Tag: Billy Fenderson

Review: First Look 2014 – “Hushabye” “Ironbound” “Okay, Bye” (Steppenwolf Theatre)

Billy Fenderson and Lusia Strus star in "Ironbound" by Martyna Majok, directed by Daniella Topol, part of Steppenwolf Theatre's "First Look Repertory 2014". (photo credit: Emily Schwartz)        
First Look 2014

Written by Tanya Saracho, Martyna Majok,
    and Joshua Conkel
Directed by Yasen Peyankov, Daniella Topol,
     and Margot Bordelon
at Steppenwolf Garage, 1624 N. Halsted (map)
thru Aug 24  |  tickets: $20   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
                   Read review 

August 15, 2014 | 0 Comments More

Review: This Is War (Signal Ensemble Theatre)

Courtney Jones and Dylan Stuckey star in Signal Ensemble Theatre's "This Is War" by Hannah Moscovitch, directed by Ronan Marra. (photo credit: Johnny Knight)        
This Is War 

Written by Hannah Moscovitch
Directed by Ronan Marra
Signal Ensemble Theatre, 1802 W. Berenice (map)
thru Sept 28  |  tickets: $15-$20   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
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September 1, 2013 | 0 Comments More

Review: Measure for Measure (Goodman Theatre)

Alejandra Escalante and Jay Whittaker star in Goodman Theatre's "Measure for Measure" by William Shakespeare, directored by Robert Falls. (photo credit: Liz Lauren)       
Measure for Measure 

Written by William Shakespeare 
Directed by Robert Falls
at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn (map)
thru April 14  |  tickets: $25-$86   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
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March 19, 2013 | 5 Comments More

Review: Hamlet (Writers’ Theatre)

Scott Parkinson (Hamlet), Shannon Cochran (Gertrude) and Michael Canavan (Claudius) in Writers' Theatre's "Hamlet", directed by Michael Halberstam. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)        

Written by William Shakespeare 
Directed by Michael Halberstam 
at Writers’ Theatre, Glencoe (map)
thru Nov 11  |  tickets: $   |  more info
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September 21, 2012 | 1 Comment More

Review: Arcadia (New Leaf Theatre)

A scene from New Leaf Theatre's "Arcadia" by Tom Stoppard, directed by Jessica Hutchinson. (photo credit: Tom McGrath)       

Written by Tom Stoppard  
Directed by Jessica Hutchinson  
at Lincoln Park Cultural Center (map)
thru June 16  |  tickets: $15-$25   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
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May 19, 2012 | 1 Comment More

Review: East of Berlin / The Russian Play (Signal Ensemble)

Melanie Keller and Tom McGrath  - East of Berlin, Russian Play - Signal Ensemble       
East of Berlin and
      The Russian Play

Written by Hannah Moscovitch
Directed by Ronan Marra 
Signal Ensemble Theatre, 1802 W. Berenice (map)
thru Nov 13  |  tickets: $20   |  more info

Check for half-price tickets 
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October 19, 2011 | 1 Comment More

Review: Fifth of July (Infamous Commonwealth Theatre)


Faithful revival of heartfelt Lanford Wilson


Fifth of July at Infamous Commonwealth Theatre Chicago

Infamous Commonwealth Theatre presents
Fifth of July
Written by Lanford Wilson
Directed by Edward Morgan
at Raven Theatre West Stage, 6157 N. Clark (map)
through July 10  |  tickets: $10-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Jason Rost

Lanford Wilson, who recently passed away this past March, was a master of capturing his audience’s heart while incorporating political and wry humor into the mix. This is most evident in his Pulitzer Prize winning play, Talley’s Folly. However, that play could not have been written if not for the first play in his Talley Trilogy, Fifth of July, now on stage at the Raven Theater in a faithful revival by Infamous Commonwealth Theatre Company.

