Theatre

It's been nearly eight years since that loud, boisterous Italian nuptial celebration has left Chicago, but now "Tony N' Tina's Wedding" is back. Reworked from its 1993 through 2009 run at Piper's Alley, the wedding actually takes place at a church. The Resurrection Church, located near Belmont and Sheffield, is the perfect setting for Tony Nunzio and Tina Vitale to exchange vows with the action starting before you even enter the building. "Family members" approach “guests” as though old friends playing up the overdone Italian stereo types creating a mix of characters ranging from Rocky Balboa and gang to the housewives found in Goodfellas or Casino. A cheesy, gum-chewing wedding photographer snaps shots as guests enter the church who are then ushered to their seats. Before the wedding begins the Nunzio and Vitale clan interact with the audience and each other, already planting a very funny seed for what is to come. 

 

An abbreviated wedding then takes place complete with bridesmaids and groomsmen waltzing down the isle that is officially kicked off when Sister Albert Maria (Alisha Fabbi) leads the congregation into a soulful version of "Jesus Is Just Alright". The wedding in itself could be a show of its own with everything from the bride's ex showing up to a priest who is more than a bit overboard with his Mr. Rogers-like analogies. 

 

The "I dos" are said and the crowd is ushered out of the church for a quick block and a half walk to Chicago Theatre Works, or in this case, "Vinnie Black's Coliseum" for a reception one would be pressed to forget. As the brief trek to the restaurant is made, cast members stay in character mingling with guests, drawing them into hilarious conversations. 

 

Already a highly entertaining and unique experience, the fun really goes into high gear at the reception where guests are assigned to round dining tables, the wedding party seated center room for all to see. Family members are constantly popping by, drawing attendees into humorous conversations as though we go way back with them. All the ingredients are in place for hilarious wedding celebration to remember. There's the ditzy stripper, a drunken father, a surly mother, a priest who drinks too much, a smarmy wedding singer, a jealous ex-boyfriend, an over-the-top restaurant owner who acts as the evening's emcee. Fights break out between families, grandma is mistakenly deemed dead after falling down and guests join in with the cast for a crazy night of dancing that includes a conga line. Before long one almost forgets they are at a play.

 

Mitchell Conti is perfectly cast as Tony as is Hannah Aaron Brown as Tina, so many funny moments exchanged by the two along with other family members and wedding "guests" (us). The cast does a great job at getting guests to interact naturally. For example, while so much is going on at all times in different areas throughout the room, an argument breaks out next to me between a bridesmaid and groomsman, apparently a couple, when one accuses the other of "grinding" on another guest near the dance floor. "Did you see her? Did you think she was grinding on the guy?" My response in hand alters their own reaction as I quickly find myself refereeing the two who finally simmer down and see stars for each other once again. Fun stuff like that. 

 

I praise this talented cast who really has to be on top of their improv game for the entire two and a half hours - even in the bathroom! I can't imagine it an easy task to interact with strangers for an entire evening, playing off so well the many curve balls they are thrown. 

 

Paul Stroili wonderfully directs this new reworked version of "Tony N' Tina's Wedding", a former cast member himself during the show's previous Chicago run, as he took on the role of Vinny Black to which the mantle has now been passed to Brian Noonan who tackles the colorful character with such command. 

 

"Tony N' Tina's Wedding" is a unique ceremony/celebration full of laughs and good times through and through. It's actually a wedding one can really look forward to attending for once (I know I'll hear it for that one later). By the end of the night you almost get the feeling you know the Nunzio's and Vitale's. 

 

"There's a hot tub party afterwards!" I was told by a groomsman on his way out. "Don't forget your speedo!"

 

"Tony N' Tina's Wedding" is currently being performed at Resurrection Church (3309 N Seminary) for the service then the reception moves to Chicago Theatre Works (1113 W Belmont) just over a block away. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.TonyLovesTina.com.

 

*Note - a full pasta entree is provided along with a cash bar.  A Vegetarian option is available by making a request to "Vinny Black" upon entering the reception area.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews
Saturday, 01 October 2016 23:53

The Last Wife Keeps Its Head

The tumultuous personal life of the six-time married Henry VIII has been an inspiration for dramatists for centuries, and provided immortal fame to several of his ill-fated wives. However, as the wife who had the political astuteness to survive him and the luck to marry him after he had already produced his long-awaited male heir, Katherine Parr has usually been neglected due to her apparent lack of tragedy. That changed last year, when Canadian actress and playwright Kate Hennig’s new work, The Last Wife, premiered at the Stratford Festival. Narrowly focused on six richly drawn characters, Hennig’s play is a reminder of how remarkable Parr truly was, and that her political power stemmed from her ability to reconcile one of the English-speaking world’s most notoriously fractured families. In the play’s United States debut at Timeline Theatre, director Nick Bowling’s cast teases out the nuances of Hennig’s complex script, creating a surprisingly compassionate image of a court known mainly for its beheadings.

The play is in modern dress and language, with elegantly simple costumes by Melissa Torchia and a matching silver and black set by Regina Garcia. Katherine Parr (AnJi White) is a social-climbing noblewoman with a dying husband she never liked, and a handsome admirer in the highly desirable Thom Seymour (Nate Santana). However, at the top of the play, she is troubled by the gift King Henry (Steve Pickering) has made to her of a dazzling necklace. It is a clear indication that he wishes to make her wife number six, and to refuse his gift is even more dangerous than to accept it. Henry himself makes that clear when he interrupts the couple by forcibly kissing Katherine and humiliating Thom by pretending to forget his lack of title and pointing out his inability to protect “his” woman. Catherine makes a counteroffer of becoming Henry’s mistress, but he refuses, and surprises her by declaring that his interest in her is primarily due to his belief that the young prince Edward (Chinguun Sergelen, alternating with Matthew Abraham) needs a mother.

