Log in

Login to your account

Username
Password *
Remember Me
Ken Payne

Ken Payne

When first looking at the Ravinia double bill of Blondie and Melissa Ethridge, one might have asked, “What are they thinking?” “How can those two so very different genres of music be paired together?” Well, they were - and it was somehow perfect. Each playing somewhere in the neighborhood of a ninety-minute set, the two bands each provided their own energetic performance not to be soon forgotten.

ethridgeMelissa Ethridge took to the stage first with her raspy vocals and guitar driven rock to the tune of “If I Wanted To” followed without pause into “No Souvenirs”. Ethridge’s energy matched her immense talent leaving little doubt her place in the world of pop-based folk-rock. The two-time Grammy Award winner (she received fifteen nominations) worked the crowd with a band behind her that was nothing short of amazing. Never a dull moment, Ethridge made her way from one end of the stage to the other with much charisma and command, effortlessly strumming her guitar and being the consummate professional she always has been. Nearing her set's end’ Ethridge dove into to “I’m the Only One”, a fan favorite and staple anthem in her career before “ending” with “Bring Some Water” and then coming back for an encore with “Like the Way I Do”. Ethridge is a hard working performer who certainly gains a lot more respect after seeing her live.

After a thirty or so minute intermission, a drastic stage transformation had taken place. Whereas Melissa Ethridge relied solely on her band, house lighting and a large dark curtain as a backdrop, the stage had soon become equipped with a large projection screen as a background, futuristic props scattered about and rotating laser lights. Soon after, the lights drop and Blondie confidently walks from side stage to their marked positions. Debbie Harry, wearing dark wayfarer sunglasses and a hot pink ensemble nods to the screaming crowd and just like that the new wave punkers kick into “One Way of Another”. Harry, now seventy-years-old, is as cool as ever, still wielding the voice that made the band an influential giant in the music industry.

Harry joined by original members Chris Stein, Clem Burke, Blondie went on to knock out one hit after another including “Atomic”, “Heart of Glass” “Maria”, “Call Me”, “Dreaming”, “Hanging on the Telephone” and threw in a few more recent songs, “Euphoria”, for one. Projections in the background displayed classic Blondie videos and swirling imagery that seemed to go perfectly with each song. Tapping into their reggae side, the band played an inspired version of “The Tide is High” before igniting into one of the first ever songs featuring rapping,  “Rapture”. Blondie also threw the crowd a curveball with a raging rendition of The Beastie Boys “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)”.

Harry and company performed brilliantly, proving Blondie still can put on one hell of a show. There is little doubt that Blondie would be highly entertaining no matter where the venue, but watching them play at Ravinia surrounded by the stars accompanied by a gentle outdoor breeze (even if it was 63 degrees on a July evening) was simply magical. Here’s hoping they make their way back to the Chicagoland area very soon.

Be sure to visit www.ravinia.org for upcoming summer events.

Friday, 03 July 2015 00:00

CMTF Continues with One Thousand Words

Underscore Theatre Company is in the midst of their second annual Chicago Musical Theatre Festival at The Den Theatre where it is host to thirteen brand new musicals submitted by a slew of local theatre companies. Though some musicals presented come from theatre companies more polished than others, the event is a fantastic passage for the development of new, creative theatre productions in the Chicago area. A handful of submitted plays are production-ready while some are completed works. Some of the theatre companies involved include the New American Folk Theatre (“Dirty Girl”), American Demigods (“Fanatical”), Duplicity Ensemble (“Marble, GA”).

Day two of the Chicago Musical Theatre Festival introduced “One Thousand Words”, a musical with the book and lyrics by Michael Braud and music by Curran Latas. When a reporter, Richard Hanks, is assigned to write a thousand words about two men in love during World War II, he is at first disappointed because he’d rather be in Pakistan covering the current tension in the area. After his editor dangles a carrot in front of the horse-drawn carriage by semi-promising she would send him on the overseas assignment once he successfully handles the task at hand, Hanks decides to write the story of the year and delves into the lives of these two men whose story comes from an intimate photo of the two while in World War II. After tracking down Warren, now eighty-years-old, he is taken back to the 1940s where he hears the story of two men who hid their love for each other before, during and after wartime and the circumstances and obstacles that they had to face. Hanks becomes transfixed by Warren’s story and possibly affected much more than he expected.

