Review: Neo-Futurists’ “Fear”

Just in time for Halloween

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Neo-Futurists present:

Fear

Conceived and curated by Noelle Krimm
running through October 31st  (buy tickets)

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Just in time for Halloween, with Fear, Noelle Krimm and cast at the Neo-Futurarium tout themselves as “the thinking man’s haunted house.” A walking-tour based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe, Fear certainly will give you something to think about—but will also carry your experience far beyond any cerebral appreciation.

Fear-2 Fear is there to throw the audience off balance, to make them apprehensive about what is coming next, to subvert the mundane internal presumptions of control and reasonable expectation that help to make life manageable and endurable. The production doesn’t need to splatter gore or make you blindly stick your hand into a bowl of spaghetti—the realized uneasiness of life’s exigencies is enough to terrify.

Thus Krimm and company rely, not just on Poe’s obsessions with madness, terror, and degeneration, but also on a modern American lexicon of horror, wherein box-cutters and Dixie cups filled with—what? Kool-Aid?–take on sinister meaning just by being silently presented. Old tech and new are thrown together to suggest the disarray of history and the precariousness of preservation.

The dances and puppet shows are childlike, but are not there to show us happy fables. Fear highlights our most basic fears: of personal safety, of injury, of strangers and strangeness, of both physical and mental illness. It is a romp through the fears we suppress just to make it through life, even if we must all submit in the end.

  While the angels, all pallid and wan,
Uprising, unveiling, affirm
That the play is the tragedy, “Man”
And its hero, the Conqueror Worm.
—–The Conqueror Worm
 

Most of all it is fun–so catch Fear if you dare. The tour involves several sets of stairs, so accessibility is a concern. With enough interest, the tour may extend beyond Halloween.

Enjoy.

 

Rating:  «««½

 

Extra contributors: Rachel Claff, Matt Hawkins, Seth Bockley, Chloe Johnston, Mindy Myers, Ren Velarde, Bernie McGovern and Dan Kerr-Hobert

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Review: American Theatre Company’s “Yeast Nation”

 A Mucking Good Time

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American Theatre Company presents:

Yeast Nation

by Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann
directed by PJ Paparelli
runs through October 18th (ticket info)

reviewed by Timothy McGuire

Yeast Nation is an innovative musical production unlike anything I have ever seen before. Greg Kotis (a veteran of Chicago’s Neo-Futurists) and Mark Hollmann (a veteran of Chicago Theatre Building’s Musical Theatre Workshop), the same creators of the Tony-winning musical Urinetown, tell a provocative story about the creation of life based on an absurd premise of single celled yeasts living in a primordial soup. There are no  stories of life before these yeasts; these yeasts are the beginning of time.

yeast-nation-3These vocally gifted yeasts are living under the dictatorial rule of the Elder (Joseph Anthony Foronda), he being the yeast that produced all other yeasts. They are starving yet the Elder forbids them to rise to the top where plenty of nourishing food is available. The Elder believes that his oppression is for the good of all yeasts and life as a whole. He even kills a yeast (Sweet yeast’s father) for disobeying him and eating from the top of the liquid surroundings. The Elder’s son Second (Andrew Keltz), the second in command, sees no sense in his fathers orders. He ventures off to discover and take advantage of all the wonderful things available near the top, such as delicious fulfilling muck. He promises Sweet (the name of the sweet yeast) a new world, not knowing what lies ahead. Second’s engulfment of muck results in the birth of a fantastic pink creature (Stephanie Kim), sparking the beginning of the progress to a new multi-celled organism.

Do not be alarmed if none of this makes any sense – the creators were aware of their own craziness in the foundation of their story and the even more incredible plot. In the beginning I was getting a little nervous as I had no idea what was going on, and then the scary-eyed grey-haired yeast (Barbara Robertson) poked fun at how weird it is to believe in a story about yeasts. Throughout the play the creators slide in small little jokes recognizing the lack of believability and completely insane premise of a society of single-celled yeasts. This is theatre, not school. Have some fun with it.

Each scene is filled with graphic sexual innuendos hidden in Kotis and Hollmann’s brilliant writing. Though tempted to share with you some of these tastefully shocking lines, I would not want to ruin the experience of the live delivery. Considering the depth of this unordinary script and lyrics, I am looking forward to discovering the jokes that were intelligently hidden beyond my comprehension the first time seeing the performance.

