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Kendall Royzen

Kendall Royzen

 

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Oscar Wilde once said “Memory is the diary that we all carry about with us.” For Leo Gold, that diary is filled with an anguish that has haunted his memories and greatly impacted his life. Battling with Alzheimer’s and the recent death of his wife, retired statistician Leo Gold attempts to unravel the pain of his past while bringing a sense of logic to the horrors that he lived through.

A beautiful and often poignant play, Number of People, written and directed by Emilie Beck, is a one man show about Leo Gold, a Holocaust survivor who struggles through his memories and the pains of his past. We chance upon Leo in a minimalist stage at the Piven Theater. He awakes from a slumber to find us (the audience), in his home. Like a welcomed though unrecognizable guest, we are immediately brought into Leo’s world, sharing his past experiences and life stories. Leo Gold, played by the seasoned Piven actor Bernard Beck (the playwright’s father), brings the grumbling, humorous, confused, and tragic elderly Gold to life. He engages the audience much like an eager paternal grandparent wanting to tell his grandchildren about his life. Telling jokes that only an elderly grandfather would find funny; “There are two groups of people in the world, those who put people into groups and those who don’t.” Leo shares his memories of the birth of his daughter, the number 1 person in his life, the memories of his wife, “a perfect figure eight,” and recounting tales two gruesome and horrifying to fully comprehend.

Beck’s main character is dealing with Alzheimer’s, but there is something missing from the character. For anyone who has seen the deterioration of a loved one's mind knows the pain and turmoil that comes with the disease. They are often battling with an invisible enemy that skews memories, twists details, and leaves the person confused, saddened, and angry. Beck’s Gold tangents from one memory to the next, but there is one trait that he fails to convey, throughout his entire 90 minute monologue; many Alzheimer’s patients segue from memory to memory, their logic understandable and predictable only to themselves. Beck always brings the audience back to a central theme of numbers, odds, and statistics, so that we, and Gold, are never really too confused, though he reminds the audience (his guest) that he does not know who we are. But perhaps this is the point.

Gold is a man whose life has been impacted from one of the most horrific events in history. The way he acted throughout his life, from telling his wife she was not really cold when the heat went out in their Sweden apartment “you don’t know what cold is!,” to Gold’s relationship with his daughter, and to the experiences he had counting dead bodies during other worldly tragedies, Gold’s actions are a result of the horrors he endured and survived. From the whistle of a train to the laughter of children, Leo Gold’s life was so defined by his events in a concentration camp that he can trace everything back to what he survived through. He uses numbers and odds in order to understand how he survived “if you stood in the back you were less likely to be chosen,” when one stood in the front, they were chosen and they died.

When Number of People is on target it is poignant, tragic, and mystifying. Beck’s vulnerability and old-age charm draws an audience in, as eager as young children listening to a grandfather’s tale. Beck as a playwright crafted a beautiful story of one man struggle to understand one of the most horrible catastrophes in history. While the play lacks in some areas, the play is worthy of being seen. Though the run time is too long and often too heavy handed, the play reflects on one of the core messages of the play; that if you remember, someone we loved is never really forgotten; if we remember the past, the life of one person, they don’t become a statistic, their life had a purpose, and it is remembered.

Evanston, IL- Piven Theatre Workshop continues its 2009-10 season with the world premiere of Number of People, written and directed by Emilie Beck. The production will run through April 11, 2010 at Piven Theatre Workshop, 927 Noyes Street.

  altThey say a picture is worth a thousand words. But what happens when you combine photography with live art? This is one of the core questions that is explored in the new Neo-Futurist play “I Am a Camera” written and directed by Greg Allen.

 

One of the great things about this Neo-Futurist play is that it requires the audience to really intellectualize what they are viewing. “I Am a Camera” leaves room for interpretation from the audience as well as the interpretation of its two person cast. Jeremy Sher and Caitlin Stainken lead the audience through various photographic exercises that lead us to ask “What is photography?” “Can a picture convey more meaning than words?” “Can a picture accurately replace an emotion?” “Can a single image depict an entire experience?” “Can a photograph capture a memory?” “Can we replace memories, or diminish the value of them, with a photograph?” All of these questions and concepts are explored throughout “I Am a Camera.”

 

The play uses still photography as both “the medium and the message” to convey abstract emotions and experiences to illustrate issues of vulnerability and identity in the 21st century. Set to a background of eclectic music, a mix of classic modern rock, and using all aspects of photography from Polaroid snapshots to digitally projected images onto objects, screens and human bodies, “I Am a Camera” is as much a visual experience as it is a thought-provoking one.

