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

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

“Circumference of a Squirrel” by John Walch finishes out The Greenhouse Theater’s inaugural Solo Celebration. This one-character play festival featured only single narrative storytelling. It’s not often you see a one-person fiction play, and while some may cringe at the concept, these short works explored highly relevant themes. 

 

Will Allen stars as Chester. He begins the play telling the audience about a squirrel he saw trying to carry a bagel. Chester is in the present, and by the speech pattern adopted by Allen, we can presume something is a little off. Walch’s script seamlessly flows between Chester’s childhood memories, his relationship with his father and the divorce he’s just been through. He grapples with the knowledge that his father was an ardent anti-semite. It colors the dark, and funny memories of his father paying him in Lifesavers to kill squirrels. 

 

Allen toggles between several characters and memories in the hour-long run time. Each character has a unique, but sincere voice and there’s an almost manic quality with which Allen can articulate them all. His performance only deepens from beginning to end, leading to a bittersweet conclusion. 

 

Directed by Jacob Harvey, “Circumference of a Squirrel” is a well-stylized, and at times abstract look at the ways in which we love. It asks of its audience, whether unfounded racism is forgivable even in the ones we are supposed to love. 

 

Through February 12 at The Greenhouse Theater Center. 2257 N Lincoln Ave. 

 

 

Published in Theatre in Review

 

 

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