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There is no distinct set on stage. The scenery is composed of purple lights hanging from the ceiling and rafters creating Disney-like prehistoric stars. The stage is cluttered with scaffolds and equipment displaying the result of a Broadway-style performance being compressed into the small storefront space of American Theatre Co. This design allows for the yeasts to utilize a variety of heights and abstract placements on the stage, providing the sense of a large production cramming itself into the small set.

The lighting and special effects add the change in atmosphere to each various style of song. The musical variety in this bizarre tale includes a little bit of everything. The style of each song had its own vibe from a tune sang at a church choir, downtown disco, a rock concert, Christian rock, Gospel, rock video and more. I am pretty sure they did a parody of Meatloaf’s music video for “I Would Do Anything for Love.”

Before I even had an idea of what was going on in the plot, I already felt I was watching the beginning of a spectacular new musical. The confusion is part of the fun. The costumes were a little hokey, but the quality of talent on stage combined with the unique incomparable writing by Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann is a combination for success. Go see the birth of the next hit musical that you cannot believe someone could imagine to produce.

Rating: «««½ 

Playing at American Theatre Company, 1909 W. Byron, Chicago, IL, Thursdays & Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays, through October 18, 2009.

 

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Wednesday wordplay – Margaret Cho and George Bernard Shaw

(Mostly) inspirational quotes

 

Success is meaningless if you can’t sleep at night because of harsh things said, petty secrets sharpened against hard and stony regret, just waiting to be plunged into the soft underbelly of a ‘friendship.’
            — Margaret Cho, Margaret Cho’s Weblog, 04-12-2006

If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.
            — George Bernard Shaw

You can’t do anything about the length of your life, but you can do something about its width and depth.
            — Evan Esar

Artists who seek perfection in everything are those who cannot attain it in anything.
            — Eugene Delacroix

A dog is the greatest gift a parent can give a child. OK, a good education, then a dog.
            — John Grogan, An Interview with John Grogan, 2008

Review: Trap Door’s “12 Ophelias”

Begins brilliantly, but has incomplete finish

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Trap Door Theatre presents:

12 Ophelias: a play with broken songs

by Caridad Svich
directed by Kate Hendrickson
through October 31st (ticket info) 

 

   Ophelia: Do you think my heart is any lesser? 
 Gertrude: What do you mean? 
Ophelia: For being born.
 

 Kate Hendrickson’s direction pulls out all the stops for Trap Door Theatre’s current avant-garde production, 12 Ophelias: a play with broken songs. Characters emerge from and descend into black pools, suggesting just how close oblivion always is. Projection screens made up of white petticoats hung on a line, when opheliataken down reveal an altogether different space. Musicians stationed in various locations suggest angels, as well as prostitutes, waiting their turn. Above all, rich poetic language and original songs create a potent atmosphere that may carry the production long past the point when characters’ psychological motivations fall short of the play’s premise.

After floating for centuries, Ophelia (Mildred Marie Langford) emerges in Appalachia, reborn from the water into a world in which Hamlet is now known as Rude Boy (Kevin Lucero Less); Gertrude (Joslyn Jones) runs a brothel; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, simply known as R (Jen Ellison) and G (Casey Chapman), are the brothel’s lackeys; and Horatio, now known as H (Noah Durham), spars with Rude Boy in daily camaraderie. It is a world in which Ophelia and Rude Boy/Hamlet seem to have a second chance at love. But there are times when Caridad Svich’s reworking seems so far from the original, the two only connect superficially.

For one thing, Langford and Jones exude natural power in their acting. For another, their Ophelia and Gertrude, respectively, are not the weak, timid, easily manipulated women of Shakespeare’s work. As much as one appreciates the tremendous beauty in their strength, what should their characters’ former lives be to them or to us, if all resemblance breaks with the past? Svich’s Ophelia remembers her former life. “I left everyone unblessed,” she recalls of her suicide. Yet her ability to relish her robust sexual appetites and her outright pursuit of Rude Boy/Hamlet bear no relation to Shakespeare.

