Tag: Melissa Ng

Review: Fun Home (Victory Gardens Theater)

Stella Rose Hoyt stars as Small Alison Bechdel in Fun Home, Victory Gardens Theater            
        

Fun Home
 
By Lisa Kron (book & lyrics)
   and Jeanine Tesori (music)
VG Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln (map)
thru Nov 19  |  tix: $15-$75  |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets
     


    
  

Intimate, ferocious ‘Home’ is as joyous as it is heart-wrenching

  

Rob Lindley (Bruce Bechdel) and Stella Rose Hoyt (Small Alison) star in Fun Home

    
Victory Gardens Theater presents
    
Fun Home

Review by Catey Sullivan

Toward the end of Fun Home, there’s a song called “Edges of the World.” It’s delivered by Bruce, a closeted man in his mid-50s. It’s a harrowing description of his life-long inability to embrace and celebrate his true self. Using his house as a metaphor, Bruce describes himself in terms of physical corruption and devastation. He’s “cracking, “shoddy,” “twisting” and finally, “falling into nothing.” It’s a devastating song of terror and rage at the realization you’ve wasted your life. It is also, in Rob Lindley’s virtuosic delivery, a song that will haunt you for weeks. Perhaps longer.

Hannah Starr stars as Medium Alison in Fun Home, Victory Gardens TheaterBased on Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel of the same name, Fun Home is centered on Bruce’s daughter, Alison. The autobiographical musical follows Alison from her days as a precocious pre-teen who loves drawing and loathes wearing dresses to a thoughtful, confident out-and-proud lesbian artist. But while Fun Home is ostensibly Alison’s story, it’s her father Bruce that shines through with the most ferocious intensity in Victory Gardens’ superb production.

Director Gary Griffin’s ensemble will break your heart with their ability to embody the characters in Bechdel’s story, but it is Lindley who delivers the final anvil blow that will shatter it to smithereens. In the 269-seat Victory Gardens, Fun Home has an intimacy it lacked when the national tour played the 2,253-seat Oriental Theatre last November. This is especially evident in the musical numbers, which often feel like they’re coming at you with the immediacy of your own immediate family.

If the above makes it sound like Fun Home will leave you popping Zoloft like Skittles, rest assured that the production is as triumphant as it is dark. Adapted by Lisa Kron (book) and Jeanine Tesori (music and lyrics), Fun Home is also consistently hilarious. The life and times of Alison and her family are hysterical, starting with the commercial that Small Alison (Sage Elliott Harper and Stella Rose Hoyt, alternating) and her brothers (Leo Gonzalez and Preetish Chakraborty) create for the family funeral (or “fun”) home. The ad has the aesthetic of a Partridge Family number, with shades of the Brady Bunch, Johnny Bravo era. It involves puppets and casket-choreography and is all kinds of brilliant.

  Stella Rose Hoyt stars as Small Alison Bechdel in Fun Home, Victory Gardens Theater Joe Lino (Roy) and Rob Lindley (Bruce Bechdel) star in Fun Home, Victory GardensStella Rose Hoyt, Leo Gonzalez and Preetish Chakraborty star in Fun Home, Victory Gardens Theater

Alison’s travails as she matures into college-aged Medium Alison (Hannah Starr) and (adult) Alison (Danni Smith) are a pitch-perfect blend of humor and sorrow, always edged by a knife-blade of bittersweet sharpness. In Medium Alison’s post-coital “Changing My Major to Joan,” Starr embodies a glorious merger of vulnerability and overwhelming, unadulterated joy. It’s the feeling of falling in love for the first time, compressed into a single three-minute song. Starr is fearless, sending the joy to the rafters. She also captures the pride and dignity that comes with love – no small feat for a scene that has her wearing nothing but underpants, tube socks and a stomach-skimming T-shirt.

Small Alison gets her big moment in “Ring of Keys,” a number that turns a banal household item into an epiphany. The song is intentionally halting, as Small Alison chokes up trying to figure out how to articulate her feelings. Pulling off those precisely positioned tiny rests without sounding rehearsed is exceedingly difficult, but Harper simply nails it. Every meticulously inserted rest sounds utterly spontaneous.