Fifth of July, while being the first play written in the Talley Trilogy, is actually the final play chronologically in the story of the Talley family in Lebanon, Missouri. Sally Friedman (deftly played by Joanne Riopelle) is a supporting character here as family and friends of her nephew Kenneth (Stephen Dunn), a paraplegic gay Vietnam vet, gather at the family home to scatter the ashes of the deceased Talley patriarch, Matt. Kenneth has become reclusive along with his horticulture-nut boyfriend, Jed (played by Billy Fenderson, who adds some wonderful lightness to an often morose group of characters), who encourages Kenneth to take a job teaching English at the local high school despite his surrender to the real world.

A scene from Infamous Commonwealth's "Fifth of July" by Lanford Wilson. (photo: Paul Metreyeon)The other visitors to the house include Kenneth’s sister, June (Whitney Hayes) and her daughter, Shirley (a perfectly cast Glynis Gilio) who is fourteen going on thirty. Also at the home are Kenneth and June’s friends from their unruly Berkeley years, Gwen (Erin Myers) and John (Josh Atkins). Their connection and history is slowly revealed, some aspects more predictable than others. Gwen and John have an ulterior motive for coming to the Talley home, in that they are hoping to buy the house to be used as a recording studio for Gwen’s fledgling country music career. Roy Gonzales is thoroughly entertaining as her spacey unpredictable guitar playing groupie, Weston.

There is such a strong sense that much has happened before this play, it’s a wonder that Wilson wrote this piece first, never intending it to be a part of a trilogy. It’s a common belief that Wilson only wrote the other two pieces in the Talley Trilogy because Mary Carver, the original Sally Friedman, wanted more background information for her character in Fifth of July. It skates upon background information in such a way that watching it as a stand-alone play can leave you feeling slightly left out, having a bit of catch up to do. The relationships are not laid out on the table in a contrived exposition.

Morgan’s direction is most noticeable in its fine pacing and structure. Dunn captures the defeatist nature and ultimate rejuvenation of Nathan subtly and honestly. Wilson’s writing can allow for languishing, but the actors clip along. Joe Court’s sound design provides a perfect soundtrack to the time period, reckoning the music of the rebellious 60’s which many of these characters are strongly connected to. Ashley Ann Woods’ scenic design fills out the Raven space expertly in creating the worn vastness of the Talley house. One small detail I noticed that distracted on the design spectrum was a bag of Scott’s fertilizer. It was the only element on stage that was clearly out of the appropriate time period with its computer graphic design on the contemporary bag. While not wholly taking away from the play, Wilson’s plays are deeply set in their time and every last detail should fit in the world. Analise Rahn, however, makes no missteps in her accurate and telling costume design, including a perfect dress for Shirley.

While this is a faithful revival of Wilson’s work, it doesn’t necessarily take many risks. Morgan gives us a crisp clean production that simply tells the story. A few more eccentricities throughout the cast may have aided in adding more intrigue to this family drama that is light on highly dramatic events. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting and transportive look into what the rebellious generation of the 60’s turned into a decade later. Many gave up their fight, and some held onto it. Resentment against Vietnam vets lingered on, as is evident with Kenneth, who made the decision not to run from the draft. It was a turbulent time, which is a point only hinted upon in Wilson’s play. With Shirley we see the next generation arising in the 80’s as she shouts at one point, “Me, me, me!”

Rating: ★★★

Fifth of July runs at the Raven Theatre Complex through July 10th. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 8:30 PM, and Sunday at 3:30 PM. Tickets are $15 student, senior, industry and $20 general. There is a special $10 performance on Sunday, July 3rd. For tickets and more information visit infamouscommonwealth.com or call 773-516-4528.                                        

      Photos by Paul Metreyeon  

June 22, 2011 | 0 Comments More

REVIEW: Hesperia (Right Brain Project)

An Exploration of Love and Trust



The Right Brain Project presents
Written by Randall Colburn
Directed by
Nathan Robbel
RBP Rorschach Theatre, 4001 N. Ravenswood (map)
through August 14th  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

The Right Brain Project is staging an intriguing production called Hesperia. This show exposes how love, friendship, and trust transcend class and social mores. The playwright, Randall Colburn, takes these themes and puts them smack dab in post-modern America, offering up some interesting musings on what happens to those who buy into the American Dream and the underbelly of that dream.

