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Review: Love Tapes (The Inconvenience)

Mary Williamson stars as Melinda in The Inconvenience's "Love Tapes" by Penn Jillette and Steven Banks, directed by Shade Murray. (photo credit: Ryan Bourque)       
      
Love Tapes

Written by Penn Jillette and Steven Banks
Directed by Shade Murray
at Angel Island, 735 W. Sheridan (map)
thru July 6  |  tickets: $20   |  more info
       
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June 20, 2014 | 0 Comments More

Review: My Kind of Town (TimeLine Theatre)

Derek Garza and Charles Gardner, My Kind of Town, Timeline Theatre Chicago       
      
My Kind of Town 

Written by John Conroy  
Directed by Nick Bowling 
at TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington (map)
thru July 29  |  tickets: $32-$42   |  more info
       
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May 18, 2012 | 0 Comments More

Review: A Catered Affair (Porchlight Music Theatre)

Rebecca Finnegan - A Catered Affair, Porchlight Music Theatre       
      
A Catered Affair 

Book by Harvey Fierstein 
Music and Lyrics by John Bucchino
Directed by Nick Bowling 
at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont (map)
thru April 1  |  tickets: $38   |  more info
       
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March 7, 2012 | 0 Comments More

Review: Punk Rock (Griffin Theatre)

Joey deBettencourt and Leah Karpel - Griffin Theatre - Punk Rock       
      
Punk Rock 

Written by Simon Stephens 
Directed by Jonathan Berry 
at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map)
thru March 4  |  tickets: $34   |  more info
       
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January 27, 2012 | 5 Comments More

Review: Pinkalicious (Emerald City/Broadway Chicago)

     
Pinkalicious The Musical 1 Pinkalicious 

Book by Elizabeth Kann and Victoria Kann
Lyrics by John Gregor, Elizabeth/Victoria Kann
Music and choreographed by John Gregor
Directed by Ernie Nolan
 
Broadway Playhouse, Water Tower Place (map)

thru Sept 3  | tickets: $16-$22  | more info

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July 17, 2011 | 6 Comments More

Review: Broadway Bound (Drury Lane Oakbrook)

  
  

Cue the laughs

  
  

Max Polski, Mike Nussbaum, Carmen Roman, Jason Karasev, Paula Scrofano and Richard McWilliams in Drury Lane Oakbrook's "Broadway Bound" by Neil Simon.

   
Drury Lane Oakbrook presents
   
   
Broadway Bound
   
Written by Neil Simon
Directed by David New
at Drury Lane Oakbrook, Oakbrook (map)
through July 31  |  tickets: $35-$46  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

There’s a telling scene near the end of Broadway Bound where young Eugene Jerome, the fictitious, future Neil Simon, raptly listens to his mother. First shyly, then rhapsodically, she retells a familiar recollection: how one special night George Raft, slick, sophisticated and notorious, actually asked her to dance, how they eased across a spellbound dance floor and how young Kate became, too briefly, the envy of the neighborhood.

Jason Karasev and Max Polski in Drury Lane's "Broadway Bound" by Neil Simon.Simon not only shapes the memory like a living statue, he shows us Eugene’s amazement that his mother ever had a vibrant life apart from him. More importantly, Eugene is caught in the act of becoming a writer: This time around he doesn’t just hear Kate’s oft-told tale, he transforms it into an imaginary play by acting out audience reactions and punching home the reverie’s big moments.

All the give and take between life and art is right there in this seminal scene.

Capping Brighton Beach Memoirs and Biloxi Blues, Broadway Bound, the third installment in Simon’s semi-autobiographical trilogy, is in many ways the most revealing. Simon’s "Portrait of the Artist as A Young Gag Writer" depicts a young, contagiously hopeful Eugene and his eager-beaver brother Stanley embarking on a career as comedy writers at the very moment their Brooklyn-bound family is falling apart: Their grandparents have separated, their parents are soon to split, and at the end Eugene and Stanley – no longer stockroom and retail clerks, but salaried serial writers for CBS Radio – leave home for Manhattan. (Again Eugene acts as narrator; it makes good sense, given the writer’s journey depicted by Biloxi Blues.)

It’s almost comically cruel, this Chekhov-like juxtaposition of the sons’ callow careerism with the rapid disintegration of the Jerome household. It should be sad but there’s too much life to it.

Equally honest is the way this domestic drama refuses to fob off neat solutions, let alone a happy ending. The story builds by relentlessly denying any expectations of any joyous, last-minute reconciliation. At the same time the most positive force in the play, Eugene’s ambition to strike it rich as a radio writer, is nothing more than a dramatic promissory note.  It’s a harrowing picture of a past that’s rapidly burning out and a future that stays beyond reach.  Fortunately, the comparatively little of the play that happens in the present tense is delightful, by no means the usual formulaic "simple Simon."

