Ever wonder what happens behind the scenes leading up to opening night at the theater? Do you have any idea how much detail goes into a stage production? Can you imagine the funny moments that could take place while building a set or rehearsing lines? Do directors really get as frustrated as we hear?
Theater Wit brings to the stage the latest, and possibly most innovated, work by author Anne Washburn 10 Out of 12. A headset rests on each seat in the theater for audience members to wear as they become engulfed the midst of tech rehearsals just one week prior to a production opening. We hear random chatter and instruction from the stage crew as 10 Out of 12 gives us an in-depth view of the goings on behind the scenes of mounting a show. Burns, known most recently as the playwright behind Mr. Burns, A Post Electric Play that found a successful run at Theater Wit in 2014, delves into the high stress that comes with detailing theater specifics such as lighting, cues and prop placement while also touching on actor stereotypes, tantrums and the desire in some to hold their work to a standard that demands integrity.
“No one in Chicago has ever seen anything like 10 Out of 12. Simultaneously exacting real-to-life and riotously funny, Anne Washburn’s detonation of a single technical rehearsal is promising to be a unique and thrilling viewing experience,” said Jeremy Wechsler, Artistic Director of Theater Wit and director of 10 Out of 12.
We watch as the production team fastens bolts to secure the set, samples the lighting and sound from scene to scene, place each mark to the director’s satisfaction and amuse themselves during down time. We see actors rehearsing their lines, suggesting where changes might be made (usually to the director’s chagrin). In our headsets we get a real feel for the high levels of demand that must be met along within a time crunch that increases by the minute. We also hear stage hands discussing their lunch and such, along with occasional side remarks about what is transpiring on the set. The fourth wall is often broken with actors using the aisles and theater as though an audience were not present, the director and actors often taking a seat amongst us to watch their handiwork from a patron vantage point.
The production as a whole is a truly inimitable experience and provides an insight to theater that most may not be familiar with, adding a new appreciation for the art. Upon leaving the theater many discuss how they’ve had no idea the work and precision involved in mounting a play, making 10 Out of 12 an informative piece – perhaps also an homage to those behind the scenes.
Star Chicago theater personalities are recruited to provide pre-recorded roles such as John Mahoney, Martha Lavey, Barbara Robertson and Jeremy Wechsler, Mahoney delivering some of the play’s funniest lines. The stage cast also packs a punch with Erin Long, Adam Shalzi, Dado, and Riley McGliveen as the production team, Shane Kenyon as The Director, and Eunice Woods, Gregory Fenner, Christine Vrem-Ydstie, Kyle Gibson and Stephen Walker as the actors. Walker, taking advantage of several moments to shine in only the way he can in delivering highly-charged monologues with just the right amount of entitlement and sardonic flair as the veteran actor brought in to bring credence to the production. Walker’s character questions the truthfulness in his character, conflicted by his passion for honest art, which he feels is losing its grip in modern day theater.
So what does the title 10 Out of 12 mean? A 10 out of 12 is a day in which, per the rules of Actors Equity, the actors are contracted to work for 12 hours with one 2-hour dinner break. It’s during that time that all the designing elements of the production are united as a whole, as costumes, sound, lighting, projections, set and acting are fine-tuned just prior to a show’s opening.
When asked why she wrote a play about a tech rehearsal, Washburn descriptively states, “A decade ago most theaters didn’t have Wi-Fi…and no one is more useless in tech than the playwright. So, I began taking notes. I was fascinated by the strange surreal interplay of light and music. I loved the mysterious technical languages being used around me, the rhythmic drone of the calling light and sound cues. I liked watching the actors freed from their normal self-consciousness. I liked the low continual volume of play which bubbled up throughout the tech as a desperate counterpoint to the long periods of tedium and waiting. And the endless snacking, and discussion of snacking.”
Throughout the production we hear small talk between the techs – everyday musings that are often quite humorous. We also hear the actors talking hopefully about getting their big break, but also turning down roles for the sake of integrity. At one point the leading actress asks the stage manager if she can leave early to audition for a role in a pilot. We have entered the world of theater.
