Theatre

Saturday, 12 November 2016 05:15

Lovers and the Dearly Departed

With all the earmarks of a romantic comedy, First Floor Theater’s “Deer and the Lovers,” now playing at The Den Theatre, offers up of a barrel of laughs along with serious reflections threaded throughout.

 

Written by Emily Zemba and directed by Jesse Roth, the 100-minute play dives deep into the relationships of the four main characters that come face-to-face with death and betrayal while on a weekend retreat at a cottage house in the woods of New Hampshire.

 

Deer and the Lovers opens with Peter (Alex Stage) and Qiana (Shadee Vossoughi) arriving for a romantic get-away at her parents’ home. However, those plans were spoiled not only by the discovery of a dead deer that crashed through the front window but also the unexpected arrival of Peter’s sister Marnie (Kay Kron) and brother-in-law Felix (Tony Santiago).

 

With plenty of jokes and puns on the dearly departed animal, it becomes clear that Zemba intends for the deer to serve as a metaphor for Qiana and her path in life. For instance, while Peter is able to madly declare his love, Qiana seems less sure of her affections in comparison. And the later arrival of Marnie and Felix at the cottage shines a bright light on just why that is the case as we watch both couples deal with issues of love, commitment, secrecy and betrayal.

 

Qiana, in particular, seems obsessed with how to dispose of the deer and how it met its current fate: How did it get in the house and why? Where was it going and what was it running from? These are all questions that she can pose about her own path as well and the answers are equally elusive.

 

Later conversations with the mysterious local animal control agent Lenny (Matt Nikkila) in the second half of the play further illustrate Qiana’s connections with the deer.

 

After a dramatic reveal, we see her frantically taking matters in her own hands as she drags the deer into the woods in an attempt to bury it herself. It is almost as if she feels that finding a final resting place for the animal will bring it peace and free her from the soulless, emptiness she feels inside. And it is at that point that the symbolism of the setting in New Hampshire with its motto – Live Free or Die – becomes even more relevant.

 

Fascinating and quirky, Deer and the Lovers is time well spent. The talented cast meshes well and is effective in hitting all of the comedic points in rhythm while also delivering the soul-searching undercurrents.

 

Recommended

 

Deer and the Lovers is currently playing at The Den Theatre until December 3. Tickets are available at www.firstfloortheater.com. 

 

Published in Theatre in Review

In 2002, About Face Theater company debuted Doug Wright's play "I Am My Own Wife." It opened on Broadway in 2004, and won both the Pulitzer Prize as well as the Tony award for Best New Play. About Face Theater and director Andrew Volkoff revisit the play twelve years later in an eerily relevant political climate. In it, Wright tells the story of the time he spent in Berlin with Charlotte von Mahlsdorf during the early '90s.

 

Mahlsdorf was the subject of international fame after publishing her autobiography and being awarded the Bundesverdienstkreuz by the German government. Charlotte von Mahlsdorf established The Grunderzeit museum, it housed her collection of historical items spanning decades of German history. Her most unique attribute is that she was a transvestite and managed to survive the nazis and the communists.

 

Playwright Doug Wright turned his interview notes into a mostly one-woman show. His character is played here by Scott Duff and functions as the narrator. Charlotte is portrayed by real life transgender actress Delia Kropp. In little stories about the antiques in her museum, Charlotte reveals more about herself. During both authoritarian regimes, gay people were persecuted. Each item is in some way connected to preserving the history of Germany's lgbt community.

 

Volkoff's production is sleek and well dressed. The lighting design by John Kelly adds a nice dimension to this otherwise minimal staging. Delia Kropp gives a fascinating performance. Charlotte labeled herself as a transvestite and never opted for sexual reassignment surgery. Delia portrays her with soft androgyny. Kropp's authenticity in voice and mannerism is striking. Her lengthy passages of monologue illuminate the imagination.

 

It's by no accident About Face selected "I Am My Own Wife" for their season. As the political tides turn, some lgbt communities are worried their legitimacy may be less certain. Doug Wright's play about Charlotte von Mahlsdorf is a reassuring testament to everyday heros. As his character says in the play, "I need to believe this."

 

Through December 10th at Theater Wit - 1229 W Belmont. 773-975-8150.

