Dance in Review

Friday, 29 September 2017 12:16

Review: Becky Shaw at Windy City Playhouse

“Sometimes lying is the most humane thing you can do,” declares Gina Gionfriddo’s character Suzanna Slater in her play ‘Becky Shaw.’ Gionfriddo’s script was shortlisted for the 2009 Pulitzer and enjoyed a successful Off-Broadway run in 2008. ‘Becky Shaw’ makes its Chicago premiere at Windy City Playhouse in Irving Park.

Scott Weinstein directs this sleek production at the even sleeker Windy City Playhouse space. With only 25 seats, the performance space asks its audience to swivel in remarkably comfortable club chairs between scenes as there are three stages in the theater. Something about the orientation of the theater makes this telling more active than a typical play. A really unique experience that may be as memorable as the play itself.

‘Becky Shaw’ is a story about two non-biological siblings Suzanna (Amy Rubenstein) and Max (Michael Doonan) caught in a ‘Cruel Intentions’ style love affair until Suzanna marries someone else. They come from a splintery family and are brutal with one another, but not brutally honest. When Suzanna and her husband attempt to set up cold and cruel Max with delicate Becky Shaw, the play takes a dark direction.

This play is nothing if not well acted. The titular role, drawn as an allusion to the Victorian novel ‘Vanity Fair’ by Thackery, is played by Carley Cornelius. Her version of a clever woman trying to claw her way out of circumstances is haunting and weird. At no point do you ever feel that you’ve got her figured out. At times she’s vulnerable and soft but then turns deliberate and forceful. Cornelius brings a very relatable quality to this mysterious character. Gionfriddo has created such a fascinating character in Becky Shaw, that it’s almost disappointing that there’s not more of her here.

Gionfriddo’s play is funny and provocative. There are quote-worthy snippets of dialogue that, offer glimmers into the playwright’s opinions. She seems very concerned with equality of sexes. Several times the script calls a relationship a meeting of equals. Some may remember Gionfriddo’s play ‘Rapture, Blister, Burn’ which premiered at the Goodman in 2015. While nowhere near as good, ‘Rapture, Blister, Burn’ continued the playwright’s probe into the complexities of long term romantic love between men and women.

The scene jumping quality of the script lends itself well to the multi-staged set-up of Windy City Playhouse. It helps establish the passage of time between scenes and gets you close enough to the actors to feel directly involved. The female ensemble is works really well together in this production. Chicago stage veteran Suzanne Petri gives a standout performance as the mother of Max and Suzanna, and walks away with some of the most insightful lines of the evening. ‘Becky Shaw’ is a play about what happens when you bring a new person into your life, whether you want it or not. (John Accrocco)

Through November 12 at Windy City Playhouse 3014 W Irving Park. 773-891-8985

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Thursday, 08 June 2017 02:27

Griffin's "Ragtime" Done Right

In 1996 Ragtime made its stage debut in Toronto and a year later it found itself making waves on Broadway. Based on the 1975 novel by E.L. Dotorow, the musical, with a book by Terrence McNally, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty, kept gaining momentum winning thirteen Tony Awards in 1998. Now, to close out its 2016-2017 season, Griffin Theatre Company reimagines the modern classic, thanks to the creative minds of director Scott Weinstein and Matt Deitchman, who adds new music orchestrations to the mix.


Taking place in New York City, Ragtime takes us back to the turn of the century, beginning in 1906, where three families who couldn’t be more different are followed – a young African American couple, a recently immigrated Jewish father and daughter and a privileged white family. As the story unfolds, the families come across one another, but in doing so, and along the way, we see the vast difference in treatment each receives as Ragtime touches on social justice, race relations and immigration. With plenty of parallels in today’s America, Ragtime serves as not just an entertaining musical, but also as a lesson to which we can all learn from.


Throughout the story we also meet a handful of influential historic figures including Henry Ford, Harry Houdini, J.P. Morgan and Booker T. Washington and are reminded of the impact each had made in a rapidly changing America.


Filled with many lively characters such as Coalhouse Walker JR (admirably played by Denzel Tsopnang) who brings "ragtime music" alive with his jazzy Harlem-styled piano playing and Tateh (played with great zest and sentiment by Jason Richards), the colorful Jewish immigrant who just wants to build a life for his daughter, this is a musical that constantly keeps one engaged.


Katherine Thomas makes quite an impression in her debut for Griffin Theatre as Coalhouse Walker’s love interest Sarah particularly shining in numbers “Your Daddy’s Son” and “President”. Laura McClain as Mother also impresses and moves the house during her rendition of “Back to Before”. Other standouts performances include Joe Capstick who undertakes a handful of roles including Houdini, Frederick Harris as Booker T. Washington, a very funny Caitlin Collins as Eveyln Nesbit and an ensemble that truly delivers in every way.


