Tag: Ben Sussman
The perils of blogging while shagging
|Steppenwolf Theatre presents|
|Sex With Strangers|
|Written by Laura Eason
Directed by Jessica Thebus
at Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted (map)
through May 15 | tickets: $20-$73 | more info
Reviewed by Paige Listerud
Steppenwolf Theatre’s remount of Laura Eason’s Sex with Strangers, which enjoyed its first success during their 2009 First Look Repertory of New Work, is framed as another installment in their seasonal exploration of the public and private self. Now if only Eason’s play had the depth and strength to take on that weighty mantle. As is, Sex with Strangers is a nice and gentle play about an older generation’s discomfort with a younger generation, their new technological toys, and the exponential expansion of sexual frankness as the result of those toys. The play might “spark dialogue” about where the private self has gone in this internet age but it will hardly give body, clarity or insight to that discussion.
As a result, the play is rather tepid and pleasant but just as easily forgettable. Shy, neurotic and old-school novel writer Olivia (Brenda Barrie for our performance) runs into brash, young, self-promoting blogger Ethan (Stephen Louis Grush) at a writer’s retreat. She’s completing her second novel many years after her first and Ethan, who’s compiled his blog of sexual exploits into a bestselling book, has arrived to work on the screenplay for which he already has a Hollywood contract. The scenario is set for seduction—something the audience can see coming a mile away. But Olivia’s seduction isn’t just about booty calls or–what’s that old 70s phrase? The “zipless fuck”? Olivia is introduced, through Ethan, to the whole world of blogging, social media, and no longer relying upon the gatekeepers, i.e., critics, or those dinosaur editors of print publishing.
It’s sad that we don’t get to know these characters beyond their types. Sadder still is that the chemistry between Barrie and Grush is just not believable. Their relationship has be to set up fast so that the rest of the play can continue—one accepts their sexual interaction just to let the story unfold—but by far there isn’t enough of an instantaneous connection of passion between them to make their relationship credible. Grush is a dynamic actor who gives Ethan’s impetuousness and arrogance the right balance of self-effacing candor. Barrie, meanwhile, has the nuance to convey Olivia’s introverted low self-esteem down pat, but missing is Olivia’s sexual, as well as intellectual, allure. If Olivia is the kind of character who only reveals herself on the page, it’s no wonder that even after the first act she seems a kind of cipher.
So far all the you-know-the-internet/I-don’t-know-the-internet stuff is concerned, that’s really just fluff on top of a much older kind of story about the fickle nature of fame and success, about the envy that springs up between friends over who is making it in their careers and who isn’t, about who has more power in the relationship and who doesn’t. While this is the real dynamic of Ethan and Olivia’s relationship, it’s one in which the characters sleepwalk their way through, never pausing to observe themselves, what they are doing with each other or why.
Plus, Sex with Strangers sets up a strange dichotomy between what’s old and young but then fails to examine that dichotomy or whether it’s even valid.
Ethan falls in love with Olivia in part because of the excellence of her writing. So, the older writer is associated with excellence while Ethan’s blog is emblematic of flash-in-the-pan dreck that gets rewarded with fame and success. Missing from the play’s interrogation is any recollection of old school pulp novelists and young, excellent, intelligently written blogs—or intelligent blogs written by oldsters. Gone is any acknowledgement that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of writers old and young out there who may be every bit as talented, if not more, than the august Olivia—not all of them are going to get publishing contracts, even with a blog to promote their work.
The simplicity of Eason’s set-up is also her play’s downfall. No doubt, many in the audience will find her dialogue humorous and enjoyable, but whether this play will be remembered more than the usual date movie rom-com is anyone’s guess.
Artistic Director Bonnie Metzgar Announces 15th Season
Including Three World Premieres, New Artistic Associates, and XYZ Festival
Celebrating the 15th anniversary of About Face Theatre, it looks like Artistic Director Bonnie Metzgar and new Executive Director Jason Held have upped the ante for the start of their next 15 years. Included in the upcoming season is Float by Patricia Kane, Pony by Sally Oswald and The Homosexuals by Phillip Dawkins, are their second annual XYZ Festival of New Works,
About Face is excited to roll out our 15th anniversary with a season that examines individuals at the precipice of change,” says Bonnie Metzgar. “As our organization and society at large both make pivotal choices, this season looks at the risks and exhilarating possibilities available to us in periods of transformation.
