Theatre in Review

Set in the 18th century French countryside, First Folio Theatre vividly brings to life Joseph Zettelmaier’s “The Man-Beast”, a romantic, yet frightening, tale just in time for the Halloween season. The final installment of Zettelmaier’s horror trilogy, “The Man-Beast” follows first works “The Gravedigger” and “Dr. Seward’s Dracula” and, staying true to form, steadily builds in suspense from its first scene to the story’s climactic ending. Staged ever so appropriately inside the Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook, theatre goers are in for a spooky treat that is as sexy as it is haunting.

When a werewolf ravages the countryside, no one is safe. A trail of blood leaves local villagers dead along with an escalating amount of livestock. It is then that King Louis XVI puts a bounty on the beast in the hopes the threat can be eliminated once and for all. The villagers believe the beast to be Loup-Garou, the legendary werewolf who has terrorized the countryside in the past.

The story begins when trapper Jean Chastel bangs on the door of Virginia Allard. He is hurt having suffered a bite from the beast that he believes he has killed, though the animal seems to have vanished. Allard lives alone in the forest, her house decorated with dead animals that she herself had stuffed, her kitchen shelves cluttered with bottles of herbs, wood burns in her fireplace creating a flickering glow throughout the room. The “Witch of the Woods” as she jokingly calls herself is not one to take chances as she carries a large hunting knife on her person.

After Allard tends to Chastel’s wounds we see a tumultuous relationship between the two develop, as well as a plan to cash in on the large reward. But both are cautious and struggle to trust each other, having been betrayed in the past. We wonder if either will hold true to their word.

Filled with mystery, suspense and mounting sexual tension, “The Man-Beast” works well thanks to its powerful cast of two, Elizabeth Laidlaw as Virginia Allard and Aaron Christensen as Jean Chastel. Laidlaw, whose theatre credits include Steppenwolf, The Goodman and many others, is nothing short of sensational offering several scenes filled with an electricity that would be hard to match. Laidlaw’s counterpart, Christensen, also puts forth a fierce performance and the chemistry between the two is undeniable. Hayley Rice skillfully directs this classic piece, strategically getting the most in the play’s finishing touches from a talented artistic team that includes Angela Weber Miller (Scenic Design), Christopher Kriz (Sound Design), Rachel Lambert (Costume Design) Vivian Knouse (Properties Design), Rachel Flesher (Violence Design) and Julia Zayas-Melendez (Stage Manager).

Played with much ferocity and passion, the performances we get from Laidlaw and Christensen are alone well worth the price of admission. When you add a story that is sure to engage even the most casual of horror fans from beginning to end and a creative set that visually takes us miles away and so easily nudges our imagination in just the right way, we are presented with a production that has all the ingredients needed to promise a thoroughly entertaining theatrical Halloween event.

Highly recommended. *Parental discretion is advised due to a handful of racy scenes.

First Folio’s “The Man-Beast” is being performed at Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook through November 5th. For tickets and/or more production information, visit www.firstfolio.org.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

In its 22nd season, First Folio Theatre (Mayslake Peabody Estate, 31st St. & Rt. 83.) is delighted to present a chilling, humorous and thought-provoking 2017-2018 season, beginning with the World Premiere of THE MAN-BEAST, which previews October 4-6, opens October 7 and runs through November 5, 2017, followed by the Chicago premiere of WOMEN IN JEOPARDY, which previews in January 24-26, opens January 27 and runs through February 25, 2018. The charming and emotional MARY’S WEDDING previews March 28-30, opens March 31 and runs through April 29, 2018 and the World Premiere musical, based on the classic “The Taming of the Shrew”, SHREW’D, is the featured production for the Shakespeare Under the Stars summer series, previewing July 11-13, opens July 14 and runs through August 19, 2018.
 
A dangerously romantic werewolf tale based on real events, THE MAN-BEAST starts the season, directed by Hayley Rice. From the playwright who wrote The Gravedigger and Dr. Seward’s Dracula, comes the final installment of his classic horror trilogy, a werewolf tale straight out of history. In the 18th century French countryside, a mysterious wild-animal is ravaging the livestock and citizenry, leaving behind a trail of blood and death. When Louis XVI puts a bounty on the animal, the mystery and horror only deepen. No one has seen the perpetrator, but the citizens have seen the gory results of its savage attacks and suspect that it’s a Loup-Garou, the savage werewolf of French legend. THE MAN-BEAST is a must-see show crafted by Joseph Zettelmaier, who is described as having “a gift for creating easily digested but emotionally resonant portraits of essential truth,” by The Chicago Tribune and noted for how he “creates tantalizing stories,” by The Sun-Times News Group. THE MAN-BEAST previews October 4-6, opens October 7 and runs through November 5, 2017.
 
