Tag: Allegra Gallian
Circle Theatre serves up a hilariously entertaining ‘Dinner’
|Circle Theatre presents|
|The Man Who Came to Dinner|
|Written by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart
Directed by Mary Redmon
at Madison Street Theatre, Oak Park (map)
through April 3 | tickets: $20-$24 | more info
Reviewed by Allegra Gallian
When an infamously demanding radio personality slips on the ice of his dinner host’s front stoop and is forced to take up residence against his will in their home for six weeks, among their various relatives, famous friend visitors and townsfolk, only madness can ensue. Such is the story of The Man Who Came to Dinner, currently playing at Circle Theatre.
The Man Who Came to Dinner begins with an energetic cast (maybe a little bit too energetic). While the show is a farcical comedy and over-the-top acting is to be expected, some performers, such as Mrs. Stanley (Patti Paul), wife of Earnest Stanley who are hosting radio personality Sheridan Whiteside, teeter on excessive overacting, which can be grating at times. Whiteside (Jon Steinhagen) starts off understated, delivering dryly bitter lines and insults in a rather hilarious manner. As the show progresses, we see Steinhagen begin to talk faster and faster which – though serving as a method of condescension to others – at times become hard to understand and just a tad grating. However, when taken as a whole, Steinhagen does a great job of embodying the character and fleshing Whiteside out.
Lorraine Sheldon (Heather Townsend) is also plagued by use of quick speech, but as she is a larger than life character, a famous actress friend of Whiteside’s who he’s invited to visit, Townsend’s bombasity works here, as Townsend uses not only her voice but her facial expressions and body language to bring Lorraine Sheldon to life.
Whiteside has traveled with his secretary Maggie Cutler (Kieran Welsh-Phillips), who keeps his life in order while he’s indisposed. Welsh-Phillips offers depth to the character of Maggie. She’s a presence on stage, speaking clearly and delivering her lines with confidence and knowledge of her character’s story. Maggie also falls in love while they are stuck at the Stanley residence with Burt Jefferson (delightfully played by Danny Pancratz), a newspaper reporter who has come in search of a story on Whiteside.
Harriet Stanley (Brooke Sherrod Jaeky), an ax murderer masquerading as Mr. Stanley’s sister, Nurse Preen (Katie Kisner), Whiteside’s nurse and Beverly Carlton and Banjo (Jerry Bloom), friends of Whiteside’s who visit, round out the list of standout performances. Jaeky is understated, creating a strange yet fascinating character. Kisner is rather comical as she attempts to deal with Whiteside’s temper tantrums and antics. Bloom takes on characters based on famous character men: Beverly on Noel Coward and Banjo on Harpo Marx. Bloom does a terrific job of paying homage to these characters as well as bringing his own take to the roles.
The set, designed by Bob Knuth, is quite ornately decorated. From the busily detailed wallpaper to the decorative window treatments to the proper-looking furniture and baby grand piano it’s clear that we’re in the home of wealthy individuals. A grand staircase leads to the home’s bedrooms and French doors lead to an (offstage) library. The attention to detail is exceptional and the set is visually interesting, a perfect backdrop for this performance.
The Man Who Came to Dinner proves to be an entertaining show and ends on a hilarious note that keeps the audience laughing as the actors take their bows.
The Man Who Came to Dinner plays at Circle Theatre (1010 W. Madison, Oak Park) through April 3rd. Tickets are $20 to $24 and can be purchases by calling (708) 771-0700.
Will the Hot Hero Club stop the villain from destroying their city?
|Corn Productions presents|
|Written and Directed by Miquela A. Cruz
at The Cornservatory, 4210 N. Lincoln (map)
through March 26 | tickets: $7-$15 | more info
Reviewed by Allegra Gallian
Nefarious is an adjective meaning extremely wicked or villainous. In Corn Productions’ of Nefarious!, written and directed by Corn Productions company member Miquela A. Cruz, the evil (or nefarious, if you will) supervillainess Lilith has something big planned for Metropalopolis on the one-year anniversary of her destruction of Miss Cosmo. It’s up to the Superstar Hot Hero Club, led by Mr. Bulleit and his sidekick Dr. Watts, to stop the launch of Pandora (2.0) and put an end to Lilith once and for all, saving their fair Metropalopolis!
