Theatre

The Buffalo Theatre Ensemble brings a very thought provoking play to the stage. David Lindsay-Abaire penned this two-act performance and the small theatre was perfect for the story.

 

Finely directed by Connie Canaday Howard, Good People highlights a strong ensemble that exhibits a magical chemistry onstage. The story line was very well thought out and while I don’t want to give too much away about the plot, the theme, as one might guess from the title, was really about people. We are reminded in this story set mostly in the south end of Boston, that some are not as good as they appear and some are good without the appearance. 

 

The lead character Margaret is played by Amelia Barrett. She is a working class single mother with a child who lives in a cheap apartment, living paycheck to paycheck. Margaret and her friends love to play Bingo. They help each other out. That’s what friends are for. Her friends include her landlady Dottie, played by Annie Slavinski. Benedict L. Slabik II plays her former boss, who is also a friend. Jean played by Kelli Walker rounds out the Bingo crew.

 

They call themselves “Southies”, referring to the south end of Boston. Their accents are much different than the stereotypical Boston accent you might think of when thinking of that area. It is almost like comparing different English accents. They also call the upper-class people “Lace Curtains”, which I thought was funny.

 

Margaret runs into an old flame, Mike, played by Bryan Burke. He has done rather well for himself. Now an endocrinologist, he lives in a nicer area. He has joined the “Lace Curtains”, but he, like most people, never escapes his roots. His wife Kate is played by Raina Lynn. There is some controversy over the color of her skin. The play isn’t about racial tension but the topic exists in a sub-plot. In some ways, this underlying theme drives the story as much as its main plot.

 

The first act is light-hearted and funny. It is served more as an introduction to the characters, all of which appear in the first few minutes apart from Mike’s wife Kate. You see the world they live in and how they think.

 

Act II is another story, mostly set in the house of Mike and Kate. Good People shows us that things are not always as they appear and that class to which one is associated has nothing to do with that of being a good person. That’s the moral of the story and the message is there without looking too hard. 

 

The play is well-acted and thought out. The audience is never bored waiting for the plot to grow. It takes off from the start. Each acting performance is highly enjoyable as is the story and the message meaningful. I know a few “Good People” who could benefit from watching this performance. Art is a great teaching tool, even if the audience doesn’t always realize when it is happening. If you feel like you need a well-conceived night’s entertainment, this could be just the ticket. There are a few foul words in there, but clearly not meant to be offensive. This is a production that might just open your eyes a bit, while at the same time providing a few good laughs.

 

Good People is being performed at Playhouse Theatre in the McIninch Art Center in Glen Ellyn, IL through March 5th. For more show information click here

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Trying to explain what Black Harlem's Renaissance was like is hard. The period was so rich in creative verve, you really have to show it while you tell it. It took me awhile to grasp what playwright Pearl Cleage has achieved - and director Ron OJ Parson has brought carefully to life -  in Court Theatre's Blues for an Alabama Sky.

In this beautifully polished production, we become familiar with the lives and aspirations of five denizens of the abundant cultural life enveloping New York's burgeoning black district in the 1920s and 1930s, driven by waves of aspiring new arrivals during the Great Migration from the South to the North. The period gives rise to the first jazz concert, to international musical superstars like Josephine Baker, Paul Robeson, Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller; to writers and thinkers like Marcus Garvey, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and Claude McKay, who wrote the first bestseller by a black author. 

Cleage has fleshed out each of her characters - a doctor, a singer, a fashion designer, a social worker, and a carpenter - who are much more than archetypes. These are real people, each contributing a seminal thread to this tale. She has also set the timeline toward the end of that golden era, in 1930 after the market crash, as the Great Depression rolled in. 

The storyline seems surprisingly fresh, but it is true to its time: the protagonists here seem a mismatched couple - a flamboyant gay fashion designer Guy (Sean Parris), and his platonic love, Angel (Toya Turner), a gangsters' moll who tries but fails to make a living as a night club singer.  

Abandonedly outré, Guy has worked his way up from stitching gowns for cross dressers, to designing clothes on spec for Josephine Baker. The pair love and support each other as they pursue their dreams, but have no future as a couple; Angel is set on finding herself a big strong man who will take care of her, and pay the rent. Guy wants to make it in Paris.

Across the hall dwells the scholarly Delia (Celeste Cooper), who is launching the first family planning clinic in Harlem. A history lesson makes its way into the plot as the clinic is burned down. Some in the black community suspected efforts at setting up such clinics - led by Margaret Sanger - were really just part of a plot to reduce the black population. Carrying the torch for Delia is Sam, a medical doctor. James Vincent Meredith's performance gives Sam a steady, even temperament - abiding patience, and someone who is tolerant and nurturant. 

Conflict arises as Leland (Geno Walker) a widowed carpenter recently arrived from Alabama, falls for Angel. His ardor cools as he discovers he is not in Alabama anymore. In this Black Harlem, homosexuals are accepted; family planning is a matter of choice.

