Tag: North Lakeside Cultural Center

REVIEW: The Last Night of Ballyhoo (Project 891 Theatre)

    
     

What does it mean to be Jewish at Christmastime?

     
     

Jason Kellerman and Sarah Latin-Kasper

  
Project 891 Theatre Company presents
   
The Last Night of Ballyhoo
   
By Alfred Uhry
Directed by
Jason W. Rost
North Lakeside Cultural Center, 6219 N. Sheridan (map)
Through Dec. 19  |  
tickets: $15  |   more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Should a Jewish Christmas tree be topped with a star? That argument launches The Last Night of Ballyhoo, Alfred Uhry’s delectable examination of Southern Jewish culture in the mid-20th century, now playing in Project 891 Theatre Company’s nearly perfect site-specific production at Edgewater’s historic, 1914 Gunder Mansion (North Lakeside Cultural Center).

The year is 1939 and the place is Atlanta, where the film "Gone with the Wind" is having its premiere, while Hitler has begun his rampages in Europe.

Liz HoffmanHitler seems remote to most of the Freitag family, complacent, long-established, well-to-do Southern Jews of German heritage, as they trim their Christmas tree. They’re part of an ingrained culture so assimilated they barely know what being Jewish is, other than to chafe at the bigotry of the gentiles who keep them from mixing in the South’s highest society. So they create their own, "a lot of dressed-up Jews dancing around wishing they could kiss their elbows and turn into Episcopalians," in turn manifesting their own anti-Semitism against "the other kind" — Jews more recently arrived, more religious, more obviously ethnic.

Uhry mined the true history of the South and his own upbringing here. The play’s name, The Last Night of Ballyhoo, refers to the big society event of the season for the well-heeled Southern Jewish younger set, a cotillion at the exclusive Standard Club.

At the outset, anxious, flighty Lala Levy, one of the daughters of the house, doesn’t yet have a date for this important night. Sensitive, prickly and awkward, Lala is a grave disappointment to her bossy, ambitious mother, Boo, who fears her daughter will never "take." Lala suffers in comparison to her prettier, brighter, collegiate cousin, Sunny Freitag, who shares the family home along with her fond, slightly vague mother, Reba. Boo’s bachelor brother, the long-suffering Adolph Freitag, nominally presides over the household, supporting them all in comfort with the family business, Dixie Bedding Co.

Into this mix comes handsome Joe Farkas, a new and highly valued employee at the firm, Brooklyn-born and unmistakably "one of the other kind." He sets the family at odds on a number of levels, ultimately challenging their perception of what it means to be Jews.

Commissioned for the 1996 Olympic Arts Festival, The Last Night of Ballyhoo, was revised for its Broadway opening the following year. It deservedly received both the Tony and Outer Critics Circle awards for best play, as well as nominations for the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

   
Darrelyn Marx and Lori Grupp Liz Hoffman and Austin D Oie

Skillfully staged in the mansion’s wood-paneled front parlor, with seating for just 23, this intimate production features superb acting, notably from the senior members of the cast. Darrelyn Marx excels as the acerbic Boo, pushing and goading her daughter with tough love, portraying this unlikable character with power and empathy. Lori Grupp charms as Reba, and Larry Garner puts in a wonderfully wry performance as Adolph.

Liz Hoffman captures Lala’s painful gracelessness beautifully. Sarah Latin-Kasper makes a serene Sunny, and Jason Kellerman gives Joe a perfect balance between brashness and bewildered sensitivity. His smile when Sunny agrees to a date lights up the room. Austin Oie is hilarious as redheaded Peachy Weil, the well-born Louisiana wiseacre whom Boo hopes to capture for Lala.

For those who prefer their December entertainment without cloying overdoses of sentiment and good cheer, The Last Night of Ballyhoo offers everything a holiday show should have: Great performances, depth, humor and pathos.