Nefarious! opens with a musical number introducing all of the characters. It’s laugh-out-loud hilarious. Although it’s clear that this show is going to be cheesy and over the top, there’s talent on stage. The ensemble has a strong voice and, as mentioned, over the top characterizations. Not that this a bad thing here, as the characters need to be exaggerated in order for them to work, such as Mr. Bulleit (Matthew Gall), Dr. Watts (Andrew Bolduc), Anime (Kallie Noelle Rolison) and Yami (Justin Lance). These actors, as well as the rest of the cast, take their parts seriously but still know how to play and have fun with them at the same time.
While the singing of the ensemble is strong, solos are a little shaky. Lilith’s (Aasia Bullock) solo “One Day at Time,” starts weak and flat, but Bullock then finds her stride by the end of her song. However, she lacks a level of deviousness – for a character who’s supposed to be “nefarious” she should take the song further, playing up the evil villain archetype. Meanwhile, Brendan Stallings proves to raise the wicked-meter as Kayne, Lilith’s right hand man.
The third of four songs, “Best Friends,” sung by Yami (Lance) and Anime (Rolison) has some awkwardly choppy musical transitions. That said, Lance and Rolison are larger than life, keeping us laughing throughout.
Gall as Mr. Bulleit completely plays up the narcissistic superhero persona, which makes him a standout. Even though his solo “How I Love to Love Me” has some less than pitch-perfect moments, his charisma helps make up for it.
Being a superhero comedy, there is, of course, a plethora of fight scenes. The fight choreography by Orion Couling and Zach Meyer is great. It’s evident that Couling worked hard in his direction to make the fights seem as realistic as possible and make them engaging for the audience. While the fight scenes are captivating, the voice over scenes leave one’s mind wandering, waiting for the action to return to the stage.
The set in the intimately-sized theatre at the Cornservatory is set in an L-shape with simple set pieces. The backdrop of a cityscape is not overly fancy or showy and there’s plenty of open space for the multiple fight scenes that take place.
Nefarious! is billed as a musical, but with only four songs, the description is misleading. More (funny) songs are definitely in order. But in spite of that, Miquela A. Cruz’s writing is strong, with a plethora of jokes and one liners to keep the show chortling along. And the plot twists certainly make for an unexpected diversion.
In the end, Nefarious! if full of high-energy over-the-top performances that keeps the audience entertained throughout.
Nefarious! plays at the Cornservatory, 4210 N. Lincoln, through March 26 Wednesday through Saturday at 8:00 pm. Tickets are $7 on Wednesdays, $10 on Thursdays and $15 on Fridays and Saturdays. Tickets can be purchased by calling 312-409-6435.
Witty, fun show upended by uneven cast
|The James Downing Theatre presents|
|I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change|
|Book/Lyrics by Joe DiPietro
Music by Jimmy Roberts
Directed by Dale Hawes
at John Waldron Arts Center, Chicago (map)
thru March 6 | tickets: $15-$20 | more info
Reviewed by Allegra Gallian
Whether you’re in it, searching for it, hating on it or agonizing over it, love is always a favorite topic of discussion, and never fails to spark heated discussions or wistful storytelling. Love causes people to do crazy things, and no matter how many times people have been spurned by it, most find themselves right back out there hoping that this next first date will lead to “the one.”
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, a musical revue, explores the highs and lows of dating, relationships, marriage, children and everything in between. The show itself is clever and witty, humorously exploring the plight of single people, the highs and lows of marriage and what having children does to a married couple’s sex life.
James Downing Theatre’s production of I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change starts of well with the four-person cast (Micah Fortenberry, Elise Morrow-Schap, Elissa Newcorn and David Wojtowicz) singing the ensemble opening number. Each cast member shows off their personality and distinguishes their characterization right from the beginning.