Each of these characters engenders our sympathy. And in the course of the action they live, die, move on - or remain stuck in place. Though Cleage wrote this work in 1995, it is completely fresh. And it has been given its due in Parson's production. Costumes and set are beautifully period, and lighting brings added dimensions to the staging. Blues for an Alabama Sky now extended through February 19th at Court Theatre.

Published in Theatre in Review

In the action-packed world premiere of Captain Blood, First Folio Executive Producer David Rice along with his wife, Artistic Director Alison C. Vesely, have collaborated on a swashbuckling adventure that is sure to be long remembered for its choreographed swordfights, enthralling story and witty comicality. Sadly, Alison recently lost a two-year battle with cancer and passed away just two months before Captain Blood’s debut. But her final collaboration with her husband will undoubtedly leave its mark on those who see it, as it is sure to be rooted in the minds of audience members thanks to Rice’s skilled writing, a talented cast and a strong directing effort. A fitting tribute to Alison C. Vesley, Captain Blood is stamped with Rice’s humor and is engulfed with a subtle warm-heartedness throughout and not-so-subtle theme of love that can only exist in a project of true passion.  

Adapted from Rafeal Sabatini’s 1922 classic novel Captain Blood (later turned into a film in 1935), theatre goers are regaled to the captivating high seas exploit of Peter Blood, a 17th century British physician, imprisoned by his own country for treating enemy Spanish soldiers. Blood is soon sold to a plantation on a Caribbean island for ten pounds where he becomes a slave. It’s not long after his enslavement that Blood falls in love with the niece of the plantation’s owner, Arabella Bishop. But after a daring escape, Blood soon takes to the waters, this time as a Caribbean pirate captain, whose favorite pastime is robbing Spanish ships. Throughout his pillaging, we wonder if Captain Blood will once again cross paths with his love, Arabella. 

Wonderfully directed by Janice L. Blixt, Captain Blood is a thrilling story of romance and freedom. Though a fast-paced pirate adventure, Blixt does a fantastic job of implementing a strong leitmotif of love as the play’s underlying driving force. 

Nick Sandys (Artistic Director of Remy Bumppo) leads this gifted cast as Captain Blood, a role that Rice immediately envisioned for the dashing actor five years ago during the project’s inception. Not only does Sandys deliver a picture-perfect performance as the charming, yet dynamic captain, he is also the contributing force behind the choreography of the play’s many dazzling swordfights and action scenes.  Sandys is joined by Heather Chrisler as his subject of love, Arebella Bishop. Some might remember Chrisler for her compelling portrayal of Virginia Poe in Rice’s brilliant work, The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe. Though not as challenging a role as Virginia Poe, Chrisler is as flawless as can be as Arebella, giving Sandys a believable counterpart to whom we can truly relate. 

The play also gets a boost from veteran actor Kevin McKillip whose previous work includes First Folio’s The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe and The Winter’s Tale. McKillip takes on dual roles as both Hagthorpe, a ship crew member who helps narrate the play, and Don Alan, a Spanish sea captain. It is McKillip who draws the biggest laughs due to his delicious comic timing and hilarious delivery of a Castilian Spanish accent. Other nods go to Christopher W. Jones as Wolverton, Sam Krey as Lord Julian and Aaron Christensen as Colonel Bishop/Harper.

With its many characters donning costumes to the likeness of the era and a vast set that is often used as a nautical vessel complete with trapdoors and projections of the Caribbean seascape, it is easy to get lost into this classic story. 

Captain Blood is an adventurous production that is sure to capture the hearts and imagination of all those who are seeking high seas fun, action and love. Recommended as a show the entire family can enjoy, Captain Blood will be performed at the Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook through February 26th. For tickets and/or more information on this beautifully adapted for stage production of the definitive novel, click here

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Guys, it’s time to dig into your closet and shake the dust from your polyester, large-collared, chest-exposing dance shirt. Divas, grab your sequin-studded blouse and bell-bottomed slacks or favorite jumpsuit – it’s time to disco! Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook hosts an electric 1970’s dance party to remember with their current production of Saturday Night Fever the Musical. Following the 1977 hit film that catapulted John Travolta to superstar status for his portrayal of Tony Manero, a troubled kid from The Bronx who finds escape from his dilemmas by lighting up the dance floor on Saturday nights, we are thrust into an exciting time capsule when disco was king.

As the story goes, Tony, who works a dead-end job in a hardware store, just wants to be somebody. And he is – on weekends. He just wants to dance! He’s got the hair, good looks, charisma, and dance moves that make him an instant celebrity whenever he walks into 2001, the neighborhood disco hotspot, all the girls lining up to partner with him, all the guys wishing they had half his talent. With a couples’ dance contest coming up that awards a cool thousand bucks to the winning team, Tony searches for a partner, of course seeking out the one girl who is not overly impressed with him. Saturday Night Fever the Musical, keenly directly by Tony-nominated Dan Knechtges, is a well-rounded story that delves into Tony’s stereotypical New York Italian home life, his life on the streets hanging out with his close-knit gang and his quest for love, that, for once, doesn’t come so easy. Adding a humorous spin to the classic film, this dazzling production offers a good amount of laughs while holding onto the integrity of the film. 

