Review: The Alumni Bow

 

New works suggest a promising future.

 

The School of the Art Institute presents:

The Alumni Bow
Three one-acts by Rebecca Beegle, Idris Goodwin and Chris Bower
directed by Stefan Brün and Beau O’Reilly
thru September 27th (tickets: 773-539-7838)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

NoteToMollySmall What a pleasure to be able to review The Alumni Bow, the latest offerings from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s MFA Writing Program, particularly since it doesn’t have much in the way of press to promote itself, other than a few hand-distributed flyers and a blogpost by one of its playwrights, Idris Goodwin. Under the direction of Beau O’Reilly of Curious Theatre and Stefan Brün of Prop Thtr, these simple one-acts show surprising maturity and sophistication, even if some could benefit from the editor’s scalpel.

Honey by Rebecca Beegle, is a one-act monologue of a man under the strain of lost love and lost eroticism, finally losing memory of the woman he has loved so intensively. The man, played by Julian Berke, takes the audience on a tour of the home in which their lovemaking took place, room by room. It becomes apparent that the tour, which most likely began as an act of revenge against his lover, has now transformed into a mournful homage over all he has lost, including the ability to love again. “What is not so important as the sex acts is what led to them . . . a trail of bread crumbs I can’t find again.”

The challenge for O’Reilly’s direction will be in how effective that tour will remain should the audience capacity exceed the space for the tour to take place. As it is, it’s just as interesting to view the crowd as the actor—the one that I was in paraded from room to room with an almost funereal solemnity. Berke’s performance is nuanced, a tribute to an actor for whom this is the first full-fledged role; prior performance experience has been mostly as a rock and blues musician.

The Story Farm is the most intellectual of all these works, a savvy bit of meta-theater, commenting on all things corporate, politically correct, and metaphorical. Between an earnest jobseeker (Arin Mulvaney) and a story research trainer (Jonathan Putman), Idris Goodwin gets to pull out all his jibes at corporate world’s ability to devalue everything, including the power of stories, to their most rudimentary and meaningless frameworks. From there, it is just a hop, skip, and jump to having the utterly ratiocinating story researcher swept up beyond reason by a story Mulvaney’s jobseeker brings in, while she remains blithely uninvolved by her own discovery. The transformation is enjoyable to watch in Putman’s hands, given the intensity he delivers through his character and Mulvaney’s good-natured, cat-loving foil is realistically vacuous.

Goodwin seems to have the most experience of all the young playwrights and, concomitant with his break beat poet background, plays with ideas and themes with greater virtuosity than the others. But of all the other playwrights, Goodwin’s work would most benefit from an editor’s eye in taking off a good 10 to 15 minutes from this play.

Notes to Molly by Chris Bower deals the most devastating realism of all these pieces. Based on his short story by the same name, the play etches an indelible portrait of a dead-end alcoholic couple and the psychological forces that barely keep them hanging on, to themselves and to life. It is an intensely realized work, almost perfectly performed by Kate Teichman and Matt Test.

All three one-acts deal with some aspect of story, but Bower’s work shows most knowingly how story is used by this couple to evoke a past or present which gives each of them more power or discredits the other, yet does nothing to really disrupt or improve their passive-aggressive relationship. Bower shows great maturity in delineating the symbiotic nature of their mutual dysfunctions and leaves us hanging where they hang, in a subjective no-man’s land, with Test’s character desperately trying to get his fellow alcoholic lover’s attention.

Don’t leave these works out in no-man’s land. The Alumni Bow has a very short run and Chicago should get to know its next generation of original work.

Rating: «««

REVIEW: Caffeine Theatre’s “Under Milk Wood”

“Under Milk Wood” misses the mark

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Caffeine Theatre presents:

Under Milk Wood
by Dylan Thomas
directed by Paul S. Holmquist
thru September 27th (buy tickets)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Few things irritate more than a production that, however outstanding and finely wrought, still fails to gel, to become the whole it was intended to be. Such is the case with Caffeine Theatre’s production of Dylan ThomasUnder Milk Wood, now onstage at the Storefront Theater. Director Paul S. Holmquist and the producers have done yeoman work transforming what was originally a radio play into full-scale theatrical storytelling, with 9-member cast taking on 47 roles.

CaffeineTheatre_UnderMilkWood_3 The choice of this DCA space is particularly conducive to their artistic intentions—open and spacious enough, yet still conveying intimate communication between audience and cast. Holmquist’s staging and direction is a marvel of agility and grace in the production’s mercurial shifts from scene to scene. His utilization of the set design’s multiple levels successfully hints at the thin veil between dream and waking life; between hidden desires and performed social roles; between life and death.

How frustrating that, in spite of the cast’s talents, the resulting work lacks cohesion and wholeness through the lack of a uniform narrative performance style. Thomas, when he composed the radio play, constructed its narration with Voice 1 and Voice 2. BCaffeineTheatre_UnderMilkWood_7ut Holmquist and company divide the two narrative voices among all 9 cast members. That alone might not have defeated the work. However, the cast is uneven in its presentation of the play’s narrative voice.

By far, Dave Skvarla (Captain Cat) performs this narrative feature best. He owns the stage when he speaks and creates three-dimensional space by the use of his voice alone; Dan Granata (Mr. Mog Edwards) and Elise Kauzlaric (Myfanwy Price) exhibit this ability to a lesser, but still tangible degree. Sadly, that same technique falls off with the rest of the cast, whatever their other abilities.

That is really unfortunate, because the cast creates fully committed and indelible characters. The moments of Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard (Kaitlin Byrd) drilling her two deceased husbands, Mr. Pritchard (Paul Myers) and Mr. Ogmore (Dan Granata), through their daily and nightly routines, lasts long after the show has ended; as do Kate Nawrocki’s saucy Rosie Probert and her Bessie Bighead, ethereally fading into death’s oblivion. Paul Myer’s full range in the use of his body suggests the strains and twists life molds into the human character by time.

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Well, for the want of a nail, the battle was lost and for the want of a critical performance technique, the world of this play dissipates into fragilely connected scenes. This leads to what Caffeine Theatre’s production lacks most–a sense of place. A tragically missing element, since Thomas wrote Under Milk Wood as his response to the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Here, in his imaginary Welsh town, fecund with dreams and desire, with the power of language alone, he took his stand against total nuclear annihilation.

Rating: ««

  Also, check out postings and pics from Under Milk Wood rehearsals.