Katherine, or, as she prefers to be called, Parr, recognizes several opportunities. The king is ailing, and is in need of advisers, and possibly a regent. Furthermore, if she maneuvers correctly, she could place herself in a position to mentor his older daughters, Mary (Paola Sanchez Abreu) and Bess (Caroline Heffernan, alternating with Peyton Shaffer), whom he is currently estranged from due to abusing, and in Bess’s case, murdering their mothers. Parr would like to see more women in positions of power, and the first step to making that happen is to restore the girls to the line of succession. White possesses the strength and the warmth to communicate that Parr is a mixture of high ambition and idealism, with a long-disappointed hope of starting a family of her own. She craves power enough that she is willing to take grave risks to gain it, seeks it for others as well as herself, and, perhaps unexpectedly, finds herself falling for the Tudors even as she tries to negotiate her suddenly much more complex relationship with Thom. White’s astute choices regarding when to be vulnerable and when to be commanding make her a fascinating figure, and the driving force of the play.

She’s in good company. Steve Pickering’s Henry is a sardonic, miserable, but highly intelligent and dangerous old monster. “I’m capricious; that makes me a fascist, not a liberal,” he declares early on in what is also an example of Hennig’s generally strong ability to describe Renaissance dynamics in modern language. (It’s not perfect; everything onstage is contemporary, but the characters still refer to cannons.) Henry cannot be tricked by false affection, but Parr is old enough to remember there was a time when he was a genuine sex symbol, and still has lingering admiration for the person he was when he took the throne as a teenager. Henry misses that person, too. Santana’s charming, but somewhat feckless Thom is depicted more sympathetically than the historical character usually is, as is Sanchez’s wounded and sour Mary. Heffernan’s Bess starts very guarded, but grows to reveal her intellect as well as her insecurities. Sergelen’s Edward is an innocent who has an adorable tendency to get underfoot at awkward moments, one of which implies early on that Parr and Thom may be a little sleazier than we’ve been led to believe.

Hennig is too clever a writer to make The Last Wife a morally simplistic story. Her characters are messy, and she treats her audience as people who don’t need to be preached to. At two and a half hours, The Last Wife is unusually dense and lengthy for a new play, and at times, Hennig’s style seems suited for a novel. There are a few big dramatic scenes, but most of the character development takes place through quieter moments during which they are clearly thinking more than they say. For example, while discussing Edward’s succession, Bess takes a tactless tone while pointing out that seventy percent of males in their family die before the age of eighteen. Mary responds with a veiled comparison between Bess and Richard III. But Bowling has done such a fine job of casting and pacing that the story never drags (and for those who absolutely prefer something shorter, Timeline’s production of Bakersfield Mist will be continuing through mid-October). For fans of the Tudor era, as well as people who enjoy intimate studies of ambitious families, The Last Wife is highly recommended.

The Last Wife is playing at Timeline Theatre, 615 W. Wellington Ave through December 18. For tickets or show information, see timelinetheatre.com.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews
Wednesday, 28 September 2016 20:54

It’s Partridge Vs. Brady in "The Bardy Bunch"

Who's doesn’t remember The Brady Bunch? Mike Brady who has three sons, marries Carol, who has three daughters, they bring in a live in housekeeper, Alice, and they quickly become one of America’s most beloved families of the 1970’s. We basically watch the kids grow up, getting into all kinds of hijinks along the way, before they finally do what makes the most sense - form a family band. Sure, they're creating a musical unit may have not come from an organic source, rather coming with the task to make a few bucks to replace the silver platter than Jan messed up. Still, the Gang was groovy enough to not only win first prize in the talent contest with their song and dance routine, but their brief musical career gave them a new identity to the show’s viewers that stuck. Oldest brother Greg even attempts a solo career in music as Johnny Bravo after being “recruited” by a record company, only to find out that he wasn’t very good and was only selected because the “jacket fit”, literally. 

 

Enter The Partridge Family, who debuted in homes shortly after The Brady Bunch. A widowed mother along with her five children tour both locally and nationally as a jammin’ rock band - and, yes, they all “play” their own instruments unlike the Brady’s. Leaving us a song per episode, The Partridge Family revolves around sappy love songs whereas the Brady’s dive into the music world is originated most certainly out of necessity and lasts but a couple random episodes. 

 

There is little doubt, The Partridge Family wins the cool prize of the two families. Led by mom on keyboards, Shirley Partridge is an attractive musician who like to wear her shorts high while son Keith is a teenage heartthrob and daughter Laurie is dreamt about by teenage boys all across America. Then there was Danny, a mischievous redhead who badly faked his way up and down the neck of a bass. The family could be found playing music to raise attention to just causes or simply getting their groove on rehearing in the garage.

 

So here’s the question - Brady’s or Partridges? You know it’s come up at one time or another.

 

In “The Bardy Bunch” we get a riotous clash of the two families who step outside of our TV sets to settle this dispute once and for all on the stage. Written by Stephen Garvey, we get a glimpse of the two families as the show begins, just before the Brady kids jump into a lively version of “Keep On” complete with the same cheesy dance moves performed on the TV show. Immediately we get a sense that Olivia Rentaria as Marcia Brady and Sawyer Smith as Greg are going to be entertaining as hell to watch. 

 

Though the story proves to be on the herky-jerky side where ghosts and murders are featured in rapid succession, it doesn’t really detract from the fact that audience members are in for an hour and forty-five minutes of campy fun, similar to The Brady Bunch movies that spoofed the family in the 1990’s. The fun to this show lies in the brilliant character lampooning done by this ultra-talented cast. This, in itself, makes the show a success. However, Garvey doesn’t want to live on camp alone, adding a plethora of Shakespeare references throughout the play, including the forbidden love of Keith, a Partridge, and Marsha, a hated Brady ala Romeo and Juliet. Of course, unlike the young Capulet and Montague, they are first obsessed with each other’s hair. 

 

While Skyler Adams as a hokey, exaggerated Keith Partridge draws continuous laughs throughout the play as the largest player involved, he is joined by a stellar ensemble, each one taking advantage of their ample opportunities. Erin McGrath is well cast as Laurie Partridge, perfectly capturing the blasé nature of the former teen model, while Carol and Mike Brady are wonderfully played by seasoned veterans Cory Goodrich and Stef Tovar, two true talents. Brianna Borger takes on the other head of the household as Shirley Partridge and does a bang up job, bobbing head and all.