The music is half the fun. While the soundtrack is heavily driven by the music of The Bee Gees implementing favorites like “Staying Alive”, “How Deep Is Your Love”, “More Than A Woman” and “Jive Talkin’”, were also turned onto other disco staples that include “Boogie Shoes”, Disco Duck” and “Disco Inferno”. And as good as the music is, the dancing is just as impressive, getting spectacular individual and ensemble performances that make it difficult for audience members to restrain from taking the stage and join in the disco celebration, also encouraged by the tremendous set that recreates a captivating 1970’s dance club – strobe light, red velvet walls and all. 

Adrian Aguilar is seemingly made for the role of Tony Manero. The Jeff Award nominated actor who once starred as Rocky Balboa in Broadway’s Rocky, is nothing short of sensational. The search for the perfect Tony was widespread, with auditions held in not only Chicago but also New York, Houston and Los Angeles, and it was right here in Chicago that the production found its seamless fit. Says Kyle DeSantis, President of Drury Lane Productions, “Out of the many talented artists we saw, no one came close to Chicago’s unparalleled Adrian Auguilar as Tony.” And DeSantis could not have been any more correct as Aguilar delivers a strong performance bringing with him the comic chops and astounding dancing ability needed for the role. Aguilar is also able to tackle the demanding vocals required to take on the many numbers to which his character is highlighted and adds just the right amount of dramatic precision that give us a believable Tony Manero. 

Aguilar, whose dynamite performance is worth the cost of admission alone, is surrounded by a heaping helping of talent. Landree Fleming, who recently knocked the socks off of theatre goers in her performance as Kira in American Theater Company’s Xanadu, is back, this time delivering solid support as Manero’s clingy wannabe girlfriend Annette, while Erica Stephan does an admirable job as Stephanie, the dancer who has captured the starry eyes of our story’s star. Making his Drury Lane debut is standout actor Alex Newell, best known for his portrayal of transgender student Wade “Unique” Adams on Fox’s hit series Glee. Newell is rightly cast for the role of Candy, a disco diva who truly belts, delivering a handful of drop-your-jaw moments. In Saturday Night Fever the Musical, we also get a consistently strong boost from an ultra-talented ensemble that is not only able to bring a disco to life on several occasions, but can add credible depth to this classic story thanks to a slew of strong acting and vocal performances. Yet we cannot overlook Ryan O'Gara's stunning lighting design (disco ball included) and Rachel Laritz' spot on 1970's costume design that so well breathes life into Kevin Depinet's lavish red-velvet laden set. 

This new, reworked North American version, scripted by Sean Cercone and David Abbinanti adds even more style and flair to an already stage proven production that made waves after its London mount in 1998 and invaded America with a Broadway run in 2000. An era of pop culture poked fun of so often (and a handful of parodies are certainly present in this production), this is a musical that also celebrates disco and reminds us of the pivotal part it played in our musical history and of its ever-perpetual influence that remains.  

Saturday Night Fever the Musical pulls out all the stops, delivering a show that has it all – dancing, singing, visuals and humor, while distributing a plethora of 1970's nostalgia. Songs you may have long forgotten will be stuck in your head days afterward – in a good way. Running at Drury Lane Theatre through March 19th (now extended through April 9th), this is a production that is sure to bring the boogie out in each of us no matter how buried inside it may be.

Recommended.

For tickets and/or more show information, click here

 

Published in Theatre in Review

"The Temperamentals" by Jon Marans makes its Chicago premiere at About Face Theatre. Artistic director Andrew Volkoff revisits this 2009 Off-Broadway play in a critical time for LGBT rights in America. This play was selected for their season long before the election, but serves to remind that the struggle for equality is not over. 

 

"The Temperamentals" refers to a slang term for homosexuals in the 1950s. It tells the true story of the Mattachine Society, the first LGBT rights group in America. Kyle Hatley plays Harry Hay, a closeted college professor working on behalf of gay rights. The Mattachine Society is formed when he meets Rudi Gernreich (Lane Anthony Flores). Gernreich is an up-and-coming designer who escaped the Nazis in Austria. His observations about life under the Third Reich inspires Harry Hay to action. 

 

Maran's script shines in the way it intertwines the historic plotline with authentic relationship dramas between characters. Alex Weisman plays Bob, the promiscuous one, with such sincerity even while cycling through several bit parts. Lane Anthony Flores gives a brave and dynamic peformance as chic European designer Gernreich. Also featuring Rob Lindley and Paul Fagan, About Face has assembled an all-star cast for this vital piece. 

 

Many think that gay activism started at Stonewall, but what "The Temperamentals" documents is the West Coast movement that began in the 1950s. The Mattachine Society was pitched to influential closested homosexuals in Hollywood, like Vincent Minnelli, but failed to garner mainstream interest for fear of blacklisting. Its intention was to decriminalize homosexuality. 

