Theatre

I was very happy to see Brown Paper Box Company put together this once hugely successful romantic comedy by Neil Simon, which played on Broadway for four years with music and book by Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager. Produced, directed and choreographed by Daniel Spagnuolo, this semi-autographical piece about the true-life romance of Hamlisch (hot off “A Chorus Line") and Sager, who was busy writing and performing hits of her own for Barry Manilow and Melissa Manchester. 

Although “They’re Playing Our Song” is basically a two-character show, the introduction of a chorus of players playing behind each of the leads referred to as " the voices in his head" or " the girls" representing, the "ID, the EGO and Passion" is a delightful and effective tool to understanding how quickly each character’s mood is changing and reacting to every word from the other. When the characters insult each other the chorus reacts instantly and likewise when they begin to loosen up. As the two stop competing with each other’s insecurities and speak honestly about their growing love, the chorus reflects on their faces and through dance how happy each character really is on the inside. 

If only we each had such clear representations from our subconscious minds to guide us moment by moment though lovers and arguments in real life, more couples might find the happiness these two finally find by the end of the play. 

Vernon Gersch (Dan Gold) and Sonia Walsk (Carmen Risi) meet for the first time in his luxury NY apartment where he is searching for new songwriters to collaborate with and has begun working on one of Sonia's songs. Although the balance of power is off at the beginning, Sonia asserts herself by letting him know she has been writing music since she was eleven and has other lucrative offers coming in musically as well as a persistently needy, but still attractive, ex-boyfriend waiting in the wings. 

Dan Gold has an excellent singing voice for this piece but has a little trouble always delivering the "funny", as his character veers from outright patron-ism towards Walsk to put her in her place to a kind of forced sneering anger as her bubbly personality seems to outshine his own success. Still, Gold does have his moments. Risi, whose overall trained voice is pleasant puts her own spin on some of the notes originally scored for Lucie Arnaz. Risi's opening night performance early on found herself speaking way too fast for the audience to understand everything she is saying at times, which made many of the good one liners fall flat. However, once finding her comfort zone in the role as perhaps opening night nerves had quelled, Risi eventually redeemed herself, injecting it and Vernon Gersch with her infectious, if somewhat relentless bubbly, enthusiasm for him and their possibilities for living together successfully in a mutually respectful yet non-competitive marriage. Gersch finally admits that he is "terrified, literally terrified by the feelings she causes in him both loving and hateful at the same time and we as an audience understand his neurotic sense of loss of control around her perfectly. 

Gold and Risi might seem mismatched at first, but by the play’s second act their intense pairing seems justified.

Every inch of this intimate theater space was used to the max including dance numbers by all six members of the Greek chorus behind the two leads.

I liked the kitschy sets and costumes but felt music was thin, which sort of cheapens the real amount of musical talent packed onto the stage in every performer. 

I do recommend this very funny, psychologically instructive comedy for a couple's date night. 

I think every man and every woman will see parts of themselves they want to change in the struggle for power and finally supportive equilibrium of these two highly-neurotic yet supremely artistically gifted lovers that Hamlisch and Sayer so lovingly documented in this  1979 award winning musical. 

“They’re Playing Our Song” is being performed at Rivendell Theatre through August 20th. For more show information visit www.brownpaperbox.org.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Rivendell Theatre Ensemble (RTE), Chicago’s only Equity theatre dedicated to producing new work with women at the core, announces the world premiere of Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood, adapted for the stage by Jennifer Blackmer, and directed by RTE Co-Founder Karen Kessler. Alias Grace runs September 1 – October 14, 2017, at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, 5779 N. Ridge Avenue in Chicago. The press opening is Wednesday, September 13 at 7:00pm.

 

This production of Alias Grace replaces the previously announced Cal in Camo, which will now be presented in January 2018 as the final production in the RTE Season 17: The Mind/Body Connection.

 

A world premiere adaptation of Atwood's acclaimed novel, Alias Grace takes a look at one of Canada's most notorious murderers. In 1843, 16-year-old Grace Marks was accused of brutally murdering her employer and his housekeeper. Imprisoned for years, Grace still swears she has no memory of the killings. A doctor in the emerging field of mental health arrives to try to find out the truth of the matter. Alias Grace is a fascinating study of memory, culpability, and the shadowy spaces within the human mind.    

