Tag: Zoo Studio
Mammals’ dream journal struggles to maintain balance
|The Mammals present|
|The Dream Journal of Doctor Jekyll|
|Written by Jason Adams, Scott Barsotti, Randall Colburn, Bob Fisher,
Reina Hardy, Warwick Johnson and Jeremy Menekseoglu
Directed by Bob Fisher
at Zoo Studio, 4001 N. Ravenswood Ste B-1 (map)
through April 2 | tickets: $20 | more info
Reviewed by by Barry Eitel
In their The Dream Journal of Doctor Jekyll, The Mammals are quick to dismiss Robert Louis Stevenson, decrying his novel as a “penny dreadful.” Instead, at the onset of the play, our guide Professor Oliver Mastodon Peale says that we are about to get a taste of the real story. He claims that next to the titular doctor’s eviscerated body laid a book, half written in neat cursive, half written in near-illegible handwriting. This adaptation, as we’re led to believe, is actually a dramatization of that story. It’s a bold move; one that breathes life into the Victorian-era tale.
Known for their exploration of the horrific and grotesque, Dr. Jekyll and his alter-ego Mr. Hyde provide ample fodder for the Mammals. However, the play can never decide whether it is a gothic descent into hell or a smartly-done spoof. In the end, the show becomes a victim of taking itself too seriously.
In lieu of actors, claims Peale (Jason Adams wrapped in a robe and marvelously fake moustache), he has hired sleepwalkers. We watch as Jekyll (Scott Barsotti) battles, comforts, and eventually succumbs to Hyde (Gabe Garza). Basically, it’s a story dwelling on the well-explored turf of Apollonian versus Dionysian. The Mammals make very clear that Jekyll is a man of science while Hyde concerns himself with art and magic (usually through harming cats). We watch as Jekyll, through Hyde, tears into those around him and, finally, into himself.
The play was written by committee, with contributions by Jason Adams, Scott Barsotti, Randall Colburn, Bob Fisher, Reina Hardy, Warwick Johnson, and Jeremy Menekseoglu (whew). It works best when Jekyll and Hyde play off each other like some sort of bipolar comedy duo. The most memorable scene is when the boorish Hyde becomes Jekyll’s wingman, giving him terrible advice for wooing Eve (Sarah Scanlon).
The writers seem to have taken for granted that we all know how the story ends, and the play clumsily spirals into the finale without much concrete motivation. The last couple of scenes, although striking, don’t really connect into a fully-realized arc. The framing device, although funny, doesn’t help things. For some reason, a pair of Siamese twins (Ashlee Edgemon and Anne Marie Boyer, who are not real conjoined twins) do what they can to derail Peale’s demonstration. It also seems like flute-wielding demons are trying to take over the show? Whatever they’re up to, the soundtrack they provide is eerily excellent.
I take issue with the writers’ casual remarks about pedophilia and rape. Some of Hyde’s comments seem like cheap shots for shock value. The play’s moments of high tension are usually overblown, like when Scanlon and Garza scream at each other as they discuss the nature of screams. Again, it’s the comedy that should’ve been the star—the funniest moments can be subversive yet push the story forward. While not one of the smartest points of the show, Garza rolling around on the floor after a punch to the groin and groaning “My balls!” is a highlight.
Either way, the cast fully commits to the material, whether they’re playing a short tune on the dulcimer or screaming at the audience. And some fascinating moments are pulled out of the general chaos. In the last few scenes, a tired Peale goes into a beautifully metatheatrical monologue about the nature of art. John Ross Wilson’s cabinet-o-curios set provides a feast for the eyes, with plenty of drawers and doors for the cast to open and close. Like a dream, a lot of Dream Journal doesn’t quite make sense, but it definitely keeps your interest. Claiming ‘but that’s the point!’ seems a lazy argument to me, but it works well enough to keep this massive collaboration hammering along.
The Dream Journal of Doctor Jekyll continues through April 2nd at Zoo Studio, 4001 N. Ravenswood #B1, with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 10pm. BYOB! Tickets are $20, and reservations can be made by calling 866-593-4614.
No Country for Young Women—or Anyone Else
|The Mammals present|
|Written and Directed by Bob Fisher
at Zoo Studio, 4001 N. Ravenswood (map)
thru Nov 6 | suggested donation: $20 – BYOB | more info
Reviewed by Paige Listerud
This past spring, under Bob Fisher’s deliciously skewed playwriting and direction, The Mammals really brought the excessive testosterone with their retro boxing melodrama, The Meatlocker (our review ★★★). They do no less with their current ode to spaghetti Westerns, Seven Snakes, staged in the dungeon-like confines of the Zoo Studio. While every line and gesture expresses sensual longing for the heyday of Eastwood films, Fisher sagely places Seven Snakes a full 30 dystopian years into the future. This is a desperate futuristic Western, playing off of nostalgia for rugged individualism and the joys of Manifest Destiny. Meanwhile, it cites those American cultural qualities as the source of our current military misadventures in the Gulf and Afghanistan.
Our story begins “in the remains of what was once the Arizona desert.” Heaven only knows where the rest of the USA has gone, but only two women and six Octogenarian Veterans of Foreign Desert Wars survive to live out dry days and lonely, love-starved nights in Skillet County. When The Mother, played in drag by Don Hall, gives up the ghost and leaves The Daughter (Erin Elizabeth Orr) to fend for herself as the solitary nurse at the VA, the elderly vets turn increasingly, dangerously frisky. Their sexual tension turns to outrage and suspicion when a wounded stranger arrives—a drifter who could be either a sexy, lone gunslinger or a terrorist out to destroy what’s left of America. Mother’s ghost returns both to spur on her Daughter and to comment on the action. But for the most part, girl is on her own with these crazy mens.