As the series of vignettes and musical numbers continues, it becomes increasingly clear that the casting is uneven, causing an imbalance between the cast. The woman (Morrow-Schap and Newcorn) clearly outshine the men with both their musical talents and their strong stage presence. The woman belt out the songs with confidence and flair, showcasing their voices and offering genuinely touching or side-splitting moments with solos such as “I Will be Loved Tonight” and “Always a Bridesmaid.” Both Morrow-Schap and Newcorn are sassy and quick with the comedic timing.
Because the women are so fantastic, it makes it abundantly clear that the men are not on the same level. Fortenberry begins a little stiffly but does relax and eases into his characters as the show progresses. He becomes adorable as the “awkward guy” on dates. Yet his singing voice is not powerful enough to withstand the fullness of a musical revue. His voice isn’t bad by any means, but it lacks the power and depth to belt out number after number with force. Wojtowicz also lacks the depth in his voice to carry through the musical numbers. Perhaps it’s the character voices he uses, but his singing voice is less than stellar and his performances are dimmed by his fellow cast mates.
The costuming for I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change borders on high school musical costumes. In some scenes it looks like the actors have just brought in clothes to wear from their own closets and in other scenes the makeshift costumes look cheap and unfortunately visually detract from the performances. Some stronger direction and detail with costuming could have amped up the show.
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change finishes strong with an ensemble finale number. Though this production struggles to overcome its mismatched ensemble, the show itself proves to be witty and entertaining, finishing on a high note.
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change plays at the James Downing Theatre, 6740 N. Oliphant, through March 6. Tickets are $20 and $15 for seniors and students. They can be purchased at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/153540.
Cast and Production Team: Directed by Dale Hawes with Music Director, David Richards, the wonderful comically and musically talented cast includes Micah Fortenberry, Elise Morrow-Schap, Elissa Newcorn and David E. Wojtowicz. Lighting and sound design is by Steve Kedzierski. Set design is by Joshua Dlouhy.
Gangsters, Prohibition and Flappers – Oh my!
|Tommy Gun’s Dinner Theatre presents|
|Tommy Gun’s Garage|
|Chicago’s Only Original Roaring 20’s Speakeasy|
|at Tommy’s Speakeasy, 2114 S. Wabash (map)
Open Run | tickets (includes dinner): $60 | more info
Reviewed by Allegra Gallian
Prohibition. Flappers. Gangsters and bootleggers. The roaring 20s were a time when speakeasies were the place to be and the people who frequented them were happy and carefree. The illegal booze ran high and the hemlines got higher.
Tommy Gun’s Garage, a dinner theatre situated in the South Loop, embodies that heart and style of the roaring 20s. The whole theatre has been transformed into Tommy Gun’s Speakeasy with flappers and gangsters milling about, both serving the food and performing on stage.
The second you arrive you are greeted by Gloves, Da Boss’s right-hand-man. Once you give him the password to enter (yes, really) you are brought into the theatre where the actors are instantly in character, resembling mobsters who may have hob-knobbed with Al Capone himself. The men turn up the charm to schmooze the ladies and the girls laugh and dance around, swaying their hips to create maximum movement of their fringed flapper dresses.
The evening starts with a pre-show dinner, which offers a decent selection of entrees as well as appetizers, dessert and “hooch” (alcohol). The food is quite tasty (see menu) and comes in a timely fashion. As I said before, the actors and actresses double as the wait staff and keep in character throughout, whether on or off stage. The characterization is distinct and evident of the 1920s and it feels like the audience has been transported back in time. The setup is also conducive to social interaction and friendliness, so it’s easy to sit back, relax and make friends with all those seated around you as you share in the entertainment swirling around.
Once everyone’s been served dinner the show begins. In the form of a musical comedy review, the actor’s take the stage to entertain and sing. The show gets off to somewhat of a slow start but quickly picks up once the actor’s got in their groove. Vito “Da Boss” leads the audience through the show, introducing acts and performing as well. His characterization is as strong as his singing voice.
The energy stays high throughout the performance which, for the most part, boasts exuberant singing and dancing. (I found a few actors hard to understand – diction, people!). However, what may lack in the performance aspect is made up for in charisma. The actors and actresses – in particular Deuce, Vito and Officer Murphy – play well off one another and the audience. They are quick with the hilarious jokes and thinking on their feet. The show is interactive and the performers do a wonderful job of including the audience in on the frivolity, even bringing people on stage.
