Because they went brilliantly over the rainbow with this one, The House Theatre of Chicago’s The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz, is being remounted at the Northlight Theatre in Skokie Illinois march 1-11 2007.
Playwright and House Theatre Executive Director Phillip C. Kapperich has adapted the famous novel by L. Frank Baum and, in an act of genius, took advantage of the tornado and twisted these proverbial characters and situations into a dark, hysterical, and all-out powerful journey that is sure to leave the audience winded.
Like the novel, the inhabitants of Oz instantaneously label Dorothy “Witch slayer”…and she doesn’t like it! By giving her this uncomfortable identity from the get-go, her character is forced to deal with individuality issues that differ from her quiet adolescent life back in Kansas. Not to mention feuding witches or flying monkeys.
Undoubtedly starker than the classic MGM film, this witty and fantastical adventure is unlike any adaptation you’ve seen. Thanks to director and choreographer Tommy Rapley and his flawless consistency, everything and everyone works with each other. There is no hesitation whatsoever and this is key in creating a world of this caliber. If the creators don’t believe it, the audience won’t. Obviously, we all do. The concept is clear and the outcome is magical.
Characters are usually flawed, but it is rare that those flaws get treated as what they are--truths, especially in a script filled with so many laughs. This proves to be no obstacle for The House Theatre. All of the characters live their problems. The trick here is that the audience can easily identify with each of these characters and in turn we sympathize with them. We can’t help but care for them, even when we don’t want to. The Scarecrow is very brainless, but we have all had those days. The Lion is scared…who isn’t? The Tin Woodsman is completely heartless. I have been there once or twice. It is through these very reflections where we learn the most about ourselves.
Klapperich describes The House Theatre in three words –“Story, Catharsis, Community.” I would not only be inclined to agree but take it one step further by pointing out that there has not been a group of young talents such as this since the Steppenwolf ensemble began in 74’. The House has managed to raise the bar for one reason; ALL ELEMENTS OF PERFORMANCE ARE INCLUDED!
The Tin Woodsman, void of feeling, is a songwriter. Interesting choice considering that he sings in an extremely presentational manner. Armed with his electric axe, a mic, and a back up band consisting of furry forest creatures, Klapperich explains that the music numbers have a Brechtian quality to them. “They don’t all flow together seamlessly and characters take a few minutes to present part of the story directly to the audience. I use the word “maximalist” to describe the style.” Stylistically, it makes perfect sense and as far as entertainment value, this yellow brick road should go gold.
Dancing is incorporated and having steered clear from MGM, the yellow brick road ‘trot’ is far from home. There is, however, an unforgettable tango between the Witch and the Wizard and a poppy flower step number that’ll keep you’re jaw dropped.
Laurie Lamere Klapperich is responsible for the masterful costume design. If Julie Taymor collaborated with Tim Burton, it is Laurie’s work that would have been the brainchild. The characters visually came alive because of her work. The most powerful image of the show was right before curtain when the Woodsman, Lion, Scarecrow, and Dorothy faded out. There costumes are so telling. Most impressive is the Scarecrow. His mask is creepy but in a sweet and sad way.
Movement was a very definite and important characteristic in each actor, no matter what the role. The problem with many actors is that they don’t get the character into their whole body but this does not hold true for the Oz cast. The Witch of the West played most sinisterly by Molly Brennan moves like the girl from the Ring. Creepy. Cliff Chamberlain, mono-toned, stale humored and absent hearted, shifts as if he is wearing a metal suit. I want to get up and oil him. He is hard and robotic, and most beautiful when he is being un-rusted by Dorothy. The Lion, played by Jake Minton, plays down his giant stature. He takes on the frightened, scared cub with completely open arms. Not o mention his impressive comedic timing. Stephen Taylor is so completely lost as the Scarecrow. He leans one way and then allows his body to wander. He is so light on his feet. He surprises himself and the audience again and again. He plays with his vocals and is able to play dumb, something very hard to do. It is the actor with fewest legible words that has the largest human impact. Toto is played by a human actor (Joey Steakly) with a stuffed toy dog, manipulated like a puppet, to add a layer of depth in the relationship between Dorothy and him. Him and other characters also have soliloquies throughout the play so that you may better understand them as individuals. Joey lets his body go. He slides across the stage and goes wherever the dog needs to. Everyone is physically and emotionally invested in each other, in their circumstance, and the dark fantasy world they have created. Paige Hoffman (Dorothy) is true to her surroundings and is completely open to everything happening around her. She is emotionally connected and brings the audience along on her journey.
Click your heels to Northlight Theatre because there is no place like this!