Theatre

Simply said, First Folio’s latest production hits on all cylinders. Women in Jeopardy, currently performed at Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook, is a sharp comedy that successfully lands a very high percentage of its humor with the audience thanks in part to its funny script with plenty of the credit going to the play’s dynamic cast that makes good comic timing look much too easy. Written by Wendy MacLeod, who penned The House of Yes, Schoolgirl Figure and Things Being What They Are, Women in Jeopardy grabs the audience within minutes and refuses to let go.

The story revolves three forty-something women, Mary, Jo and Liz, who, having been longtime best friends, have supported each other during their divorces and now look out for each other – like best friends should. Perhaps it would have been just another day, but when a dental hygienist goes missing from the parking lot of Liz’ new boyfriend, Jackson’s, dental practice, Mary and Jo quickly piece together a series of circumstantial evidence and jump to their own conclusion. Suspecting Jackson as the abductor, Mary and Jo still need to exercise caution not wanting to outright accuse him in front of Liz while, at the same time, wanting to protect her. When Liz’ daughter and her spacey boyfriend get into the mix, the story jumps to another level of hilarity. Women in Jeopardy is a whodunnit that keeps you laughing as much as guessing.

Amy Montgomery (Mary), Lydia Berger Gray (Jo) and Melanie Keller (Liz) are dynamite – and very funny - as the three besties, displaying strong chemistry together making their friendship highly believable. Hayley Burgess puts forth a strong performance as Amanda while Chris Vizurraga is also well cast as Amanda’s dopey snowboard shop-working boyfriend, Trenner, who hilariously crushes badly for Mary. Stealing many well-deserved laughs is Joe Foust, who doubles as both Jackson and the town sheriff, Kirk. Women in Jeopardy goes to the perfect height of comedy without go so over the top that witty humor becomes sheer silliness.

Fiercely directed by Janice L. Blixt, Women in Jeopardy is a finely-crafted and superbly-acted comedy that delivers consistent laughs and just the right amount of intrigue. If you're looking for a great way to spend a delightfully entertaining evening during the Valentine's season, look no further. 

Highly recommended.

Women in Jeopardy is being performed at Mayslake Peabody Estate through February 25th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.firstfolio.org.

Published in Theatre in Review
Saturday, 03 December 2016 10:59

First Folio to Present Captain Blood

OAK BROOK, IL — Experience the novel come alive, as First Folio Theatre (Mayslake Peabody Estate, 31st St. & Rt. 83) presents the world premiere stage adaption of CAPTAIN BLOOD, opening Saturday, January 28, 2017 and running through February 26, 2017, with previews January 25-27. This action-packed adaptation of the novel by Rafael Sabatini is written by Jeff Award winner David Rice, the author of the critically-acclaimed original drama The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe: A Love Story and the Shakspearean adaptation Cymbeline: A Musical Folk Tale (Jeff Awards for Original Adaptation and Original Music.)

 

Set on a Caribbean island, CAPTAIN BLOOD follows the unjustly enslaved Dr. Peter Blood as he falls in love with the lady of the plantation, the lovely Arabella Bishop. This lively adaptation replete with swordfights and pirate battles as Blood escapes and takes up the treacherous life of a pirate, it then appears fate has separated them forever… or has it?

 

The cast of CAPTAIN BLOOD is led by Nick Sandys (Joseph Jefferson Nomination for Travesties at Remy Bumppo) as “Captain Peter Blood”; Heather Chrisler (Rutherford’s Travels World Premiere at First Folio Theatre) as “Arabella Bishop”; and an ensemble which includes Aaron Christensen (The Taming of the Shrew at First Folio), Barbara Charlene (Spring Awakening National Tour), Austin England, Christopher Jones, Sam Krey (Circus Juventas), Kevin McKillip (The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe at First Folio Theatre), Jennifer Mohr, Almanya Narula (The Persians at Columbia College Chicago), and Chris Vizurraga (Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters at Lifeline Theatre).

