REVIEW: Medea with Child (Sideshow Theatre)

When the Goddess devours her own

 

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Sideshow Theatre Company presents
 
Medea with Child
 
by Janet Burroway
directed by Jonathan L. Green
at La Costa Theatre, 3931 N. Elston  (map)
through April 25th (more info)

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Medea With Child by Janet Burroway confronts the shallowness of modern-day existence still under the burdens of sexism, racism, age-ism, and nationalism; only these age-old fault lines are compounded further by contemporary image obsession, especially as political manipulation. It’s also a play about a (supernaturally) powerful woman reeling over lost love, lost youth, lost dignity, and, therefore, needing no more pretenses regarding motherly devotion. Sideshow Theatre Company clearly has too much fun with this material, yet they are simply co-conspiring with the playwright’s fast-paced, satirical wit and inspired juxtapositions.

MedeaWithChild4 Based on Euripides’ classic play The Medea, Media (Sojourner Zenobia Wright) acts out as the ultimate, ethno-folkloric Mommie Dearest—slaughtering her children in revenge against her husband’s infidelity and his total sociopolitical displacement of her. Burroway keeps the theme of Media’s barbarism completely intact from the Ancient Greek original but stretches its metaphor of the total stranger to its outer limits. Perhaps even more than Euripides’ heroine, Media is the eternal sister outsider.

Rising mythically out of Africa’s primordial depths, Media’s expansive, magical perception of reality extends far beyond normal human experience. As a result, she lives in the perpetual state of no one ever really getting her. She can talk on and on to slippery politico Crayon (Richard Warner) or to wayward husband Chasten (John Bonner)—but no one truly understands what she is saying and thinking.

Indeed, given their own total self-absorption with image and all its ramifications, no one around Media may even be trying. This establishes to some of most sublime contradictions in the course of the play. Glossy (Nicole Richwalsky), Crayon’s daughter and Chasten’s new secretary/squeeze, proclaims herself a feminist and claims Media as her feminist icon. But she is wrong on both counts. Media is not a feminist; her powers do not come from feminism–they come from a more primal place and go well beyond anything so dry as feminist political theory. She is what every feminist wishes she could be—especially the old school, Second Wave warriors who claimed witches for their feminist role models. Likewise, Glossy’s upstaging of Media in her affair with Chasten could hardly be recognized as a feminist act. Indeed, Glossy seems more fascinated with Media’s celebrity feminist status than any actual empowerment for herself or other women. When all is said and done, she basks in Media’s reflected glory by bedding her husband.

It’s a fine example of Burroway’s wry, twisted wit winking through the dialogue. Sisterhood is powerful; but not when young feminist sister stabs sister in the back because she has a mistaken idea of what feminism is. It may be completely mute in the company of men who have no interest in contradicting Glossy and every interest in moving Media aside for a brand, new (post-feminist?) order. It’s not just that the prospect for women’s empowerment goes down the tubes. Puerility replaces substance; swapping out Glossy for Media is like substituting The Runaways with The Spice Girls.

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By no means is that the limit of this play’s comic scope. Indeed, several viewings might be needed to savor every flavorful drop of its juicy, wicked goodness. Director Jonathan L. Green has assembled a superlative cast, all evenly sure and subtle in their delivery. As Media’s children, both in their play and their prognostications about mother, Fairies (Andrew Sa) and Murmurous (Lea Pascal) have the sacrificial victim thing disturbingly down pat.

So much meticulous attention has been given to every detail in performance and design each moment brings new discoveries and revelations. Joshua Lansing’s set design not only provides versatility, it places surprises in every corner. David Hyman’s construction of Media’s costume alone deserves an award and Wright certainly wears it well. She may be a killer, but girl knows how to bring the Hoodoo Mama chic!

One thing remains peculiarly striking, however. For all the humorous and inventive ways Burroway plays with the myth of Medea and Jason of the Argonauts, Media remains comparatively serious and unable to use humor as her weapon or shield. Wright’s portrayal of Media is nothing but fiercely and sensually witty, but Media herself seems unable to step back and realize the laughable ridiculousness of Chasten’s mid-life-crisis affair with shallow Glossy. In having Media feel too much and without ironic perspective, Burroway preserves the tragicomic nature of the play—exploring, as she wishes, the dark psychodynamics of enmeshed anti-motherhood and love’s betrayal. But is she, consciously or unconsciously, re-inscribing a humorless proto-feminism in the character of Media?

