REVIEW: The Literati (Chicago dell’Arte)

Low Budget, Highbrow Hijinks

 

 
Chicago dell’Arte presents:
 
The Literati
 
by Ned Record, Derek Jarvis and Nick Freed
at RBP Rorschach Theatre, 4001 N. Ravenswood (map)
through May 1st (more info)

reviewed by Keith Ecker 

When you walk into the RBP Rorschach Theatre, the first thing you will notice is the lack of chairs. Instead, a dozen or so pillows are strewn about the floor where audience members are instructed to sit. It makes for some leg cramping, but it also pulls you back to preschool story time. And that’s basically what you are about to see, a highbrow version of children’s theatre. Fortunately the end result is far from elementary.

This certainly fits with Chicago dell’Arte’s mantra: “Art for the sake of everyone.” The trio of performers—who also wrote the show—didn’t have to tackle 25 of literature’s most revered works in a manner that is both easily digestible and entertaining. They could have force fed Great Expectations, Frankenstein or Don Quixote down our throats, reenacting each tale with painstaking authenticity. But with The Literati, the interactive series of fives plays within a play, Chicago dell’Arte wisely tempers the academic and the artistic with the comedic.

On paper, the show sounds a bit complex. The company has created 25 short plays based on 25 great works of literature, including the three aforementioned tales. The plays are divided up into categories such as “Epics” and “Classics.” Audience members are plucked from the audience and are instructed to roll a die. The number on the die corresponds with a play under each category. Whatever is rolled forms the lineup for the night.

Each short play utilizes a different form or genre of storytelling. For example, when the group performs Charles DickensGreat Expectations, the trio adds a sci-fi twist, casting cold-hearted Estella (Ned Record) as a robot. Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence is played as a rock opera, which includes the song “Hot Cousin.” The show I saw ended on Victor Hugo’s sprawling tale Les Miserables. Chicago dell’Arte plays the piece as a French farce with police inspector Javert chasing protagonist Jean Valjean Benny Hill style.

Layered on top of the mini plays is a larger meta piece. Company member Derek Jarvis is the jovial but serious master of ceremonies who introduces to the audience the concept of the show. It is his mission, as he states, to synthesize the academic and the artistic. Meanwhile, company members Nick Freed and Ned Record assume the roles of goofy, childlike rogues who debase Jarvis’ lofty aspirations.

With a strong understanding of the source material and brilliant acting chops, Chicago dell’Arte pulls off this marathon of a show. What is most impressive is how there never once is a delay or downtime between pieces. The three manage to weave an uninterrupted narrative throughout The Literati, working in smooth transitions from classic to classic, while casually returning to the meta play throughout.

The show has longevity. Because of the format, there is only a 4 percent chance that any two performances will be exactly alike. There also is a fair amount of improvisational banter throughout, so it is hard to imagine that any classic will have a completely identical retelling from performance to performance.

The Literati might not be staged in a fancy theater, but what it lacks in seating, it makes up for in creativity, talent and heart.

 
Rating: ★★★½
 

The Literati runs April 9th to May 1st (Thursday through Sunday). Run time approximately 90-minutes with a 10-minute intermission. Ticket price: $15 (suggested donation).  Performances: Thursdays, Friday and Saturday @ 8pm, Saturday at 10:30pm, Sunday at 7pm.  Location: RBP Rorschach, 4001 N Ravenswood.

 

 

“Literati” Cast

 

Derek Jarvis

PictureIt is an arduous task to describe in such a finite space the sheer magnitude of Derek’s qualifications to undertake such an endeavor as literary summation of the classics. However, limitation never halted the progress of Hannibal and his Loxodontan entourage, and this enterprise will surely be met with similarly-lauded success and bevies of intellectual sycophants. In truth, the magnitude of such a reaction serves as qualification in and of itself for the previously mentioned undertaking, for if the acclaim reaches such a fervor over an abbreviated biography, his adaptive work will surely become one of the great pantheons of literature.

Nick Freed

PictureI found a NASA Hat!

Nick’s favorite authors include Dr. Seuss, Capt. Crunch, and Tony T. Tiger. His favorite novels are Everybody Poops, Cat With a Hat, and those ones where you get to pick what happens next. He loves pictures, color by number pictures, and drawings. He wants to thank his parents for letting him stay out so late to do this show and he loves them. And all the high fives he got on his report card in school. Thanks school!

 

Ned Record

PictureNed feels the only way to properly convey the true sense that is Ned, is thru the medium of Haiku.

    From London he Came
     Now In Chicago He Reins
     With Masters Degree

Ned would like to thank himself, as well as to thank the abstract concept that is known to many as "Theater".  Oh, and you are welcome in advance.

3 Responses

  1. No chairs? : (

    Good review!!!

    • Well there are a few benches as well. Get there early to get a nice seat.

      • It’s true. There were several benches flush against the wall (for back support). You’ll definitely want to get to the venue early if you want to snag one.

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