 

The play revisits many humorous episode scenarios from both shows and plants a dismissiveness for Jan Brady as the middle child who never seems to get any attention while also portraying Danny Partridge as the calculating business man in a thirteen-year-old body. “The Bardy Bunch” also dishes out a boatload of seventies lingo from calling someone a “real crumb” to Greg calling Laurie a “real groovy chick”. This play is undoubtedly a feast of nostalgia down to its groovy threads. 

 

And with the humor comes the music, which if unfamiliar, is really good! Partridge hits dominate the show (obviously) with a nice selection including “I Woke Up in Love”, “I Can Feel Your Heartbeat”, “I Think I Love You” and the feel good, stand up singalong finale number, “Together We’re Better”.

 

“The Bardy Bunch” is jam-packed with laughs and fun memories for those who grew up watching the two families in action. With so much ugliness going on in the world today, we are given a wonderful escape to kick back and enjoy ourselves if just for an evening.

 

“The Bardy Bunch”, winner of the Overall Excellence Award for Outstanding Ensemble at the 2011 New York International Fringe Festival, is currently being performed at Mercury Theater through November, and hopefully longer. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.MercuryTheater.com or www.TheBardyBunch.com.   

 

Super-duper recommended!

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

In the current political climate, where the political left and right are more divided than ever in their world view, Northlight Theatre’s The City of Conversation provides a glimpse at an elite class of Washington, DC, power players and how they charted the course of this country from behind the scenes for many decades.

 

The play, which opens Northlight’s 42nd season, centers on the relationships of a liberal socialite and her powerful but understated influence. The show’s title is a nod to British author Henry James’ famous view of Washington, DC, and the impact of its parlor games, and women in particular, on politics.

 

Written by Anthony Giardina and directed by Marti Lyons, The City of Conversation takes place in an exclusive Georgetown enclave and spans more than 30 years (from President Carter to the inauguration of President Obama) of socialite Hester Ferris’ (played by Lia D. Mortensen) political maneuverings over cocktails and posh dinners.

 

The play kicks off in 1979 during the twilight, and what Hester calls the malaise, of Carter’s term. She is hosting a very important party for her longtime, married partner Senator Chandler Harris (played by Tim Decker). Through the power of gentle persuasion, filtered through a catered meal and cocktails, Hester hopes to wrangle the vote of Republican Senator George Mallonee (played by Tim Morrison) for an important piece of legislation that will buoy Senator Teddy Kennedy’s chances in a primary bid against Carter.

 

Things take an unexpected turn when Hester’s son, Colin Ferris (played by Greg Matthew Anderson), shows up a day early from London with his fiancé Anna Fitzgerald (played by Mattie Hawkinson) who is not only an outsider from a small Minnesota town but also extremely ambitious, which Hester is quick to notice, and is a supporter of Governor Ronald Reagan.

 

The events of that evening set a course resulting in family division as both Hester and Anna wrestle with the rising tide of Reaganism and the resulting power shifts from liberal elites to the “Barbarians at the Gate,” as Anna calls the new crop of conservative outsiders, like herself, taking power.

 

Things come to a head for the family during the second term of Ronald Reagan’s presidency as Hester, Anna and Colin, now a staunch republican, spar over the controversial Supreme Court nomination of Judge Robert Bork.

 

Though Hester’s influence has declined over the years she is still working behind the scenes to stop the momentum of Bork’s nomination. Colin, who works for Republican Senator Gordon Humphrey, begs his mother not to embarrass him by intruding in the process. However, Anna, who is now in a powerful position within the Justice Department overseeing Bork's nomination, discovers Hester’s attempts to derail him and sparks fly as the two women, who are similar in their ambition and that they were once both outsiders who fought their way into the centers of power, engage in a heated argument culminating in an ultimatum and an irreconcilable break.

 

This scene is the strongest of the entire play and certainly generates the most excitement as Hester and Anna throw sharp barbs at each other. Perhaps the one drawback is that there is so much dialogue that both actors feel a little rushed in their delivery so the lines don’t always land as powerfully as intended.

 

A theme running throughout The City of Conversation is that Northeastern elites forgot the plight of the common man whose eventual political rise, however, lead to the decline of their Georgetown class along with the toney parties, described by Hester as an arm of the government. And gone with that brand of cocktail diplomacy are the civility and the mutual respect across the partisan divide that made political battles more of a chess match than the blood sport they are today.

 

The City of Conversation is being performed at the Northlight Theatre through October 23. Tickets are available at northlight.org.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

After a successful summer preview run, "Thrones: The Musical Parody" has returned to Apollo Theater for Fall performances. Though the production might not have the staying power as did "Million Dollar Quartet", a show originally scheduled for a two-week run that was renewed for several years, "Thrones" is a solid production that, despite its niche market, should get comfy in its Apollo home for a decent stay.

 

Parodying Game of Thrones, one of the biggest television series over the past decade "Thrones" hold little back, cleverly mocking its main characters delivering a crude, but witty, humor GoT fans are sure to enjoy. From the show's opening number "Thrones!", a song that punches the audience with spoilers and refers to "The Wire" as a show one doesn't realize they like until after two and a half seasons, we get a good taste of the campy ride we are about to take. The show's very funny cast includes Caitlyn Cerza, Nick Druzbanski, Madeline Lauzon, Beau Nolan, Victoria Olivier and Christopher Ratliff. 

 

The story revolves around a group of friends who excitedly await the GoT season premiere. However, after some lackluster enthusiasm is displayed, it's soon revealed that Brad (Druzbanski) has never seen the show. Of course, this is just mind blowing for the rest of the gang who quickly agree to act out the show to catch Brad up to speed. And this is where it starts to get crazy. In fact, the show takes a hilarious turn the moment Tom (Ratliff) throws on the John Snow wig and makeshift cape just before diving into his ode to The Wall watchers "For the Watch". And how can you have a wall number without taking a poke a Donald Trump, which they certainly do. Taking shots at practically every character on the show from Tyrian to Sansa to King Joffrey to Xerxes (there's actually a song on who we need to know), the group goes from one scenario to the next. Naturally, Brad's interest in the show grows as the friends get deeper and deeper into the characters. 