 

Jon Maran's play is sexy and stylish. It echos of Larry Kramer and that's what theater needs right now. It's a nearly three hour wake up call to a generation who takes advantage of the privileges fought for by activism. 

 

Through February 18 at About Face Theatre. Theatre Wit 1229 W Belmont Ave. 

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Wednesday, 25 January 2017 18:41

Review: The House Theatre's "Diamond Dogs"

The House Theatre of Chicago artistic director Nate Allen introduces the world premiere of Diamond Dogs, an adaptation of a short story by Alastair Reynolds, by noting that it is “hard sci-fi” and a departure from the optimism usually implicit in House Theatre shows. Since a significant plot point of Diamond Dogs is people undergoing medical transformation into floating diamonds, I question how “hard” the science in this fiction actually is, but I think it is fair to say that the term signals that the story caters to a different set of expectations and interests than people usually expect from other genres. The House has also performed enough tragedies recently, including an adaptation of The Bacchae, that the optimism Allen refers to is meant in the sense that people have significant enough good qualities for their self-destruction to elicit sorrow. Diamond Dogs doesn’t really do that. Like Moby Dick, one of the stories best known for a pessimistic view of peoples’ graces to flaws ratio, Diamond Dogs depicts people slowly killing themselves in pursuit of an idiotic objective, but it depicts them in a manner which is far more frustrating.

The adaptors, called Althos Low (a group also known as Shanghai Low Theatricals led by Steve Pickering) are working from one of sixteen stories within Reynolds’s Revelation Space series. The backstory is long and complicated, but basically, hundreds of years from now, humans have colonized space, developed cybernetic enhancements to our bodies and intelligence, and can skip over the boring centuries traveling in between stars by freezing and unfreezing ourselves. Our viewpoint character, Richard Swift (John Henry Roberts), is still youthful at one hundred and seventy-two years old, and in mourning for his parents and dozens of other people who died in an experiment meant to achieve immortality. It seems that effective immortality has been achieved through other means anyway, but Swift refuses to criticize the dead, and while honoring them, is surprised to find their leader, his boyhood friend Roland Childe (Chris Hainsworth), still very much alive. Childe claims he has found the key to technology which could lead to resurrection, and asks Swift to join his exploration team.

Though no living aliens have been encountered thus far, traces of their long-dead civilizations have been found, and Childe is particularly interested in a structure he has named Blood Spire on a desolate planet he calls Golgotha. The Blood Spire is a floating spiral tower with a pile of corpses at its base. Childe claims to have spoken with a survivor who said that to climb within the tower, explorers must answer increasingly difficult mathematical questions as they move from room to room. A wrong answer results in mutilation, and repeated failures in death. Also, the Blood Spire’s AI is advanced enough to be considered sentient. The motley crew Childe has assembled consists of Swift, Swift’s ex-wife, Celestine (Katherine Keberlein), who has cybernetic implants to make her a math whiz and whom Swift has had suppressed in his memories, Forqueray (Abu Ansari), a captain, Hirz (Elana Elyce), a mercenary hacker, and Dr. Trintignant (Joey Steakley), a fugitive who kidnapped and murdered dozens of people while developing new cybernetics. They do not get along and their attempts to climb the tower do not go very well.

It takes until the beginning of the second act for somebody to point out that they do not have the slightest reason to believe that the tower is in any way related to their supposed objective, and even longer for someone to point out that there is no reason to believe the tower would ever allow them to win. However, it is also made clear early on that none of their objections matter. While Captain Ahab was a charismatic figure who inspired his men to believe in him and made them feel valued, Childe is a bully who immediately resorts to physical intimidation and openly delights in humiliating his crew and watching them quaver in terror of Blood Spire’s traps. But he’s only one man, and what really keeps the other five returning to the tower again and again is ego and spite. I was reminded while watching Diamond Dogs of a game my family played last Christmas which all of us hated, but which went on for hours because none of us would quit first or allow ourselves to lose. Diamond Dogs is about people who are supposedly very intelligent and truly loathe each other doing something with serious consequences for losing, but not winning.

As for the staging, it’s technically brilliant, but in service of a story which is claustrophobic and cerebral. Lee Keenan has supplied all sorts of special lights to create the Blood Spire environment, and several of these are integrated into Izumi Inaba’s very cool space costumes. Inaba and sound designer Sarah Espinoza also had the foresight to put microphones into the masks and helmets. Mary Robinette Kowal’s puppets are also visually impressive, and I gather that they are considerably more graceful and ghostly than what is described of the titular diamond dogs in Reynolds’s text. But Allen’s direction can’t avoid the Sisyphean nature of the plot and theme, so the visual elements’ power wears thin after not very long.

