Tag: Martin Sherman
TimeLine crafts a superb production from a flawed script
TimeLine Theatre presents:
When She Danced
reviewed by Catey Sullivan
Like its depiction of the Isadora Duncan’s life, When She Danced is a glorious, extravagant mess. Amid a cacophony of languages, lobster, lovers and champagne Timeline creates something that’s both richly entertaining and immensely frustrating with Martin Sherman’s portrait of the mother of modern dance.
We know La Duncan (who was called such when the article really meant something, unlike today’s trashy La Lohan vernacular) redefined an entire art form. But because film of her dancing is rare unto non-existent, we can only imagine the extraordinary aura of grace and beauty she projected while in motion, inspiring thousands of barefoot disciples the globe over. That very legacy all but ensures that any portrait of Duncan will fall short. Have an actress attempt to dance like Duncan and they will inevitably suffer by comparison. Leave the dancing out, and you lose the essence of the woman’s existence.
Sherman takes the safer route, leaving the dance completely to his audience’s imagination. Rather than choreography, we get rapt exposition by Duncan’s slavishly devoted household coterie. And of course, the lack of a visual is a problem: because we never see Duncan dance, her art – or the lack thereof – becomes the 800-pound gorilla on the set. Dance is the thing that defines not only Duncan, but every relationship and reaction to her. Without it, those relationships and reactions ring a bit hollow. For those who crave a glimpse at the movement that made the legend, When She Danced is a tease. We hear all about the sheer, life-changing fabulousness of Duncan’s dancing, but we never see it.
That said, director Nick Bowling has crafted an immensely watchable and lavishly beautiful production. We meet Isadora (Jennifer Engstrom) in her 40s. She claims to be past her prime, but in Engstrom’s alternately regal and unabashedly sensual performance, Duncan is every inch magnificent. Her Paris flat is in a state of exuberant and sophisticated chaos. Among the larger-than-life personalities coming and going: Duncan’s much younger Russian husband Sergei (Patrick Mulvey), gleefully capturing an unstable firebrand with little but sex and suicide on the brain); Alexandros Eliopolos, an adoring 19-year-old Greek prodigy pianist (Alejandro Cordoba, a major talent who delivers a concert-level Chopin etude midway through the production); and Miss Hanna Belzer (Janet Ulrich Brooks), a Russian translator whose underwritten role nonetheless becomes an emotional cornerstone thanks to Brooks’ quietly galvanizing performance.
The languages – Greek, Russian, English French and Italian – fly fast and thick with several in the ensemble never speaking a word of English. Bowling succeeds in making dialogue flow like music. And it’s to the cast’s great credit that even when the words are foreign, the meaning within them shines through.
It’s a shame that all these wonderfully idiosyncratic, effectively etched characters are stuck in a plot that’s rather static. Duncan’s desperate need for money provides the slight arc. The story peaks with a marvelously unconventional fund-raising dinner party that devolves into a rapturous, multi-lingual food fight. But once the rolls stop flying, Sherman doesn’t seem to know what to do with everyone other than have them fade slowly into a blackout.
In all, Bowling has crafted a superb production from a flawed script. It helps that When She Danced looks wonderful, thanks to Keith Pitts at once elegant, impoverished and richly beautiful Parisian flat. Seth E. Reinick’s evocative lighting beautifully emphasizes monologues by Brooks and Cordoba that come almost as close to portraying Duncan’s brilliance as any actual dancing might. Almost.
Hubris’ Revival a Limited, but Still Devastating, Success
Hubris Productions presents
Review by Paige Listerud
To appreciate Martin Sherman’s Bent, one has to acknowledge the times in which it was created. When Sherman finished it in 1970, he was addressing neglected history about the Holocaust–the persecution of gay men and lesbians, along with other marginalized groups, like the Roma and the disabled, were hardly mentioned and practically forgotten. But he was also answering to the urgency of the budding Gay Liberation Movement, sparked by the Stonewall riots that had taken place just a year before. Bent is not simply about remembrance but also about reclaiming the gay male body in the face of absolute hostility—an attempt that was facilitated by the somewhat earlier explosion of the 60’s Sexual Revolution. These two basic dramatic intentions may still have fit fairly easily in 1979, when the play hit Broadway and received nominations for a Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 1980.
Unfortunately, at the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, Bent is showing its age. It has a singular, radical, and revolutionary focus. It lacks in-depth examination of the interconnectedness of oppressions that would make ripe material for any exploration of the Holocaust today. The men with the pink triangle may have been the lowest of the low in Nazi concentration camps, particularly when they were persecuted by fellow inmates, yet the bare suggestion that life was so much better for Jews is a component of Sherman’s radical shortsightedness–certainly not an anomaly in leftist thinking in the late 60’s, but rather irksome and disturbing to witness now.
“I wanted to do this because I had led workshops with LGBT youth at the Center on Halsted,” said director Jacob Christopher Green. “There were so many of them that didn’t know about the pink triangle. We thought the play was particularly relevant today because of similar economic conditions between the Weimar era and this. And the advances that had been made by Germany’s own homosexual movement by Magnus Hirschfeld and the Institute for Sexual Science. That was all swept away by the Third Reich.”
So while not at all denying the urgent need for remembrance, it may be time to encourage and develop more fully fleshed-out works that expose the dire straits of queer people under Nazi terror.