The real comic heroes of this play are the vets, led by the leadenly appropriate but no less sex-starved or suspicious Colonel (Matt Kahler). The action and humor grow decidedly freakier with the old boys’ growing frustrations. The further their young nurse progresses in her intimate relations with the Man (Roy Gonzalez), the more the vets believe he is one of a mythical terrorist team, the Seven Snakes.
Like most new works, Fisher’s comedy could use a strategic editing, but the lead-up to the second act is well worth the wait. The play achieves the surreal state of 60s Westerns, parodying and doing homage to them at the same time. The priceless comic timing of the Colonel, Radar (Ian Brown), Sgt. Ringo (Adam Dodds), Corporal Cheese Grits (Vincent Lacey), Private Toadsuck (Shane Michael Murphy) and Mr. Hey (Sean Ewert) make lines like, “So, what about that drifter’s penis?” and “That is the art of camouflage, girly” ring hysterically and resonantly funny.
Completing the show’s testosterone is the rest of the Seven Snakes and the American Psychic Surveillance Team. As for the Snakes’ Segundo (Riso Straley), Chupa Fuerte (Bert Matias), Cuchillo (Miguel Nunez) and Angel (Fernando S. Albiar), these are men who have been fighting so long, their culture and history are as mythically-based as their reputation. Their roles don’t carry the comic impact of the Desert Wars Vets–happily, Matias plays his role as a “dirty-old-snake” to the goofy hilt. The rest of the Snakes are mournfully hip and fiercely outlaw–not to mention desperately needy for human touch. But one wonders if a little political correctness has crept into their character development. As for Agent V (Jim Hicks) and Agent Fido (Warwick Johnson), much as I appreciate how they represent the USA, their torture scene goes a little too long for either comedy or political commentary.
Since Erin Orr is the only player with XX chromosomes, one can only salute her no-holds-barred approach to keeping octogenarian lechers at bay, while struggling to get the young guys to open up emotionally. The former keeps the action going at a hilarious tilt, even as things turn dicey. Be prepared for fun stage violence and bloody bandages. Sadly, her romance with the Man drags. Their last crucial scene together doesn’t ring true. There still isn’t enough chemistry between them to sell lines like, “I don’t want to be cold-blooded anymore.” Seven Snakes is a man’s comedy and has to be appreciated as such. Still, even the Marx Brothers knew the importance of producing romance between their romantic leads, film after film. Besides, the world of the Seven Snakes could use a little tenderness. It helps to make the laughs complete.
Taking risks, The Mammals creates visually terrifying tableau
|The Mammals presents|
|written/directed by Bob Fisher
at Zoo Studio, 4001 N. Ravenswood (map)
thru May 14th | tickets: $20 suggested donation | more info
reviewed by Aggie Hewitt
The Meatlocker, the new play written and directed by The Mammals artistic director Bob Fisher is a dark and heady comedic drama set in the creepy world of 1930’s boxing. The play’s titular character, The Meatlocker (Dave Goss), is a boxer who can’t go down for the count. He’s haunted by a demon who warns him that if he stays on the floor of the ring until the ref counts to ten, he will never get up again. Tormented by demons and faced with the material world threat of tough guy bookies who want him to take a dive, Meat and his manager, Manny (David Lykins) are men without options.
In the small black basement that is the Zoo Studio, an opaque shower curtain is all that separates the audience from the deep stage. The back wall is completely lined with news papers. As the first scene opens, Meat is lying on a workout bench, directly under a single yellow light bulb, the only source of illumination in the entire scene. Lovely little risks like this make The Meatlocker one of the most visually intriguing shows of the season. Bob Fisher lingers on visceral images; tableaus of a woman walking alone downs a dark alley; the cold looks in the crowd as a boxer enters the ring, to season the performance. The effects are haunting and engaging, and lend themselves to the overall cartoonishness of this imaginative production. Nothing about this play is subtle, from the staging to the acting to the characters, which like the tableaus they inhabit are painted with the broad strokes.
Stitch, the evil demon played by Adam Dodds (who also designed costumes) has the body of Richard III and the voice of a distorted Jimmy Stewart – which is literally amplified by bizarre and brilliant choice to dress him in a live headset microphone.
The character of The Meatlocker is a terrified child in the body of a (literally) ice cold man. He is constantly in anguish, addled by the visions of a recurring phantom. The world he lives in, then, is a dark place filled with creatures of the night, human 0oddballs who tempt his sanity as much as the ghost does. Whether or not Stitch is real or not is irrelevant. The play is scary, and thought-provoking in it’s brutality.
The Meatlocker drips testosterone. The one woman in the play, A.J. The Reporter (strongly played by Nicolle Van Dyke) is as tough, or tougher, than her male counterparts, to the point that she has a late night, dark alley conversation with tough guy Rudy the Rhino (the truly terrifying Gabe Garza), who initiates the conversation by jumping out of the shadows and threatening to rape her. There is not a motivation in the world that would keep a woman in that situation, and this choice may be the weakest moment in the show. The ultra-masculinity of The Meatlocker is what makes it great, but like its hero, it is also its greatest flaw.
The Meatlocker runs Friday & Saturday, 8pm, at Zoo Studio, 4001 N. Ravenswood. BYOB! $20 suggested donation. Reservations can be made by calling 866-593-4614.