In Concert

In Akvavit Theatre Company's Hitler On The Roof, playwright Rhea Leman has devised the perfect post-mortem punishment for the man behind the Nazi propaganda machine. It’s spring of 1945, Berlin, infamous Fuhrerbunker; the war is all but lost, Hitler had just committed suicide, Dr. Joseph Goebbels and his wife have followed his lead, first having poisoned their six children. Everybody’s dead. But, wait: Dr. Gobbels’ ghost (played by Amy Gorelow) is still hanging around refusing to cross onto the next world. Seventy-two years had passed, it’s now 2017, yet, Dr. Goebbels believes that the war is still going on and that he’s got some important work to do.


I’d like to note that Strawdog Theatre is a very intimate space with just two double rows of seats on each side of the stage. The stage itself is made to look like a bunker (set design by Chad Eric Bergman), empty food cans strewn around, Edith Piaf’s “Non, je ne regrette rien” blasting in the background, and muffled old radio recordings of Hitler’s speeches occasionally chiming in (sound design by Nigel Harsch).


Ducking under the table each time a bomb goes off above the bunker, Dr. Goebbels keeps himself busy reciting Hitler’s and his own accomplishments and quotes, playing radio broadcasts to non-existent audiences, and boasting about his past, unable to let go and “move on”. Pacing around the bunker and reflecting on Germany’s past (“in 1931 Hitler turned dying country into a thriving country” and “created a new DNA, designed a new Germany”), he also analyzes propaganda’s manipulative power. As Minister of Propaganda and Peoples Enlightenment, Dr. Joseph Goebbels would know: he controlled arts, media, news and information in Germany from 1933 until his death in 1945.


Playwright Rhea Leman uses this original way to shine the light on the media and how it may be used as a tool to shape people’s perceptions and opinions, creating our reality. History is always there to remind us of our past and warn about the future. Born and raised in New York City, Rhea Leman moved to Denmark in 1981. She wrote Hitler On The Roof in 2011 in response to rise of Danish Nationalism. The original production of the play by the company Folketeatret toured Denmark for two years, winning the prestigious Reumert award for Best Leading Actress. Rhea Leman is the winner of multiple awards, including the Allen Prize award for “excellent dramatic writing”. Her writings focus on serious subjects which she presents in humorous ways, not unlike the current piece.


Mid-way through the play, Dr. Gobbels is joined in the bunker by the ghost of artist and filmmaker Leni Reifenstahl (Jay Torrence in drag), and the play picks up quite a bit. Together these two actors have such great chemistry on stage, and the gender role reversal of the two actors makes the premise of the play even more comical. Dressed like clowns, they dance (adorable!), flirt, and slap each other around (choreography by Susan Fay), all the while engaging in conversational battles to try and out-manipulate one another. But Leni Reifenstahl didn’t just drop in to chat; she’s there on a self-serving mission that, ultimately, doesn’t go as well as planned. Let’s just say the two “living dead” might just end up passing an eternity together, stuck in the bunker. Well done.


Hitler on the Roof is being performed at Strawdog Theatre (1802 W. Bernice Ave) through July 9th. For more information on this show or to purchase tickets, visit www.chicagonordic.org.

Published in Theatre in Review

Chicago’s Akvavit Theatre is pleased to present the U.S. premiere of Rhea Leman’s wild black comedy HITLER ON THE ROOF, a play for two clowns starring Amy Gorelow and Jay Torrence. Co-directed by Co-Artistic Director Kirstin Franklin* and Associate Amber Robinson*, HITLER ON THE ROOF will play a limited engagement June 21 – July 9, 2017 at the new Strawdog Theatre Company, 1802 W. Berenice in Chicago. Tickets are currently available at chicagonordic.org. The press opening is Thursday, June 22 at 7:30 pm.
 
This prescient 2011 Danish play finds the Nazi propagandist Dr. Joseph Goebbels (Amy Gorelow) and filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl (Jay Torrence) doomed to a perpetual afterlife in which to confront their pasts. Locked deep down inside the present day Führerbunker, the two engage in cunning feats of denial, manipulation and pure slapstick. 
 
Written during an alarming rise of Danish Nationalism in 2011, this play is a timely reminder of the consequences of selling lies as truth and propaganda as art. A favorite of audiences and critics alike, HITLER ON THE ROOF’s original production toured Denmark for two years with the company Folketeatret, winning the prestigious Reumert award for Best Leading Actress. The English language version is scheduled to tour Europe in 2017.
 
Talkback with Playwright Rhea Leman

Akvavit will host a talkback with playwright Rhea Leman following the performance on Friday, June 23 at 7:30 pm.
 
