Review: UIC Theatre’s “Stars in the Morning Sky”

 Touching, if limited, performances in “Stars In the Morning Sky”

stars pub 4 UIC Theatre presents:

Stars in the Morning Sky

adapted by Peter Christensen and Yasen Peyankov
directed by Lupa Lopatina Solomon
thru November 22nd  (ticket info)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

stars pub 1 Lupa Lopatina Solomon last directed Stars In the Morning Sky with co-director and translator Yasen Peyankov as a member of the now-defunct European Repertory Theatre. A retelling of Maxim Gorky’s The Lower Depths by Russian playwright Aleksandr Galin, the play depicts the desperate lives of women in prostitution at the opening of the 1980 Moscow Olympics. In an attempt to present a clean face to the world, Soviet authorities have rounded up the city’s sex workers and deposited them on the outskirts of the city in rundown barracks that once served as a mental hospital.

Solomon has honed a well-integrated student production; the cast is a fairly even and cohesive ensemble, set with strikingly imaginative lighting (Carl Ulaszek) and sound (Lea Palmeno) design. At this stage in their craft, all of the students deliver on their characters’ intentions and motivations, while not all face the same challenges. In a play that would test the limits of mature, professional actors, some fall short like horses that have been handicapped from the starting line-up.

Erin Yucus and Rashida KhanBey carry the additional burden of playing older women with more arduous and twisted histories than the rest. Valentina (Yucus) is a hardened Soviet style worker who runs the barracks that house the temporarily homeless whores. Ana (KhanBey) is an older, alcoholic prostitute who, while merciless about her own self-appraisal, acts with instinctive motherliness toward the younger women hauled in. While both actors convey women under lifelong hardship, both also sink heavily into their portrayals with little nuance, suggesting the need for greater life experience as well as technique. Ironically, their characters’ significant moments of sorrow lack the depth to be realistic.

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By contrast, those cast members with roles within their age range fair better. Jessica Roach’s Lora is believably flighty and childlike in her idealism, while Zarinah Ali’s Klara virtually dominates the stage with insouciant energy. Perhaps Carolyn Molloy is the most seriously tested of all the cast, since her character, Maria, becomes assaulted in an attempt to leave the barracks. It’s a role that Molloy unabashedly takes on but also at moments loses her bearings, slipping in and out of convincing interpretation.

UIC Theatre’s production is most successful in creating ensemble and maintaining even, progressive storytelling. The last moment of the play where the tech crew revolves the stage is the only disturbance in the fourth wall and it is worth the payoff—it reveals the banished women waving to the city in pride over the Olympics they have been denied. With all it shortcomings, this production still shows its power to touch the audience.

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Review: Magpie Project’s “The Happy Family Series”

A Weird and Gifted “Family” Pulls It Together

happy-family-poster

The Magpies Project present:

The Happy Family Series:
Demonstrations Exploring “Harmonic Antagonisms

inspired by P.T. Barnum’s “The Happy Family
Curated by Shawn Reddy
Emceed by H.B. Ward a.k.a. "The Tamer"
thru December 6th at Viaduct Theatre (ticket info)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

I hardly knew what to make of the press put out by The Magpies Project over The Happy Family Series: Demonstrations Exploring “Harmonic Antagonisms” inspired by P. T. Barnum’s museum piece “The Happy Family.” Living by the creed “There’s a sucker born every minute,” Barnum constructed a fallacious exhibit wherein an assortment of animals, both predators and prey, were forced to live in harmony with each other as a spectacle of example to humankind. As such, The Magpie Project’s own assortment of talented misfits, drawn together from the usual fringe theater suspects, could easily be collected under any random title. Maybe the overwhelming wholesomeness of the holiday season has wormed its way into the company’s artistic direction. Never mind. Any excuse to see these performers is good one.

viaduct Emceeing the madness is H. B. Ward, aka “The Tamer,” who delivers the funniest, most intelligent opening comic monologue I’ve witnessed in years. He’s a man in complete control of the audience—without need of whips and little need of chairs! Most of the rest of the collection, curated by Shawn Reddy, follows in this comic and quirky vein. Whether any of it refers to family hardly matters, but one will find some startling depth along with the laughs.

The first weekend run in particular saw a short memoir simply read aloud by writer and critic Brian Nemtusak. It was the sort of thing one might hear on Public Radio’s This American Life, only with greater psychological depth, quiet power, and less desperate need to please the audience. It came closest to all the evening’s exhibits in articulating the antagonisms between three generations of men and what each generation tried to do to compensate for them. Ira Glass, eat your heart out.

