Theatre in Review

Gentle breezes, crickets chirping (or whatever that sound is they make), and comfortably warm summer nights. We're here. And knowing it won't last forever, Chicagoans certainly relish the summer months, making the most of each balmy evening. And, you know it’s July when Shakespeare comes alive under the stars at Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook. Continuing their long run of Shakespeare classics, A Winter’s Tale and A Midsummer Nights Dream taking stage over the past two years, First Folio brings to life As You Like It, the rustic comedy that follows young Rosalind as she escapes to the Forest of Arden to avoid her uncle’s wrath. Rosalind is joined by her cousin Celia and the two, like in all great stories, meet many intriguing characters along their journey. Then there's Orlando, who also seeks refuge in the forest after being persecuted by his older brother, Oliver. But our hero, Orlando, is in love – with Rosalind whom he had briefly met after impressing her during a bout of strength, out wrestling her uncle’s champion, loving her at first glance.

Rosalind, disguised as a boy and Celia, dressed as a poor woman continue to trek through the forest, while at the same time Orlando, traveling with his elderly servant Adam who insisted to travel at his master’s side, does the same while obsessively carving poems of love on seemingly any tree he can find. It is when the Orlando and Adam run into the good Duke Sr. (ousted from the kingdom by the nefarious Duke Frederick) as their desperation for food brings them to her doorstep, that they are warmly taken in and soon realize that they have stumbled onto a hidden community that lives in harmony. Jaques, who plays somewhat of a confidant/friend to Duke Sr., gives us some of Shakespeare’s most famous lines when the forest is referred to as a theatre playing out its own story.

“All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” 

As the play progresses, multiple relationships are revealed and created around Orlando’s search for his true love, Rosalind and, in the end, everything ties together just beautifully, as Shakespeare’s pen so often did.

The many performances in this humorous adventure are done with passion and zest. Nicholas Harizin as Orlando and Leslie Ann Sheppard as Rosalind lead the play’s talented cast with a fire-infused appetite, it’s outcome an honest, raw passion to which we can truly relate. The two as comfortable in their roles as I am in my favorite pajama pants. And it would be difficult to find an actor who does Shakespeare better than Kevin McKillip, whose seamless delivery as Jaques so effectively pulls out the humor in Shakespeare’s writing. Luke Daigle stands out as Orlando’s hate-filled brother, Oliver, while Belinda Bremner as Duke Sr. is nothing less than mesmerizing. The cast in its entirety is strong and one would be hard-pressed to find any shortcomings in any of the performances by its talented individuals. In the role of Amiens, Amanda Raquel Martinez even shows off her guitar and vocal skills in a handful of haunting numbers. Standing out as Hermia in last year’s A Midsummer Nights Dream, Sarah Wisterman returns this time as Phebe again impressing while Vahishta Vafadari is very funny as runaway cousin, Celia and Courtney Abbott shines as the highly energetic Touchstone.

Well directed by Skyler Schrempp, the play is yet another ode to the excitement of falling in love and the adventures that come with such a happening and the toils one will undertake in order to find his or her soulmate.

As You Like It comes highly recommended as one of this year’s best outdoor summer experiences.

Surrounded by trees and a beautiful landscape, As You Like It is being performed on the grounds of the Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook through August 20th. Guests are invited to bring chairs, blankets and picnic baskets. And just to add a final touch of comfort, bug spray is provided along with bug repellent candles. As You Like It has a running time of two hours and twenty-five minutes with one intermission. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.firstfolio.org. Enjoy!

Published in Theatre in Review

Experience one of Shakespeare’s classic romances, as First Folio Theatre (Mayslake Peabody Estate, 31st St. & Rt. 83) presents AS YOU LIKE IT, previewing July 12, opening Saturday, July 15 at 8:15p.m.and closing August 20. Set in modern day Arden and directed by Skyler Schrempp, this delightful tale whisks audiences away to another world. During the summer season, First Folio’s productions are held outside on the grounds of the gorgeous Mayslake Peabody Estate mansion, and guests are invited to bring their picnic baskets, candelabras, blankets and chairs, and wine and cheese to enjoy the productions under the stars.