The six actors also do a fine job with broadly written characters. Steakley, in particular, has mastered an odd movement vocabulary, which he relies on because Dr. Trintignant always wears a mask and may not even have a face. Roberts is also a stand-out in a role which requires the audience to become increasingly disillusioned with his character. For fans of the Revelation Space series, Diamond Dogs is a must-see, and The House’s production values are used here in service of an interesting aesthetic rarely seen elsewhere. But the aggravating nature of the story makes it important for anybody who is not a hard sci-fi fan to know what they are getting into beforehand. Certain plot points late in the play which seemed too convenient or didn’t make sense made me even more frustrated. Diamond Dogs has its strong points, but is firmly situated within its niche.

Somewhat Recommended

Diamond Dogs is performed in the upstairs at the Chopin Theatre, 1543 W Division St, Chicago, Illinois. Running time is two hours and twenty minutes with one intermission. Tickets are $30-35; to order, visit thehousetheatre.com or call 773-769-3832.

Performances are Thursdays-Saturdays at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 7:00 pm through March 5. 

 

Published in Theatre in Review

The CHICAGO ONE-MINUTE PLAY FESTIVAL (#1MPF) returns to The Den Theatre for its seventh year – this time exploring America and Chicago in 2017 in the wake of the Presidential election. The marathon evening of one-minute plays by more than 60 of Chicago’s established and emerging playwrights and directors is presented two nights only, Tuesday, February 21 and Wednesday, February 22, 2017 at The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. Tickets, priced at $18, are currently available at brownpapertickets.com.

 

The 2017 CHICAGO ONE-MINUTE PLAY FESTIVAL: America Is…. will feature brand new one-minute plays by Axel Arth, Andrew Bailes, Manny Buckley, Rachel Claff, Whitney LaMora Currier, EJC Calvert, Dan Caffrey, MT Cozzola, Randall Colbrun, Lonnie Carter, Spenser Davis, Bilal Dardai, Reginald Edmond, Kimberly D. Furganson, Genevra Gallo-Bayaites, Addison Heimann, Nick Hart, Skye Robinson Hillis, Kate Healy, Reeny Hofrichter, Scott Hermes, Jeewon Kim, David Kodeski, Genevieve Locksley, Jenni Lamb, Patrick McLean, Arlene Malinowski, Mark Mason, Jonathan Mastro, Laura Nessler, Coya Paz, Kristi Parker-Barnhart, Tania Richard, Tanise Robnett, Elaine Romero, Cassandra Rose, Jennifer Rumberger, Edgar Sanchez, Jessy Lauren Smith, Jenny Seidelman, Sheridan Singleton, Jon Steinhagen, Steve Spencer, Tiffani Swalley, Leean Kim Torske, Robert Tenges, Eileen Tull, Aaron Weissman, Tony Werner, Adam Webster, Larissa Zageris and Joe Zarrow.

 

Directors include Wardell Clark, Spenser Davis, Rose Freeman, Jess Hutchinson, Charlie McGrath, Andrew Peters, Samuel Roberson, Alyssa Vera Ramos, Lee Stark, Lexi Saunders, Anna Trachtman and Jacob Watson

 

“We are thrilled to celebrate seven years of #1MPF in Chicago and we are proud to see our programing and the reach of our work diversifying – between the festival of women-identified artists, The Every 28 Hours Plays and the traditional 1MPF work that we are using to investigate what America and Chicago in 2017 post-election America looks like, comments Artists Director Dominic D’Andrea. “The opportunity to gather the community of artists, activists and citizens and focus on ways that we might begin to design the world we want to live in is a beautiful and necessary action. I'm proud of the community, our partners at the Den and the stunning nuance of the work we've generated together.” 

 

EVENT DETAILS

 

Title: CHICAGO ONE-MINUTE PLAY FESTIVAL: America Is…

Dates: Tuesday, February 21 and Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Times: 8 pm

Tickets: $18. Tickets are currently available at brownpapertickets.com.

 

About THE ONE-MINUTE PLAY FESTIVAL

 

THE ONE-MINUTE PLAY FESTIVAL (#1MPF) is America’s largest and longest running grass roots theatre company, founded by Producing Artistic Director, Dominic D’Andrea . #1MPF is a social barometer project, which investigates the zeitgeist of different communities through dialogue, consensus building and a performance of 50-100 short moments generated by each community. #1MPF works in partnership with theatres and/or social organizations sharing playwright, educational or community-specific missions across the country. The aim is to create locally sourced playwright-focused community events, with the goal of promoting the spirit of radical inclusion. #1MPF represents playwrights of different age, gender, race, cultures, and points of career. The work attempts to reflect the theatrical landscape of local artistic communities by creating a dialogue between the collective conscious and the individual voice.

 

In each city, #1MPF works with partnering organizations to identify programs or initiatives in each community to support with the proceeds from ticket sales. The goal is to find ways give directly back to the artists in each community. Supported programs have ranged from educational programming, youth poetry projects, theatre program in prisons, playwright residencies and memberships, playwrights salaried commissions, community access projects, arts workshops and other social and artistic initiatives.

