Theatre in Review

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

Following the lives of Charlotte and Jonny, The Mystery of Love and Sex cleverly explores a variety of subjects including sexual identity, race, political correctness and family undercurrents. Charlotte and Jonny have grown up together and have become the very best of friends. Charlotte is a white girl who had lived with her parents, her father Jewish and her mother converted, while Jonny, an African American had lived with his mother just next door. 

The story starts off with Charlotte and Jonny living together while attending college. They wonder if their longtime friendship can develop into something more. The two are stressed when Charlotte’s parents, Howard and Lucinda, come by for dinner unsure of what they might think of their living relationship and their possible future together. Howard, a  successful crime novelist accused of writing with racist and sexist overtones by Jonny ("Why are all black men able to dance? Why are most found victims women with no clothes on?"), is direct, concerned and, at times, a bit skeptical. “What is this? Like Bohemian?” He says referring to the couple’s table setting. It doesn’t help matters that Charlotte and Jonny are serving just salad and bread. But we quickly see how much Howard cares for both his daughter Charlotte and Jonny, who he considers his son, despite his oft coarse exterior. 

As the story progresses, Charlotte and Jonny show trepidation in pursuing a future together even questioning their own sexuality. Howard and Lucinda, who consider themselves liberal parents, just want their daughter to be happy. We are then taken on several plot twists and turns in both Howard and Lucinda’s marriage and the lives of Jonny and Charlotte that keep the story highly engaging.

Keenly directed by Marti Lyons and smartly written by Bathsheba Doran, The Mystery of Love and Sex provides four main characters that are each appealing in their own ways. The interactions between the four is fulfilling, as it is humorous, touching and true to life. Doran’s story is that of love, whether it be unconditional or the lengths taken to find it. It is a journey into life’s most sought after desire and a tribute to accepting those for who they are.  

"I have had the pleasure of following the impressive rising careers of playwright Bash Doran and Director Marti Lyons for the past few years and I am delighted to find a project that suited both their considerable talents so perfectly," says Artistic Director Michael Halberstam.

Hayley Burgess leads the way as Charlotte with a bold performance in her Writers Theatre debut. Charlotte has many layers that are revealed throughout the play and Burgess gently takes the audience by the hand into her character’s depth one step at a time. Best friend and confidant Jonny is well-played by Travis Turner who is also able to play up to the complexities in his role with much aplomb. Lia Mortensen is just fantastic as Lucinda, delivering her witty lines to perfection and getting several laughs in the way her character struggles to quit smoking. Cast in the role of Howard is Keith Kupferer. However, Kupferer had taken ill and was unavailable for the performance I had attended thrusting Mark David Kaplan into the role, who is simply remarkable. Kaplan steers his role with grit and finesse offering the clear predictability of Howard’s stereotype, but is also able to throw in a handful of surprising moments filled with a genuineness than can catch us off guard. Kaplan and Mortensen are terrific as Charlotte’s parents, bringing forth plenty of funny exchanges and throwing several well-timed darts at each other.

There is a lot to like in Doran’s The Mystery of Love and Sex from its tantalizing script to its well-executed performances. The play delivers a solid message in a uniquely crafty way that is entertaining from beginning to end. 

Recommended. 

The Mystery of Love and Sex is currently running at Writers Theatre (325 Tudor Court, Glenview) through July 2nd. For tickets and/or more show information click here

*This play contains frontal nudity.

Published in Theatre in Review

 

 

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