REVIEW: Distracted (American Theatre Company)

‘Distracted’ isn’t worth your attention

 Fulks, Wilder - H II

American Theatre Company presents:

Distracted

by Lisa Loomer
directed by PJ Paparellil
through February 28th (more info)

review by Keith Ecker 

I’ve been told by medical professionals that I have both Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) and general anxiety disorder (GAD), which is the exact same dual diagnosis given to the little boy in the play Distracted.

Fulks - V III So you’d think that because I could identify with one of the play’s central figures, I’d probably be able to sympathize with its characters; maybe I’d be moved to think about the consequences of medicating children. Well, I can’t sympathize, and the only thing I was moved to do was leave the theater once the lights came up.

There’s a lot to be said about this American Theatre Company production. So much in fact that it’s hard to focus. But as my therapist reminds me, it’s best to break things down into smaller tasks.

Let’s start with something simple, like the space. It’s huge with an exposed concrete floor big enough to stage Xanadu. Of course, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with a large space. It just requires a lot of energy to fill it. Unfortunately, there’s little energy in this play. The mother (Donna Jay Fulks), who tries to “fix” her son’s AD/HD, has the emotional depth of a woman in an Activia commercial. When she should be banging her head against the steel beam that was obstructing my view of stage left, she instead grits her teeth, rolls her eyes and half-asses a mantra to calm herself down.

On a positive note, the use of 16 flat-screen televisions was a novel effect. Not only do the screens serve as figurative distractions—representing cell phones, cable news and instant messaging—they also create digital scenery. A doctor’s office, for example, comes to life when the screens flicker with images of impressionist paintings and a fish tank.

Next, the acting. I’ll start with the positive on this one. The supporting cast, many of whom play multiple roles, steals the show. As the protagonist boringly drifts from one professional to another, teetering on helplessness and frustrated but never quite getting there, the supporting cast infuses real emotion and vibrancy into the piece. Audrey Morgan, who plays the teacher, a doctor and a nurse, and Dina Facklis, who plays the obsessive-compulsive neighbor Vera, have impeccable commitment and comedic chops. When they speak, the play comes to life.

Facklis, Fulks - V Unfortunately, most of the time the acting is dead on arrival. The mother and father (Kevin Rich) are an incredibly unconvincing couple, playing out the tension in the relationship with all the reality of a “very special episode” of a primetime sitcom. True, Fulks had a challenging part. The mother is the sun that the world of the play revolves around. But damn it, feel something! Maybe this is emblematic of Distracted’s suburbia setting, where people harbor a sort of overly reserved kind of existential anger at society that must be suppressed for fear of what the neighbors might think. But hey, we’re all human. And even a soccer mom is going to have a mental breakdown at some point. I’ve seen it happen, and it isn’t pretty. The best we get is a shoe-shopping spree and a small outburst where she confesses to the audience that she feels like her son is ruining her life.

The direction. PJ Paparelli, who is also the artistic director of ATC, makes Distracted move fast. A bedroom morphs into an office which morphs into a classroom. A teacher becomes a nurse, a doctor breaks out of character and everyone stops action to speak to the audience. The smash-cut scene changes work thanks to the coasters on all the set pieces. However, the character switches do not. Paparelli moves so fast that half the time the actors seem confused as to whom they are supposed to be, occasionally stumbling over their lines in an effort to catch up.

Finally, the writing. I’m amazed this play was first produced in 2007 because it feels like it was from the early 90s. I’m 28 years old. Childhood Ritalin prescriptions were commonplace, albeit controversial, when I was 8. This play treats the subject matter as untouched territory while failing to contribute anything to the decades-old dialogue. Worse still, the whole piece feels like a big lecture, a sort of morality play where the audience is talked down to the entire time. And because there aren’t really characters in this piece, just physical embodiments of different points of view, we never have the opportunity to care about anyone.

One last note: If you do find anything redeeming about this play, it will all be dashed by the miserable ending. Distracted just kind of peters out on an anticlimactic note, that note being a song by Eminem, a rapper no tweenage boy has listened to for nearly a decade. I don’t know if the use of Eminem was in the script or if it was a directorial move, but it reminded me of watching my mom try to prove how cool she still is by doing tequila shots.

A good supporting cast and some interesting stage elements can’t save this production. Sadly, the only thing you’ll be paying attention to while watching Distracted is your watch.