At the start of the play, Crayon holds up a list of possible options for the outcome of the story, in the hope that this time no one would have to die. I didn’t see a palimony option on that list. But palimonied freedom for Media and custody of the kids for Chasten and Glossy would be a completely different play, shifting the myth from tragedy to tragicomedy to comedy. The kind of 5th century BCE political comedy that made Aristophanes famous–wherein the hero, through his trickster nature, overcame his opponents and got everything he wanted. Is Media, for all her dark power and mystical nature, still not a trickster? Does that kind of comic ending still only look good on men and not on women?

 
Rating: ★★★★
 

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REVIEW: The….Curse of Dragula (Even and Odd Theatricals)

Be who you are. Love what you do.

 

Ed Jones as Dragula2

 
Even and Odd Theatricals present
 
The Bloody Fabulous Curse of Dragula
 
by Duane Scott Cerny
directed by Mark Contorno
at Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark (map)
through April 23rd (more info | tickets)

Reviewed by Aggie Hewitt

At a drag show, one expects low budget, gritty in your face comedy and music. At The Bloody Fabulous Curse of Dragula, the low budget aspect is more church basement than back alley, and the jokes are traditional drag queen fare: raunchy as all get up and a throwback to vaudevillian one liners ("I’m still big," laments Dragula, "it’s the necklines that got small") and amazingly campy puns ("Does the Countess receive royalty?" "No, but she is expecting a check."). While Countess Dragula is an undead creature of the night who resides in a castle atop a mountain in Transylvania, this wacky spoof is more RuPaul than Rue Morgue. Dragula is equal parts a send up of Dracula and Sunset Boulevard. The Gloria Swanson-esque Countess swoons around her castle in a black jumper, costume jewelry, and a black turban,  remembering her glory days, bedding all the great actors of the silent Dragula and Max 1screen. She lives with her man servant/husband, a combination of Dracula’s Renfield and Sunset’s Max Von Mayerling, Max Von Tampon (Michael Miller).  Mr. Miller’s performance is a highlight of the night, with his unwavering and stoic commitment. Dragula herself is played by uber-muggy Ed Jones, and is confident with a very sweet side. Although his performance is inconsistant, Mr. Jones radiates the underlying joy of Dragula, a take it or leave it farce that requests of it’s audience only that they have fun. 

We meet the Countess as a washed up, depressed, attention and money starved vampire diva. Her luck changes one day when a handsome screenwriter Joe Studlione (David Besky) stumbles upon her castle while scouting locations (just go with it). Dragula sees her second chance at fame, and pays him to stay with her on the mountain top and edit her comeback screenplay. But, as in life, nothing good can last, and before she knows it, Dragula’s Deliverence-like extended family has barged into her life, hoping that she will open her heart and her pocketbook to them.  The crazy plot is complimented by nonstop punny, dirty, hit-or-miss jokes. Although avid drag fans will want more music (there is one lonely song in Dragula) playwright Duane Scott Cerny has made a point to pen a play starring a drag queen, not a just a drag show.

Countess Dragula’s castle is adorned with pictures of herself as a young movie star, as well as autographed photos of her celebrity friends (a signed head shot of Anderson Cooper reads "Thank you, Dragula. Thanks to you I can now take a 360." Whatever that means, it’s funny). A truly fabulous antique-looking velvet loveseat dresses the set, as does a small table, a few chairs and a long line of TV-dinner trays. In the limited (but versatile) space provided by Mary’s Attic, there’s not room for much more. Director Mark Contorno no frills staging gets the point across without major innovation (don’t forget, this show is in a bar).

Michael Miller plays Max with Dragula Ed Jones as Dragula

Dragula is not going to win any Jeff Awards. It probably wouldn’t even win RuPaul’s Drag Race. But it doesn’t need those petty things to have a good time. The Bloody Fabulous Case of Dragula encompases the absolute best aspect of drag performance: be who you are, and love what you do. Luckily for us, this cheerful cast does just that. 