The story is simple enough. It flows well without confusion and the dialogue is fairly engaging. Its songs are not likely to be remembered afterwards for their melody though they did strengthen certain points in the show by capturing the appropriate tone of the moment despite singing that is best described as hit or miss. The set is as minimalistic as they come furnished with only a couple crates, leaving much to the imagination, as the space it used for each and every production in the festival and requires a quick turnaround.  

Joe Hornberger does give a strong performance as “Warren” and is one of the better singers in the cast, while Justin Stevens pairs up with him nicely as “Daniel”, his lover. At first one might think the two a bit miscast and unlikely as lovers, but the pair begins to make more and more sense as the story progresses and become quite believable. One needs to keep in mind that thirteen musicals are sharing the same space for multiple performances in a few weeks’ time, so there might be missed spotlight marks, minor production tweaking per show and somewhat barren sets. The main purpose is for Chicagoans to experience and support local theatre in development and hopefully be entertained while doing so. One Thousand Words contains enough positives to keep it interesting.   

One Thousand Words can be seen at The Den Theatre:                                    

Tuesday, July 07, 2015 9:30 PM
Saturday, July 11, 2015 2:00 PM
Thursday, July 16, 2015 8:00 PM
Saturday, July 18, 2015 5:30 PM

For more information on the Chicago Musical Theatre Festival, visit www.cmtf.org

Lasting imagery, profound acting and exciting characters set the stage for Lookingglass Theatre Company’s latest production, Moby Dick, the classic tale of the monomaniacal plight of Caption Ahab who is hell bent on destroying a fierce sperm whale who cost him his leg, even at the expense of his own crew. As the story goes, a crew is assembled for a whaling expedition only to find out their captain has another agenda – revenge. Though the play successfully conveys a sense of unity we also feel a dark loneliness that feels foreboding from the story’s beginning.

Lookingglass Theatre is brilliantly transformed to effectively capture the essence of the ocean with the use of flowing fabrics and strategic lighting and uses more than a touch of creative genius in order to pull off a believable whale. As the story unfolds, three stoic red-headed women become part of the set sometimes enhancing the dialogue with their ghostly words of warning and at other times representing the stormy waters or the whale itself. The three are as haunting as they are graceful, dreamily heightening the story’s focus at just the right moments.

Still, it would be difficult to present a plausible production of Moby Dick without a fiery Captain Ahab, but, thankfully, Lookingglass has found their man in Christopher Donahue. Donahue, seemingly born for the role, is as blistering as they come and brings the doomed captain to life with the vigor and fervor deserved for such a classic character.  

mobydick-magnum 

Jamie Abelson excels as character/narrator Ishmael. A seasoned sailor who has served on a number of merchant ships, Ishmael finds himself aboard a whaling ship for the first time and plunged in the midst of Ahab’s quest.  Also, outstanding is Anthony Fleming III as Ishmael’s faithful companion, Queequeg, a South Pacific Ocean native whose loyalty is to truly be admired.

Along with the tremendous acting performances and scenic bliss that thrusts us into an imaginative world of high seas adventure, several acrobatics feats also play large in creating such a high level of excitement in this play. Actors are able to utilize the large stage area as they scurry up the walls, balancing high above the crowd, or performs stunts on the enormous whale skeleton that envelops the theatre’s interior.

Splendidly adapted and directed by ensemble member David Caitlin, Moby Dick is a true homage to the classic tale of revenge written by Herman Melville in 1851. A production for the entire family to enjoy, Moby Dick is being performed at Lookingglass Theatre through August 28th. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.LookingglassTheatre.org.

