Tag: Aggie Hewitt

REVIEW: 40 Whacks (Annoyance Theatre)

Rich Girl Gone Bad—Really, Really Bad

 

   
Annoyance Theatre presents
    
40 Whacks
   
Book/Lyrics by Aggie Hewitt
Music/Lyrics by
Lisa McQueen
Directed by
Irene Marquette
at
Annoyance Theatre, 4830 N. Broadway (map)
through August 6  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

reviewed by Paige Listerud (and, after the break, Barry Eitel)

Just who is Lizzie Borden to the average person today—a reclaimed feminist icon from the 19th-century or a poor little rich girl gone really, really bad? Lisa McQueen (music and lyrics) and Aggie Hewitt (book and lyrics) get to have it both ways with their masterful musical comedy 40 Whacks, now playing Fridays at the Annoyance Theatre. Truth to tell, Lizzie (Ellen Stoneking) wins audience applause at the end of the show because – after a wild ride of mayhem and mistrial – she gets away with it all.

Irene Marquette directs a cunning comidic cast, who lay it all on the line about the good ol’, bad ol’ days surrounding this murder, America’s sordid Gilded Age. Even if Lizzie is no feminist heroine—largely because the glass ceiling she bumps into is  about sharing part of her inheritance with her stepmother, Abby (Jennifer Estlin)—the show is, nevertheless, very conscious about the limitations women faced in the 1892, in and out of marriage. Lizzie’s father, Andrew Borden (Noah Gregoropolous), gets thoroughly hosed in the script as the Borden family’s patriarchal douche bag. But Gregoropolous’s dry, deadpan pronouncements on women’s menstrual cycles and mental states make us wish he wasn’t off to see his maker so quickly.

What amazes most about this production is its restraint. Marquette has adhered to a little more class and period consciousness than one usually sees in Annoyance productions. Higher production values in scenic design and costuming, coupled with hints of ragtime in McQueen’s musical score, give the audience a stronger sense of old-timey mass murder–all the better with which to sail into the production’s more off-the-wall, anachronistic moments. After a steady diet of arsenic poisoning and a failed attempt at getting medical help, Abby starts to make Uncle John’s (Mike Maltz) bed on the second floor. We know that her mortal comeuppance at Lizzie’s hands is imminent. However, Abby still gets a glorious swansong before her demise, covering the Carpenters’ 1972 hit “I’ll say goodbye to love.”

That’s not the end to this show’s imaginative flights of fancy. The cast knows how to pour it on for Lizzie’s trial, which Lizzie gets to observe through nothing less than a court-ordered morphine haze. Maltz is charming as Uncle John Morse–what with his little crush on the family Irish maid Bridget (Chelsea Farmer)–but he really excels at delivering the trippy, whacked out opening remarks as the prosecuting attorney. Cristin McAlister, demurely spoiled and vindictive as Lizzie’s sister Emma, really gets to step out and shake it as Lizzie’s defense. Sherman Edwards, as the casual and celebrity conscious judge overseeing trial proceedings, seals the circus for what it is. “Will you be dignified and respectful of the court system?” he mildly asks of the audience before Lizzie arrives. His understated delivery already informs us we need not be.

What seals the deal for this show is its excellent music. There are times when the score strays into operetta territory and that’s when I begin to ask whether the producers have created something a little beyond Annoyance’s typical schlock comedy fare. 40 Whacks definitely delivers more sophistication, while keeping a light, crude touch to get across Lizzie’s overwhelming sense of entitlement. I, of course, am screaming for more and I hope Annoyance’s audiences will too.

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
  

 

* Review #2 after the fold *

June 24, 2010 | 0 Comments More

REVIEW: Sex Marks the Spot (New Lincoln Theatre)

Even a farce needs to be sincere

  Maggie Grahm and Tony Fiorentino star in Sex Marks the Spot, the incredibly funny political comedy playing at the Theatre Building Chicago.