As much as this often funny and revealing play is a fantastic chance to catch the inner-workings of theater production, it misses a few opportunities that were begging for the injection of timely humor, at points drifting away only to grab the audience again just in time. It would also have been nice if the script called for a larger role from Mahoney, whose well-timed remarks were almost always met with crowd laughter. Notable was the play’s pace, perhaps running about thirty minutes too long (two and a half hours plus intermission), making the thought of a slightly condensed version somewhat appetizing. Washburn's story nicely envelopes the stresses, complications and rewards in theater production.
Still, there is much to like in 10 Out of 12, the good outweighing the bad by significant measure. One should expect a fun lesson in Theater Production 101 that is coupled with fine acting performances and enough humor that insures an overall pleasant experience. The headsets are a nice touch, giving audience members an opportunity to feel at times as though they were part of the production team.
10 Out of 12 is being performed at Theater Wit through April 23rd. For tickets and/or more show information click here.
After thirty years of bringing Chicagoans some of the city’s finest theatre, Mary-Arrchie will be closing their doors after its current and final production, American Buffalo. In this sharply written piece by David Mamet, Mary-Arrchie co-founder and jack of all trades Richard Cotovsky is joined by Stephen Walker and Rudy Galvan, creating a strong cast fully capable of pulling off such a dynamically written script. And that’s exactly what they do.
Taking place in a rundown resale shop, owner Don (Cotovsky) along with his young hired help and “go-fer” Bobby (Galvan) have hatched a scheme to burglarize a nearby residence in the hopes of stealing a valuable coin collection. But when Don’s longtime pal Teach (Stephen Walker) gets wind of the “thing” he pushes to replace the kid with himself, a man of more experience. Everything happens in a single day as the three small time crook wannabees run through a gamut of emotions with each other in trying to get on the same page. Teach is pushy and talks the big talk but clearly has little experience while Don is more laid back and subdued, often influenced by Teach’s strong presence and facade of confidence. Slow-witted Bobby just wants in for some quick bankroll – or maybe just wants to be a part of something. As the plan progresses it snowballs back and forth until its inevitable unraveling – and the journey is nothing short of hilarious.
When entering the theatre, we are met with what appears to be an authentic resale shop. “Don’s Resale Shop” is printed backwards on the large picture window so as to face correctly for those to read on the outside. Worn shelves are filled with dented gas cans, ratty knickknacks, old toys and assorted vintage items. Power chords hang from the wall with other random merchandise for sale behind a battered counter that supports an antique cash register. Quickly immersed in the set’s genuineness, one really gets the feeling they are inside a dingy thrift store that could be located on any given Chicago street.
Richly directed by Carlo Lorenzo Garcia, Mary-Arrchie’s American Buffalo offers incredibly talented performances, generally a given with this veteran theatre company. Delivering Mamet’s cutting and quick-fire dialogue with the true essence of how it was intended, Walker knock’s the role of Teach out of the park. Whether generating laughs with the simplest use of body language, convincingly overusing repetitive hood lingo or completely erupting like Mount Saint Helen, Walker rolls up his sleeves and puts forth a gutsy, no-holds barred performance that should long be remembered. All the while, Walker successfully displays his character’s vulnerability beneath the blanket of false self-assurance, making Teach believable, creating someone with whom we can really emphasize. Within moments of Walker’s first appearance where he loses his cool and takes out his frustrations out on a beat up refrigerator over something pretty insignificant, it is apparent we are about to take a pretty bumpy ride.
Cotovsky, the seasoned pro that he is, also provides an outstanding performance going toe-to-toe with Walker on many heated, sometimes humorously nonsensical and profoundly funny dialogue exchanges. The two pair together like butter on toast, getting a nice occasional boost from Galvan who contributes many of his own well-timed lines. Like a freight train taking off, the production gets stronger and stronger as it progresses. The more we get to know the characters the more we can’t help but take a liking to each of them, regardless of the fact that they are small-time crooks bent on pulling off a caper that comically unstitches more and more the closer the job gets.