A timeless story, AS YOU LIKE IT, follows Rosalind who must disguise herself as a boy to survive in the Forest of Arden. She has little hope that she will ever meet the dashing Orlando again, but the Forest is full of surprises and unexpected visitors. When Rosalind finds the exiled Orlando hanging love poems on trees, she must keep her wits about her and her identity as secret as possible. Before long, she finds herself in the midst of one of the most complicated love triangles Shakespeare ever wrote for the stage. A story of love at first sight, AS YOU LIKE IT will leave you writing on trees and looking up at the stars.

The cast of AS YOU LIKE IT is led by Leslie Ann Sheppard as Rosalind, Nick Harazin as Orlando, Vahishta Vafadari as Celia, with Luke Daigle as Oliver, Courtney Abbott as Touchstone, Kevin McKillip as Jaques, Belinda Bremner as Duke Senior, Sarah Wisterman as Phebe, Micheal Angelo Smith as Silvius, Jim Morley as Adam, Philip Winston as Duke Frederick, Evan Michalic as Charles the Wrestler, Matthew Moore as Corin, Amanda Raquel Martinez as Amiens, and Sierra Schnack as Audrey. The ensemble includes Karly Hanna, Bailey Hayman, Robin Minkens and Jared Michael Sheldon.

The artistic team includes Scenic Designer Angela Weber Miller (Dr. Seward’s Dracula at First Folio Theatre), Lighting Designer Michael McNamara (The Turn of the Screw at First Folio); Original Music and Sound Design by Christopher Kriz (Roz and Ray at Victory Gardens Theatre), Costume Designer Mieka van der Ploeg, Properties Designer Cassandra Schillo. Stage Manager is Miranda Anderson, and Sarah West and Lina Benich serve as Assistant Stage Managers.

AS YOU LIKE IT runs Wednesdays through Sundays with 8:15pm performances each evening. First Folio is easy to get to via the East-West Tollway (I-88) or the Stevenson Expressway (I-55). Free parking is available on the grounds. Preview tickets are $23. Regular priced tickets are $29 Wednesdays and Thursdays (seniors and students are $26), and $39 on Fridays through Sundays (seniors and students are $36). $10 tickets are available for children 13 and under. For Season subscriptions and tickets, call the box office at 630.986.8067 or visit www.firstfolio.org.

Published in Upcoming Theatre

In the action-packed world premiere of Captain Blood, First Folio Executive Producer David Rice along with his wife, Artistic Director Alison C. Vesely, have collaborated on a swashbuckling adventure that is sure to be long remembered for its choreographed swordfights, enthralling story and witty comicality. Sadly, Alison recently lost a two-year battle with cancer and passed away just two months before Captain Blood’s debut. But her final collaboration with her husband will undoubtedly leave its mark on those who see it, as it is sure to be rooted in the minds of audience members thanks to Rice’s skilled writing, a talented cast and a strong directing effort. A fitting tribute to Alison C. Vesley, Captain Blood is stamped with Rice’s humor and is engulfed with a subtle warm-heartedness throughout and not-so-subtle theme of love that can only exist in a project of true passion.  

Adapted from Rafeal Sabatini’s 1922 classic novel Captain Blood (later turned into a film in 1935), theatre goers are regaled to the captivating high seas exploit of Peter Blood, a 17th century British physician, imprisoned by his own country for treating enemy Spanish soldiers. Blood is soon sold to a plantation on a Caribbean island for ten pounds where he becomes a slave. It’s not long after his enslavement that Blood falls in love with the niece of the plantation’s owner, Arabella Bishop. But after a daring escape, Blood soon takes to the waters, this time as a Caribbean pirate captain, whose favorite pastime is robbing Spanish ships. Throughout his pillaging, we wonder if Captain Blood will once again cross paths with his love, Arabella. 

Wonderfully directed by Janice L. Blixt, Captain Blood is a thrilling story of romance and freedom. Though a fast-paced pirate adventure, Blixt does a fantastic job of implementing a strong leitmotif of love as the play’s underlying driving force. 

Nick Sandys (Artistic Director of Remy Bumppo) leads this gifted cast as Captain Blood, a role that Rice immediately envisioned for the dashing actor five years ago during the project’s inception. Not only does Sandys deliver a picture-perfect performance as the charming, yet dynamic captain, he is also the contributing force behind the choreography of the play’s many dazzling swordfights and action scenes.  Sandys is joined by Heather Chrisler as his subject of love, Arebella Bishop. Some might remember Chrisler for her compelling portrayal of Virginia Poe in Rice’s brilliant work, The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe. Though not as challenging a role as Virginia Poe, Chrisler is as flawless as can be as Arebella, giving Sandys a believable counterpart to whom we can truly relate. 