It’s the late 40s and, whether he knows it or not, young Eugene, a hardened veteran of family squabbles (Brighton Beach Memoirs) and World War II (Biloxi Blues), is slowly turning his life into art. With their mother’s blessing, Eugene and Stanley want to be comic writers; the father just wants them to work hard, as he must in a job he loathes, and not complain. Rich with a writer’s details gleaned from sharp-eyed observation, these family portraits resonate with the charm of memory and the harshness of the actual. The now-rich Aunt Blanche returns, desperate to reunite her parents. But Eugene’s Trotsky-loving grandfather refuses to join his wife in Florida, certain no decent socialist could ever submit to such self-indulgence.

At the same time Eugene’s mother Kate is helpless to keep her brood from slipping away or even to get them to show up for dinner (a telling difference from Brighton Beach Memoirs).

Instead, Kate watches her marriage take the same downward course as her mother’s. Husband Jack, burnt out from years of dead-end work as a cutter of women’s raincoats, is unfaithful and, no Jezebel, the other woman is a middle-aged, dying widow who simply asks Jack questions that make him see everything differently. So Kate is left to agonize over a lifetime’s sacrifices, including one of a life of her own; well, they seemed so important at the time…

If Kate looks back, Eugene and Stanley are trying to peel the wrappings from their future. In the play’s most original scene we see Eugene and Stanley working against a looming deadline as they desperately search for a surefire formula for flawless comedy. (An exhausted Stanley remarks, "I love being a writer–it’s just the writing I can’t take.") At last Stanley finds it: people laugh when a character’s overwhelming need for something is frustrated by some undeniable conflict. Their example–a man with a busted back and a woman with a broken leg that can’t close a window in winter– isn’t screamingly funny, but it contains that crucial element, other people’s pain, that Simon will exploit in many, many comedies to come.

     
Paula Scrofano and Mike Nussbaum Carmen Roman, Max Poski, and Mike Nussmaum
Carmen Roman and Richard McWilliams Paul Scrofano Max Polski

Certainly the play practices what it preaches: Hilarious conflict between art and life and between life and life erupts when the family gather to hear the brothers’ first half-hour broadcast. It doesn’t help that the grandfather despises humor: art should be ”about something,” he argues, preferably the coming victory of the proletariat. Disagreeing, the Jerome brothers know that writers must write about what they know, in this case their family.

But when the Jeromes see themselves as the butt of national jokes, especially when the radio dad is described as a garment cutter who’s "into lady’s pajamas," it’s no laugh a minute. Interpreting the crack as an accusation of adultery, Jack reviles the boys for disgracing the family by hanging out their dirty laundry. Stanley retorts that their father dirtied it himself. Of course both are right, which is just what makes it hurt.

The moment represents Eugene’s first encounter with the treacherous power of art over life. But he soon learns that other family friends who listened to the broadcast thought the boys were spoofing ”their families.” So art can transcend its inspiration after all. The play ends in a series of Chekhovian farewells.

Setting aside the art vs. life dialectic, Broadway Bound is just a play that wants to please. Drury Lane Oakbrook’s production certainly does, thanks to the uncondescending compassion with which director David New colors Simon’s broken home. Collette Pollard‘s cut-away two-story stage is a nostalgically appointed, grown-up doll’s house while Linda Roethke‘s period costumes eloquently tell their time.

Mike Nussbaum Gangly Max Polski nicely balances Eugene’s coltish energy and hunger for the big time against his helplessness to prevent his parents’ breakup. At first defensively glib and perky as beleaguered Kate, Carmen Roman eventually–and dramatically–hardens herself. Despite a nearly perpetual frown, this mother faces her hard times with unforced grace and no small residue of love, and when she recalls the close encounter with George Raft the whole stage glows.

From the start Richard McWilliams emotionally isolates the bitter, lonely father ("There’s no place for me"); where almost everyone else reaches out he’s resolutely pulling in. In contrast, Jason Karasev as needy Stanley shows us all too well the price he’s paid for the father who isn’t there for him. In a sharply etched cameo, Paula Scrofano conveys aunt Blanche’s current crisis: She won’t feel guilty because she’s rich.

The most cunning work is Chicago legend Mike Nussbaum‘s foxy performance as the sardonic, all too literal, grandfather, a man who can tell a joke without getting it. No doubt this boiler-plated curmudgeon is the hardest audience Eugene ever played to–and the best discipline possible for a future king of Broadway.