What do you do when you receive a call from God? How do you even know if in fact it was a call from God? Could such a happening be a figment of the imagination stemming from one’s ego or a desire wanted so badly that a sign is unconsciously created? In Body and Blood now, currently running at Gift Theatre in Jefferson Park, Dan shocks his live-in girlfriend, Leah, when what she hopes is the beginning of a marriage proposal is instead an announcement that he is leaving her to become a priest. Dan, who has a history of not following through on most anything he does and is fortunate to even have a job at his brother-in-law’s luggage store, claims God appeared to him in an oak tree finally filling him with the purpose he so desperately needs to find fulfillment in life.

Of course Leah, hurt and stunned, suspects this is just another one of Dan’s misinterpreted impulses and possibly just a way of ending their relationship. It gets even better when Dan’s sister, Monica, and her husband, Mick, join the two on their backyard deck for an evening of dinner and drinks. Two devout Catholics, both Monica and Mick are also skeptical of Dan’s new “epiphany”, his sister absolutely livid thinking Dan is copping out on responsibility once again. The play gets even more interesting when the father of Dan’s parish stops by and breaks down the possibilities of Dan’s vision, leaving the available option that such a happening may have certainly happened and that only time will tell. Ultimately, we wonder – is Dan following his heart or creating a new excuse to shirk his current obligations.

Body and Blood is a thought-provoking story that also explores blind devotion to a faith and the hypocrisies, or contradictions, of Catholicism. How much are gays really accepted in the church even though so many priests have been outed in recent times?

The cast puts forth a well-rounded effort. Lynda Newton, one of The Gift Theatre’s founding members, is strong as Monica, dishing out the appropriate humor in her character when necessary and also very believable as one who is experiencing such conflict. In his first performance at The Gift, Nicholas Harazin also delivers a heartfelt performance as Dan and Cyd Blackwell as Leah compliments him well as his girlfriend, Leah.

There are plenty of moments in this play that will make you laugh and many that will make you really feel for the struggle each character is going through. The story moves with ease, the dialogue smooth as silk, and there is just enough intrigue to keep one wondering what will happen next. However, playwright William Nedved’s ending is somewhat flat and anti-climactic, leaving a bit to be desired after such a build up. Still, with solid acting performances, flowing interchanges with bite, emotion and humor and topic matter that might be found thought-provoking by some, there are enough reasons to make this a show worth checking out.

Soundly directed by Marti Lyons and aptly presented in an intimate storefront playhouse Body and Blood is being performed at The Gift Theatre through August 9th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.thegifttheatre.org or call 773.283.7071.

     

Cor Theatre this time brings its latest production, “Love and Human Remains”, to the intimate Rivendell Theatre in Edgewater. A psychological thriller that made waves in the 1990s for its daring and gutty material, “Love and Human Remains” is a story that revolves around a handful of Chicago couples amidst a serial killer on the loose.

It takes a good part of the first act before we get a good feel of who’s who in this play. Beginning with a dominatrix who tales the tale many of us have heard at some point about Cuba Road where a young man is murdered in the woods while trying to get help after car trouble strands he and his girlfriend, we are soon introduced to roommates David and Candy to which are the main focus in the story. David is gay and is quick to use biting sarcasm every chance he gets. A former child actor now turned waiter, he is unattached and willing and able to find quick sex anywhere he can. Candy is looking for love and though attractive and seemingly kind-hearted, she doesn’t seem to have much luck. As the story progresses David’s tall and good looking friend Bernie is introduced, he often appears drunk and bloody, chalking it up to bar room fights due to his propensity to hit on unavailable women. Meanwhile the bodies are adding up.

Written by Brad Fraser and directed by Ernie Nolan, this is a play with much crotch grabbing and excessive nudity as the lesser known worlds of S&M and underground gay hook ups are also explored. It is a story of instant gratification, obsessions, guilt and consequence. It is also a story of hopefulness and finding companionship.

