Tag: Nate Burger
Sympathy for the Curmudgeon
|Goodman Theatre presents|
|A Christmas Carol|
|By Charles Dickens
Adapted by Tom Creamer
Directed by William Brown
at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn (map)
through Dec 31 | tickets: $ | more info
Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins
Christmas stories always frightened me as a child. I was the kid peering from beneath the blankets, too terrified to sleep on Christmas Eve. A fat jolly man was slipping into our apartment to leave me stuff based on my behavior. I was supposed to be happy and grateful – so much so as to leave cookies for the guy. All of this was exacerbated by special showings of “A Christmas Carol” on Family Classics. You mean there are ghosts too? Every rendition of the Dickens classic has always made my heart beat faster and sigh in relief when old Ebenezer made his turnaround.
The Goodman Theatre production of A Christmas Carol thankfully gave me, instead of anxiousness, a sense of relief and a warm fuzzy. This beautifully staged play adds an element of humor that I had not previously seen in the story.
Dickens’ tale has become an allegory for redemption and forgiveness through the spirit of Christmas. The hardscrabble lives of 19th-century England have not gone away. It is more in our faces than ever with high definition. Goodman’s production suspends belief for a couple of well spent hours and in turn makes the story more relevant. This is brought to light by a really great cast, musicians, gorgeous sets and meticulous costume reproductions.
This is veteran actor John Judd’s first appearance as the iconic Ebenezer Scrooge. Mr. Judd has the scowling and gravelly visage of a first-class crank. His Scrooge is tightly wound and a first class crank. Judd imbues the character with an undertone of sarcasm and sardonic humor as he suggests the workhouses and prisons as an alternative for homelessness. I most enjoyed Mr. Judd once the character was taken down a few pegs by the ghostly visits. He has wonderful comic timing and the karmic retribution that befalls Scrooge is also done quite well in spite of some visual histrionics. The hellfire tombstone is over the top; I would have preferred the neglected gravestone etched with Scrooge’s name. It’s nice to have money for opulent sets this seems to pander to spectacle-seekers, and was not worthy of such an otherwise beautifully dressed set.
There is plenty of to enjoy in this show thanks to some cast standouts. The ghostly visitors were wonderful and backed by glowing special effects. Anish Jethmalani plays Jacob Marley with fiendish anger. The visual effects contain strobes and projections blasting out of the painting over Scrooge’s bed. The painting looks like Andrew Jackson on the $20, which I found sardonically funny (though I don’t know if it was intentional or not). Jethelmani’s appearance is brief but powerful, especially his descent into the fireplace standing in for hell.
Susan Shunk as Christmas Past gives a delightful performance as she takes Scrooge flying. I was impressed that it was the only use of aerial effects. Ms. Shunk is dressed in Dickensian boy attire and has the glee of a sprite as she reveals the history of Ebenezer’s angst and closed heart. Judd is hilarious as he flounders in the air, terrified and then in awe.
The next spirit is my favorite – Penelope Walker as Christmas Present was a joyful and ebullient delight. This is spectacle done beautifully. Scrooge wakes up in a bed laden with shiny wrapped presents and Ms. Walker sprinkling glitter and musical laughter. Christmas Present is seen against a cyc wall exploding with stars and then a street filled with the townspeople. Ms. Walker does a wonderful turn as she portrays Dickens’ indictment of poverty. It’s astounding to see the switch from glee to desperate darkness. Two impoverished waifs seem to crawl up from the earth from under her cloak. It reminds one of the old lithographic styles of newspaper editorial cartoons from Dickens’ time.
Christmas Future is properly ominous – dark, hooded, and at least 15 feet tall. With no face seen or dialogue uttered, I was taken back to my childhood terrors. Christmas Past also leads to the best visual effects of a giant tombstone with blazing letters, perpetuating the terror of being bad around Christmas.
Ron Rains as Bob Cratchit is a standout of comic gifts and subtle pathos. He seems to channel Rowan Atkinson’s ‘Mr. Bean’ when he tries to retrieve his hat without disturbing Scrooge. It’s a comic gem that gets a well-deserved hearty applause. Rains avoids the downtrodden treacle of Cratchit portrayals past. He portrays a family man using the power of gratitude to keep the family spirits aloft in spite of poverty. There isn’t one maudlin misstep in his performance and he plays a pretty mean guitar as well.
I give the same applause to the children in this play. It’s hard to be a child and play a child without being too cute. I call it the ‘awww effect’. I give credit to Director William Brown for keeping this in check and for directing a smoothly executed classic production. It stands on its own merit and is worthy of being an annual family excursion. Speaking of families – you can take yours to this, but please teach the kids that it is not okay to chatter throughout the performance. Childlike awe is expected of children and adults but ask questions over ice cream after the show, not during. The same goes to the grown man with the rumbling bass voice behind me. I send you a whack of the wet soba noodle-hush.
A Christmas Carol plays through December 31st at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn in beautiful downtown Chicago. Call 312-443-3811 or log on www.goodmantheatre.org for more details on tickets and performance times. Go early for dinner before the show because most Loop eateries shut down by 9:00pm. There is a nice theatre gift shop as well. Perhaps you can find something for the jolly guy on Christmas Eve…sleep well and Happy Holidays!
TimeLine Theatre presents:
‘Master Harold’ and the Boys
Reviewed by Ian Epstein
‘Mastor Harold’ and the Boys leads an audience through what it feels like to be white or black, the owner’s son or the the owner’s servant, in the St. George’s Park Tea Room of Port Elizabeth, South Africa in 1950 — a time shortly after South Africa officially fell under apartheid — and playwright Athol Fugard leads an audience through all of this in an hour and forty minutes with no intermission. It’s intense.
