REVIEW: The Skin of Our Teeth (The Artistic Home)

One of theater’s strangest American families comes to life

 

SKIN_Antrobus Family night at home

The Artistic Home presents:

The Skin of Our Teeth

 
by
Thornton Wilder
directed by Jeff Christian
through March 21st (more info)

review by Ian Epstein

Jeff Christian and the clever folks over at The Artistic Home have done their dramaturgy research. In their production of Thorton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth they look back to the circumstances that governed the original production of Thorton Wilder’s species-sized, odd-ball American classic.  From it’s original debut during the height of war-torn 1942, Christian looked to the original Broadway premiere as inspiration.

SKIN_Sabina gets scolded The play begins with the audience facing curtains as black and heavy as the Great Depression, an event still sitting as fresh on everyone’s minds as the Recession might for audience memeber’s today. A short intro video in digital imitation of home movies from the days when they were still on film introduces the audience to the Antrobus family.

Then the curtains part to reveal the Antrobus home in Excelsior, New Jersey.  Sabina (Maria Stephens), the hired help to the Antrobus family from the dawn of time until today, steps on stage wielding a feather-duster like a knife. She works herself into a frenzy about the weather. Sabina, clad in fishnets, heels and a thigh-length black maid’s dress, dusts and monologues and tells us where we are.

New Jersey’s so cold that the dogs are sticking to the sidewalk and there’s a glacier steamrolling Vermont so they have to let in the Woolly Mammoth and the Dinosaur (yes – both appear in the show).

But she starts to repeat herself and the audience is left to wonder if she’s even delivering the lines properly and just when it’s gone to far, Sabina pulls everyone out of the play and it becomes clear that Thorton Wilder is toying with the audience’s trust in one of those play-within-a-play type moments.  Sabina becomes Maria Stephens and she’s angry and doesn’t understand a word of this damn play so she starts ranting about Chicago theater and directors like David Cromer and Anna Shapiro and recent productions of “Our Town

The few updated lines that Sabina delivers as Maria (or is it the other way around?) are wonderful because they freshen up the script’s ability to play with its own fictitiousness.   To borrow from literary critic John Barth, "when the characters in a work of fiction become readers or authors of the fiction they’re in, we’re reminded of the fictitious aspect of our own existence."  And the effect is only exaggerated when the character opposes the role as vehemently as Stephens does.  The quips about Our Town productions and the snippety interactions with Wilder’s characteristic Stage Manager (Eustace Allen) return to the play a much-needed sense of surprise and possibility.

SKIN_Mrs. Antrobus-Are they alive Husband and wife John Mossman and Kathy Scambiaterra (the Associate Artistic Director and Artistic Director of Artistic Home, respectively) portray Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus in the spirit of the original, married Broadway actors Florence Eldridge and Frederic March.  They’re strong performance bolsters the show. And Maria’s over-the-top Sabina goes a long way.   Katherine Swan plays Gladys Antrobus with a fun sense of teenage blasé and and Nick Horst is as tempermental and willful as Henry Antrobus (a.k.a. Cain — who killed the other Antrobus son Abel…).

Joseph Riley‘s set and Aly Greaves’ costumes don’t match the pace or intelligence of the acting and in a show as long as this they become distracting.  Still, come for a good performances of one of American theater’s stranger families.

Rating: ★★½

 

   
   

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REVIEW: Rush Limbaugh! The Musical (Second City)

It Ain’t Over ‘Til the Fat Pundit Sings

 RUSH- LtoR- Kevin Sciretta, Karla Beard, Colleen Murray, Mar

Second City e.t.c. presents

Rush Limbaugh! The Musical

book by Ed Furman
music/lyrics by
TJ Shanoff
directed by
Matt Hovde
through March 24th (more info)

review by Keith Ecker

RUSH- LtoR- Colleen Murray, MArk Sutton, Cayne Collier, Bump There’s an irony in juxtaposing Rush—the arena rock trio of Canadians who helped forge the musical genre known as progressive rock—with Rush Limbaugh—the overzealous, portly megalomaniac who helped forge the political movement known as neo-conservatism. This is the kind of sharp wit and pop-culture referencing that Second City’s newest play, Rush Limbaugh! The Musical, relies upon to penetrate through the mess that is today’s political landscape.

