“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.
When it comes to family, can there be boundaries crossed to which mercy and forgiveness should no longer considered? And should this barrier be traversed upon, is it even possible to wholeheartedly exonerate those who do even if one wants to? In Rory Kinnear’s debut play The Herd (aptly named for so many reasons) these questions are raised as we are confronted with a fractured family, presumably from an upper-middle class suburb in England, who get together to celebrate Adam’s twenty-first birthday. Adam is disabled and has the mental function of that less than a one-year-old, much like writer Rory Kinnear's adult sister, thus the seed of inspiration for this hard-hitting dramedy that perfectly utilizes the perfect amount of comic bite to ease the tension and often uncomfortable moments in this well-crafted story. Though Adam has recently been institutionalized and home visits have become a rarity, his presence is strongly felt throughout even though we never see him.
Three generations of family have converged at Adam’s house as they await his arrival from the hospital via his caretaker. His mother, Carol, frantically races around to make everything perfect and her parents (superbly played by the great John Mahoney and Theatre Hall of Famer Lois Smith) are patient and ever optimistic of the day’s events. Adam’s thirty-two-year-old sister Claire has brought her new boyfriend over to meet her family and has some other news of her own to share. We soon learn how much Carol has sacrificed in her life to care for Adam and the stress that comes with such a burden. Yet it is also apparent it is a burden of love. Molly Regan is a turbine of passions and steadfastness in her portrayal of Carol, making a tough role appear seamless.
In anticipation of Adam’s appearance, balloons, party favors, a large birthday cake and happy faces all around seemingly provide a happy environment but that quickly changes when Adam’s father, Ian, who abandoned the family some time ago, shows up unannounced. It doesn’t take very long before layers are quickly peeled between he, Claire and Carol soon becoming an emotionally charged free for all.
As internal issues come to a head between the three, it is Carol’s parents, Brian and Patricia, who attempt to douse the flames whether it be by way of humor or simply sound observation. It is refreshing to see how the grandparents assert themselves as the voice of reason in this story as Kinnear places an obvious importance on the wisdom of elders in an age where the aging are so often disrespected and disregarded.
The way humor is so often used as an escape for such heavy subject matter in Kinnear’s “The Herd” is very true to life. He is not afraid to joke about death nor is Kinnear afraid to tap into the unpopular inner thoughts we might have, such as wondering if Adam’s death will allow Carol to live again. Smith’s sharp waggishness along with Mahoney’s spot on comic delivery only strengthen already strong characters that we can quickly trust and rely upon.
As the play nears its end, we are hit with the decision of whether to forgive or not. Frances Guinan makes a compelling case as Ian and, though he opens up and lets himself become vulnerable in seeking forgiveness and once again gaining acceptance, we wonder if he can be trusted despite his apparent sincerity. Guinan is marvelous as he rolls up his sleeves and, as he does in so many roles, really puts his heart and then some into his performance as Ian.
Kinnear’s “The Herd” at Steppenwolf is highly recommended. Its all-star cast, engaging dialogue, moving story and elaborately designed set all contribute into making this a nearly perfect theatre piece.
“The Herd” is playing at Steppenwolf through June 7th. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.steppenwolf.org.
In celebration of Roosevelt University’s 70th anniversary, the Auditorium Theatre brings in two iconic stage and television veterans for its one night performance of “An Evening with the Roosevelts”. Ed Asner, known mostly for his portrayal of “Lou Grant” on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and much more recently as “Santa Claus” in the holiday hit Elf, takes on the role of Franklin Roosevelt while Loretta Swit, identified mostly as “Margaret ‘Hot Lips’ Houlihan” in the 1970’s breakout hit M.A.S.H. plays Eleanor Roosevelt.
The one evening performance is broken down into two plays – the first has Asner portraying the former President in “FDR” followed by Swit as the famous First Lady in “Eleanor”. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Asner touches on his battle with polio, his running for governor then president and the attack on Pearl Harbor that forced America into the second World War. Wondering beforehand if Asner would be a good fit as FDR, I left with mixed feelings. Asner’s gruff and forward delivery along with a very visible dedication to the role seemed to work well enough to make one eventually get past the obvious disparity in appearance. Still as spunky as ever, the eighty-five years young Asner can be a fireball when called upon and he also generates a fair share of laughs from the crowd. His intensity is admirable, his emotional capacity impressive and his timing still impeccable. Hobbling around the set with a pair of canes, Asner also adds a physical dynamic that is as believable as the lines he delivers. Unfortunately, as good as Asner is, the material and formatting come off a bit lackluster. Slow-paced and a lack of redeeming values and poignant realizations leave this show less than memorable outside of Asner’s passionate performance.
