Theatre

Wednesday, 16 August 2017 03:49

Review: Machinal at Greenhouse Theater Center

Machinal refers to an automated or mechanical system. Sophie Treadwell's 1929 play "Machinal" takes its styling from this theme. Directed by Jacob Harvey, Greenhouse Theater Center brings this work back to Chicago for the first time in many years.

Maybe not as well known as Lillian Hellman, but Sophie Treadwell was once a popular playwright on Broadway during the height of expressionism in theater. She wrote some forty plays and often directed them, nearly unheard of in those times.

"Machinal" is a retelling of the murder trial of Ruth Snyder who was eventually executed by electric chair. The play is an expressionist interpretation. The dialogue is written in a way that feels like the innerworkings of a machine. There's a sparse greyness to the costumes by Christina Leinicke that would also suggest the joylessness the protagonist lives.

Heather Chrisler plays the young woman. Chrisler interprets the staccato dialogue with a human quality. Her performance brings up the intensity by breaking through the repetitive and unpoetic lines. She brings life to them and elicits an emotional response. This woman is pleading for her life as her societal system of steamrolls her.

Doubtful that Treadwell saw the real life Ruth Snyder as a villain. "Machinal" shows the the pressure of getting married, of having financial security and living in a ever-moving world. The young woman in Treadwell's play can't keep up. She's pushed into an advantageous, but unsatisfying marriage. She finds happiness in the arms of a lover. She does what she has to do to feel free and pays the ultimate price.

Eleanor Kahn's set mirrors the starkness of the play. Presented in a near black box with the exception of some strobe lighting, there's an eeriness from the beginning. There's an atmospheric quality in Kahn's setting, and it's working.

Life may seem a little more liberated for today's women but Jacob Harvey's point in mounting this work, is that maybe it's not? And maybe it's not even limited to just women. Treadwell's play is about the mechanics of being a adult human in this world, and how that conveyor-belt life makes us all animals destined for slaughter.

Through September 24 at The Greenhouse Theater Center. 2257 N Lincoln Ave.

Published in Theatre in Review

Greenhouse Theater Center and Poor Box Theater, in association with D.C’s award winning Taffety Punk Theatre Company, is pleased to present THE AMERICAN MERCY TOUR: MERCY KILLERS and SIDE EFFECTS, two one-act plays steeped in America’s controversial relationship with healthcare. Written and performed by Michael Milligan and directed by Tom Oppenheim, these moving and unapologetic pieces will be presented as a single theatrical event, immersing the audience in the stories of patients and physicians, coming out of the waiting room and into the fray. 
 
MERCY KILLERS and SIDE EFFECTS will play September 7 – October 8, 2017 at The Greenhouse Theater Center (Upstairs Studio), 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago. Tickets (pay-what-you-want) are currently available at greenhousetheater.org, in person at the box office or by calling (773) 404-7336. 
 
In MERCY KILLERS, Joe, a blue-collar red state auto mechanic faced with his wife’s failing health, must grapple with the stark divide between his values and his reality. Pushed to the breaking point by debt, disease and a busted system, Joe must decide what compromises he will make to keep his wife alive. MERCY KILLERS is all at once a tender love story and an unblinking look at those the system leaves behind.
 
Flipping to the other side of the stethoscope, SIDE EFFECTS follows William, a family practice physician on the brink of burnout. Caught between his ambition to become the healer his father once exemplified and the corporatization of his chosen profession, William must reconcile the art and business of medicine, or be forced to lose his practice. In this Chicago premiere, we see the human side of those who heal us, throwing light onto the turmoil that remain out of sight from the examination table.

“Michael Milligan is one of those rare theatre artists who can combine his craft, intellect and activism in a perfect storm of unapologetically political performance,” comments Greenhouse Theater Center Artistic Director Jacob Harvey. “These pieces and the issues they explore are increasingly important in our political moment, but what truly sets them apart is their unwillingness to simplify. Milligan’s pieces are bi-partisan and in their splendid, terrifying honesty put faces to the statistics and figures we so easily grow numb to.”

History of “The American Mercy Tour”

“I wrote Mercy Killers in response to a number of personal encounters with the healthcare system,” comments Michael Milligan. “A good friend of mine showed up at the Folger Theatre stage door after a show, carrying a small duffle bag, in which he had all of his belongings. He’d been living on the streets for a couple years. I invited him back to my place, where I discovered he also had a number of medical problems, a slipped disk in his neck from a fall and a golf ball size lump on his arm. I took it on myself to try to get him in to see someone. The difficulty of that blew my mind. It was overwhelming. If I lived in any number of other nations, I could have made an appointment and walked my friend to a doctor’s office, and the first question would not have been ‘what insurance do you have.’” 

“The situation for many healthcare workers is also desperate.” Milligan says, “there’s even diagnostic terminology now for it, it’s called ‘moral distress.’ It’s crippling doctors and nurses; many of them are burning out and leaving the profession. The medical literature says that ‘moral distress occurs when one knows the ethically correct action to take but feels powerless to take that action.’ The healthcare system becomes more bureaucratized and corporatized every year, medical decisions are increasingly influenced by claims analysts, hospital administrators, and entitlement bureaucrats, Side Effects is a meditation on the conflicts of interest that arise as a result.” 