 

This play was originally developed in collaboration with the Department of Theatre and Dance at Ball State University (http://cms.bsu.edu)

 

Title: Alias Grace

By: Margaret Atwood

Adapted for the stage by: Jennifer Blackmer

Directed by: RTE Co-Founder Karen Kessler

 

Previews:  September 1 – 9, 2017

                 Friday, September 1 at 8:00pm

                 Saturday, September 2 at 8:00pm

                 Wednesday September 6 at 8:00PM

                 Thursday, September 7 at 8:00pm

                  Friday, September 8 at 8:00pm

                  Saturday, September 9 at 8:00pm

VIP Opening: Sunday, September 10, 2017 at 6:00pm

 

Regular run: September 14 – October 14, 2017

 

Schedule: Thursdays-Saturdays at 8:00pm

                 Saturdays at 4:00pm (select performances)

Town Hall Discussions will follow the Saturday matinees

 

Location: Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, 5779 N. Ridge Avenue in Chicago

Tickets: General Admission

Previews: $25

Regular: $38

Student, Senior, Active Military, Veteran

Previews: $15

Regular: $28

 

Pay What You Can: Five seats (10% of the house) are available for each performance. Reservations are made on a first come first served basis.

Subscriptions: $59-$80 for 3-plays 

 

Box Office: (773) 334-7728 or www.RivendellTheatre.org

 

Parking and Transportation: Free parking is available in the Senn High School parking lot (located a block and a half from the theatre behind the school off Thorndale Avenue). There is limited paid and free street parking in the area and the theatre is easily accessible via the Clark (#22) or Broadway (#36) bus and is a short walk from the Bryn Mawr Red Line El station.

 

About Rivendell Theatre Ensemble

Founded in 1994, Rivendell Theatre Ensemble advances women’s lives through the power of theatre. Rivendell cultivates the talents of women artists -- writers, actors, directors, designers and technicians – by seeking out innovative plays that explore unique female experiences and producing them in intimate, salon environments.

 

Rivendell fills an important role in the Chicago region as the only Equity theatre dedicated to producing artistically challenging and original plays created by and about women. After years of being an itinerant company, we moved into our own theater space in 2010 in Edgewater. As new members of the neighborhood, we are focused on becoming an integral community partner and serving as a catalyst to engage our audiences in a discussion of local social issues.

 

For more information about Rivendell Theater Ensemble, http://rivendelltheatre.org. Follow RTE on Facebook at Facebook.com/rivendelltheatre and on Twitter @RivendellThtr.

 

Rivendell Theatre Ensemble is supported by generous grants from Allstate Insurance Company; The Alphawood Foundation; The Arts Work Fund for Organizational Development; The Chicago Community Trust; The Chicago Foundation for Women; The Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation; The Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation; The MacArthur Funds for Arts and Culture at The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation; The Reva and David Logan Foundation; The Elizabeth Morse Charitable Trust; SIF Fund at The Chicago Community Trust; The University of Illinois at Chicago Institute for Policy and Civic Engagement; Cultural Outreach Program Grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events; and the Illinois Arts Council Agency. Rivendell Theatre Ensemble is also very grateful for the support received from 100 Women Who Care.

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

Rivendell Theatre Ensemble (RTE), Chicago’s only Equity theatre dedicated to producing new work with women at the core, announces the world premiere of The Firebirds Take the Field by Lynn Rosen and directed by Jessica Fisch. The Firebirds Take the Field runs April 15 – May 20, 2017, at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, 5779 N. Ridge Avenue in Chicago.  The Firebirds Take the Field is produced with support from the Alfred P. Sloane Foundation and Ensemble Studio Theater and is the second production of RTE’s 2017 Season ‘Exploring the Mind/Body Connection.’

 

It's been 25 years since molecular neuroscientist Avery Kahn left Highland Falls, NY. But when 18 local girls, cheerleaders mostly, are stricken with a mysterious ailment, Avery reluctantly returns home to tackle what the locals derisively call the “girl disease.” As Avery becomes affected—and infected—by the girls, the case becomes more personal than she ever expected. Based on actual events, Firebirds is a fascinating and often hilarious investigation of how women in particular are impacted by the pressures of growing up.

 

The Firebirds Take the Field was inspired by real events in LeRoy, New York in Fall 2011.  Camera crews descended on the small town when over a dozen teenagers from the same high school developed similar mysterious symptoms, including uncontrollable twitching, tics and verbal outbursts.

 

The Firebirds Take the Field features RTE Members Meighan Gerachis (Avery), Rebecca Spence (Helen), RTE Artistic Director Tara Mallen (Kathy) and RTE’s newest member most recently honored with a Jeff nomination for Best Actress for her work in last season’s production of Dry Land, Jessica Ervin (Penelope), Margaret Kusterman (Cynthia), Josh Odor (Mark), Aurora Real de Asua (Lucia), and Hannah Toriumi (Agatha).

 

The Firebirds Take the Field is funded in part by The Ensemble Studio Theatre/ Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Science & Technology Project.