Andrew Goetten as David and Kate Black-Spence really steal the show with their electrifying performances. Goetten delivers Jeff Goldblum-like musings and over-analyzed histrionics, hitting perfectly called for tone inflection and sentiment on cue to project his feelings ever so effortlessly. At the same time, Black-Spence is able to channel her emotions in just the right way so that we can really feel for her character’s sadness, guilt, loneliness and hope.

The first act moves a bit slowly and we kind of wonder if the ever present ensemble chants and comments in the background are necessary or detracting from the play’s story. By the second act it becomes apparent the play would probably be better if acted out as a traditional presentation piece rather than being an ensemble piece whereas surrounding characters in the background are constantly chiming in along or around the main scenes. Still, the play does come together enough in the second act to where its intrigue becomes the focal point and we crave to see the outcome for each character.   

It’s dark, sexual and is funny in more places than one would expect. In time, it even becomes rather absorbing as a thriller.

“Love and Human Remains” is being performed at Rivendell Theatre in Edgewater through July 11th. For tickets and/or more information visit ww.CorTheatre.org.  

Hell in a Handbag Productions tests the boundaries of morality once again as only they can, this time kicking off its 2015-16 season with “Miracle!”, the hilarious lampoon of The Miracle Worker. Instead of Helen Keller, we meet Helen Stellar, a deaf and blind 20-year-old drag queen who is thrust into performing at The Brass Connection, otherwise known as The Ass Infection. Written by Dan Savage, a well-known authority and activist on sexuality and GLBTQ issues, “Miracle!” doesn’t hold any punches, unapologetically injecting its braised humor into its audience with rapid fire speed and pinpoint accuracy.

Artistic Director David Cerda is brilliant (as always) as Helen Stellar’s protective drag queen mother and biological father, Crystal Pain, owner and show coordinator of The Brass Connection. Cerda, a true master of satire, takes the role of Crystal and knocks it out of the park with his deadpan delivery, stark remarks and physical comedy. In “Miracle!” we also get a deluge of tremendously funny performances from Handbag favorites Ed Jones, Elizabeth Lesinski, Sydney Genco and Steve Love as well as newcomer Kristopher Bottrall who is very impressive as Bailey Legal.

Everything is going smoothly at The Brass Connection, or so it seems. Gloria Blaze (Jones), Sissy Jizzmore (Jamie Smith) and the girls perform in the club’s nightly revue while Helen Stellar stumbles her way through an awkward dance routine with the help of a shock collar that “protects” her from falling off the stage. But when Bailey Legal gets jealous of the attention that Helen receives, a call is made to Child Protective Services and an investigation ensues as to the child’s well-being. After assessing the situation, caseworker Annie Sullivan (Lesinski) determines that Helen’s environment is unfit for tapping into her true potential. It is soon agreed that Annie take Helen for a period of three weeks so that she can work with her one on one. This proves more difficult than anticipated as Annie tries to connect with Helen by pressing sign language into her hands in relation to surrounding objects. Of course this process, as done by Handbag is also brutally droll.

Still, Annie’s persistence pays off as we begin to see a transformation occur in Helen. As part of her therapy, Annie takes Helen to a lesbian bar (opening up another world to which Savage is able to find the humor) to work out her performance kinks in an attempt to show a shock collar is not needed. Performing with Helen during the bar’s Bearded Slam event is also therapeutic for Annie as she reaches deep inside herself to conquer her own stage insecurities. Before too long, it is time for Annie to return Helen to Crystal as we, the audience, wonder what the outcome will be.  

The humor is offensive, but tasty. It’s campy dialogue gutty and unforgiving yet we relate to it so easily. Perhaps we are looking at something in the neighborhood of Helen Keller meets The Birdcage on crack, and that would be putting it mildly.

As funny as “Miracle!” is, whether a dance and song routine with attitude and pizazz (“Stop in the Name of Love”, for one) or in its multitude of hilarious character interactions, there is actually a heartwarming story taking place with plenty of feel good moments. I’m not going to go as far to say that one might get teary-eyed, but it is certainly not beyond the realm of possibility. The show triumpantly ends with a big finale number that has audience members clapping to the beat and cheering for the show’s wonderfully colorful characters.  