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Thursday, 10 November 2016 05:56

Review: Porchlight's "End of the Rainbow"

To say Judy Garland led a tumultuous life is an understatement. In a way, she was the mid-century equivalent of Amy Winehouse. A once brilliant, and at times triumphant star who faded out much too soon. Maybe some will only remember Judy as Dorothy Gale, but in her short career Judy was an international phenomenon. Her dependence on prescription pills and alcohol created a tortured existence of financial and emotional instability. Judy Garland died of a drug overdose in 1969. Her New York City funeral is often considered the catalyst of the Stonewall Riots.

 

There have been several TV specials, documentaries, and movies made about Judy's life. Some better than others. A small West End show, "The End of the Rainbow" about the final months of Garland's life became a smash hit in 2010. A huge part of the show's success was star Tracie Bennett's uncanny likeness to Judy. Bennett and "Rainbow" transferred to Broadway in 2012.

 

This show is popular right now in regional productions, but Porchlight Music Theatre's production is the Chicago premiere. Playing Judy is Angela Ingersoll. Under the direction of Michael Webber, Ingersoll turns in a tour de force. She's wise not to veer into impression and makes definitive choices for her Judy, focusing on character rather than accuracy. Though, she really brings it home in the cabaret-style musical sequences. She captures Judy's intimate performance techniques that make an audience feel warm.

 

The book by Peter Quilter is more of a dramatic play than musical, but the songs are all selected from Judy's regular repertoire. Quilter's script is a well-rounded account of Judy's life almost entirely composed of actual quotes and first hand accounts from her life. Judy's demise is an unpleasant story and "The End of the Rainbow" covers it without getting morbid or tabloid.

 

Porchlight's production of "End of the Rainbow" starring Angela Ingersoll is a deeply moving account of the hidden side of show business. It's also a bittersweet tribute to one of Hollywood's biggest legends. For Garland fans young and old, this show is not to be missed.

 

Through December 9th at Stage 773. 1225 W Belmont Ave. 773-327-5252

 



 

Published in Theatre in Review

The Fairy Queen is a baroque opera written by Henry Purcell in 1692 as an adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night's Dream.  On November 5th, in the newly restored Studebaker Theater, the Chicago Opera Theater produced their reimagined version of the opera in collaboration with Culture Clash. The show is set in present day Las Vegas at a nightclub known as Club FQ or Club Fairy Queen, giving a modern perspective on a very traditional and old fashioned show.

 

Three couples, in various phases of their relationships, arrive at the club ready to enjoy their weekend in Vegas; Tanya and Rob to celebrate a birthday, Lysander and Herman to celebrate a marriage and Demetrius and Helena to try and rekindle their romance. After Tanya and Ron get in a big argument over Ron’s wandering eyes (and more) their first night in the club, Puck, the club owner, steps in with a special love potion that is sure to solve all of their problems. Of course, nothing from here out goes as planned and chaos ensues.

 

Now imagine that story set to baroque music by the Haymarket Opera Company - complete with a harpsichord and other period instruments - under the direction of Jory Vinikour. This should be an interesting way to make opera more accessible to a new audience but this strong juxtaposition, combined with overly sexualized characters who are such strong stereotypes it at times feels insulting and pacing that was awkwardly slow, it overall falls short of a production that will do much to attract any new audiences.

 

The show, like its muse, is a comedy and while there are some comedic moments that hit the right moment and tone, garnering laughs from the theater, there are many more that felt dragged out or had poor timing. The show has a run time of over 2 hours with a 20 minute intermission but the pacing of the performance makes that feel much longer. In a possible tribute to the masque style of the original opera, there tends to be significant time where characters who are not speaking are standing still on the stage, as if waiting for their next move, but that ended up detracting from the momentum of the performance.

 

The lyrics are captioned for the audience which is helpful, but they are still quite confusing. If you are familiar with the story of Midsummer Night's Dream, it will be easy to follow along despite that. The stage and lighting design were fitting to set the scene of this Vegas club and the costumes completed that package visually. The cast overall was eclectic and it was refreshing to see good diversity on stage. Tanya, played by Kim Jones, was a saving grace of the show. Her singing was beautiful and definitely made her a stand out member of the cast.  As the cast performed without microphones, there were times when it was difficult to hear the dialog but most of them had excellent projection when it was time to sing.