Imaginatively staged at Den Theatre’s Main Theatre, the venue holds a new look as it is transformed into a theatre in the round, the audience surrounding the action. A ragtime band is present throughout the show, two pianos, a clarinet (Dan Hickey) and an occasional flute to giving us a newly-orchestrated chamber version behind the music direction of Jermaine Hill and Ellen Morris, each of whom mans a piano throughout.


There is a reason that Ragtime has won so many awards and has been revived so often by numerous theatre companies. Simply put, the music is outstanding, it’s story is educational as it is entertaining and its message is timeless. Griffin Theatre does justice to this definitive production putting forth a commendable cast, an inviting set, polished music production and lighting and spot on costumes that throw the audience back in time to 1906.


Recommended.


Ragtime is being performed at Den Theatre’s Main Stage and has been extended through July 22nd. For this quality production tickets are a bargain at just $39. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.griffintheatre.com.

Published in Theatre in Review

Pulitzer Prize-winner, Annie Baker, dissects human behavior through the microscope of an acting class with Circle Mirror Transformation, the title of which is taken from a classroom theatre game intended to generate trust, teamwork, and connection. Instead, tiny wars of epic proportions are waged, and the six-week class transforms into a cascade of epiphanies and dashed hopes.

THE CAST (in alphabetical order) 

Adam Bitterman (James), Talia Payomo (Lauren), Lynda Shadrake (Marty), Michael Sherwin (Schultz), Emily Tate (Theresa)

 

Understudies: Nick Dorado (Schultz), Julia Kessler (Theresa), Emma Maltby (Lauren), Robin Margolis (Marty), Jim Scholle (James) Understudy Performance: Tue, May 9, 7:30pm

 

THE STAFF 

Scott Weinstein (Director), Hannah Dawe (Assistant Director), Mary Brennan (Stage Manager), Kaitlin Smrcina (Assistant Stage Manager), Elyse Balogh (Set Designer), Daniel Friedman (Lighting Designer), Karli Blalock (Sound Designer), Kotryna Hilko (Costume Designer), Parker Blackston Ryan (Props Designer), Jan Ellen Graves (Graphics & Marketing), Manuel Juan Ortiz (Technical Director), Catherine Miller (Dramaturg & Casting Director), E. Malcolm Martinez (Box Office Manager), Charles Bonilla (Box Office Associate), Johnny Garcia (Box Office Associate), James Fleming, Jan Ellen Graves, & Michael Colucci (Producers)

 

THE SCHEDULE 

Opens: Sat, April 15, 3pm (note: there is no evening performance on opening day)

Showtimes: Thu, Fri, Sat, 7:30pm; Sun, 3pm

Closes: Sun, May 14, 3pm

Running Time: Approximately 110 minutes, no intermission

Previews: $15; Wed, Thu, Fri, Apr 12, 13, 14, at 7:30pm 

Understudy performance: Tue, May 9, 7:30pm.  $20 (seniors & students $5 off)

Tickets: Thursdays, $30; Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, $35 (seniors & students $5 off)

        

RESERVATIONS 

Call: 773-728-7529  

Tickets: www.redtwist.org

 

Redtwist is located at 1044 W Bryn Mawr, 2 blks W of LSD, 2 blks E of the Red Line EL station.

 

Valet parking for Redtwist is available across the street in front of Francesca's Bryn Mawr for most performances-hours vary. Dining is not required. 

 

Limited FREE street parking is available on side streets. There is metered street parking via ParkChicago.com app or 3-hour Paybox on Bryn Mawr Av and 2-hour Paybox on side streets. Free on Sundays, and after 10pm Mon thru Sat. 

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

In the early 90’s, the now defunct supermarket tabloid Weekly World News, published a story about a creature - half boy half bat - found in a West Virginia cave. That story became the inspiration for Bat Boy: The Musical written by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming with music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe.  The first production opened in 1997 and the show made its off-Broadway premier in 2001 quickly becoming a cult hit.

 

The show opens as a few residents of Hope Falls happen upon the Bat Boy while spelunking. Surprised by the visitors to his cave, Bat Boy attacks Ruthie and is then captured by her brothers Ron and Rick. They turn him over to the local sheriff, who drops him off at the home of the town veterinarian, Dr. Parker, hoping he will be able to put him down humanely. The vet’s wife and teenage daughter Shelley have different plans however, somewhat to the chagrin of Dr. Parker. They feed him, get to know him and eventually come to care for him, teaching him and helping him grow into a “normal” member of society. The folks of Hope Falls however, are scared of Bat Boy but Mrs. Parker and Shelley work hard to win them over, until things start to fall apart and truths start to be revealed that shed a whole new light on Bat Boy and his family.

