Tag: New Leaf Theatre
December’s end brings frantic resolutions, plans for heavy drinking and of course, a barrage of best/worst lists. Being the largest theater review site west of Broadway, Chicago Theater Beat covered over 600 shows in 2011, and the difficulty of choosing the top 25 speaks to the city’s vibrant cultural landscape. In alphabetical order, here are our choices for the year’s best:
Struggling to save the corporate soul
|New Leaf Theatre presents|
|Written by Bilal Dardai
Directed by Jessica Hutchinson
at Rocco Ranalli’s Pizzeria, 1925 N. Lincoln (map)
through Dec 19 | tickets: $15 | more info
Reviewed by Paige Listerud
A distinctly Eighties vibe pervades New Leaf Theatre’s production, Redeemers — and it’s not just that Pat King, who plays Nick, resembles a young James Spader both in looks and acting style. Directed by Jessica Hutchinson and set in the warm, casual and seasonally festooned environs of Rocco Ranallli’s back dining room, Redeemers revisits class warfare in the same way Eighties Brat Pack films explored them—as if some black and white lesson in morality could be drawn from the conflict.
Nick, Mercy (Marsha Harman) and Abel (Joel Ewing) all work for Charles Edwin of Edwin Financial, then meet at their favorite watering hole each evening to rehash their existence under Mr. Edwin’s rule. Playwright Bilal Dardai gives these characters a sharp, witty and convincingly incestuous rapport while King, Harman and Ewing mark their territory at Ranalli’s with their tight, responsive and slightly sinister threesome. One never questions that they have known each other for years and can map each other’s moods by the stalling tactics they engage in or from the drinks they order. Over time, one silently asks what draws these three together besides shared history or a mutual workplace.
But never mind about that now. Charles Edwin dominates all their thoughts. His role in their lives infects even happy hour, when they might truly desire a break from the boss. Fine enough that they should grouse about Mr. Edwin when he was a tyrant, but a sudden change of heart—literally a double-bypass surgery—transforms him into the noble, fair and generous employer of Charles Dicken’s dreams. All of which strikes the threesome with incredulity and is simply too much for Nick, for one, to take. He masterminds with Mercy and Abel a series of relentless pranks meant to test Mr. Edwin just to see how far his personal reformation endures.
Sadly, the play suffers from the very thing it is founded upon—storytelling style theater. The most significant events have already occurred and must be related to the audience through the obviously suspect threesome. The cast is smart, charming and play their roles to second-skin perfection but the storytelling style inevitably dampens emotional immediacy. Even Nick’s obsession with Mr. Edwin loses tension because he must always be spoken of in the past tense. Even the jokes scripted to make fun of the style cannot relieve its subtly annoying impact. The only segment that doesn’t suffer is Abel’s tragic childhood account regarding his father.
New Leaf has engaged Dardai’s script with thoroughly professional talent to make it present; its crackling dialogue alone indicates the emergence of a promising new playwright that should be watched. However Redeemer’s wrap-up is as paper thin, implausible and morally simplistic as the Eighties films mentioned above. Tyrant or reformed saint, one has the boss one has and acquiesces to that arrangement as part of the cost of accepting the hierarchy of corporate life. Or one joins a commune or a co-operatively owned business—a choice that these cynical three, no doubt, would mercilessly ridicule over a scotch and soda.
Assistant Director: Josh Sobel
Production Manager: Marni Keenan
Stage Manager: Tara Malpass
Dramaturg: Emily Dendinger
Environment Design: Michelle Lilly
Sound & Projections Design: Nick Keenan
Costume Design: Rachel Sypniewski
New Leaf’s “curse” satisfies
|New Leaf Theatre presents|
|Curse of the Starving Class|
|By Sam Shepard
Directed by Kyra Lewandowski
Lincoln Park Cultural Center, 2045 N. Lincoln Park W. (map)
thru May 22nd | tickets: $10-$18 | more info
reviewed by Barry Eitel
Sam Shepard’s best work always revolves around families. Some say that the American drama is family drama, and Shepherd definitely makes a strong case for this argument. His scathing True West, Pulitzer-winning Buried Child, and gritty A Lie of the Mind all focus on entangled, screwed-up families. Curse of the Starving Class, one of his other heralded “family tragedies,” is as blazing and cut-throat as the rural California homestead it’s set in. It focuses on a family with standard structure—father, mother, son, and daughter—but with destructive tendencies. Transforming the Lincoln Park Cultural Center into the dilapidated familial residence, New Leaf does an excellent job capturing Shepherd’s gangster flick yet Aeschylean essence, although some moments are over-broiled and muddy.
The titular “curse” and the titular “starving class” are mentioned several times throughout the play, but neither is really explained at all. The drunken patriarch Weston (John Gray) describes a curse passed down for generations, from father to son, but doesn’t mention any details as to why their family is possessed or the consequences of this venom. The term is also thrown around in regards to the daughter’s first period, her entrance to adulthood. Shepherd is toying around with Classical ideas of fate, but with a horrifically modern twist: no one remembers what the curse is. The characters also have different opinions on the starving class, which is less of an economic distinction and more of a mental illness. The result is a titillating mixture of Aristotelian theory and post-modern sensibility, like if O’Neill wrote a B-movie.