The impulse to create Side Effects was similarly visceral. When Milligan was on the road performing Mercy Killers, he started interviewing doctors and nurses in each community. Side Effects has already been well received by the medical community, including a special presentation by the Mayo Clinic. 

"Michael Milligan has captured the sum total of pressures that confront today's physicians in Side Effects. A realistic, engaging and very dramatic portrayal of the life of an average doctor trying to meet the demands of a busy practice as he nearly succumbs to a breakdown and considers leaving the profession he loves so much. Anyone involved in medicine, from the caregivers to the patients we serve, would benefit from seeing this performance." –Robert E McAfee MD, Former President, American Medical Association.

PRODUCTION DETAILS:
 
Titles: MERCY KILLERS and SIDE EFFECTS
Written and performed by: Michael Milligan
Director: Tom Oppenheim 
 
Location The Greenhouse Theater Center (Upstairs Studio) 2257 N. Lincoln Ave, Chicago
Dates: Previews: Thursday, September 7 at 8 pm
Press Performance: Friday, September 8 at 8 pm
Regular run:  Saturday, September 9 – Sunday, October 8, 2017
Curtain times: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm; Sundays at 3 pm. 
Tickets: Pay-what-you-want. Tickets are currently available at greenhousetheater.org, in person at the box office or by calling (773) 404-7336. 

 
   

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

Greenhouse Theater Center is pleased to launch its 2017-18 season with Artistic Director Jacob Harvey and Elizabeth Margolius’ bold reimagining of Sophie Treadwell's most celebrated play, MACHINAL. Inspired by the surreal life and trial of famed murderess Ruth Snyder, MACHINAL will play August 11 – September 24, 2017 at The Greenhouse Theater Center (Upstairs Main Stage), 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago. Single tickets and season subscription packages are currently available at greenhousetheater.org, in person at the box office or by calling (773) 404-7336. 
 
The cast of MACHINAL includes Heather Chrisler, Maddie DePorter, Sean Gallagher, Arti Ishak, Cody Proctor, Sarah Rachel Schol, Scott Shimizu, Carin Silkaitis, Paul Michael Thomson and Jonah Winston.
 
MACHINAL will be presented through an educational partnership with North Central College, allowing students to shadow professional actors as the production’s understudy cast. Students will be immersed in every facet of the production, serving not only as understudies but as assistant designers and assisting members of the production team, in a program that serves as an extension of classroom work and a springboard into the Chicago theatre community. The student understudy cast will have two guaranteed performances at the Greenhouse, one for a high school audience and one for the public.
 
One young woman must break out in this exhilarating reimagining of MACHINAL, the American classic inspired by the sensational, true story of murderess Ruth Snyder. Trapped in an unhappy marriage, the young woman finds a thrill in the arms of a flyby lover. But when reality returns, how far will her fight for freedom take her? And who will pay the ultimate price? How do you escape the machine?
 
“Our team is thrilled to bring this intimate exploration of one woman's choice between captivity and freedom to our Chicago audience,” commented Artistic Director Jacob Harvey. “As we put the show together,” added Movement Director Elizabeth Margolius, “I am thrilled to bring this cast's diverse perspectives into focus to illuminate the world of Machinal – a world from our past that still speaks to the struggles facing all of us, especially women.”
The production team for MACHINAL to date includes: Nick Thornton (associate director/movement coordinator), Eleanor Kahn (scenic/props design), Eric Watkins (lighting design), Jeffrey Levin (sound design), Christina Leinicke (costume design), Adrian Shelton (dramaturg), Darek Lane (stage manager), Ron Rude (production manager) and Stephen Kossak (asst. stage manager).
PRODUCTION DETAILS:
 
Title: MACHINAL
Playwright: Sophie Treadwell
Director: Jacob Harvey
Movement Director: Elizabeth Margolius
Cast: Heather Chrisler (Young Woman), Maddie DePorter (Track 7), Sean Gallagher (Track 6, Husband), Arti Ishak (Track 5, Telephone Girl), Cody Proctor (Lover), Sarah Rachel Schol (Track 4), Scott Shimizu (Track 8), Carin Silkaitis (Track 3, Mother), Paul Michael Thomson (Track 2) and Jonah Winston (Track 1).
 
Location The Greenhouse Theater Center (Upstairs Main Stage) 2257 N. Lincoln Ave, Chicago
Dates: Previews: Friday, August 11 at 7:30 pm, Saturday, August 12 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, August 13 at 7:30 pm
Regular run: Friday, August 18 – Sunday, September 24, 2017
Curtain times: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 2:30 pm. Please note: there will not be a performance on Thursday, August 17.
Tickets: Preview: $20. Regular run: $35. Students: $15. Tickets are currently at greenhousetheater.org, in person at the box office or by calling (773) 404-7336. Season subscription packages are also available.