 

The artistic team includes Janice L. Blixt as Director (Killer Angels with Michigan Shakespeare Festival), Kevin McKillip (Will Rogers- An American Original at First Folio Theatre) as Assistant Director, Nick Sandys (Joseph Jefferson Nomination for fight direction Romeo and Juliet at First Folio) as Fight Director, Scenic Design by Angela Weber Miller (Dr. Seward’s Dracula at First Folio Theatre), Lighting Design by Greg Freeman (Fooling Buddha, Jeeves at Sea, and The Rainmaker at First Folio and Side Show at Porchlight); Original Music and Sound Design by Christopher Kriz (Roz and Ray at Victory Gardens Theatre), Costume Design by Alexa Weinzierl (Fiddler on the Roof at Light Opera Works Chicago), Projections Design by Erin Pleake (A Midsummer Night’s Dream at University Playhouse), Properties Design by Scott Leaton, Amy Creuziger as Stage Manager, and Sarah West as Assistant Stage Manager.

 

CAPTAIN BLOODopens January 28th, and runs through February 26th, 2017, and previews January 25-27. All performances take place at the Mayslake Peabody Estate, located at 1717 W 31st St., off Rt. 83, in Oak Brook. First Folio is easy to get to via the East-West Tollway (I-88) or the Stevenson Expressway (I-55). Free parking is available on the grounds. Preview tickets are $23. Regular priced tickets are $29 Wednesdays and Thursdays (seniors and students are $26), and $39 on Fridays through Sundays (seniors and students are $36). Three show subscriptions are available for $58-$101. Season subscriptions and individual tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at 630.986.8067 or online at www.firstfolio.org.

Published in Upcoming Theatre

In one of William Shakespeare’s most popular works, A Midsummer Night’s Dream has been performed widely across the world, this summer finding a temporary home at First Folio Theatre (Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook). Celebrating twenty years of the company’s annual Shakespeare Under the Stars Production, theatre goers are treated to a comedy that is acted out to perfection. Not only do we get a myriad of fine acting performances, the colorful costumes and imaginative set lend greatly to a magical night out when coupled with the fact that the stage is surrounded by the vast night sky, a backdrop of thick trees and happy picnickers beyond the first few rows of seats. 

A comedy that features mischievous faeries who live within the forest, the play focuses on the events leading up to the marriage of Duke Theseus and Hippolyta, an affair taking place just on the edge of Fairyland. With interconnecting plots, the story unfolds of Hermia who is in love with Lysander despite her father Egues’ arrangement that marry Demetrius. Infuriated, Egues calls upon Athenian law to which Hermia would face death if she chooses not to wed the suitor hand-picked by her father. At the same time Demetrius is loved by Helena but her offerings are rejected. Naturally, Oberon, the king of the faeries and Titania, his queen, cannot help but meddle with the four lovers and mistakes are made.

The story also follows a colorful band of laborers, or “mechanicals” as referred to by the fairy, Puck, who are to perform a play about Pyramus and Thisbe for Theseus’ wedding. The mechanicals too are manipulated by the faeries ultimately performing their play so poorly that it is mistaken for a comedy – one of the highlight’s of this charming production. 

Steve Pebbles as the over-confident and highly zealous mechanical, Bottom, and Sarah Wisterman as Hermia are certainly scene-stealers beautifully translating Shakespearean humor to that of today’s. Both Pebbles and Wisterman display a knack for comedic line delivery along with the perfect touch of physical humor that really opens the door wide open for this comedy to breathe at just the right pace. But as much as Pebbles and Wisterman stand out, the play is not without other tremendous performances including Michael Joseph Mitchell in the dual roles of Theseus and Oberon, Tony Carter as Demetrius, Sydney Germaine as Puck and Ali Burch as Helena. In all, we get a very strong cast that delivers, skillfully playing off each other in bouts of impressive exchanges filled with passion and humor. 

Hayley Rice finely directs this classic comedy that deals with the muddle and complications that relate to love. Rice opts for dual casting for the roles of Titania and Hippolyta as well as Theseus and Oberon, avoiding confusion by creating a fairy world that takes place in modern day, thus sneakers, sunglasses and a boom box as opposed to buckled shoes and sixteenth century instruments. The twist works to separate the characters and creates an entertaining group that could easily be found at Paisley Park, but it does away from the fairy-tale period that we have come to identify A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A fascinating production that has just the right amount of laughs, fantasy and trickery, First Folio’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a memorable summer event that keenly interprets Shakespeare for today’s audience thanks to its outstanding direction and role execution by this talented cast. 