Loretta Swit can also be a pleasure to watch as she portrays Eleanor Roosevelt in her compliment to Asner’s “FDR”, but the same holds true as far as her show’s lack of engaging material and its tendency to drift back and forth. The Emmy-Winning actress’ one-woman show starts after the death of Franklin Roosevelt. “Eleanor” begins when President Truman asks her to head the American delegation to the newly created United Nations. Eleanor ponders the offer for some time before accepting the offer, realizing the massive potential such a position could have on women’s rights. We also learn about FDR’s affair and the conflict within herself on whether to leave him or not. Swit is charming and graceful as the First Lady but she is also no nonsense when need be.
To see two such famously polished actors perform such important roles from our great American History is still novelty enough despite the not so engrossing scripts. Plus, each show contains plenty of factual tidbits that may be unknown to some, making this special event a great history lesson – or refresher, as well.
The Auditorium Theatre has plenty lined up right around the corner with scheduled performances by Damien Rice, Lila Downs, Chicago Rhythm Fest and The Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg. THE NFL Draft will also be taking place at the Auditorium Theatre beginning April 30th, making its first appearance in Chicago in just over fifty years. For more Auditorium event information visit http://www.auditoriumtheatre.org/.
Badfic Love, the new play directed by Aaron Henrickson and written by Adam Pasen, proudly delves into the nerdy world of fan fiction – its readers, its creators and its auditors. What is fan fiction some might ask? For those of you who are not familiar with this somewhat underground phenomena, fan fiction is the act of fans taking characters or settings from an original work (in this case Harry Potter) and creating their own storylines, steering the story into whatever direction they want, despite the fact that the work they create is hardly ever authorized.
In Badfic Love, Kyle works by day at Staples, but his nights are consumed as he is part of an organization (FIC) that monitors fan fiction writing, making sure to keep readers safe from the bad. The group particularly targets Michelle whose self-made continuation of Harry Potter is the epitome of what the organization stands against with its ridiculous storyline and poor grammar. Kyle, thoroughly condemning Michelle’s writing plans on spoofing (“sporking”) her work in his highly-followed blog to the delight of the other FIC members. However, the story takes a turn when Kyle instead falls for Michelle. What would happen to the characters should Michelle stop writing?
A good portion of Strange Bedfellows Theatre’s Badfic Love has Michelle’s fanfic of Harry Potter acted out as her story progresses. Utterly hilarious are Conor Konz and Jake Szczepaniak as Harry and Draco in this twisted adventure where the two former enemies become gay partners and Michelle writes herself in as the hero in every battle. Konz not only strikes an uncanny resemblance to Harry Potter but nails the campy dialogue going far over the top with reckless abandon while Szczepaniak is simply hysterical in his line delivery and physical comedy. But together, they are simply dynamite.
Also funny are the many references to the iconic fantasy epics such as Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and of course Harry Potter. Kyle and other likeminded individuals spend their time at a coffee shop called Middle Earth. Kyle’s favorite table is in the back just under a large picture of Legolas. Benny, a member of FIC, tries in vain to create force fields over doors or pick things up with telekinesis. Proudly donned Marvel t-shirts are worn and insults are thrown around that only have meaning if familiar with the fantasy from which they are spawned.
For the most part, the show is nonstop funny. It would be hard not to be with such an entertaining cast. Badfic Love does slow down a tad towards the end - character and plot resolution, etc, etc, but not enough to take anything away from this very amusing tale of nerdy creativity, being an outsider and finding love.
Besides the show’s fun costumes, projections and sound effects are also used to help in creating the alternative reality of our newly fashioned Harry Potter and Draco, not to mention a handful of well-choreographed fight scenes where blows are met with the trumpeting sounds reminiscent of the 1960’s Batman series. With C2E2 a couple weeks away, Badfic Love is the perfect show to take in to help in preparing your inner geek.