 

On the whole, this reimagined telling of The Fairy Queen missed the mark. It often felt like it was trying too hard to be hip and relevant which took away from the performance. There was great intent in this creative approach to an adaptation and with some softening of the delivery, and improvements on the pacing it could become a unique and interesting opera. There will be two more performances of the show coming up in the next week so get your tickets here to see for yourself - https://www.chicagooperatheater.org/the-season/fairy-queen. 

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Tuesday, 18 October 2016 19:04

Dr. Seward's Dracula Finishes Strong

In tradition of the Halloween season, First Folio Theatre keeps with its ongoing classic horror theme, this time presenting the world premiere of “Dr. Seward’s Dracula” in line with past productions “Frankenstein” and “The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe”. Finely adapted by Joseph Zettelmaier and cleverly directed by Jeff Award nominee Alison C. Vesely, a terrific tale is spun that is as dark as it is suspenseful.

 

The setting is perfect. Performed at the Mayslake Peabody Estate in Brookfield, viewers get a taste of nostalgia, easily associated with that of a classic horror film, the moment they enter the aged mansion. 

 

The story revolves around Dr. Seward, a former practitioner at an asylum who has since left due to a string of tortuous events including the death of his wife and an attack that left him stabbed in the stomach with the jagged leg of a wooden stool. Set in Seward’s home, he is constantly visited by his past wife and shoots morphine on a regular basis to curb the chronic pain he suffers from his stomach wound. Visited regularly by editor and close friend, Bram Stoker, a series of brutal murders piles up and suspicions leading to Seward as a suspect gradually become stronger. When Inspector Louis Carlyse enters the scene, things only get stranger, suspicions pointing more and more to Dr. Seward who is now questioning his own sanity. Seward claims a blood drinking monster named “Dracula” is responsible for the horrific murders, a story not so easily believed.

 

Though fine acting is present from the play’s beginning, Act One moves along at a slow pace, the opportunity of dramatic moments lacking in heavy suspense, leaving something to be desired to the mid-act crescendos that were most likely intended. However, Act Two comes on strong, providing the intriguement and excitement horror fans would have expected, completely redeeming the show and putting it on the must do list for Halloween activities. 

 

Christian Gray is thoroughly gripping as Dr. Seward, capturing the audience for good in just the play’s first scene. He never let’s go of that grip. One of the finest actors in the Chicagoland theatre scene, Gray is able to tackle such a role in a way that most cannot. Already performing in over twenty shows for First Folio, the gifted actor has already made his mark in such productions as the “Jeeves” series, “The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe”, “Romeo and Juliet” and “A Moon for the Misbegotten”. Now Gray can confidently add another knock out performance to his resume. 

 

The play rounds out with a handful of strong supporting performances with Craig Spidle as the Inspector, Joseph Stearns as Bram Stoker, Elizabeth Stenholt as Seward’s lost love Emily Covington and most notably Ted Kitterman as The Strange Man.

 

Gray’s performance is reason alone to see this play. However, it’s building story, ominous looking set and well-played roles of its assorted interesting characters add even more justification to see this frightfully tasty Halloween treat. 

 

First Folio’s “Dr. Seward’s Dracula” is being performed at the Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook through November 6th. For more show information visit www.FirstFolio.org.

 

 

 

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Sunday, 16 October 2016 18:43

Review: The Trump Card at Theater Wit

"Atlantic City is like a real life, 3D Bruce Springsteen song, and not one of the good ones. Something off Nebraska," controversial monologist Mike Daisey waxes in his new show "The Trump Card." Daisey, a master storyteller, made a splash in 2010 when his Apple expose "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" aired on This American Life. It remains the most downloaded episode in the show's history. It was retracted two months later when NPR discovered that some of the details had been fabricated. For some performers, this sort of public shame would be crippling. Daisey apologized and has moved on. 

 

As with his other works, "The Trump Card" positions Daisey at a long table against a black drop, on an otherwise empty stage. He occasionally reads his near two-and-a-half hour rant about Donald Trump, punctuating by wiping the sweat from his brow. Daisey fluctuates between an oral history of Trump, and his own commentary on the Republican nominee's troubled campaign. The genius of his monologue is how quickly he's able to include new and awful facts that seem to be bleeding out of the campaign everyday. While Daisey's contempt of Donald Trump is palpable, he doesn't shy away from skewering his smug liberal audience. He shifts in and out of the narrative, finding pit-stops and inventive metaphors along the way. 

