REVIEW: Evolution/Creation (Quest Theatre Ensemble)

Evolution/Creation is Unusual/Fascinating

 Evolution/Creation

Quest Theatre Ensemble presents:

Evolution/Creation

 

Written and directed by Andrew Park
Music by
Scott Lamps
Musical direction by Gary Powell
At Quest Blue Theatre, 1609 W. Gregory
Thru March 28th (more info)

by Katy Walsh

Science/Religion. Explosion/Organic. Inevitable/Mystical. Quest Theatre presents Evolution/Creation, a theatrical experience for the senses. Upon arrival at the Quest Blue Theatre, each audience member receives a red or green wristband. The red tags enter the doorway marked “Evolution.” The green tags go to door #2, “Creation.” evolution4The theatre has been split into two sides with a nine member orchestra straddling the center dividing line. Two different plays perform simultaneously with shared music. After the intermission, the audience goes through the opposite assigned door to experience the flip side. With no spoken dialogue, Evolution/Creation is all about innovative imagery set to music. The show starts with dramatic Latin chorale singing  from scientists and monk types on each stage. They are separated by the band. As the actors stand from the kneeling position, the orchestra sits. Curtains rise on either side. The band and the other stage are no longer visible. In the beginning, there was….

First up, Creation! It’s the Genesis story plus the Noah tale to tell the origins of how the world began and began again. The cast is dressed in black with oversized paper mache heads. The strong religious overtones are represented with the Creator’s huge hands. Each day’s goal is announced with parchment type scrolls. Each day’s success is demonstrated with puppetry and nature. It’s a wholesome pageantry of seasons, stars, horses and other organic elements integrated in a sequential order of occurrence. Adam and Eve arrive on the scene, eat an apple and Eden is destroyed. The destruction continues with a flood survived by Noah and his animal selection. When the rain stops, creation the sequel happens again. The Creation play has a slow pacing innocence with familiar simplicity.

Later, Evolution! It’s the big bang version of how life started from nothing. Initially, a dancer clad in red pieces together ribbons to spell out “Love” and then continues until it spells “Evolve.” The cast is dressed in black with matching hoods. Darkness is a strong theme for the unknown. Rain, smoke, strobe/black lights are the multiple evolution3 techniques used to illustrate different advancements in life forms: lights to amoebas to dinosaurs. The narration of evolution is a projection of the process’ description over billions of years. Evolution is the edgier play representing a stark happenstance explanation of the world.

Both shows are the ultimate visual of the juxtaposition in these competing theories: science vs religion. One of the best moments occurs when Evolution briefly shows an overlap between theories on the monkey to human spectrum. Written and directed by Andrew Park, this is a fascinatingly unusual theatrical experience. It’s the coordination of two plays, eighteen cast members, and a nine piece orchestra, composed by Scott Lamps and directed by Gary Powell. It’s a show that could easily be viewed multiple times to determine all the nuisances. I’m still puzzling over the music score. Practically speaking, it seems like it has to be the same for both shows. But the plays are so different, the music must be too. I continue to be intrigued….

In their mission to “Inform, Delight, Inspire and Unite” the community, Quest Theatre experiences are free/donation. The audience is an eclectic combination of young/old. Families have an affordable opportunity/privilege. Unfortunately, it wasn’t cell phones that disrupted the performances’ flow on Saturday night. It was the constant chatter of two (8-10 year old) girls. NOTE to parents: If your children haven’t evolved into respectful audience members, you need to stick to children’s theatre or create a stay-at-home family night.

Rating: ★★★

 

Running Time: 80 minutes includes a ten minute intermission and a ten minute delayed start. Production is free – reservations recommended. (make reservation)

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REVIEW: A Separate Peace (Steppenwolf Theatre)

The drama begins when the summer ends

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Steppenwolf For Young Adults presents:

A Separate Peace

 

by John Knowle
adapted by Nancy Gilsenan
directed by Jonathan Berry
through March 19th (more info)

reviewed by Oliver Sava

Steppenwolf’s production of John Knowle‘s A Separate Peace, adapted by Nancy Gilsenan and directed by Jonathan Berry, becomes more engaging as its characters are exposed to the world outside the boundaries of their boarding school, particularly the looming threat of World War II. The opening scenes, effective in conveying the rambunctious energy of the boys during the summer, lack a strong conflict, but once the seasons change and adulthood inches closer, the show gains emotional resonance.