 

“The play takes place in a dying industrial town stunted by years of decay, where going to ‘the game’ and rooting for victory still mean something and winning gives the town worth and hope,” said director Jessica Fisch. “Pretty, athletic, smiling, golden girls are responsible for rallying the spirits of their community, but to be seventeen and believe your value is inextricably tied to your looks, youth, and exuberance is a recipe for destruction. Off the field, the girls are grappling with challenges and instability without the maturity or vocabulary to handle them. The girls bury their concerns and ignore their own grief, trauma, sadness, and hardship, but the weight of their repression proves too much and their bodies begin to rebel. By ignoring those emotions they deny themselves the process of healing. It turns out, the human body will find a way to grieve.”

 

“I was surprised when researching the real stories of the teens from LeRoy, New York, to learn that their final diagnosis of ‘Conversion Disorder’ was just a new name for ‘female hysteria.’ Women, in particular, who are diagnosed with mental issues are immediately dismissed both from the medical profession and by society as their conditions are not seen as being ‘real’," comments Artistic Director Tara Mallen. “Yet history and myth are filled with stories of girls exhibiting bizarre symptoms around the time of puberty — and doctors have pondered the connection between our mental and physical health for centuries. The cautionary of tale these three girls exemplifies the sometimes devastating results when we disregard this essential connection.”

The creative team includes new RTE ensemble member Joanna Iwanicka (scenic design), with Katherine Scott (choreography), Paul Toben (lighting design), Stephanie Cluggish (costume design), Sarah D. Espinosa (sound design), and Blake Leo Burke (properties). Tanya Palmer is the dramaturg. Sam Mouryessef is the Production Manager; Andra Sturtevant is the Production Stage Manager; and Joan Sergay is the Assistant Director.

 

ABOUT THE ARTISTS

 

Jessica Fisch (Director) Recent credits: Straight White Men (Associate Director, Steppenwolf), Trudy, Carolyn, Martha and Regina Travel to Outer Space (Actors Theatre of Louisville, Humana Festival), Fefu and Her Friends (Goodman Theatre/Rivendell Latina/o Celebration) Opulent Complex and That Thing That Time (Actors Theatre of Louisville, The Tens), The Rosenkranz Mysteries: An Evening of Magic (Royal George Theatre), Psychodramatic (A Red Orchid, Incubator Series), Traces (Feast Productions/ Jackalope Theatre), Far Away (SITE Festival), 42 Stories (Raven Theatre, [Working Title] series), MachinalSpike Heels (Northwestern University). Selected New York credits: The Realm (The Wild Project),  strive/seek/find (Abingdon Theatre), the 2009 Playwrights Horizons Stories on 5 Stories BenefitPersonal History (Ensemble Studio Theatre), The Redheaded Man (Barrow Street Theatre/Down Payment Productions/FringeNYC/FringeEncores), Dressed In Your Dreams (Public Theater/Emerging Writers Group), an adaptation of the cult 1960’s gothic vampire soap opera Dark Shadows (Williamstown Theatre Festival). Jessica was a resident director at Ensemble Studio Theater, the Playwrights Horizons Directing Resident, a member of the Lincoln Center Directors Lab, and the founding Artistic Director of Down Payment Productions. MFA: Northwestern University. 

 

Lynn Rosen (Playwright) has had works produced or developed with: Actors Theatre of Louisville, TheatreWorks (Silicon Valley), Women's Project, New Georges, Ensemble Studio Theatre (two EST/Sloan commissions), Centerstage (Baltimore), Studio Theatre, Working Theater, Barrington Stage, The New Group, The Lark, terraNOVA Collective, New Harmony, GEVA, Fault Line Theatre, The Brick Theater, Red Bull Theatre, Todd Mountain Theater Project, The Lark Development Center (Writing Fellow), 52nd Street Project, among others. Lynn was commissioned in 2016 by UCSB for her new play Bernhard which was just produced in their acclaimed Launch Pad series. She also co-writes and co-created the award-winning web series Darwin, directed by Carrie Preston, with whom she is developing two TV pilots. Darwin was named one of the “Top Ten Best Web Series of 2015” by Paste Magazine and season two is currently in production. Her short piece The Amazing America Auction, originally commissioned for Centerstage, is included in Hal Hartley’s feature film My America. Coming up: Gurley! (a musical about Helen Gurley Brown), TheatreWorks Silicon Valley Writers’ Retreat; I Love You with Playing On Air; Washed Up On The Potomac with The Pool, NYC. Lynn got her B.A. in Theatre Arts from Brandeis University and is currently a Resident Playwright at New Dramatists in NYC.