  
New Lincoln Theatre presents
  
Sex Marks the Spot
  
Written by Charles Grippo
Directed by
Damian Arnold
at
Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont (map)
through July 25th  |  tickets: $26   | more info

reviewed by Aggie Hewitt

Sex Marks the Spot is a farce about a political sex scandal. Or at least, it wants to be one. At the top of the play, Senator Clooney (Tony Fiorentino) is pacing around his office, badgering his assistant (Adam Schulmerich) as they attempt to finalize the big family values speech that he is going to deliver at tonight’s big debate with porn star Desiree Le Bonque. The reason he’s debating a porn star instead of a politician is Tony Fiorentino and Maggie  Graham star in  Sex Marks the Spot, the incredibly funny political comedy playing at the Theatre Building Chicagothat his opponent is a priest and, the men have decided that no one can debate a priest and come away from it looking good, so the big porn star offers herself up to be eaten alive in front of thousands of people, a task playwright Charles Grippo assumes, women like her have no problem with. Grippo punishes his audience with a list of Desiree’s films, with names like "Saturday Night Beaver" and "Free My Willy" which, may sound familiar to you, probably because they’re the oldest jokey porn names in the history of jokey porn names.

This kind of thoughtless writing doesn’t bode well for the farce genre, especially a farce like this one, which is in the Noises Off vein of slamming doors and timed exits. Grippo’s logic is faulty, and thus, so are his bits. The audience gets ahead of Grippo at the plays open, and it’s impossible for him to win them over. This is a play without one foot on the ground, nothing real or honest linking the words on stage to the people in the audience, except for it’s earnest cast.

This alone is not enough to garner the obvious venom on the tone of this review. What Charles Grippo is actually guilty of is creating a character that is a disgusting and offensive parody of a woman – a woman who is so broad and weakly conceived that the only characteristic she possesses is vague sycophantism and greed. The only choice this woman makes in the entirety of the play is to take off her clothes, which remain off for the duration of the show. When we finally meet Desiree Le Bonque, she is not written as a porn star, she is written as a whore. She is revealed to be having a secret affair with the senator, and she confronts the him with an ultimatum, marry me or I’ll tell. But it’s her reasoning that pushes her over the edge: she wants the one thing she can’t have: respect. So she asks to marry the one man who can give it to her. Farce or no farce, I can’t imagine a woman alive who still thinks this way, especially one who is supposed to be as successful as Desiree Le Bonque.

   

Adam Schulmerich and Tony Fiorentino star in Sex Marks the Spot, the incredibly funny political comedy playing at the Theatre Building Chicago Tony Fiorentino and Lisa Herceg star in  Sex Marks the Spot, the incredibly funny political comedy playing at the Theatre Building Chicago.

In a later scene, in which the truly talented Adam Schulmerich is forced to masquerade as Desiree, the scene escalates near to the point of rape, because of the supposed understanding that a denial of sex with the man in question will reveal that he is not, in fact, this woman. The scene is intended to be funny, but is actually one of the most disturbing scenes I have ever seen in a piece of live theater. It’s not the punchline of this joke that’s horrible, it’s the set up. It’s not the sex, or the sexualization, it’s the total lack of power and credibility this character has, and the information that the audience is supposed to take for granted, that makes for an extremely uncomfortable night of theater. Sex Marks the Spot is intended to be a comedy, but ultimately this is a play that is too far removed from humanity to parody the human condition.

  
  
Rating: ★½
  
  

Tony Fiorentino, Adam Schulmerich and  Maggie Graham star in  Sex Marks the Spot, the incredibly funny political comedy playing at the Theatre Building Chicago.

June 22, 2010 | 0 Comments More

Review: GL 2010 – Not Your Generic Latina (Teatro Luna)

Teatro Luna – Anything but generic!

  photo by Johnny Knight

   
Teatro Luna presents
      
GL 2010 – Not Your Generic Latina
  
Developed & Directed by Miranda Gonzalez
at
Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago (map)
through July 11  |  tickets: $15-$20  |  more info 

reviewed by Aggie Hewitt

Teatro Luna is a great theatre company. Billing themselves as "Chicago’s all Latina theatre company," Teatro Luna brings Latina actresses, writers and directors together to collaboratively compose all original material. Their new show, GL 2010, is styled as a review, made up of a series of vignettes, songs, and movement pieces. GL stands photo by Johnny Knight for Generic Latina, and shares a name with Teatro Luna’s first production. Although the material is all new, it is generated by the same idea as the original: what does the phrase "Generic Latina" mean?