The story begins in set-designer Timothy Mann‘s brightly colored reconstruction of St. George Park Tea Room — an establishment that belonged to Athol Fugard’s parents as well as Hally’s. It’s a small establishment in one of South Africa’s larger coastal cities that sits towards the end of the curve that bends the Atlantic Ocean out into the Indian Ocean. Outside, it is wet and windy. No kind of weather to fly a kite.
By day, Willie (Daniel Bryant) is a Tea Room employee. By night, he trains so hard for the upcoming National Ballroom Dancing Competition that he beats his dance partner when she stumbles. He easily tires of mopping and opts, instead, to take the mop in hand and set off across the Tea Room, twirling around tables to the practiced tempo of the Quickstep, imagining himself onto the winner’s podium of "a world without collisions." The Quickstep is like a Foxtrot but faster, even without music; the fee to make the jukebox play is the same as the bus fare home.
Willie stops and starts his Quickstep according to Sam’s (Alfred H. Wilson) interruptions and suggestions. And Sam is a character full of both, and healthy doses of joke, poetry, and digression, too. From the first moments of the play, Bryant and Wilson breathe life into the pair beautifully. And they mill about the Tea Room getting everything in order with the familiarity and ease of two men who’ve worked in this Tea Room since before the audience got here and will remain long after they leave.
Enter a soaking wet Hally, short for Harold, (Nate Burger), the bosses’ boy. He storms in from school and the rain. He’s got homework that he shirks in favor of exchanges, arguments, saviors and heroes with Sam. Hally champions Darwin and Tolstoy, Sam picks up Jesus. They trade small talk, personal stories, and simple symbols as allegories for large swathes of South Africa — and as a tangled interracial pair, they themselves become symbolic of something South African and larger.
When he’s enjoying himself, Hally seems to forget about race. He pays close attention to the stories Sam tells. But as soon as the phone rings with bad news about dad by way of mom at the Hospital, he reliably remembers who is what color, how cruelty inflicted makes him feel lifted and how much work has to be done to maintain the Tea Room and just who the people are who should be doing it and aren’t. So he stabs at Sam and Willie, though at Sam much more than Willie and as the play unfolds in real time and the calls come in from the Hospital and then from home, everything mounts to a desolate, piercing, acrid crescendo.
Through director Jonathan Wilson’s meticulous guidance, ‘Mastor Harold’ and the Boys combines brutal, sincere acting with understated production elements that evoke apartheid’s early days in a way that makes them feel chilling and here to stay for a while. The costumes, lights, and the set are tremendously successful because they set the right tone for the play. Because it takes place in real time, Jonathon Wilson’s decisions stress story, sound, and script over visuals and spectacles. All of it comes together to make TimeLine Theater Company’s production a captivating, harrowing success.
Regular Run: Wednesdays at 7:30 pm (3/3, 3/10 and 3/17 only), Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 pm & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm. Running time approximately 1 hour 40 minutes with no intermission.
- Download the Master Harold… study guide
- Download the Master Harold… lobby display
- Post-show discussions (FREE) hosted by a TimeLine Company Member and featuring members of the production team and cast on Thursdays 1/28, 2/4 and 2/11; Sundays 2/14 and 2/21; and Wednesday 3/3.
- Sunday Scholars Series (FREE) on 1/31, an hour-long post-show panel discussion featuring experts on the themes of the play. You do not need to see the performance on this day to attend the discussion.
- More info at FugardChicago2010.com
The Resonants Exhibit the Pageantry of Hell in “The Tragedy of Doctor Faustus”
The Resonants have overreached themselves with this production of The Tragedy of Doctor Faustus, by Christopher Marlowe. Director Dan Krall has a special affection for the material, yet he possesses too little directorial experience and too young and raw of a cast to pull off Elizabethan drama. Many of the actors fail to project and articulate their parts. Some changes between scenes are too rudimentarily staged to provide a cohesive arc to the production. Thankfully, a few bright embers shine out.
Claire Alden has the strength of stage presence to pull off her cool, jaded, and sagacious Mephistopheles. Galen Murphy-Hoffman delivers an equally sleek and menacing Lucifer, and is great fun, both as the Emperor, with his George W. Bush impression, and a bumbling Pope. Both Avery Armour and Atra Asdou form a charmingly convincing con-artist team as Wagner and Valdes. Nathan Hicks has delightful moments as Robin the Clown. One can only wonder what further comedy improv training could elicit, both for him and for all of Faustus’ comedic moments.
Special mention should be made of the set design, which, despite a kind of spare industrial 80s flavor, still manages to evoke malevolent grandeur through the use of floor-to-ceiling black drapes precisely accented with large red tasseled cords. Even the red-light cross, hung upon the right wall, suggests a presence of evil rather than a source of spiritual comfort on stage.
If anything, it’s the visual storytelling of the production that succeeds in expressing the Elizabethan penchant for pageantry as part of stagecraft. The most evocative moment comes at the end, when the cast executes the horror of Dr. Faustus being dragged down into Hell with all its dark magnificence.
What is most sorely lacking is a strong lead. Nate Burger’s Dr. Faustus is a geeky academic, dipping his toe into monumental choices he can barely realize the ramifications of, until it is too late. He hardly seems the Renaissance ideal of a master of knowledge, which was the hallmark of the age. It is not quite clear that this is a dramatic choice rather than an actor simply struggling to the fill out the part.
Burger’s struggles are just one sign of a production that is out of its depth. This may be the moment that a young company needs to reassess its strengths and its deficiencies, in order to put on works that serve to expand its capabilities. There is enough promise here to encourage such an effort.
The Tragedy of Doctor Faustus
City Lit Theater
1020 W. Bryn Mawr
Runs thought July 12th
for tickets, call886-811-4111