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

Following a sell-out performance in May, CARDS AGAINST HUMANITY LIVE returns for one night only on Friday, June 23 at 10 pm at The Greenhouse Theater Center (Downstairs Mainstage), 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago.  
 
The irreverent night of improv comedy inspired by the popular and politically incorrect party game “Cards Against Humanity” will be co-hosted by Peter Sagal, host of NPR’s Wait, Wait... Don’t Tell Me and the game’s co-founder Max Temkin. After audience members pitch their ideas, the best suggestions will be acted out by the Cards Against Humanity writers and a team of improvisers. The worst suggestions will be mercilessly ridiculed.
 
Tickets, priced at $10 are currently available at greenhousetheater.org, in person at the box office or by calling (773) 404-7336. All proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the ACLU. 18+ recommended.

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

The Greenhouse Theater Center is pleased to announce its 2017-18 Season, kicking off this summer with Artistic Director Jacob Harvey and Elizabeth Margolius’ bold reimagining of Sophie Treadwell's most celebrated play MACHINAL, inspired by the first woman to be executed by the electric chair. MACHINAL will be presented through an educational partnership with North Central College, allowing students to shadow professional actors as the production’s understudy cast. Students will be immersed in every facet of the production, in a program that serves as an extension of classroom work and a springboard into the Chicago theatre community.

Next winter, best-selling author Laurence Leamer's critically acclaimed drama ROSE is back by popular demand! Following a sold-out run during last season's Solo Celebration! Series, celebrated Chicago actress Linda Reiter reprises her role as matriarch Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy in this intimate piece directed by Steve Scott. “Following the success of last year’s series, the Greenhouse is continuing its commitment to solo performance in both its production and education efforts,” comments Artistic Director Jacob Harvey. “We will offer a series of workshops and events throughout the run of Rose, as well as partner with solo artists whose work explores social justice themes to co-produce their work on our stages as supplements to our season.”

The Greenhouse's 2017-18 Season concludes next spring with the Chicago premiere of Marc Acito’s BIRDS OF A FEATHER, directed by Artistic Director Jacob Harvey. Based on one of America’s most banned books, Acito’s hit comedy brings to life the story of the Central Park Zoo’s gay penguins to tell a truly hilarious human story.

Season subscriptions packages are currently on-sale at greenhousetheater.org, in person at the Greenhouse box office or by calling (773) 404-7336. Three-play assigned seating package: $93. Two-play flex pass: $63. Subscribers enjoy discounted tickets, unlimited ticket exchanges, first choice for seats and additional exclusive benefits. Single tickets will go on sale at a later date.

“As one of Chicago’s newest Equity companies, the Greenhouse is thrilled to bring audiences a consciously curated season of true stories. In times of great change, elevating the individual’s journey allows us a deeper understanding of the collective,” comments Artistic Director Jacob Harvey. “This concept also defines our new education and revitalized Trellis Residency Initiative. We are excited to begin growing tomorrow's artists and audiences today.”

The Greenhouse Theater Center’s 2017-18 Season:

August 11 – September 24, 2017

MACHINAL

By Sophie Treadwell

Directed by Jacob Harvey

Movement by Elizabeth Margolius

Presented in association with North Central College

How do you escape the machine? One young woman must break out in this exhilarating reimagining of MACHINAL, the American classic inspired by the first woman to face the electric chair. Trapped in an unhappy marriage, Helen finds a thrill in the arms of a flyby lover. But when reality returns, how far will her fight for freedom take her? And who will pay the ultimate price? 

January 12 – March 11, 2018

ROSE

By Laurence Leamer

Directed by Steve Scott

Starring Linda Reiter

Press opening: Monday, January 15, 2018 at 7:30 pm

An intimate portrait of Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, Camelot’s “queen mother,” as she retraces the rise and fall of her great family. A break-out hit during the 2016 Solo Celebration! Series following its successful Off-Broadway run, ROSE is based on never-before-heard interviews compiled by distinguished Kennedy biographer Laurence Leamer. 

April 27 – June 10, 2018

BIRDS OF A FEATHER – Chicago Premiere!

By Marc Acito

Directed by Jacob Harvey

It takes two to Tango. Roy and Silo are your typical gay American dads with one noticeable exception: they’re penguins! No strangers to the spotlight, these two Central Park Zoo chinstrap penguins have partnered and adopted an egg, but will they be able to raise little Tango together? BIRDS OF A FEATHER is a heartwarming and surprising tale, based on the true story that became one of the most banned books in the U.S.

Artist Biographies

Sophie Treadwell (Playwright, Machinal) Best remembered today for her acclaimed 1928 expressionist drama Machinal, based in part on the infamous murder trial of Ruth Snyder, Sophie Treadwell was an innovative American dramatist whose career spanned almost 60 years and nearly 40 plays. A relentless experimenter in dramatic subjects, styles and forms, Treadwell was one of a select number of American women playwrights who also actively produced and directed their own works. She was also a professional journalist, and she constantly used her writings to explore women's personal and social struggles for independence and equality. (From: Sophie Treadwell. A Research and Production Sourcebook by Jerry Dickey).