The production team for HITLER ON THE ROOF includes: Chad Eric Bergman* (set design), Piper Hubbell Robinson (costume design), Emma Deane (lighting design), Nigel Harsch* (sound designer), Letitia Guillaud (properties design), Madelyn Loehr (production manager), Mark Litwicki* (technical director), Bernadette Hagen (technician) and Margaret Bystrek (stage manager).
 
PRODUCTION DETAILS:
 
Title: HITLER ON THE ROOF
Playwright: Rhea Leman
Directors: Co-Artistic Director Kirstin Franklin* and Associate Amber Robinson*
Cast: Amy Gorelow (Dr. Joseph Goebbels) and Jay Torrence (Leni Reifenstahl).
 
Location: Strawdog Theatre Company,1802 W. Berenice, Chicago
Dates: Preview: Wednesday, June 21 a 7:30 pm
Regular run: Friday, June 23 – Sunday, July 9, 2017
Curtain Times: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 4 pm. 
Tickets: Previews: $10. Regular Run: $25. Students/seniors/industry $15. Tickets are currently available at chicagonordic.org.
 

*Denotes Akvavit Theatre company members.

Published in Upcoming Theatre

Chicago’s Akvavit Theatre is pleased to announce casting for the U.S. premiere of Rhea Leman’s wild black comedy HITLER ON THE ROOF, a play for two clowns starring Amy Gorelow and Jay Torrence. Co-directed by Co-Artistic Director Kirstin Franklin* and Associate Amber Robinson*, HITLER ON THE ROOF will play a limited engagement June 21 – July 9, 2017 at the new Strawdog Theatre Company, 1802 W. Berenice in Chicago. Tickets will be available Friday, May 5 at www.chicagonordic.org. The press opening is Thursday, June 22 at 7:30 pm.

 

This prescient 2011 Danish play finds the Nazi propagandist Dr. Joseph Goebbels (Amy Gorelow) and filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl (Jay Torrence) doomed to a perpetual afterlife in which to confront their pasts. Locked deep down inside the present day Führerbunker, the two engage in cunning feats of denial, manipulation and pure slapstick. 

 

Written during an alarming rise of Danish Nationalism in 2011, this play is a timely reminder of the consequences of selling lies as truth and propaganda as art. A favorite of audiences and critics alike, HITLER ON THE ROOF’s original production toured Denmark for two years with the company Folketeatret, winning the prestigious Reumert award for Best Leading Actress. The English language version is scheduled to tour Europe in 2017.

 

The production team for HITLER ON THE ROOF includes: Chad Eric Bergman* (set design), Piper Hubbell Robinson (costume design), Emma Deane (lighting design), Nigel Harsch* (sound designer), Letitia Guillaud (properties design), Madelyn Loehr (production manager), Mark Litwicki* (technical director), Bernadette Hagen (technician) and Margaret Bystrek (stage manager).

 

PRODUCTION DETAILS:

 

Title: HITLER ON THE ROOF

Playwright: Rhea Leman

Directors: Co-Artistic Director Kirstin Franklin* and Associate Amber Robinson*

Cast: Amy Gorelow (Dr. Joseph Goebbels) and Jay Torrence (Leni Reifenstahl).

 

Location: Strawdog Theatre Company,1802 W. Berenice, Chicago

Dates: Preview: Wednesday, June 21 a 7:30 pm

Regular run: Friday, June 23 – Sunday, July 9, 2017

Curtain Times: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 4 pm. 

Tickets: Previews: $10. Regular Run: $25. Students/seniors/industry $15. Tickets will be available Friday, May 5 at www.chicagonordic.org.

 

*Denotes Akvavit Theatre company members.

 

Artist Biographies

 

Rhea Leman (Playwright) was born and raised in New York City where she studied dance and theater before moving to Denmark in 1981. There, she formed and directed her theater company, Teater Tango until 1998. Since then, she has been working as an independent playwright, screenwriter as well as theater, radio and TV director. Her most recent awards include; The Rosenbergs, chosen as best opera of 2015 by CphCulture, in 2014 the Danish Committee for the Performing Arts awarded her for her direction of Tomas Lagermand’s play, The Story Behind the Wall and in 2013 she received the Allen Prize from the Danish Screen and Stage writers Guild for “excellent dramatic writing.” The Reumert Committee nominated Leman for best playwright of 2013 for her play about the global financial crisis, Gorilla. In 2003, for a four-year period, Leman was appointed by the Danish Cultural Minister as the chairwoman of The Danish Theater Council and as a member of The Danish Arts Council. In 2009, Leman formed Dramafronten, a platform for new play development and presentation and since then she has worked as artistic director towards promoting and producing new Danish plays in new ways and new places. Her own dramatic writings concentrate on very serious subjects presented in humoristic ways. 

