REVIEW: Ozma and Harriet (Tympanic Theatre)

Grab remote control. Change channel.

 

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Tympanic Theatre Company presents
 
Ozma and Harriet
 
Written by Daniel Caffrey
Directed by
Timothy Bambara
the side project theatre, 1439 W. Jarvis, Chicago (map)
through April 18th (more info)

reviewed by Ian Epstein 

Imagine a young and well-heeled family of three.  Mom is named Harriet (Cara Olansky), and she stays at home and cares for the kid, Ozma (Christopher Acevedo), while Dad, named Frank (Paul E. Martinez) dons his pristine white lab coat with determination and trots off to work, where he is perhaps one of the most respected men in the field of robotics or some similar field. Sounds idyllic enough, right?

ozma and harriet But this child is one of Dad’s lab projects and because he is an android in an early stage of development, Ozma spends most of the day in a "suspended state" (i.e. napping) leaving Mom with little to do.  And since Dad is a workaholic scientist on an analytic diet of restricted emotions, the sex is infrequent if at all. So Harriet futzes in sexual frustration and she paces back and forth and watches a lot of early 90s TV from the comfort of her couch while her marriage slowly starts to crumble.

When her boredom reaches a tipping point, she traipses over to where Ozma naps and pulls our beta-Android friend from his daydreams of electric sheep for a little light conversation and some company bathing in the educative glow of the early 90s sitcom. Educative because Ozma, though he already knows a lot, is still in the knowledge acquisition phase.  Maybe they bump once in the dark but before long there’s some inter-mechanical, borderline incest that everyone has to process as things begin to unwind.

Meanwhile, in the background of it all there’s a silent, screwball chorus of hipster-caveman-zombies who double as grips and triple as the sitcom production team as well as an off-tempo laugh track suffering from a high-pitched case of occasional hysteria.  Ozma and Harriet is at it’s best during these surreal moments when these folks, stationed in every crevice of side project’s tiny space, erupt into their fits of forced and frantic laughter, pop up from behind a couch with a manic smile, or interfere in some other way with the low-stakes, almost-incest farce playing out on stage.

Ozma and Harriet builds all of this up slowly over the course of the first act and the emotionally torqued relationship between Ozma, Harriet, and Frank helps tremendously to understand the opening moments where Ozma politely shuffles around the edges of a sexual encounter with a down-to-business, matter-of-fact call girl named Sandra (Jamie Bragg) who delivers, next to the chorus, the most well-attuned performance. Much of the second act is spent watching what happens when the ball rolls down the hill and everything goes to shit. 

26411_410308615475_185907470475_5377426_3058531_n Sitcom references and structural sitcom-mimicry heavily saturate the play, which feels like a farce trapped in the same room as the bad parts of a soap opera.  Scenes are presented with too much deference to reality – a directorial choice that makes them feel too sincerely acted (or perhaps not acted with enough of that special manic quality that makes a farce so fun to watch). The chorus works wonderfully because their silliness is always energetic, always so far beyond the real that we’ve no choice but to laugh out of surprise as well. Comparatively, Harriet and Ozma and Frank all feel a little indecisive. 

An audience needs to know when to laugh or cower, when to cry or scream in response to robot sex, murder, and, yes, the dissolution of a failed marriage.  Sure, it’s light-hearted fun – but without choices strong enough either to indicate this or make the audience forget all about it and imagine themselves within the mis-wired mind of an android, Ozma and Harriet teeters precariously on the edge of even being theater.

 
Rating:
 

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REVIEW: Hello Again (Boho Theatre Ensemble)

LaChuisa musical a sexy success for Boho

 

Adam Fane and Ben Burke 2 

 
Bohemian Theatre Ensemble presents
 
Hello Again
 
Written by Michael John LaChiusa
directed by Michael Ryzcek and Stephen Rader
Heartland Studio, 7016 N. Glenwood (map)
through May 1st (more info)

reviewed by Oliver Sava

  I’m going to preface this review with a simple plea to all theater patrons: Please turn off your cell phones when you enter a theater. Nothing kills momentum like an iPhone going off at minute 85 of a 90 minute musical, so please just turn it off.

That being said, BoHo’s production of John Michael LaChiusa’s raunchy sex musical Hello Again can’t be stopped by pesky ringtones. The sexual exploits of ten characters are detailed in ten scenes that take place in a different decade of the 20th century, and LaChiusa adjusts the score to fit the period, creating a musical collage Tom McGunn and Adrianna Parson with styles ranging from opera to disco to bubblegum pop. Directors Michael Ryczek and Stephen Rader utilize the intimate (read: tiny) space exquisitely, navigating their ten actors without the stage ever seeming too crowded, a feat accomplished by making sure no one stays in one place for too long. The directors are aided by Stephen M. Genovese masterful set, which utilizes a wall of turning wooden panels to subtly suggest environments without requiring much room while also creating exits and entrances when needed.

The music begins and the company takes the stage with their best “come hither” looks, standing in silence before dissipating and leaving the audience with the patron saint of sexuality, Whore (Christina Hall). She greets wandering Soldier (Tom McGunn) with the show’s title number, setting off a series of erotic encounters that run the gamut of the sexual spectrum while retaining emotional intensity through LaChiusa’s revealing lyrics. As the characters get physical, the songs delve into their psyches, revealing the pains and pleasures of promiscuity but also the basic human need for affection, sexual or not.

The entire ensemble, musically directed by Nick Sula, has a great handle on the complicated score, but the women of the cast provide the most memorable performances. Bookending the production, Hall’s strong belt impresses, particularly considering the wide range of the opening number – but where she most excels is in capturing the character’s vulnerability, portraying a woman who lives a life of passion without intimacy. “Morally bankrupt” Young Wife (Erin Creighton) struggles to stay faithful to Husband (Kevin Bishop) as her sexual curiosity leads her into the arms of College Boy (Sean Knight), and Creighton switches between reluctance, glee, and regret as she becomes more engrossed in her torrid affair. Her song “Tom” is a highlight, a heartbreaking recount of a missed love connection at a restaurant that lingers on her mind while she has sex with Husband, and Creighton’s ability to sing in her higher register while remaining at a low volume makes the number all the more chilling.

Sean Knight and Adrianna Parson Tom McGunn and Christina Hall
Adam Fane and Ben Burke 1 Christina Hall and Robert Whorton 2

But when it comes to crazed unbridled sexuality, Nurse (Adrianna Parson) takes the cake. After being raped by Soldier, she transforms into a maniac that uses sex as a weapon. In the scene following with College Boy, she twists nipples and ties up wrists before stripping down and mounting her unsuspecting patient, singing mid-coitus, “Somebody took what was mine, I say that ain’t gonna do. I want a little bit, give me a little bit, I’m gonna steal a little bit of you.” The disturbing scene is made all the more effective by Parson’s fearlessness, and she turns in one of the raunchiest sex scenes I’ve seen on stage.

Actress (Heather Townsend) is the most technically spectacular of the bunch, and Townsend shows off her thunderous pipes with “Mistress of the Senator,” one woman’s frantic plea to keep her uninterested Senator (Robert Whorton) at her side. The song requires incredible diction and range, and Townsend shows fantastic control, attacking consonants to clarify the tongue twisting lyrics and breath control for miles.

Hello Again is a play about the needs we all share, sexual or emotional, and Bohemian Theatre Ensemble’s production doesn’t hold itself back. The dedication of the actors to the material translates to raw excitement on the stage, and when the company says goodbye in a round of “Hello again,” get ready to reach for the nightstand because you’re gonna want a cigarette.

 
Rating: ★★★½
 

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