Jacob Harvey (Director, Machinal and Birds of a Feather) is the Artistic Director of the Greenhouse Theater Center, beginning his tenure by launching the organization’s producing arm with the Solo Celebration!, a series of 16 solo plays and events over eight months. He also contributed to the series as a director, helming the Chicago premier of Circumference of a Squirrel, as well as the co-production I Do Today (The Other Theater Company.) Locally, he has taught for American Theatre Company’s Bridge Program, and was named one of Newcity’s “Players 2017.” A freelance director, teaching artist and producer, Harvey was awarded the Bret C. Harte Director/Producer Fellowship for Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s 2013/14 Season; served as Associate Producer and Interim Director of Programming for the Drama Desk Award Winning New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF); and served as the Co-Artistic Director of the Ovation Award-Nominated Mechanicals Theatre Group in Los Angeles. He is also a Producer for Your Theatrics International, and was the Co-Producer of Ladyhawks (NYMF 2013 Best of Fest under the title Volleygirls) and the Associate Producer of Ryan Scott Oliver’s 35MM: A Musical Exhibition. Other regional directing credits include, Mr. Marmalade (The Theatricians), The Shape of Things (Silver Bell Productions) and the world premiere of the new musical The Many Selves of Mia Scott (Carrie Hamilton Theater). He is also the creator of the upcoming musical web series currently in development, The Cycle. He attended the BFA program at Marymount Manhattan College and is a graduate of The Los Angeles County High School for the Arts.

Elizabeth Margolius (Movement Director, Machinal) is a stage and movement director with a primary focus in developing and directing new and rarely produced musical theatre, operetta and opera. She has worked with theatres in various capacities throughout the country, including the Santa Fe Opera, Florida Studio Theatre, the Virginia Shakespeare Festival and New York’s Encompass New Opera Theatre. Her Chicago directorial credits include: Uncle Philip’s Coat for Greenhouse Theater, code name: CYNTHIA for FWD Theatre Project, Haymarket: The Anarchist’s Songbook for Underscore Theatre, The Girl in the Train for Chicago Folks Operetta, Goldstar, Ohio for American Theater Company, The Merry Wives of Windsor for Chicago Shakespeare Theater (Assistant Director to Barbara Gaines), Opus 1861 for City Lit Theater, nominated for three Joseph Jefferson Awards, Violet for Bailiwick Chicago nominated for five Joseph Jefferson Awards, among others. Margolius is an alumna of the 2004 and 2005 Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab in New York, a 2007 recipient of a full directorial scholarship at the Wesley Balk Opera-Music Theater Institute in Minneapolis, a 2009 respondent and workshop artist for the Kennedy Center’s American College Theatre Festival, and a 2010 finalist for the Charles Abbott Fellowship. She is the Co-Founder and Artistic Director Emeritus of DirectorsLabChicago. Elizabeth is an associate member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society.

Laurence Leamer (Playwright, Rose) Rose is Laurence Leamer’s first play. Leamer is an award-winning journalist and historian who has written 14 books, many of them bestsellers. He has experienced many different lives. As a college student, he worked in a French factory. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nepal stationed two days from a road. As a young journalist, Leamer worked in a coal mine in West Virginia and covered the war in Bangladesh for Harper’s. His one novel, Assignment, is about drug trafficking in Peru, where Leamer lived for two years. Most of his career Leamer has written nonfiction. His trilogy on the Kennedys – The Kennedy Women, The Kennedy Men and Sons of Camelot – were all New York Times best sellers. John Grisham called Leamer’s most recent book, The Price of Justice: A True Story of Greed and Corruption, “superb…This is a book I wish I had written.” The journalist’s new book, The Lynching: The Epic Courtroom Battle that Brought Down the Klan, was published in June. 

Steve Scott (Director, Rose) is the Producer of Goodman Theatre, where he has overseen more than 200 productions; he is also a member of Goodman's Artistic Collective. His Goodman directing credits include Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Horton Foote's Blind Date, Rabbit Hole, Binky Rudich and the Two-Speed Clock and No One Will Be Immune for the David Mamet Festival, Dinner With Friends, Wit, the world premiere of Tom Mula's Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol, A Midsummer Night's Dream (co-directed with Michael Maggio) and the 2011 and 2012 editions of A Christmas Carol. He also has directed at Silk Road Rising, American Blues Theatre, A Red Orchid Theatre, Redtwist Theatre, Northlight Theatre, Shattered Globe Theatre, The Next Theatre Company, and many others. He is the recipient of five Jeff nominations, an After Dark Award, the Illinois Theatre Association's Award of Honor and Eclipse Theatre Company's Corona Award.

