Theatre

We first meet Clea as she traipses into the great room of a sky-high Manhattan penthouse, enraptured by the “surreal” view. Looking on disdainfully are Charlie (Mark Montgomery), an actor who has been struggling to get cast lately, and his wing-man Lewis (La Shawn Banks).

In the world of theater, a gushing ingénue making a breathless entrance is something that has been seen before, to put it mildly. Charlie for one is not impressed. 

In short order, though, we sense there may be more to this young woman, and these men, than first appears. As it happens, the party is in the home of an actor-writer on the rise, and his older, wealthy patron. Charlie is there hoping to rub shoulders with him, and maybe get a role in his new production.

Clea (Deanna Myers blazes in the role) is on a similar mission – though at this point in her career she is less certain about how things will play out. She is also a font of inanity – “Food is, like, disgusting to me,” she avers, claiming never to eat. “Most things people put in their mouths, it is totally just like eating death. Someone proved that eating is killing people." 

Charlie and Lewis are agape at Clea. Charlie clearly finds her exaggerated pronouncements aversive, while Lewis nods and puts on about the phoniest show of interest imaginable - miming that attraction men sometimes feel despite (or perhaps because of) knowing better.  

Poured into snug-fitting couture and clearly master of her heels, Clea reads, accurately, the mocking tone in Charlie’s desultory conversation. When he asks her how the view can be “surreal,” sparks begin to fly in what turns out to be a harbinger of later romance.   

This is also the first inkling we have that Clea is more femme fatale than ingénue.  She vacillates from helpless to heated. In due course, she reveals a grab-bag of information about herself, and observations on life in general. Her mother is an alcoholic, so she doesn’t drink. People are just not "awake" to life.  

She has recently arrived from Ohio hoping to make her break in New York. She eventually asks for that vodka – just this one time – and becomes even more voluble. Clea reveals she has applied for a position on a television production team – and does a send-up of the woman who interviewed her, describing a “Nazi priestess” of talent bookings, by the name of Stella. As it turns out, Stella is Charlie’s wife - and fatefully, the unrequited love of Lewis.

Clea came there intent on making an impression. And oh she does in Meyers’s super-charged performance. In later scenes, after she has vanquished Lewis, she moves on to seduce Charlie, ultimately triggering his downfall by overstaying a tryst - so the two get caught by Stella.

Charlie eventually ends up on the street, having cast aside his stable life with Stella. (The story line draws on Waugh's of Human Bondage, according to playwright Therese Rebeck.)

The couple was about to adopt a child. Perhaps the prospect of parenthood was too great a strain on Charlie. Fear of parenthood is a classic romance killer, but under Kimberly Seniors direction we are witness to Charlie's action, but not his motivation. Stella also is a bit of a caricature, slipping into Spanish when her blood gets boiling.  Lewis, meanwhile, has played this marriage's third wheel from the opening scene, defending Stella against critiques. The trio has a reasonable chemistry in scenes, but Stella seems overplayed, and Lewis underplayed when they are alone together. 

As to Clea: Viper? Seductress? Ingénue? Trollop? Those old-fashioned words don’t quite apply, as Clea owns her sexuality, and is aware of where she is heading. She seems at once incisive, and empty-headed.

“How can you know so much and so little at the same time?” as Charlie asks.

Waugh’s classic, Of Human Bondage, was filmed three times. And The Scene was also made into a movie - Seducing Charlie Barker. 

In The Scene, the eventual affair with Clea leads to Charlie’s downfall, and his wife Stella’s departure, among other things. While the performance by Myers is captivating, and the chemistry between Stella (Charin Alvarez), Lewis and Charlie is convincing, I struggled to find empathy with anyone other than Clea – a rather villainous protagonist.

The glass and steel set is striking, and works really well through all the scenes. The furnishings were dead on, very Blue Dot Catalog. Likewise the costumes, down to the men's shoes.  Brian Sidney Bembridge did sets;  Nan Zabriskie costume; Sarah Hughey, lighting; Richard Woodbury, original music and sound design; and Scott Dickens handled props. 

Running through April 2 at the Writers Theatre in Glencoe, Illinois, The Scene comes recommended, especially to see Deanna Myers.

Published in Theatre in Review

For those of you who are not aware, there is a great youth program taking place where a group of educators have created an alternative education source for CPS students. Enter Barrel of Monkeys. Barrel of Monkeys (BOM) is a combined group of actors, teachers and musicians that have developed a new, and fun, way for students to enhance their creative writing skills while building their self-esteem and open doors for them to express themselves. Mainly working with third through fifth graders, BOM focuses on working with underserved schools on Chicago’s South and West sides and the result has been a huge success.

 

Taking stories from students, this talented ensemble translates, then performs these ideas (often word for word, which can be amazingly hilarious) on stage, currently at the Neo-Futurist Theater in Andersonville. In what always turns into series of absurdly funny sketches, BOM’s performers act out each story, promptly giving credit to the student author before they begin.

 

Barrel of Monkeys now continues into the summer with their That’s Weird, Grandma series, a run that changes its overall theme throughout the year, the latest being That’s Weird, Grandma: The Summer Strikes Back. Again, with all material written by Chicago Public School students, you can just imagine how it translates when acted out by a professional theatre ensemble. Needless to say, the laughs are plentiful from beginning to end.

 

In Summer Strikes Back directed by Artistic Director Joseph Schupbach BOM performs seventeen sketches in their hour-plus performance, some converted into songs while others acted out just as they were written. Stories range in creativity and are each amusing in their own way. Though some stories may be as simple as a conversation between a bunny and an EXIT sign or “Taylor the Rose” where a rose reads off a list on what not to do to her – like pick her because she will die, BOM is able to find the humor in each while at the same time brilliantly promoting the imagination and expression of its young student writers.  With titles such as “The Day A Monkey Slapped My Cousin”, “Jake’s Very Bad Day”, “Walking Meatball and Mozzarella Cheese” and “Lady Spy”, you can only imagine the fun that awaits.

 

While getting the chance to enjoy a very humorous evening of one hilarious sketch after another, one is also supporting a fantastic program – a program that has helped students to write over 5,500 stories within the school year. An amazing outfit, Barrel of Monkeys has been pivotal in reaching out to students, 77% of teachers reporting a positive change in enthusiasm for language arts among their lowest performing students over the course of their residency.

 

That's Weird, Grandma: The Summer Strikes Back is a fun show that, though is mostly a laugh factory, can also reveal moving moments and profound insights of the student writers. With talented cast and musical members (I’ll just name them all since they all made terrific contributions) Nancy Casas, Kassi Bleifuss, Nick Hart, Krista Mickelson, Elizabeth Levy, Laura McKenzie, Spencer Meeks, Deanna Myers, Gwen Tulin, Dixie Belinda Uffelman, Rawson Vint and Joseph Schupbach himself, we get a uniquely well-rounded show that moves quickly and grabs you in from the moment the audience is directed into the seating area by an air traffic controller. This is also a show that can be seen more than once as audience members vote on their favorite sketches afterwards via secret ballot and new sketches are introduced into the following performance as others are removed.

 

A show for all ages (bring the kids!), Barrel of Monkeys: The Summer Strikes Back is being performed each Monday at 8 pm at Neo-Futurist Theater through August 15th. Tickets are beyond reasonable at just $12 for adults and $6 for children under twelve.   

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

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