Other sketches executed by Ian Belknap and Edward Thomas-Herrera, such as the subtext of corporate meetings and the dramatic, glamorous imaginings of a lone gay child, were more conventionally funny, but no less entertaining for being so. Far more far out performances were dealt by the musical stylings of Jenny Magnus of Curious Theatre and Chris Schoen of Theatre Oobleck.  I kept thinking Jenny was coming up with any old excuse to sing her songs under the rubric of “family.”

Stopping by to see The Happy Family Series over the next few weeks will be more than worth your while. Who knows, maybe the oddness of the “exhibits” will strike some familial similarity.

 

Rating: ★★★

 

Curated by Shawn Reddy
Emceed by H.B. Ward A.K.A. "The Tamer"

Featuring work by: Martha Bayne, Ian Belknap, Dave Buchen, Chris Bower, Eiren Caffall, Mark Chrisler, Robin Cline, Barrie Cole, Elvisbride Band, Idris Goodwin, David Isaacson, David Kodeski, Jenny Magnus, Brian Nemtusak, Beau O’Reilly, David Pavkovic and Vicki Walden (of DOG), The Lawrence Peters Outfit, Diana Slickman, Edward Thomas-Herrera, and David Wilcox.

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Review: Circle Theatre’s “Little Women”

Holidays with the March Sisters

 The women of Little Women_11

Circle Theatre presents:

Little Women

adapted from the novel by Louisa May Alcott
directed by Bob Kuth
thru December 19th (ticket info)

review by Timothy McGuire

The women of Little Women_1 Circle Theatre offers another quality production of classic literature with their world premiere adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. This story is perfect for the holiday season and entertaining anytime of the year. The unselfish themes of giving and love along with warm naturally occurring musicals scenes create a performance that can be enjoyed by the whole family, as well as those other singles out there.

Circle Theatre’s production of Little Women is only based on part one of the series (so no, Beth does not die,) but it is still packed with plenty of drama and conflict to accompany the vibrant personalities of the March sisters. The four sisters are spiritually played by Laura McClain (Meg), Kieran Welsh-Phillips (Jo), Jill Sesso (Beth) and Abigail St. John (Amy.) They playfully tease but overwhelmingly cherish each others company. With their father away serving as Chaplain in the Civil War and their mother doing everything she can to support her husband and country, the four sisters bond together as they grow into their own individuals. The March Family is financially struggling (something many of us can relate to this holiday season) yet still finds ways to constantly support those around them in need and those they want to show they care. Besides the wealthy Aunt March, the whole family is inspired by the closeness between them, and their kind spirit is an inspiration to those that witness them as well.

The cast of Little Women_1The set is designed far more sophisticated than you see at even most of the best storefront theatres in the city. Bob Kuth (Director/ Scenic & Lighting Designer) has created the inside of the March home in Maine warm and delicately decorated for the winter season. The windows are covered in 19th-century drapes and a faded portrait of Mr. March hangs above the fireplace. In the back corner is the simple piano played by Beth to lighten the family’s mood and bring in some holiday cheer and the living room is complete with antique furniture for the family to join together for gossip and companionship. The staircase in back of the stage and second level leading to the door add depth to the large country house, and the performer’s ability to look beyond the audience and through the windows at a scene fictionally taking place off stage turn the small staging area into the open lands of Concord, MA.

Each actress and actor brings a special individuality to their character. The enduring qualities in each sister are brought out by the talented natural performances of each actress. I fell in love with Jo and her rebellious attitude and drive to go after he own desires. Each individual performance in the play strengthens the connection you feel with the relationships that are being formed. Watching this family evolve and connect with their characters can naturally bring out a loving emotional connection to your own family, and that is what the holidays are all about.

Rating: ★★★

 

At Circle Theatre, 7300 W. Madison, Forest Park, IL, call   708-771-0700, www.circle-theatre.org, tickets $20 – $24 ($2 off for seniors/students), Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 3 & 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission.

FEATURING: Kevin Anderson • Peter Esposito • Eileen Ferguson • Anita Hoffman • Laura McClainJeremy MyersBrian Rabinowitz • Mary Redmon • Jill Sesso • Abigail St. John •  Kieran Welsh-Phillips.

The company of Little Women_1