Upcoming Theatre

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

Some of us are born with a passion, a passion for music or art or math. In the case of First Folio’s Silent Sky, one woman gives up almost everything in her personal life because she senses furiously, in her heart, that HER passion is going to lead to a discovery that will help all of humankind. This special woman, Henrietta Swan Leavitt (1868–1921), turns out be absolutely correct. 

 

Like the popular film "Hidden Figures", the 2011 play Silent Sky by playwright Lauren Gunderson, now making it's Chicago Premiere, tells a very important real life example of how women have been making significant contributions to Science and the Arts against almost impossible odds due to sexism in the work place. Leavitt is wonderfully played with a great zesty and nerdy enthusiasm by Cassandra Bissell who adds just the right amount of seditious touch to the headstrong and very determined character. She is one of the women termed "computers" by their male employers who has been given the great "honor" of painstakingly cataloging all the stars in the sky captured on glass plates by a telescope. As a new employee, she is never allowed to operate the high-powered telescope or use privately her own ideas to validate her own discoveries while earning a whopping $.25 an hour. 

 

Leavitt is a proud, brilliant Radcliffe graduate. She jokes with her male supervisor Peter Shaw (keenly played by Wardell Julius Clark) that she and he are in fact "colleagues" that "Radcliffe is basically Harvard in skirts." As they fall in love with each other, he begins to soften on some of his more sexist behaviors including "borrowing" ideas from Leavitt to give to the professor (to whom she will never directly report) her discoveries by trying to claim them as his own. Leavitt is hired as one of Harvard astronomer Dr. Edward Charles Pickering's "computers" or, as they were referred to as "Pickering's Harem”.

 

Leavitt's work came at a time when we as earthlings had no idea where we were located in the Milky Way nor did we know how far away the billions of stars and galaxies made visible by the super powerful new telescope really are from our planet. Leavitt observes closely the luminosity of a class of stars known as Cepheid variables. Others had thought their flashes of light completely random, but through years of study and an epiphany provided by her musically inclined sister, Margaret (Haley Rice), who is composing a symphony in between giving birth to multiple children, Leavitt discovers that the stars are actually making sounds, a music of the stars. This eventually provided the ONLY key to measuring the distance between Earth and other galaxies. Creating the standard to measure the distance of stars from Earth, many male astronomers like Edwin Hubble greedily feasted on her published work to make names for themselves but poor Henrietta dies of cancer before one of them finally realizes she deserves to be nominated for, and win, the Nobel Prize - but the Nobel is not given posthumously and so she was never even nominated for it. 

 

Annie Cannon (Jeannie Affelder) and Willamina Fleming (Belinda Bremner) play her fellow "computers" with a lusty, strong intelligence. The three characters develop a genuine family, a sisterhood, believing in Henrietta and encouraging her to take her work home with her (the glass plates are not allowed to leave the observatory) even when she is forced to move home to Wisconsin to take care of her dying father. 

 

In the end, Henrietta gives up a promising offer of marriage to Shaw, the chance to have children of her own, and even her dream of traveling the world in order to complete her work. 

 

Although I thought the gray monotone set in the chapel at Mayslake Peabody Estate was awfully depressing and didn't change enough to give us the sense of her whole life passing through it's dull indistinguishable doors, we are finally rewarded with the lighting display and music at the end of the show thanks to John "Smooch" Medina's projections, combined with Michael McNamara's lights and Christopher Kriz's musical score. The entire effect was spectacular, almost as if we are finally able to see the universe through Henrietta's passionate, intelligent eyes.   

 

There really needs to be more biographical plays like this one written with respect and sympathy about women who have changed our place in the world for the better - forever. It is a terrible waste of human intelligence and a dirty shame that if you mention the name Henrietta Swan Leavitt to anyone girl child or even adult today that her life will ring no bells, her name strike no sense of recognition, gratefulness ignored for the contributions she made and the doors she broke down for female scientists to come. 

 

Touching, beautiful and inspiring.

 

I highly recommend this thoughtful, poetic and understanding production for showing that some women will give up everything for the love of their work and dedication to humanity. Remembering theses outstanding individuals inspires and empowers us all, male or female, to chase our dreams to the end. 

