Tag: Irene Marquette
Rich Girl Gone Bad—Really, Really Bad
|Annoyance Theatre presents|
|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.
* Review #2 after the fold *
Biblical madness paired with sardonic revelry makes for a musical of Biblical proportions
Right on the heels of Gay Pride Month, Annoyance Theatre puts up a raucous riff on the Biblical tale of Sodom and Gomorrah. Naturally, any theater with a full service bar and a long history of shock-theater doesn’t need to go further than gay jokes or fart jokes. But Sodomites! director Sean Cusick and his partners in crime, writer James Asmus and lyricist Mike Descoteaux, have crafted a sly dissection of the usual right-wing fundamentalism towards the Old Testament and set it all to music to make it go down with jovial ease. In this production, witty lyrics, anachronisms, and fast-paced lines critique our modern day culture wars—bringing this high-energy, lowbrow show dangerously close to satire.
Maybe Sean Cusick’s past holds the key to this blend of bawdy theology. He majored in philosophy and political science at Tufts University, and then went on to improvisation out of a need for an unrestricted outlet. “I had no discipline for acting. But I learned a lot from Second City about saying something while going for laughs.” It was James Asmus who called with the idea for the musical. “James, Mike, and I came up with the skeleton for the show over a few lunches. Mike knew all the Biblical verses by heart, so there was no need to explain to him what we were going for.”
You can still get drunk and watch the show, but it’s almost better if you don’t so that you won’t miss all the cunning details. The archangels Michael and Gabriel are ordered by God to seek out “one good man” from the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah or God will wreak destruction upon them. The trouble is that Michael and Gabriel are as jittery before God as overworked personal assistants to a fickle, spoiled CEO. While they are off on their mission, God will “bury some dinosaur bones to test peoples’ faith.” The angels describe the perils of their mission with “One Good Man.”
Upon landing in Sodom, they run into Lot, a raving, self-righteous homophobe who sees gay sex all around him. And he equates “gay sex” with everything, from bestiality to melon-ballers. “Our hero is as pure as his daughter’s labia majora,” sings the narrator. Isn’t that the truth, since Lot is more sexually obsessed than the deviants he condemns and one of daddy’s little girls seems rather eager to leave mom behind.
But bourgeois gay couples and liberal elites also get their come-uppance. A quick visit to Gomorrah reveals beautiful people so smug and fatuitous in their liberal haven, you long for them to be destroyed. Michael visits a gay couple who are both well meaning and self-absorbed. They take the angel for a mentally challenged homeless person until he downloads 1% of God’s consciousness into one of them. “You look like when we did coke,” his partner remarks as he comes out of it. Of course, it doesn’t help for them to learn that they will be destroyed for violating the laws of God that haven’t even been written yet. Even as Michael lets them preview an “advanced copy” of Leviticus, “Leviticus Rag” perfectly expresses their chagrin.
The highlight of the show occurs when God finally reveals himself, as a Morrissey character, singing, “This is God, Saying Sorry.” The true nature of the Old Testament God comes to light, as a capricious, arbitrary, and erratic personality; an awful power coupled to insecurity issues. Perhaps even the liberal religious may take offense, but the song is perfect piece for the production and explains a great deal about a god who “expects a lot.”
So, even once the angels have found one good man, Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed anyway. The writers pull no punches in describing or commenting on the arbitrariness of that destruction: “Genocide is always someone else’s fault.” What more needs to be said about the human propensity to come up with any rationalization for the abuse of power, whether it be bombing cities or decimating populations?
The final act wherein Lot has sex with his daughters returns us to the ribaldry for which Annoyance is famous. It’s a telling moment when the angel Michael reassures Lot that, not to worry, the whole incident will be left out of the Koran. Nice to know that someone will do damage control, once the damage is all well and done.
Much praise goes to the well-coordinated cast, whose enthusiasm and energy are unflagging. Biblical madness should be paired sardonic revelry and earnest mania. It may be the only way for the human race to survive.
Sodomites!! A Musical of Biblical Proportions opens on June 19 during the Just For Laughs Festival and will show on Fridays at 8:00 PM through July 31. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at the company’s website theannoyance.com, or by calling the box office: 773.561.HONK (4665). The Annoyance is located at 4830 N. Broadway, Chicago, Illinois 60640.
Cast list and bios after the jump