    
   
Rating: ★★★★
   
   

Note: Allow time to find street parking

  
  

 

December 4, 2010 | 0 Comments More

REVIEW: Right as Rain (InnateVolution)

A tepid “Rain”

right-as-rain

 
InnateVolution Theater presents:
 
Right as Rain
 
by April Smallwood
directed by Toma Tavares Langston
North Lakeside Cultural Center, 6219 N. Sheridan (map)
through April 24th (more info)

reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

The publicity material for Right as Rain contains a quote from director Toma Tavares Langston declaring that this work by writer April Smallwood did not have a definitive answer or resolution. What actually commences is a predictable and stereotypical depiction of the angst of gay youth. This story has been told before, to better resolution, and there is nothing fresh or revealing in this tale of identity struggle and religious fundamentalism.

Right as Rain takes place at the home of Paul and Sara Stevens in present time rural Kentucky. The Stevens are a fundamentalist Christian couple with a teenaged son named Luke (Ethan Itzkow). Their son’s new friend Chance (Pavel Tabutov) has come by on a Sunday morning and witnesses the Stevens family’s living room church stained-glass-rainbow-cross service. Eileen Tull, as Sara Stevens, has a charming Middle America quality to her that fits the role of a compliant minister’s wife. She plays well opposite husband Paul (Arne Saupe), who does his best to interject life into the rigid Evangelical minister.  We soon learn that the Stevens family was run out of their last church because of a secret that resulted in shame – a shame of which no one is allowed to speak.

Itzkow plays the role of son Luke with puppy-like energy and naiveté. He is funny and heart rending as an innocent country boy who strictly obeys his parents and believes in his father’s sermons. In his acting debut, Pavel Tabutov is clearly challenged at every turn with his portrayal of Luke’s friend Chance. Stiff gesticulating and an inability to catch the beats of the dialogue hampers him from the start. At first, one might think Tabutov has difficulty with dialogue that’s florid and clumsily akin to old radio soap opera. And it soon becomes clear that the actor has an indiscernible accent and not of the southern type. If the role had been written for a foreign boy as a fish out of water in Kentucky it might have worked – just as it worked for James Baldwin in “Another Country” and “Giovanni’s Room” – two such examples of a naïve ultra-religious boy tormented and confused by his burgeoning sexuality.

In an attempt to shock or inject originality, playwright Smallwood transposed Baldwin’s themes into a Kentucky idyll. The unfortunate result is trite and predictable. The father keeps repeating “there is something about that boy” with narrowed eyes – killing any suspense of why the Stevens family had to leave Rushing Waters church in their last town. There is no shock that Paul had incited a hate crime that led to family disgrace and eventually Luke’s self- loathing and shame about his sexual identity.

The dynamic between the characters of Chance and Luke falls flat and unintentionally hilarious. For example: the parents go out of town and bad boy Chance shows up with vodka and porn. Luke gets hammered from slugging vodka like Sunny D, his defenses are down and Chance pounces as porn flickers on the television. It is already obvious that his life will be somehow ruined like the boy in “Reefer Madness” when he tokes on that fateful doobie.

There are other clumsy attempts to push the action to a fever pitch:

  • the eye-rolling dark-night-of-the-soul portrayal of Luke’s overwrought break-up scene
  • a seemingly campy take on Luke, as he cries at having forgotten the Lord’s Prayer – on his knees struggling to remember the familiar words
  • the odd hallucinagenic sequence where Luke’s friend Chance becomes a go-go dancer: the strobe-light flickers while Luke’s mother, wearing a jolly polka-dot dress, lilts around the disco club, dust mop in tow, all while father looms over the scene, bible in hand. (I realize that hallucinations are supposed to be absurd, but the staging of this scene is way over the top and the production is ill-equipped to handle it. The light and sound effects are badly-executed and should have been altered to fit the budget.)