Roommates Gene (Jake Cohen) and Finny (Damir Konjicija) are holding onto the vestiges of their childhood, inventing ball games and jumping out of trees, and while Gene prepares for life beyond their boyish existence, Finny deludes himself with ideas of eternal youth. Konjicija’s energy nears obnoxious levels as he leaps around the stage cajoling his schoolmates into participating in his juvenile antics, but moment of vulnerability prevent Finny from grating on the nerves. The character’s denial of the war overseas reveals a young man afraid of his mortality beneath the charismatic, carefree exterior, but when tragic events prevent him from ever serving his country, his fear is replaced by a greater feeling of shame.

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At the core of the play is Gene and Finny’s relationship, and while Gene is overshadowed by his roommate, both actors are equally captivating. The emotional depth that Cohen brings to his character prevents him from seeming malicious when camaraderie becomes jealousy, and there is genuine remorse for his actions in the later half of the play. The production is bookended by Gene’s monologues, and Cohen does an admirable job setting the tone of the production: a bittersweet journey through one man’s memories. 

Berry’s direction of the opening and closing sequences captures the free flowing imagery that constitutes the mind’s recollections, further emphasized by Chelsea Warren‘s set. An amalgamation of the primary locations of the play, it features an epic tree branch hanging over the boys’ dorm room, the branch’s presence both a reminder of youth and a foreboding harbinger of doom.

As Finny’s life is forever changed, so is classmate Leper’s (Will Allen), the bookish wallflower who enlists when he turns 18. When Leper escapes from basic training, the play explores the emotional and mental damage of military culture, demystifying the boys’ illusions about the service. Allen’s terror as Leper recognizes his deteriorating mental state is chilling, and gives the final image of the play, men in military uniform marching toward an uncertain fate, incredible strength.

Rating: ★★★

 

Extra Credit:

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REVIEW: Here Where It’s Safe (Stage Left Theatre)

Exposes disturbing trend of foreign surrogate mothers

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Stage Left Theatre presents:

Here Where It’s Safe

 

Written by M.E.H. Lewis
Directed by
Scott Bishop
through April 3rd
(more info)

Review by Barry Eitel

Stage Left’s most recent offering, Here Where It’s Safe, definitely fits in with their declared purpose of exploring socio-political subjects. The new play sifts through an ethical quagmire that has international implications: the rising issue of barren couples paying foreign women to have children for them. M.E.H. Lewis focuses on Indian surrogates in Here Where it’s Safe, telling a very contemporary story about an American woman’s relationship with the young Indian girl that’s carrying her baby. It’s a massively relevant tale full of current statistics, figures, and headlines, but the social topics of the play overshadow the dramatic gravitas.

safe2 This is the last show Stage Left is doing in their long time space on Sheffield; they will be moving into the Theatre Wit complex for next season. They make a grand exit with scenic designer William Anderson’s gorgeous set. His design envelopes the space, placing us in a traditional Indian world with intricate motifs in metal and wood. Scenes travel thousands of miles and take us from America to India, and the set is open enough to allow all of the scenes to happen with short transitions. Complemented by Jessica Harpenau’s lights and Elizabeth Flauto’s colorful costumes, the production forms a fascinating world.

On the whole, the performances are pretty convincing, although sometimes there seems to be a disconnect among the ensemble. Cat Dean is Abigail, a woman ravaged by her failed attempts to have a child. Dean carries the show, but can also be a bit too stoic at times, which teeters on boring an audience. Her best work is when she is in the scenes with Mouzam Makkar, who plays Beena, the 19-year old girl Abigail is paying to have her baby. Makkar has the best performance in the production, capturing the youthful brattiness of a teenager combined with the emotional maturity of a wife and mother forced to make tough choices. She is a blank slate with the ability to project and withhold intentions and motivations from her scene partners and the audience. Occasionally, though, what drives her forward is hard to read even in the intimate space. Cory Krebsbach is goofy yet lovable as Abigail’s husband and Anita Chandwaney is excellent as Dr. Uma, Beena’s “boss” at the surrogate agency. safe1 The weak link in the cast is Kate Black as Abigail super-liberal friend Jem, who doesn’t seem to have much of a point besides providing a progressive worldview on the matter and saying “breeder” a lot. Supposedly Jem helps flesh out the ethical issues, but Black comes across as detached and uncaring.