 

Meighan Gerachis (Avery) is a founding member at Rivendell and has appeared in their productions of The Electric Baby, Precious Little, The Walls, Elliot: A Soldier's Fugue, Indulgences at the Louisville Harem, Factory Girls, My Simple City, Wrens, and Ten Tiny Fingers, Nine Tiny Toes. Other credits include Blue Skies Process (Goodman), Domesticated, Our Town, The House on Mango St. (Steppenwolf), Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England (Theater Wit), Solstice (A Red Orchid Theater), Measure for Measure (Chicago Shakespeare); Cloud Nine (About Face), Cigarettes and Moby Dick, Che Che Che (Latino Chicago), The Underpants (Noble Fool); and The Road to Graceland (Lifeline Theatre). Her Regional credits include: Charm (Mixed Blood Theatre) Elliot; A Soldier's Fugue (Stageworks/Hudson); and A Midsummer Night's Dream (Contact Theatre, Manchester, UK). Film credits include Batman v. Superman, At Any Price, and Virginia. Television credits include Chicago PD, Crisis, Bobby & Iza (NBC), Sirens (USA), and Battleground (Hulu).

 

Rebecca Spence (Helen) joined Rivendell Theatre Ensemble after appearing in These Shining Lives for which she received Equity Jeff Nomination in 2009.  Other RTE credits include Wrens and How the World Began (Equity Jeff Nomination for Best Actress in 2015). Her most recent work was originating the role of Mary Page Marlowe 40/44 at Steppenwolf Theatre Company where her previous credits include: The CrucibleOur Lady of 121st Street and Pacific. Other theatre credits include: In The Garden (Lookingglass Theatre Company); Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West (TimeLine Theatre Company); This (Theatre Wit); The Voysey Inheritance, Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Remy Bumppo - Equity Jeff Nom.); Dracula (Defiant Theatre); Cyrano (Milwaukee Repertory Theatre). Film Credits include KingfisherRecke, Not Welcome, Bloomin’ Mud ShuffleMan of Steel, Fools, Tiger Tail in Blue, One Small Hitch, Contagion, The DilemmaAudrey the Trainwreck, Earthling, Public EnemiesGrace is Gone and The Break-Up.  Television Credits include Easy (Netflix), Chicago Fire (NBC), Crisis (NBC), Betrayal (ABC), Boss (STARZ), The Mob Doctor (FOX), Detroit 1-8-7 (ABC), The Chicago Code (FOX), The Beast (A&E) and Prison Break (FOX).

 

Tara Mallen (Kathy) is an actor, director, producer and the Artistic Director at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble.  She was most recently on stage in RTE’s production of Grizzly Mama and  the world premiere production of Lynn Nottage’s Sweat at Arena Stage. Prior to that she was in RTE’s Jeff Nominated, world premiere productions of Look, we are breathing and Rasheeda Speaking. Tara appeared in the Steppenwolf Theatre Company production of How Long Will I Cry: Stories of Youth Violence written by Chicago Journalist Miles Harvey. She was part of the ensemble in Rivendell’s World Premiere, Jeff nominated production of The Walls and played Jolene Palmer (inspired by the true-life story of Aileen Wuornos) in Rivendell’s award winning production of Self Defense, or the Death of Some Salesmen -- both productions part of Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s Visiting Theater Initiative.  For Rivendell, Tara has both produced and acted in over thirty productions. She received a Joseph Jefferson award for “Supporting Actress” for her portrayal of Gwenyth in WRENS as part of that production’s Jeff-winning ensemble. She was nominated the following year for “Actress in a Principal Role” for her work in My Simple City.  Screen credits include Steven Soderbergh’s film ContagionBoss (STARZ), Chicago Fire (NBC)Chicago P.D. (NBC), Sense8 (NetFlix), indie feature FOOLS and the CBS/Sony Pictures pilot Doubt .

 

Jessica Ervin (Penelope), one of RTE’s newest members returns to Rivendell where she was last seen in Dry Land (Ester) and also understudies their touring production of Women at War. Other Chicago theatre credits include touring artist with Erasing the Distance, Herculaneum (Blue Goose Theatre Ensemble), Summer in the Parks production of The Wild (Walkabout Theater Company), 12 Ways to Play Festival (The Public House Theatre), and Collaboraction’s final Sketchbook Festival. She can also be seen in the upcoming feature film Princess Cyd. Jessica is a graduate of Ball State University with a B.F.A. in Acting, and is represented by Gray Talent Group.