Right as Rain is staged at North Lakeside Cultural Center, an early 20th-century mansion, a prohibitive space where care needs to be taken when staging a  production. northlakesideThe parlor is the main stage for the first 2 acts of Right as Rain, used as the setting for the Stevens kitchen and Luke’s bedroom. The seating arrangement in the parlor makes for poor sight lines, as audience members crane their necks to see the interaction between characters (not that it ultimately makes any difference).

The mansion’s front area is then used for the 3rd (and final) act, where the play’s climax occurs in the church being built by Paul in their home’s back yard. This scene is the best and most mercifully short of the production. Luke has taken a break from Chance and is helping his father. He breaks down and confesses to his father his homosexual encounters. The dialogue between Paul and Luke is fevered and skillfully delivered, the most honest and raw of the play. It also sets the stage for the rather stereotyped portrayal of gay self-loathing. The violent ending is meant to be shocking, but instead one feels hit over the head by the overplayed theme that one cannot run away from their sins.

Right as Rain is a world premiere that comes from InnateVolution’s previous “New Play Circle Series of Staged Readings”. There is much work to be done to take it from the present staged-reading feel into a professional production indicative of quality Chicago theatre. Though a more minimalistic production might possess some redeeming factors, the turgid writing makes minimalism impossible.

Rating: ★½

 

Right as Rain runs Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00pm. There are no performances March 27th or April 10th. Tickets can be purchased by calling 312-513-1415 or by visiting www.innatevolution.org.  Note: If attending, sit in the front row lest you miss any attempts at subtlety or reactionary glances.

      
March 23, 2010 | 3 Comments More

Extensions: The Cabinet, Pillowman, Harper Regan, The Long Red Road

cabinet 

The Cabinet  – extended through April 4th

Redmoon Theatre has announced an extension of their haunting and surreal production. The Cabinet,originally slated to close on March 7th, has now been extended through April 4th.  Tickets are available online or by calling (312) 850 – 8440. (Read our review ★★★½)

 

 

   

PmanLogo600 Pillowman – extended through March 16th

Due to popular demand, Redtwist Theatre’s smash hit Pillowman, by Martin McDonagh and directed by Kimberly Senior, has extended its run through March 16, 2010, with a further extension imminent (fyi: Pillowman has been running strong since November 2009!).  All performances at the Redtwist blackbox space, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr.  Tickets, priced at $22 – $27, are currently on sale.  (See our Pillowman review here ★★★)

 

   

Harper Regan – extended through March 28th

On Thursday, January 21st, the Steep Theatre’s U.S. premiere of Simon StephensHarper Regan opened. Word hit the street by Friday and the first reviews hit the stands Saturday morning. By noon on Monday the 24th, every performance of the six-week run and the one week extension had sold out.  In response to this terrific demand, Steep has announce additional performances of this smash hit. An unprecedented 16 performances have been added to this already extended show – now running through March 28th.  For ticket info here. (our review here)

   

 

LongRedRoad_poster The Long Red Road extended through March 21st

Due to high demand for tickets, Goodman Theatre has extended its world-premiere production of The Long Red Road, a new play by Brett C. Leonard, directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman, by one week—now running February 13 through March 21, 2010. The cast of six remains intact for the extension week, including London’s stage and screen actor Tom Hardy, as well as Marcos Akiaten, Greta Honold, Chris McGarry, Fiona Robert and Katy Sullivan.

 

   

 

March 6, 2010 | 0 Comments More

REVIEW: “Bright Star: The Love Story of John Keats and Fanny Brawne”

A poetic play in a perfect setting

John & Fanny B

North Lakeside Players present:

Bright Star: The Love Story of John Keats and Fanny Brawne

Written and directed by Frank Farrell
at
North Lakeside Cultural Center in Edgewater.
Through Dec. 20 (ticket info)

reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Among the best things about Chicago’s theater scene are wonderful chances to see productions close-up in intimate and sometimes non-traditional settings. Such venues really bridge the gap between audiences and performers. As I overheard a woman say at North Lakeside Players’ charming world premiere, Bright Star: "I felt like I was part of the play."