 

Kirstin Franklin (Co-Director) has collaborated with many theaters across the country including: The Guthrie, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Asolo Rep, Pangea World Theatre, NY Fringe, Northlight, Urbanite and Raven Theatre, among others. Joining Akvavit in 2011, Kirstin's credits with the company include: Red and Green, Kokkola, Autumn Dream, Mishap!, Blue Planet and Nothing of Me, along with many staged readings. In her spare time Kirstin teaches theatre and acting at various colleges across Chicago. Originally from Colorado, Kirstin holds a BA from St. Olaf College and an MFA in acting from the FSU Asolo/Conservatory.

 

Amber Robinson (Co-Director) is a director, actor and devisor, and a member of TUTA Theatre in addition to Akvavit. Most recently, Amber performed in New York at Roundabout and The Signature Theater with Emma Stanton's award-winning play No Candy. In Chicago, Amber has worked with many storefront companies including Strange Tree, Forks & Hope, Strawdog, Collaboraction, Redmoon and Emerald City, as well as directing several projects for Grey Ghost Theatre, of which she is a co-founder. Amber is a graduate of Illinois Wesleyan University and the Moscow Art Theatre's American Studio.

 

Amy Gorelow’s (Dr. Joseph Goebbels) favorite roles include Ranevskaya (The Cherry Orchard), Margherita (Low Pay? Don’t Pay), Bottom (Midsummer), Peg (Crashing With Flamingos), Witch 2 (Macbeth), Lydia (All My Sons), Katherine of Aragon (Six Dead Queens), Dottore (Lust, Lies, and Marriage), Tragedian/Gertrude (Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead), Norma (Norma and the Maniac) and Masha (The Seagull). The theatres where she has worked include Metropolis, the Towle, Eclectic, Filament, Teatro Luna, Bailiwick and Piccolo, where she is a member. She has been a pirate clown at Navy Pier, and her bass-playing may be heard in several productions and podcasts. www.amygorelow.com.

 

Jay Torrence (Leni Reifenstahl) is a writer/performer/director and a founding member of The Ruffians. His playwriting and performance credits include Ivywild, Burning Bluebeard and Roustabout: The Great Circus Train Wreck (Awarded the John W. Schmid After Dark Award for Outstanding New Work and the After Dark Award for Outstanding Production). Jay has had the privilege to perform with 500 Clown, The Hypocrites, Redmoon, Theater Oobleck and The Neo-Futurists. where he was an ensemble member for twelve years and the former Artistic Director. He was a recipient of an Orgie Award for artistic direction and was named one of the “Top 50 Players in Chicago Theatre” by Newcity. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from The University of British Columbia and studied under master clown Philippe Gaulier. 

 

About Akvavit Theatre

 

Akvavit Theatre is haunted by Nordic visions: deep forests and ice-blue seas, the patience of the glacier, the sudden fury of the volcano, the arctic light and silence. Seeking the universal through the voices of contemporary Nordic playwrights, Akvavit Theatre is a kind of homecoming, a connecting back to the lands whose people and cultures have for generations been a part of the great prairies of North America that we call home. And like our namesake beverage, Akvavit brings a “strong spirit” to the work that we produce. Skål, Skál, Kippis! For additional information, visit www.chicagonordic.org

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

Chicagoans' love for historical dramas and our ghost and gangster bus tours are very popular here, so it is not surprising that this very well written and performed ensemble play about the very real, tragic Iroquois Theater fire in 1903 that killed over six hundred people packed in for an oversold Christmas winter matinee would be such a popular production even during the Holiday season. Powerful, heart-rending, imaginative and filled with dark humor, “Burning Bluebeard” is wonderfully directed by Halena Kays, who is able to so effectively take us back in time to revisit one of the greatest Chicago tragedies in this haunting and magical production.

 

The luxurious brand new and it turns out, unfinished building, The Iroquois Theater, was supposed to be the new "Titanic" of theaters – in this case luxurious and fireproof. So many important things relating to theater safety came out of this tragedy it almost seems destined to have happened in order to teach the world how NOT to construct and maintain theater safety for generations. 

 

Around 3:15 p.m. on December 30th, not long after the second act began, sparks from faulty wiring in a large lighted moon ignited several of the highly flammable scenery props. The stage manager frantically tried to separate the audience from the burning stage by lowering the massive asbestos flame proof curtain, but when it became stuck it did not take long before the quick and furious blaze spread throughout the theater.