The play’s one problem remains constant since 1986: Too often Simon answers questions we never asked and dodges ones that we do: Just what do the boys learn about the danger of life imitating life from their embarrassing exposure of their family on national radio? Why do they turn to comedy as a distraction from the family crises? (Why not woodworking?) Why do they need to make us laugh? There’d be some great answers there. Just asking.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Max Polski, Mike Nussbaum, Carmen Roman, Jason Karasev and Richard McWilliams

    All photos by Brett Beiner


June 18, 2011 | 0 Comments More

Review: Iphigeneia at Aulis (Lights Out Theatre)

  
  

Ritualistic elements explore value and purpose of faith

  
  

Rehearsal photo from Lights Out Theatre's "Iphigeneia at Aulis" by Euripides, now playing at the Collaboraction space in Wicker Park's Flat Iron Building.  (Photo: Serena Valenti)

  
Lights Out Theatre presents
   
   
Iphigeneia at Aulis
   
Written by Euripides
Directed and Adapted by Josh Altman
at Collaboraction, Flat Iron Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee (map)
through June 5  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

More than just a little hippie feeling prevails in Lights Out Theatre’s production of Euripides’ Iphigeneia at Aulis. That vibe comes, partly, from Collaboraction’s theater-in-the-round space, which seats its audience on pillows at various levels to the stage floor. The other contribution comes from Josh Altman’s cast of barefoot players, complete with hearty drum elements, which make their Greek army stranded on the shores of Aulis look more like a summer of love gone wrong. Love gone wrong isn’t a bad choice of words, since Helen, wife of Menelaos (Michael Hamilton), has run off to Troy with Paris. Now the cuckolded husband and his brother, Agamemnon (Kipp A scene from Lights Out Theatre's "Iphigeneia at Aulis" by Euripides, now playing at the Collaboraction space in Wicker Park's Flat Iron Building.  (Photo: Serena Valenti)Moorman), must amass their armies to get her back. But even fatherly affection doesn’t stand a chance once the army’s prophets proclaim that Artemis demands the sacrifice of Iphigeneia (Anne Leone), Agamemnon’s daughter, to get the whole enterprise off to sea.

Earthy and casual may be the look but nothing’s sloppy about the cast’s indelible care with Euripides’ language (adaptation also by Altman). Moorman, particularly, wrings every ounce of sympathy, depth and miserable humanity from his guilty and tormented father figure while never casting doubt on his position as commander-in-chief of Greece’s forces. Partnered with a rich and resonant performance by Barbara Figgins as Clytemnestra, Moorman holds the dramatic space through which Euripides savages dubious religion, the insanity of war and the dangerous power of demagoguery—political concerns of an Athens demoralized by the Peloponnesian War 2500 years ago, still finding their resilient parallel today.

While most of Altman’s younger cast members securely back up the principal leads, Iphigeneia’s shrill desperate pleas to Agamemnon’s for mercy doesn’t allow much play or range. Of course, the girl’s about to die, yet Leone needs to find the nuance of Iphigeneia’s mental state to make her anguish more watchable and compelling.

     
Rehearsal photo from Lights Out Theatre's "Iphigeneia at Aulis" by Euripides, now playing at the Collaboraction space in Wicker Park's Flat Iron Building.  (Photo: Serena Valenti) Rehearsal photo from Lights Out Theatre's "Iphigeneia at Aulis" by Euripides, now playing at the Collaboraction space in Wicker Park's Flat Iron Building.  (Photo: Serena Valenti)
Rehearsal photo from Lights Out Theatre's "Iphigeneia at Aulis" by Euripides, now playing at the Collaboraction space in Wicker Park's Flat Iron Building.  (Photo: Serena Valenti) Rehearsal photo from Lights Out Theatre's "Iphigeneia at Aulis" by Euripides, now playing at the Collaboraction space in Wicker Park's Flat Iron Building.  (Photo: Serena Valenti)

Neither does Iphigeneia’s sudden 180-degree turn toward being the willing victim convince–and for this play, it very badly needs to. Euripides makes a habit of putting his characters through 180-degree turns. He assigns several to other characters in this play alone. It almost seems like a perverse test for the actor, to instantaneously supply their character with psychological veracity in absolute contradiction to what they felt a moment ago. But having begun without much depth toward losing her life, becoming the Greek’s willing sacrificial lamb also proceeds without the intense psychological subtext that makes Iphigeneia’s transformation credible.