Badfic Love is at the Den Theatre (1333 N Milwaukee) through May 2nd. I should also mention that doors open a half hour before each performance for the Badfic Love Wizard Rock Concert Series (free with Badfic Love ticket) where bands including Diagon Alley, Tonks and the Aurors and Hawthorne and Holly will be performing Harry Potter-inspired rock music. A graphic novel of Badfic Love is also available for purchase. For tickets and/or more information visit www.strangebedfellowstheatre.com or call 773-697-3830.
Northlight Theatre follows up the hard-hitting drama “White Guy on the Bus” with another extra-base hit with the charming comedy "Outside Mullinger". Set in the Midlands of Ireland, Artistic Director BJ Jones directs this humorous love story that, though mostly transparent in its direction, offers a handful of fun surprises. Outside Mullinger is written by Pulitzer, Oscar and Tony Award Winning author John Patrick Shanley (Moonstruck and Doubt). Needless to say, Shanley has done it again.
“Having survived to my 60th year, I wanted to express joy,” says Shanley on writing Outside Mullinger. “I wanted to laugh, I wanted to name what is possible and beautiful about being alive.”
Set in the Midlands of Ireland we are introduced to two families that own neighboring farms that have been handed down for generations. Though Anthony and Rosemary have been neighbors for years, the two have secretly longed for each other, neither one the wiser. Despite the fact that they are somewhat outwardly gruff with each other, we see an underlying affection that is just dying to bust out. When Rosemary learns that Anthony's father "Tony Reilly" might not leave him the farm, she intercedes, changing paths in the process and ultimately creating new opportunities to express suppressed feelings.
The story is well written but its very talented cast is what truly makes this show a memorable delicacy. Acting and writing great Bill Norris is simply superb as "Tony Reilly", skillfully dishing out his lines with seasoned prowess and a profound candidness. Mark Montgomery is also right on mark and is highly likeable as Anthony and Kate Fry shines brightly with her razor sharp delivery and unbridled conviction as Rosemary. The chemistry and banter between Montgomery and Fry is nothing short of convincing, making the story as believable as it is cute and funny. Also contributing to the story’s sincerity is a rotating set that switches from one realistic farmhouse kitchen to another.
If you want a love story with just the right amount of laughs, challenges, tenderness and emotional depth, Outside Mullinger is a play with quick-witted and heartfelt dialogue that will certainly be enjoyed.
Outside Mullinger is being performed at Northlight Theatre through April 19th. Northlight Theatre is located at 9501 Skokie Boulevard in Skokie. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.northlight.org.
Attempting to tackle a slew of tough issues, Picture Imperfect is an emotional drama with good intention that raises awareness to the difficulties of...well, single motherhood, autism, drug abuse, gambling, abandonment, the hardships in dealing with Child Protective Services, spousal manipulationand eventually mental illness. Thoughall important issues, co-writing duo Joel Z. Cornfield and Richard James Zieman may have diluted their intended focus by planting too many different seeds in the garden. Still, as many subjects that are touched upon in its hour and forty-five minute duration, this story, partially inspired from true events, has its share of intense-filled moments, some stemming from sheer misfortune but most from a chain of poor decision making.
Cole is an autistic boy who expresses his thoughts with a paintbrush and canvas. His mother Mary is trying hard torebound from a string of unwise decisions that puts Cole's future into the hands of the Child Protective Services and, Eric, the eldest son, has all the athletic talent in the world but turns to a life of heroin abuse. George, the boys' gambling addicted father, has left four years ago where he has latched onto a stunning young beauty and convinces her to make pornographic videos for money. After his lengthy hiatus, George soon after returns to his family but with suspicious motives. With the threat of losing her son, Cole, to the system, Mary tries to recreate a healthy family environment. Our George and Mary here are about as far as they could be from the same named beloved couple in It's A Wonderful Life - rich in morale fiber, clean-nosed, thoughtful and family oriented. Perhaps the playwrights purposely played on such a disparity to demonstrate the immense contrast in character and circumstance - the results of love,understanding and sacrifice versus a selfishness to the point of destruction.
This is Dr. Joel Cornfield’s first contribution to the theatre is a tragedy piece but as the writer puts it, “There’s hope springing from tragedy.”