As the audience enters, they are met with a particularly noticeable pre-show soundtrack, a hodgepodge of electronica music and samples from what sounds like a particularly dark telenovela. The walls of the set are absolutely covered with Spanish-language posters for movies, bands and night clubs; as well as a graffiti-style stencils of Mexican wrestling masks, ice cream trucks and Virgin Marys. The show starts with a bang, when a red jump suited audience member flies out of her seat and plows onto the stage to perform a high energy rap about her Latina experience, denying that there is anything generic about her at all. This opening number is representative of Teatro Luna at its very best: controlled, focused energy exploding with the joy of performance. After this first opening number, a gang of three mothers of adult children take the stage, a vignette that will be replicated twice during the show. The three women come from different Spanish speaking countries and discuss their cultural differences, and their shared worries about their children. Teatro Luna always takes its time to explore as many angles of Latina life as possible. The three mothers are vessels through which the culture is examined externally: the writer/performers themselves look at a part of their culture that they are much to young to experience and explore it like curious children, eager to show their findings.

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GL 2010 is more reserved than the company’s previous shows. With a cast that welcomes a few new writer/performers, GL 2010 has the intellectual weight one expects from a Luna show, but comes off as emotionally guarded. Scenes are generated from autobiographical stories, which has given a raw, emotional edge to past shows like Lunaticas. It makes sense that GL 2010 would become more  intellectual than emotional: the premise of the show is to investigate what a Generic GL 2010_007Latina means, and to blow up that stereotype – and external struggle rather than an internal one.

There are some emotional highlights in GL 2010, however. Lauren Villegas‘ courtroom monologue is emotionally stirring and captivating, and the rap performances that act as a Greek Chorus in this show manage to both contain lots of thought-provoking information and have a warm emotional side. Teatro Luna is at its best during large, vibrant group scenes although some of the larger numbers in GL 2010 aren’t quite fully realized. An ode to the nightmarish act of female body waxing has the potential to be a major show stopper, but its viewpoint is too weak to be very ratable.

The women of Teatro Luna are a powerful force, and the work they put into their collaborative shows is evident in their product. GL 2010 isn’t a perfect show, but Teatro Luna is one of the coolest theater companies out there.

   
   
Rating: ★★½
 
 
June 15, 2010 | 0 Comments More

REVIEW: The Better Doctor (Silent Theater Company)

Multi-talented performers struggle to find show’s unique voice

 

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Bootstraps Comedy Theater, in association with Silent Theatre presents
   
 
The Better Doctor
  
written and directed by Matt Lyle
at
Prop Thtr, 3504 N. Elston (map)
through June 26th  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

reviewed by Aggie Hewitt

Silent Theater Company’s gimmick is what it sounds like: theatre in the style of old silent movies. It opens the door for some awesome physical performances and it even creates a template by which to tell topical stories in a universal way. Such is the case with The Better Doctor, Matt Lyle’s new play about sick, broke kids and the heroic tramp Velma (Kim Lyle), who is dedicated to finding them healthcare.

better-doctor-3 The show begins when the musicians take the stage.  Eric Loughlin on piano and Chris Jett on percussion sit on either side of the stage, bookending the action. The show does not lack energy, or innovation. Matt Lyle, who also directs, comes up with authentic and entertaining bits. Old-fashioned showmanship takes over as the performers charm the audience with sleight of hand tricks and big, blown-out characters.

The plot is simple, campy and a direct throwback to the simplistic storylines that showcased the comedic genius of Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton, but with a new, political twist. There are ways in which the live-action adaptation of the stylized, antiquated form of silent movie performance works very well. The exaggerated physicality is extremely theatrical, and evokes the feeling of a classic mime routine. The performers take on the athletic challenge with aplomb and grace. Heather Forsythe, who is well utilized for a supporting player demonstrates a knack for physical comedy, and graces the stage with a youthful sass. Her performance, while presentational as her fellow actors, betrays the hint of grounded humanity that made Buster Keaton a true comedic master. The same can be said for lead actor Samuel Zelitch, who’s bumbling medical intern character is straight from the classics.