Hannah Starr, Danielle Davis and Danni Smith star in Fun Home, Victory Gardens TheaterRob Lindley and McKinley Carter star as Bruce and Helen Bechdel in Fun Home, Victory Gardens

As grown-up Alison, Smith holds the show together, narrating flashbacks with the poignant hindsight that colors memory. Working at her drawing table. Alison struggles to put words and illustrations to her memories, flooded by a conflicting sea of emotions. From the gleam of an antique silver pitcher that her father bought at a barn sale, the family’s story spins out and fills in. There’s deception and denial alongside love; shards of anger spiking the sweetest memories.

In the language of pop psychology, the Bechdels are a “dysfunctional family.” In Fun Home, the more important classification is at the core: First and foremost, they are a family. Smith’s portrayal doesn’t play down the brutal tragedy that you can feel approaching like a freight train. But in her narration, you can see that family tragedies don’t necessarily define families. Among survivors, death yields healing, renaissance and even art.

Under music director Doug Peck, the Fun Home score is imbued with all the colors and emotion in the spectrum. Peck is to music as Griffin is to dialogue – which is to say, both get to the heart of the matter and make it gleam.

  
Rating: ★★★★
  

Fun Home continues through November 12 November 19th at VG Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln (map), with performances Tuesdays-Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays 3pm & 7:30pm, Sundays 3pm.  Tickets are $15-$75, and are available by phone (773-871-3000) or online through PrintTixUSA.com (check for availability of half-price tickets). More info at VictoryGardens.org(Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission)

McKinley Carter, Preetish Chakraborty, Stella Rose Hoyt, Leo Gonzalez and Rob Lindley star in Fun Home

Photos by Liz Lauren


  

artists

cast

McKinley Carter (Helen Bechdel), Preetish Chakraborty (John Bechdel), Danielle Davis (Joan), Leo Gonzalez (Christian Bechdel), Sage Elliott Harper (Small Alison), Stella Rose Hoyt (Small Alison), Rob Lindley (Bruce Bechdel), Joe Lino (Roy, Mark, Pete, Bobby Jeremy), Danni Smith (Alison), Hannah Starr (Medium Alison).

orchestra

Doug Peck (music director), Charlotte Rivard-Hoster (conductor, keyboard), Corson Barnard (asst. music director), Lewis Rawlinson (cello), Brent Roman (percussion), Mike Matlock (flute, English horn, clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor sax), Justin LaForte (guitar), Ethen Deppe (electronic music designer)

behind the scenes

Gary Griffin (director) Doug Peck (music director), Yu Shibagaki (scenic design), Melissa Ng (costume design), Paul Whitaker (lighting design), Ray Nardelli (sound design), Mealah Heidenreich, Alec Long (co-properties design), Jessica Forella (stage manager), Erica Daniels (managing director), Chay Yew (artistic director), Aaron Shapiro (production manager), Jessica Forella (production stage manager), Merle Reskin (production sponsor), Liz Lauren (photos)

Danni Smith stars as Alison Bechdel in Fun Home, Victory Gardens TheaterHannah Starr stars as Medium Alison in Fun Home, Victory Gardens Theater Stella Rose Hoyt stars as Small Alison Bechdel in Fun Home, Victory Gardens Theater

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October 24, 2017 | 0 Comments More

Review: Men on Boats (American Theater Company)

Lawren Carter, Stephanie Shum and Avi Roque star in Men on Boats, American Theater Co           
      
  

Men on Boats

Written by Jaclyn Backhaus
American Theater Co., 1909 W. Byron (map)
thru Feb 12  |  tix: $38  |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets   
     

January 12, 2017 | 1 Comment More

Review: The Sea (Theatre Mir)

The Sea by Edward Bond - presented by Theatre Mir       
      
The Sea 

Written by Edward Bond 
Directed by Jonathan Berry 
at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map)
thru April 15  |  tickets: $25   |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets 
    
        
        Read entire review
     

March 24, 2012 | 1 Comment More

REVIEW: Three Sisters (Piven Theatre Workshop)

   
   

Chekhov’s naturalist classic enjoys lively revival at Piven

 

Nofs-Snyder, Underwood, Batista - H

   
Piven Theatre Workshop presents
 
Three Sisters
   
Written by Anton Chekhov 
Adapted by
Sarah Ruhl
Directed by Joyce Piven
at
Noyes Cultural Center, Evanston (map)
thru November 21  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