 

Falling into the genre of horror/comedy musical, this show is unique from the start. It touches on some heavier themes such as racism, bias, revenge, understanding and forgiveness but with well-timed comedic moments and campy songs it keeps things from getting too dark. The story continues to throw curveballs right up until the end, keeping the audience entertained, surprised and even touched. It challenges the audience to think about their own biases while making light of some very heavy topics with some hilarious moments that have everyone laughing out loud.

 

The performance was polished and well put together under the direction of Scott Weinstein. The cast of 10 actors, representing twenty-two different roles, were spectacular. They shifted from character to character perfectly, often portraying female characters in drag which felt like a perfect fit for this show.  Everyone played a huge role in the show and brought both strong acting, good timing and strong vocal performances together to create an overall excellent show.

 

Staged in The Den Theatre, it made the most of an intimate space. The set was well designed by Jeff Kmiec and Greg Pinsoneault and the set transitions appeared seamless. With some of the seating practically on stage, and set pieces allowing for lots of movement and levels on the stage it created a very unique experience. In some scenes, the entire audience seemed to become part of the show, as the actors broke the 4th wall and interacted directly with them.

 

Bat Boy: The Musical is certainly a one of a kind musical. It may not be for everyone’s taste as it does include some rude humor and pretty twisted storylines but it is a hilarious and excellently executed show so if you are looking for something a bit unique to break up the monotony of cookie cutter musicals, this is it! Get your tickets and check it out before the run ends on July 24th!

 

Published in Theatre Reviews
Tuesday, 28 October 2014 19:00

Sail On Titanic!

Griffin Theatre Company has taken on the feat of recreating the Tony Award-winning musical Titanic. Launching this production in a much more intimate space at Theater Wit, the audience gets a real close up feel to the action and is able to capture the bevy of emotions delivered first hand. Scott Weinstein directs Griffin’s Titanic with intensity, giving this production a true feel of tragedy and humankind.

We are all familiar with Titanic’s maiden voyage that where the luxury passenger liner launched from Southampton, UK and sank in the Atlantic on April 15th 1912 after hitting an iceberg on its way to New York City. In Peter Stone’s Titanic, we join the excitement prior to the ships fateful launch where the ship is boasted as the largest and fastest passenger sea vessel that also comes with the tag “indestructible”. Families, friends and crew members are giddy with enthusiasm and anticipation as projected so well in the show’s magnificent opening number “In Every Age”. After Titanic’s triumphant departure, we are taken to both the luxurious world of the ship as well as that of the lesser class. In its five day voyage, we are taken to ballroom extravaganzas, fine dining and also to the far less glamorous galleys and crew quarters.

All the while the good Captain Edward Smith and First Officer William Murdoch look to steady the course but do so under the pressure of ship owner White Star Line to increase its speed in order to break the speed record to cross the Atlantic. Finally, on a dark and quiet night, lookout Frederick Fleet notified Murdoch of an iceberg due ahead, but it was too late to maneuver, the ship receiving a 300-foot gash in its side, doomed to sink in the frigid waters. In all the panic and commotion we learn that there are only enough lifeboats to save a third of the ship’s passengers. Ultimately only 700 or so of the Titanic’s 2224 passengers would survive, the rest condemned to a watery grave.

In Griffin’s Titanic, we get a real sense of devastation after what is at first denial (after all they are on an indestructible ship). We see the blame game shifted between architect, White Star Line and the Captain. It is an interesting dynamic as we see both unbridled selfishness and unselfishness between the passengers as some are intent on saving themselves while some are more interested in trying to help others.

The set, though simple, converts well from ship deck, to dining hall and living quarters, to ship exterior. The music is strong and heartfelt (also newly reworked). Many numbers are memorable, seizing the essence of the situation so very well such as “I Give You My Hand”, “To Be a Captain”, “I Have Danced” and “God Lift Me Up”. We also get a number of excellent acting performances in the large cast of twenty, making this a very solid production that has everything you would want in a musical tragedy.

Griffin Theatre Company’s Titanic is a high seas adventure you will not soon forget. It’s a big show in a smaller theatre. This warm and stunning production is being performed at Theater Wit (1229 W Belmont) through December 7th and tickets are priced at a very worthwhile $39. For more information, you can visit www.griffintheatre.com. 

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

 

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