REVIEW: Glitter in the Gutter (Annoyance Theatre)

Filthy. Gorgeous. A bit of a Drag.

glitter-gutter photo: Zach Dodson

Annoyance Theatre presents:

Glitter in the Gutter

**The first and only live Drag Queen Sitcom**

written and directed by Kellen Alexander
through March 11 (more info)

By Keith Ecker

Who among us has not pondered the secret lives of drag queens? When the lights at the cabaret fade and the bar lets its regulars loose upon the night, where does the entertainment go? And what of the less successful divas, those that harbor Ru Paul dreams while clunking around in chintzy platform heels?

Glitter in the Gutter, a new play produced by Annoyance Productions and directed and written by Kellen Alexander, tells this story. Or to be more precise, it tells the story of two particular drag queens who are tragically trashy, down on their luck and caught on the cusp of eviction.

glitter-poster The play opens on the shared apartment of Pepper LaRoo (Seth Dodson) and Velveeta Fitzgerald (Wes Perry). Pepper, slender, graceful and nursing a throbbing head, is the Patsy to Velveeta’s somewhat more grounded Edina (see AbFab). The headache interferes with Pepper’s memory of the night prior, but she does recall meeting a man whose number she stored in her phone.

Enter Beverly Poon (Sarah Fineout), a rival performer with a voice that sounds like she’s gargling gravel. It is through her that Pepper discovers the man she met the night before was none other than Vinnie Cancer (Ben Kass), a famous record producer. Of course, this sends Pepper and Velveeta into a tizzy. They decide to invite Vinnie over for a date with the ulterior motive of landing a record contract.

When Vinnie stops by, he hands Pepper a slip of paper to fulfill her wish. Wanting a piece of the fame pie, Velveeta attempts to woo Vinnie to sign her as well. Caring more for image than talent, Vinnie lets Velveeta down hard. Little does Vinnie know that his newfound flame can move her mouth to music but is completely tone deaf.

Scorned, Velveeta runs away from home. She befriends a bag lady (Rachel Reed) in the alley out back and settles down for a life of domesticity and Dumpsters.

The play is the kind of over-the-top, absurdist comedy reminiscent of Charles Busch or John Waters . It’s campy, it’s crass and it’s unapologetically gay. But wash off the rouge and the eye shadow, and the play’s flaws become more apparent.

Although Alexander is obviously talented—he, along with Dodson, are part of the phenomenal improv group 1, 2, 3, Fag! — he seems overwhelmed with managing writing and directing duties. Likely unable to give both adequate attention, the writing and the pacing of the play suffer from a lack of concision.

Jokes that would otherwise kill fall flat when the punch line gets lost in a tangle of words. Also, too often too much is said that could easily have been accomplished with action. This slows down the pacing of the overall play, making the first act in particular feel like a drag.

It is in the subtleties that Alexander excels. One of the funniest parts of the play is when Officer Rick Pony (Alex Moffat) makes his entrance wearing roller shoes. No dialogue needed. The same goes with the inclusion of a window that is operated off stage by a pulley. It’s a simple and cheesy stage piece that serves a purpose and is used to great comedic effect.

Dodson and Perry are both talented actors. Dodson’s delivery and soft-spokenness, his agile dance moves and his comedic timing make him an attention magnet. Perry, who sounds an awful lot like Mrs. Garrett from the Facts of Life, has a strong voice and a commanding presence as well.

I have to give special recognition to Reed, whose deadpan portrayal of an off-kilter homeless woman is a scene-stealer. She also is fortunate to have the best dialogue in the entire play.

If Glitter in the Gutter aspires to be in the same ranks as other campy classics, it misses its mark. But it’s an entertaining piece none-the-less that is sure to please fans of kitsch and drag.