The Players perform in the historic Gunder Mansion in Edgewater. Built in 1914, reportedly as the lakefront home of an early silent-movie mogul, the house was renovated and opened in 1989 as the North Lakeside Cultural Center.

mrs B & john john & fanny a 12.6.09

The building can accommodate more, but North Lakeside Players Artistic Director Frank Farrell prefers to limit audiences to 20, in part because he likes to stage scenes throughout the house, moving watchers from room to room. Farrell’s Bright Star shifts from the wood-paneled front parlor to the leaded-glass-flanked dining room to a second-floor bedroom, so viewers get something of a house tour along with the play. (Farrell is known for getting his audiences on the move. He’s also the man behind Theater-Hikes, performed during 2-mile walks, and a new project involving bicycle treks.)

North Lakeside Cultural Center forms an ideal setting for historical plays, like "Bright Star," which covers 1818 to 1821, the final years of the short life of British Romantic poet John Keats. Written in 2001, Farrell’s "Bright Star" is based on the 1968 historical novel of the same name by Joan Rees, which was in turn named for Keats’ sonnet, said to have written to his beloved, Fanny Brawne:

Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art —
Not in lone splendor hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors —
No — yet still steadfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever — or else swoon to death.

—John Keats

You need not be a student of literature to appreciate this sad, true love story, also the subject of a recent film by Jane Campion. Keats, 23, and Brawne, 18, met in Hampstead in 1818, and gradually fell in love. Then, as now, life was not easy for self-employed writers — particularly unsuccessful, critically reviled poets — and the couple could not afford to marry. Both her people and his discouraged the relationship. Then, Keats’ health began to fail.

Playwright Farrell weaves wonderful lines, both his own and quotations from Keats, into a compact script. He pares the poetry to a minimum, keeping things moving — aJohn_Keats_by_William_Hiltonlthough I would gladly have heard more of Joe Ciresi’s beautifully expressive recitations.

Ciresi makes a handsome, very boyish Keats (though topped with a Struwwelpeter wig whose historical accuracy appears a little dubious). When it comes to dialogue, however, his performance sometimes seems too restrained.

Actor and script keep the love scenes decorous, as perhaps they really were. Yet surely the intense and stormy Keats who poured his heart into famous love letters with lines like, "Love is my religion — I could die for that — I could die for you" and "You must be mine to die upon the rack if I want you," should display more passion? We need some sizzle, especially between Keats and his darling.

Pretty Nicole Richwalsky brings the right coquettishness and emotion to the young and not very deep Fanny, while Christina Thodos plays her widowed mother with matter-of-fact briskness, delightful in scenes such as one quizzing the young poet on his prospects. Christina Irwin is nicely motherly as the busybody neighbor, Mrs. Dilke, and Michael Mercier doubles proficiently as Keats’ dying brother, Tom, and his friend Charles Brown. Frank R. Sjodin and Nada Latoya Steier capably play a variety of supporting roles.

The playwright knows his subject thoroughly, creating a few puzzles for audience members not so deeply grounded in Keats’ biography. For instance, there’s a rather mystifying scene with Mrs. Isabella Jones (Steier), who needs a better introduction (Keats may or may not have had an affair with her); and glancing references to bad reviews don’t adequately prepare us for an unneeded, anticlimactic monologue damning Keats’ literary critics for the poet’s death.

Quibbles aside, "Bright Star" is a lovely play in a lovely setting, well worth the modest ticket price.