The play also gets a boost from veteran actor Kevin McKillip whose previous work includes First Folio’s The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe and The Winter’s Tale. McKillip takes on dual roles as both Hagthorpe, a ship crew member who helps narrate the play, and Don Alan, a Spanish sea captain. It is McKillip who draws the biggest laughs due to his delicious comic timing and hilarious delivery of a Castilian Spanish accent. Other nods go to Christopher W. Jones as Wolverton, Sam Krey as Lord Julian and Aaron Christensen as Colonel Bishop/Harper.

With its many characters donning costumes to the likeness of the era and a vast set that is often used as a nautical vessel complete with trapdoors and projections of the Caribbean seascape, it is easy to get lost into this classic story. 

Captain Blood is an adventurous production that is sure to capture the hearts and imagination of all those who are seeking high seas fun, action and love. Recommended as a show the entire family can enjoy, Captain Blood will be performed at the Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook through February 26th. For tickets and/or more information on this beautifully adapted for stage production of the definitive novel, click here

 

Published in Theatre in Review

From the moment you enter the darkened and eerie Tudor Revival styled Mayslake Peabody Estate and are handed a dance card indicating which group of theater goers you will follow throughout the performance, the tension and excitement of this wonderful production begins to mount. Not long after First Folio Theatre’s “The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe: A Love Story” begins the audience is divided, following different sets of actors from room to room.  

The large, dark house, lit by the light of the full "Blood Moon" on opening night is still haunted by the memory of the husband who lovingly built the entire estate for his wife over a decade and then passed away during a fox hunt the year after it was finished. This site specific mansion is the perfect theater setting for this dynamic and revealing look at Edgar Allen Poe's work as a hugely successful fiction writer as well as his tragic life and loves. 

It is very rare, with the large amount of theater I see, week after week, that I am watching a show and at the same time planning in my mind which friends of mine I would like to come back and see it with again.

I loved how the audience moved from room to room within the mansion, sometimes seeing a portion of a scene while standing in a hallway or while entering the genuine antique chapel built after the estate was sold.  It was a lot of fun and gave the audience a feeling of mystery and danger, as though we were instant comrades and active participants in the play itself. 

Christopher Kriz did a fantastic job with the tricky sound design in each of the authentically scary rooms of this aging mansion. Each sound Kriz creates building the tension and surrounds the tiny audience in such a way that we really felt the Tell-Tale Heart beating in our own ears, not just coming out of a single speaker anywhere. 

I learned so much about Poe's life and work that I had not known before. The sad irony that not only did he watch his mother die of consumption at the tender age of six, he then witnessed the slow death of his adoring stepmother and finally his wife Virginia wasting away and coughing up blood daily from the same devastating disease. 

I also did not realize what an amazing amount, and romantically stunning quality, of love letters and love poetry Poe wrote in his lifetime to his wife Virginia and often to another married woman named Annie whom he loved from afar. 

On the back of the dance card is printed the single sad poem his wife Virginia, his first cousin whom he married when he was 27 and she just 13 years old, although they did not consummate the marriage until she was 16. The tragic fact that they shared just nine blissful years together, four of them while she was healthy and five where she began to deteriorate from consumption. He made the right decision to follow his heart and court her from pretty much the moment they met because he knew on some unconscious level that their precious time together was ticking away quite quickly and he died just two years after her passing at the age of 40.   

Christian Gray, who portrays Poe, does a stunning job of showing the sadness and turmoil inside of Poe while never losing the absolute passion and headstrong devotion for his wife Virginia. Gray seems to drink in like a thirsty vampire the femininely beautiful essence of his wife Virginia from her head to toe in every scene. You sense that Gray, whose eyes are often brimming with tears,  as if struggling to speak - as if his next breath depends solely upon seeing her loving reaction to him and his writings in every moment and every delicate hour that passed between them.  Without Gray's nicely sensual, sometimes earthy and sometimes heart wrenching performance, the "Love Story" portion of this play would not have been nearly as convincing. 

Diana Mair makes a lovely, charming, sensitive portrayal of Poe’s wife Virginia.  Mair's sympathetic, yet lighthearted telling of Poe's tragic early years and her burning love for him comes off with a mature, yet modernly sassy quality that makes you understand how he could be so in love with her and then so completely lost without her as his enthusiastic muse after her untimely death at the age of 22. 