At least the ritualistic elements of Altman’s direction, bracingly and cunning bolstered by Hamilton’s drumming and Ben Chang’s violin, close Iphigeneia in Aulis with fundamental questions about the value and purpose of faith. By accepting an absurdity—that her death will bring freedom to Greece and immortality to her–Iphigeneia is able to transcend her misery and embrace her end with serene, courageous, almost godly composure. But should such things be believed? Figgins carries the evening with her exit clouded in doubt and suspense.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Members of the "Iphigeneia at Aulis" cast, including: Ben Chang, Anthony DeMarco, Barbara Figgins, Michael Hamilton, Adam Hinkle, Anne Leone, Anna Lucero, Kipp Moorman, and Andrew Nowak.  (Photo: Serena Valenti)

All photos by Serena Valenti

     
May 19, 2011 | 0 Comments More

Review: No More Dead Dogs (Griffin Theatre)

 

Griffin Theatre focuses on ‘Dead Dog’ fun


Alex Kyger, Colton Dillion, Cameron Harms, Jeff Duhigg and Ryan Lempka in Griffin Theatre's "No More Dead Dogs"

 

Griffin Theatre presents

 

No More Dead Dogs
Based on novel by Gordon Korman
Adapted by William Massolia
Directed by Dorothy Milne
at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map)
through June 19  | tickets: $25-$30  | more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Just what is it about children’s literature? On the one hand, classics in the genre can zap heartstrings and endear us to them forever. On the other hand, they, too, fall back on tired formulas that make us wonder what we ever saw in them. Heaven help the public school teacher trying to turn kids onto literature using “age appropriate” work from the 1950s. Wallace Wallace (Ryan Lempka) is just the kind of kid who won’t accept that kind of fodder without blunt and unforgiving commentary. Griffin Theatre’s latest production at Theatre Wit, No More Dead Dogs, follows Wallace’s keen observation that many books for young people, such as “Old Yeller” and “Where the Red Fern Grows”, often have dogs die in them in order to foster some tear-jerking Ellie Reed and Ryan Lempka in Griffin Theatre's "No More Dead Dogs"realization about life for the young reader. (Don’t get us started about Bambi.)

But dead dogs and orphaned deer aside, Griffin’s show, under the easy, swift and agile direction of Dorothy Milne, is a joyous romp for both cast and audience. Co-Artistic Director William Massolia has adapted Gordon Korman’s best-selling comic novel for the stage and his light handling of the ‘tween material usually carries off without a hitch. Wallace, having been lied to so often by his Dad (Jeff Duhigg), simply cannot bring himself to lie about anything, ever—including how much he thinks the book he’s assigned to report, “Old Shep, My Pal”, stinks. Too bad his English teacher, Mr. Fogelman (Jeremy Fisher ), can’t accept that his favorite children’s classic may be past its prime. He perpetually puts Wallace in detention until he can write a book report that meets with his approval. What could have been Wallace’s irresistible force running into Fogelman’s immovable object instead morphs into school jock meets the drama club, since Fogelman has adapted “Old Shep, My Pal” for their next production.

By no means is No More Dead Dogs a John Hughes drama. Crafted for younger audiences, the comedy kindly skirts the rancor between high school cliques. Indeed, sub-cultural clashes become virtually negligible once Wallace starts updating Fogelman’s adaptation to something his classmates can relate to. This includes incorporating Vito’s (Joey deBettencourt) garage band, The Dead Mangoes, into the production, much to Fogelman’s chagrin. Lempka strongly shows he knows the importance of being earnest in his humorously straightforward interpretation of Wallace. Fisher, however, almost steals the show, as Fogelman journeys from escalating frustration over his play being usurped, to hip cat on a sax once the band tells him he can join.

 Cameron Harms, Jeff Duhigg and Ryan Lempka in Griffin Theatre's "No More Dead Dogs" Ellie Reed and Joey Eovaldi in Griffin Theatre's "No More Dead Dogs"

Ellie Reed and Cameron Harms in Griffin Theatre's "No More Dead Dogs". (background: The Mangos)

Indeed, much as the play spoofs stale children’s lit, the show looks strangely reminiscent of zany, overtly physical 50s comedy, where every character pretty much stays in type and the show winds up even more crazy from there. Milne’s direction never overplays its hand but always builds the action to its appropriately goofy outcomes. Wallace is solidly flanked by his football buddies and the nerdier drama club, with Joey Eovaldi adding coy and energetic mischief in his role as the younger Dylan. Would that the parts of Rachel (Elllie Reed) and Trudi (Samantha Dubina) could have gone beyond girls-with-crushes-on-the-lead cliches—but at least Reed and Dubin handle their characters sportingly and generously. In fact, one would be hard put to find a more good-natured production, focused solely on dealing out firm and lively fun for the young, than this.