Rating: ★★½

Related article: Timeout Chicago’s Taking Out The Trash

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REVIEW: Lost in Yonkers (Village Players)

Two brothers zing Simon’s show

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Village Players Theater presents:

Lost in Yonkers

 

Written by Neil Simon
Directed by
Brian Rabinowitz
Thru February 21st (more info)

By Katy Walsh

Living on top of a candy store is every kid’s dream – unless the shop is owned by a tyrannical grandmother! yonkers2Set in the early 1940’s, Neil Simon’s Purlitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play is a coming-of-age story about two teenagers forced to live with their cruel grandma for a year. When financial complications require their father to take a job on the road, Arty and Jay leave the Bronx for Yonkers. Sleeping on the pull-out couch, the boys live in the 2 bedroom dictator world with their grandma as supreme leader. Making family life a little more pleasant and weirder, they get to know their crazy Aunt Bella, con artist Uncle Eddie and strange Aunt Gert. Playwright Neil Simon is the master for portraying family dysfunction in a comical manner, and in Lost in Yonkers, the two young boys’ antics lead family members to face their past destructive patterns.

Under the direction of Brian Rabinowitz, Andrew Raia (Jay) and Jake Walczyk (Arty) are fantastic as the brothers. Their onstage chemistry makes the relationship bond seem real. Raia’s Bronx accent is the best in the cast. Whether his sulking on the couch or challenging his grandma, his timing is authentic and flawless. Walczyk’s delivers some of Simon’s best zingers. The comedy is heightened for extra laughs from this pint size messenger with a big attitude. As Grandma, Deanna Norman’s presence alone on stage is disapproving and threatening. Add in the character’s severe child raising practices, Norman makes anyone squirm in their seat.

yonkersThe most demanding part in the show is the role of Bella. A woman incapacitated by mental illness and her mother’s hold, the role requires a combination of child-like innocence, a woman’s romantic desires, and neurotic outbursts. Stephanie Ganacolpos does a fine, but not consistent, job of hitting all these elements sporadically throughout the show.

Designed by Annette Vargas, the set is that of an apartment in Yonkers that’s seen better years. In the first scene, the audience learns how particular grandma is about the doilies on the couch – with this realization, however, the sloppy wallpaper seems a little too imperfect for grandma’s home. Bella’s wardrobe also malfunctions after grandma throws a cup of tea on her. The tea results in Bella displaying distracting wet stains on her cotton dress in the next scene. The costumes by Emma Weber add a layer of understanding of the time period, especially Arty’s short pants. Under Weber’s guidance suits, ties, and dresses rule the day – there are no casual comforts. It’s hard to imagine today’s teenage boys wearing suits and ties in an un-air conditioned apartment.

Although taking place more than a half of century ago, Lost in Yonkers has timeless themes of family dynamics, teenage rebellion, and financial struggles. It’s a perfect show to escape and compare family war wounds. If nothing else, go to see the beginnings of the brilliant stage careers of Andrew Raia and Jake Walczyk.

 

Rating: ★★★

 

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REVIEW: Out of Order (Metropolis Performing Arts Centre)

Sidesplitting performance worth a trip to the ’burbs

OutOfOrder2 

Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Arlington Heights, presents

Out of Order

 

By Ray Cooney
Directed by David Belew
Through Feb. 19 (ticket info)

reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

I don’t know who the first public official to be caught with his pants down was, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened before men even wore pants. No doubt, soon afterward, the event featured in a raft of dirty jokes. Like philandering politicians, low humor remains always with us, and sometimes even the highest minded of us can’t help laughing.

Metropolis Performing Arts Centre’s "Out of Order" is the funniest thing I’ve seen all year.

OutOfOrder4 Ray Cooney‘s routine bedroom-comedy plot promises much less than this production delivers. With his wife off in the country, suave Richard Willey, a Conservative junior minister in the British government, takes advantage of an all-night parliamentary debate to spend a naughty evening with Jane Worthington, a secretary on the staff of the opposition leader. Instead, they find a dead body in their hotel suite, and Willey calls on his ingenuity and his hapless parliamentary private secretary, George Pigden, to avoid a political scandal.

With the hotel’s supercilious manager, a venal waiter, Jane’s suspicious husband, a private detective and other characters all banging in and out through the suite’s door and malfunctioning window, that’s not so easy, and the fast-talking Willey and George are pulled into an ever more elaborate set of lies and camouflages. Cooney manages to be funny without becoming lewd, which, given the premise, is quite an accomplishment, but he doesn’t stretch the boundaries of this genre.

In fact, this farce has a strong similarity to other bedroom comedies by Cooney, who is best known for "Run for Your Wife" — some of the same characters even appear in ”Two Into One.” Yet, as with the comic but repetitious plots of Thorne Smith or P.G. Wodehouse, that’s a small matter if you don’t encounter them too close together. The script provides only a modicum of the humor, anyway.