 

Act One ends on a high note with possibly the funniest number in the show, "Stabbin'", a gruesomely humorous massacre free-for-all that really needs to be seen to be appreciated in full. But worry not, after a big ending into intermission, we are not let down, as Act Two holds a strong pace by providing solid laughs throughout, steering us to a strong finish. Each actor richly contributes in this talented cast holding the ability to get big laughs at any given moment as well as providing respectable vocal ability. The cast brilliantly overplays their characters expressions and are able to successfully spoof their many characteristics such as Tyrian's poor accent, John Snow's seemingly empty thoughts or _________  not so subtle crush on Denarys. 

 

Written by the team of Chris Grace, Zach Reino, Al Samuels and Dan Wessels, the show gets a nice boost from director Hannah Todd, who is able to work the funny within the funny and finely translate it for stage. While GoT fans will certainly enjoy this show, easily picking up on its jokes - both subtle and bold, it remains to see how theater goers not familiar with the show will react. The GoT fan base in Chicago might be enough in itself to support this show for a long run, possibly even creating new GoT fans along the way. 

 

"Thrones: The Musical Parody", performed at Apollo Theater through November 15th, has plenty to make it a thoroughly entertaining event - laughs, sex, an engaging storyline,catchy songs and excellent acting performances. 

 

Take your Game of Thrones experience to the next level with "Thrones: The Musical Parody". 

Published in Theatre Reviews

As soon as you enter the beautiful set that designer Brian Sidney Bembridge, has created for “Life Sucks", you are tip-toeing through what feels like a real forest of delicately lit white birch trees in the light of early evening in Autumn. 

 

The action then proceeds mostly on the front porch, and dining room/kitchen of a quaint country style house, complete with a small dock and row boat mired in mud, to indicate this is the log cabin style home of someone wealthy enough to live on a lake but not doing well enough any longer to afford a real boat, which turns out to be true.  

 

The seven characters enter the stage with house lights up and immediately break the fourth wall by letting the audience know a few things about the play, it has four acts with one intermission, and asking insightful questions like, "Do you think people in a hundred years will care how hard we worked?" Which immediately reminded me of the old joke, "What's the opposite of a nymphomaniac?" with the punchline, "a workaholic."

 

The next question, for the cast only, has them throwing out an enticing list of their "favorite things" ..."the feel of ice cubes swirling around in a heavy crystal drink glass filled with brandy...and what comes after", "a beautiful sunset over the water" and the adorable, "Kittens!" And once more for emphasis, "KITTENS!" and lest we think this is going to be a saccharine sweet play i.e. "The Sound of Music" - "the feeling of anticipation when you know that you are about to have an orgasm".

 

Ensemble member Andrew White directs deftly with a light hand, keeping the pace of the play moving in an enjoyable way and flowing from act to act naturally, sensually, without the feeling of rushing.

 

So many directors charged with productions that exceed two hours or are under ninety minutes with no intermission seem to be rushing the actor’s monologues and dialogue. In some cases you can imagine them standing offstage tapping their feet saying, "Pick up the pace people!", which can actually ruin the show, but Andrew White does just the opposite, calming the audience into actually receiving the message this play is trying to deliver. 

  

“Life Sucks” is an updated version of the Checkov play "Uncle Vanya" and every single one of the seven characters really holds their own throughout.

 

Eddie Jemison best known for his work from "Ocean's Eleven", "Waitress" and "Hung" is proof that dynamite comes in small packages as he takes on the role of the middle aged, depressed Vanya. 

 

The entire cast sprinkle the play with so many humorous Yiddish slang terms with adorable ease like the term "ferkocta" which means crazy in the head, or Vanya declaring over and over that Ella is his "beshert" and soulmate, meaning a person's destined love or a love that was meant to be, a love of heavenly creation. All the while Vanya’s pathos as his obsession with The Professor's beautiful, young wife Ella grows out of control. This leads to a hysterical attack on The Professors life as he describes in a monologue how vile, disgusting and unnatural it is to him that she (Ella) should be with such an "old man".  

 

The Professor is played perfectly by Jim Ortlieb (Billy Elliot) whose great monologue about how even small signs of aging in a man can ultimately ruin a perfectly good relationship is fantastic. We rarely hear the male point of view on this.

 

The Professor describes while comically, yet realistically, sliding and crawling down the front steps of the cabin in complete exhaustion after a fight with his young wife Ella - how a man sees in the mirror one day. He now sees his soft belly or some new wrinkles or gray hair and feels insecure leading him to take it out on his partner and she in turn becomes more insecure herself - resulting in more fighting and insecurity or his worst fear of all as she "becomes disengaged" from him entirely.

 

Chaon Cross as Ella is excellent as the young Master's Degree student who "married the smartest Professor in the whole college" and is hit on by every middle aged loser in this small town. Cross delivers a great monologue ala - don't hate me because I'm beautiful because my brilliant husband turned out to be an aging, ego-maniacal alcoholic. 

 

Ella asks the audience flat out how many of them want to sleep with her with no strings attached by a show of hands, then asks how many are dying to sleep with someone other than whom they are with - and it is a well delivered, very funny and telling moment for the audience. 

 

Danielle Zuckerman as Sonia seems to be the opposite of Ella. She is The Professors' only daughter and honestly describes how in her family, "It's like everyone is hard-wired to upset everyone else. Like we each have a bunch of buttons on our back that each one of us knows how to push." 

 

Sonia knows she is not beautiful, or even pretty, she knows that her weight and height, glasses and curly hair are never featured in the magazines she reads and Zuckerman gives a great, breath of fresh air feeling to the entire production that it inherently needs. In one scene with Ella she admits to actually "hating" Ella for her beauty and attractiveness to ALL the nearby men and Ella forces her to "slap her right in the face" which Sonia does. After the "enjoyable" catharsis of the slap in the face they pour rum and Cokes together and begin to bond as both stepmother and friends. 

 

Another great scene between Sonia and Dr. Aster, a middle-aged Lothario who wants to change the world - but only talks about it, occurs when Sonia tries to tell the doctor she has a crush on him. When she realizes Dr. Aster is 'in love" with Ella too, she delivers a great monologue after his exit about how she talked with him about "mystical butterflies' when she really wanted to say, "Take me upstairs and f-ck me, f-ck me so well and so hard the whole universe stops to watch ... and the stars stop in their orbits and her whole body finally understands what it is to be truly alive...but instead I talked about mystical butterflies."