Marc Acito (Author, Birds of a Feather) wrote the book of the Broadway musical Allegiance, which New York Newsday recognized for its “well-structured book” and “fully developed characters.” Acito’s comedy Birds of a Feather won Washington D.C.’s Helen Hayes Award for Best New Play. He won the Ken Kesey award for his novel How I Paid for College, which he adapted as a one-man musical starring Alex Brightman. Other projects include A Room with a View (Old Globe and 5th Avenue Theaters), Chasing Rainbows, about the adolescence of Judy Garland (Goodspeed Musicals) and It’s a Secret, a musical in Mandarin for Broadway Asia in China. This June, he’ll direct his rock musical comedy Bastard Jones at the cell theatre in New York. A former commentator on NPR’s All Things Considered, Acito now writes regularly for Playbill and teaches Musical Theater History and Story Structure at NYU. He’s a proud member of the Dramatists Guild, MENSA and Weight Watchers.

About the Greenhouse Theater Center

The Greenhouse Theater Center is a producing theater company, performance venue and theatre bookstore located at 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. Our mission is first and foremost to grow local theatre.

The Greenhouse Theater began its producing life in 2014 with the smash hit Churchhill, after which came 2016’s much-lauded Solo Celebration!, an eight month, 16 event series highlighting the breadth and depth of the solo play form. With a focus on our community, the Greenhouse is also launching the Trellis playwriting residency, an initiative designed to cultivate the next generation of Chicago theatre creators and a two-tiered education program for college and high school students.

As a performance venue, our complex offers two newly remodeled 190-seat main stage spaces, two 60-seat studio theaters, two high-capacity lobbies, and an in-house rehearsal room. We strive to cultivate a fertile environment for local artists, from individual renters to our bevy of resident companies, and to develop and produce their work. In 2016, the Greenhouse announced a new residency program, which offers a reduced rate to local storefront companies while giving the Greenhouse a stake in the resident’s success. We also offer the community affordable access to our work by housing Chicago’s only dedicated used theatre bookstore, located on the second floor of our complex. 

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

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre
Sunday, 07 May 2017 20:16

One Too Many Stories in Threesome

The play Threesome is an ambitious work, taking aim at the ease with which we become stuck in patterns of bad behavior like possessiveness in relationships. It also reaches into threats to women's freedom in other cultures. 

As the lights come up we meet a married couple already in bed, who have embarked on a venture both risqué and risky: a man has been invited to join them for a tryst, at the behest of the wife, Leila (Suzan Faycurry). 

The two are modestly dressed, considering this is a three-way. Presentiments of a drawing room comedy? Perhaps it's a commentary on social mores leading couples to extremes, even when not a good fit. 

It’s the first time for the couple, an Egyptian-American pair. Husband Rashid (Demetrios Troy) was likely ready to jump into this moment without reserve, but guest Doug (Mike Tepeli) has been overlong and rather noisy in his preparations in the bathroom. This interlude gives Rashid too much time for second and third thoughts. Leila is compelled to combat his misgivings, but does not assuage his fears. The tryst is more about settling their own martial scores, it seems, than about the sex. 

The myriad tensions found in any domestic relationship arise, and conflicts surface. Debates about whether men or women feel greater pressure on body image, and who has the short end of the stick in social expectations - the usual stuff.

But there is a hint of something more, here – the couple are both from Cairo, and were actively engaged in the political and social struggles released in that country by the Arab Spring. Leila's memoir covering that time is about to be published - but she has pointedly not let Rashid read it. He accuses her of mistrust over this, and over his innocent flirtation with another woman. Leila counters that his occupation, photographer, sets him up as an observer rather than a full participant in life – and so on.

The tension pulls back as Doug bursts in, bubbling with excitement, which further unnerves Rashid. Fated to be the odd man out, Doug drives the comedic interlude that follows, and again we feel headed for lighter fare. But Doug’s joy fades as, unnerved that the two have withdrawn from the bed, he realizes he has stepped into the middle of a spat. Tepeli plays Doug with nuance and flair, especially challenging since he is in the nude for the first 15 minutes or so. 

We find Doug also has some baggage, and the unhappy couple conjures neuroses from his teen years. All this intimacy puts a damper on sex; the downside of Rashid and Leila’s marriage is on display. We also find that Doug, a photographer, has won the photo assignment that Rashid had been seeking: the cover of Leila’s book. An angry departure scene follows as the lights go down on Act I.

In Act II we are at Doug’s studio, where he is readying a set for the photo shoot. More drama follows as Doug and Leila work out the tension from the previous encounter. Then enters a drunken Rashid, and things continue downhill. Somewhere between the script and the performance, Faycurry's Leila is appropriately cerebral, but her dialog is unnaturally literary and unemotional. Troy's Rashid brings emotional range, and he has more luck with delivering the script. During his drunken diatrib, however, the lines require an unlikely sobriety. 

As the audience learns director Jason Gerace had a complicated scenario to present, and he manages to keep our interest on the script by Yussef El Guindi. But attention to the plight of Leila challenges loses out when mixed with so many other stories and issues within this story. 

Threesome runs through May 21 at Greenhouse Theater. Find tickets here.