Kim Lyle’s performance is plucky and confident, and it’s nice to see a woman hero in this context. As Velma, she uses her brawn and wit to find medical care for the three sick little scamps, joining forces with a Buster Keaton-ish intern. The trap and the stone-face team up to fight the powers that be, in this case the wicked Chief of Medicine, played by actor/improviser Mike Brunlieb. The play unfolds in an episodic manor, similar to the silent films that inspired it. Although the scenes progress to create a fluid piece, this is better-doctor-5secondary; each scene’s primary purpose is to open the door for comedy bits.

Around three quarters of the way through, The Better Doctor begins to lag.  During the big chase scene, which gets off to a funny, if precious, start, ends up spiraling down a dark road. As the chase dissolves into a keystone cops parody, the The Better Doctor becomes a show that relies too heavily on a clever premise, without taking ownership of itself. The Better Doctor, while paying faithful homage to the silent greats, has too weak a grasp on its own voice. A silent play that is too stylistically referential, The Better Doctor is to be cutesy at times, and gimmicky at it’s worst.  Bootstraps Comedy Theater needs to revisit this play, and cultivate what is universally true about this show. A little more honesty, and The Better Doctor could be a four star show.

  
   
Rating: ★★½
 
 

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June 13, 2010 | 0 Comments More

REVIEW: Blue Man Group – Chicago

Turning an event into a celebration

 Photo by David Hawe

  
Blue Man Productions present
 
Blue Man Group
   
at Briar Street Theatre, 3133 N. Halsted (map)
Open Run  |  tickets: $54-$64  |  more info

reviewed by Aggie Hewitt

photo by David HaweBlue Man Group, with it’s on going shows in nine different international cities, 700 employees and a cumulative audience of 12 million plus and counting is certainly not hurting for press. In fact, after running at the Briar Street Theater since 1997, Blue Man Group is still selling out midweek performances. The show, which is self described, “modern vaudeville” combines technological elements like projected animation and LED screens, old-fashioned comedy and magic routines, as well as music made with tubes. And of course, all of this is presented by three hairless, earless Blue Men, or rather one Blue Man, played by three actors.

The three race-less men wander around the audience, exploring new the world around them as if they’ve never seen it before, staring into the eyes of their audience members trying to find a connection. The show, which is an entertainment extravaganza, and builds to a totally 90’s party atmosphere, is an exploration of how people communicate and relate in a world of mass media, information overload and cyber saturation. Blue Man Group is reputed to be a spectacle and not much else by some, when in fact, the show’s substance is thoughtful, solemn and at times very angry. The rave environment that the event turns into is not just about having a good time, it’s about people connecting on a primal level. By eliminating a narrative, Blue Man Group has created a performance that is entirely about a personal connection with their audience, from start to finish.

Most people are already familiar with Blue Man Group, even if they haven’t seen the show. Their act has been featured in newspapers and magazines, as well as heavy hitting daytime and late night talk shows. The technical proficiency of the actors is noted by the masses, and rightly so. The work that goes into the performance of this show is powerful, clean and honest.

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There is not question of the talent or the intelligence of this show; the question at hand is: how is a group of performance artists this weird this popular? With relatively few changes to the script since it’s creation, it’s hard to imagine how the show stays so fresh. It helps that the questions asked in the 90’s about technology and communication have only deepened as we’ve passed though the 2000’s. In their introduction to the tube instrument that the blue men famously plays, a video presentation introduces the concept. It reminds us that we live in a grid of interconnected channels so expansive that it’s size is virtually unquantifiable. What is the grid? Modern plumbing. Reminding us that we live in a community, that is actually physically connected by objects and things – as opposed to online data – may have  been a clever statement in 1997, but in 2010 it feels almost revolutionary. As  communication and information become ever increasing, these questions posed by 90’s artists become more and more relevant.

Photo by Eric McNattThe sheer entertainment of the piece is also a major factor. The show turns into a celebration, and it’s virtually impossible not to partake.

