Tag: Michael Joseph Mitchell
Albee tragedy hits all the notes, but not always in tune
|Remy Bumppo Theatre Company presents|
|The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia?|
|Written by Edward Albee
Directed by James Bohnen
at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through May 8 | tickets: $30-$45 | more info
Reviewed by Oliver Sava
What an amazing season for Edward Albee fans, as three of his most groundbreaking and influential works have played at some of the city’s most esteemed theaters. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – the classic about the lies a couple tells to keep their dying love – saw a brilliant revival at Steppenwolf, featuring a terrifyingly dominant George played with ferocity by Tracy Letts. The Charles Newell-directed Three Tall Women at Court gorgeously exposed the hopes and regrets of one woman’s life, and starred three stunning actress particularly skilled at capturing the musicality and poetry of Albee’s script. Now Remy Bumppo joins the fray with The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia?, Albee’s tragedy about one man’s love for a goat and the cataclysmic damage it inflicts on his perfect marriage.
Lies, hopes, regrets, secrets – these are the universal ideas that Albee operates with, but his plays are genius because of their specificity in plot and style. The game George and Martha play in Woolf, the fluid, interwoven recollections of A, B, and C in Women, and the utter physical destruction of Sylvia are all precisely structured to maximize the impact of their themes. George and Martha’s lie deceives the audience, the memories of the tall women are mirrors of the human experience, and the ruins of Martin (Nick Sandys) and Stevie’s (Annabel Armour) living room represent the devastating effects sexual secrets have on a marriage, bestial or otherwise.
Albee has often compared writing to composing music, and his plays have a specific rhythm in the dialogue that sets the cadence for the action: Woolf tense and discordant like a Bernard Herrmann movie score, Women delicate and aching as a Beethoven sonata, and Sylvia an explosive Wagnerian epic. Dynamics and articulation change, themes are passed around characters like sections of an orchestra. This specificity requires exceptionally skilled actors to capture the complexity of the script, and while Remy Bumppo’s cast of actors plays with passion and commitment, sometimes they have trouble finding the beat.
The opening scene finds Martin preparing for an interview with his good friend Ross (Michael Joseph Mitchell) as Stevie tidies up the living room. The couple jokes about Martin’s failing memory, acts out a Noel Coward pastiche – the perfect picture of a happy marriage, except for the unsavory scent of barn in the air. The British Sandys speaks in an American dialect that occasionally wavers during the quiet moments, like the opening scene, but while distracting, it is not the main problem with the start of the show. There’s an ease to the dialogue that the actors haven’t quite found, and that ease helps cultivate a sense of familiarity and comfort between the husband and wife. Martin and Stevie are accustomed to the wordplay and good-humored jokes of their repartee, but Sandys and Armour have difficulty finding the scene’s relaxed pace. The quiet moments are the most difficult for the cast, but they become stronger as the actors begin to expound their energy in the later scenes, using the rare instances of calm to get a much needed breather.
Martin struggles to get through his interview with Ross, showing little pride or enthusiasm for his architectural achievements and displaying a guarded detachment that forces Ross to probe into the source of his unease. When Ross learns about Martin’s affair with Sylvia, a goat, the play switches into a heightened emotional mode that the actors are most comfortable in. Mitchell’s combination of disgust and disbelief is spot on, while Sandys begins to show the tortured, conflicted soul of Martin’s character. And when Ross sends Stevie a letter detailing Martin’s affair, their lives are shattered beyond repair. All three of the mentioned plays have these breaking points, but they are never the climax of the play: Martha mentions their son, A/B/C disowns her son for being gay, and Ross sends Stevie the letter. After the breaking, the characters are vulnerable enough that Albee can strip them down and reveal their deepest wants and fears.
Annabel Armour shows remarkable depth as she navigates Stevie’s breakdown, portraying a woman whose defenses are slowly worn away as she realizes she isn’t strong enough to hold her marriage together. She finds herself in a situation she could never conceive, her husband now a sexually deviant stranger. Armour and Sandys find the show’s rhythm in the chaotic second scene, one of the best in contemporary theater, spanning the entire emotional spectrum and sparking intense, intellectual debate about sexuality, marriage, and love. Albee takes the extramarital affair to its extreme, and the characters’ honest, painful reactions resonate even stronger in the absurd circumstances. Armour’s deterioration is heartbreaking, recalling her marriage’s joyous past in the context of its sordid present, and lashing out violently as Martin elaborates on the history of his relationship with Sylvia.
Upturning furniture and smashing pottery, Stevie turns the living room into a physical representation of her marriage, as each new revelation from Martin is another dagger in her side. Going back to the music metaphor, when the characters have the melody, during those big moments when everyone is at a forte, the James Bohnen directed production achieves greatness. Stevie has a series of powerful monologues that Armour performs flawlessly, culminating in a series of screams that will give audience members goosebumps. The main conflict succeeds because Martin truly loves both his wife and Sylvia, and Sandys is completely believable in his affections. He performs his monologues with conviction and truth, and it’s easy to see how Stevie could fall in love with such a passionate man. And then you realize he’s talking about sex with a goat.