Published in Theatre in Review

If you’ve followed Netflix’s big 2016 hit Stranger Things, this play will make all kinds of sense. You’ll get the jokes, the 80’s references and will easily follow the story line. If you haven’t seen the series, it would be recommended that you do before checking out Random Acts and Greenhouse Theater’s collaboration, Strangest Things! The Musical

Spoofing one of the most talked about sci-fi series to hit the airwaves over the past few years, Strangest Things! follows the disappearance of Will Byers, a young boy in Hawkins, Indiana. Set in the 1980’s, his mother Joyce Byers, brother Johnathan and a group of Will’s friends search everywhere to no avail, eventually enlisting the help of Police Chief, David Harbour. When a young girl known as “Eleven” appears from seemingly nowhere dressed in only a hospital gown, it is soon discovered she has psychokinetic abilities and things start to get weird. 

Befriended by Will’s friends, Eleven is able to contact Will from the other side and it becomes apparent that things are not at all what they seem. Joyce believes Will is contacting her from another dimension, his energy channeled through the radio and a string of Christmas lights, confident he is alive but trapped in another world. Of course, this sounds crazy – or is it? And with every good sci-fi thriller there needs to be a villain, so it’s soon discovered an experimental laboratory, led by scientist Martin Brenner, may have a hand in Will’s disappearance. Suspicious, the snooping begins and the plot gets deeper and deeper as the story progresses.  

The series won its popularity not only with its engaging storyline, but with the heavy use of 80’s music and sound effects, making it prime parody material.

That’s where Strangest Things! comes in. 

While Strangest Things! The Musical hits on some of the 80’s silliness and occasionally finds success in its over-the-top lampooning of the series’ characters, it struggles to hold onto its momentum. Taking popular 80’s hits like “Xanadu”, “I’m A Virgin”, “Sweet Dreams” and “Don’t Stop Believin’”, writers Bryan Renaud and Emily Schmidt change the lyrics to accommodate the storyline in the play. While the lyrics are, at times, funny, the execution falls a bit flat, the harmonies weak and the vocals often lacking strength, excluding Molly Lecaptain as “Juice” (Joyce) Byers who can flat out belt. We almost wonder if the play would have been better without the musical numbers, the dialogue exchanges drawing the most laughs along with the character exaggerations of each.

Lecaptain does a good job in taking on Winona Ryders’ character, over-amplifying her panic-stricken, bewildered and frenzied traits at just the right intensity, while Kevin O’Connell as “Sheriff Hopper” (Police Chief David Harbour) also takes his role and runs with it. Will’s best friend Mike is played by Jenna Fawcett, who doesn’t have to do much more than wear a goofy wig to get a chuckle but also delivers plenty of funny lines and loopy expressions. Older brother “Johnathan” is played by Ben F. Locke, who doubles as hunky high school heart throb Steve. Locke’s performance offers some of the best camp-dom in the musical, leaving more “Johnathan” scenes to be highly desired. Their comedic ability is only limited by the play’s script.

The play starts strong as we meet our characters the first time around (especially “Barb” played by Christian Sibert), but the humor becomes predictable, the character’s freshness soon overplayed and the jokes often coming off as contrived or overdone, a perfect example being Hopper’s mention of T.J. Hooker – which was funny – until he points out to the audience that we should laugh because he made an obscure 80’s reference. We know.    

If you enjoyed the Netflix series, there might be just enough in Strangest Things! to like despite its many missed opportunities for witty, comedic growth. The idea is there but the play could use a reworking to give its audience the most bang for their buck.            

Lukewarm, the play has severe hits and misses, some jokes really creative while others falling flat. As a whole, the story might be a bit tough to piece together without having seen the series, as it is presented somewhat scattered without full explanation, so again, it is recommended you watch Stranger Things first.  

Strangest Things! The Musical is being performed at Greenhouse Theater Center through May 13th. For more information on this production, visit www.greenhousetheater.org.

*This show has now been extended through July 8th.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

I thoroughly enjoyed the world premiere of Jesus the Jew: As Told by His Brother James. The play is the seventeenth work produced by Forum Productions. The one-man show by playwright William Spatz is very well-written and in my opinion contains some of the answers of the most important issues facing our society today with regards to antisemitism and the violence propagated against Christians and or Jewish Christians in this country and others around the world. 

 

Actor, Steven Strafford plays a modern-day professor of religious history who has just found out his brother John has been tortured and killed in an attack in Syria. He then travels back and forth in time to portray James, the brother of Jesus, one of the mainstays of his research. Strafford's performance is compelling and rich. 

 

Jeremy, as James thanks the audience for coming whether they are Jews, Christians or Jewish Christians. This designation is very important especially in the political climate currently where all three groups are regularly singled out in some countries and sentenced to death by beheading if they do not renounce their Christian and/or Jewish ties. 

 

This play is of particular interest to me because I am a Jewish Christian or Messianic Jew. That is a person who is Jewish by birth who continues to believe that Jesus was Jewish and was the Messiah sent to save the Jewish people and later the non-Jews from the belief that we are just helpless animal-like human beings in bodies which have no actual active spiritual life that continues after death of the human body. We also believe that God is a loving forgiving being that abhors killing of humans and animals, indeed cruelty to women and all living things. 