 

Margaret Kusterman (Cynthia) has appeared at Next Theatre where she appeared in The Luck of the Irish and Great God Pan. She understudied the role of Patricia in The Herd at Steppenwolf, where she was also in the Ensemble of No Place Like Home. At Seanachai she was part of the Jeff-nominated ensemble of The Big Picture. She was in Tartuffe at Remy Bumppo and Uncle Vanya at Strawdog. After understudying the role of Meg in The Beauty Queen of Leenane at Steppenwolf, she played the role at Northern Stage in Vermont. Margaret has worked with Jackalope, The Gift, Defiant, Livebait, Lifeline and Center Theatre. She holds a Masters Degree in Theatre from Northwestern University. 

 

Josh Odor (Mark) most recently performed in Griffin's Winterset, The Hypocrites' You on the Moors Now, Haven Theater's The Distance and The Time of Your Life with the Artistic Home. Josh has also worked at Steppenwolf, The Goodman, TimeLine, Steep, Teatro Vista, The Inconvenience, The House, The New Colony, Collaboraction, LiveWire, Buffalo Ensemble and as a member of Pine Box.  Josh's television work includes Chicago PD, Chicago FireBetrayal and Boss.

 

Aurora Real de Asua (Lucia) is working with the Rivendell Ensemble for the first time. Past Chicago credits include Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (Metropolis), You On the Moors Now (u/s Hypocrites), Twelfth Night (u/s Chicago Shakespeare in the Park), as well as work with the Goodman Theatre and American Myth Project. She recently graduated from Northwestern University.

 

Hannah Toriumi (Agatha) has performed with such theaters as The Gift, Goodman Theatre, Silk Road Rising, Step Up Productions, and TOTC. She has also made appearances in commercials, film, and television. Hannah is represented by Paonessa Talent, is a graduate of The School at Steppenwolf Class of 2015 and holds a BA in Theatre Performance from North Central College.

 

Title:                            The Firebirds Take the Field

Written by:                   Lynn Rosen

Directed by:                 Jessica Fisch

 

Featuring:                   RTE members Meighan Gerachis (Avery) and Rebecca Spence (Helen), RTE

Artistic Director Tara Mallen (Kathy), Jessica Ervin (Penelope); and Margaret Kusterman (Cynthia), Josh Odor (Mark), Aurora Real de Asua (Lucia), and Hannah Toriumi (Agatha).

 

Creative Team:            Katherine Scott (choreography), Joanna Iwanicka (scenic design), Paul Toben (lighting design), Stephanie Cluggish (costume design), Sarah D. Espinosa (sound design), Blake Leo Burke (properties), Sam Mouryessef (production manager), Andra Sturtevant (production stage manager), and Joan Sergay (assistant director)

 

Previews:                    April 18 – 22, 2017

Tuesday, April 18 at 8:00pm

Thursday, April 20 at 8:00pm

                                                     Friday, April 21 at 8:00pm

                                                     Saturday, April 22 at 8:00pm

VIP opening:                Sunday, April 23, 2017 at 6:00pm

Press Opening:           Wednesday, April 26, 2017 at 7:00pm

Regular run:                April 27 – May 27, 2017

 

Schedule:                    Thursdays-Saturdays at 8:00pm

                                    Saturdays at 4:00pm (no Saturday performance Saturday May 27)

Town Hall Discussions will follow the Saturday matinees 4/6; 4/13; 4/20

 

Location:                     Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, 5779 N. Ridge Avenue in Chicago

Tickets:                       General Admission

Previews: $25

Regular: $38

                                    Student, Senior, Active Military, Veteran

                                                    Previews: $15

Regular: $28

 

Pay What You Can: Five seats (10% of the house) are available for each performance. Reservations are made on a first come first served basis.

 

Box Office:                  (773) 334-7728 or www.RivendellTheatre.org

 

Parking and Transportation: Free parking is available in the Senn High School parking lot (located a block and a half from the theatre behind the school off Thorndale Avenue). There is limited paid and free street parking in the area and the theatre is easily accessible via the Clark (#22) or Broadway (#36) bus and is a short walk from the Bryn Mawr Red Line El station.