 

Annual partnerships have been created with theaters in over 20 cities including: New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Trenton, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Boston, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, Seattle, Dallas, Austin, Indianapolis, Anchorage, Honolulu, St. Louis and more, with partnering institutions including Primary Stages, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, New Georges at New York City Center, Z-Space, A.C.T., Trinity Rep, Victory Gardens Theater, Cornerstone Theatre Company, The Playwrights Foundation, Boston Playwrights Theatre, Actor’s Express, InterAct Theatre, Mixed Blood, Walking Shadow Theatre, Passage Theatre, Phoenix Theatre, Kitchen Dog Theatre, Salvage Vanguard & ScriptWorks,  ACT Seattle, Perseverance Theatre, Round House Theatre, Honolulu Theatre For Youth and others.   

 

Notable #1MPF contributors have included: David Henry Hwang, Lynn Nottage, Neil LaBute, Tina Howe, Donald Margulies, Nilaja Sun, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Robert Schenkkan, Lydia Diamond, Phillip Kan Gotanda, Kristoffer Diaz, Rajiv Joseph, Samuel D. Hunter, Karen Hartman, Robert Askins, Colman Domingo, José Rivera, Craig Lucas, Mike Daisey, Greg Kotis, Michael John Garcés and over to 1400 celebrated, emerging, and midcareer playwrights.  For more information visit: www.oneminuteplayfestival.com

 

Published in Buzz Extra

As I found my seat in the very intimate forty-seat or so Red Curtain Theater in First Congregational Church House to see Robert Harling's popular American classic Steel Magnolias, made popular by the movie starring Julia Roberts, I was very drawn in immediately by Mark Boergers' set design which places audience members on both sides of the action facing each other, so close you feel you are waiting for your own hair appointment in the super friendly and inclusive Truvy's Beauty Salon in Chinquapin, Louisiana.

 

Directed by Artistic Director Mark Boergers, all six members of this truly ensemble piece get an equal chance to shine and show the particular strengths and challenges each of these extraordinary women are facing. The multi-racial casting was extremely effective and believable. Each of these women, some rich, some poor, some single and some married, or about to be, really work together in an organic and wonderful way to create a world any woman can identify with at every stage of her life.  

 

Usually, I point out members of the cast who stand out but in this case ALL of the cast stand out, some with their biting humor like Nicholia Q. Aguirre as Clairee, whose late husband was mayor of Chinquapin, and Meg Elliott as Ousier who owns an outstanding sense of comic timing! Lucy Sandy as Truvy, the owner is a calm yet very funny, motherly anchor of the beauty salon she built in her own garage to support her husband. 

 

Brooklyn Hebert is lovely in the role of Shelby who is getting her hair done for her wedding day as the play opens. Natalie Sallee plays Shelby's mother M'Lynn really brings home the tears as the danger of diabetes threatens her daughter's happy, yet fragile, life dealing with the disease before and after childbirth. As the young Annelle, a young new beautician who has arrived recently in this small town with an abusive, perhaps criminal, boyfriend who deserts her Nikkia Tyler is very effective also, as we see her clinging to these new friendships and her newfound trust in God, and the church - while literally on the verge of homelessness.

 

Although Harling’s script is considered a flawless classic, these six strong characters in such a small, realistic, almost threadbare set take the show to new levels of humor and sensitivity, which leave one wondering why the Hollywood film itself wasn't cast multi-racially as well. 

 

I highly endorse this bright, new production to anyone who has seen or not seen and enjoyed the film or play before, as this ensemble directed by Mark Boergers offers up a refreshing and fulfilling vision of the original play that women and the men who love them can all identify with easily. Along with this excellent cast of trained actors the audience can learn firsthand about being strong as steel when necessary and laughing like children when it seems like all that's left to do is cry.  

 

The Arc Theatre’s Steel Magnolias is being performed at the Red Curtain Theater at the First Congregational Church House in Evanston through February 12th. For tickets and more show info, click here.

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Tuesday, 24 January 2017 19:17

Review: Blizzard '67 at 16th Street Theater

If you don’t already know about the 16th Street Theater in Berwyn, now’s a great time to check it out. For ten years, the Equity company run by Ann Filmer in the basement of the Berwyn Cultural Center has endeavored to produce high-quality work for an affordable price while paying artists fairly, and for this anniversary season, they’re reviving several of their hits as staged readings (I can personally recommend Yasmina’s Necklace). As for the current mainstage production, Blizzard ’67 by local playwright Jon Steinhagen is an expertly crafted character study in a setting familiar to every Chicagoan of a certain age, but is easily accessible to those whom the blizzard long predates.

The play begins a few days before the January 26th blizzard with the characters breaking the fourth wall to introduce themselves to us in a narrative device, which Steinhagen will return to a few times over the evening. In this early segment, the audience chuckles knowingly along with the four men in a carpool as they marvel over how quickly Illinois weather can go from 65 degrees to dropping two feet of snow. That humor is a necessity for keeping the audience’s interest, too, because calling our characters creatures of their era is about the nicest thing which can be said about them.