 

Rating: ★½

 

Rich, Fulks - H all photos by Christopher Plevin

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REVIEW: Lucid (Diamante Productions)

The surreal world of “Lucid”

 Lucid cubicles

Diamante Productions presents:

Lucid

by Tony Fiorentino
directed by
Braden LuBell
thru February 27th –
Athenaeum Theatre (more info)

Review by K.D. Hopkins

The play Lucid is supposed to be about the mystery and excitement of what is called lucid dreaming. This is a somewhat controversial technique parlayed by New Age practitioners as a means to fulfill desires both conscious and subconscious. The playwright Tony Fiorentino has attempted to bring this to the audience in the form of a frustrated working drone named Peter Moore. He is a character descended from Roth and John Updike yet updated for our time and current American culture. Moore shares a cubicle and comic relief from the work day with Wally who seems to be an everyday guy but has a Mephistophelian bent with his fantasies and rants against the bosses Lucid 5of the world. Peter and Wally are graphic artists working in anonymity putting doodles and copy on items that end up in the dollar stores of Chicago or plastered on the windows of closed storefronts.

The play opens on the “L” as Wally is regaling Peter with how he stood up to the boss. The dialogue escalates until Wally claims to have taken an ax to the boss. He knows it is a lie but claims that it could happen in the world of lucid dreaming. Wally has taken the class for $300 and wants to share his newfound knowledge with Peter. That benevolence-really malevolence-sends Peter Moore into a descent where he is obsessed with non-reality. On the home front, Peter has what is the new American Dream set on its ear. His girlfriend is pregnant and has moved in taking up the extra bedroom where he once had an art studio. She is portrayed as obsessed with being a family and having Peter as a part of his child’s life. The minute Peter hits the door, he is faced with Becky doing Kegel exercises on the sofa and having ordered takeout to satisfy her eggplant craving. Their relationship is strained even though they each proclaim love and devotion. They all step through the looking glass when Peter gives his seat to a beautiful passenger on the “L”. Peter feels a connection and thinks that she is everything that Becky is not. She leaves her scarf on the train which becomes a fetish for Peter’s fantasies.

Peter is played by Daniel McEvilly. He fits the look of the character and does well especially in scenes with Becky, played by Laura Shatkus. Otherwise his performance came across as a bit too earnest. The artist has attention deficit rather than longings for freedom in his portrayal. This may be due to the writing more than the acting. There are elements of Surrealism and then Transcendentalism and then the Great American Discontent of post war America. They are all worthy subject matter and yet one cringes when Peter and his fantasy lover-Robin quote Thoreau. Mr. McEvilly does a fine job of projecting the rage of the working stiff who is meant for greater things. His scenes with Wally- played by Jake Szczepaniak are at times riveting. They have some great dialogue about art and real life. Sometimes McEvilly veered into preaching but he balanced well off of Mr. Szczepaniak.

The character of Wally is quite complex and well played by Mr. Szczepaniak. Wally is a world class BS artist that hides behind his bravado. He is a Mephistopheles leading Peter into a world that can solve all of his problems without any mention of the cost. When Peter goes too deep into the surreal world of lucid dreaming, Wally tries to take immoral liberties under the guise of being drunk and blacked out. This scene had the possibility of being smarmy but came across as menacing and unsettling.

Lucid _ 1 Lucid 3

Laura Shatkus’ portrayal of Becky is quite good. She has the task of taking on a role that’s written with a misogynistic bent. Pregnant women are usually portrayed as hysterical, needy, and insecure – always at the expense of a very put upon man. Peter goes so far as to count back the days when she got pregnant to claim that the child may not be his. He does not want any responsibility messing up his fantasy life. This is where the play veers dangerously close to melodrama, but Ms. Shatkus’ emotional range and subtlety keep things taut.

The character of Robin is played by Tracey Kaplan. She has a wonderful stage presence that also keeps the drama on course. She is equally charming as the woman on the “L” and the fantasy/muse of Peter’s dreams. The scenes between her and Mr. McEvilly are erotically charged and they play well off of each other. As mentioned before, some of the dialogue is a bit stilted and derivative but great chemistry between actors can be the saving grace. (Speaking of derivative-the homage to “Casablanca” made me chortle rather than feel any regret for the characters.) Robin always appears holding an apple as her symbol of temptation and the great fall of man. It was a bit too obvious and the actors had enough chemistry to not need a superfluous prop.

One would be remiss to not mention the brilliant scenic design by Robert Shoquist. The set is a Kafkaesque mix of cubicles representing the compartmentalization of Peter Moore’s life. It is accented expertly by props designer Lindsay Monahan. There is an assault of the hyper-colored junk that crowds our world including the sound of a Halloween skeleton singing “Just A Gigolo”. The office is a tight box as much as home is a suffocating trap lit beautifully in somber tones by Justin Wardell. The set is on a Lazy Susan mechanism that the actors move between scenes. The physical movement adds to the surrealist tone. One definition of Surrealism is ‘what is beneath the surface is what the mind’s eye sees’. We are taken beneath the surface of Peter Moore’s mind as well as the mechanisms of the drama and maybe the mind of the playwright. This was an enjoyable drama that will be of some interest to those who are into psychology and relationships in our times; that can be a surreal journey in real life.