For sisters Olga (Joanne Underwood), Masha (Saren Nofs-Snyder), and Irina (Ravi Batista), the road to Moscow is long and bumpy in Piven Theatre’s finely acted, elegantly directed production of Chekhov’s naturalist classic Three Sisters. Tethered to their provincial town by occupation, spouse, and status, they struggle to find the meaning in their tiresome existence, dreaming of a utopian Moscow that is just out of reach. As their hopes fall apart around them, they learn that the only people they can trust are each other, and the three actresses develop the relationship between the Smith, Barnes, Nofs-Snyder - Vwomen beautifully. Under the guidance of director Joyce Piven, the relationships between the sisters and the men around them come to life, creating believable drama that is thick with emotion.

For Olga and Irina, the oldest and youngest, returning to Moscow is not near the fantasy it is for their middle sister Masha, in a loveless marriage with tenuous schoolteacher Kulygin (Brett T. Barnes), and Nofs-Snyder’s melancholic portrayal of Masha captures the sense of helplessness that defines the character. When the handsome Lieutenant Colonel Vershinin (Daniel Smith) enters Masha’s life, she is given a reason to live, and their romance smolders despite Smith’s distracting dialect. The first kiss between the two is one of the highlights of the production, a wonderfully awkward moment filled with hesitation that erupts into lust as the creaking of the wooden sofa breaks through their sensual silence.

Masha is the heart, Irina the soul, and Olga the mind of the play, allowing these core elements to dictate the direction of their lives. Meanwhile, their brother Andrei’s (Dave Belden) wife Natasha (Amanda Hartley) lacks all three, and she sucks them from her husband as the story progresses. A petulant, anxious ice queen with a superiority complex and unhealthy levels of self-righteousness, Natasha is played with villainous gusto by Hartley, who fearlessly depicts the character’s power trip once she marries Andrei. Her treatment of house servant Anfisa (Kathleen Ruhl, mother of adapter Sarah) is appalling, and creates great conflict with Olga, who cherishes Anfisa like a member of the family.

Ruhl, Batista - HDirector Joyce Piven uses the space beautifully, crafting spatial relationships to build tension between characters that explode when they finally come together. Solyony (Jay Reed), the play’s most combustible character, hates everything and never backs down from an argument, his intense misery venturing into comedic territory in its exaggeration. His love for Irina, a love shared by Baron Tuzenbach (Andy Hager), is unreturned by the youngest sister, who is more concerned with discovering fulfilling work than a man. Batista gives an emotionally resonant performance, especially as Irina begins to understand the kind of work available to her in town, but there’s a maturity in her voice and carriage that takes away from the character’s youthful energy. There is an early moment when Vershinin describes the sisters’ old home in Moscow and the older two’s faces become teary-eyed at the memory while Irina struggle to recapture the image, likely too young to truly remember. It’s a small moment, but it helps solidify her position in the trinity.

It’s a good time to be a Chekhov fan in Chicago. Goodman’s The Seagull (our review ★★★★) as the theatrical theory and situational humor, while Three Sisters eloquently showcases Chekhov’s philosophical genius and occasionally nihilist world view. As the lights go down on the three sisters standing united against the world, it’s like they are watching Moscow burn before their very eyes. The power of these three women together is the play’s beauty, the reality of their circumstance its tragedy.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
 
 

Smith, Nofs-Snyder - H

Cast:

Ravi Batista* (Irina)
Saren Nofs-Snyder (Masha)
Joanne Underwood (Olga)
Brent T. Barnes (Kulygin)
Dave Belden (Andrei)
Marcus Davis (Fedotik)
Kevin D’Ambrosio (Ferapont)
John Fenner Mays (Chebutykin)
Andy Hager (Tuzenbach)
Amanda Hartley (Natasha)
Jacob Murphy (Rode)
Jay Reed (Solyony)
Kathleen Ruhl (Anfisa)
Dan Smith (Vershinin)
Susan Applebaum (Understudy – Anfisa)

 

Production Staff:

