Tag: Alexander Gelman
Wilder’s final novel enchantingly dramatized
Organic Theater Company presents
|Written by Matthew Burnett
Based on the book by Thornton Wilder
Directed by Alexander Gelman
at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through June 26 | tickets: $29 | more info
Reviewed by Jason Rost
I, Theophilus North, quit my job!
This is the line we hear from the title character in Matthew Burnett’s marvelous dramatization of Thornton Wilder’s 1973 novel, “Theophilus North”. Many of us can relate to the liberation of quitting a job, be it in actuality or daydreams. Bryan Wakefield, as Mr. North, describes the feeling perfectly, “I feel like I’ve been released from a hospital after a protracted illness.” The story is in many ways autobiographical for Mr. Wilder. Mr. North hails from the great state of Wisconsin, as did Wilder. They both developed a desire to travel the world, something that Wilder did, only to realize later that the world exists wherever you are, not in some far exotic land. This is a theme found in Wilder’s Our Town as well as Theophilus North. However, the character of Theophilus North comes to this conclusion by staying put while Wilder himself did travel the globe to find that the cosmic reaches of the universe can exist within a small New England town just easily as Paris or a tropical island. Director Alexander Gelman’s production with Organic Theater Company is whimsically minimal and strikes all the nuances of Wilder’s tale with great wit and charm.
Instead of Grovers Corners, Theophilus North finds himself in Newport, RI. It’s meant to be a brief pit stop to make some extra money to travel the world with his newfound freedom. He states, “I find myself like Columbus, seeking funds in Ferdinand’s court before the great voyage.” He takes up a job as a tennis coach in town, despite having no experience in tennis. However, he meets his first student, Eloise Fenwick (another delightful performance from Kristina Cottone in rep with her role in The Naked King). She takes a liking to Mr. North despite his failed tennis skills and gets him a job teaching French to her pretentious brother, Charles (Colin Jackson). This leads to a string of jobs in which Mr. North finds himself deeply involved in certain upper class townspeople’s personal affairs through no attempt of his own to meddle.
He finds a job reading literature to a philistine woman (a multifaceted performance by Philena Gilmer) and unlocks her love of books, all the while teaching her philandering husband a lesson in marital appreciation through Shakespeare. North goes on to save a doomed marriage based on young lust from taking place. On top of all this, he teaches an old man (Ryan Massie) that he still has some life in him despite the claims of his daughter already counting her inheritance. After developing these relationships and learning the intimate details of the people of Newport, North comes to the realization that he is a part of the world there as much as anywhere. Perhaps what is most impressive about Burnett’s script is how quickly you forget that the lines are written by Burnett rather than Wilder himself. It’s a true excavation of the literary great.
Bryan Wakefield’s performance is brimming with confidence and restraint. North’s attachment to Newport is gradual; we can see the subtle shifts as Wakefield grows closer to these flawed yet lovely people. While the rest of this cast fills in the supporting roles eloquently, I couldn’t help but imagine how much more resonant the piece would play if there were a diversity in age throughout the cast. The twenty-some actor Ryan Massie impressively embodies the movement and mannerisms of Dr. Bosworth, but there’s a level missing when the role lacks the presence of an actor over 60. It’s not enough to take away from the production on a whole, or distract, it’s just enough to make you wonder how much greater of an emotional effect the play could garner with a few older actors in the mix.
Despite a degree of missed depth in age-blind casting, Wilder and Burnett’s story gets told most refreshingly. Melanie Parks’ costumes truly exhibit spring of 1926. They help differentiate the classes of characters very well, and the white/beige color scheme fits the era and the light nostalgia of the story exquisitely. This lovely Organic production merits an outing, especially for Wilder fans, to see this scarce-produced dramatization about discovering the world and adventure in the places and people around you.
Theophilus North plays in rep with The Naked King (our review) at the Greenhouse Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave (map), through June 26. Performances are Thursday thru Saturday at 8 pm, Saturday matinees at 3pm, Sundays at 3 pm. Tickets are $29. Running time is 2 hours, 20 minutes with one intermission. For tickets, call 773-404-7336 or visit www.organictheater.org.
Children’s theatre fluff not yet matured
Organic Theater Company Presents
The Naked King
|Written by Yevgeni Schwartz
Directed by Alexander Gelman
at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through June 26 | tickets: $29 | more info
Reviewed by Jason Rost
The idea of running a repertory company can provide several theatrical benefits, as it does in many European theaters. It allows the audience to see the same actors in different roles, gaining an appreciation for the craft, as well as allowing the ensemble to build strong chemistry. However, the key to making this work, and to maintain versatility in casting, is to have variety in your ensemble. With Organic Theater Company’s production of The Naked King, we instead get a cast of almost entirely white males in their 20’s. Throughout the production, there are several roles that would benefit from diversity in age and sex to add some depth to this fluff which the company surely is striving to do. For instance, while the male-in-drag characters are moderately funny, it’s not necessary to have each ‘lady in waiting’ played by a male actor. Actually, it’s funnier simply by juxtaposition if two are women and only one is a man in a dress.