 

Ensemble member, Philip R. Smith, best known for his roles in "High Fidelity" and “Since You've Been Gone" is very funny in the role of Dr. Aster, an admitted alcoholic who rambles on about the very real dangers of climate change and other depressing subjects that remind us these characters are living in the present day.

 

Another example of the timeliness and universality of this play is when at one point an audience member is asked what his deepest, darkest fear is and he answered without hesitation, "Donald Trump", which got a huge laugh.

 

Penelope Walker plays "Pickles", a lesbian (who ALSO flirts with Ella). Pickles is a neighbor and friend of Sonia's late mother who wanted to be a real artist but ended up crafting what looked like leg warmers for the birch trees to wear and hand puppets made of yarn. Walker is funny and upbeat as the character whose age we can't quite tell, the free-spirited loser we all love who would never say life sucks even if hers does.

 

At the end of the show, Vanya and the cast break the fourth wall for the last time and confront the entire audience with the question, "Does life suck?" Some people shouted “yes”, or “no”, I shouted “sometimes”. Then Vanya called specifically out to the woman sitting two seats away from me (his wife) and asked her, she poignantly answered, "No it does not suck because life is beautiful – there is even beauty in its pain." I had to agree with her. 

 

Highly recommended.

 

“Life Sucks is being performed at Lookingglass Theatre through November 6th – www.Lookingglasstheatre.org.  

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

The New Colony is pleased to announce its full 2017 Season, featuring four world premiere productions by four Chicago playwrights. The season kicks off this winter with ensemble member Sean Kelly’s fantasy adventure PSYCHONAUT LIBRARIANS, directed by Krissy Vanderwarker. In the spring, TNC presents Connor McNamara’s political thriller SCAPEGOAT; OR (WHY THE DEVIL ALWAYS LOVED US), directed by Kristina Valada-Viars followed by a summer production of Beth Kander’s Kentucky-lore saga THE BLUE, directed by Tony Horne. The season concludes next fall with Michael Allen Harris’ prison drama PUNK, directed by Diana Raiselis. The full 2017 season will be presented at The New Colony’s resident home The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. Tickets will go on sale at a later date. For additional information, visit www.thenewcolony.org. 

 

Comments The New Colony Co-Artistic Director Evan Linder, “We are thrilled that this season kicks off with the newest creation by ensemble member Sean Kelly. We are equally excited that our other three 2017 playwrights and all four of our directors will be making their New Colony debuts this year. These extraordinary creative teams are filling our ninth season with four world premieres that remind us why The New Colony exists in the first place: New Art, New Artists, New Audiences.”

 

The New Colony’s 2017 Season includes:

 

January 11 – February 11, 2017

PSYCHONAUT LIBRARIANS – World Premiere!

Written by Sean Kelly

Directed by Krissy Vanderwarker

 

The library is closed. The curtains are drawn. A Bunsen burner flicks on in the dark. The librarians sip their glowing elixir and the room spins with color and light. One more time. One last fight at the barrier between realiy... and the anyverse.

 

April 5 – May 7, 2017

SCAPEGOAT; OR (WHY THE DEVIL ALWAYS LOVED US) – World Premiere!

Written by Connor McNamara

Directed by Kristina Valada-Viars

 

When a story leaks revealing he is secretly a Satanist, an idealistic Senator perched for a Judicial Appointment grapples with his family, The Christian Right, and his daughter-in-law (supposedly) returned from the dead, in order to save his life and his legacy.

 

July 12 – August 13, 2017

THE BLUE – World Premiere!

Written by Beth Kander

Directed by Tony Horne

 

The Alexander sisters of Worried Creek, Kentucky, have it rough. The eldest, April, a pregnant prize-fighter, refuses to reveal the identity of her unborn baby's father; the youngest, May, is dead (though a very talkative ghost); and the brilliant middle sister June was born with the family curse: bright blue skin. But June hasn't abandoned hope. She writes daily to a plastic surgeon in Los Angeles, a man she believes can cure her... but when he shows up at their doorstep, each of the sisters’ lives (and deaths) take unexpected turns.

 

October 4 – November 5, 2017

PUNK – World Premiere!

Written by Michael Allen Harris

Directed by Diana Raiselis

 

Set in a maximum-security prison in present day America, Punk is the story of a group of inmates who are protected and housed in a special unit for gay, bisexual and transgender inmates. Tensions rise when Travis, a young man sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a gay man, requests to transfer into the unit. Fear and suspicion hover over the inmates who call this unit home.  Currently in development in The New Colony's Associate Company Intensive Program, Punk will receive a two-week workshop production in December of 2016 before its world premiere in the fall of 2017.

 

About The Playwrights & Directors

 

Sean Kelly (Playwright, Psychonaut Librarians) is a Chicago-born writer and director. He is currently leading a collaboration of nearly 50 artists in the creation 100 new stories – deep stories told in silly ways. He has written and directed at Porchlight Music Theatre, Victory Gardens, Collaboraction, The Old Town School of Folk Music and his home, The New Colony.

 

Krissy Vanderwarker (Director, Psychonaut Librarians) is a freelance director most recently of Thaddeus & Slocum: A Vaudeville Adventure at Lookingglass. She is also the Co-Artistic Director of Dog & Pony Theatre Co. D&P directing credits include: Breach, Counterfeiters, The Dinner Party Project, God’s Ear, As Told by the Vivian Girls, Mr. Marmalade, Ape, Osama the Hero, Crumble (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake) and As Much As You Can. Other professional directing credits include: Harry & The Thief (Pavement Group), The Grown-Up (Shattered Globe), CLEAR (About Face Theatre), What Once We Felt (About Face Theatre) and As Much As You Can (Hendel Productions West). She graduated with her MFA in Directing from The Theatre School at DePaul University and is on faculty there now. krissyvanderwarker.com 

 

Connor McNamara (Playwright, Scapegoat; or (Why The Devil Always Loved Us) Originally from Youngstown, Ohio, Connor has lived and worked in Chicago for the past five years. His stage work was most-recently seen during the Chicago Home Theatre Festival; his prose published in ink&coda Magazine, as well as shortlisted for The Aeon Award. As an actor, Connor has worked with The Griffin Theatre, Marry-Arrchie Theatre Co., Step Up Productions, among others. He is a graduate of Kent State University and The School at Steppenwolf. 