Producer: Jodi Gottberg
Production Stage Manager: Wendy Woodward*
Scenic Design: Aaron Menninga
Technical Director: Bernard Chin
Lighting Design: Andrew Iverson & Alex Bradford Ruhlin
Costume Design: Bill Morey
Composition & Sound Design: Collin Warren
Sound Engineer: Alex Bradford Ruhlin
Properties Design: Jesse Gaffney
Asst. Director & Dramaturg: Stephen Fedo
Asst. Stage Manager: Chad Duda
Asst. to the Director: Skye Robinson Hillis
Costume Assistant: Melissa Ng
Production Intern: Nathaniel Williams

* Member, Actors Equity Association

Nofs-Snyder, Batista, Underwood - H

October 30, 2010 | 0 Comments More

REVIEW: Jailbait (Profiles Theatre)

Teens grow up too fast in Profile’s tense tragicomedy

 

Emmy (Zoe Levin) and friend Claire (Rae Gray) in Profiles Theatre's "Jailbait" by Deidre O'Connor

   
Profiles Theatre presents
   
Jailbait
  
Written by Deidre O’Connor
Directed by
Joe Jahraus
at
Profiles Theatre, 4147 N. Broadway (map)
through October 17  |  tickets: $30-$35  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

“We’re 15, everything fun is illegal,” Emmy (Zoe Levin) tells her friend Claire (Rae Gray) as they prepare to sneak into a 21-and-over nightclub. Over the course of Deidre O’Connor’s Jailbait, the two girls learn why those laws are in place when they’re paired off with Mark (Shane Kenyon) and Robert (Eric Burgher), two thirty-somethings looking for an undergrad-style night of drunken debauchery.

Emmy (Zoe Levin) and friend Claire (Rae Gray) in Profiles Theatre's "Jailbait" by Deidre O'ConnorWith children being exposed to sexually charged material at an earlier age, what was once considered deplorable behavior is becoming the norm for teenagers. Playwright Deidre O’Connor recognizes this changing social climate without passing judgment, letting the audience draw conclusions as the events unfold. The script realistically confronts the issue of teenage sexuality without being preachy, creating a complex situation where blame is shared between all involved parties and everyone is a victim.

With a cast of actors adept at creating believable characters, Joe Jahraus directs a tense, provocative production that reinforces the themes of the script beautifully. Gray gives an outstanding performance as Claire, who is simultaneously struggling with the pressures of adolescence and the loss of her father. Claire blossoms in the liberate environment of the adult world, and Gray captures both the awkward teen and confident woman in Claire beautifully.

In a play full of tense moments, Claire’s scenes with the newly single Robert are especially painful to watch because of the actors’ terrific chemistry, milking dramatic irony for all its worth as the attraction builds. An interesting dynamic develops during these scenes, with Robert acting more youthful and carefree as Claire matures, effectively bridging the emotional age gap while the physical and legal age gaps loom dreadfully. The play succeeds largely in part due to Burgher’s vulnerable, anxious, but ultimately charming portrayal of Robert, avoiding any predatory qualities that could compromise the innocence of his courtship with Claire. The character is likable, making it so much more difficult to watch him seduce a 15 year old girl.

In supporting roles, Levin and Kenyon are the drunker, rowdier pair, providing comic relief while still being given a fair share of meaty, dramatic moments. As a man whose “first wife hasn’t even born yet,” Mark is the closest thing to the play’s antagonist, with his manipulation setting tragic events in motion. Kenyon’s charisma makes it hard to hate the character, and he does have a point when it comes to the arguments he makes to lift Robert out of his slump – except for the part where the girls are 15. Levin spends a good amount of the show playing drunk, a difficult task she performs impressively, but she also gives Emmy a clear emotional journey, making her more vulnerable as the play progresses.

At the end of Jailbait, Claire and Emmy talk about the events of the night with the excitement of teenage girls gossiping about their latest crushes, free from the burdens of being an adult. This scene is welcome relief from the tension of the rest of the play, but also serves as a foreboding reminder that once the adult has touched you, it owns you. Growing up will happen no matter what, so why lose your childhood?

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

Jailbait Press Photo 4

Production Personnel

Playwright: Deidre O’Connor
Director: Joe Jahraus
Featuring: Eric Burgher, Rae Gray, Shane Kenyon, Zoe Levin
Lighting Design: Jess Harpenau
Sound Design: Jeffrey Levin
Set Design: Sotirios Livaditis
Costumes:  Melissa Ng
Stage Manager:  Corey Weinberg

  
  
September 5, 2010 | 0 Comments More