As a longtime fan of Cerda, Jones and Lesinski, I am happy to say that this Handbag nucleus of comic wunderkinds have once again hit their stride in what is a fully entertaining story that generates laughs as quickly as its many wig changes.   

“Miracle!” is being performed through July 10th at Mary’s Attic, a cozy upstairs theatre located at 5400 N. Clark Street in Andersonville. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.handbagproductions.org. If you are looking for a night of memorable comedy in a fun atmosphere, this is a summer event that you will not want to miss. Hell in a Handbag Productions – the king, or queen, of parody done right. 

“Picasso at the Lapin Agile” is a charming “what if” story that has twentieth century groundbreakers Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso unexpectedly meeting at a bar in 1904. Set in Paris, France at the Lapin Agile, both men are on the brink of remarkable ideas – Picasso just a few years away from his famous Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and Einstein months away from publishing his revolutionary theory of relativity. Both men are also very confident in their genius and competitive in gathering attention for their intellect.  

Written by Steve Martin in 1993, “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” debuted at Chicago’s Steppenwolf on October 13th of the same year following a brief workshop of the play in Melbourne, Australia. There are plenty of laughs as Einstein tries to impress the bar patrons with his wayward predictions of the future such as the automobile being a fad, or France becoming the superpower of the twentieth century while Germany becomes the voice for peace.

At one point, Picasso, quite the ladies’ man and not one to be pushed out of the spotlight - especially in front of one of his lovers, challenges Einstein to a drawing duel, creating a scene that is preposterously funny and really shows the boyish competitiveness in each of them. It takes many an intriguing debate or perceptive musing before the two fianlly realize that their contributions to the human race are equally valuable. Interestingly enough, Martin makes a weighty statement on how the contributions of these great difference makers of the twentieth century are remembered by most as Einstein and Picasso meet Elvis towards the end. As the three look to the heavens and see their names in the stars, Elvis points out, “There’s my name. Above both of yours and three times as big.”

The play is filled with interesting characters. Outside of Einstein and Picasso, we have a bartender, Freddy, who now and then surprises all with a profound statement of his own. We also have an idealistic barmaid, Germaine, Picasso’s art dealer, an inventor and a few regular patrons at the bar to which Einstein is often found attempting to break down his theories in a much simpler language in order for them to understand.

Superbly directed by Josh Anderson, the Organic Theatre Company’s current production of “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” at Greenhouse Theatre is an insightful piece that is both imaginative and funny. Joel Moses is wonderful as Einstein and Anthony Perrella Jr. is equal to the task as Picasso, together providing just the right touch of parodic humor to each character while keeping an appropriate tribute in place.      

The highly amusing “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” is being performed at Greenhouse Theatre through June 26th.  For tickets and/or more show information visit www.greenhousetheatre.org.   

Fantastic stories filled with mermaids, giants, tornadoes and witches are told and Edward Bloom always comes out as the hero. These are the enchanted tales Edward has been telling his son, Will, since he was a child. Each story is more larger than life than the other and each act more heroic than the last. The only problem is that these stories have caused Will much embarrassment throughout life as they are told to anyone who will listen because Edward really seems to believe them as outlandish as they are. Years have gone by in a small Alabama town while Edward and Will have grown far apart. As traveling salesman Edward spends much of his time on the road, distancing himself from his son.

But as Edward’s life nears its end when his cancer advances, Will is determined to find out the truth about his father’s stories, and wanting to understand him better he carries out his own investigation and comes across a few surprises. Meanwhile, Will and his wife are planning for their first child.

“Big Fish”, currently playing at Theatre at the Center, is based on Daniel Wallace’s 1998 novel “Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions” that was later turned into the popular 2003 Tim Burton film “Big Fish” starring Ewan McGreggor, Albert Finney, Jessica Lange and Billy Cruddup. The main difference here is the Broadway version being a musical –and it works…well.