After Stevie and Martin duke it out, their seventeen year old son Billy (Will Allan) suffers a breakdown of his own, as his parents’ collapsing marriage coincides with his own sexual crisis. There’s a tension in Allen’s physicality that may be a character choice, but is ultimately a distracting one as he occasionally appears uncomfortable and stiff. In light of his father’s attitude toward his homosexuality, Billy reacts to his father’s affair with an appropriate mix of fury and repulsion, but the disturbing shift in Billy and Martin’s relationship is natural because of Sandys and Allen’s chemistry. When Ross returns, Mitchell enters at a lower emotional level than his costars, but he is able to reach their level of intensity by the time Stevie reenters. The play’s final moments build to a stunning release of emotion, and the actors hit all the right notes for the tragic end. As the 100-minute long demolition of a family concludes, the audience is left with a slew of questions regarding the nature of human sexuality, which may be the best part of an Albee play. Long after the production has ended, it’s themes resonate and resurface when we least expect them, because of the powerful experience within the theater.
The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia? continues through May 8th at the Greenhouse Theater Center, with performances Wednesday to Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:30pm. Tickets are $30-$45, and can be purchased online, or by calling 773-404-7336. For more info, go to www.remybumppo.org.
- View videos/photos from the production
- Watch an interview with the playwright
- Read actor interviews
- Download the field guide for The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia?
- Download the TEXT ONLY field guide for The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia?
Kibitzing with Gentiles and Nazis in Suburbia
|Chicago Dramatists presents|
|The Invasion of Skokie|
|Written by Steven Peterson
Directed by Richard Perez
at Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago (map)
through October 10th | tickets: $32 | more info
Reviewed by Katy Walsh
It’s 1978. The preservation of the Jewish heritage is threatened by neo-Nazis and a Gentile boy. Chicago Dramatists presents the world premiere of The Invasion of Skokie by playwright Steven Peterson. The Nazis have won their U.S. Supreme Court case and plan to hold a march in Skokie, a Chicago suburb. Skokie has a large Jewish community that includes Holocaust survivors. On the eve of the supremacy parade, a Jewish family gathers for a typical Shabbat dinner. Or is it typical? Shabbat has been shifted to Saturday. The goy-next-door wants to marry into the Chosen People. Dad is negotiating an arms deal with terrorists. Mom made sun tea! An ordinary family debates traditional and liberal forces infiltrating the homogeneous community. The Invasion of Skokie is Fiddler on the Roof meets “Schlinder’s List” without the music or killing. For a religious culture surviving slavery, persecution and genocide, the Jewish people must now face their toughest opponent, love!
Playwright Steven Peterson and Director Richard Perez create a relatable homeland security threat. Dinner is overlapping conversations with generous helpings of tension and a side of ranch dressing diversion. In the lead, Mick Weber (Morry) drives the action with loud declarations and Nazi hate crime hate. Weber delivers a memorable patriarch performance from bull-headed fearless to vulnerable fearful. Weber’s anguish, in an final scene, is a haunting visual. His match is Cindy Gold (Sylvia). As a Jewish stereotypical mother, Gold is funny pushing food for whatever the ailment or disagreement. Below the surface, Gold reaches gold with poignant musings over day lilies and marrying for life. Tracey Kaplan (Debbie) is the liberal, vegetarian, lawyer daughter. Kaplan and Weber spar with perfect father-daughter opposition. Although the issues are contemporary, the angst is deep rooted in their personal histories. Representing the ‘superior race’ notion, the blond and blue-eyed Bradford R. Lund (Charlie) is charming as a goy-in-love. Despite multiple reasons to flee, Lund is earnest in his willingness to stay. With Nazis in town and family feuding, comedy relief is a necessity. Arriving a week late for dinner, Michael Joseph Mitchell (Howie) is hilarious as the clueless dinner guest.
The Invasion of Skokie is a glimpse at a not-so-familiar but important moment in history. From the picturesque backyard patio (designer Grant Sabin) of suburbia, a Jewish family deals with menacing Nazis and Gentiles rallying against the tranquility.
An important moment in history – but is it still relevant? Today, when same sex marriages are at the forefront of controversy, is inter-religious marriages that big of a deal? This seems like a simplistic question that has an easy answer. The Invasion of Skokie magnificently represents multiple sides to the attacks on the Jewish heritage in 1978. Even now, I’m certain the debate continues. How to preserve 2010+ years of customs and history? Tradition, Tradition, tradition. Even as a shiksa, I get it!
Running Time: Two hours includes a ten minute intermission
Steven Peterson’s world premiere production of The Invasion of Skokie, at Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago Ave., runs through October 10th – Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 3 PM. Information about the show at www.chicagodramatists.org and 312-633-0630. For information on parking, go to www.chicagodramatists.org/parking