Mary-Arrchie is going out on a high note with this must-see presentation of American Buffalo. The prestigious Chicago theatre company will certainly be missed and we can only hope to continue to see its talented players in future productions around the city. Jeff Award winner, Chicago theatre staple and all-around talent Richard Cotovsky was recently given the honor of having an Honorary Way dedicated in his name that can be seen at the theatre’s intersection of Sheridan and Broadway. An honor well deserved.
American Buffalo is playing at Angel Island (735 W. Sheridan) through March 6th. Honest, funny and thoroughly absorbing, it is with strong recommendation that I urge theatre lovers to catch this final production from this talented company in their apropos farewell. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.maryarrchie.com or call 773-871-0442.
In Irish Theatre of Chicago’s newest production “The White Road”, performed at The Den Theatre in Wicker Park, we get exactly what we are hoping for – an intense adventure that pits man against nature at its most vicious form. Based on the true heroics of Irish-born polar explorer Ernest Shackleton, “The White Road” tells the story of yet another incredible undertaking where all hope lies solely in one’s will to survive.
Setting sail from South Georgia on December 5th, 1914, Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctica expedition triumphantly leaves shore aboard The Endurance with a crew of twenty-eight with the intent on crossing the Antarctica continent from one coast to the other by way of the South Pole. Hopes are high and excitement is in the air as the crew embarks on a journey never before accomplished.
Said Shackleton beforehand, "After the conquest of the South Pole by [Roald] Amundsen who, by a narrow margin of days only, was in advance of the British Expedition under [Robert Falcon] Scott, there remained but one great main object of Antarctic journeying - the crossing of the South Polar continent from sea to sea".
As history tells, it was a plight that was never meant to be.
Upon approaching Antarctica they are met with pack ice that surrounds their sea vessel threatening to sink it. Completely alone and hundreds of miles away from any form of civilization, this is where one of the greatest tales of survival begins.
In the two-hour-plus play, we meet a variety of characters that make up this memorable crew – and we like them all. From a nature photographer who keeps the camera rolling at all costs to life and limb, to an enthusiastic stowaway boy starved for adventure, to a whaler/banjo-plucker who lifts the men's spirits with song, we don’t just see a nameless crew, instead we really get to know a unique and diverse lot of individuals. Piven ensemble member Paul Dunckel’s performance of the fearless expedition leader makes Shackleton highly likeable, as the wise and self-sacrificing explorer. Dunckel leads this talented cast with the constitution and perseverance one would associate with an expedition leader, whereas he can convincingly make the tough decisions whilst his loyal troops still rally behind him.
Along with Dunckel, Irish Theatre Company ensemble members Kevin Theis and Matthew Isler are accompanied by Nicholas Bailey, Steve Herson, Neal Starbird, Michael McKeogh, Joseph Stearns, Stephen Walker and Gage Wallace, comprising this fine cast that generates a whirlwind of strong performances.
Making this play even more entertaining is the way the set is used to put us aboard The Endurance smack dab in the middle of the frozen, glacier-filled waters. Sound effects are strategically used in tandem with projections to successfully create storm effects while creative choreography takes us on a deadly hike through icy mountains.
This is one of those true incredible adventure stories that are long forgotten by most that, thanks to storytellers like The Irish Theatre of Chicago, we now get to experience and share in the surprisingly unbelievable depth of human spirit brought on by fantastic circumstances.
I should note that though this is a wonderful story taken from the pages of early 20th century history, if you are thinking of bring a young adult, be aware that there is a scene containing as a crew member streaks across the deck of the ship.
Fittingly directed by ensemble member Robert Kauzlaric and written by Karen Tarjan, the world premiere run of “The White Road” is being performed at The Den Theatre through June 13th. For tickets and/or more information visit www.irishtheatreofchicago.org.
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