Musical numbers include popular standards the audience can sing along to such as “We’re in the Money,” “All That Jazz,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby?” The music is often accompanied by dances, like the Charleston, which is performed with the entire cast and is a joy to watch. The flappers really show off their talent with a rousing tap-dance number. If you’re lucky enough to find out the password from Da Boss, Tommy Gun’s Garage will definitely serve up an evening to remember!
17th-century satire is sly like a fox
|City Lit Theater presents|
|Written by Ben Jonson
Music composed by Kingsley Day
Directed by Sheldon Patinkin
at City Lit Theater, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr (map)
thru March 27 | tickets: $25 | more info
Reviewed by Allegra Gallian
Volpone, or The Fox, was written by Ben Jonson in the seventeenth century in just five weeks. It was first performed by the King’s Men at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in 1606. City Lit Theater’s production is the company’s fourth production of their 31st season.
Volpone tells the story of an old miser, Volpone (Don Bender) who, with his servant Mosca (Eric Damon Smith), fakes a deathly illness in order to convince a handful of wealthy men to shower him with expensive gifts after promising each that they are his sole heir. Bender fits into the part of Volpone like a glove. From his voice to his body language, Bender owns the part as well as the stage. Bender’s Volpone is slimy, greedy and everything you would hope to see from such a character. Likewise, Smith’s Mosca is simply entertaining as Volpone’s faithful servant. He plays up the character and is quite funny as he help to work over the wealthy men as they arrive to pay tribute to the “dying” Volpone. Smith, like Bender, understands just want is required of the character, and Smith is both charming and persuasive as Mosca, like a good salesman who could convince anyone man to buy anything he was selling.
Written in the 1600s, Volpone is written in Early Modern English, but the cast does a wonderful job of making the script accessible to the audience. That being said, the script’s dense at times, and while the energy continues to run high through the performance, the action can seem to drag at times.
Occasionally, Volpone calls on his fool (Ben Chang), Castrone (David Fink) and Androgyno (Chris Pomeroy) to entertain him. Equipped with musical instruments, these three sing and play and are a joy. They never fail to get the audience laughing with the lightness and humor of their performances. They are not the best singers but that fact is pushed aside because they’re so enjoyable to watch on stage.
The men whom Volpone tricks are Corvino (Alex Shotts), Corbaccio (Larry Baldacci) and Voltore (Clay Sanderson). These three men deliver exact portrayals of rich and greedy men who think themselves quite clever when, in fact, there are gullible and easily duped. All three men do a fine job, but Shotts in particular as Corvino takes his character over-the-top, not in an obnoxious way, but in a way that works for a satire. He’s very funny in his characterization and his body language.
For the most part the staging is fine-tuned, although Laura Korn, who plays Corvino’s wife Celia, is stiff in her movements and does not completely commit to her actions.
The set, designed by William Anderson, is simple in its style and coloring. With an art deco style set in the 1920s, the palate is of muted colors like brown, beige, blue and black, and there’s not a lot of flair. The simplicity of the set design offers a nice backdrop for the crazy antics of the show and does not detract from the performance.
Volpone plays at City Lit Theater, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr, through February 27. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased by calling 773-293-3682 or visiting citylit.org.
All photos by Johnny Knight
Love me or quit me?
|New Rock Theater presents|
|Make Me Love You (an evolution of love)|
|Conceived and Directed by Brandon Pape
Music performed by Paper Thick Walls
at New Rock Theater, 3933 N. Elston (map)
through Feb 20 | tickets: $15-$20 | more info
Reviewed by Allegra Gallian
Make Me Love You (an evolution of love), conceived and directed by The Verge Theatre’s Brandon Pape, takes a look at the various stages of love and how it affects those in it and those around it. Love is great while it’s good, but when it goes bad it’s like accidently taking a swig of that sour, curdled milk you left sitting in the fridge three weeks past its due date. With Valentine’s Day thrown into the mix, the Verge takes a look at the good, the bad and the ugly of love.