Without altering the script, these issues couldn’t be resolved with the very best of casts. Problematic to Hubris Productions’ presentation is an uneven cast. The first act comes across as musty community theater–the few bright moments being Travis Walker’s drag performance as nightclub owner, Greta, and the tender scene between Max (Christopher Kauffman) and Rudy (Michael Shepherd) while they are on the lamb. The set (designed by John Whittington), while irritatingly monochromatic, is designed to give the production many levels to play with, which makes the 2-dimensional direction of most of the action in 1st Act a conundrum.
The second act improves profoundly with the concentration of action on Max and his newfound ally, friend, and lover Horst (Jason Ober). That Kaufman and Ober are able to create a realistic and deeply moving relationship out of dialogue that is sometimes stilted is a testimony to their craft and Green’s ability to create a truly intimate connection between them on a very bare and unforgiving stage. In their transgressive celebration of their sexuality and growing vulnerability, their increasing love for one another creeps up on them and on us.
By the time Horst is ruthlessly executed in front of Max, we are swept up in Max’s anguished acknowledgement that he has truly loved. He has loved men. And he has loved without the dulling distractions of alcohol and cocaine that were part of his old decadent life in Berlin. The finale is heartbreaking and devastating. This is the revolution we have needed all evening long.
Where: Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60614
When: Thru August 15, 2009
Tickets: $25 Adults, $20 Student/Seniors, Box Office: 773-404-7336
Tickets Online: https://www.tix.com
Cast: Christopher Kauffman, Michael Shepherd, Andrew Skenk, Gregory L. Payne, Travis Walker, Timothy McGuire, Jason Ober
Artistic/Technical Team: Jacob Christopher Green (Director and costumes), John Whittington (set designer), Richard Ebeling (lighting designer), Jason Dabrowski (sound design), CJ Leavens (Props), Nathan Petts (fight choreographer), Patricia Savieo (dramaturge), Lexi Staples (flag art), Tina Frey (stage manager), John Kamys (video creator/director)
Note: A portion of the proceeds from this show will benefit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. http://www.ushmm.org
There will be a Talkback Series with the director and actors immediately following the show on Sundays, July 12, 26 and August 9. They will last approximately 30 minutes.
More info: http://www.hubrisproductions.com
TIMELINE THEATRE COMPANY
ANNOUNCES 2009-10 SEASON
ALL MY SONS
by Arthur Miller
directed by Kimberly Senior
August 31 – October 4, 2009 (previews 8/27 – 8/30)
Praised along with Death of a Salesman and The Crucible as Miller’s masterpieces, this 1947 Tony Award winner for Best Play returns to the Chicago stage for the first time since an acclaimed Broadway revival last season. A middle-class American family struggles to deal with the loss of one son during World War II and the desire of another son to now marry his brother’s fiancé. As family members and those closest to them try to move forward, an explosive secret from the father’s past threatens to unravel everyone’s hopes for happiness. This powerful drama is a haunting exploration of business ethics and one’s moral responsibility to the larger community.
WHEN SHE DANCED
by Martin Sherman
directed by Nick Bowling
Travel to the Paris of 1923 for this gorgeous and incredibly funny portrait of legendary dancer Isadora Duncan. The so-called mother of modern dance is desperate to keep herself financially solvent and to realize her dream for retirement: a school in Italy to teach young dancers her art. Through a multi-lingual script of great heart and appeal, Sherman mixes the high comedy of a colorful cast of characters with a poignant view of the importance of the arts to move and inspire us. Through the eyes of those in Duncan’s life we glimpse her greatness and how she touched so many lives when she danced.
‘MASTER HAROLD’ … AND THE BOYS
by Athol Fugard
directed by Jonathan Wilson
Recipient of a Drama Desk Award and a Tony Award nomination for Best Play in 1982, ’Master Harold’ … and the Boys is considered Athol Fugard’s masterpiece, valued for both its universal themes of humanity and its skilled theater craft. Set in South Africa during the 1950s era of apartheid, it depicts how institutionalized racism can become absorbed by those who live under it. A white 17-year-old spends time with two African workers he has known all his life, and through their conversations on one rainy day we see what unites and divides them. The play’s beautiful and haunting dialogue and message of hope also inspire the recognition that there is much work to be done to bring people of different races together.
THE FARNSWORTH INVENTION
by Aaron Sorkin
directed by Nick Bowling
From the creator of A Few Good Men and The West Wing comes this fascinating new play direct from Broadway. It’s the story of two ambitious visionaries — Philo T. Farnsworth, an Idaho farmboy, and David Sarnoff, head of RCA — battling each other for the rights to one of the greatest inventions of all time: the television. Through corporate espionage, family tragedy, financial disaster and the thrill of discovery, these two larger-than-life men compete for fame and credit and become part of a decision that would change America, and eventually the world.
A fourth play and the season’s schedule are still to be announced.
Says TimeLine Artistic Director PJ Powers:
“We have put together a season filled with bold ideas and tremendous heart and hope and guts. Through a steadfast commitment to our mission, TimeLine aspires to be a place for people to come together, to feel a sense of community and to engage in a dialogue about our place in history. The work on our stage allows audiences to lose themselves in a story from the past in order to perhaps better understand where we are today and where we might go tomorrow. During our 2009-10 season, we look forward to exploring some defining moments of the 20th Century together — moments of art and beauty, of friendship and understanding, and of innovation and exploration.”
Creative team biographies after the fold.