 

Notes of Interest

  • This marks the World Premiere of The Firebirds Take the Field by Lynn Rosen. The play was inspired by real events in LeRoy, New York in Fall 2011 when over a dozen teenagers from the same high school developed similar mysterious symptoms including uncontrollable twitching, tics and verbal outbursts.
  • The symptoms led to a series of national interviews, and a collection of television features can be seen in this video.  A piece on the topic is available in this link to the NY Times Magazine article.
  • The Firebirds Take the Field was commissioned by Ensemble Studio Theater through support from the Alfred P. Sloane Foundation Grant. Founded in 1934 by industrialist Alfred P. Sloan Jr., the Foundation is a not-for-profit grantmaking institution that supports high quality, impartial scientific research; fosters a robust, diverse scientific workforce; strengthens public understanding and engagement with science; and promotes the health of the institutions of scientific endeavor.
  • Playwright Lynn Rosen will be attending rehearsals at Rivendell on March 26-28 and April 19-24.
  • Among the cast are four RTE Members, including Meighan Gerachis, Rebecca Spence, RTE Artistic Director Tara Mallen and RTE’s newest ensemble member, Jessica Ervin, most recently honored with a Jeff nomination for Best Actress for her work in last season’s production of Dry Land.  
  • The dramaturg is Tanya Palmer, the Goodman’s Director of New Play Development.
  • Rivendell fills an important role in the Chicago region as the only Equity theater dedicated to producing artistically challenging and original plays created by and about women.

About Rivendell Theatre Ensemble

Founded in 1994, Rivendell Theatre Ensemble advances women’s lives through the power of theatre. Rivendell cultivates the talents of women artists -- writers, actors, directors, designers and technicians – by seeking out innovative plays that explore unique female experiences and producing them in intimate, salon environments.

 

Rivendell fills an important role in the Chicago region as the only Equity theatre dedicated to producing artistically challenging and original plays created by and about women. After years of being an itinerant company, we moved into our own theater space in 2010 in Edgewater. As new members of the neighborhood, we are focused on becoming an integral community partner and serving as a catalyst to engage our audiences in a discussion of local social issues.

 

For more information about Rivendell Theater Ensemble, http://rivendelltheatre.org. Follow RTE on Facebook at Facebook.com/rivendelltheatre and on Twitter @RivendellThtr.

 

Rivendell Theatre Ensemble is supported by generous grants from Allstate Insurance Company; The Lester and Hope Abelson Fund; The Alphawood Foundation; The Arts Work Fund for Organizational Development; The Chicago Community Trust; The Chicago Foundation for Women; The Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation; The Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation; The MacArthur Funds for Arts and Culture at The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation; The Reva and David Logan Foundation; The Elizabeth Morse Charitable Trust; SIF Fund at The Chicago Community Trust; The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation; The University of Illinois at Chicago Institute for Policy and Civic Engagement; Cultural Outreach Program Grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events; and the Illinois Arts Council Agency.

 

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

"Punch me," is the first line of dialog in Dry Land, and those two words sum up the effect of this play - gut wrenching and, in a climactic scene, hard to watch. If you are looking for lighter fare, move on; but you will not find much better than this Rivendell Theatre production.

Set in a girls' swimming pool locker room at a Florida high school, the play revolves around the bond between an unlikely pair: Amy (Bryce Gangel), a girl who gets around too much with teenage boys;  and a much sweeter young woman, Ester (Jessica Ervin).

Playwright Ruby Rae Speigel has received plaudits for Dry Land, celebrated in its New York Off-Broadway production. In fact, the excellent set built at Rivendell (Joanna Iwanicka is scenic designer) tracks closely to the New York version.

A recent Yale grad, Speigel is now writing a series in development for Netflix. Her script, with its scenes broken by blackouts, is strong in its spare yet realistic dialog - one that lets the action unfold all the exposition, a mark of good writing.

Amy,  who moves with the fast crowd, is pregnant - a fact she prefers not to share with her best friends, or her mother. Ester, chosen as confidant, accepts that role in a dynamic familiar to any high school kid looking for a friendship. This pairing plays out against a backdrop of the ordinary stresses of high school life, amped up by pressures of a compeitive women's swim team.

From that "Punch me" opening, Ester assists as Amy meanders through ignorant attempts at terminating the pregnancy - Ester sits on Amy's stomach; punches her diaphragm; drinks hard liquor with her. Snippets of google searches are shared, and eventually leading to the morning after pill. It's a risky choice for the second trimester, and leading to the barely bearable scene in which the pill does its work.

Bryce Gangel is commanding as the weak and somewhat off-putting Amy. Jessica Ervin's Ester is convincing as an innocent who is solid to the core. Just two male characters make brief appearances.Ester's kindly young suitor, Victor (Matt Farrabee is spot on), who reveals a less than flattering perspective on Amy.

And it is the Janitor (Ric Walker in a world-weary performance) who provides the most telling commentary, in a silent scene in which he methodically cleans up the bloody aftermath of that pill. In his matter-of-fact mopping and wiping, we can tell this Janitor has seen it all, and seen it all too often.

Life goes on. As the action draws to an end, college acceptance letters arrive - or don't - and these two young women who passed together through the worst of life will go their separate ways.