Superbly directed by Melanie Keller, Silent Sky is being performed at Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook through April 30th. For more information on this wonderful show or to purchase tickets, click here

 

Published in Theatre in Review

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
Tuesday, 18 October 2016 14:04

Dr. Seward's Dracula Finishes Strong

In tradition of the Halloween season, First Folio Theatre keeps with its ongoing classic horror theme, this time presenting the world premiere of “Dr. Seward’s Dracula” in line with past productions “Frankenstein” and “The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe”. Finely adapted by Joseph Zettelmaier and cleverly directed by Jeff Award nominee Alison C. Vesely, a terrific tale is spun that is as dark as it is suspenseful.

 

The setting is perfect. Performed at the Mayslake Peabody Estate in Brookfield, viewers get a taste of nostalgia, easily associated with that of a classic horror film, the moment they enter the aged mansion. 

 

The story revolves around Dr. Seward, a former practitioner at an asylum who has since left due to a string of tortuous events including the death of his wife and an attack that left him stabbed in the stomach with the jagged leg of a wooden stool. Set in Seward’s home, he is constantly visited by his past wife and shoots morphine on a regular basis to curb the chronic pain he suffers from his stomach wound. Visited regularly by editor and close friend, Bram Stoker, a series of brutal murders piles up and suspicions leading to Seward as a suspect gradually become stronger. When Inspector Louis Carlyse enters the scene, things only get stranger, suspicions pointing more and more to Dr. Seward who is now questioning his own sanity. Seward claims a blood drinking monster named “Dracula” is responsible for the horrific murders, a story not so easily believed.

 

Though fine acting is present from the play’s beginning, Act One moves along at a slow pace, the opportunity of dramatic moments lacking in heavy suspense, leaving something to be desired to the mid-act crescendos that were most likely intended. However, Act Two comes on strong, providing the intriguement and excitement horror fans would have expected, completely redeeming the show and putting it on the must do list for Halloween activities. 

 

Christian Gray is thoroughly gripping as Dr. Seward, capturing the audience for good in just the play’s first scene. He never let’s go of that grip. One of the finest actors in the Chicagoland theatre scene, Gray is able to tackle such a role in a way that most cannot. Already performing in over twenty shows for First Folio, the gifted actor has already made his mark in such productions as the “Jeeves” series, “The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe”, “Romeo and Juliet” and “A Moon for the Misbegotten”. Now Gray can confidently add another knock out performance to his resume. 

 

The play rounds out with a handful of strong supporting performances with Craig Spidle as the Inspector, Joseph Stearns as Bram Stoker, Elizabeth Stenholt as Seward’s lost love Emily Covington and most notably Ted Kitterman as The Strange Man.

 

Gray’s performance is reason alone to see this play. However, it’s building story, ominous looking set and well-played roles of its assorted interesting characters add even more justification to see this frightfully tasty Halloween treat. 

 

First Folio’s “Dr. Seward’s Dracula” is being performed at the Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook through November 6th. For more show information visit www.FirstFolio.org.

 

 

 

 

Published in Theatre in Review

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

I've never been much of a magic fan. I'm always nervous for the magician just in case his trick doesn't work. But in Fooling Buddha, David Kovac seemingly does the impossible. Not only are his magic tricks top notch, he actually made me an unafraid appreciator of magic shows AND Buddhist philosophy while making me laugh at the same time. 

 

Kovac tells the story on how he grew up in Milwaukee during the 1970's raised by hippie parents who were Buddhists and forward thinkers way before their time.  Sent to a catholic school as a child to learn about African studies from Jewish teachers and being a nerd who loves magic at that time couldn't have been easy, but Kovac sure makes it funny. 

 

Kovac is a brilliant monologist though who has somehow managed to use his talent and love of magic to write a delightful one-man play full of memorable Buddhist quotes and koans (puzzles). Playing all the roles including his own mother, father and baby sister sitting around the dinner table, the bully who picked on him relentlessly and the magic shop owner to whom became a huge source of inspiration, the audience is never confused about which character is speaking.  Kovac’s delivery of beautiful Buddhist sayings like "A Miracle is a Tragedy with a Happy Ending" flow smoothly and segue so magically into each new story, pardon the pun, the 90-minute show with no intermission moves so quickly it left the heartily laughing audience visibly wanting more.  