Right Brain Project's "Hesperia" by Randall Colburn In the opening scene we are introduced to Claudia and Ian played by Natalie DiCristofano and Billy Fenderson respectively. Ian has shown up at Claudia’s door in the small town of Hesperia not far from where they grew up. Ms. DiCristofano is a sylph-like beauty that exudes vulnerability and a hard edge at the same time. The character of Claudia is has come to this town to shake off her past as a porn actress. She is now a born again Christian and engaged to marry the youth minister at the local church. Billy Fenderson also has a wonderful edge as a man who is trying to escape the past but perhaps got in deeper than he should have.

Claudia and Ian are childhood best friends and were partners in porn apparently working only with each other. The porn career for both of them seems to have been done on a lark or a childish dare that got out of hand. Claudia has escaped, but there are thugs on Ian’s trail. Being saved or born again is an escape for both characters – but who really takes it to heart is the lingering question for both of them.

Claudia is engaged to Trick whose real name is Trevor. The nickname is a result of youthful horsing around with language. It is an interesting choice for the character considering his fiancée’s former profession. (I wonder if the playwright was going for homage to Tennessee Williams with the double entendre.) Nick Freed plays the role of Trick with an endearing innocence and country boy energy. He keeps the energy level high, especially when drilling young Aaron for the state Bible Bee. It is a finely balanced portrait of fundamentalist America without the judgmental sneer that is evident in other works, and Nick Freed embodies the innocence and the frustration of having been anointed in the ministry. Trick tells Claudia that his gift is discernment that comes into play when Ian shows up and tries to reclaim his small town past. Trick accepts without judgment and with a trusting open heart. Claudia knows better in spite of her innocent past with Ian.


ClaudiaTrick01 Hesperia06

Trick fixes Ian up on a date with a nice girl from church named Daisy, played by Katy Albert with a refreshing country girl sexiness, looking clean scrubbed and apple cheeked like a 50’s Ladies Home Journal girl. Daisy is instantly smitten with the new boy in town, no doubt unaware of his extensive experience. Albert and Fenderson have good chemistry; the post date with the two of them is timed perfectly and staged with a voyeuristic flair. The sex scene is done well, with an edge of discomfort and shame. Surprisingly it’s Trick that feels the shame while Daisy wants him to stay.

The one chink in the play is the character of Aaron. It’s played well by Danny Mulae, but feels like a throwaway device for shock effect. Aaron finds a DVD of Claudia and Ian’s early work. The interaction between Ian and Aaron feels somehow false. Trick’s character alludes to Aaron starting to show interest in sex and then the boy comes off like the “bad seed,” interrogating Ian about the film. Also, some of Mr. Fenderson’s lines get lost due to either odd staging or poor enunciation.

This drawback really should be remedied because Ian’s character is open for judgment and it could be made clearer regarding why he should not be judged harshly. By the time the wedding of Trick and Claudia takes place Ian has been picked up by the thugs calling for him from California. Everything falls into place for Claudia, but did she turn on her former best friend or did he willingly return to his former life:  The matter is not easily resolved in a neat package, which is more realistic than Ian settling down with Daisy and popping out the kids. It is also Hesperia Photosatisfying that Trick and Claudia don’t have an instant sexual connection on their wedding night. Claudia has more experience but doesn’t want the same feelings from before. It is honest, painful, funny, and wonderful to observe.

Throughout the production the actors are confined to a small stage with seating around the perimeter, remaining on stage during other scenes. The actors remain in character with the emotional impact from the previous scene remaining fresh. This is a contemplative work that requires that the audience focus on the actors’ subtleties. The sparseness of the stage is a good choice as is the audience seating. I don’t know if it was deliberate but the backless seats caused me to be more in tune with the play. It took effort and concentration to sit comfortably as well as watch the stage. It is an integrative approach at best, and I felt for the actors having to be still and not drown in sweat without a stage exit. Here’s my heartfelt wish for a better air conditioner-you all deserve one!

Rating: ★★★

Hesperia plays Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00pm through August 14th at RBP Rorschach Theatre, 4001 N. Ravenswood. The theatre is easily accessible by CTA or Metra. Call 773-750-2033 or go to www.therbp.org for tickets or more information.



July 20, 2010 | 0 Comments More