And just what is the topography of this landscape? Politicians and pundits have made careers out of capitalizing on fear, hate and anger. Religion is in the pocket of the self-proclaimed righteous who corrupt and manipulate their follower’s belief systems for their own gain. The two-party system gives voters a choice of crap and diet crap. All these are themes found in Rush Limbaugh, which at its greatest moments steps out from behind its satirical shield to reveal a genuinely pissed-off group of performers.

The musical focuses on the rise of Rush Limbaugh (Mark Sutton), from his humble beginnings as a rich hippie-hating nitwit in the 1960s to the mouthpiece for the evangelical Christian conservative movement.

RUSH-LtoR- Karla Beard, Mark SuttonOur tour guide on this journey is a woman with a Caribbean accent named Shasta (Karla L. Beard). She punctuates the play with parodies of Rush songs about Rush Limbaugh. While Rush is still young and floundering, Reverend Rightwing (Cayne Collier) steps in to help give the budding radio star a boost. The two forge a mutually beneficial relationship where Rush will use his own brand of Christian lunacy to win new converts to his radio show. Soon Rush becomes a voice to be reckoned with, successfully helping take down Bill Clinton. It is then that he’s on top of the world, ushering in a new Republican world order with the election of George W. Bush.

Donald Rumsfeld (also played by Collier) and Karl Rove (Bumper Carroll) make appearances as a bumbling Abbott and Costello duo while evil Anne Coulter (Colleen Murray) lurks in the shadows. There’s also a subplot involving Hillary Clinton (Murray) and Barney Frank (Kevin Sciretta), who serve as the weak, impotent voice of the left.

The acting is superb. Mark Sutton can muster up a vicious growl and a penetrating scowl on command. When he performs the on-air scenes in the makeshift radio booth, he really captures the despicable glee that the real Rush infuses into his racist diatribes, such as “How do you starve a black man? You hide his food stamps under his work boots.” But despite how wicked Sutton’s Rush might come off, you can’t resist watching him.

The supporting cast is rock solid. Beard has a voice on her that shines on the parody of the Dreamgirls tune “And I’m Telling You,” in which her character tells Rush that she’ll stay by his side even after the neo-conservative movement begins to lose steam. Murray successfully pulls off double duty as the weasely Anne Coulter and the manic Hillary Clinton, while Sciretta does a dead-on Barney Frank impression.

Overall, the writing (care of Ed Furman who also wrote Rod Blagojevich Superstar!) is strong. However, there are some terrible groaners that fall flat near the top of the play. The biggest flaw, though, are the Barney Frank lines, which amount to boring and trite homophobic comedy. It was strange to see these childish references to gay sex in a show that otherwise believed in the intelligence of the audience.

RUSH-LtoR- Cayne Collier, Mark Sutton, Collen Murray, Bumper RUSH-LtoR- Kevin Sciretta, Mark Sutton, Colleen Murray
RUSH- LtoR- Cayne Collier, Kevin Sciretta, Bumper Carroll, M RUSH- LtoR- Karla Beard, Kevin Sciretta, Colleen Murray, Mar

TJ Shanoff, who also worked on Rod Blagojevich Superstar!, wrote the music and lyrics, which are outstanding. From the Democrats shouting in punk rock fashion about how “fucked” their party is to Rush singing the praises of Oxycontin, the songs are deeply funny and veer away from obvious rhyme schemes that would normally spoil the joke.

Rush Limbaugh! The Musical is a political treatise told through musical comedy. Despite some base material that would be better left out of the play, you’ll find a lot of smart jokes to laugh at…unless you’re a Republican, in which case you might have been better off seeing the Rod Blagojevich production.

Rating: ★★★

Rush Limbaugh! The Musical at The Second City e.t.c. (1608 North Wells in Piper’s Alley, Chicago). previews Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 2:00pm, opening on Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 8:30pm and will run Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 8:30pm and Sundays at 2:00pm until March 24, 2010 at The Second City e.t.c.

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Billy Eliott tickets – even Hitler can’t get them!

okay, sorta bad taste, but still funny….

YouTube video: Spoof of Hitler’s The Downfall.
Title is self explanatory.