 

Daisey holds his satire of the GOP candidate to a more intellectual standard than Alec Baldwin on SNL. Rather than bemoan what we've come to accept as normal, Daisey makes a case for the average Trump supporter. He even lectures the "American theater-going audience" for their elitism. He paints a somewhat bleak picture of the electorate, but that doesn't stop the laugh-a-minute jokes of this not-to-be-missed performance. "The Trump Card" is an illuminating and frightening look at how even if Trump loses, the conditions that made his candidacy possible will remain. Actors Elizabeth Ledo, Joe Foust and Steven Strafford will host a special Election Night performance here in Chicago where they will be performing parts of Daisey's monologues. 

 

Election Night encore November 8th at Theater Wit. 1229 W Belmont Ave. 773-975-8150. 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Everyone knows the story of Romeo and Juliet, a timeless tale of lovers kept apart by family and society, but the power of love allows them to fight through only to meet a tragic demise. The story has been told over and over again in stories, books, movies, plays and even real life. The Joffrey Ballet kicks off its 2016-2017 season with Krzysztof Pastor’s Romeo and Juliet and proves that the story can transcend time and stands tall even without the beautiful poetry of William Shakespeare. 

 

In this creative, three act re-imagining of the classic Romeo and Juliet, the audience travels through time as they are pulled into the gripping story of the love and loss. Starting in Italy in the 1930’s, during the rise of Mussolini and Fascism, the militaristic, strict Capulet family and the more free and relaxed Montague family encounter one another and Romeo and Juliet meet for the first time. The second act moves to the 1950’s with the rise of political terrorism and the Red Brigade, which compliments the increasing challenges that keep the true lovers apart. In the final act it is 1990 and as Berlusconi’s leadership drives increasing social divide in the country, Romeo and Juliet meet their tragic end.

 

The show is a multi-media story ballet and the video imagery projected on the backdrop compliments the story. The rest of the set is simple, consisting of some lightly reflective panels that add a lovely effect to indoor scenes, and a few dark pillars and benches.  It allows most of your focus to be on the dancers themselves as the story unfolds. The costumes are non-traditional with no tutu’s in sight, opting instead towards more street fashion. As we progress through the three acts, the costumes evolve moving through time. One of the most creative aspects of the costuming is how the colors change across the acts, starting in a simple black and white, next to sepia tones and finally more full color, and through it all Romeo and Juliet are clad in a pale blue reflective of their innocence and lightness.

 

The choreography by Krzysztof Pastor is phenomenal and breathtaking. There are so many variety of styles from the rigid and powerful movements of the Capulet family, to the fun and lighthearted flow of the Montagues and of course the beautiful range of emotions that Romeo and Juliet portray, played by Rory Hohenstein and Christine Rocas. Just as Shakespeare has been praised for his ability to switch between comedy and tragedy so effortlessly, the choreography does the same with some lighthearted moments that broke the tension, even bringing about a laugh from the audience. Mercutio, played by Yoshihisa Arai, was the best representation of this comedy through dance. He brought boundless energy to the stage in an exceptional performance that made the audience all but fall in love with Mercutio.

 

Overall, the performances by the entire company were fantastic. Dancers moved effortlessly and in beautiful harmony with one another and with the score by Sergei Prokofiev. It was a nice break from the more traditional style of ballet yet still showcased the natural grace and amazing talent of the entire cast. 

 

If you are a fan of the ballet, or have never seen a story ballet before, this is certainly a performance to see. The modern qualities of this show make it more accessible to those unfamiliar with ballet, and no one can argue the multitude of emotions that this performance evokes. It never ceases to amaze just how powerful the art of movement can be, and in this re-telling of the age old story of Romeo and Juliet that power is clearly evident. The show is playing at the stunning Auditorium Theater through October 23rd. Be sure to get your tickets and experience the magic of the Joffrey Ballet.

