REVIEW: Epic Proportions (Project 891 Theatre)

Shortness on vaudevillian style slows down “Epic Proportions”

 Cole Simon, Anna Shutz, 3

Project 891 Theatre presents:

 

Epic Proportions

by Larry Cohen and David Crane
directed by Ron Popp
at Chemically Imbalanced Theatre, 1420 W. Irving Park
through March 28th (more info | tickets)

review by Paige Listerud

I once looked down on broad physical comedy. Absorbed by witty dialogue and high concept situations, I relegated trips, pratfalls, and near misses to comedy for the lower orders. That alone makes me a bigger ass than any of the actors that manfully, enthusiastically sport their way through Beau Forbes’ fight choreography in Epic Proportions, Project 891’s latest production at Chemically Imbalanced Theatre. Physical comedy, perfectly timed and emotionally truthful, is like ballet—an athletic challenge that looks deceptively easy.

Anna Shutz, Cole Simon 2 The athletic end of acting has waned with the advance of modern theater, a loss that shows most when well-trained actors take on physically demanding comic roles. Today, the art and craft of physical comedy seems the province of specialists, dropped from the average actor’s repertoire like a hot potato.

Too bad. With the exception of the physical stuff, Ron Popp has assembled an excellent cast, with each actor fit perfectly to type. Benny Bennett (Matt Lozano) is a likable star-struck schlub, beginning his film career as an extra in, “Exuent Omnes”, a movie helmed by the egomaniacal director D. W. DeWitt (Robert Kearcher). Benny’s brother, Phil (Cole Simon), an all-around American boy-next-door, comes to collect Benny to take him home to the farm. But, since it is the Depression, and since extras get a dollar a day plus free meals, and since the last truck has left all 3400 cast members stranded in the desert—per Mr. DeWitt’s orders—Phil stays to become party to the madness of a runaway, overproduced picture that sees no end in sight.

As for “Exuent Omnes”, think “The Ten Commandments” meets “Ben Hur”, meets “Quo Vadis”, meets every other B-list sword and sandal epic. Both brothers fall for pert, cheerful Louise Goldman (Anna Schutz), assistant director to the extras, whose job of dividing the extras into ‘slave group” or “orgy scene group” already sets brother against brother. Add an assistant to Mr. DeWitt (Matt Allis) with the demeanor of a shark and a lesbian costume designer (Liz Hoffman) lusting after Louise and you have plenty here to entertain beyond the sturm und drang of jumbled comic fight scenes.

Cole Simon, Anna Shutz, Matt Lozano.jpg 2 Cole Simon, Anna Shutz

Obviously, the production strives to be consciously overwrought, in stylized parody of Cecille B. Demille films. Some moments are more successful than others. Tommy Culhane’s deliciously bug-eyed gaze and overarching gestures set the right tone for pronouncements about the glory of Rome. Hoffman’s sassy Queen of the Nile and voracious Continental lesbian are treats. If only Popp’s direction didn’t deprive her of a few critical comic moments. Gary Murphy’s Demille-like voice-overs, as well as the cast of the mockumentary that first introduces Exuent Omnes–Kate Konopasek, Floyd A. May, Manny Schenk and Larry Teagarden–round out the manic film enthusiasm for a fictitious cult classic.

The cast certainly exhibits all the exuberance typical of a 1930s comedy. However, the craft that is the legacy of vaudeville and screwball films needs to be tightened up for the sake of a fully realized work. Who knew silliness could be so complicated? Who knew everything old would be new, and necessary, again?

Rating: ★★½

 

Matt Lozano and Cole Simon

EXTRA CREDIT:

REVIEW: Number of People (Piven Theatre Workshop)

Beck is #1 in this one man show

number 

Piven Theatre Workshop presents:

 

Number of People

Written and directed by Emilie Beck
At Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes St., Evanston
Thru April 11th (more info)

 

By Katy Walsh

8, 11, 6, Leo Gold is a numbers guy. His wife is an eight. His daughter is eleven. And his concentration camp bunkmate is a six. Piven Theatre Workshop presents Number of People, a Holocaust survivor’s recollection of moments of his life. Leo Gold lived through the attempted annihilation of the Jewish people. Now, he is enduring the death of his wife and the onset of Alzheimer’s. In the past, a fixation on numbers has given him sequential order. From the muddled recesses of his mind, numerical disarray leads to total recall. Humans exterminating a segment of the population is unimaginable, undeniable, and unforgivable. How is it survivable? As a statistician, Leo counts on numbers, ‘a 1 is always a 1.’ Number of People is an ordinary man’s jumbled memoirs of his extraordinary life story.

Bernard Beck plays Leo Gold as an average Joe. He is a grumpy old guy waiting on his daughter to pick him up. Mr. Beck is understated and un-heroic in his portrayal of Leo Gold, maintaining that Leo Gold as a ‘regular corny joke telling’ nobody. It’s this established foundation that springboards to poignant discourse as Leo’s slipping self-containment is pried open. He relives amazingly horrific episodes of inhumanity.  There is a true sense from Mr. Beck’s performance that these stories are only being recounted because of the Alzheimer’s. Leo Gold is no longer able to focus on the numbers for a reality escape. His infliction forces nightmarish reminiscence; he’s particularly unforgettable in a moving scene with rainwater and numbers on a painting.

