnacle of Prussian Blue’s career was playing a state fair or two. The titular band in White Noise is sexier, more talented, and more marketable—singing their ciphered bigotry, they become YouTube darlings and put out a number one single.

One wonders how their repulsive beliefs are kept hidden from the media – something the show never explains. In fact, you aren’t really told much about how those beliefs came to be; there is never the searing indictment of inherited racism you find in American History X.

What we’re left with is the terrifically short rise and fall of White Noise, which is comprised of sisters Eva and Eden (Mackenzie Mauzy and Emily Padgett), skinhead/bassist/Eva’s boyfriend Duke (Patrick Murney), and Jake (Eric William Morris), who’s slapped onto the band by record exec Max (Douglas Sills as a lukewarm Bobby Gould-lite) with the mission of repackaging the group. The show becomes a battle between the greed of the amoral Max and Duke’s desire to vocalize his disgusting views on a national platform. Eva and Eden are caught in the crossfire. Eden just writes the tunes; she’s never really that concerned with the message. Eva fully believes the stuff, but she’s also a capitalist.

This story is juxtaposed with Max and Jake’s attempts to repackage backpack rappers Dion (Wallace Smith) and Tyler (Rodney Hicks) as gangstas. It doesn’t help that the two’s original ideas are pretty lame (like a rap version of the Declaration of Independence – not kidding), lacking the intelligence of Lupe Fiasco or De La Soul. Against their will, Max turns them into Blood Brothers and Jake writes them a little tune called “N.G.S.,” a smash hit about N’s (think N.W.A.) shooting “white boys.” Obviously, Jake and Max are guilty of racist double-dipping, but Max could care less and Jake is concerned with making his career. The whole musical leads up to a giant concert featuring a double bill of White Noise and Blood Brothers. Needless to say, it doesn’t go down as smooth as “Ebony and Ivory.”

     
Eric Morris, Emily Padgett, MacKenzie Mauzy, Patrick Murney in Whoopi Goldberg's 'White Noise' at the Royal George Theatre
Rodney Hicks and Wallace Smith as the "BloodBrothas" in Whoopi Goldberg's 'White Noise' at the Royal George Theatre in Chicago. MacKenzie Mauzy and Emily Padgett in Whoopi Goldberg's 'White Noise' at the Royal George Theatre

Mauzy and Padgett give great performances and nail the musical numbers. Their tunes, penned by Robert Morris, Steven Morris, and Joe Shane, are legitimately catchy. Murney is chilling and Morris, who becomes the romantic lead in this tale, is decent. Max is a wannabe Mamet character who just isn’t quite ballsy enough, but Sills does the best he can.

I have to give props to this show – which has Broadway-level production design – for not shying away from the vile language. The show may be as blunt as Nazi propaganda. It presents racism in a polarized manner that doesn’t speak to the insidious, quieter racism that we see today. But White Noise still asks some relevant questions. The Hitler salute-inspired choreography in the video of White Noise’s hit single, “Mondays Suck,” inspire rounds of fan vids on YouTube, a la “Single Ladies.” At the end of the night, I was wondering how stupid all those kids must feel after they realize they posted videos of themselves goose-stepping.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Eric Morris, Emily Padgett, MacKenzie Mauzy, Patrick Murney in Whoopi Goldberg's 'White Noise' at the Royal George Theatre

White Noise: a cautionary musical continues at the Royal George Theatre through June 5th, with performances Tuesday-Thursday at 7:30pm, Fridays 8pm, Saturdays 5pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm and 5pm. Tickets are $49.50-$64.50, and can be purchased online or via the box office (312-988-9000). For more info, download the

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All photos by Carol Rosegg

     
April 16, 2011 | 0 Comments More

Review: There Is a Happiness that Morning Is (Theatre Oobleck)

  
  

A witty, cerebral look at love in all the wrong places

  
  

Diana Slickman, Colm O’Reilly and Kirk Anderson in Theater Oobleck’s “There Is a Happiness That Morning Is”. Photo by John W. Sisson, Jr.

  
Theatre Oobleck presents
  
There Is a Happiness that Morning Is
   
Written by Mickle Maher
at DCA Storefront Theater, 66 E. Randolph (map)
through May 22  |  tickets: pay what you can  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh 

The college watches two people have sex on the quad.  Shocking… especially because the public intercourse is between teachers who will enter courses the morning after.  Theatre Oobleck presents There Is a Happiness that Morning Is. Two poetry professors consummate decades of collaboration. The next day, they acknowledge the super-sized P.D.A. in very different ways.  A barefoot Bernard is in full bloom with twigs and leaves sticking out of his hair and pants.  He poetically states ‘I happy am‘ but wants to apologize for the visual spectacle.  A pulled together Ellen owns the intimacy to her class but not necessarily to Bernard.  And she absolutely refuses to ask for pardon from the college. They teach unrelated but related lessons on William Blake’s poetry.  Discourses of ‘Infant Joy‘ versus ‘The Sick Rose‘ probe happiness and dark secret love.  The Colm O’Reilly and Diana Slickman in Theater Oobleck’s “There Is a Happiness That Morning Is”. Photo by John W. Sisson, Jr.separate verses are interrupted by the college president’s twisted reveal. There Is a Happiness that Morning Is is a witty, cerebral look at love in all the wrong places.

Playwright Mickle Maher pays homage to 18th-century poet William Blake with this show.  Maher builds the action from two characters’ interpretations of two different poems.  It’s living verse as the professors reflect on their intellectual and physical connection to the words.  As an Oobleck practice, the story unfolds without a director.  The devised piece works with the cast’s obvious synergy in storytelling.   Looking like Timeout’s Kris Vire’s brother, Colm O’Reilly (Bernard) is hilarious using his fornication as education.  A starry-eyed O’Reilly teaches a lesson in ‘at last I am this poem.’  Diana Slickman (Ellen) counters O’Reilly’s flowery romanticism with no-nonsense practicality.  Slickman’s drollery entertains with a he-said/she-said discourse.  Overlapping lectures set in different times are particularly amusing as he pours his heart out and she takes attendance. In an opposites attract way, O’Reilly and Slickman’s mismatch heightens the humor.  Kirk Anderson (James) surprises with his arrival and adds another kink(y) to the lovemaking.  Anderson deadpans his buffoonery with lighthearted results.

‘Love makes all the difference. With love, all things are better.  Love makes a magic zone.‘  Poets write about love.  Poetry professors interpret the meaning of love… from their own personal experience. There Is a Happiness that Morning Is is a clever, intellectual love lesson.  Although avid readers of poetry will sustain a higher level of pleasure, this course is a stimulating perusal for anyone! 

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Diana Slickman, Kirk Anderson and Colm O’Reilly in Theater Oobleck’s “There Is a Happiness That Morning Is”. Photo by John W. Sisson, Jr.

There Is a Happiness that Morning Is continues through May 22nd at the DCA Storefront Theater, with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays at 3pm.  Tickets are pay-what-you can ($15 donation suggested), and can be reserved online or by calling the box-office at 312-742-TIXS.  Show running time: Ninety minutes with no intermission.  More info here.

        
April 16, 2011 | 0 Comments More