Barring a handful of passionate exchanges betweenmother and son and wife and estranged husband that get pretty penetrating, the two brightest spots in this play are Sarah Bright's demanding portrayal of Mary and Jamie McKinney's heartfelt performance as Eric. Alyssa mistress. The three are able to carry the cast to make this a respectable production along with its story that does just enough to keep it interesting. I do commend the writer's desire to bring to the table so many subjects that warrant concern and more awareness, but in this case slightly less may have been so much more.
Picture Imperfect is being performed at The Athenaeum Theatre through April 4th. For tickets and/or more show information call 773-935-6875 or visit www.athenaeumtheatre.org.
Kicking off their 25th anniversary season, Theatre at the Center makes a strong impression by presenting Ernest Thompson’s touching classic On Golden Pond. This 1979 Tony-Award winning play was later adapted for the big screen where it starred Henry Fonda, Jane Fonda and Katharine Hepburn and won an Oscar. On Golden Pond is a warm and moving story that deals with the challenges an elderly couple are going through during their twilight years and also focuses on a tempestuous relationship between father and daughter. It is also a story of reconciliation and rebirth.
Each year Norman and Ethel Thayer spend the summer at their quaint home on Golden Pond. Norman, pushing eighty-years-old is quite the curmudgeon and is still armed with a quick wit while Ethel, ten years his junior, finds all the little things in life wonderful. The pairing is super and utterly complementary to each other. While planning out his 80th birthday party, the often cranky Norman constantly speaks to Ethel as though it will be his last, which is taken with a grain of salt by his always optimistic wife. Norman’s memory is slowly fading and he has heart palpitations, which doesn’t help his outlook on the future. When his daughter, Chelsea, and her boyfriend, Billy Ray, come up to the lake house to join the party, we realize the tension that exists between father and daughter and slowly begin to understand that it stems from Norman’s desire to have had a son. Soon, Norman and Ethel’s summer is interrupted when Chelsea asks that Billy Ray’s thirteen-year-old son stay at the lake house for a month while they travel to Europe. Norman, who was reluctant at first on the idea, quickly bonds with the boy and we see a change of heart and a new attitude on life begin to manifest.
On Golden Pond is filled with many life lessons and we are better for having seen it.
Dennis Kelly is superb as Norman. The veteran actor is able convey a truckload of meaning in just a simple line. Equally as impressive is Ami Silvestre as Norman’s bouncy and vibrant counterpart, Ethel, Silvestre is so cute you just want to shrink her and tuck her away in your shirt pocket. But together the two are simply off the charts. Their playful zinging back and forth and the concern and love for each other they are able to display is not only believable it is magical. Norm Boucher also delivers in a key contributing role as Charlie, family friend and neighborhood mailman by boat.
Set in the interior of the Thayer’s summer lake home, we get plenty of heartfelt moments and surprisingly a good share of laughs that really balances out the show. This insightful love story is rich and the characters are perfectly layered creating an all-around well-themed, highly entertaining play that anyone of any age is sure to enjoy.
A quick thirty or so minutes from downtown Chicago, On Golden Pond is being performed at Theatre at the Center (1040 Ridge Road, Munster, Indiana) through March 29th. For tickets and/or more information visit www.TheatreAtTheCenter.com or call 800-511-1552.
*Photo - Dennis Kelly and Ami Silvestre as Norman and Ethel Thayer
As Samuel Beckett once stated, "Nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that. ... Yes, yes, it's the most comical thing in the world. And we laugh, we laugh, with a will, in the beginning. But it's always the same thing. Yes, it's like the funny story we have heard too often, we still find it funny, but we don't laugh anymore.” Unhappiness and the complete surrender to misery is found aplenty in Beckett’s Endgame now being performed at The Den Theatre and though humor can be found in the dialogue and in the mundane actions of its characters, we can’t help being overwhelmed by the story’s hopelessness.
The set is almost too good – the interior of a nightmarish, dilapidated house complete with a water-stained ceiling, worn, dirt-filled walls that are peeling, boarded up windows and bottles of urine lined up in the rear of the living room. The characters are as dilapidated and bizarre as the house. It is a dwelling of utter neglect – something you might imagine that has gone terribly wrong in the B.J. Gigglesnort hotel or perhaps a home you might expect the family from Texas Chainsaw massacre to live in. Director Halena Kays explains, “Our design team is full of long-time collaborators who will create an absurdist landscape that will involve and heighten the audience’s experience with this classic.” Not only is the set visually lush in itself but the theatre is decorated with hanging lighted picture boxes, a seating area that closer resembles a birthday party and carnival-like assortments scattered throughout the floor.