 

Published in Upcoming Dance

True gamers, especially nostalgic ones, will appreciate The New Colony’s world premiere of Merge. Closing out its 2016 season, this 90-minute, fast-paced, and often funny, performance at the Den Theatre’s Upstairs Main Stage spotlights the roller-coaster history of Atari, a pioneer manufacturer of video arcade games.

 

Written by Spenser Davis and directed by Andrew Hobgood, Merge provides an inside look at the tumultuous ups and downs of the video game company from its start in the early 1970's.

 

The script is Davis’ first original full-length play. Submitted through The New Colony’s writers program, it made quite an impression on company members. “Merge was the rare instance of a story flying off the page with such ferocity that Andrew and I needed to get our ensemble in the room immediately,” said Co-Artistic Director Evan Linder. “Spenser Davis’ hilarious and insightful script will welcome onstage the largest cast The New Colony has assembled since our first season.”

 

Despite the size, Hobgood’s staging of the huge 16-member cast in such a small space was mostly effective. However, at times, when the full cast was onstage, the fast-talking and screaming could be a bit overwhelming.

 

The set design was one of the biggest stars of this production with a video arcade cabinet as the backdrop along with a bright neon color scheme.

 

The opening action starts in the late 70's around the time Atari, hugely successful with its arcade and home console video games but cash-strapped, merged with Warner Bros. Atari employees are frazzled by the corporate takeover and the impact ricochets throughout the company as key players leave. Pot smoking, Jacuzzi parties and eccentric behaviors had fueled Atari’s workplace during its rise. When they have to sell to Warner Bros. to stay afloat, along with the influx of corporate cash comes corporate structure and new requirements, including wearing socks.

 

The use of the flashback technique and flexible, moving set pieces allow the action to flow seamlessly back through time as the audience is quickly introduced to Atari co-founders Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney. Like a video game version of the odd couple, these two opposite personalities are behind one of the fastest growing companies in America.

 

Their different styles, business philosophy, especially on how to handle lawsuits from competition, and Bushnell’s hard-driving ambition, eventually force Dabney out of the company. Ironically Bushnell himself is ousted as CEO after the Warner Bros. merger, paving the way for a more straight-laced chief in Stuart Nygard.  It was this move that prompted many of the remaining programmers who had been with Atari from the beginning to jump ship and align with a competing company.

 

In one of the more fascinating, yet somewhat out-of-place scenes, a courtroom battle that feels more like an episode of “Wild ‘N Out” ensues between Warner Bros. and that rival. Dabney returns at a pivotal moment providing information that will not only have long-lasting repercussions for Warner Bros. but the video game industry as a whole.

 

Merge is creative and fun and packs a lot of history in 90 minutes. A huge and high-energy cast and creative staging keep the story moving in a compelling fashion.

 

Recommended

 

Merge is now playing at The Den Theatre’s Upstairs Main Stage through November 13, 2016. Tickets are available at www.thenewcolony.org.

Published in Theatre Reviews

If you were to take a survey of teenagers and young adults to determine which social issue they’re most interested in seeing addressed onstage, mass shootings would be near the top of the list. Though the kind of incident in which an ideologically fanatical and/or severely mentally ill individual massacres a random group of people is not how the majority of murders occur, or the type of shooting Chicago public school students are most likely to encounter, it is something I’ve found that students have a strong desire to discuss. Of course, discussing something is quite different from discussing it intelligently, and the “conversation” around school shootings is filled with so much nonsense and has so little legislative effect that people have become jaded enough for Heathers: The Musical to exist (and be funny). But that’s where playwright Caitlin Parrish comes in. Working with director Erica Weiss, Parrish has adapted the ancient Greek story of Antigone into a new play which not only allows its characters to be complex and intelligent, but is an interesting story in its own right, and worthwhile for adults to see during a public performance.

The Antigone imagined by Sophocles was one who sacrificed her life by defying her uncle Creon to give her treacherous brother a proper burial. The one imagined by Jean Anouilh in 1944 switched her motivations so rapidly that Anouilh’s Creon excused himself by saying she simply wished to be martyred and did not care what principle she ostensibly died for. Parrish’s Antigone, named Sophie Martin (Olivia Cygan), has no desire to sacrifice herself at all. The favorite child of a widowed Republican senator running for re-election as a moderate, high school senior Sophie has just cast her vote in her first primary election when shots ring out at her school. Upon learning that her brother, Ben (Matt Farabee), was the killer and concluded his massacre in suicide, her first thought is that she hopes his body hasn’t been left alone, and her second thought is to hope the media does not release his name until the polls are closed. Sophie has made supporting her father’s career her purpose in life, and is deeply disappointed in Ben for what she perceives as a calculated attempt to kill their family socially, along with his more direct victims. In this version, he is buried quickly, in an unmarked grave outside of town, but Sophie is troubled at how easily her father, Ryan (Coburn Goss), and sister, Chloe (Becca Savoy), join everyone else in writing him off as evil.