The set, designed by Andréa Ball, is a very industrial space. With scaffolding, exposed lights and wiring and plastic hanging around like drapes and curtains, it creates a cool warehouse vibe. It’s almost like walking into a found space that someone decided to use as a backdrop for their performance, without all the bells and whistles, fancy set pieces and all the flair. The set also provides a jungle gym of sorts for the actors to swing, run and climb around on as they perform, creating interesting visual levels for the eyes to follow and a perfect opportunity to break through the fourth wall separating cast from audience.
Make Me Love You is a combination of three short plays performed and intermixed with poetry by various artists, and music performed live by Paper Thick Walls. It’s an interesting combination of mediums used as a portrayal of relationships and love. The show comes at the notion of love from all angles, literally and figuratively, with the use of so many art forms as well as the actors moving about the space not only in front of the audience but on the sides, behind them and through the aisles. It’s a very visual and sensory experience that, at times, fully engulfs the audience in the action and pulls the emotion through them.
The cast (Kevin Anderson, Rebecca Drew Emmerich, Joe Sultani, Claire Alden, Wes Drummond, Atra Asdou, Tom Scheide and Cathlyn Melvin) does a fine job of keeping the energy high to the pace of the performance is steady and moves along well. Although it keeps moving, there are many points at which there seems to be a disconnect between one scene to the next or different actions. It’s understood the overall underlying theme of Make Me Love You is love and relationships, but at certain points this theme takes on too broad of scope, leaving me wishing for a more concrete arch that connects the various parts of the performance.
While appreciating the use of not only the short plays but the poetry and music with dance, some of the poems are powerful and fulfilling while others come across as just words repeated off a page with less force behind a meaning.
The performances by Paper Thick Walls and the choreography performed by the cast is interesting to watch and listen to but it is clear that not all of the actors are dancers so some movements are not as sharp.
It’s a welcome sight to see that Make Me Love You investigates not only mushy romantic love, but explores what happens when loves fades or makes people act in ways they never otherwise would. It plays into all of the different emotions that spring from love and relationships, taking the performance to different levels to keep the audience engaged.
Make Me Love You (an evolution of love) plays at the New Rock Theater, 3933 N. Elston, through February 20. Tickets are $10 general admission and can be purchased by calling (773) 639-5316.
Strong solo performance resuscitates lagging script
|Maya Productions presents|
|Written by Oren Neeman
Performed by Ami Dayan
at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map)
through Feb 20 | tickets: $18-$28 | more info
Reviewed by Allegra Gallian
Conviction, adapted from the novel “Confession” by Yonatan Ben Nachum, is based on true stories from the time of the Spanish Inquisition. In a time when Catholicism was the sole accepted religion – if you chose to ignore the rule it was punishable by death – the story of a Catholic priest renouncing his vows to marry a Jewish woman is a story worth telling.
The set consists of a black background on which actual Spanish Inquisition trial documents are projected. Very little set pieces fill the stage, save for a single desk and chair, a kneeler and a stack of black boxes. The rest of the stage is left bare, allowing the story to fill up the space, leaving ample room for Dayan to move around.
Conviction tells the story of Andrés Gonzáles (Ami Dayan), and is split between a 1960’s interrogation of a man who stole documents while researching a genealogy project, and Gonzáles confessing the sins of his story to his fellow priest and long-time friend in the fifteenth century. As the show begins, it’s clear that Dayan, though on point and very well prepared, is not immediately accessible. It feels like there’s a wall up between Dayan and the audience which has to be broken down. Over the course of the show, it eventually is, but it’s taken down brick by brick at times in the beginning. Once Dayan switches from interrogator to Gonzáles in the confessional, he really hits his stride and his characterization opens up to the audience.
Dayan is completely devoted to his character and his performance. He morphs into his character, shedding his actor persona and embodying fully the persona of Gonzáles. As he connects more to the audience,retelling the story of Gonzáles’s secret love affair with the Jewish woman Isabel and how he eventually renounces his role as a priest to marry her, he’s charming and intriguing. Dayan performs not only with his voice but with his whole body and his very animated facial expressions that help portray both the emotions and the actions of the story.