 

Rating: ★★★

 

Note: The production is not wheelchair accessible. Paid parking is available across the street; parking passes must be reserved with tickets. Possible future performances may be in February. 

fanny & john bed Photos by Frank Farrell

December 8, 2009 | 2 Comments More

Review: Prologue Theatre’s “Sex” by Mae West

Prologue Theatre’s “Sex” Only Puts Out a Little

 Prologue Theatre Co - Sex 2 (photo by Alix Klingenberg)

Prologue Theatre presents:

Sex

by Mae West
directed by Margo Gray
thru November 21st (ticket info)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Prologue Theatre Co - Sex 5 (photo by Alix Klingenberg) I’ve long wanted to see Sex, the play that put Mae West in jail. Mae West was one of America’s great crossover artists, bringing more risqué influences from vaudeville and jazz to the so-called “legitimate” stage on Broadway. She appropriated elements from African-American artists and the drag balls of the Pansy Craze, lifting comic styling wholesale from female impersonators Burt Savoy and Julian Eltinge. For her part, West daringly imported queer culture into the mainstream with her plays The Drag and The Pleasure Man. But then Mae West was about all sex, not just the straight variety.

Prologue Theatre Company is obviously conscious of the historical value of these American theatrical and cultural developments, staging Sex at the turn-of-the-century Gunder Mansion, now serving as the North Lakeside Cultural Center. The play occurs en promenade, an element that both does and doesn’t work for the production. Transitioning the audience from room to room certainly emphasizes shifts in place from Montreal to Trinidad to Connecticut. However, the time it takes for the audience to make it into their seats from one room to the next also produces clumsy delays between scenes and the travel up and down stairs definitely limits accessibility.

What created scandal in West’s time seems tame in ours. Yet Jes Bedwinek, as the savvy working girl Margy Lamont, infuses her leading role with the right amount of suggestiveness. She borrows just enough of West’s timing and inflections without devolving into an utter Mae West caricature–successfully acknowledging her illustrious forebear while at the same time making the role her own. Anne Sheridan Smith molds her role as the philandering society matron Clara Stanton, to be the perfectly balanced foil to Bedwinek’s Margy—just as lusty, yet hemmed in by cultural refinement and conventional restraints. As the doomed prostitute Agnes, Rebecca L. Maudlin brings realism and sympathy to a role that could have been rendered as simply pathetic. It’s a woman’s play, after all; the things of greatest consequence happen to the women characters.

 

Prologue Theatre Co - Sex1 (photo by Alix Klingenberg) Prologue Theatre Co - Sex 3 (photo by Alix Klingenberg)
Prologue Theatre Co - Sex 6 (photo by Alix Klingenberg) Prologue Theatre Co - Sex 4 (Photo by Alix Klingenberg)

Director Margo Gray has honed the cast to adhere to naturalism, as opposed to the heavily stylized acting of West’s era. It’s a choice that definitely scales the production to the more intimate setting of Gunder Mansion, as well as clarifying and updating the play for a modern audience. It’s also a choice that exposes the weaknesses of uneven casting. Gray has brought from her successful run of The Wonder: a Woman Keeps a Secret Sean Patrick Ward (Jimmy Stanton) and Christopher Chamblee (Lt. Gregg), yet many cast performances are too scattershot to convey a cohesive ensemble. Nathan Pease’s turn as Margy’s pimp, Rocky, is sleazy enough yet still doesn’t contain the menace needed to threaten convincingly.

For my money, the audience gets stinted the most during the more vaudevillian portions of the play. The opening of the first scene in Trinidad should shine with musical numbers that warm the audience to Margy’s culminating performance of “Shake That Thing”—a classic Ethel Waters tune that Mae West appropriated. A little more jazz and enthusiasm, as well as a little more shakin’ that thing, might easily make up for musical deficiencies. Or perhaps Tinuade Oyelowo should be given more numbers to rock the audience with that voice of hers. Whatever the case, this is supposed to be the Roaring Twenties, not the Ironic 90’s or the Tight-ass 50’s. It’s not a good sign when there’s more fun to be had listening to the singing of drunken sailors on shore leave.

All in all, the shortcoming’s of Prologue’s production resigns it to community theater status for all their efforts. As Mae would know, it takes performers with a lot more on the ball than this to produce good old-fashioned entertainment.

Rating: ★★

 

November 6, 2009 | 0 Comments More