Dry Land is also a cautionary tale of the dire punishments suffered by young women through ignorance. For more than two decades, the Rivendell Theatre has followed its mission of recognizing and cultivating the talents of women in theatre and exploring the unique female perspectives of everyday stories. Dry Land advances that mission and takes it a step further.

Published in Theatre Reviews

Although the idea of two gay friends, Hunter and Jeff, sitting down to write their own musical for a competition deadline in three weeks’ time may seem a little bit dated, these performers including Matt Frye, and Yando Lopez do a great job of making the piece seem vibrant and current. Hunter and Jeff who love watching their reality TV like the Bachelor and "procrasturbating" introduce two of their gal friends to help them fill out the cast with Susan (Neala Barron) and Heidi (Anna Schutz). The group decides to take things they’re actually chatting about daily and eventually come up with a play about their own lives and trying to get into the playwrights festival. This is the theme for [Title of Show] now playing at Rivendell Theatre.

Long story short, they end up getting thrilled with an invite to enter into the Fest and eventually a short Off-Broadway and even shorter Broadway run all of which is exciting and mind blowing for the friendly foursome. As it happens it brings about the usual problems with managing who gets credit for what and who is the most important or likable part of the show. 

I loved the song, 'Die, Vampire Die’ about managing all of the negative, "bloodsucking" thoughts that weigh on you mentally and emotionally when you are trying to create something new. 

Neala Barron as the "corporate by day, creative by night' - part time actress - has the funniest and most well-rounded performance in this piece. Matt Frye as Hunter is also very funny and really makes the most of his character.  

Lovers of the musical theater genre will adore this peppy, fast moving production and see themselves reflected in all the characters' struggles to be recognized and stand out including the sole musician, a very funny role for a pianist with just a few choice lines. 

The reason this show still works and is timely despite coming out in 2008, is that even today with all of the new opportunities for performers to write and star in their own projects for the  many contests held online and on national TV, is that for everyone eventually realizes that a little bit of success is just not enough.

Just appearing in a show on Broadway will not make you and your friends "stars". Nor will it secure you financially in any way for the rest of your lives. There is also a funny number in the show where the cast counts out all of the "loser” musicals that made it to Broadway and flopped. 

Yet it is essential that actors still persist in taking over their own careers and write their own projects or they run the risk of playing bit parts their entire lives without ever realizing their full potential as writers and creators, always working the "day job" and waiting helplessly for the phone to ring with a magical call from their agents.

Well-directed, this 90 minute piece flows at a quick, funny pace.

All actors should be actor/writers, that's the best message of this show, not to let the fear of criticism cripple you from putting out your own work and maintaining loyalty to the friends who help you get your work out. Because, after all the success and thrill ride for each project is over, you still need to get up and keep writing and creating something new for yourself with your friends close by your side. Never give up and never let the pressures of making a name for yourself eclipse the importance of the daily life you are actually living because in the end you may find the journey itself really was the whole play!

[Title of Show] is playing at Rivendell Theatre through August 16th.

Published in Theatre Reviews

Cor Theatre this time brings its latest production, “Love and Human Remains”, to the intimate Rivendell Theatre in Edgewater. A psychological thriller that made waves in the 1990s for its daring and gutty material, “Love and Human Remains” is a story that revolves around a handful of Chicago couples amidst a serial killer on the loose.

It takes a good part of the first act before we get a good feel of who’s who in this play. Beginning with a dominatrix who tales the tale many of us have heard at some point about Cuba Road where a young man is murdered in the woods while trying to get help after car trouble strands he and his girlfriend, we are soon introduced to roommates David and Candy to which are the main focus in the story. David is gay and is quick to use biting sarcasm every chance he gets. A former child actor now turned waiter, he is unattached and willing and able to find quick sex anywhere he can. Candy is looking for love and though attractive and seemingly kind-hearted, she doesn’t seem to have much luck. As the story progresses David’s tall and good looking friend Bernie is introduced, he often appears drunk and bloody, chalking it up to bar room fights due to his propensity to hit on unavailable women. Meanwhile the bodies are adding up.

Written by Brad Fraser and directed by Ernie Nolan, this is a play with much crotch grabbing and excessive nudity as the lesser known worlds of S&M and underground gay hook ups are also explored. It is a story of instant gratification, obsessions, guilt and consequence. It is also a story of hopefulness and finding companionship.

Andrew Goetten as David and Kate Black-Spence really steal the show with their electrifying performances. Goetten delivers Jeff Goldblum-like musings and over-analyzed histrionics, hitting perfectly called for tone inflection and sentiment on cue to project his feelings ever so effortlessly. At the same time, Black-Spence is able to channel her emotions in just the right way so that we can really feel for her character’s sadness, guilt, loneliness and hope.