WOMEN IN JEOPARDY is the comedy that results when Thelma and Louise meets The First Wives Club. When your best friend is dating a serial killer, do you tell her if she seems happy? Divorcees Mary, Jo, and Liz are best friends, always looking out for each other. So when Mary and Jo begin to suspect that Liz’s new boyfriend is a serial killer, they begin an investigation to prove it to her and save her life. Things go from humorously tricky to hilariously complex when Liz’s daughter Amanda and her boyfriend Trenner get involved. WOMEN IN JEOPARDY is written by Wendy MacLeod, author of The House of Yes (Miramax Films starring Parker Posey), Schoolgirl Figure (World Premiere at The Goodman) and Things Being What They Are (Steppenwolf), and features Artistic Associates Lydia Berger Gray, Melanie Keller and Joe Foust, with Gail Rastorfer. Boston Stages calls WOMEN IN JEOPARDY “pitch-perfect… a comedy romp,” and according to The Boston Globe, “the laughs come fast and furious… modern, lively, and loads of fun!”The show will begin previews January 24-26, open January 27 and run through February 25, 2018.
 
MARY’S WEDDING is an epic, unforgettable story of love, hope, and survival. In honor of the 100th Anniversary of the end of World War I, First Folio presents a tale of the price that must be paid when innocence and youth collide on the eve of war. Written by Stephen Massicotte, the production will be directed by Melanie Keller and feature Artistic Associate Heather Chrisler. When Mary and Charlie fall in love one summer’s day, little do they know that they are already in the center of a collapsing, brutal world. Together they attempt to hide their love, galloping through the fields for a place and time where the tumultuous uncertainties of battle can’t find them. Variety says the show "weaves a theatrical spell of hope, regret and memory.” MARY’S WEDDING will begin to preview March 28-30, open March 31 and run through April 29, 2018.

This summer, First Folio Theatre presents the musical SHREW’D: Shakespeare’s Bawdiest Comedy… with a Modern Twist, marking the theatre’s 22nd summer of presenting Shakespeare Under the Stars. Adapted by David Rice from one of Shakespeare’s hilarious “The Taming of the Shrew,” SHREW’D, directed by Johanna McKenzie Miller, turns Shakespeare’s comic battle of the sexes on its head. SHREW’D, set in 1930’s jazz-infused Chicago with lyrics by David Rice and music by Michael Keefe, offers a Kate who is Petruchio’s equal, and makes him happy to discover it. From the team that brought the 2013, double Jeff-Award winning hit musical Cymbeline: A Musical Folktale, SHREW’D will preview July 11-13, open July 14 and run through August 19, 2018.
 
All performances take place at the Mayslake Peabody Estate, located at 1717 W 31st St., off Rt. 83, in Oak Brook. First Folio is easy to get to from via the East-West Tollway (I-88) or the Stevenson Expressway (I-55). Free parking is available on the grounds. Preview tickets are $25. Regular priced tickets are $34 Wednesdays and Thursdays (seniors and students are $29), and $44 on Fridays through Sundays (seniors and students are $39). Three and four show subscriptions are available for $63-$115. During the summer show, a special pricing of $10 will also be offered for children age 14 and under who are accompanied by a parent. Season subscriptions and individual tickets go on sale on June 1, 2017 and may be purchased by calling the box office at 630.986.8067 or online at www.firstfolio.org.

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

In one of William Shakespeare’s most popular works, A Midsummer Night’s Dream has been performed widely across the world, this summer finding a temporary home at First Folio Theatre (Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook). Celebrating twenty years of the company’s annual Shakespeare Under the Stars Production, theatre goers are treated to a comedy that is acted out to perfection. Not only do we get a myriad of fine acting performances, the colorful costumes and imaginative set lend greatly to a magical night out when coupled with the fact that the stage is surrounded by the vast night sky, a backdrop of thick trees and happy picnickers beyond the first few rows of seats. 

A comedy that features mischievous faeries who live within the forest, the play focuses on the events leading up to the marriage of Duke Theseus and Hippolyta, an affair taking place just on the edge of Fairyland. With interconnecting plots, the story unfolds of Hermia who is in love with Lysander despite her father Egues’ arrangement that marry Demetrius. Infuriated, Egues calls upon Athenian law to which Hermia would face death if she chooses not to wed the suitor hand-picked by her father. At the same time Demetrius is loved by Helena but her offerings are rejected. Naturally, Oberon, the king of the faeries and Titania, his queen, cannot help but meddle with the four lovers and mistakes are made.