From the first number “Be the Hero”, an enthusiastic piece on slaying dragons, defeating giants and, well, being a hero, we get a healthy taste of Edward’s zest for storytelling. Edward is brilliantly played by Stef Tovar, and, though quite a bit younger in appearance than the sixty-year-old-ish father we expect to see from the story, Tovar couldn’t be more perfect for the role. Tovar’s ability to transform from that of an excited, awestruck boy as he goes from story to story to a loving husband, or a father who desperately wants to be close to his son, is quite fun to watch. Tovar, a whirlwind of energy, makes Edward’s character believable seemingly effortlessly and we are easily able to identify with him. At the same time Colette Todd, who plays Edward’s loving wife, Sandra, also puts on a tremendous performance as his perfect support system. Todd is charming as can be as she dances as sings her way to our hearts. Tovar and Todd are well cast and together are a tour de force to be reckoned with.

“It’s a good show. It’s got a lot of heart. It will make you laugh. It will make you cry”, says director William Pullinsi.

Pullinsi couldn’t be more correct. There are plenty of funny moments but also a great sadness as we see people who love each other so greatly have so much difficulty connecting.   

The song and dance numbers and uniquely choreographed and sang to perfection. Nathan Gardner, who plays Will, is among the talented singers in this amazing cast and really lets it go in “Stranger”, an emotional number where he describes the distance that has become between him and his father.  

Besides its enriched song and dance numbers, captivating story and strong acting performances, theatre-goers are treated to a colorful set and a display of dazzling costumes. Some of the scenic displays are simply breathtaking - one in particular invoking "oohs" and 'aaahs" from the audience.

Says Todd on the massive set and costumes, “There was one day when an actual semi-truck arrived to the theatre and all of these remarkable costumes were unloaded and unpacked.”

“Big Fish” is a beautiful story about father and son relationships that should not be missed. It is a heartwarming story filled with hope and living life as large as you can. “Big Fish” is being performed just thirty-five or so minutes from downtown Chicago at Theatre at the Center (1040 Ridge Road, Munster, IN) through June 7th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.theatreatthecenter.com.  

If you come with a dollar you may just leave with two. However, if you are not careful, you could also lose the shirt off your back. In the Neo-Futurist’s latest endeavor “Trust Us/Screw You” we cautiously enter the world of the confidence man, as we meet the mark, the roper and the inside man. Created by Phil Ridarelli and Dan Kerr-Hobert, we follow the evolution of the age-old grifter from the 1920s to the deception that exists on massive scales today by banks, media and stock markets.  

Ridarelli and Kerr-Horbert also star in this production which is considered a two-man show, barring an occasional plant and a band whose members also contribute in a variety of roles. “Trust Us/Screw You” has a rich, vaudevillian flavor and is often reminiscent to The Three Stooges as the fast-talking Ridarelli and Kerr-Horbert size up one of their targets before hitting them with the swindle, ala Moe, Larry and Curly.

In "Trust Us/Screw You” the audience gets a close-up look at many of the scams confidence men were known to use in taking advantage of the average, unsuspecting Joe before fleecing their victim dry. An assortment of social experiments are used with audience members as the two “work” the crowd with seemingly simple card tricks, nutshell games and other scams using the art of misdirection – the key to all successful cons.

Seasoned acting pros Ridarelli and Kerr-Hobert are hypnotic and work incredibly well together in re-creating these old school hustlers (they always work in teams as we learn), paying special homage to one of Chicago’s most notorious confidence men, Joseph “Yellow Kid” Weil. The show is filled with one hilarious moment after another as the two victimize its clueless audience one susceptible mark at a time. As the show progresses, stories are shared regarding the scams they personally fell victim to from subway swindles to real estate deceit, likening the process and its players to a play whose cast of characters put on a show of smoke and mirrors for gain at a sucker’s expense. With that in mind, as funny as the sketches are portrayed, “Trust Us/Screw You” is also a learning experience, or perhaps a bonding experience for all those who have been victimized in the past – most likely each and every person in the theatre.    