The first act moves a bit slowly and we kind of wonder if the ever present ensemble chants and comments in the background are necessary or detracting from the play’s story. By the second act it becomes apparent the play would probably be better if acted out as a traditional presentation piece rather than being an ensemble piece whereas surrounding characters in the background are constantly chiming in along or around the main scenes. Still, the play does come together enough in the second act to where its intrigue becomes the focal point and we crave to see the outcome for each character.   

It’s dark, sexual and is funny in more places than one would expect. In time, it even becomes rather absorbing as a thriller.

“Love and Human Remains” is being performed at Rivendell Theatre in Edgewater through July 11th. For tickets and/or more information visit ww.CorTheatre.org.  

Published in Theatre Reviews

“Look, We Are Breathing” at Rivendell Theatre is a powerful drama that deals with the coping of loss. Written by Chicago playwright Laura Jaccqmin, “Look, We Are Breathing” examines the grieving process when the one taken away so unexpectedly never really amounted to much nor has shown the potential to ever become much of anything at all. This is the case when high school hockey player Mike is killed in a drunk driving accident on his way home from a party. Always a troublemaker with a bad attitude, rude and the perennial class clown, Mike is disrespectful to his parents, his teachers and is one to take advantage of a girl’s innocence given the chance. He’s exactly what we don’t want to see in a teenage boy. Passing thoughts wonder if maybe the world would be a better place without someone like Mike.

This hard-hitting four-character play deals with the aftermath of Mike’s tragic accident. A series of flashbacks throughout the play help us get to know Mike while narratives from his English teacher Leticia, his mother Alice and his one-night stand, Caylee, provide us with more of an understanding of Mike’s behavior and the effect it had on those close to him – and those who wanted to be close to him.  

The set is simplistic. A chest-like trunk sits center stage that is used at times for a dining table or a car when need be. But the sets simplicity in this case is a plus as it helps direct focus where it should be – on the characters and story. Cast members Lily Mojekwu (Leticia), Brennan Stacker (Caylee), Tara Mallen (Alice) and Brendan Meyer (Mike) make a special point of making eye contact with the audience members in this intimate thirty-six seat theatre, as they explain themselves and open up as though expecting comforting words in return.

This play works because of its absorbing story and the very heavy-duty acting performances by each and every cast member. “Look, We Are Breathing” is a gripping story that is sure to draw in the average theatre goer, and might relate especially to those who have suffered recent losses. Towards the play’s end Caylee talks about what could have been rather than reflecting on Mike’s past behavioral issues and lack of promise of any sort. Then we stop and think - Even when you question if someone's life is worth it, when they are young, they have no time to grow out of it – and that’s the truest tragedy. They have no time to grow up to be the ENT doctor, to build meaningful friendships, to become a loving parent or to contribute in making this world a better place. We learn compassion and empathy as we grow older and “Look” understands that rather than judging one’s short past.

True to their claim that Rivendell Theatre Ensemble is Chicago’s only Equity theatre dedicated to producing new work with women in core roles, “Look” presents three strong characters in a mourning mother, a girl who believes there was more to a relationship than there really was and a teacher who tries desperately to get through to a student who has built many walls.

“Look, We Are Breathing” is playing at Rivendell Theatre (5779 N Ridge Ave, Chicago) through May 16th. For tickets and/or more show information call 773-334-7728 or visit www.RivendellTheatre.org.            

                                                                                                                                                      

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

 

10 Years! Fave Issue Covers

Register

Latest Articles

  • Review: Machinal at Greenhouse Theater Center
    Written by
    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…
  • "The Rembrandt" begins September 7th with John Mahoney and Francis Guinan
    Written by
    Steppenwolf Theatre Company opens its 42nd Season with the Chicago premiere of The Rembrandt, written by Jessica Dickey and directed by Hallie Gordon. Currently in rehearsals, this subtle and elegant play features ensemble members Francis Guinan as Henry/Rembrandt and John…
  • Latin Paradise - Santana Live at Ravinia
    Written by
    The summer concert season continues at Ravinia. Midsummer brings to the Midwest one of the toughest guitarists on the planet. The act that has graced the stages with the most famous performers at Woodstock has come to Ravinia in Highland…
  • Delbert McClinton - One of the Fortunate Few
    Written by
    I have been waiting to see Delbert McClinton for a while. It just never happened for me…timing, etc. Finally, it happened. I even took my Mom who is as big a fan as I am. Warming up for Delbert was…

Guests Online

We have 323 guests and no members online

Buzz Chicago on Facebook Buzz Chicago on Twitter