Four steel chairs represent the car Lanfield (Mark Pracht) drives his co-workers in. They alternate four times a year, and Lanfield’s functional alcoholism and his car’s faulty radio and horn gain him no reprieve from his duties. Riding with him are Henkin (Stephen Spencer), a bachelor rising in the company, family man Bell (Noah Simon), and young new guy Emery (Christian Stokes). They are not friends. Emery claims he can see that Henkin’s recent promotion is simply a meaningless carrot the bosses wave in front of them, but Lanfield is seething with jealous insecurity and stokes Bell’s low-key dissatisfaction, as well. Henkin is unapologetic about doing “well” and Emery internally debates whether siding with him or Lanfield would be more advantageous.

Besides making up for in paper-thin egos what they lack in social skills and self-awareness, our characters have very little in their lives which gives them any happiness, and our look into their home lives earns them a bit of pity. Bell is luckier than the others in that he at least as a child he loves and is loved by. Emery has a doting father who has provided him with everything and a new wife; even if his life is disappointing now, there’s reason to expect it will get better. Lanfield is an emotional mess but has a wife who nurses him while enabling his self-destruction. Henkin’s loneliness is a more subtle kind of sadness, and one more easily hidden under affected disdain. When the men are caught in the sudden blizzard as a result of preferring the risk of commuting home to the certain misery of sharing a room, they are thrown into crises. In a moment of panic, three abandon the fourth, and are left to confront their mounting horror and disgust at how far they are from how they perceived themselves.

Sometime after Blizzard ’67, Steinhagen wrote The Devil’s Day Off, which was performed by Signal Ensemble in 2014 and depicted the consequences of a heat wave in Chicago. Whether Blizzard ‘67’s script was revised after that I do not know, but Steinhagen has developed a formidable skill at writing characters in extreme, but easily recognizable, situations. However, while The Devil’s Day Off was written to give the actors and director as much latitude as possible, Blizzard ’67 thrives on its specificity. Filmer guides her four actors seamlessly from the satirical tone at the play’s opening to the harrowing meditations at its end. Her direction and Steinhagen’s script draw us into the characters’ lack of closure, making us suffer prolonged tension along with them in the play’s second act. Assisting in this is the minimal design, with a brutal grey set by Grant Sabin, cold lights by Benjamin White, projections with the slightest dream-like edge by Anthony Churchill, evocative weather sound-effects by Barry Bennett, and period and character-appropriate costumes by Rachel Sypniewski.

Even so, the four actors are, of course, the pillars on whom the play rests, and each provides a full portrait of a man mired in his own different kind of frustration. While Bell may be the most conventionally likeable, each has petty weaknesses and aspirations we can easily identify with. Spencer, in particular, does stand-out work, as he not only plays Henkin, but also has to transform himself into several other characters who are treated seriously by the narrative. Wisely, he and Filmer have not attempted to be completely illusionary with this, but give us a good enough idea of a bartender and a close relative of each of the other characters for us to understand how they relate to each other. For the most part, the relationships are very troubled, and what makes Blizzard ’67 interesting on a level deeper than mere nostalgia for the blizzard is its examination of a failure of people to value each other. It takes a televised speech by Richard J. Daley, of all people, for the characters to realize what the true source of their unhappiness is. Those of us today with more satisfactory work environments, families, and friendships may come away grateful for how far things have come, and remember to safeguard mundane kindnesses and our consciousness of others.

Highly Recommended

Blizzard ’67 is being performed at 6420 16th St in Berwyn, Illinois. Running time is two hours, with one intermission. Tickets may be purchased at 16thstreettheater.org. Admission is $18-22.

Performances are Thursdays-Fridays at 7:30 pm (often with a post-show discussion) and Saturdays at 4:00 and 8:00 pm now extended through March 4th. Parking is available for free in the lot at 16th and Gunderson.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Due to popular demand, Greenhouse Theater Center is pleased to present the return of Cathy Schenkelberg’s hit one-woman show SQUEEZE MY CANS, directed by Shirley Anderson, playing February 16 – March 12, 2017 at The Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago. Schenkelberg’s evocative and humorous account of life as a Scientologist returns for a full run following a limited engagement last summer during the Greenhouse’s popular Solo Celebration! Series. Tickets for SQUEEZE MY CANS are currently available at greenhousetheater.org, in person at the box office or by calling (773) 404-7336. The press opening is Thursday, February 16 at 7:30 pm.

 

Have you ever wondered if Bozo was a suppressive person? Have you ever considered what it might be like to audition to be Tom Cruise’s girlfriend? What would you do if the carrot of spiritual freedom was dangled in front of you, waiting to be seized? Writer/performer Cathy Schenkelberg decided to chase it and what she found was Scientology: America’s foremost intergalactic theology. After years of studying and searching, she found herself blowing alien life forms off her body, farther than ever from who she had hoped to be. Now, she returns to share that story in this no-holds-barred cautionary tale of how she survived the pseudoscience.

 

SQUEEZE MY CANS returns to Chicago following sold-out runs in 2016 at Outdoor Voices festival and Sacred Fools Theater/Hollywood Fringe Festival in Los Angeles and Dunes Summer Theatre in Michigan City, Indiana.