The smartest thing Blue Man Group does in terms of ensuring their sustainability is to make this show mind-numbingly fun. The show is not to be watched; rather, it’s to be experienced. This makes for a show that people will continue coming back to. Every audience member is involved in the show, and therefore has a personal relationship with it. Die hard fans of this show see it again and again, and something that is so hard to describe seems mysterious enough that hoards of new audience members are eager to find out what the story is with this enigmatic show.

Blue Man Group is a treat. It’s an event, and it’s enthralling. This show is a lot of spectacle, but with a lot of thought put into it as well. Perhaps most importantly, it’s the kind of show that makes people who don’t normally see theater get out and buy a ticket! Everyone wants to see Blue Man Group, the same way that everyone wants to see a big summer blockbuster. And the fact that this show manages to create something like this, and actually respect the intellect of their audience, might be one of the most notable theatrical feats of the 90’s, 2000’s and beyond.

   
   
Rating: ★★★★
 
 

Photo by Darbe Rotach


 

 

     
     
June 8, 2010 More

REVIEW: Feast (Albany Park Theatre Project)

This ‘Feast’ will leave you wanting more

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Albany Park Theatre Project presents
 
Feast
 
Written by the APTP ensemble
at
Laura Wiley Theatre, 5100 N. Ridgeway (map)
thru May 8th  |  tickets: $6-$18  |  more info

reviewed by Aggie Hewitt

Albany Park Theatre Project has proved to be one of the most exciting and all around cool theatre companies in Chicago. Founded in 1997 by artistic director David Feiner and his late wife Laura Wiley, the theatre company creates all original collaborative work feast_4with the youth of Albany Park. Their current production, Feast, uses movement, music and oral storytelling to create a truly unique piece of theatre.

After attending Feast, I talked to David Feiner on the phone, who told me that he and his wife set out to create community theatre that would “permanently establish a higher quality of art.”  When asked why they chose Albany Park, (Feiner and Wiley met as undergrads at Yale Drama School) he told me that the historically immigrant population and the “dearth of after school programs for teens” cemented in his mind that Albany Park was the ideal location for starting a new theatre company. After thirteen years in operation, Feiner said, “it’s just become home.”

Feast was created using a method unique to Albany Park Theatre Project: Rehearsals are run by an adult “directing team” made up of four core members.  The writing process begins with what Feiner calls, “assembling the script,” instead of writing, the actors embark on a near paperless process of discussion, improvisation and amazingly innovative field projects. The cast is grouped into teams, who are assigned  investigative duties. For Feast, all projects were centered around the theme of food. The teams were broken up and sent out to meet and interview butchers, street vendors, farmers and everything in between (including a team that investigated breast feeding). Feiner relayed that the group cooked together, learned about herding sheep and took a field trip to a lamb farm in central Illinois. Additionally, everyone involved in the show contributed pieces from their own lives by submitting to an interview about their “food autobiography.”  And as Feast involves a heavy dose of music and movement, a sound designer and percussion director/ choreographer were also brought in as collaborators on the production.

From the things the ensemble learned through this discovery process, the cast assembled performance pieces with improv, writing and roundtable analysis, and in doing so discovered amazingly rich and textured details about food cultures around the world.

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One of the best sections of Feast occurs in the first scene. A group of three teenagers playing characters close in age to themselves discuss their experiences with LINK cards. In  this piece, we meet a shy, sweet and gentle teen girl filling out a LINK application for her mother. The monologue is subtly hilarious, and very well acted. This fantastic gentleness is then complimented by the energetic bursts of another teenage girl, whimsically describing a grocery excursion she took to Aldi, all while offering an amazing acrobatic movement piece with a shopping cart. (Feiner told me that during rehearsal process, this young actress watched old tapes of Fred Astair and Ginger Rogers to help choreograph a waltz with her cart as her partner.)

Another jaw dropping piece involves a group of teenage boys relaying a story about a young boy and his cow. The central monologuist narrates as a group of teenage artists enrich the performance with cleverly orchestrated sounds.