 

Rating: ★★★


Joey deBettencourt, Erin O'Shea, Morgan Maher and Jeremy Fisher as The Mangos in Griffin Theatre's "No More Dead Dogs"

Griffin Theatre’s No More Dead Dogs continues at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont, through June 19th, with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 7pm and Sundays at 3pm.  Tickets are $25-$30, and can be purchased by phone (773-975-8150) or online.  More info at www.griffintheatre.com.

 

May 15, 2011 | 0 Comments More

REVIEW: The Earl (The Inconvenience)

  
  

Now extended through March 2nd!

Strange brotherly love in company’s inaugural production

 
 

The Inconvenience's 'The Earl' at A Red Orchid Theatre. Photo credit Ryan Borque.

  
The Inconvenience i/a/w A Red Orchid Theatre presents
      
The Earl
  
Written by Brett Neveu
Directed by
Duncan Riddell
at
A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells (map)
through Feb 23 March 2  |  tickets: $15  |  more info 

Reviewed by Dan E. Jakes

Edward Bond’s miscreants have some competition for Theatre’s Most Twisted Youngsters in Brett Neveu’s grisly dark comedy, The Earl.

The Inconvenience’s revival marks the ensemble’s first professional production and the play’s third presentation, following an independent film adaptation by Jim Sikora four years ago and A Red Orchid’s original six-month run in 2006. From the looks of it, The Earl’s blood is still pumping strong.

Danny Goldring, now starring in 'The Earl' by The Inconvenience at A Red Orchid Theatre.  Photo credit Ryan Borque.Strong, or at least bountiful, gushing from the limbs and noses of its characters and streaming down the walls of its set.

The story is straightforward: three brothers reunite in an abandoned basement office for a high stakes game of physical abuse. Think bloody knuckles, but the Olympic version, with faces and knees substituting for knuckles and crowbars substituting for quarters.

Why? Probably for the same reason children in school yards voluntarily play “wall ball” (the innocent title doesn’t imply the notorious “no-block crotch-shots rule“, does it?), or the more presumptive “smear the queer.” Who knows. The rules of the brothers’ contest are never made quite clear–there’s a lot of counting and letters and special exceptions–but it’s not for us to know the details, is it? As Artistic Director Christopher Chmelik puts it in his program note, “[There’s] no judging panel or officials with the final say. The brothers wrote the rule book,” and that book remains a secret. Sick as it may be, the in’s-and-out’s of the unnamed game are honored with a special family bond not extended to outside ranks.

So, when famous action star Lawrence Stephens (played with a nice blend of kitsch and menace by Danny Goldring) is invited to join the brawl, assuming the role of an “Earl,” the game takes a brutal turn for the unexpected.

Like any good thriller, Neveu’s text layers its release of information slowly and unpredictably. Director and A Red Orchid Literary Manager Duncan Riddell paces the action carefully. I didn’t want to see too much, but I couldn’t look away. It’s a ballet of watching and wincing. When violence does erupt, Fight Choreographers Chuck Coyle and Ryan Bourque don’t disappoint. Theatre isn’t the greatest outlet for action (at least in the “wham-bam” sense), so fight choreography typically amounts to aggressive dancing. With the help of a collaborative young cast, Riddell overcomes the form’s limitations and uses the full visual and aural spectrum to create an exhilarating illusion.

Danny Goldring and cast in The Inconvenience's 'The Earl' at A Red Orchid Theatre. Photo credit Erica Jaree.

It’s fair to say that The Earl has more balls than brains, but that’s not to say it‘s dumb. This is an impressive, quick-witted ensemble, and the young trio has built a fascinating, mostly unspoken family dynamic. Among the sadomasochistic clan is Ryan Borque (Kent), a gangly, giggly ball of tics. He’s the severest case of arrested development of the group, and brings an estranged, juvenile sense of joy to the chaos around him, even when injured. Bourque is captivating, remaining charismatic with a broken nose. Likewise, Walter Briggs (Peter) and Chris Chmelik (Rick) know their backgrounds and supply the given circumstances that raise the show above the level of wrestling match to bold work of theatre.

The Earl works as a one-act, but when the house lights came up for curtain call, I was hoping we were at intermission. The dramatic ground work and characterization are laid for a full-length play, and though the show is structurally complete, it did leave me wanting to see more story fleshed out. It originally ran as a late-night show, and likely works better with that mentality going in. But even at 8, it’s a thrilling little piece of pulp fiction. And for that, I’m game.