This one act, four character tragicomedy stars Kurt Ehrmann as the aging “Hamm” who is blind and cannot use his legs. He is bound to a makeshift wheelchair comprised of a beat up sitting chair atop a wooden cart with wheels that he obsessively insists be placed in the center of the room. He whistles for his caregiver “Clov” (Brian Shaw) to whom he barks one order after another and in his despair of existence is always asking if it is time for his next painkiller. “Clov” too is broken down, a creature of compulsive routine. When asked by “Hamm”, who recognizes the verbal abuse he so often dishes out, why he doesn’t leave, “Clov’s” response is simply “Where would I go?” It’s hopelessness at its best.
Ehrmann skillfully rips into one soliloquy after the next with rampant passion and we laugh at his anguish yet are haunted by his words at the same time. “Hamm” often speaks with his parents who appear from two garbage cans while “Clov” uses a kaleidoscope to check the on goings by the sea through a small, exposed portion of window that he can only access by hobbling awkwardly up his stepladder. In all, we see a frightening story of two decrepit men who have completely lost touch with anything normal about life who are trapped with each other and feed on pain and bleakness. And, in true Beckett fashion, we somehow find humor in that.
The Hypocrites production of Endgame is playing at The Den Theatre in Wicker Park through April 4th. For tickets and/or more information visit www.the-hypocrites.com.
*Photo - (left to right) Kurt Ehrmann, Brian Shaw and Donna McGough in The Hypocrites production of ENDGAME by Samuel Beckett, directed by Halena Kays. Photo by Evan Hanover.
Redletter is the latest creation by the Neo-Futurists, this piece written by ensemble member Lisa Buscani and directed by Jen Ellison. As Buscani puts it, “Everyone’s bemoaning about the ‘death of news’. But the news will never die, not as long as humans do newsworthy things.” That’s true…to a point as we see in Redletter when a news team covers a burrito.
Redletter hits on many media related issues such as how the rise of technology has affected the way news is delivered over the years, the mistakes in reporting and transferring the news along with the corrections that go unnoticed (if corrections are even made), the silly stories that have now become news, story oversaturation and the manipulation of media - it’s cause and effect. What you get in Redletter are samples of each while each issue is worthy of its own story and then some. As a viewer I felt a bit teased by the multiple issues brought to the table rather than watching a story that solely focuses on any of the above mentioned subjects. It’s mentioned at one point that a reporter is asked to make up the news leaving hope that corporate and government media manipulation would be addressed in depth, but instead the story jumps back to another questionable form of news delivery. Still, it’s nice to see attention paid to these unethical media practices that go unnoticed by many due to laziness, ignorance, complacency or simply the belief that our trusted news carriers would never purposely dupe the public. Kudos to Buscani for taking the initiative to tackle such a brave subject.
In true Neo-Futurist fashion we get a nice blend of witty humor and subject matter that we can take home and think about afterwards. Buscani is joined by ensemble members Bilal Dardai, Trevor Dawkins, Lindsay Muscato and Thea Lux who together combine for a very amusing cast, each contributing their own unique comic talent to collectively create a smart amalgam of absurd fun. Projections are plenty used in adding oomph to the show’s story including a comical montage of 1970s Robert Redford who Buscani sees as a real media man.
Trevor Dawkins steals much of the show with his genius transformation into his dad, an overly exaggerated portrayal of a hard-nosed CBS news man from the early 1980s who can be found partying at night in the clubs living it up with cocaine and Jack Daniels, but can also just as easily be found at his own “pity party”. Dawkins performance is as energetic as it is hilarious receiving one belly laugh after another from the crowd and in itself is a good enough reason the see Redletter: The News Done Medium Well.
The bottom line is this play has plenty of funny moments, and though Redletter might be trying to cram in too many issues at once with news and media, it does raise awareness to this important subject and makes us question what we deem as “news” and question the trust that we so often blindly put in the hands of “professional broadcasters and writers”.
Redletter is playing at The Neo-Futurarium through March 28th Thursday through Saturday at 7:30pm and tickets are very reasonable at just $20 ($10 for students and seniors). For tickets and/or more information visit www.neofuturists.org or call (773) 275-5255.
*Photo - Trevor Dawkins
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