Tag: Nic Jones

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 | 0 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