The family, never given a last name, eke out an existence in a broken-down farmhouse; their front door smashed apart by Weston. We are privy to the kitchen area (they are the starving class, after all), and watch as each member contrastingly defile or rebuild the disgusting room. We see the idealistic son Wesley (Layne Manzer) urinate in the food prep area, yet later he attempts to replace the broken door. Ella (Victoria Gilbert), the matriarch, half-heartedly keeps order, and the much-maligned daughter Emma (Alyse Kittner) can’t stand the place. Weston, for all the destruction he causes, takes a shot at revitalizing the house in the final act. The world is ground-up and fallible; the characters attempt change, but can they escape their curse?
Kyra Lewandowski takes on this powerful script with gusto. Her staging is visceral, but sometimes misguided. A couple of very crucial moments take place in the eviscerated doorway, which is concealed from a good chunk of the audience. The production also adds some spooky shadow-work to push the play into a more abstract realm, but Shepherd’s grinding text doesn’t need it. Lewandowski’s expressionist choice distracts rather than adds, but it is fortunately rarely used. Michelle Lilly O’Brien’s set and Jared Moore’s lights fill the otherwise welcoming Lincoln Park Cultural Center with gloom and decay, providing the cast with one unappetizing kitchen.
The cast finds connections with Shepherd’s sometimes cryptic characters, and the entire show breathes and broods. Manzer’s Wesley can be a bit too manic, but Manzer clearly knows Wesley’s vulnerabilities. Gilbert sits in the world the best, making Ella’s most bizarre moments feel natural and understandable. Against both of these powerful actors, Kittner scratches and scrambles, which works for Emma. Gray shines in the last act, but earlier he overplays the drunken stupor and comes off as ungrounded. As the land-grabbing lawyer, Kevin Gladish can’t really penetrate Shepherd’s realm, seeming wooden and unsure. This is difficult territory to conquer, however, and the cast steps up to the challenge and they are not afraid to tear right into it.
There is a lot of important information that is left unsaid in Curse, leaving the audience unsettled and probing in the dark. Lewandowski and her team understand this critical aspect—they know to close doors as they open windows. Minus a few failings, New Leaf Theatre has a self-destructive, nauseating success.
Air Guitar High – Northwestern University
A Chorus Line – Village Players Performing Arts Center
The Informer – Prop Thtr
this week’s show openings
Billy: A Post-Apocolyptic Comedy – Northwestern University
Bloom – Bailiwick Chicago
Cabaret – The Hypocrites
Curse of the Starving Class – New Leaf Theatre
The Diary of Anne Frank – Metropolis Performing Arts Centre
The Doctor’s Dilemma – ShawChicago
Elictracidad – DePaul’s Merle Reskin Theatre
The Farnsworth Invention – TimeLine Theatre
Girls vs. Boys – The House Theatre of Chicago
Hephaestus – Lookingglass Theatre
Little Women: The Musical – Loyola University Chicago
The Musical of Musicals (The Musical) – Dominican University
Oliver – Rising Stars Theatre Company
The Original Improv Gladiators – Corn Productions
Moses in Egypt – Chicago Opera Theater
Six Dead Queens and an Inflatable Henry – Piccolo Theatre
Spring Awakening – Promethean Theatre Ensemble
The Taming of the Shrew – Chicago Shakespeare Theater
The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek – 20% Theatre Chicago
Welcome to Arroyo’s – American Theater Company
Anna, in the Darkness: The Basement
Bastards of Young – Tympanic Theatre
Calls to Blood – The New Colony
Cats – Cadillac Palace Theatre
Dooby Dooby Moo – Lifeline Theatre
Everyone’s Favorite Lobster – Gorilla Tango Theatre
The Flaming Dames in Vamp II – New Millenium Theatre
Heroes – Remy Bumppo Theatre
The House on Mango Street – Steppenwolf Theatre
The Last Unicorn – Promethean Theatre
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow – Filament Theatre Ensemble
The Man Who Was Thursday – New Leaf Theatre
Mrs. Gruber’s Ding Song School – Gorilla Tango Theatre
Plans 1 Through 8 from Outer Space – New Millenium Theatre
Rachel Corn and the Secret Society – Corn Productions
You Can’t Take It with You – Village Players Performing Arts Center
Ah, Wilderness! – Loyola University Chicago Theatre
Bad Touch and the Deep End – Annoyance Theatre
Dirty Talking Amish – Gorilla Tango Theatre
Dracula – Oak Park Festival Theatre
The History Boys – Timeline Theatre
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – Court Theatre
The Night Season – Vitalist Theatre
Rent – Big Noise Theatre
Sleeping Beauty – Big Noise Theatre
Stripped: An Unplugged Evening with Marilyn’s Dress – Gorilla Tango Theatre