Audience comfort is also considered. Mosquito repellent candles are strategically placed throughout the first few rows where padded seats are lined with blankets to share. Attendees can also choose to bring their own lawn chairs or blankets and sit wherever they like. With a show start time of 8:15 pm, First Folio invites guests to enter the grounds at 6:45 pm should they like to picnic or simply take in the atmosphere. Quaint, family-friendly and enchanting, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is being performed on the grounds of Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook Wednesday through Sunday until August 14th. Tickets are a bargain at from $29-$39 with children under thirteen at just $10. FOr tickets and/or more show information, visit www.firstfolio.org.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

I've never been much of a magic fan. I'm always nervous for the magician just in case his trick doesn't work. But in Fooling Buddha, David Kovac seemingly does the impossible. Not only are his magic tricks top notch, he actually made me an unafraid appreciator of magic shows AND Buddhist philosophy while making me laugh at the same time. 

 

Kovac tells the story on how he grew up in Milwaukee during the 1970's raised by hippie parents who were Buddhists and forward thinkers way before their time.  Sent to a catholic school as a child to learn about African studies from Jewish teachers and being a nerd who loves magic at that time couldn't have been easy, but Kovac sure makes it funny. 

 

Kovac is a brilliant monologist though who has somehow managed to use his talent and love of magic to write a delightful one-man play full of memorable Buddhist quotes and koans (puzzles). Playing all the roles including his own mother, father and baby sister sitting around the dinner table, the bully who picked on him relentlessly and the magic shop owner to whom became a huge source of inspiration, the audience is never confused about which character is speaking.  Kovac’s delivery of beautiful Buddhist sayings like "A Miracle is a Tragedy with a Happy Ending" flow smoothly and segue so magically into each new story, pardon the pun, the 90-minute show with no intermission moves so quickly it left the heartily laughing audience visibly wanting more.  

 

Kovac’s conveyance of his one-man show is so quick and flawless, it left me struggling to mentally take notes in order to remember all the included wonderful bits of ancient knowledge. I guess I'm not the only one because David notes that Buddhism is known as the philosophy with 80,000 sayings and he proves that every time he is taught by his parents with another great, peaceful yet realistic Buddhist saying handy for almost every situation or problem that arose in his young life.  

 

The set he uses is beautifully and colorfully designed. A pleasure to watch, the set is full of secret doors and realistic windows that unfold to reveal new rooms. It is a lovely set made with great detail to the period and set with soft cozy lighting.   

 

I can't stress enough what a great writer David Kovac is and the intermingling of magic and Buddhism works perfectly to demonstrate the magic that is inherently implied in Buddhist philosophy. Kovac’s jokes and autobiography are finely told, and combined with his captivating illusions, Fooling Buddha provides a wonderful night of highly intelligent and uplifting storytelling. 

 

Kovac tells the audience he wants them to leave feeling like winners, like a magician who has just successfully shown spectators an illusion and received their applause. One of the most beautiful sayings in the show does just that in one beautiful line when he says, "There are billions of massive stars blazing across the night sky and inside you is the very same energy that lights the world." 

 

Highly Recommended.

 

Fooling Buddha is being performed at First Folio Theatre inside the enchanting Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook through April 24th.  For tickets or more information on the show, visit www.firstfolio.org.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews
Monday, 01 February 2016 13:39

"Jeeves At Sea" Makes Big Splash

Christian Gray and Jim McCance pair up once again for another Jeeves adventure, this time in Margaret Raether’s latest adaption from the stories of P.G. Wodehouse “Jeeves At Sea”. Gray, who was simply tremendous in his last First Folio appearance in “The Madness of Edgar Allen Poe”, this time plays the lovable, but somewhat dim-witted Bertie who has come to rely on the wisdom of his ever faithful manservant Jeeves (McCance), who faithfully provides sound advice never daring to crack the slightest of smiles. Paired to perfection, modestly said, McCance and Gray are nothing less than terrific together.