 
Rating: ★★★
 

 

Starring Ed Jones & Michael Miller, with David Besky, Craig Conover, Dan Hickey & Lori Lee.  Written by Duane Scott Cerny. Directed by Mark Contorno

Previews begin March 18th thru 20th. Opens Thursday, March 25th thru April 23rd. All shows @ 7:30 pm – at Mary’s Attic Theatre, 5400 N. Clark, Chicago 1-773-784-6969
www.hamburgermaryschicago.com/attic.php

Tickets: $15.00 & $20.00. Call 1-800-838-3006 or www.BrownPaperTickets.com/event/96176

REVIEW: The Illusion (Court Theatre)

A Love Letter for the Theatre

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Court Theatre presents
 
The Illusion
 
Written by Pierre Corneille
Freely adapted by Tony Kushner
Directed by Charles Newell
Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave. (map)
through April 11th (more info)

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

Essentially, Pierre Corneille /Tony Kushner’s The Illusion is a play about theatre. It dwells on theatre’s power to evoke, transform, and relate. But the medium has many limitations. There is an inherent tension—the actions seen on stage are just an illusion of real life. Kushner points out that theatre can be likened to a dream, a the-illusion_008 hallucination. Charles Newell’s enlightening production of the 1988 script now at Court Theatre freefalls through all sorts of storytelling layers, piecing together a tale that is hilarious, dreamlike, and startlingly poignant.

The posters claim that this Illusion is Kushner’s “freely adapted” translation of Pierre Corneille’s L’Illusion Comique, a 1636 work way ahead of it’s time in terms of theatrical theory. And Kushner is pretty liberal in his translating, slapping on a whole extra illusion. The play isn’t as vast as his magnum opus Angels in America, but the kernels of Kushner’s trademark lyrical playfulness and socio-political awareness are scattered freely throughout the text.

Although usually handled well here, sometimes Newell loses balance of all the narrative layers and the production is a bit muddled. But the ride is worth it.

In the multilayered play, Pridamant (John Reeger) comes to a creepy magician, Alcandre (Chris Sullivan), to see if the man can conjure up his estranged son (Michael Mahler). Alcandre than confronts the old man with several visions skipping through various moments of life and loves of the young man. It’s like Baroque-period television broadcast from a cave. Through the illusions, we watch the boy temper the steamy hot passions of love with the ever-present chill of poverty. We also get to enjoy the ridiculous posturing of Matamore (the hilarious Timothy Edward Kane), a warrior whose bragging ability is matched only by his cowardice. The character names change from one illusion to the next, making Pridamant and us ask if they really represent past events or spring from our own fertile imagination.

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Newell faces numerous challenges here, and he comes out successful. There’s magic, crazy scenic effects, and the fact that three characters are on-stage the whole time just watching the illusions. Collette Pollard’s intricate set packs plenty of surprises. Alcandre’s cave is enormous, spooky, and endlessly fascinating. For example, as each illusion starts, giant gears chug along underneath the floating platform that functions as Alcandre’s gigantic crystal ball. Lighting designer John Culbert also explores this magical element in his design, shaping and evolving the multiple worlds. Jacqueline Firkins’ costumes are rich and dig to the core of each character. Newell brings all of this together in a production that obviously loves bathing in theatricality.

Most of the performances are magnificent. Kane is simply brilliant, commanding the stage with each pompous gesture and absurd boast. Reeger and Sullivan do a good job exploring the quirkiness of their “reality,” along with Kevin Gudahl, who plays Alcandre’s much-abused, tongueless servant Amanuensis. The world of the illusions has a whole different energy, which is totally refreshing. Elizabeth Ledo does radiant work as the scheming maid Elicia/Lyse/Clarina. The young lovers of the story are probably the weakest links in the production. Mahler seems disconnected to everything else and rings false in a few moments. Hilary Clemens as the thrice-named object of his affections is more in-tune with the other elements, but she could definitely push a bit farther. The weak points aren’t glaring, but serve as a reminder that this production could go even further.

Rarely do two artistic pioneers collaborate when there is four-hundred years of distance between them. In that light, The Illusion is an uncommon delight. Under the steady hand and imaginative head of Newell, The Court has a fantastical triumph here. Although there are some bumps, this Illusion reminds and reassures us that theatre is a powerful art form when its power is harnessed by the right hands.

 
Rating: ★★★
 

Extra Credit

 

View (2010-03) The Illusion - Court Theatre