 

Kristina Valada-Viars  (Director, Scapegoat; or (Why The Devil Always Loved Us) appeared in a benefit reading of The Warriors with The New Colony. Scapegoat will be her Chicago directing debut. She has worked on new play development projects with New Dramatists in New York and workshop productions with American Theatre Company, About Face, Goodman Theater and others.  Chicago acting credits include The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence (Theater Wit), The Diary of Anne Frank (Writers Theatre); The Great God Pan (Next Theatre); Completeness (Theater Wit) and Pony (About Face Theatre). She also served as Assistant Director on The Matchmaker (Goodman Theatre) and Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England (Theater Wit). Ms. Valada-Viars’ other New York credits include original productions of Monstrosity (13P); Love Drunk (Abingdon Theatre Company); The Music Teacher (New Group) and 516 (New York International Fringe Festival). Her film and television credits include Molly's Girl (Best Actress in a Feature, Iris Prize Film Festival), Written Off (Amazon Prime) The Door in the Floor, BlackBox, Shameless, Law & Order: CI and Animal Husbandry. Upcoming: The Burials at Steppenwolf. She is also currently working in the field of Audience Design and Artist/Audience Engagement with Theater Wit.

 

Beth Kander (Playwright, The Blue) is a Chicago-based writer with Southern and Midwestern roots. Recent playwriting awards and activities include Ashland New Plays Festival (2016 & 2015), The Ruckus’ 2016 summer festival, BechdelFest 2016, The Kilroys List (Honorable Mentions 2016 & 2015), The Writers Room at The New Colony, Leapfest 2015, Downstage Left Residency, Charles M. Getchell New Play Award and three Eudora Welty New Play Awards. She has scripts represented by Stage Rights in Los Angeles and Chicago Dramaworks. In addition to playwriting, Kander writes novels, screenplays and children's literature. She is finishing her MFA in Creative Writing at Mississippi University for Women, and has degrees from Brandeis University and the University of Michigan www.facebook.com/bybethkander

 

Tony Horne (Director, The Blue) A proud native of Memphis, Tony is currently freelance stage director and an Associate Professor/Head of Musical Theatre at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee.  His work encompasses theatre education, arts management, performance, direction and choreography. Tony’s directing credits include both plays and musicals. Career highlights include directing Once on This Island (the inaugural production for the new Hattiloo Theatre building in Memphis), the world premiere of the Theatre for Young Audiences version of The Wiz (First Stage, Milwaukee, WI), winning Ostrander Awards (Memphis Theatre Award) for Direction of a Musical for The Color Purple (Playhouse on the Square, Memphis, TN) and The Wiz (Hattiloo Theatre, Memphis, TN), and directing the Mid-South regional premieres of August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean (Playhouse on the Square, Memphis, TN), Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop (Hattiloo Theatre/Circuit Playhouse, Memphis, TN) and Lee Breuer & Bob Telson’s The Gospel at Colonus (Playhouse on the Square, Memphis, TN). Tony holds a BFA in Musical Theatre Dance from the United States International University (now Alliant International), an MBA in Arts Management from UCLA and an MFA in Directing from the University of Memphis.

 

Michael Allen Harris (Playwright, Punk) As a playwright, Michael has collaborated with Chicago theatre companies such as Broken Nose Theatre, Jackalope Theatre, Arc Theatre, Stage 773, Fine Print Theatre, Chicago Home Theater Festival and The New Colony. His play, Rocky Road, received its world premiere at the New Studio Theatre of Columbia College Chicago in March of 2013. It was the first production featured in the Main Stage season that was authored by an alumnus. His play, The Velvet Tabernacle, was featured in a development series on behalf of Fine Print Theatre. His most recent play, Kingdom, is currently involved in a season-long development on behalf of Broken Nose Theatre and received its first stage reading at Victory Gardens Richard Christiansen Theater. In February 2016, he was part of The New Colony’s Writer’s Room and completed the first draft of his full-length play Ascension. His short plays include: House of Samurai, They Let Him Bleed, Project Agatha and The Woman Who Stared into the Eyes of The Red Horseman. As an actor, Michael worked with Adventure Stage, Eclipse Theatre, Gift Theatre, Teatro Vista, The-Massive, Stone Soup Theatre Project, Infusion Theatre, Broken Nose Theatre and Cold Basement Dramatics. He was nominated for a BTAA for his performance as Fortune in Eclipse Theatre’s Jeff-nominated production of Ruined. He is a proud ensemble member of Eclipse Theatre Company and proudly represented by Lily’s Talent. 

 

Diana Raiselis (Director, Punk) is a Chicago-based director and community event producer.  Recent directing projects include Resolution (Pride Films & Plays), Punk (workshop production, The New Colony), THIRST: a climate change theater action (Jackalope) and festival premieres with Collaboraction, Jackalope, Prologue and Buzz22 Chicago. As a producer, she co-curates Slaymaker Loft's occasional new-work series party/theater/party, and has served on producing teams for events at Pritzker Pavilion, the Steppenwolf Garage and site-specific locations around Chicago. Proud alumna of Northwestern University and the Steppenwolf Professional Leadership Program. www.dianaraiselis.com

 

About The New Colony

 

The New Colony develops New Art and New Artists in order to educate and build New Audiences.

 

Founded in 2008, The New Colony has already established itself as “one of Chicago’s essential off-Loop companies” (Chicago Tribune). Through the premiere of over twenty-five world premiere plays and musicals, The New Colony has cultivated a diverse audience of theatergoers eager to have a voice in the storytelling. Conversation, collaboration and innovation remain at the heart of everything they produce. The New Colony’s work has been honored with four Non-Equity Jeff Awards, Broadway in Chicago’s 2011 Emerging Theatre Award and Best Overall Production at the 2012 New York International Fringe Festival. The New Colony’s 2017 Season marks their third year as a resident company in the Upstairs Mainstage of The Den Theatre in Wicker Park.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews
Tuesday, 20 September 2016 14:30

Review: You on the Moors Now

From its frenetic opening to its poetic end, The Hypocrites' You on the Moors Now is a rip-roaring, hilarious adventure. The play, written by Jaclyn Backhaus, features four of classic literature’s all-time favorite heroines: Jo March, from Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women”, Elizabeth (Lizzy) Bennett from Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”, Jane Eyre from Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre”, and Cathy Earnshaw from Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights”.