The play is performed at First Folio Theatre’s home, the Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook, where it doesn’t take much too imagine a “Jeeves” presence to exist.  

The story takes place aboard a yacht that is anchored off the coast of Monte Carlo, which is owned by Lady Stella Vanderlay, to whom Bertie has proposed to on multiple occasions. Miss Minerva Pilbeam is Stella’s paid companion and is secretly doting over Jeeves, while Stella is having too much fun as the object of affection of several suitors to fully commit to a lovesick Bertie. Kate McDermott nails the role of Lady Stella as the roaring 20’s saucy socialite.   

But alas, a mystery has unfolded when Bertie’s best friend Sir Percival Everard Crumpworth (Andrew Behling) confesses that he may have murdered someone while being blind drunk the night before – worse yet, he believes it might have been a visiting German prince. Once German heavy Count Otto von Dietrichstein (Joe Foust) starts sniffing around the yacht in search of Percival, a plan is quickly put into action.

Throughout the mystery, which is fun in itself, many humorous situations arise based on several Three’s Company-like misunderstanding’s where one is caught with another at the wrong moment or something is only partially overheard. Alison C. Vesley’s superb direction along with a funny script, timely physically comedy and impeccably delivered dialogue thanks to the show’s collection of talented actors, make “Jeeves At Sea” a charming production that flows seemingly effortlessly through and through.  

This fourth Jeeves installment of Wodehouse’s delightful tales is a thrilling ride from beginning to end with just the right doses of humor and intrigue, but best of all is the genuine connection that is felt by audience members between Jeeves and Bertie, leaving one with the feeling of excitement for what Jeeves adventures may be in store for the future.     

 

Yet another strong First Folio effort, “Jeeves At Sea” comes highly recommended. Catch “Jeeves At Sea” through February 28th at the Mayslake Peabody Estate located near 31st Street and 83 in Oakbrook. For tickets and/or more play information visit www.firstfolio.org or call 630-986-8067.  

Published in Theatre Reviews

From the moment you enter the darkened and eerie Tudor Revival styled Mayslake Peabody Estate and are handed a dance card indicating which group of theater goers you will follow throughout the performance, the tension and excitement of this wonderful production begins to mount. Not long after First Folio Theatre’s “The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe: A Love Story” begins the audience is divided, following different sets of actors from room to room.  

The large, dark house, lit by the light of the full "Blood Moon" on opening night is still haunted by the memory of the husband who lovingly built the entire estate for his wife over a decade and then passed away during a fox hunt the year after it was finished. This site specific mansion is the perfect theater setting for this dynamic and revealing look at Edgar Allen Poe's work as a hugely successful fiction writer as well as his tragic life and loves. 

It is very rare, with the large amount of theater I see, week after week, that I am watching a show and at the same time planning in my mind which friends of mine I would like to come back and see it with again.

I loved how the audience moved from room to room within the mansion, sometimes seeing a portion of a scene while standing in a hallway or while entering the genuine antique chapel built after the estate was sold.  It was a lot of fun and gave the audience a feeling of mystery and danger, as though we were instant comrades and active participants in the play itself. 

Christopher Kriz did a fantastic job with the tricky sound design in each of the authentically scary rooms of this aging mansion. Each sound Kriz creates building the tension and surrounds the tiny audience in such a way that we really felt the Tell-Tale Heart beating in our own ears, not just coming out of a single speaker anywhere. 

I learned so much about Poe's life and work that I had not known before. The sad irony that not only did he watch his mother die of consumption at the tender age of six, he then witnessed the slow death of his adoring stepmother and finally his wife Virginia wasting away and coughing up blood daily from the same devastating disease. 

I also did not realize what an amazing amount, and romantically stunning quality, of love letters and love poetry Poe wrote in his lifetime to his wife Virginia and often to another married woman named Annie whom he loved from afar. 