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The huge hilarity of this production lies in the comic brilliance of the cast, in particular Michael B. Woods as the nebbishy George. At every turn of the plot, Woods expresses George’s appalled horror in each movement of his lanky frame and elastic, Munchlike face. The deft interplay between Woods and Andrew J. Pond’s glib, dry Willey is sidesplitting. As the tortuous plot twists its it way through abruptly disappearing corpses and unexpectedly appearing spouses, Woods just keeps getting better and better.

Sarah Tolan-Mee’s naively sexy Jane, Joe Messina‘s blustering manager and Chuck Sisson’s slow but opportunistic waiter also add notably to the impeccably timed humor. Patrick Tierney chews the scenery a bit as the rampaging Ronnie, but otherwise the cast, also featuring Amy Gorelow, Kevin Kurasch, Lisa Savegnago and Elizabeth Haley (who stood in for Nancy Kolton on opening night), never puts a foot wrong. Adam Veness’ posh hotel suite set, which includes such details as a working flat-screen TV, provides an ideal backdrop for Director David Belew’s dexterous staging.

Don’t miss this one — it’s absolutely worth a trip to the suburbs.

Rating: ★★★★

Notes: Adult themes and language. Metropolis Performing Arts Centre is two blocks from the Arlington Heights Metra station and free parking is available in the municipal garage behind the theater.

REVIEW: Harper Regan (Steep Theatre)

Kendra Thulin shines in U.S. premiere

Harper 3 

Steep Theatre Company presents:

Harper Regan

 

By Simon Stephens
Directed by Robin Witt
Through Feb. 27 (ticket info)

reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

My long-suffering husband, whose theatrical taste runs to comedies and musicals, tends to react to the odder dramas I drag him to with a question, "Why did they produce this play?"

I can’t answer on behalf of Steep Theatre Company, whose U.S. premiere of the quirky, dysfunctional-family drama Harper Regan is one of a raft of British plays in Chicago this season, but I can make some guesses. One is that Simon Stephens is one of England’s hottest playwrights, and the chance to introduce one of his newer works — "Harper Regan" premiered in 2008 at London’s National Theatre — had to be very Harper 1tempting. Another is that it has three very juicy roles for women and a lot of other parts that could be doled out to ensemble members. (Having grown accustomed to the shrunken casts of these straitened times, it’s refreshing to see a different actor for every part in a play, though several male roles might easily have been doubled.)

Exquisitely acted and painstakingly directed as it is, however, Harper Regan may be more satisfying for its cast than for audiences. The plot follows the breaking up or breaking out, depending on how you look at it, of Harper Regan, 40-ish, middle-class and troubled. Her father is dying, her boss is a creep, she hates her job, her husband’s out of work, she’s not getting along with her 17-year-old daughter, they had to move from her northern England hometown to unfamiliar suburban London, she’s not speaking to her mother, and she is deeply insecure.

In an exceptional performance in the title role, Kendra Thulin shows us Harper’s discomfort and self-doubt in every line of her body, cringing and hesitating as, having asked her supercilious employer (Alex Gillmor) for time off to visit her ailing father, she listens to his hectoring refusal. Later, apologizing to her daughter for some sharp words, she says, "I’m so weird, aren’t I?"

Harper 2Caroline Neff is intense and believable as Harper’s nerdy, conflicted daughter, more comfortable with her iPod than her mother. Chelsea Warren’s costumes, notably for Harper and her daughter and mother, show a fine attention to detail.

Act I lags somewhat as the initial facts of Harper’s life slowly emerge, mostly in talky monologues and peculiar conversations she has with unsettling strangers. At last, she leaves home, not telling anyone she’s going. In Act II, we get more disturbing revelations: Why her husband can’t find work. Why they had to move. Why Harper and her mum are at odds. And, most importantly, we see that Harper is even weirder and more unstable than she seems.

Melissa Reimer puts in a strong performance as Harper’s estranged mother. Peter Moore performs sensitively as her down-and-out husband. Curtis M. Jackson is realistic as a teenager she meets near home, while Dan Flannery seems stiff as an older man she encounters during her time away. Julia Siple, Jonathan Edwards, Brendan Melanson and Adam El-Sharkawi fill out the cast.