 

Directed by Devon de Mayo, this little gem may not be quite what these famed authors from the 19th century envisioned when they wrote their enduring novels, however for any lover of those romantic classics this new look at our heroines is definitely worth the journey.

 

Even if you are not familiar with the novels, in a very effective move, de Mayo takes great care to make sure the audience is not lost by creating the “Pemberley Museum” setting complete with artifacts as well as “museum guides” providing detailed information about each heroine.

 

If you are familiar then you know that Lizzy’s, Jane’s, Cathy’s and Jo’s stories have often been retold on the stage and big and small screen, offering up modern touches and interpretations for new generations. You on the Moors Now attempts to do all of that and more by merging all four storylines seamlessly with humor. It is an empowering look at a group of women who say ‘no’ not only to their ardent suitors but also to the conventions and societal norms expected of them. They lean in and on each other as they embark on a journey that is not without a battle and considerable cost.

 

One of the elements that makes the play so much fun is the role reversal where the suitors: Laurie (Little Women), Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights), Mr. Darcy (Pride and Prejudice) and Mr. Rochester (Jane Eyre) are utterly distraught – DISTRAUGHT – even collapsing on the floor in a faint, as if their whole worlds have been destroyed, at the very idea of being so impudently rejected.

 

Meanwhile, the heroines are settled on the moors around a campfire enjoying s'mores and sharing solidarity and dreams of what they can be and do with their newfound freedom.

 

In one illuminating scene, the group of heroines observes how men are granted space to get over their disappointments while women are expected to just make themselves presentable for the next opportunity. For them, this moment represents their chance to have that same space and in it, they will live, travel and love.

 

The men, however, plan to not only find Jo, Jane, Lizzy and Cathy but to exact vengeance for their spurned proposals as well. A battle of the sexes ensues as each side enlists the aid of secondary characters from all four novels including the Bingley siblings from “Pride and Prejudice” – Charles and Caroline, and St. John River and his sister from “Jane Eyre”. Messages are passed from camp to camp via perfumed handkerchiefs and colorful ribbons until a betrayal leads the suitors to the heroines’ encampment where the hilarious battle of the Moors Wars commences – complete with movie and TV references from the “Game of Thrones” to “Home Alone”.

 

A very talented, diverse cast keeps a fast pace and a consistent rhythm throughout most of the play. However, after an energetic fight scene, the third act slows a bit but that could be due to the shift into more prose and poetic language, which could easily appear in any of the novels, and it provides a very effective and satisfying ending.

 

You on the Moors Now is playing at The Den Theatre’s Heath Main Stage until October 30, 2016. Tickets can be purchased at www.the-hypocrites.com.

Published in Theatre Reviews
Sunday, 18 September 2016 23:40

Carroll Gardens Grows Heavy with Plot

Well-to-do friends clashing over hidden resentments and jealousies while dining is a common scenario in the contemporary American theatre. Donald Margulies won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2000 for Dinner with Friends, which focused on romantic entanglements, and Ayad Akhtar won in 2013 for Disgraced, which also addressed issues of Islam-inspired and anti-Islamic prejudice. To wrap up a year of smash-hits, the 16th Street Theater is producing the world premiere of A. Zell Williams’s Carroll Gardens, a “comedy” of the same genre which is about an interracial childhood friendship in working-class Stockton, and how it changes when one of the parties becomes a New York creative professional. Williams commented that theatre is bereft of the experience of today’s young African-Americans, and perhaps in an attempt to compensate for not seeing his concerns addressed elsewhere, he overloads his play with plot points, and exposition. However, he also has a very strong director in Ann Filmer, the 16th Street Theater’s artistic director, and a more than capable cast.

The story begins in 1993, when Davis (played as a child by Davu Smith) is visiting the home of Robby (played as a child by Rowan Moxley) for the first time. Robby is new to town and doesn’t have many friends yet, but he just made one in Davis by beating up his bully. Davis isn’t sure what to make of Robby: though they are only ten, Robby’s deceased mother forced him to read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States and he uses terms such as “cultural appropriation,” yet Robby, who is white, totally fails to recognize what the other kids mean by calling Davis an “oreo” and thinks ending feuds is as simple as telling his adversaries he doesn’t feel like fighting anymore. Still, they bond by introducing each other to Nirvana and The Coup, and though Davis is bemused by Robby, they genuinely like each other.

Flash forward to Davis’s thirtieth birthday, and things are no longer so warm. Davis (Gregory Geffard) hasn’t responded to any of Robby’s attempts to contact him in years, and Robby (Andy Lutz) mostly stopped trying until right before announcing that he will be visiting Davis’s new apartment in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. While Davis is now an up-and-coming screenwriter, Robby still dresses like a teenager, apparently has no occupation other than selling weed, and still spouts leftist dogma. Davis’s girlfriend, image-conscious Pilates instructor Quinlan (Alex Fisher), does not care for Robby’s uncouthness, and Davis is getting irritated with him, too, when a confluence of events reminds him of how strangled he feels by the upper-class liberalism, trendiness, and materialism of his new environment. Quinlan genuinely loves him, and Robby’s jealous interference in their lives prompts more than just a culture clash, but on the eve of his total transition into adulthood, Davis is forced to ask himself what he truly wants.

There is another couple present who Davis and Quinlan are friends with. Deepti (Minita Gandhi, Leena Kurishingal later in the run) is an Indian-American OB-GYN and the kind of person who thinks declaring “you can tell that injera bread was created to go with lambs raised on African grass” could be anything other than obnoxious. Her boyfriend and Davis’s director, Jamie (Brian J. Hurst), is a politically correct conscious-raising-type who somehow manages to say something casually racist with every breath, and Davis suspects he has outgrown him, too. Williams has drawn his characters in great detail, and Filmer chose well in casting actors who pick up all the details he supplies them with. As the child Davis, Smith’s incredulity at Moxley’s Robby is adorable, and as the adult Robby, Lutz’s clumsy attempts to get along with Quinlan’s Fisher are hilariously uncomfortable.