On the back of the dance card is printed the single sad poem his wife Virginia, his first cousin whom he married when he was 27 and she just 13 years old, although they did not consummate the marriage until she was 16. The tragic fact that they shared just nine blissful years together, four of them while she was healthy and five where she began to deteriorate from consumption. He made the right decision to follow his heart and court her from pretty much the moment they met because he knew on some unconscious level that their precious time together was ticking away quite quickly and he died just two years after her passing at the age of 40.   

Christian Gray, who portrays Poe, does a stunning job of showing the sadness and turmoil inside of Poe while never losing the absolute passion and headstrong devotion for his wife Virginia. Gray seems to drink in like a thirsty vampire the femininely beautiful essence of his wife Virginia from her head to toe in every scene. You sense that Gray, whose eyes are often brimming with tears,  as if struggling to speak - as if his next breath depends solely upon seeing her loving reaction to him and his writings in every moment and every delicate hour that passed between them.  Without Gray's nicely sensual, sometimes earthy and sometimes heart wrenching performance, the "Love Story" portion of this play would not have been nearly as convincing. 

Diana Mair makes a lovely, charming, sensitive portrayal of Poe’s wife Virginia.  Mair's sympathetic, yet lighthearted telling of Poe's tragic early years and her burning love for him comes off with a mature, yet modernly sassy quality that makes you understand how he could be so in love with her and then so completely lost without her as his enthusiastic muse after her untimely death at the age of 22. 

Actor Kevin McKillip, also outstanding, has several great, and fright building scenes as the madman in the retelling of "The Tell-Tale Heart" and as a prisoner locked in a dungeon with the blade of a scythe rapidly approaching to cut him apart in “The Pit and the Pendulum", appropriately performed in a room so dark you could not see the person sitting next to you. 

Here is just one of Poe's hundreds of love letter/poems to Annie, one of his few unrequited loves:

“So long as I think that you know I love you, as no man ever loved woman - so long as I think you comprehend in some measure, the fervor with which I adore you, so long, no worldly trouble can ever render me absolutely wretched. But oh, my darling, my Annie, my own sweet sister Annie, my pure beautiful angel - wife of my soul - to be mine hereafter and forever in the Heavens - how shall I explain to you the bitter, bitter anguish which has tortured me since I left you?”

In a surprising and childlike way Poe signed his letters to her, and to his beloved wife Virginia with the adorable “forever your own, Eddy…”.

I highly recommend this scary, yet passionately romantic retelling of Poe's life and hard won genius. It will definitely make you want to read more of Poe's work, especially his prolific amount of luscious, spellbinding love letters! 

By the end of the play you understand why ALL of the women in his life, were utterly captured and held close by his heartfelt writings to them and adored him so completely during the short time on earth they each shared with him. 

First Folio Theatre’s “The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe: A Love Story” is being performed at the Mayslake Peabody Mansion in Oakbrook through November 4th. For more information on this unique and haunting production, visit www.firstfolio.org.

*One note, on disability access, First Folio may want to add a disclaimer on its website informing the disabled and elderly theatre goers that the play does require climbing some stairs and brief standing in addition to its mention that the show moves around the mansion. 

 

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

Set beneath the stars on the beautiful grounds that encompass the ever-impressive Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook, Illinois, First Folio Theatre Company continues its rich tradition in bringing engaging, well-acted and provocative stage performances to life that can be enjoyed by most every type of theatre goer. This year’s summer production is no less entertaining as William Shakespeare’s “The Winter Tale” takes to the outdoor stage - the story of a king who pays the consequences for being too quick to judge others.

Just a short walk from the mansion itself, the stage sits affront a handful of chairs and plenty of green to throw down a blanket in order to enjoy a picnic beforehand and then lie back and take in the show. Outdoor plays on the grounds have been taking place since 1997 and as one employee quotes, “It’s like Ravinia, only with closer parking.” And as for pesky mosquitos – not to worry – complimentary bug spray is available if needed along with insect repelling candles strategically placed around the lawn.