The result of the culmination of work is a symphony of opinions that bring food stories from different cultures and times into a cohesive statement. This is a production that soars above expectations associated with words like “community theater” and “teenage production.” Albany Park Theatre Project has enough integrity, talent and focus to raise the bar of community theater.

 
 
Rating: ★★★½
 
 

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May 1, 2010 | 0 Comments More

REVIEW: The….Curse of Dragula (Even and Odd Theatricals)

Be who you are. Love what you do.

 

Ed Jones as Dragula2

 
Even and Odd Theatricals present
 
The Bloody Fabulous Curse of Dragula
 
by Duane Scott Cerny
directed by Mark Contorno
at Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark (map)
through April 23rd (more info | tickets)

Reviewed by Aggie Hewitt

At a drag show, one expects low budget, gritty in your face comedy and music. At The Bloody Fabulous Curse of Dragula, the low budget aspect is more church basement than back alley, and the jokes are traditional drag queen fare: raunchy as all get up and a throwback to vaudevillian one liners ("I’m still big," laments Dragula, "it’s the necklines that got small") and amazingly campy puns ("Does the Countess receive royalty?" "No, but she is expecting a check."). While Countess Dragula is an undead creature of the night who resides in a castle atop a mountain in Transylvania, this wacky spoof is more RuPaul than Rue Morgue. Dragula is equal parts a send up of Dracula and Sunset Boulevard. The Gloria Swanson-esque Countess swoons around her castle in a black jumper, costume jewelry, and a black turban,  remembering her glory days, bedding all the great actors of the silent Dragula and Max 1screen. She lives with her man servant/husband, a combination of Dracula’s Renfield and Sunset’s Max Von Mayerling, Max Von Tampon (Michael Miller).  Mr. Miller’s performance is a highlight of the night, with his unwavering and stoic commitment. Dragula herself is played by uber-muggy Ed Jones, and is confident with a very sweet side. Although his performance is inconsistant, Mr. Jones radiates the underlying joy of Dragula, a take it or leave it farce that requests of it’s audience only that they have fun. 

We meet the Countess as a washed up, depressed, attention and money starved vampire diva. Her luck changes one day when a handsome screenwriter Joe Studlione (David Besky) stumbles upon her castle while scouting locations (just go with it). Dragula sees her second chance at fame, and pays him to stay with her on the mountain top and edit her comeback screenplay. But, as in life, nothing good can last, and before she knows it, Dragula’s Deliverence-like extended family has barged into her life, hoping that she will open her heart and her pocketbook to them.  The crazy plot is complimented by nonstop punny, dirty, hit-or-miss jokes. Although avid drag fans will want more music (there is one lonely song in Dragula) playwright Duane Scott Cerny has made a point to pen a play starring a drag queen, not a just a drag show.

Countess Dragula’s castle is adorned with pictures of herself as a young movie star, as well as autographed photos of her celebrity friends (a signed head shot of Anderson Cooper reads "Thank you, Dragula. Thanks to you I can now take a 360." Whatever that means, it’s funny). A truly fabulous antique-looking velvet loveseat dresses the set, as does a small table, a few chairs and a long line of TV-dinner trays. In the limited (but versatile) space provided by Mary’s Attic, there’s not room for much more. Director Mark Contorno no frills staging gets the point across without major innovation (don’t forget, this show is in a bar).

Michael Miller plays Max with Dragula Ed Jones as Dragula

Dragula is not going to win any Jeff Awards. It probably wouldn’t even win RuPaul’s Drag Race. But it doesn’t need those petty things to have a good time. The Bloody Fabulous Case of Dragula encompases the absolute best aspect of drag performance: be who you are, and love what you do. Luckily for us, this cheerful cast does just that. 