Said Ridarelli and Kerr-Hobert on the creation of “Trust Us/Screw You”, “We knew that if we did a show about con men, we’d have to do our best to screw over the audience. That’s been our goal since day one, and hopefully, we can pull it off in a way that the audience won’t go home hating us.”

The show is quick-paced with a ton of laugh out loud moments and the atmosphere so warm and welcoming that one gladly volunteers to be dragged onto the stage to participate when called for rather than slink into their chair to avoid the possible embarrassment. It is also engaging and educational as we learn the mechanisms, techniques and lingo of the American Confidence Man.

“Trust Us/Screw You” is a highly entertaining experience that might leave you with an empty wallet (kidding) but will certainly send you home having had a thoroughly enriching time with more laughs than you can handle. “Trust Us/Screw You” is currently playing at The Neo-Futurium. For tickets and/or more information visit www.neofuturists.org or call 773-275-5255.         

                                                                   

In Irish Theatre of Chicago’s newest production “The White Road”, performed at The Den Theatre in Wicker Park, we get exactly what we are hoping for – an intense adventure that pits man against nature at its most vicious form. Based on the true heroics of Irish-born polar explorer Ernest Shackleton, “The White Road” tells the story of yet another incredible undertaking where all hope lies solely in one’s will to survive.

Setting sail from South Georgia on December 5th, 1914, Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctica expedition triumphantly leaves shore aboard The Endurance with a crew of twenty-eight with the intent on crossing the Antarctica continent from one coast to the other by way of the South Pole. Hopes are high and excitement is in the air as the crew embarks on a journey never before accomplished.  

Said Shackleton beforehand, "After the conquest of the South Pole by [Roald] Amundsen who, by a narrow margin of days only, was in advance of the British Expedition under [Robert Falcon] Scott, there remained but one great main object of Antarctic journeying - the crossing of the South Polar continent from sea to sea". 

As history tells, it was a plight that was never meant to be.

Upon approaching Antarctica they are met with pack ice that surrounds their sea vessel threatening to sink it. Completely alone and hundreds of miles away from any form of civilization, this is where one of the greatest tales of survival begins.  

In the two-hour-plus play, we meet a variety of characters that make up this memorable crew – and we like them all. From a nature photographer who keeps the camera rolling at all costs to life and limb, to an enthusiastic stowaway boy starved for adventure, to a whaler/banjo-plucker who lifts the men's spirits with song, we don’t just see a nameless crew, instead we really get to know a unique and diverse lot of individuals. Piven ensemble member Paul Dunckel’s performance of the fearless expedition leader makes Shackleton highly likeable, as the wise and self-sacrificing explorer. Dunckel leads this talented cast with the constitution and perseverance one would associate with an expedition leader, whereas he can convincingly make the tough decisions whilst his loyal troops still rally behind him.

Along with Dunckel, Irish Theatre Company ensemble members Kevin Theis and Matthew Isler are accompanied by Nicholas Bailey, Steve Herson, Neal Starbird, Michael McKeogh, Joseph Stearns, Stephen Walker and Gage Wallace, comprising this fine cast that generates a whirlwind of strong performances.   

Making this play even more entertaining is the way the set is used to put us aboard The Endurance smack dab in the middle of the frozen, glacier-filled waters. Sound effects are strategically used in tandem with projections to successfully create storm effects while creative choreography takes us on a deadly hike through icy mountains.

This is one of those true incredible adventure stories that are long forgotten by most that, thanks to storytellers like The Irish Theatre of Chicago, we now get to experience and share in the surprisingly unbelievable depth of human spirit brought on by fantastic circumstances.

I should note that though this is a wonderful story taken from the pages of early 20th century history, if you are thinking of bring a young adult, be aware that there is a scene containing as a crew member streaks across the deck of the ship. 

Fittingly directed by ensemble member Robert Kauzlaric and written by Karen Tarjan, the world premiere run of “The White Road” is being performed at The Den Theatre through June 13th. For tickets and/or more information visit www.irishtheatreofchicago.org

Page 1 of 17