The XYZ Festival will introduce Chicago audiences to the most innovative LGBTQA artists and artworks at all stages of development. Presented over the month of October, projects will include a workshop production of TINY ROOMS by Carson Kreitzer, and new works from AFT About Face Artistic Associates Tanya Saracho and Patrick Andrews, as well as a performance lounge series featuring AFT Artistic Associate Dan Stermer’s performance art/dance trio Double DJ, curated by AFT Marketing Director Jane Beachy. From the hundreds of scripts received for the XYZ Readings Series, four new plays by acclaimed emerging playwrights round out the festival.
November 11 – December 12
FLOAT, a new play written by About Face Theatre (AFT) Artistic Associate Patricia Kane and directed by 500 Clown founder Leslie Danzig with dramaturgy by Jessica Thebus. The all-female cast includes Wendy Robie, Adrianne Cury, Peggy Roeder, Rengin Altay and AFT Artistic Associate Amy Matheny. FLOAT will run from November 11 – December 12 at Theater Wit (1229 West Belmont).
In April/May, About Face Theatre will present the world premiere of PONY by Sally Oswald, a play inspired by Georg Büchner, at the Chopin Theatre. Directed by Bonnie Metzgar, PONY will be featured as part of The Woyzeck Project, a city-wide festival hosted by About Face Theatre, The Hypocrites, and Collaboraction in which artists around the city will produce hybrid works inspired by the classic anti-war play. Set near the location of the famous murder scene in Woyzeck, PONY is a tale of shifting gender roles and the dangers of obsessive love.
About Face Theatre will conclude its season in June/July with The Homosexuals by Chicago playwright Phillip Dawkins, starring Patrick Andrews at Victory Gardens Studio. The Homosexuals presents the interwoven lives, friendships, and relationships among six homosexual men over six years. Set at present time in a Midwestern city, Dawkins’ comedic and heartbreaking work examines the fears, doubts, and hope among the gay community in a 21st century perspective on the queer classic, The Boys in the Band.
About Face Theatre’s 15th Anniversary Season exemplifies how far the LGBTQ community has come from being defined by one issue to being seen as complex. In our 15 years, AFT has given voice to that changing dialogue around issues facing the queer community. As we move forward, we understand the need to bring the conversation around sexuality and gender to all people,” says Executive Director Jason Held.
Beckett’s got game
|Steppenwolf Theatre presents|
|by Samuel Beckett
directed by Frank Galati
in the Downstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted (map)
through June 6th (more info)
reviewed by Barry Eitel
If there was an emblematic play of the 20th-century, it very well could be Samuel Beckett’s Endgame. The play captures defining aspects of the past hundred years: the unspeakable horror, the monotony, the inclination towards self-reference. The human crisis is all there, presented as a 75-minute nihilistic chess game (sort of). Steppenwolf throws some of their best talent at Beckett for their production of Endgame. Frank Galati directs, and the play features Ian Barford, William Petersen, Martha Lavey, and Francis Guinan. Steppenwolf concocts a recipe for on-stage brilliance—great theatre artists working with one of the greatest playwrights of all time. The existentialism sure can get depressing, but the talent involved here is a marvel.
Beckett’s earlier Waiting for Godot is far more accessible and probably more inherently funny. I would put forth, though, that Endgame is the better play. It’s more primal, more desperate. Complete despair looms just out of reach. The world is dense and merely getting through each day seems the ultimate goal for everybody. This is still pretty hard—one guy can’t stand, one guy can’t sit, and two folks are amputees living in garbage cans.
Galati doesn’t throw any crazy tricks at the play; there is nothing here that would invite legal action from the Beckett estate. Hamm (William Petersen), the protagonist as Beckett points out in his character description, sits blind and regal in a throne/DIY wheelchair. His parents, Nell (Martha Lavey) and Nagg (Francis Guinan), live in non-descript trashcans. They’re all serviced by the only mobile inhabitant, Clov (Ian Barford). In typical Beckett fashion, Sammy has constantly denied that the play is post-nuclear apocalypse. James Schuette’s drab set tiptoes around this fact, however, and places the play in an underground room that looks a lot like a fallout shelter. The set works wonders for the play; Schuette doesn’t distract from Beckett’s language but still throws in his own thematic two cents (the dingy room also looks uncannily like the inside of a face).
