Lauren Yee's new play at Victory Gardens Theatre is a refreshing addition to the modern canon of American playwriting, in the ilk of Sarah Ruhl and Noah Haidle. 'Samsara' was developed by Victory Garden's annual Ignition festival, a contest seeking minority voices.
Yee takes a meta-theatrical look at the world of surrogacy in turns of comedy and disturbing practicalities. The style in which this story is told is its most unique quality. With the prevalence of MFA playwriting programs, more often we're seeing stories being told in non-traditional formats. Sometimes that includes talking fetuses and our inner monologues manifesting themselves in character. Is this the future of theatre? If so, how exciting.
In 'Samsara' couple Craig and Katie (played by Joe Dempsey and Lori Myers) are desperate to fix the rut in their life with a baby, only they can't have one themselves and can't afford the myriad of domestic options. Instead they outsource to India, as so many corporations are want to do these days. Katie's fear of travel prevents her from going to India so she sends her bumbling husband while she stays home and has an affair with her fantasy man who happens to be a construct of her imagination. The factory surrogate, Suraiya (Ayra Daire) also seems to be in a bit of a rut, hoping to use her baby-money for medical school. She begins a relationship with her unborn fetus whom she affectionately refers to as Shithead. With all the unspent energy of an annoying toddler, Behzad Dabu as the fetus, gives the show's most lively performance.
On the whole, the plot and thematic events of the show are not unchartered territory but it's the way Miss Yee tells her tale that makes this an unforgettable experience. She has a special talent for incorporating the everyday with the fantastic, illuminating the deepest doubts and regrets of our minds in a way that's uplifting and topical. Perhaps Yee's interpretation of samsara is that everything happens for a reason in this cycle of life.
Samsara at Victory Gardens Theatre. 2433 N Lincoln Ave. 773-549-5788. Through March 8th.
*Photo by Michael Courier
Having never seen this show, five minutes in I felt that I was really going to enjoy myself. Twenty minutes later, I knew that fifteen minutes ago I was correct in feeling so. As the minutes into the show increased, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee only got better and better.
The show, set in a high school gymnasium, starts with a janitor nonchalantly setting the clock on the scoreboard to a countdown while the house lights are still on and people are searching for their seats. Those already familiar with the show release scattered cheers knowing that show time is just around the corner. Sure enough the buzzer sounds as the theatre darkens and our attention is directed to a high school teacher who is clearly reminiscing about her days as a spelling bee champion. We are then introduced to the high school vice principal, a community service volunteer and a collection of nerdy, overachieving and socially awkward competitors and the cast breaks into the title song. Ms. Peretti then addresses the crowd from a center stage microphone and calls out for four other contestants who are randomly selected from the audience. The spelling bee begins.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee brilliantly parodies many of the distinguishing nuances of actual spelling bees, lightheartedly poking fun at the process and those involved while at the same time becoming a tribute that shows the dedication, intelligence and pressures involved. As each contestant approaches the microphone, Ms. Peretti reads aloud a fun factoid (often to the utterly ridiculous) about them. Vice Principal Panch reads the word to be spelled then, if asked, provides the language of origin, its definition and how it can be used in a sentence, which was always a hilarious highlight.
Playing Vice Principal Douglas Panch was Joe Dempsey who could be funny literally doing nothing at all. With a penchant for superior comic timing, northsiders, like myself, are very familiar with Dempsey’s talent to draw laughs as a Neo-Futurists alumn and his work in many other Chicago theaters. The exceedingly gifted Frances Limoncelli was also just terrific in every sense of the word as Rona Lisa Peretti while each and every cast member playing a contestant brought their own unique humor to the table providing a bus load of hoots and hollers to be had for a full night of entertainment.
Let’s not forget about the music. From the “I Love You Song” to “My Unfortunate Erection” to “Magic Foot” to the goodbye’s that were sang whenever a contestant was escorted off stage, we are never shorted of fun, catchy and witty songs.
Nerd or not, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is deliciously delightful from beginning to end and will be playing at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook through August 17th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.drurylane or call 630-530-0111.
Here's hoping I did not spell any words in this review incorrectly.
* Top Photo - (L to R)(Back Row)-Stephenie Soohyun Park, Jordan DeLeon, Guest, Zach Colonna, (Front Row)-Guest, Eli Branson, Carolyn Braver
*Below Photo - Zach Colonna, (Back Table)-Frances Limoncelli, Joe Dempsey
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