Theatre in Review

Willa is too old to live alone in her flat, and she has “accidents”. That’s why her well-meaning daughter brings her to a suburban London nursing home, “just to try it out”. Originally from Galway, Willa (convincingly played by Belinda Bremner) starts an unlikely friendship with a good-natured 24-year-old nursing home assistant Byron (very talented and highly animated Terry Bell). Byron, an illegal immigrant from South Africa, comes from extreme poverty and family tragedy, but, despite his hard life, he’s kind and funny, and the pair gets along oh so well, always laughing, telling each other stories and falling closer together. Meanwhile, Willa’s married daughter Catherine (Carolyn Kruse) has very little time for her mother; she’s busy carrying on an affair with a younger man. All in all, living at the nursing home wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the sadistic head nurse Sister Chang (Christine Bunuan). Sister Chang is a colorful character; she likes to “discipline” residents and doesn’t hesitate to go through their belongings to satisfy a sweet tooth.


The My Way Residential is a very charming play; it’ll make you laugh and it’ll make you cry too, but you will not be bored; far from it. The cast is fantastic, and writing wonderful. Not to mention the old-British-TV-show vibe to it that’s irresistible.


Directed by ensemble member Kevin Theis and written by Geraldine Aron, this tragi-comedy is a world premiere from Irish Theatre of Chicago that concludes its 2016-2017 Season. The My Way Residential is currently playing at The Den Theatre (Upstairs Main Stage) through June 25th. For more show information and to purchase tickets visit http://irishtheatreofchicago.org/.

Published in Theatre in Review

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

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

 

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