Actor Kevin McKillip, also outstanding, has several great, and fright building scenes as the madman in the retelling of "The Tell-Tale Heart" and as a prisoner locked in a dungeon with the blade of a scythe rapidly approaching to cut him apart in “The Pit and the Pendulum", appropriately performed in a room so dark you could not see the person sitting next to you. 

Here is just one of Poe's hundreds of love letter/poems to Annie, one of his few unrequited loves:

“So long as I think that you know I love you, as no man ever loved woman - so long as I think you comprehend in some measure, the fervor with which I adore you, so long, no worldly trouble can ever render me absolutely wretched. But oh, my darling, my Annie, my own sweet sister Annie, my pure beautiful angel - wife of my soul - to be mine hereafter and forever in the Heavens - how shall I explain to you the bitter, bitter anguish which has tortured me since I left you?”

In a surprising and childlike way Poe signed his letters to her, and to his beloved wife Virginia with the adorable “forever your own, Eddy…”.

I highly recommend this scary, yet passionately romantic retelling of Poe's life and hard won genius. It will definitely make you want to read more of Poe's work, especially his prolific amount of luscious, spellbinding love letters! 

By the end of the play you understand why ALL of the women in his life, were utterly captured and held close by his heartfelt writings to them and adored him so completely during the short time on earth they each shared with him. 

First Folio Theatre’s “The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe: A Love Story” is being performed at the Mayslake Peabody Mansion in Oakbrook through November 4th. For more information on this unique and haunting production, visit www.firstfolio.org.

*One note, on disability access, First Folio may want to add a disclaimer on its website informing the disabled and elderly theatre goers that the play does require climbing some stairs and brief standing in addition to its mention that the show moves around the mansion. 

 

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

Set beneath the stars on the beautiful grounds that encompass the ever-impressive Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook, Illinois, First Folio Theatre Company continues its rich tradition in bringing engaging, well-acted and provocative stage performances to life that can be enjoyed by most every type of theatre goer. This year’s summer production is no less entertaining as William Shakespeare’s “The Winter Tale” takes to the outdoor stage - the story of a king who pays the consequences for being too quick to judge others.

Just a short walk from the mansion itself, the stage sits affront a handful of chairs and plenty of green to throw down a blanket in order to enjoy a picnic beforehand and then lie back and take in the show. Outdoor plays on the grounds have been taking place since 1997 and as one employee quotes, “It’s like Ravinia, only with closer parking.” And as for pesky mosquitos – not to worry – complimentary bug spray is available if needed along with insect repelling candles strategically placed around the lawn.

“The Winter’s Tale” begins when King Leonetes, in a fit of paranoid jealousy, wrongfully alleges his wife of having an affair with the visiting King of Bohemia, Polixenes. Standing true to his misguided accusations, his life slowly unravels as be becomes responsible for the death of his wife after deporting their newborn child to which he believes is a bastard and, in the process, also loses Camillo, his closest friend, advisor and confidant. When a shepherd stumbles upon Leonetes’ daughter, a new life in a new kingdom awaits her – that Kingdom being Bohemia. Fate takes an unpredicted turn. As she, now named Perdita, gets older, love blossoms between she and a Bohemian prince, Florizel, son of Polixenes. It is much later and with much regret for his wrongful actions that Leonetes tries to find redemption for the things he has done. Though we ask ourselves if it is too late for the remorseful king.

Kevin McKillip is powerful as the wayward king, Leonetes. With a very strong stage presence and Shakespearean dialogue delivered with such emphatic passion to the letter, McKillip is a true pleasure to watch. Kyle Haden as Camillo and Diana Coates as the queen’s trustful aide, Paulina, also give hard-hitting, jaw-dropping performances as does Ryan Czerwonko (Florizel), Kevin Theis (Polixenes) and Melissa Carlson (Queen Hermoine). Thankfully, the entire cast pulls their weight and then some.

Finely directed by Jeff Award-nominee Alison C. Vesely, “The Winter’s Tale” is the perfect outdoor treat as the story is intriguing from beginning to end, the set elaborate, the costumes colorful and the acting par for the course.

First Folio Theatre’s “The Winter’s Tale” is being performed through August 9th during its annual outdoor Shakespearean Under the Stars series on the grounds of the Mayslake Peabody Mansion. For tickets and/or more event 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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