The story also follows a colorful band of laborers, or “mechanicals” as referred to by the fairy, Puck, who are to perform a play about Pyramus and Thisbe for Theseus’ wedding. The mechanicals too are manipulated by the faeries ultimately performing their play so poorly that it is mistaken for a comedy – one of the highlight’s of this charming production. 

Steve Pebbles as the over-confident and highly zealous mechanical, Bottom, and Sarah Wisterman as Hermia are certainly scene-stealers beautifully translating Shakespearean humor to that of today’s. Both Pebbles and Wisterman display a knack for comedic line delivery along with the perfect touch of physical humor that really opens the door wide open for this comedy to breathe at just the right pace. But as much as Pebbles and Wisterman stand out, the play is not without other tremendous performances including Michael Joseph Mitchell in the dual roles of Theseus and Oberon, Tony Carter as Demetrius, Sydney Germaine as Puck and Ali Burch as Helena. In all, we get a very strong cast that delivers, skillfully playing off each other in bouts of impressive exchanges filled with passion and humor. 

Hayley Rice finely directs this classic comedy that deals with the muddle and complications that relate to love. Rice opts for dual casting for the roles of Titania and Hippolyta as well as Theseus and Oberon, avoiding confusion by creating a fairy world that takes place in modern day, thus sneakers, sunglasses and a boom box as opposed to buckled shoes and sixteenth century instruments. The twist works to separate the characters and creates an entertaining group that could easily be found at Paisley Park, but it does away from the fairy-tale period that we have come to identify A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A fascinating production that has just the right amount of laughs, fantasy and trickery, First Folio’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a memorable summer event that keenly interprets Shakespeare for today’s audience thanks to its outstanding direction and role execution by this talented cast. 

Audience comfort is also considered. Mosquito repellent candles are strategically placed throughout the first few rows where padded seats are lined with blankets to share. Attendees can also choose to bring their own lawn chairs or blankets and sit wherever they like. With a show start time of 8:15 pm, First Folio invites guests to enter the grounds at 6:45 pm should they like to picnic or simply take in the atmosphere. Quaint, family-friendly and enchanting, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is being performed on the grounds of Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook Wednesday through Sunday until August 14th. Tickets are a bargain at from $29-$39 with children under thirteen at just $10. FOr tickets and/or more show information, visit www.firstfolio.org.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

Well, you just can’t go wrong with Neil Simon, one of the greatest Jewish playwrights of all time and a solid grouping of well trained Chicago character actors like the cast assembled at First Folio Theatre in Oakbrook. “Laughter” is based on Sid Caesar’s beloved “Your Show of Shows” where Simon was a junior writer during the period in which McCarthyism and commercial sponsorship really began to apply their stranglehold on American TV and American writers in general.

Rene Ruelas, as the lead Max Prince, does a fantastic job portraying the manic and wildly erratic neurotically Jewish comedian with an undercurrent of boiling rage at the rope of McCarthyism closing round his show’s neck. The studio is threatening to turn it from a 90 minute show full of erudite and intellectual comedic references into a 60 minute vehicle to sell toothpaste or soap. Every once in a while Simon mentions in this piece the blacklisting and communist witch hunt that ruined so many innocent American writers lives during that period which gives the play more gravitas and makes the stakes higher for all the characters.

Kevin McKillip's hypochondriac Ira really does remind me of Kramer’s energy in Seinfeld and his way-way out physical comedy antics really pay off with some big laughs from beginning to end. When Ira and Prince argue violently over an eminent firing of one of the staff members to appease the studio and rather end up literally forcing each other to say “I Love You”, I really felt the depth of affection between these two and the writers group as a whole. When it appears that they all must fight just to stay on the air at all one of the writers says we must because, "Maybe we'll never have this much fun again in our entire lives.” Hayley Rice's, “Carol” is dynamite as the sole female writer in this group who keeps pace with “the boys” and then some.

Angela Weber Miller's set design really hearkens back to the period and felt very real in part because this theater was built in the historic Mayslake Peabody Mansion. Thanks to realistic stage props, a well-schemed interior and fitting costume design, we really get the feeling of what it must have felt like to be in a writer’s room in New York during the 1950s.   

There’s something so fresh and current about every play Neil Simon wrote including this one which is not as often performed as some of his bigger Broadway hits. This cast of seasoned character actors brings the Max Prince Show and all of the excitement and frustration of making a living writing comedy circa 1950s come to life in a wonderful way. “Laughter” makes you feel as if you have stepped back in time to rally them and to also remember their courage while up against NBC’s over-wielding of power and the rise of commie-hunting McCarthyism.

Laughter on the 23rd Floor is a delight with plenty of quick one-liners that pace this funny Neil Simon piece. For tickets and/or more information, visit www.firstfolio.org.

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

 

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