 

The problem with Carroll Gardens is that Williams creates too many complications. Davis must not only decide whether it is possible to continue his relationship with Robby, but also whether he wants to continue on with Quinlan and Brian, all for different reasons. While it is understandable for Williams to want to put him under pressure, the defining traits of each character are hammered on a few too many times. Carroll Gardens does, however, have two saving graces. The first is that, in Geffard’s hands, Davis does not come across as weak, but as disillusioned and somewhat disappointed. The script’s other strength is that Quinlan is a fully-developed, sympathetic character, who has her own concerns about their new lifestyle. Fisher captures a great deal of conflict and nuance in her performance, and is able to wrest an equal position in the play to Geffard and Lutz. Joanna Iwanicka has supplied the 16th St with another fine, naturalistic set, which, with just a few touches, suggests a converted space being occupied by people whose income is being almost entirely eaten up by their rent. Would that Williams had left just a few more details to his other collaborators, but what he has written is respectable, and the inaugural production is an ideal telling of the story.

Recommended

Playing through October 15 at the 16th Street Theater, 6420 16th Street, Berwyn, Illinois. Running time is two hours and ten minutes with one intermission. Tickets are $20, with discounts for Berwyn residents and groups. Free parking is provided in the lot at 16th and Gunderson.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

Helldrivers of Daytona, currently running at the Royal George Theatre, is a fun idea. It is a musical that seems to mostly spoof Elvis’ Viva Las Vegas, a story of a talented race car driver who needs to scrape up enough cash to get his car into the big race. James Nedrud does his best in the lead as Lucky Stubbs, lampooning the Elvis-like role, but often ends up shouting his best songs. Nonetheless, he does succeed nicely as a caricature of the sexy, country boy trying to make good we know from the film, coming off as a fey, one level dummy adding a lot of humor to the role. Nedrud’s expressions alone often draws laughs along with his overdone Southern accent and quirky denseness.  

 

The parodied scenes from Viva Las Vegas are many, from the girlfriend, Pepper, singing a song about how jealous she is of Lucky’s race car, the active competition with a French racing rival and even Lucky’s stint working as a hotel waiter where he walks in on Pepper and his challenger. Again, the idea was there. Problem is, despite some good acting and singing performances throughout the cast, the production goes a bit overboard with its silliness and many jokes simply fall flat. 

 

The music, composed by The Knack’s Berton Averre, captures the 1965 period nicely, some songs stuffed with clever punchlines, however, outside of a couple catchy melodies, most numbers will probably have a hard time sticking, as they fall a bit on the repetitive side.        

 

Samantha Pauly stands out from the entire cast and is a superb comedienne in the role of Pepper Johnson, Lucky’s sex kittenish, Anne Margaret type love interest. Her introductory song, "Peppers' Crazy Feeling" is hysterical as Pepper has one orgasm after another just by driving her pink colored bumpy, throbbing stick shift - an adorable convertible aptly named "Pinky”, getting huge laughs with each big "O", some of the only genuine laughs in the show. As the bi-sexual, millionaire race car driver and Count, David Sajewich is also funny even when he later channels a twelve-year-old French murderess to kill Lucky in the race (I told you it goes overboard). 

 

There are three essential speedway groupies and a tomboyish tag-along (Rachel Melius, Leah Morrow, Claire Lilley, and Julia Rose Duray). All had great voices and are played with real energy, sex appeal and great comic timing.

 

The beach bums who become Lucky's race car pit crew (Trey Curtis, Aaron M. Davidson, and Chris Selefski) have some funny moments and are good singers. Danny Herman and Rocker Verastique's choreography is often very sexy and funny at the same time, especially the dance numbers of seduction between Lucky and Pepper and Pepper's competing courtship dance with the Count. 

 

I adored Brenda Winstead's costumes particularly for all the women characters. The girl's outfits were colorful, perfectly cut for the time period and eye-poppingly sexy without actually revealing anything.

 

"Teenage Dreams" sung by the three groupies is the most memorable and interesting song to me. Their three fantasies in the number include, a Daddy's girl whose fixation on her handsome father still gets in the way of her love life, one was into being a dominatrix and having her man be her obedient puppy dog, and the third, raised Catholic, insists on finding a man who looks and acts like Jesus, her hero and savior.  I thought this song’s lyrics were very cleverly written and delivered by the girls and really captured the repressed fantasies and dating blocks that many women of all ages possibly struggle with today. Happily, for this trio, each one eventually finds her perfect mate in the trio of pit crew boys who help Lucky win the race. 

 

At a running time of 2 hours 25 minutes there are definitely still some cuts to be made but I had a lot of fun watching the show, and think a younger crowd at a theater with a more progressive reputation would as well. It might also be a good idea to take in Viva Las Vegas beforehand to really get the show’s camp.

 

Despite the show having a few more misses than hits, Helldrivers of Daytona still has enough laughs and doses of nostalgia that most will probably enjoy it overall. Its originality also counts for something, especially in its big finale racing scene.  

 

In its World Premiere, the pre-Broadway tryout, Helldrivers of Daytona, is being performed at Royal George Theatre through October 30th. To find out more about the show go to www.theroylageorgetheatre.com. 

 

*UPDATE – Due to negative reviews, the show has been cancelled for the remainder of its run. A statement was made from the show’s producers, “We all believed in Helldrivers of Daytona and more importantly believe in creating new works for the American Musical stage. We are disappointed by the critical response, but we knew that it was a risky endeavor. Still, many of the people who saw it were thoroughly entertained and delighted by the work of our fantastic cast and musicians. We have decided to close the production and we will evaluate how we might make changes for future productions of the musical. We want to thank our talented team of designers, our director and co-choreographer, our music director, our cast and crew, and of course our creative team who have all worked so diligently to get Helldrivers to the starting (and alas, finishing) line.”

 

That is unfortunate. Hopefully, we will see a tweaked production in the future. 

 

Published in Theatre Reviews
Page 9 of 28

 

10 Years! Fave Issue Covers

 
   Tickets Just a Click Away

Register

  BUZZ CENTER STAGE INTERVIEW ARCHIVE

Latest Articles

Guests Online

We have 91 guests and no members online

Buzz Chicago on Facebook Buzz Chicago on Twitter