Tag: Molly Regan
Taking into account the nearly 700 productions that we reviewed in 2012, here are our picks for the best of the best. Bravo!! (FYI: We’re honored to have the national website Huffington Post use our choices for their Top 10 Chicago productions here)
Grit and sass can’t carry a play
|Steppenwolf Theatre presents|
|The Hot L Baltimore|
|Written by Lanford Wilson
Directed by Tina Landau
at Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted (map)
through May 29 | tickets: $20-$73 | more info
Reviewed by Keith Ecker
For the most part, there are two types of plays: character-based and plot-based. But the Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s new production, The Hot L Baltimore, exemplifies a third category—the thematic play. Rather than focus on fleshing out characters or exciting the audience with a compelling story, this third category aims to meditate on a concept. What plays out is a dramatic allegory that is rooted more in poetry than prose.
And although there certainly is beauty to be found in such an ethereal script, there’s not a lot of meat. The Hot L Baltimore, which was written by recently deceased playwright Lanford Wilson, features a cast of more than a dozen characters. With so many personalities and such surface level characterization, it’s difficult to develop a fondness for anyone in particular. And the story, which revolves around the impending demolition of an old hotel, is definitely existential in nature. But rather than having the absurd charm of a Waiting for Godot, The Hot L Baltimore is a slice-of-life. So we’re stuck in this realistic drama, left to watch the hotel’s inhabitants wait. And watching a bunch of people wait doesn’t really fuel a play forward.
The Hot L Baltimore centers around a once grand hotel that has become old and dilapidated. It has been announced that it will be demolished, which riles up its eclectic cast of inhabitants, including a number of prostitutes, a sickly kvetching old man and a brother-sister duo with big dreams. The motley crew interact in the hotel’s lobby, their sad pasts and unfortunate presents always undulating beneath each conversation.
Not much really happens throughout the course of the play. A few incidents arise that register a slight uptick on the EKG meter of entertainment. For instance, a young man (Samuel Taylor) arrives looking for information on his missing grandfather. Suzy (Kate Arrington), one of the hotel’s hookers, gets into a fight with a client. Meanwhile, Jackie (Alana Arenas) and her brother Jamie (Namir Smallwood) discover, to their chagrin, that the farmland they purchased is as fertile as the Sahara.
Don’t get me wrong. These are interesting people. And the parallel between the tarnished glitz of the hotel and the residents’ destitute lives is an interesting metaphor. But that’s just not enough steam to power this locomotive. And so by the end of the very long first act, I hoped that what I just saw was lengthy exposition and that the pay off would come in act two. But the pay off never came. The play just ends, as eventfully as it started.
As esteemed as Wilson may be, I fail to see how this is a good script. It’s got a lot of potential. Attitude, sass, grit and humor. But these things are intangibles. Without a character or a story to ground us, all the sass in the world can’t save a play.
Director Tina Landau, who is also incredibly accomplished, faced a challenge with bringing this work to life. I enjoy the simultaneous action she injects into the production. Characters meander around the two-story set, exemplifying the vibrancy that inhabits this dying hotel. But there is something lost here that not even Landau can find, and that’s providing an explanation for why we should care. Landau tries to address this by spotlighting characters and underscoring monologues with sappy music. But these devices come off as awkward and contrived.
If there is any reason to see this play, it’s because of the acting. The entire cast delivers fantastic performances. Standouts include de’Adre Aziza as the feisty smart-talking call girl April, and Namir Smallwood as the feeble young man who is in the custody of his hotheaded sister.
The Hot L Baltimore is one of those plays that has lost its relevance with time. The grit of yesterday is today’s old news. And the concept of a dying America has been portrayed more artfully. Meanwhile, Landau’s heavy-handed treatment isn’t much of a help. At least some redemption can be found in the cast.
The Hot L Baltimore continues at Steppenwolf Theatre through May 29th, with performances Tuesdays through Sundays at 7:30 pm, and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3 pm. Wednesday matinees on May 11, 18 & 25 at 2 pm. Tickets are $20-$73, and can be purchased online or by calling (312) 335-1650.
August: Osage County, written by Steppenwolf ensemble member Tracy Letts, winner of five 2008 Tony Awards, as well as the 2008 Pulitzer Prize, and currently starring Tony and Emmy award winner Phylicia Rashad, will play its final performance on SUNDAY, JUNE 28th, 2009. It will have played 648 performances and 18 previews, surpassing The Heidi Chronicles, Master Class, The Real Thing, and Doubt, among many others, to become one of the longest running plays in Broadway history.
August: Osage County will begin its National Tour, starring Academy award winner Estelle Parsons, at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts on July 24th, 2009, before travelling to more than 18 locations all around the country. For more information and dates, please visit WWW.AUGUSTONBROADWAY.COM.
The show currently boasts the most Award winning cast on Broadway: Tony winners Phylicia Rashad (“The Cosby Show”, Raisin in the Sun, Gem of the Ocean), John Cullum (Urinetown, Shenandoah, On the Twentieth Century), Elizabeth Ashley (Dividing the Estate, The Best Man), and Frank Wood (Side Man), with Original Cast member (and Tony nominee) Amy Morton, and Anne Berkowitz, Guy Boyd, Kimberly Guerrero, Brian Kerwin, Michael Milligan, Sally Murphy, Mariann Mayberry, and Troy West.