  
      
Rating: ★★★
         
     

Danny Goldring and cast in The Inconvenience's 'The Earl' at A Red Orchid Theatre. Photo credit Erica Jaree.

        
        
February 4, 2011 | 2 Comments More

REVIEW: Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type (Lifeline)

 

Fun for kids of all ages

 

 Click, Clack, Moo - Lifeline Theatre  006

   
Lifeline Theatre presents
 
Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type
  

Adapted by James E. Grote
Music by George Howe
Directed by
Shole Milos
at
Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood (map)
through December 5  |  tickets: $12  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

I had my favorite associate reviewers with me for the Lifeline Theatre’s production of Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type. My niece Lexi and my nephew David are great barometers of what is funny without the filters of adulthood. Fortunately, this excellent show was a gem of comic timing and great music – even as I wear my grownup glasses.

Click, Clack, Moo - Lifeline Theatre  004 The story is simple and universal. Cow 1, Cow 2, Hen, and Duck want better accommodations. The cows and the hen are freezing their respective hides and feathers off in the barn. Duck is bored with the lily pad and wants to spice up his pond. The animals have a barrier in communicating with Farmer Brown and then the hilarity ensues.

Understudy Mallory Nees, who was fabulous in The Blue Shadow (our review ★★★), also at Lifeline, played Cow 1. She is the more logical of the cows and tries to find a sensible way to get through to farmer Brown. Lakhiyia Hicks plays the role of Cow 2. Her character wants to give Farmer Brown a knuckle sandwich until Hen reminds her that she doesn’t have traditional knuckles. Christina Hall plays hen with great aplomb and gleefulness. Hicks and Hall have a wonderful banter about chicken breath and cow mouth that had the audience in stitches. Yes, it’s juvenile. But it’s funny!

Ryotaro Shigeta plays the role of diplomatic Duck. Shigeta is charming and ebullient in the role. Duck has a great secret weapon in the super high definition remote control that drops from the ceiling. The remote allows us to translate cow, hen, and duck talk. It also rewinds the characters and pauses. Derek Czaplewski plays the hapless Farmer Brown who lives the sounds of the farm and is greatly disturbed when the animals become revolutionaries for warmth in the barn.

Farmer Brown makes the mistake of storing some old books and a typewriter in the barn where the animals live. Cow 2 sees that the books are by Karl Marx, Angela Davis, Malcolm X, and George Orwell. She is called to revolution and wants to get Farmer Brown off of the farm so that the animals can take over like in Orwell’s book. Cow 1 tells her to read the whole story because it might not be as great as that seems. It’s a great lesson for kids in getting the whole story and communicating so that everyone involved can understand. It’s funny on an adult level because we know how Orwell turns out. It’s funny on a kid level because Cow 2 is just funny pumping her fist in the air and declaring ‘power to the animals!’

 

Click, Clack, Moo - Lifeline Theatre  003 Click, Clack, Moo - Lifeline Theatre  007

Hall’s hen is really sweet as she wonders what happens to her eggs. It is another great lesson in knowing your worth and the value of your work for children.

The musical numbers are smooth and well choreographed. The song ‘An Electric Blanket Looks Like Home’ is done in 60’s girl group style. The music is cool and the dance moves are worthy of a Supreme or Vandella.

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type is from a series by author Doreen Cronin and illustrator Betsy Lewin. It is in the series that Lifeline has continued from Dooby Dooby Moo, and Duck for President.

Illustrator Lewin was on hand to sign the books on Sunday and the cast was most accommodating in signing autographs in person. Once again, Lifeline has done a stellar job of bringing the theater experience to people of all ages. I am a firm believer that children should be exposed to the theater more than the movies. There is real magic in this production. It is the magic that allows a child’s mind to roam in  imagination rather than be stifled and homogenized by impossible special effects. Click, Clack, Moo - Lifeline Theatre  004Lexi and David gave it their definite seal of approval. This miracle came in the form of one full hour of rapt focus and laughter.

Of course it should be said that David has deemed me the best auntie in the world. That is a comment that one doesn’t hear often and it isn’t doled out all willy-nilly.

They loved the brightly colored set, the great music, and dancing. Most of all, they love the theater experience in our own backyard of Rogers Park. It is a cool thing to read about something on your oat O’s box and then to see it live. Kudos to Lifeline for an amazing and fun show that shows the value of follow-through, problem solving, and cooperation. The play is an hour long and will hold your child’s attention as well as yours. I recommend this play even if you don’t have a grade school kid to take along. The double entendre is more than worthy for a laugh and memories of urban studies or political science classes. Come on and raise a hoof for a warm barn and bovine rights!