 

"Our audiences were profoundly affected by Cathy's humorous and shocking retelling of her brave journey through Scientology when we hosted her as part of the Solo Celebration! Series," comments Greenhouse Artistic Director Jacob Harvey. "Cathy manages to turn her nearly 20-year experience with America's most prominent alien religion into a fearless, hilarious and heartbreaking performance. We are proud to have her back as she continues to tell her story of survival and the power of perseverance."

The production team for SQUEEZE MY CANS includes: Brandon Baruch (lighting design), Victorio (Toy) Deiorio (sound and projection design) and Ron Rude (production manager)

PRODUCTION DETAILS:

 

Title: SQUEEZE MY CANS

Written and performed by: Cathy Schenkelberg

Directed by: Shirley Anderson

 

Location The Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave, Chicago

Dates: Press Performance: Thursday, February 16 at 7:30 pm

Regular run: Friday, February 17 – Sunday, March 12, 2017

Curtain times: Thursdays and Friday at 7:30 pm; Saturdays at 7:30 pm & 10 pm; Sundays at 2 pm

Tickets: $25. Students $20.

Tickets are currently available at greenhousetheater.org, in person at the box office or by calling (773) 404-7336.

 

About The Artists

 

Cathy Schenkelberg (Performer/Playwright) is a Nebraska native and Chicago/LA-based actress, singer and voiceover talent who has voiced campaigns for clients such as Sears, Kohl’s, Applebee’s and SC Johnson. Early on in Chicago, she’s had roles in Jacque Brel, Working, Little Shop of Horrors, Noises Off and Moms the Word, to name a few. Cathy was also Chrissy in the Midwest Tour of Hair and Pepper the Clown on WGN’s Bozo Show. She has worked as a dancer/singer at clubs and cruise ships - even impersonating Dolly Parton, Madonna and Marilyn Monroe (all at the same time). In her recent return to the stage, she had the good fortune to play Madame Thenardier in Les Miz, Violet, Zuzu and Ma Hatch in It’s A Wonderful Life, Sue Ellen in Honky Tonk Angels and the Mother in A Christmas Story at Sierra Repertory Theatre in Sonora CA as well as Veronica in God of Carnage at American Stage in St Pete FL. But it has been her spoken-word pieces at such venues as Write Club LA, Spark off Rose, Rant N’ Rave and Louder then a Mom, where her one woman show, Squeeze My Cans, was conceived. Visit www.squeezemycans.com for more information. 

 

Shirley Anderson (Director) is a Northwestern alum who spent the ‘90s in Chicago, adapting, producing and performing a solo adaptation of Dorothy Parker's short story Big Blonde at the Red Lion Pub, then in jazz clubs, colleges and theaters in Chicago, Edinburgh and Los Angeles. Anderson has written and performed as a solo performer ever since in Chicago and Los Angeles. In 1993, Anderson collaborated with Molly McNett on Sculpture in Vitro: Growing Up Female in the Age of Liposuction at Live Bait Theater after premiering the work in cooperation with Lookingglass Theatre and before touring the show to high schools and colleges. She has collaborated with Lookingglass Theatre Company, Plasticene and Studio 108 in Chicago and Sacred Fools, Theater Movement Bazaar, Zoo District, Son of Semele and Theater of NOTE in Los Angeles, where she currently lives and directs business operations for Blum & Poe art gallery.

 

About the Greenhouse Theater Center

The Greenhouse Theater Center is a nonprofit performance venue located at 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. Our complex offers two newly remodeled 190-seat main stage spaces, two 60-seat studio theaters, an in-house rehearsal room and Chicago’s only dedicated used theatre book store. 

Our mission at the Greenhouse is first and foremost to grow local theatre. We strive to cultivate a fertile environment for local artists, from individual renters to our bevy of resident companies, to develop and produce their work. In 2014 alone, The Greenhouse Theater Center provided space for almost 1,000 ticketed performances, serving more than 54,000 patrons. Among these events were at least 30 productions by our resident companies, including the celebrated American Blues Theater and Remy Bumppo Theatre Company. Through our Trellis Program, we offer the community affordable access to our work by housing Chicago’s only dedicated used theatre bookstore, located on the second floor of our complex, as well as offering a free reading series each Tuesday night where local artists workshop their latest scripts. Additionally, we also continue to play an active role in cultivating and nurturing our community through continued partnerships with the League of Chicago Theaters and local Chambers of Commerce. 

As of 2016, the Greenhouse Theater Center embraced the true spirit of growth and launched its producing entity. With the announcement of our eight month long Solo Celebration! Series, helmed by Artistic Director Jacob Harvey, we will produce 12 solo plays from June 2016 to February 2017. Through this inaugural effort, we hope to expand the solo play cannon while also cultivating a larger conversation about the possibilities of the one-person play. 

With new ideas always incubating, the Greenhouse Theater Center is flourishing. Come grow with us! 

 

Published in Buzz Extra
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