 

One of the best scenes in the play seemed more improvised than rehearsed. Sher and Stainken sat together at a wooden table, dozens of 8x10 photos in front of them, and the booth technician coached them with a buzzer about the exercises they had to do. In exercise one they asked one another questions and had to find still photos that described the emotion they felt, the next exercise asked them to find photos that conveyed what they thought the other was feeling when sharing a memory.  In one instance, Sher asked Stainken “how did you feel when you farted in English class and cried?” She then, laughingly, finds a photo of herself curled up in a ball in the corner of a room, an image that the audience could both laugh at and empathize with. Another question had Stainken asking Sher, “where do you see yourself in five years,” to which he finds a photo of a small hand reaching up to grasp a man’s finger, leaving the audience to interpret a family, a child, a future of hope. This was one of the more hilarious, yet simultaneously provocative moments of the play.

 

Sound confusing? At times I thought so too. While the visual experience of the play was incredible, at times it ventured so far into the abstract that the interpretation of the play began to drift away from the core concepts. But Allen’s play is nothing short of beautiful, and one that theater goers would be sad to miss. Sher and Stainken provide the perfect balance of humor and charm, offering an accessible and relatable experience for the audience, one of the more intriguing common aspects at the heart of Neo-Futurist plays.

 

So go, enjoy, and experience the Neo-Futurist interpretation of photography on our lives, and don’t forget to bring a Smartphone (you’ll see why as soon as walk into the waiting room…)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Annie_and_Daddy_Warbucks1

The story of Annie, the optimistic red-headed orphan, is one that still resonates with the same power and charm today as it did when it melted the hearts of theater-goers on Broadway in 1977...

If you don’t like drinking with friends, playing drinking games with strangers, or laughter of any sort, better to stay at home than see this show at the Pub Theater. On the other hand, if you love any of those things, than you must see the show that truly understands the heart of Chicago. Bye Bye Liver is an interactive, engaging, eccentric, Chicago drinking play that will have you clutching your side for a solid hour between socials (Everybody Drink!).

 

Cast of bye bye liver and me

 

“Come to drink, stay to laugh,” says creator, director and producer of Bye Bye Liver, Byron Hatfield. “The idea is celebrating all the crazy stuff you do when you’re drinking, not getting drunk while you watch the show.”

The Pub Theater is located in Lakeview and is situated – appropriately – above an actual pub. The audience area is made up of small café style tables that fit about four people with chairs facing the small stage that are taken out of your junior high English classroom. The concept is to make the audience feel like they’re about to be drinking in a pub with 100 of their newest and closest friends. In fact, before the show started, one of my ‘new friends’ stated “this is my third time seeing this show; you’re going to love it.” If she’s willing to come back a third time that gave me great hopes that it was going to be a great time.

With drinks in hand the show began, and here’s the general gist: when the lights were down, we were watching sketch comedy, when the lights were up, and we were playing drinking games with our neighbors and the cast members. The games were great, but it was the cast that stole the night, and my attention. I didn’t stop laughing throughout the entire show.  

“We call ourselves the gateway drug for comedy,” says Byron. “For many people, this is the first show they see in Chicago, but it’s one that they can relate to. And hopefully makes them want to see more Chicago theater.”

Adds cast member Sherra Lasley, “We’re the hub for good comedy. It’s comedy that speaks to the audience and the true culture of Chicago.”

The idea of interactive comedy is not new to the Chicago area, but Bye Bye Liver simply gets it right. The actors are classically trained in everything from Improv to Shakespeare, so you know you’re going to see great acting, but it’s the relatability of the material that makes this show a stand out. Talking with members of the cast and the director after the show, I learned that they draw from their own real life experiences as well as stories from audience members, fans, and Chicagoans.

The show holds up an oh-so-realistic, hilariously accurate mirror to society. From sketches that delve into the eternal question of “why do girls go to the bathroom in groups?” to hilarious scenarios of drunken hookups, dealing with issues of love and loss, or just plain embarrassing moments of having too much too drink and saying things we’ll regret in the morning (we’ve all been there), the cast of Bye Bye Liver spoofs them all, sparing no one.

But the show isn’t without its challenges…

“As the bartender in the show, and the host, my goal is to be the ultimate drinking buddy, the kind of guy you look at say ‘I want to hang out with him.’ It’s difficult to accomplish, but when you can balance that ability to lay down the law and still be likeable, then you’re going to have a great show,” says co-founder of the Pub Theater and actor, Josh Dunkin. “We really thrive on audience enthusiasm, and for us, the material is so true to life that every audience member can relate on some level and have a great time.”

The ensemble cast plays four shows a weekend, two per night at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., on Fridays and Saturdays, and if you still need validation of their talent, the show sells out every weekend.

bye bye liver

This is one show that you must see, if only to get in a good laugh and a good drink with friends. But if you’re thinking that it’s just for the young (er) crowd -- think again. The audience was made up of long standing couples, first dates, big group gatherings, mother and daughter outings, and reunions with old college buddies. There is no age maximum, (though you do have to be 21 or older to see the show), so if you’ve ever been to a bar in Chicago, or have had a drink with friends, you will enjoy this show. That’s a promise.

I’m already rallying friends and getting ready to go again, and you should do the same.

Page 5 of 5

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