Sophie’s discomfort increases when her father declares that he wants teachers to be armed, and implies he would have killed Ben himself had he known what he was planning. She’s also blindsided by how suspicious her classmates are of her—to have not known Ben was a psychopath means she must either have been stupid or been covering for him, and they know she’s not stupid. As her father’s plan to rebuild his public image as Ben’s most prominent surviving victim proves surprisingly successful, Sophie finds herself disagreeing with him on the wisdom of widespread access to firearms. He claims that she is simply trying to avoid acknowledging what Ben was so he won’t reflect poorly on her, but Sophie believes whatever was wrong with Ben isn’t as easily addressed or as relevant to any other mass shooting as cracking down on guns.

Parrish’s script sometimes strays close to letting characters speechify, but generally, she motivates their responses quite well. The nine-member ensemble all acquit themselves marvelously, with Cygan expertly managing the difficult task of keeping a somewhat objectionable and high-handed protagonist clever and active enough to maintain the audience’s interest. Higher on the sympathy scale is Savoy’s sardonic Chloe, who, as a lesbian from a Republican household, had relied more upon the school than her family for a social network, and is more upset by having that taken from her. Goss’ senator is no caricature, but he doesn’t display the same level of conflict over what to do with Sophie as most Creons. His claim that he specifically is needed in Washington and he therefore must be willing to sacrifice his family seems to have little basis, but the playwright allows him to sound reasonable despite disagreeing with him.

The school, too, is host to a wide array of richly developed characters. Stephanie Andrea Barron plays Sophie’s friend Janette, who is from a far less-comfortable background and already had mechanisms for coping with violence; her boyfriend, Jayden (Joel Boyd) never liked Sophie in the first place, perhaps saw her as a rival, and is the kind of person who displays his books so everybody can be impressed by what he’s reading (it’s Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me). Greg (Ty Olwin) is a profoundly hurt friend of a victim who finds the Martins unspeakably vile, while Brianna (Aurora Adachi-Winter) is a survivor whose brief appearance in a video at the beginning of the play instantly establishes an unsettling tension. It was wise of Parrish to grant the chorus so much individuality—the community feels much more authentic when its differences can be acknowledged, and the play has a heart which is sometimes missing in modern remountings of Greek tragedies. Representing her and Weiss’s own generation are a teacher and a newscaster played by Kristina Valada-Viars, one of whom, being in her mid-thirties, declares herself too old to lead the cause of gun control, and the other of whom outright admits she has been faking her routine shock and grief for a while.

Courtney O’Neill’s set design contains a nod to what the Athenian theatre is supposed to have looked like in the time of Sophocles, but it also allows room for Joseph A. Burke’s projections. Ben appears in the form of a vapid video diary he kept which endlessly frustrates the other characters by providing very little help in figuring out his motivations, but his posthumous presence on social media becomes a major recurring plot point. Parrish used the premise of Antigone, but since the point of the play is to make teenagers feel empowered, one can see long in advance that it’s not a tragedy. Parrish and Weiss also aren’t shy about using the play to advocate for stricter gun regulation, or possibly elimination, but the context of Steppenwolf’s encouragement of discussion and feedback prevents this from feeling propagandistic, and they present a reasoned argument with respect for the other side. Based on the differences between how Goss and Valada-Viars’s characters are represented, they seem harder on themselves, which, when ninety percent of the public supports stricter background checks and is unable to move Congress, gun-regulation advocates perhaps ought to be. 

One of the most encouraging things about this production is that there exist people who understand the myriad viewpoints that exist surrounding mass shootings and respect young peoples’ experiences and concerns. Acknowledgement isn’t progress in itself, but it is a precondition to progress that is often lacking, and Weiss’s cast display genuine empathy. This show isn’t meant to condescendingly educate teenagers about themselves; it’s a mirror held up to the people most effected by an issue, and for them and everyone else concerned about mass shootings, The Burials is highly recommended.