The only characters with any clear correspondence to their pasts are R and G, with memory so retained in their present consciousness, they recite Ophelia and Hamlet’s lines in parody before the newly reborn Ophelia. The commentary and interplay between R and G is probably the strongest feature of Svich’s work. Their foolery during the song “Lonesome Child,” which takes place opposite of Ophelia and Rude Boy/Hamlet’s lovemaking, is delightfully inspired.

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Sadly, Rude Boy may be the most underdeveloped character of the play. The most layered, erudite, and mercurial protagonist in Shakespeare’s pantheon is reworked with utter and brutal reductionism here. Gone is the princely state and Renaissance learning—Svich’s Rude Boy/Hamlet is little more than a womanizing thug. His final battle with H is an indulgent act of self-immolation; his eventual rejection by Ophelia reduces him to a pathetic, slobbering mass. About their former romance, Ophelia dismisses him with, “You were just a rude boy.” It’s a line that utterly breaks with Shakespeare’s realized creation. This abridged Rude Boy/Hamlet stacks the deck and buys this Ophelia’s empowerment on the cheap.

Amidst lush poetry, it’s this dramatic shallowness that belies Svich’s shortcomings. At least in this work, Svich shows greater psychological depth in conveying the state of loss and brokenness, rather than any true hope of recovery from it. Even R and G’s repeated commentary, “The crushed come back—there is no mending here,” loses all dramatic tension to become disproved. Some may revel in that kind of pre-scripted fatalism, but others may wonder what spending 90 minutes with this work was all about, if there was never any hope for healing and love. In spite of the cast’s talents and imaginative direction, the audience may walk away feeling cheated.

Rating: ««½

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Theater Thursday: “Fedra: Queen of Haiti” at Lookingglass Theatre

Thursday, October 1

fedrapicFedra: Queen of Haiti 

by J. Nicole Brooks
Lookingglass Theatre Company
821 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago

Join Lookingglass for an exclusive reception featuring a presentation by their artistic staff and delicious appetizers from Mity Nice Grill. Don’t miss the world premiere production of this explosive new script from Ensemble Member J. Nicole Brooks (Black Diamond).
Event begins at 6:30 p.m.
Show begins at 7:30 p.m.

TICKETS ONLY: $30
For reservations call 312.337.0665 and mention "Theater Thursdays."

show openings/closings this week

chicagoriverblast

show openings

1001 The Theatre School at DePaul University

American Psyche or a Breath of Fresh Care Gorilla Tango Theatre

Bucket of Blood Annoyance Theatre

The Castle of Otranto First Folio Theatre

Dirty Talking Amish Gorilla Tango Theatre

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity Victory Gardens Theater

Endira Aguijon Theater

The Hundred Dresses Chicago Children’s Theatre

Kill the Old, Torture Their Young Steep Theatre

The Last (and therefore Best) Comedy Show on Earth Gorilla Tango Theatre

The Mercy Seat Profiles Theatre

Mouse in a Jar Red Tape Theatre

Richard III Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Salem! The Musical Annoyance Theatre

Sleeping Beauty Big Noise Theatre

Sleepy Hollow Theatre-Hikes

A Streetcar Named Desire Polarity Ensemble Theatre

Taking Steps UIC Theater

Ten Square Pegasus Players and MPAACT

 

chicago-river-from-vietnammemorial

show closings

 

All My Sons TimeLine Theatre (our review)

Baroque and Beatles Chicago a cappella 

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Circle Theatre

Desperate Gorilla Tango Theatre

A Hampstead Hooligan in King Arthur’s Court Chicago dell’Arte

High Fidelity…The Musical Route 66 Theatre

Lorca in a Green Dress Halcyon Theatre

Merce Cunningham Dance Company – Dance Center of Columbia College

Miami City Ballet Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University

The Miracle Work Village Players Performing Arts Center

The Set Up Prop Thtr

A Shroud for Lazarus Halcyon Theatre

Texas Sheen Chemically Imbalanced Comedy

During performance of “A Steady Rain”, Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig take on cell-phone user

Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig are costarring on Broadway in ‘A Steady Rain,’ (which was written and premiered at Chicago Dramatists). During one performance last week the two had to take on an audience member’s ringing cell phone.

The pair stayed in character as it rang not one time but two. Watch it for yourself:

 

 

Ticket sales for their play, by the way, have been huge.

Information on A Steady Rain here.