 

I was given a very complete three-year education in Jewish history and religious practices before completing my bat mitzvah and the only mention of Jesus, if any that I recall, was that Jesus was to be looked at as a Rabbi gone mad - a religious traitor to the Jewish people whose new ideas threatened to destroy Judaism rather than elevate it to new levels of generosity and higher spiritual intelligence. I have often wondered how the separation of Jesus' Jewish birth and the statement he made regarding incarnating in a human body specifically for the Jewish people turned into an entirely new religion called Christianity – a religion that proceeded to make a scapegoat of the Jews when Roman occupation and laws actually caused the killing of Jesus. I've also wondered how Christians and especially Catholics who - on the one hand - give great honor to Mary, Jesus' mother, seem to have completely forgotten the fact that Mary the Mother of God was a JEWISH woman named Miriam. And how can modern Christians continue to refer with reverence to the Gospels written by Jesus' disciples as inspired by God without recalling that ALL the disciples of Jesus were JEWISH?

 

James’ finally answers this question in the last hours of his life in the play when he is about to be put to death (after 30 years of leading Jewish Christians) for not renouncing his brother's and his own Jewish faith. 

 

The apostle Paul is well known among feminists for his damning letters stating that women should have no place in the new Church and should be subject to all the discrimination that Jesus himself stressed many times should end by interacting with women, healing them and insisting that they receive the same education his male apostles were receiving. During this council, the apostle Paul effectively overthrew James’ leadership by declaring a new law that if a Jewish person believed in Jesus they must stop all Jewish religious practices and laws or be sentenced to death.

 

Jeremy as James also made it clear that Mary was from a wealthy family and financially supported Jesus and, by extension, financially supported many of the apostles that followed Jesus. Mary Magdalene was NOT by any stretch of the sexist imagination a "prostitute" as many since have claimed. 

 

James states that Jesus and Mary were indeed married per the Jewish tradition and although it was not brought up in this play, their marriage gives some credence to the theory that Mary Magdalene, Jesus' legal wife, gave birth to a daughter after his death, directly continuing the spiritually royal bloodline of Jesus himself. It’s been said that she and her daughter were escorted to safety by her father and sailed to France to raise her daughter.

 

There is some humor in the play when James says, “Lots of Jewish mothers think their sons can walk on water, but in this case…”

 

The production team includes: Milo Blue (scenic design), Hailey Rakowiecki (costume design), David Trudeau (lighting design), Alex Kleiner (sound design), Ron Rude (production manager) and Sarah Knoke (stage manager). This team does a great job decorating the set with objects of art from both modern and ancient times. The interesting props keep one’s eyes busy looking at the beautiful colorful aspects of that historic period while keeping the audience firmly in the present with offstage interruptions by reporters seeking interviews with him and friends or family who are trying to help Jeremy stay calm and sane in the face of the news that his brother has been tortured first then killed. 

 

Jesus The Jew delivers the most important message of our time, that the division of Jews from Christians and the division of Jesus from his own Jewish followers and people came from a political move - a political document written to serve the Romans and the ambitions of one aggressive sect of new Christians/Jews led by the apostle Paul. 

 

My only complaint about the well-written and well-documented play is that it does not delve deep enough into the horrors and centuries of suffering that this rift initiated by the apostle Paul caused. Actually using the word “horror” is inadequate to describe the current situation for both Christians and Jewish Christians - the Holocaust or recent be-headings of Christians and Jewish Christians around the world and the suffering of women subject to the new rules of Bible thumping-Jew hating Christians who have been forced to follow their husband’s commands even under extreme abuse. 

 

James even acknowledges that as he gives his last sermon before he is put to death that there may not be any Jewish Christians left to hear his final pleas for a meaningful, literal and political reunion of the Jewish and Christian people. That strongly resonated with me because I am the ONLY Jewish Christian that I have ever met (other than my mother who had a similar late life realization) who sees Jesus as a Jewish Rabbi and miracle maker of the highest order, the human incarnation of God on earth.

 

I highly recommend this compelling, well-paced and delicately handled theater piece for anyone who is interested in a more realistic view of daily life during Jesus' time, or is seeking similar comfort that Jewish Christians still actually exist. 

 

Jesus the Jew: As Told by his Brother James is being performed at Greenhouse Theater Center through March 26th. For more information on this show, click here.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

PRODUCTION DETAILS:

 

Title: SQUEEZE MY CANS

Written and performed by: Cathy Schenkelberg

Directed by: Shirley Anderson

 

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

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

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

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

Tickets: $25. Students $20.