Another symptom of a rotating repertory is that one show can come off noticeably more polished and rehearsed than the other. Playing in tandem with the delightful adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s Theophilus North, this cocktail of three Hans Christian Andersen tales in The Naked King is clearly a few steps behind. However, there are certainly moments of pure fun and humor in Russian playwright Yevgeni Schwartz’ 1930’s adaptation that Organic hits. It may just be that a few of the jokes have gotten lost, or lost their edge, in the adaptation from Russian to English. The stories chosen by Schwartz to intertwine are, “The Swineherd,” “The Princess and the Pea” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”
The play opens with our swineherd, Henrik (Jonathan Franklin) and his faithful sidekick Christian (Michael Kim Lewis). Henrik lures a clueless princess he has fallen in love with, Henrietta (a very talented Kristina Cottone, doing a lot with the stereotypical ingénue role), to his farm with the promise of a magic kettle. She naturally falls in love with the amorous young lad, even though they are from different classes. It’s the same old story, as her father, the king (Richard L. Gross) forbids their love and the kids run off. As the other plots of the fairy tales are encountered, they do more to muddle the plot than enhance it. However, there are funny bits throughout; especially Henrietta’s scripted insults Henrik gives her to dissuade another king from falling in love with her, in somewhat of a reverse-Cyrano situation.
Alexander Gelman’s staging helps keep the action afloat, utilizing every possible exit of the Greenhouse space to its full comedic potential. The examination of the weavers’ magical clothing is especially notable in one of the funniest physical scenes of the night involving invisible/non-existent clothing. The actors encountered a few hiccups in timing and fumbling of lines at the performance I attended. This is not to say this cast isn’t incredibly talented. Ryan Massie exhibits wonderful comedic timing, proving to possess the most innate ability to transform from character to character, including the king’s poet. The moments the performances fall flat may be a symptom of the repertory format. In Europe, casts will rehearse the plays for 6 months in this style of producing theatre. I can’t be sure, but The Naked King came off under-rehearsed in the end. Scenic designer Terrence McClellan’s 90’s neon-colored fun house frames are functionally smart, but the aesthetic lends itself to making the production more juvenile.
I can understand the attraction to doing this script as a group of artists. It has an immense possibility for fun, movement and freedom with familiar characters. Nevertheless, the script itself seems to have been too easy for this company as they tried to enhance it deeper than what exist on the page. The production wants to be an insightful look at these fairy-tales from our youth through adult eyes, but instead it comes off as a bunch of grown-ups running around acting like children with just a small handful of more ‘adult’ moments. Any one of the three individual stories shortened for a youth audience would be more effective. Schwartz’ collection is a constant hit-or-miss hodgepodge of tales that have seen much more wondrous adaptations on their own.
Organic Theater Company’s The Naked King continues through June 26th, with performances Thursday through Saturday at 8PM, with 3PM matinees on both Saturday and Sunday. Performances are located at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map). Tickets are $29 for each show. For more information visit: www.organictheater.org.
From Organic Theater’s homepage:
In the 1970s, when Chicago’s vibrant theater scene was earning the city a national reputation as the place to be for exciting new theater, few companies shone brighter than the Organic. It was quintessential Chicago theater, a mirror for its time. Today’s Organic Theater is still a mirror for its time, with a bold new vision and audacious new mission. At the Organic, you’ll experience sparkling new adaptations and world classics rarely seen in Chicago, performed in rotating repertory by a permanent company of artists. The new Organic is an adventure – artists and audience together exploring great stories, well told. (emphasis mine)
Sexual Perversity in Chicago
Bobby Gould in Hell
both by David Mamet
The $30,000 Bequest
by Mark Twain
Synopsis and creative/performing teams after the fold.
Performed in Rotating Repertory
May 28 – June 28, 2009
Greenhouse Theatre Center (map below)
Tickets: 773-404-7336, or buy online.
Map of the Victory Gardens Greenhouse Theatre Center, home of Organic Theatre’s 2009 Repertory Season
- Organic Theater’s MISSION STATEMENT
Organic Theater Company is committed to a vision of creating productions with a permanent group of artists over a sustained period of time and presenting them a rotating repertory.
This approach, while relatively unusual in the United States, is widely accepted in much of the Western world as the ideal way to make a body of theatrical work.
Rotating repertory creates the opportunity for a unique relationship between the company and its audience, one in which the same actor can be seen in a variety of roles over a short period of time. It also allows the actors to work as a single instrument, much like the world’s great orchestras and dance companies.