 

Kovac’s conveyance of his one-man show is so quick and flawless, it left me struggling to mentally take notes in order to remember all the included wonderful bits of ancient knowledge. I guess I'm not the only one because David notes that Buddhism is known as the philosophy with 80,000 sayings and he proves that every time he is taught by his parents with another great, peaceful yet realistic Buddhist saying handy for almost every situation or problem that arose in his young life.  

 

The set he uses is beautifully and colorfully designed. A pleasure to watch, the set is full of secret doors and realistic windows that unfold to reveal new rooms. It is a lovely set made with great detail to the period and set with soft cozy lighting.   

 

I can't stress enough what a great writer David Kovac is and the intermingling of magic and Buddhism works perfectly to demonstrate the magic that is inherently implied in Buddhist philosophy. Kovac’s jokes and autobiography are finely told, and combined with his captivating illusions, Fooling Buddha provides a wonderful night of highly intelligent and uplifting storytelling. 

 

Kovac tells the audience he wants them to leave feeling like winners, like a magician who has just successfully shown spectators an illusion and received their applause. One of the most beautiful sayings in the show does just that in one beautiful line when he says, "There are billions of massive stars blazing across the night sky and inside you is the very same energy that lights the world." 

 

Highly Recommended.

 

Fooling Buddha is being performed at First Folio Theatre inside the enchanting Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook through April 24th.  For tickets or more information on the show, visit www.firstfolio.org.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews
Monday, 01 February 2016 13:39

"Jeeves At Sea" Makes Big Splash

Christian Gray and Jim McCance pair up once again for another Jeeves adventure, this time in Margaret Raether’s latest adaption from the stories of P.G. Wodehouse “Jeeves At Sea”. Gray, who was simply tremendous in his last First Folio appearance in “The Madness of Edgar Allen Poe”, this time plays the lovable, but somewhat dim-witted Bertie who has come to rely on the wisdom of his ever faithful manservant Jeeves (McCance), who faithfully provides sound advice never daring to crack the slightest of smiles. Paired to perfection, modestly said, McCance and Gray are nothing less than terrific together.

The play is performed at First Folio Theatre’s home, the Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook, where it doesn’t take much too imagine a “Jeeves” presence to exist.  

The story takes place aboard a yacht that is anchored off the coast of Monte Carlo, which is owned by Lady Stella Vanderlay, to whom Bertie has proposed to on multiple occasions. Miss Minerva Pilbeam is Stella’s paid companion and is secretly doting over Jeeves, while Stella is having too much fun as the object of affection of several suitors to fully commit to a lovesick Bertie. Kate McDermott nails the role of Lady Stella as the roaring 20’s saucy socialite.   

But alas, a mystery has unfolded when Bertie’s best friend Sir Percival Everard Crumpworth (Andrew Behling) confesses that he may have murdered someone while being blind drunk the night before – worse yet, he believes it might have been a visiting German prince. Once German heavy Count Otto von Dietrichstein (Joe Foust) starts sniffing around the yacht in search of Percival, a plan is quickly put into action.

Throughout the mystery, which is fun in itself, many humorous situations arise based on several Three’s Company-like misunderstanding’s where one is caught with another at the wrong moment or something is only partially overheard. Alison C. Vesley’s superb direction along with a funny script, timely physically comedy and impeccably delivered dialogue thanks to the show’s collection of talented actors, make “Jeeves At Sea” a charming production that flows seemingly effortlessly through and through.  

This fourth Jeeves installment of Wodehouse’s delightful tales is a thrilling ride from beginning to end with just the right doses of humor and intrigue, but best of all is the genuine connection that is felt by audience members between Jeeves and Bertie, leaving one with the feeling of excitement for what Jeeves adventures may be in store for the future.     

 

Yet another strong First Folio effort, “Jeeves At Sea” comes highly recommended. Catch “Jeeves At Sea” through February 28th at the Mayslake Peabody Estate located near 31st Street and 83 in Oakbrook. For tickets and/or more play information visit www.firstfolio.org or call 630-986-8067.  

Published in Theatre Reviews

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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