Despite Dayan’s powerful performance, however, the show tends to drag at points. Particularly in the beginning, the action is slow moving and dense. As Conviction progresses the action does begin to pick up the pace as Dayan settles into the character of Gonzáles, and becomes more captivating, moving the action along.
Conviction plays at Theatre Wit, 1229 W. Belmont, through February 20. Tickets cost $27.50 and can be purchased by calling 773-975-8150.
Metropolis succeeds in shining a light on special needs
|Metropolis Performing Arts Centre presents|
|The Boys Next Door|
|Written by Tom Griffin
Directed by David Belew
Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Arlington Heights (map)
through Feb 13 | tickets: $35-$43 | more info
Reviewed by Allegra Gallian
Arnold has decided that he’s going to move to Russia. Barry thinks he’s a golf star. Norman can’t stop eating donuts and Lucien is concerned that they don’t have any trees. These men are all roommates and they all have special needs. They’re looked after by Jack, the caretaker who works with them. Metropolis Performing Arts Centre’s production of The Boys Next Door, tenderly written by Tom Griffin, tells the story of how these five men’s lives are interwoven and the effect each man has on the other.
The set, designed by Adam L. Veness, initially consists of a typical-looking, unassuming front porch complete with shutters on the windows and a rocking chair out front. Painted a deep green, it looks inviting and charming. Once the show begins, the house opens down the middle like an oversized doll house to reveal the inside rooms, in particular the apartment the four men live in. Although moving the set piece is noisy, it’s an interesting visual to get a glimpse into the inner and outer workings of this building.
The Boys Next Door opens on the men having a typical day. Arnold (Andrew J. Pond) has been to the market and explains his trip as well as his condition as he understands it. He’s a “nervous person,” he says, and Pond is immediately charming and engaging. His characterization of Arnold is strong and humanized. Also introduced are Norman (David Elliot) and Lucien (Bear Bellinger). They are the two of the four men who live in the apartment. Both Elliot and Bellinger play their characters in a charming and lovely manner. It’s clearly evident that these actors did their research in order to learn every aspect of their characters and it comes across and genuine and believable. It’s not actors playing parts, but rather actors transforming into these new people and fully embodying these men. The fourth roommate is Barry (Adam Kander), who, like the rest, has been fully embraced and brought life. Kander carefully shows the cracks in Barry’s seemingly put together demeanor to reveal the true feelings underneath – you can’t help but feel for him.
As the men are going about their lives, Jack (Michael B. Woods), their caretaker, comes in to check on them. He is sweet and patient with these men; it’s evident he sincerely cares about them. Like the others, Woods put a lot of thought and consideration into his character. What makes him feel most genuine is the fact that he is not sugarcoated nor does Woods play him as such. Jack shows the audience all sides of his life, including the fact that he loses his temper on occasion with the men and that he is burning out in his current situation. Woods does a wonderful job of displaying the range of emotions, allowing it to feel like the audience gets a glimpse into the real life of this man.
Every week the men attend a dance, and it’s here where Norman meets his girlfriend Sheila (Denise Tamburrino). She’s sweet and lovely, although not as believable as the men in her characterization. Michelle Ziccarelli rounds out the main portion of the cast, playing the multiple characters of Mrs. Fremus, Mrs. Warren and Clara, distinctly defining each one.
David Belew’s adept direction keeps energy and emotion of the show moving at a quick pace. In fact, when Act I ended I looked at my watch and was shocked at how time had flown by. Same goes for Act II. Although the ending seems a little abrupt and like the action should continue, the pace is quick and the energy stays high the whole time.
The Boys Next Door waivers on that fine line between comedy and tragedy, pulling from both to create a touching, funny, sad and wonderful portrayal of how five men live their lives and what it means to have each other in their lives. They create a genuine emotional connection with the audience that both tickles the funny bones and pulls on the heart strings. Mostly importantly, the play never mocks or pokes fun at those with special needs, but simply offers a glimpse into their lives.
The Boys Next Door plays at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell St. Arlington Heights, Ill., through February 20. Tickets are $35 to $43 and can be purchased here. Read an excerpt from The Boys Next Door.