Emilie Beck is the tri-fecta of success as the playwright, director and daughter of Mr. Beck. As the playwright, she has brilliantly pieced together stories to chronicle Leo Gold’s life. She highlights his ordinary and sometimes disconnected relationship with his wife. Ms. Beck showcases Leo’s confusion and detachment with descriptive passages. Whether it is a matter-of-fact description of a hundred hanged Jews or delightful musings over drinking beer at lunchtime, she gives Leo’s imagery equal importance. It is powerful glimpses of one man’s startling existence.

Number of People uses a minimal set with a surprising utilization of books. There is a room behind a room which works to establish Leo’s confused state of mind. Although music transitions his stories back to his number fascination, the song choices and cues seem simplistic and forced. It’s the only integer that doesn’t quite add up in a tightly constructed ninety minute oration of the unexpected depth of experience suppressed behind a man’s numerical defense mechanism.

 

Rating: ★★★

 

Running time: Ninety minutes with no intermission

 

noyes

Noyes Cultural Arts Center

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Wednesday Wordplay – Bette Davis and toilet mummies

Lots of intuitive quotes this week, including ones from Bette Davis, Victor Hugo, Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi.  And a funny quote from Edith Sitwell. Enjoy.


[Mostly] Inspirational Quotes

There are new words now that excuse everybody. Give me the good old days of heroes and villains. the people you can bravo or hiss. There was a truth to them that all the slick credulity of today cannot touch.
            — Bette Davis, The Lonely Life, 1962

I have often wished I had time to cultivate modesty… But I am too busy thinking about myself.
            — Edith Sitwell, As quoted in The Observer (30 April 1950)

Good habits result from resisting temptation.
            — Ancient Proverb

An ounce of loyalty is worth a pound of cleverness.
            — Elbert Hubbard

There is always more misery among the lower classes than there is humanity in the higher.
            — Victor Hugo, ‘Les Miserables,’ 1862

Joy is prayer – Joy is strength – Joy is love – Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.
            — Mother Teresa

You can’t turn back the clock. But you can wind it up again.
            — Bonnie Prudden

Honest differences are often a healthy sign of progress.
            — Mahatma Gandhi

Don’t gamble; take all your savings and buy some good stock and hold it till it goes up, then sell it. If it don’t go up, don’t buy it.
            — Will Rogers

If I have learnt anything, it is that life forms no logical patterns. It is haphazard and full of beauties which I try to catch as they fly by, for who knows whether any of them will ever return?
            — Margot Fonteyn

It’s not your painting anymore. It stopped being your painting the moment that you finished it.
            — Jeff Melvoin, Northern Exposure, Fish Story, 1994

Real, constructive mental power lies in the creative thought that shapes your destiny, and your hour-by-hour mental conduct produces power for change in your life. Develop a train of thought on which to ride. The nobility of your life as well as your happiness depends upon the direction in which that train of thought is going.
            — Laurence J. Peter

It is a sadness of growing older that we lose our ardent appreciation of what is new and different and difficult.
            — Elizabeth Aston, The Exploits & Adventures of Miss Alethea Darcy, 2005

Just because you are blind, and unable to see my beauty doesn’t mean it does not exist.
            — Margaret Cho, Margaret Cho’s weblog, 03-23-06

Consult your friend on all things, especially on those which respect yourself. His counsel may then be useful where your own self-love might impair your judgment.
            — Seneca

Never chase a lie. Let it alone, and it will run itself to death.
            — Lyman Beecher

Do not listen to those who weep and complain, for their disease is contagious.
            — Og Mandino

I feel good about taking things to Goodwill and actually, I do like shopping at Goodwill. It’s so cheap that it feels like a library where I am just checking things out for awhile until I decide to take them back.
            — April Foiles

Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.
            — Malcolm X, Malcolm X Speaks, 1965

We are rich only through what we give, and poor only through what we refuse.
            — Anne-Sophie Swetchine

Oh for a book and a shady nook…
            — John Wilson

The ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it.
            — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Whenever evil befalls us, we ought to ask ourselves, after the first suffering, how we can turn it into good. So shall we take occasion, from one bitter root, to raise perhaps many flowers.
            — Leigh Hunt

I have never been especially impressed by the heroics of people who are convinced they are about to change the world. I am more awed by those who struggle to make one small difference after another.
            — Ellen Goodman

 


 

Urban Dictionary

 

Toilet Mummy

When someone is so concerned about toilet seat germs, they cover the seat with half a roll of toilet paper, leaving it to appear like it has been mummified.

"I was going to use that stall to drop a deuce, but somebody left it looking like a toilet mummy."

Recrap

To sum up a discussion composed largely of useless bullshit.

Person 1: "Tell me how the staff meeting went."
Person 2: "Allow me to recrap…"