 

Public performances of The Burials are on October 14 at 7:30 pm, October 15 at 3:00 pm, and October 22 and 3:00 pm and 7:30 pm in Steppenwolf’s upstairs theatre at 1650 N Halsted Ave, Chicago. For ticket information, see Steppenwolf.org.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

Are you old enough to remember Saturday morning cartoons? I mean when there was no other place or time on TV to watch three hours of children's cartoon TV shows? Well, if you are, like me, you'll remember the "Scooby Doo" show whose lead character was a talking dog who rolled with the teenage mystery solvers from Mystery Inc. 

 

In "Skooby Don't" written by David Cerda, Artistic Director of the wonderful Hell In a Handbag Production Company, every hysterical aspect of the original show is poked at, like the fact that Scooby and his pal Shaggy both look and act like stoners the whole time and that the whole gang runs screaming in fear every time they finally confronted a ghost/monster.

 

But Cerda as always, takes a funny satire and turns it into a touching and even educational LGBTQ production that leaves the whole audience with something interesting and uplifting to ponder over long after they've left the theater. 

 

In order to stay safe of copyright laws the characters names have been slightly changed to even funnier names. Daphne is called Daffy played delightfully by ensemble member Elizabeth Lesinsky, smart and sassy Velma is now Velva (or “Vulva”) also very funnily played by Caitlin Jackson. I recently reviewed Ms. Jackson in her role as Bette Midler and she has an AMAZING singing voice as well. Fred is Fredd with two D’s, Shaggy becomes Scaggy and Scooby Doo trades in his “C” for a “K,” becoming Skooby and instead becomes “Don’t”. Cerda even jokes at one point about the subtle changes.

 

When Velva decides to take the whole gang to her aunt's house for a reunion vacation her aunt turns out to be Cher! Cher played by ensemble member Ed Jones is joined by two famous contemporary house guests Caitlyn Jenner (Chazie Bly), Kris Jenner (Cerda) and Cher’s disgruntled bellboy/son Chaz (Caitlin Boho). With this wild cast of characters only Cerda could put together, it doesn’t take long before a zany mystery ensues and the gang quickly becomes detectives.

 

This quartet of famous faces was absolutely a collection the funniest bits in the whole show. Ed Jones makes the BEST, funniest, tongue to lip touching Cher I have ever seen! David Cerda as Kris Jenner and Chazie Bly as Caitlynn Jenner have all the gestures and voice patterns down pat while Caitlin Boho who plays a plump, unshaven Chaz, had me laughing out loud with almost every single line she delivered. 

 

Kudos and credit must go to their AMAZING costumer Kate Setzer Kamphausen and Hell in a Handbag's wig master Keith Ryan because their makeup and hair fit EVERY character to a tee! 

 

People ask me why I enjoy Cerda's characters so much, enough to go to every production they put on without question and the reason is simple. They are always brilliantly funny. Add the fact that if these men and women can do such a great job of playing full on "dress up" and do it with such care and relish, it always makes me feel that SOMEONE else understands how hard it is to be a woman!

 

Cerda's characters don't make fun of women, they celebrate women and men of all kinds, sizes and shapes and even though they have to wear a lot of makeup, wigs and six inch heels they do it because they ENJOY doing all the things they associate with being women. David Cerda has a wonderful and blessed knack for creating female characters in his plays, even those beautiful women with "resting bitch face" - like his very popular Joan Crawford - to be  worthy of love and respect by the end of each show.

 

The entire cast including the supporting roles were dynamite. Cerda, Jones and Lesinsky just seems to get funnier and funnier with each production, this time capturing the precise essence of the vain and ditzy Daffy. In Skooby Don’t, Cerda puts forth yet another all-around stellar ensemble, perfectly casting the Mystery Gang and guest characters. 

 

I highly recommend this fun, campy yet sympathetic piece, which is kind of like a transgender Halloween party! Skooby Don’t is currently being performed at Mary’s Attic in Andersonville. For tickets, showtimes and more show information, visit www.Handbag productions.org.

Published in Theatre Reviews
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