I think the cutting of a couple of scenes would strengthen the play. As it is, Lewis’ script extends itself too far, having a lot of shorter scenes. They begin to feel extraneous after awhile. The plot and themes could be consolidated; the play could kick harder. It feels like Lewis was really excited to confront her audience with an issue that gets very little facetime in the media. However, the play that wraps it could be more coherent. The text evolves around themes, instead of a script giving birth to social, political, and economic questions. The characters all have their reasons, personalities, and the plot is logical, but the work as a whole seems more concerned with putting out a message than telling a compelling story.

I was never bored by the show, nor turned off by any of the more overt political discussions, and it does shed light on a little-known yet somewhat disturbing trend. Here Where it’s Safe could just be made a lot more powerful if it didn’t tangle itself in some vague opinions.

 

Rating: ★★½

 

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Chicago Opera Theatre announces YouTube contest

 

 

This year’s YouTube contest theme is “How do YOU make opera less ordinary?” – the top three videos will win subscriptions to the 2010 Spring Festival Season and all runners up will get passes to a final dress rehearsal. ( Note: This is the perfect opportunity for theater fans to interpret an opera and get to see a Chicago Opera Theater production, or three productions if they are one of the winners).

HOW DO YOU MAKE OPERA LESS ORDINARY?

COT is giving you the chance to show the world how YOU make opera less ordinary.
Send them a video of yourself and/or your friends re-enacting any one of the storylines from any of the operas in COT’s 2010 Spring Festival Season (a synopsis for each opera is available on the upper right corner of this webpage) – the 3 top vote-getters will win subscriptions to their 2010 spring season.  The submission deadline is April 9th.

Steps needed to enter the contest can be found after the fold (i.e., click on “Read More”).

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Steppenwolf taps Rebecca Rugg for new Associate Producer post

Yale School of Drama  instructor Rebecca Rugg will join the Steppenwolf  Theatre  Company  in the newly-created position of Associate Producer. The post involves  “work(ing)”  closely with the Director of Artistic Development to implement new initiatives, provide dramaturgical expertise and continue to deepen Steppenwolf’s commitment to the development of new plays,” according to a written statement from the theater.

 Rugg has strong local ties in addition to a background that spans continents.  This season in Chicago, in addition to being an Artistic Associate at About Face Theatre  Company, she was the dramaturg on 500 Clown and the Elephant Deal with the 500 Clown ensemble and for the world premiere of  Fake written and directed by Eric Simonson for the Steppenwolf Downstairs theater. 

Rugg comes to the position with  a strong background in dramturgy, most recently working as in instructor in the Department of Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism at the Yale School of Drama. She also served as dramaturg and director of new projects at the Joseph Papp Public Theater / New York Shakespeare Festival under George C. Wolfe.  She was dramaturg on the original productions of Caroline, or Change, Harlem Song, Radiant BabyElaine Stritch at Liberty and together with Joe’s Pub Director Bill Bragin, commissioned Passing Strange

 In addition to her dramaturgy skills, Rugg has substantial producing credits, having produced  the  University network of the 365 Festival – a festival based on 365 Days/365 Plays, a year-long play cycle written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks.  Working  with Parks and Bonnie Metzgar (now the Artistic Director of About Face Theatre) , Rugg helped bring the 365 Days/365 Plays cycle to hundreds of theaters, universities and art spaces throughout the U.S. and abroad. The labor-intensive project drew kudos from Time Magazine, which named the 365 Festival one of its top ten theater events in 2006. 

Rugg’s criticism and translations have been published in American Theater, Theater Magazine and Performing Arts Journal. She holds a BFA and an MFA from Yale School of Drama, an MA from University of California, Riverside and a BA from Cornell University.  She has been a Jacob Javits Fellow, Djerassi Resident Artist, Fellow at U.C. Riverside’s Center for Ideas and Society and a member of the Foundry, Ma-Yi and Hip Hop Theater Festival’s delegation to the 2007 World Social Forum.