Petersen and Barford conquer the stage with their intricate chemistry. The relationship between Hamm and Clov is one of the most complex and layered ever penned for the stage. Seen through the chess-metaphor lens, Hamm is a losing king, commanding around the only pawn he has left. But Hamm also suggests ‘hammer,’ and Clov is often linked to the Latin word for ‘nail’ (clavus, for the Latin nerds out there—Nag and Nell’s names also connect to various European terms for nail). And no one can deny the father-son dynamic between the two.
For the past few year, Petersen seems set on proving that he’s not just a television actor by treating Chicago to wonderful performances in Dublin Carol (our review ★★★½) and the considerably twisted Blackbird (our review ★★★½) at Victory Gardens. Even though he is stationary and clad in sunglasses, Petersen glides through Beckett’s world as the lonely king. It’s a delight watching him play off Barford, who makes an infinitely relatable Clov. Stuck in a metal drum, Guinan commands our attention whenever he pops open his lid. He’s an ancient relic yet as helpless as a child. For the short bit she’s in, Lavey does good work feeding on Guinan’s vulnerability and hot temper.
Galati clearly knows this game. However, the production seems to favor the philosopher Beckett instead of the clown. While this forces us to contemplate our own mortality (isn’t this everyone’s ideal Friday night plan?), everything gets a little too mired in the existential muck. As bleak as it is, though, there is a ton of genius at work over at the Steppenwolf right now. It is well worth a glimpse, even if you also have to stare at your own imminent demise.
About Face Theatre’s ‘Winesburg, Ohio’ Musical Opens in KC
Eric Rosen, who wrote book and lyrics for Winesburg, Ohio, directs the musical based on the novel of the same name by Sherwood Anderson about the desire, hopes and dreams of this small Midwestern town’s residents. Performances continue through April 5th at Spence Theatre, one of the performances spaces of Kansas City Repertory Theatre .
The project marks the final Kansas City production of beloved local musical director Molly Jessup, who died March 15 at the age of 66, after a battle with cancer. The music (and additional lyrics) by Andre Pluess and Ben Sussman “is based on a century-old American folk style that is steeped in the land and the people of the Midwest and evokes memories of earlier and simpler times.”
The show was conceived by and developed in collaboration with Jessica Thebus. Winesburg, Ohio had a successful run in Chicago, where it was created, and received a Joseph Jefferson Award for Best New Play. A subsequent production in Philadelphia won the Barrymore Award for Best Musical.
The cast of Winesburg, Ohio includes Nancy Anderson (Broadway’s Wonderful Town) as Alice Hindman; Lesley Bevan (of the show’s world premiere for About Face/Steppenwolf Theatre and the Arden Theatre production in Philadelphia) as Kate Swift; Leslie Dennison (of Broadway’s City of Angels) as Elizabeth Willard; Seth Golay (the Rep’s A Christmas Carol, The Pirates of Penzance and The Front Page) as Seth Richmond; Gary Holcombe (the Rep’s in The Drawer Boy) as Wing Biddlebaum; Gary Neal Johnson (an artistic associate at the Rep who has appeared in many productions) as Tom Willard; James Judy (Broadway’s Into the Woods) as The Writer; Jessalyn Kincaid (making her Rep debut) as Young Elizabeth; resident actress Ashlee LaPine (Our Town at Coterie Theatre ) as Helen White; Geoff Packard (an understudy in Broadway’s The Phantom of the Opera and the national tour of Wicked) as George Willard; Chicago actor Jeff Parker as Rev. Curtis Hartman, a role he created for the original Steppenwolf Theatre Arts Exchange production and the full-length version for About Face Theatre; Bruce Roach (the Rep’s A Christmas Carol and To Kill a Mockingbird) as Joe Welling; John-Michael Zuerlein (making his Rep debut) as Enoch.
The musicians are Ryan Fisher (guitar I), Aaron Fry (guitar II), Michalis Koutsoupides (conductor/piano), Rick Willoughby (bass) and Michael Winer (violin). All but Fisher, who is from Chicago, are Kansas City performers.
The creative team for Winesburg, Ohio is Molly Jessup (music director), Jack Magaw (set designer), Janice Pytel (costume designer), David Lander (lighting designer), Joshua Horvath (sound designer) and Jennifer Martin (choreographer).
For more information call the Rep box office at (816) 235-2700 or visit www.kcrep.org.
Courtesy of Kenneth Jones of Playbill Online. Photo by Don Ipock Photography
Winesburg, Ohio Opens At Kansas City Rep On 3/20, BroadwayWorld.com