 

Rating: ★★½

NOTE: This play contains adult subject matter and sexual situations. Parents are advised.

“Lucid” plays on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00PM and Sundays at 3:00 PM at the Athenaeum Theatre 2936 Southport. Tickets are available through Ticket Master at 800-982-2787 or at the Athenaeum box office.

Lucid_poster

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Joffrey Ballet announces its 2010-2011 Season!

joffrey_logo

THE JOFFREY BALLET ANNOUNCES ITS 2010-2011 SEASON

 

Season to feature two mixed repertory programs:

  • showcasing World Premieres by Liang and Possokhov
  • toasting famed choreographers Balanchine and Wheeldon
  • Plus, the revival of The Taming of the Shrew and the return of America’s #1 Nutcracker

Continuing in The Joffrey Ballet’s mission to provide the highest level of performance quality, the season will feature live orchestral accompaniment by the Chicago Sinfonietta , the official orchestra of The Joffrey Ballet. All performances will take place in The Joffrey’s home venue, the historic Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, in downtown Chicago at 50 East Congress Parkway.

“The Joffrey’s next season promises to be an intriguing array of dance,” noted Artistic Director Ashley Wheater. “We’ll salute the contributions of 20th century, New York masters in the fall, and introduce works by the next generation in the spring, with two full-length story ballets in between. Throughout the season we balance established and rising talent, mixed rep and evening-length ballets, contemporary and traditional. There’s something for both the dance aficionado and the dance novice, and everyone in between.”

2007-nutcracker-med-5098 Joffrey’s “The Nutcracker” – 2007


October 13-24, 2010

  1. Wheeldon’s After the Rain

  2. Balanchine’s Stravinsky Violin Concerto

The Joffrey Ballet’s 2010-2011 Season opens with a mixed repertory program of Company Premieres, highlighting 20th century New York icons. The program will include Christopher Wheeldon’s emotionally resonant After the Rain (2005). Set to the minimalist, classical music of Arvo Pärt, After the Rain is in two sections that are strikingly different in tone, with the first section marked by steel gray costumes and backdrop with three couples creating bold lines and intricate lifts. The second section shifts to a warmer palette as dancers embody an emotional relationship, at times becoming tender and connected while at other times pulling away or struggling to find each other. The bill will also offer George Balanchine’s Stravinsky Violin Concerto, which was revised in 1972 from a previous choreographic endeavor titled Balustrade that premiered in 1941. Using the opening “Toccata,” two central “Arias” and the final “Capriccio” from Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto in D, Balanchine forms contrasting pas de deux for two different couples. Dancers resemble musical notes floating over the stage in Balanchine’s sensual and saucy homage to the genius of Igor Stravinksy. The fall program will include a third piece, to be announced at a later date. This program will be presented October 13 – 24, 2010.


December 11 – 26, 2010

The Nutcracker

Possibly America’s #1 Nutcracker and Chicagoland’s most popular holiday tradition, Robert Joffrey’s production of The Nutcracker will again transform the Auditorium Theatre into a winter wonderland, complete with magical toys, dancing snowflakes and exotic sweets. The Tchaikovsky masterpiece, featuring the full Joffrey Company, ,local children’s choruses and more than 120 young dancers, will be presented in seventeen performances, December 11 – 26, 2010.


February 16 – 27, 2011

 

John Cranko’s The Taming of the Shrew

In February 2011, The Joffrey Ballet revisits the popular The Taming of the Shrew, last performed by The Joffrey in 2002. John Cranko’s world-renowned ballet adaptation of William Shakespeare’s classic story is a romantic comedy about the trials of finding balance in love. With music by Kurt-Heinz Stolze and Domenico Scarletti, The Taming of the Shrew depicts the boastful Petruchio as he attempts to tame the strong-willed Katherine. When it originally premiered at the Stuttgart Ballet in 1969, Cranko’s translation re-defined narrative ballet through witty and subtle choreography that brought the characters and their foils vividly to life. The Joffrey will revive this two-act ballet February 16 – 27, 2011.


May 4 – 15, 2011

 
Commissioned works by Liang and Possokhov

 

The 2010-2011 Season concludes with a mixed repertory program featuring two World Premieres, by Edwaard Liang and Yuri Possokhov. A former soloist for New York City Ballet, Liang’s first work for The Joffrey, The Age of Innocence, premiered in the fall of 2008 and was met with critical and audience acclaim. His theatrical work paired 19th century romanticism with athletic prowess and a contemporary sensibility. Possokhov, a former dancer for the Bolshoi Ballet, the Royal Danish Ballet, and a principal dancer and choreographer for the San Francisco Ballet, has made a name for himself as an austere and charismatic dancer and a bold, innovative choreographer. The Joffrey Ballet is proud to commission these new works, being performed May 4 – 15, 2011.

Location, ticketing and info on the company’s present season can be found after the fold.

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