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

 

About The Artists

 

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

 

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

 

About the Greenhouse Theater Center

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

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

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

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

 

Published in Buzz Extra

Forum Productions is pleased to present the world premiere one-man show JESUS THE JEW As Told By His Brother James, written by William Spatz, directed by Will Rogers and featuring Steven Strafford. A modern drama interwoven with the biblical tale of Jesus of Nazareth and his brother James, JESUS THE JEW will play February 17 – March 26, 2017 at Greenhouse Theater Center (Downstairs Mainstage), 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago. Tickets are currently available at greenhousetheater.org, in person at the box office or by calling (773) 404-7336. 

 

Jeremy, a biblical history professor, faced with crippling fear and guilt, is mourning the tragic loss of his brother. Struggling to make sense of the present, he reaches into the ancient past to find answers – and imagines himself as James.

 

James is given a choice: renounce his brother or be killed. The problem: his brother is Jesus of Nazareth and James is the leader of all of Jesus’ followers for 30 years since the resurrection. Based on a wealth of research, JESUS THE JEW takes us back to the birth of Christianity and the transformation of Judaism, with two Jewish brothers and their four siblings growing up in Nazareth. Through memory and storytelling, James reveals his insights into Mary of Magdala, his archrival Apostle Paul and his misunderstood brother, as he faces the ultimate decision and his greatest test of faith.

James’ faith could lead to his death. Jeremy’s faith could save his life.

The production team includes: Milo Blue (scenic design), Hailey Rakowiecki (costume design), David Trudeau (lighting design), Alex Kleiner  (sound design), Ron Rude (production manager) and Sarah Knoke (stage manager). 

PRODUCTION DETAILS:

 

Title: JESUS THE JEW As Told By His Brother James

Playwright: William Spatz

Director: Will Rogers

Featuring: Steven Strafford 

 

Location The Greenhouse Theater Center (Downstairs Mainstage), 2257 N. Lincoln Ave, Chicago

Dates: Previews: Friday, February 17 at 7:30 pm, Saturday, February 18 at 2:30 pm & 7:30 pm, Sunday, February 19 at 2:30 pm and Wednesday, February 16 at 7:30 pm

Press Performance: Wednesday, February 22 at 7:30 pm

Regular run: Thursday, February 23 – Sunday, March 26, 2017

Curtain times: Wednesday at 7:30 pm, Thursday at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 2:30 pm & 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2:30 pm

Tickets: Previews: $20. Regular run: $30 - $35. Tickets are currently available at greenhousetheater.org, in person at the box office or by calling (773) 404-7336.

 

About The Artists

 

William (Bill) Spatz (Playwright) is a playwright, philanthropist and real estate developer in Chicago. As president of the board for the Greenhouse Theater Center, Bill has overseen the remodeling and expansion of the Greenhouse, which has for over 40 years served as an artistic home for Chicago theater companies, including the Body Politic, Victory Gardens and Remy Bumppo. Bill is the President of the Bill and Wendy Spatz Charitable Foundation. When not producing theater, Bill spends his time engrossed in historical research, traveling with his wife Wendy and supporting Chicago theater companies.

 

Will Rogers (Director) is a creative producer and director who focuses on the development of interdisciplinary work. Most recently, Will’s work centers on the collision of culinary and performing arts as Artistic Director of Plateful Company. With Plateful collaborators Alex Kliner and Sarah Beth Tanner, Will has developed the dinner party musical A Place Called Plenty, the musical cooking show Biscuit Broads and several other in-home events. Will worked as Associate Producer for Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater for seven years, during which time he also served as Casting Director as well as curator of the alternative programming series, Fresh Squeezed. As a director, his work has been seen at Ragdale, Victory Gardens, Hell in a Handbag Productions, Chicago Dramatists, 16th Street Theater, Pavement Group, Savage Vanguard Theater (Austin) and the Dublin Gay Theatre Festival, among others. Will has been on the faculty of Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts Camp in Steamboat  Springs, Colorado and is the creator of Mixtape, a showcase of new musical theater. He is an alum of the Lincoln Center Directors Lab and a graduate of Savannah College of Art and Design. Will is excited to return to the Ragdale High School Intensive for a second year.  

 

Steven Strafford (Performer) was most recently seen as Chick Clark in Wonderful Town at The Goodman last fall. He has toured in Spamalot, Peter Pan, Cinderella and Grease. In Chicago, he was also seen as Jesus and Stephen Hawking in End Days. He has performed regionally at Sacramento Music Circus, Cape Playhouse, Portland Stage Company, Cardinal Stage and many others. His one man show, Methtacular! was nominated for a Jeff Award in 2014. It has had productions here in Chicago, NYC, Maine, California and most recently a two-night stint at Steppenwolf’s 1700 Theatre. His new play, Small Jokes About Monsters, is in development and production around the country. 

 

Forum Productions (Producer) has produced or co-produced 17 plays since its founding in 2014. Previous productions include the highly-acclaimed Churchill (Producer: Chicago, 2014; Producer: Off-Broadway, 2015) and the Greenhouse Theater Center's much-lauded Solo Celebration! Series (Producer), which concludes in February of 2017. In 2017 and 2018, Forum productions will be producing a series of solo performances in Florida, as well as continuing to produce in Chicago.

 

Published in Buzz Extra
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