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
     
     

Click, Clack, Moo - Lifeline Theatre  002

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type runs on Saturdays at 1:00pm and Sundays at 11am and 1pm through December 4th at Lifeline Theatre. The theatre is located at 6912 N. Glenwood in Rogers Park USA. Visit www.lifelinetheatre.com for more information. Moo!

 

October 21, 2010 | 0 Comments More

REVIEW: Wuthering Heights (Lifeline Theatre)

 

Gothic gone ghostly

 

 Nelly (Cameron Feagin, right) comforts Cathy (Lindsay Leopold, left), who suffers from tortured visions; in Lifeline Theatre’s world premiere production of “Wuthering Heights,” adapted by Christina Calvit, directed by Elise Kauzlaric, based on the classic novel by Emily Brontë

   
Lifeline Theatre presents
   
Wuthering Heights
   
Adapted by Christina Calvit
From the novel by Emily Brontë
Directed by Elise Kauzlaric
Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood (map)
Through October 31   |  
tickets: $20–35  |   more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

In a sense, Emily Brontë’s classic romance is about an anguished love that endures beyond the grave. Despite many gothic elements, it is not, however, a ghost story.

Yet in Lifeline Theatre’s disappointing version of Wuthering Heights, Lindsay Leopold as Cathy Earnshaw, spends way too much time creeping about the stage in a white gown, grasping hands out claw-like, while the rest of the company stands around dismally making "woo-woo" sounds in the background. Where’s the Halloween candy?

Heathcliff (Gregory Isaac, right foreground) is haunted by the memory of his lost love Cathy (Lindsay Leopold, left background); in Lifeline Theatre’s world premiere production of “Wuthering Heights,” adapted by Christina Calvit, directed by Elise Kauzlaric, based on the classic novel by Emily Brontë Adaptor Christina Calvit dumps the eminently dispensable Mr. Lockwood, who frames the original story, and leaves all of the narration in the hands of Nelly Dean (the capable Cameron Feagin), who does most of it in the novel, anyway. But Lockwood’s nightmare about Cathy at the start of the book makes it clear that the dead Cathy’s influence is psychological, not supernatural, paving the way for the dying Heathcliff’s visions of her. Here we have a very solid Cathy pounding at the window to get in, over and over again.

Calvit also excises the pious Joseph, removing the whole theme of religious intolerance and hypocrisy that’s in the novel. Even at that, the production runs nearly 2½ hours.

We’re left with the everlasting triangle of the brooding and increasingly dangerous Heathcliff (darkly handsome Gregory Isaac), the highly strung, self-centered Cathy and the prissy Edgar Linton (nicely played by Robert Kauzlaric), and the second-generation repetition of Cathy’s daughter (a straightforward performance by Lucy Carapetyan), Healthcliff’s sickly and selfish son (Nick Vidal) and the degraded Hareton Earnshaw (Christopher Chmelik), here turned into a kind of cringing Gollum.

The deteriorating Hindley Earnshaw (John Henry Roberts), Cathy’s mean and profligate brother, and Healthcliff’s unfortunate wife (Sarah Goeden) get short shrift. The comparison between Earnshaw’s decline at the death of his beloved wife and Heathcliff’s reaction to Cathy’s marriage and subsequent demise is all but buried.

For all their scenes together, we never really see the sensual attraction that so haunts Heathcliff that he spends his life plotting revenge over his lost love, or Cathy to say that Heathcliff is her self. (Which, of course, makes it OK for her to marry another guy.)

WutheringHeights2Calvit juxtaposes the two generations fairly well, but she introduces each character in such a way that audiences are never left in any suspense about what’s going to happen and who’s going wind up with whom. So she tells us that Cathy marries Linton, not Heathcliff, and that her daughter ends up with Hareton well before the scenes that show us. Perhaps Calvit assumed that no one would go to see this play who wasn’t familiar with the novel. She might be right.

Certainly, no one who isn’t already a fan of the Brontë will become one as a result of this very screechy play, in which the characters are constantly yelling at one another. (To be fair, some of that is straight out of Emily Brontë melodrama — but it’s not comfortable to hear.)

Stylized. dancelike sequences add nothing to our understanding of the story and only take up time and slow the action. So much of the script and Elise Kauzlaric direction get in the way, that it’s hard to tell whether the cast does a good job or not.

Alan Donahue’s platform set captures little of the vastness of the Yorkshire moors and the up and down slide of the window and door become tiresome quickly.

If you’re an avid fan of the novel, you might want to see this. If not, skip it.