 

The theater, which had a max capacity of thirteen hundred, was packed to the gills for this particular matinee performance of Bluebeard with over sixteen hundred audience members, most of whom were women and children. It was so packed that patrons sat in the aisles, squeezed in where they could, blocking doorways in the process. The upper levels were separated from the higher priced seats on the main floor by doors locked with chains so that the children could not "sneak' down to better seats or, as it turned out, escape in case of fire. There were fake doorways covered with heavy black curtains whereas if a perseverant theater goer did manage to break open during an escape attempt, they would find a brick wall on the other side. Wall after wall of glamorous mirrors in the lobby created a funhouse effect further confusing the panicked crowd when they could not find any real windows or unlocked doors.  The fire escapes were not yet completed and reached only halfway down the four story building.

 

Vents in the ceiling were nailed shut and the top of the theater was filled with highly incendiary silk set pieces. The very seats themselves were basically just flammable velvet material stuffed with straw hemp like tinder.

 

Amidst the chaos, unfortunately one of the show’s actors ordered the children, especially those packed shoulder to shoulder in the upper balcony, to sit back down and stay seated until they could exit slowly and safely.  But that was the worst thing they could have done. There were hundreds of performers in this show trapped backstage and when they finally were able to break down the back door which of course was chained and padlocked shut from the outside, it created a backdraft fireball that literally incinerated all of the children and their mothers in the front and upper rows of the balcony so quickly that all of their watches were stopped at precisely the same moment. 

 

Superbly written by Jay Torrence and performed by an outstanding ensemble consisting of Jay Torrence, Leah Urzendowski, Ryan Walters, Pam Chermansky, Anthony Courser and Molly Plunk, one cannot help but feel the desperation of the original theater crowd along with the relief of being alive in a world where lit EXIT signs and having working fire extinguishers are just part of what one expects for normal audience safety.

 

Every member of this troupe plays a unique role but I have to especially point out Molly Plunk who plays the role of an imaginary faerie queen capable of turning back time and causing the whole event to unfold without danger. Plunk’s delicate and whimsical interpretation of this role is key to keeping hope in the audience alive that somehow reliving this tragedy over and over will cause it not to happen again. 

I have recommended this show highly in the past and every friend I've sent young or old has had the same magical experience watching this unique, darkly funny, and fantastic production. Now in its fourth year, due to the show’s growing popularity, “Burning Bluebeard” has moved to yet a larger venue in The Den Theatre. Performed through January 10th, The Ruffians’ collaboration with The Hypocrites’ “Burning Bluebeard” has become a holiday hit in Chicago and is a sure-fire must see.

More show info can be found www.the-hypocrites.com. The show last approximately one hour and forty minutes with no intermission.

  

 

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

Almost as funny as it is tragic (that sounds so wrong), The Ruffians’ Burning Bluebeard, currently running at Theatre Wit, is a very unique live performance that everyone should experience. Bluebeard is an ensemble piece that recreates the stage performance that took place during the famous 1903 Iroquois Theater fire that claimed over 600 lives on Randolph Street in downtown Chicago.

The moment we enter the stage area, we are met with body bags that lie on a charred theater floor. It is a melancholy scene that sends chills up one’s spine. We soon are introduced to five stage performers and a theater manager who each tell their story of what they were doing at the time the fire struck. This happens in between the recreation of acts leading up to the tragedy. During this process we laugh and laugh some more. How can there be something funny found in something so disastrous? Masterfully, playwright Jay Torrence is able to infuse a dark humor throughout this tragic historical event. Each character delivers a knockout performance drawing laughs at will from the crowd one moment and bringing tears to one’s eyes the next.

One of the year’s best, this show is like no other.  Its vivid descriptiveness relates to the audience to the point you really feel you know the characters and are experiencing the tragedy along with them. Grim and morose is the story though comical are many of the surrounding facts such as the Mr. Bluebeard itself, the massively produced play with over four hundred cast members that was running at the time of the great fire. A play that hardly made any sense and depended on large visuals, an overload of song numbers (nine songs in first act alone) and dazzling acrobatics.

We are described beautifully the stunning details of the sixteen hundred seat Iroquois Theater, a majestic auditorium with no costs spared during its creation that was touted as fireproof just as the Titanic was called unsinkable nine years later. The sad truths are slowly released whereas mostly women and children were in attendance at this standing room only matinee performance, and that the theater was nearly escape proof once the fire erupted.  

Wonderfully directed by Halana Kays, Burning Bluebeard makes exceptional use of its limited space, successfully creating the illusion of a much larger scaled production. Ensemble members Pam Chermansky and author Jay Torrence lead the way delivering mesmerizing performances in this multi-talented and very colorful cast with Anthony Courser, Molly Plunk, Leah Urzendowski and Ryan Walters. And thanks to imaginative costume design, we have no problem believing we are present at a 1903 production.

In Burning Bluebeard we are treated to a rare flavor of theatre that is sure to leave a lasting impression. 

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

 

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