Marcus Stephens’ stark, leaf-strewn concrete set echoes the harshness of Harper’s world, yet seems inappropriate for many of the indoor scenes, among many off-kilter aspects of this unlikely psychodrama.

 

Rating: ★★½

 

Notes: Adult language and themes.  All photos by Lee Miller

WITH ENSEMBLE MEMBERS Jonathan Edwards, Alex Gillmor, Brendan Melanson, Peter Moore, Caroline Neff, Melissa Riemer and Julia Siple
AND Adam El-Sharkawi, Dan Flannery, Curtis Jackson and Kendra Thulin
PRODUCTION MANAGER Julia Siple* STAGE MANAGER Jon Ravenscroft SCENIC DESIGN Marcus Stephens LIGHTING DESIGN Brandon Wardell COSTUME DESIGN Chelsea Warren COSTUME ASST Gwen Smuda SOUND DESIGN Matthew Chapman PROPS DESIGN Jesse Gaffney DIALECT COACH Eva Brenneman DRAMATURG Gemma Hobbs            *denotes company member

REVIEW: Mary’s Wedding (Rivendell Theatre)

Even Rivendell can’t save this wedding from mediocrity

 picture by Mark Campbell

Rivendell Theatre presents:

Mary’s Wedding

 

by Stephen Massicotte
directed by
Mark Ulrich 
thru February 20th (ticket info)

review by Paige Listerud

What can be said about a simple and elegant production of a mediocre play? It is like trying to praise the beauty of an exquisitely hand-carved chair that, nevertheless, shows one leg significantly shorter than all the rest. A clunky, fundamental flaw overrides whatever other virtues one could acknowledge about graceful line or sleek finish. So it is with Rivendell’s production of Mary’s Wedding, a one-act dream play about two young Canadians striving to maintain their love affair during the First World War.

photographer: Mark Campbell Stephen Massicotte received Canadian playwriting and literary awards for Mary’s Wedding, recognition that, no doubt, has won its career of productions throughout Canada, the US, and the UK. However, in spite of a sure-handed facility with dramatic structure that blends one character’s storyline with the other—no small talent, to be sure—the play is encumbered by basic shallowness.

First and foremost, the romance between Mary (Cassandra Bissell) and Charles (Shane Kenyon) is the most generic sort. She has recently arrived from England, upper-crustiness intact, and he is a common, horseback-riding, farm boy “colonist”—these stereotypes in the play are as entrenched as anything along the Western Front. What draws these two together remains one of its most underdeveloped features. Sadly, while Bissell and Kenyon’s interactions show freshness and innocence, there is not enough chemistry between them to make up for the text’s deficiencies. Be prepared for tepid barn scenes, “startling” horseback rides, boring tea parties, and a disapproving, upper-crusty mother.

The audience must slog through 30 minutes of that before finally getting on to the war. Once there, creaky exposition comes across more like cliff notes to Canada’s participation in the Great War than any young man’s authentic first person experience. Trenches, lice, poison gas—even “my first kill”—gets ticked off like a laundry list. Throw in Gordan Muriel Flowerdew and the Battle of Moreuil Wood and you’ve got something that will easily serve as a Canadian after-school-special.

Photographer: Mark Campbell Photographer: Mark Campbell
Photographer: Mark Campbell Photographer: Mark Campbell

These are terrible things to say in the face of a cast and crew striving for a balanced, lean, heartfelt, and poetic production. By that, I mean true poetry—not the faux poeticism of repetitions in the text that lose their power to resonate and can, in fact, become as irritating as nails on a blackboard. Mark Ulrich’s directorial choices are, for the most part, clean, spare, and agile, eliciting the play’s dreamlike structure. Shane Kenyon is adeptly profound at portraying Charles’ encroaching war-weariness, while Cassandra Bissell brings the play’s emotional impact home during its final moments. The trouble is in waiting for the play to get there, enduring all its speed bumps along the way.

As a theater company, Rivendell Theatre has moved far beyond works like these. It shows a cohesion and professionalism that has lifted it to a higher level of excellence for small theaters in this city. It can take pride in its achievements and elevate its vision of what it can accomplish in future productions. And it can leave less fulfilling works behind—perhaps even in the dustbin of history.

Rating: ★★½

Scene from Mary’s Wedding on YouTube