The original Broadway company, directed by Anna D. Shapiro, featured Ian Barford, Deanna Dunagan, Kimberly Guerrero, Francis Guinan, Brian Kerwin, Dennis Letts, Madeleine Martin, Mariann Mayberry, Amy Morton, Sally Murphy, Jeff Perry, Rondi Reed and Troy West, with understudies Munson Hicks, Susanne Marley, Jay Patterson, Dee Pelletier, Molly Ranson and Kristina Valada-Viars.
The production received 5 Tony Awards, including Best Play, Best Director of a Play – Anna D. Shapiro, Best Actress in a Play – Deanna Dunagan, Best Featured Actress in a Play – Rondi Reed, and Best Set Design of a Play – Todd Rosenthal.
August: Osage County welcomed many prestigious new cast members throughout its run, including Academy Award winner Estelle Parsons, Tony Award winners John Cullum, Elizabeth Ashley, and Frank Wood. The cast also welcomed Tony nominee Johanna Day, Robert Foxworth, Molly Regan, Michael McGuire, Michael Milligan, Guy Boyd, Scott Jaeck, Anne Berkowitz, Samantha Ross, Jim True-Frost, and Amy Warren, with understudies Aaron Serotsky, Stephen Payne, Avia Bushyhead, Frank Deal, and Emily Walton.
Jean is a rather dull, introverted woman. She spends her free-time reading at coffeehouses whilst the world hums and haws around her. One day, however, while engrossed in a book, a man next to her refuses to answer his cellphone. After repeatedly admonishing the man to answer his phone, Jean ventures over to his table, and discovers the stunning reason why the phone was not answered – the man is dead. As this morbid realization overtakes her, the cellphone again begins to ring; Jean answers it. So starts the beginning of Jean’s madcap, surreal and at times frustrating journey as created and presented by playwright Sarah Ruhl and Steppenwolf Theatre’s associate director Jessica Thebus – a journey that steamrolls Jean from a dinner with the family of the dead guy (Gordon), a tryst with Gordon’s brother Dwight, separate outings with Gordon’s wife and mistress, a zany afterlife detour, and culminating with a tumultuous South African rendezvous with underworld dealers of body-organ smuggling. Whew!
There is a lot to love in Dead Man’s Cell Phone. Above all, it’s a fun and unpredictable. There are times where Thebus has masterfully created truly refreshing and whimsical stage pictures – the most memorable for me being a scene involving Jean and Dwight: as the two lust-birds go at it in Dwight’s stationary store, glowing paper houses appear in the background, and sheets of stationary flutter and weave down from the ceiling. Why is this happening? I don’t fully know, but it sure is amusing. Ruhl’s skillful writing shines most in her coupled dialogues, especially the hilarious interchange with Jean and Gordon’s widow Hermia over cocktails. Though all of Dean Man’s technical aspects mirror Steppenwolf’s usual mastery, the lighting outdoes itself. Lighting designer James Ingalls’ use of illumination to showcase the story is especially evident in his glowing houses (see above) and umbrellas and body parts (see pictures below).
I have a few misgivings with this production. Most pertinently, the role of Jean (Polly Noonan) seems to be miscast and a bit misdirected. Jeans presents herself as a single, twenty-something woman, naively zoned-out, part airhead and part manipulator. But according to the script she’s actually well into her 30’s, which is not how Jean looks or appears. Adding to this, we’re denied an ending that matches the quirkiness and magic of the rest of the play, which is unfortunate.
Summary: Dead Man’s Cell Phone, despite a few misdials, is an offbeat, boisterous production that lends itself well to Steppenwolf’s usual topnotch output. Recommended.
|Production:||Dean Man’s Cell Phone|
|Featuring:||Molly Regan (Mrs Gottlieb), Sarah Charipar (Other Woman, Stranger), Geraldine Dulex (Ensemble), Marc Grapey (Gordon), Coburn Goss (Dwight), Mary Beth Fisher (Hermia), Polly Noonan (Jean), Ben Whiting (Ensemble) and Marilyn Dodds Frank (Mrs Gottlieb after June 1).|
|Design Team:||Scott Bradley (Scenery), Linda Roethke (Costumes), James F. Ingalls (Lighting), Andre Pluess (Sound and Original Music), Ann Boyd (Choreography) Joe Dempsey (Fight Choreography),|
|Technical Team:||Christine D. Freeburg (Stage Manager), Michelle Medvin (Asst. Stage Manager)|
Polly Noonan (left) and Marc Grapey (right) in Dead Man’s Cell Phone by Sarah Ruhl, directed by Jessica Thebus at Steppenwolf Theatre March 27 – July 27, 2008.
Coburn Goss (left) and Polly Noonan (right) in Dead Man’s Cell Phone
Jean (Polly Noonan) answers the dreaded cellphone
Dinner at the Gotlieb’s with (left to right) Coburn Goss, Mary Beth Fisher, Polly Noonan and ensemble member Molly Regan.
Marc Grapey as the Dead Man.
Polly Noonan (Jean) with glowing umbrellas.
Mrs. Gotlieb (ensemble member Molly Regan) speaks at funeral.
Happy Hour with Jean (Noonan) and Hermia (Mary Beth Fisher).
The Other Woman (Sarah Charipar) and Jean (Noonan) with glowing kidney.
Jean (Noonan and Dwight (Coburn Goss) build a paper house.