“The Winter’s Tale” begins when King Leonetes, in a fit of paranoid jealousy, wrongfully alleges his wife of having an affair with the visiting King of Bohemia, Polixenes. Standing true to his misguided accusations, his life slowly unravels as be becomes responsible for the death of his wife after deporting their newborn child to which he believes is a bastard and, in the process, also loses Camillo, his closest friend, advisor and confidant. When a shepherd stumbles upon Leonetes’ daughter, a new life in a new kingdom awaits her – that Kingdom being Bohemia. Fate takes an unpredicted turn. As she, now named Perdita, gets older, love blossoms between she and a Bohemian prince, Florizel, son of Polixenes. It is much later and with much regret for his wrongful actions that Leonetes tries to find redemption for the things he has done. Though we ask ourselves if it is too late for the remorseful king.

Kevin McKillip is powerful as the wayward king, Leonetes. With a very strong stage presence and Shakespearean dialogue delivered with such emphatic passion to the letter, McKillip is a true pleasure to watch. Kyle Haden as Camillo and Diana Coates as the queen’s trustful aide, Paulina, also give hard-hitting, jaw-dropping performances as does Ryan Czerwonko (Florizel), Kevin Theis (Polixenes) and Melissa Carlson (Queen Hermoine). Thankfully, the entire cast pulls their weight and then some.

Finely directed by Jeff Award-nominee Alison C. Vesely, “The Winter’s Tale” is the perfect outdoor treat as the story is intriguing from beginning to end, the set elaborate, the costumes colorful and the acting par for the course.

First Folio Theatre’s “The Winter’s Tale” is being performed through August 9th during its annual outdoor Shakespearean Under the Stars series on the grounds of the Mayslake Peabody Mansion. For tickets and/or more event information visit www.firstfolio.org

Published in Theatre Reviews

Well, you just can’t go wrong with Neil Simon, one of the greatest Jewish playwrights of all time and a solid grouping of well trained Chicago character actors like the cast assembled at First Folio Theatre in Oakbrook. “Laughter” is based on Sid Caesar’s beloved “Your Show of Shows” where Simon was a junior writer during the period in which McCarthyism and commercial sponsorship really began to apply their stranglehold on American TV and American writers in general.

Rene Ruelas, as the lead Max Prince, does a fantastic job portraying the manic and wildly erratic neurotically Jewish comedian with an undercurrent of boiling rage at the rope of McCarthyism closing round his show’s neck. The studio is threatening to turn it from a 90 minute show full of erudite and intellectual comedic references into a 60 minute vehicle to sell toothpaste or soap. Every once in a while Simon mentions in this piece the blacklisting and communist witch hunt that ruined so many innocent American writers lives during that period which gives the play more gravitas and makes the stakes higher for all the characters.

Kevin McKillip's hypochondriac Ira really does remind me of Kramer’s energy in Seinfeld and his way-way out physical comedy antics really pay off with some big laughs from beginning to end. When Ira and Prince argue violently over an eminent firing of one of the staff members to appease the studio and rather end up literally forcing each other to say “I Love You”, I really felt the depth of affection between these two and the writers group as a whole. When it appears that they all must fight just to stay on the air at all one of the writers says we must because, "Maybe we'll never have this much fun again in our entire lives.” Hayley Rice's, “Carol” is dynamite as the sole female writer in this group who keeps pace with “the boys” and then some.

Angela Weber Miller's set design really hearkens back to the period and felt very real in part because this theater was built in the historic Mayslake Peabody Mansion. Thanks to realistic stage props, a well-schemed interior and fitting costume design, we really get the feeling of what it must have felt like to be in a writer’s room in New York during the 1950s.   

There’s something so fresh and current about every play Neil Simon wrote including this one which is not as often performed as some of his bigger Broadway hits. This cast of seasoned character actors brings the Max Prince Show and all of the excitement and frustration of making a living writing comedy circa 1950s come to life in a wonderful way. “Laughter” makes you feel as if you have stepped back in time to rally them and to also remember their courage while up against NBC’s over-wielding of power and the rise of commie-hunting McCarthyism.

Laughter on the 23rd Floor is a delight with plenty of quick one-liners that pace this funny Neil Simon piece. For tickets and/or more information, visit www.firstfolio.org.

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

 

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