 
Rating: ★★★
 

 

Starring Ed Jones & Michael Miller, with David Besky, Craig Conover, Dan Hickey & Lori Lee.  Written by Duane Scott Cerny. Directed by Mark Contorno

Previews begin March 18th thru 20th. Opens Thursday, March 25th thru April 23rd. All shows @ 7:30 pm – at Mary’s Attic Theatre, 5400 N. Clark, Chicago 1-773-784-6969
www.hamburgermaryschicago.com/attic.php

Tickets: $15.00 & $20.00. Call 1-800-838-3006 or www.BrownPaperTickets.com/event/96176

March 25, 2010 | 1 Comment More

REVIEW: Legion (Wildclaw Theatre)

 

Spooky special-effects; original music accent this horror-fest

 
 
Wildclaw Theatre presents:
 
Legion
 
adapted by Charley Sherman
directed by
Anne Adams
at
Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western Ave.
through April 18th
(more info)

Reviewed by Aggie Hewitt

The story of Legion, the sequel to “The Exorcist”, has taken many forms: first as a 1983 novel by William Peter Blatty, then as a film (The Exorcist III) and now it is a play, adapted by Wildclaw’s Artistic Director Charley Sherman, and presented by WildClaw Theatre.

WildClaw’s favored subject matter is the frightening and supernatural. When horror is done right it’s one of the most fun and satisfying types of show to see – the audience feels like a unified place when everyone is afraid of the same boogeyman.  The boogeyman here is two-fold. The string of murders that start Legion off match the M.O. of the Gemini Killer, who was supposed to have been killed twelve years before the start of the play. And of course being the Exorcist sequel, it must feature the worst villain in the history of literature: Satan. So what exactly is going on? Who is committing the murders? I’ll never tell…

Legion takes it’s name from a biblical quote that Blatty uses at the beginning of the novel The Exorcist: “Now when [Jesus] stepped ashore, there met him a certain man who for a long time was possessed by a devil … And Jesus asked him, saying, ‘What is thy name?’ and he said, Legion … “ Given the references to Mafia murders, the Vietnam war and the Holocaust that Blatty references after, it makes one wonder what exactly this Legion is. Is it’s the darkness and rage of humanity that makes this Satanic literary duo so terrifying? It’s not simply the devil. In contemporary society of different beliefs, cultures and mindsets, a biblical tale of demonic possession is not enough to strike fear into a universal audience. But you don’t have to believe in the Christian bible to think Legion is scary.

The main character, Lt. Kinderman is Jewish. His consistent references to kibitzes and Matzo are enough to make one a Meshugina, but the incorporating of a religion other than Christianity reminds the audience that this is a story about man, not God. Len Bajenski’s very endearing yet, (there is no other way to say this) Colombo-esque performance as the detective is more familiar than derivative and is a nice counter-balance to the heavy, daunting subject matter.

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Despite it’s serious side, Legion never forgets to be entertaining, especially with the over the top special effects skillfully done by Fraser Coffeen. The audience gets to witness the horrific crime scenes with Lt. Kinderman, bodies and all. Of course, the gore does not look real but there is a fun, campy theatricality to the poor victims in Mr. Blatty’s dark tale.

The adaptation takes great care to loyally mirror the book on stage, which can lead to information overload. Trying to cram the density of a novel into a two-act play is too much: too many characters, too many ideas, and too many subplots. Didactic speeches about the existence of God and the nature of man can be cut down substantially. The large cast still relies on double and triple casting of almost all of the actors, and the effect is confusing and overwhelming. Legion soars when it distances itself from the novel and finds its strength as an independent play. The best example of this is a comedia del arte inspired flashback to the childhood of the Gemini killer that is startling and extremely engaging.

The glue that holds this entire production together is the fantastic original music by Scott Tallarida. The screeching strings are reminiscent of the score from the movie Psycho. The music is both terrorizing and humorous, to a very entertaining end.

Director Anne Adams has made a creepy play. Her instincts about when to be campy and when to be down to earth are dead on. The staging of some of the larger group scenes are usually clean and precise, although some staging drifts into clutterdom. Not to give anything away, but Cheryl Roy is fantastically creepy in the ensemble and Scott T. Barsotti gives a performance that will make one jump in one’s seat – perhaps to one’s embarrassment.

Legion is a play that lives in the dark and the light: it’s political and scary and light and cinematic all at the same time. It’s unafraid to push the limits of on-stage horror to the maximum. While not a perfect production, this play hits all the right marks for a fun night out.

 
Rating: ★★½
 

 

   
March 18, 2010 | 0 Comments More