   
   
Rating: ★½
  
  

October 1, 2010 | 0 Comments More

Review: Thieves Like Us (House Theatre of Chicago)

 

Predictable bank-robbing adventure is fun as heck

Thieves Like Us - House Theatre - Byrnes Bowers Hickey

   
The House Theatre of Chicago presents
 
Thieves Like Us
   
Written by Damon Kiely
Directed by Kimberly Senior

at Chopin Theatre,  1543 W. Division (map)
through October 30  |  
tickets: $25-$29  |  more info

Review by Catey Sullivan

House Theatre fans will be in their raucous comfort zone with the company’s latest action-packed production. Thieves Like Us is chock full of the House’s signature elements:  Retro-comic book storyline? Check. Old school siren whose vocal stylings punctuate the scenes? Check. Cops, robbers, dames and drunks? Yup. And where previous House productions have made ingenious use of actors striding across the stage carrying picture frames and pop-up books to evoke small towns, big cities and points in between, Thieves uses a similar technique with newspapers to illustrate the Dust Bowl surroundings of Bowie Bowers and his posse of stick-up men.

But even with its profoundly predictable ending (which pays homage and owes a debt to both Bonnie and Clyde and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Thieves Like Us  is a step up for the House. After bursting onto the scene in the early Aughts with an inspired, revisionist take on Peter Pan,  the House continued with variations on the theme of lost boys long enough to become repetitive. The particulars changed as the House churned out stories of Samarai, cowboys, wannabe rockstars, science nerds and flying cheerleaders (our review ★★★½) – but the core of each adventure remained the same: Adolescence is tough. Growing out of it is even tougher.  For a while, it seemed that their target audience was restricted to ‘tween boys.

thieves Like Us - House Theatre - posterThat demographic will love Thieves Like Us, no doubt. But Thieves, written by Damon Kiley and directed by Kimberly Senior also has enough smarts and wry self-awareness to make grownups smile as well. It’s hero – Bowie Bowers, Depression-era desperado driven to thieving because an honest Joe can’t catch a break in the Dust Bowl – is surely relatable to anybody who has felt the pinch of the current recession (which is to say, everybody).

We first meet our hero at hard labor on a prison somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon line – the locale being evident by the oozing-syrup Okie drawl everybody talks with. It’s mere moments before the first burst of cartoon violence breaks out as Bowie (John Byrnes), hardened convict Chicamaw (Shawn Pfautsch) and elder statesman T-Dub (Tom Hickey) make a break for it. Across the plains they go, knocking over banks and planning One Last Score so that all can retire, maybe in sunny May-hee-ko. There’s A Girl (of course), who is instrumental in convincing Bowie to give up the stick-ups and settle down to a quiet life “on the straight.”  But of course Bowie can’t do that until he makes that One Last Score. And but of course, the last heist goes spectacularly awry.

The plot may be less than innovative, but the Kiley’s dialogue and the ensemble’s zesty execution of it make it mighty entertaining.

As Bowie, Byrnes creates a man of simple wants and basic decency – all he wants is a clean start, Bowie keeps emphasizing, but of course that’s just not possible, no matter how much money he steals.

Senior elicits strong performances from her supporting cast as well, starting with Pfautsch’s Chicamaw, who comes close to stealing the show along with the loot from the vault. Pfautsch instills the violent, hard-drinking, hardened criminal  Chicamaw with an impish spark that’s part playful sprite and part psychopath. It’s hard to say which is dominant, and that’s part of the character’s dangerous, wild-eyed charisma. The third man in the gang is Hickey‘s T-Dub, the nominal brains of the group. Also memorable is Tim Curtis, who exudes sly, degenerate charm first as a retired hold-up man and later as an oily attorney.

As for the women in the cast, Chelsea Keenan radiates joy, lust and deliciously girlish immaturity as Lula, a good-time blonde who can turn a kitchen table into a dance floor faster than you can say Jack Robinson.  And as a one-woman Greek goddess of a Greek chorus, Beth Sagal’s torch song narration is as rich and velvety as fine chocolate.  Breathing life into the composer Kevin O’Donnell’s seductive melodies, she’s a showstopper whose perspective adds significant depth to the comic book veneer. As for Bowie’s gal, the “Pistol Princess” Cheechie, Paige Hoffman is an appropriately hard-nosed moll although her romance with Bowie isn’t especially believable – they seem to love each other only because conventional storytelling demands that the main gangster have a girl to complicate matters.

The adventures of Bowie Bowers might not be especially original. But they’re colorful and clever and entertaining as heck.

   
   
Rating: ★★½       
   
      
September 21, 2010 | 2 Comments More