REVIEW: The Hiding Place (Provision Theater)

Powerful story vividly brought to life on the stage

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Provision Theater presents
 
The Hiding Place
 
Adapted and directed by Tim Gregory
Based on the autobiography of
Corrie ten Boom
at
Provision Theater, 1001 W. Roosevelt (map)
thru May 23rd  |  tickets: $15-$28  |  more info

reviewed by Ian Epstein

The Hiding Place is the story of a brick wall in the ten Boom (sounds close to Tannenbaum) residence in Nazi-occupied Holland during World War II.  The ten Booms are an upstanding, morally righteous Dutch Christian family from Haarlem. There’s Casper ten Boom (Dennis Kelly), the greying patriarch, who, with his tailored suit and clocksmith’s shop, might as well be a stand-in for father time flanked by his THP-Cynthia Judge, Lia Mortensen.jpg two daughters, Betsie ten Boom (Cynthia Judge) and Corrie ten Boom (Lia Mortensen). Betsie has a prodigious commitment to her faith that makes her character appear to toe the line between naivete and sainthood while her sister Corrie makes up for her sister’s sincerity with cynicism, a kind of cynicism crystallized by loss and hindsight since it’s Corrie’s 1971 book that gives the show its title and its content.

The play begins with Corrie ten Boom at a speaking engagement – discussing faith, forgiveness, and the loss of her sister, and what forces moved her to set up the rehabilitative organization to which she is both steward and spokesperson.

All of a sudden and out of the crowd walks a frenetic, apologetic stranger who reveals himself to Corrie and offers money. He explains who he is and where the money is from and at the mere mention of his name, the elderly Corrie’s knees buckle and she collapses in a faint onto a chair, asking after a glass of water.

In what follows, we leave the elderly Corrie ten Boom scene behind and travel back to where things began, starting in the early days of Nazi-occupied Holland when the Dutch underground is hiding deeper and deeper and becoming ever more necessary and desperate.  As the story unfolds, we are told all we need to of the ten Boom family. We watch them celebrate holidays, mourn the loss of a son to prison – all due to a flagrant and patriotic (in all the wrong ways) act of pride that forced a Nazi to smash his piano-playing fingers before hauling him off to prison. We watch the underground melt from a world of friends to a world of ever-more-anonymous and furtive collection of men all and only known as "Mr. Smith." We watch the righteous ten Boom family take in, house, and feed one Dutch Jew after another, each offering the story of flight into hiding as another stroke in the composite portrait of a community facing Nazi destruction. We watch the ten Boom collaborate with an industrious group of construction-minded "Mr. Smiths" to build an impervious, brick-enclosed hiding place. And then we watch as the Gestapo arrives and the ten Booms are betrayed and Betsie and Corrie are carted off to a prison, and a concentration camp and finally after THP- Lia Mortensen.jpg nearly three hours watching faith, hope, and an enduring belief in the goodness of humans clash with unspeakable cruelty, Corrie – and by extension the whole audience (since by this time Corrie is the only continuous presence – the narrator whose trail we follow) – is confronted with an question about the limits of forgiveness.

The Hiding Place is an undeniably powerful story. And in the hands of Provision Theater‘s Artistic Director Tim Gregory, the adaptation boldly and faithfully animates the story. But in a few places (the muddy mix of accents, for example) a gesture intended to reinforce the authenticity of the story and stay as close as possible to the narrative itself gets in the way of telling it and telling it well on stage. Translation from the page onto the stage doesn’t necessarily need to bear in the character’s speech the artifact of their origin. The accents wind up lending the show an inconsistent feel (as any unfamiliar accent might over the course of three hours and so many characters) that detracts from the shows other successes.

Isaac B. Turner‘s costumes and Inseung Park‘s set, for example, offer color and character without any of the trappings of an obscure, unfamiliar accent that isn’t always well-delivered. Park’s set is a post-and-beam skeleton of a house that calls to mind Todd Rosenthal‘s Tony-winning design for August: Osage County. And then, during intermission, the drama-in-a-big-transparent-house element, so familiar to American theater-goers, evaporates into the shapes of an abstracted, oppressive prison-or-concentration-camp. The choice to spend so much time in the grey, faith-testing agony of a concentration camp is a lot to bear and this production, though well wrought, informative, and necessary, is rewarding for its audience without always being kind.

 
 
Rating: ★★½
 
 

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REVIEW: The Farnsworth Invention (TimeLine Theatre)

Timeline production rises above Sorkin’s flawed script

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TimeLine Theatre presents
 
The Farnsworth Invention
 
written by Aaron Sorkin
directed by
Nick Bowling
at
TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington (map)
thru June 13th  |  tickets: $25-$35 |  more info

reviewed by Oliver Sava

What better way to end the most successful season in Timeline’s thirteen year history than with the Chicago premiere of Aaron Sorkin’s tribute to exploration, The Farnsworth Invention? Their last Chicago premiere, The History Boys, had a six month sold-out run unlike anything the theater had ever seen, sweeping the Jeff FarnsworthInvention_172 Awards and kick-starting a season that would see Timeline exploring new possibilities in the wake of commercial success. Their regular performance space occupied by the oft-extended History Boys, Timeline ventured into a new venue, mounting an acclaimed revival of All My Sons (our review ★★★★) at Greenhouse Theater Center, and the theater’s first venture into South Africa, Master Harold…and the Boys (our review ★★★½), would lead to a business partnership with Remy Bumppo and Court Theatre for Fugard Chicago 2010.

At the end of a landmark year, The Farnsworth Invention is not only a celebration of Timeline’s consistency as a company, but a promise to explore the possibilities of modern theater. Nick Bowling directs a polished production that moves like clockwork, with an ensemble that understands the emotional currents underneath the witty repartee and academic jargon of Sorkin’s writing, giving the production a heart beyond what is written in the problematic script.

Sorkin criticizes current broadcasting practices as he chronicles the lives of radio pioneer David Sarnoff (PJ Powers) and television inventor Philo T. Farnsworth (Rob Fagin), which sounds like a good idea for an essay, but doesn’t quite lend itself to character development and fully realized relationships. The personal tragedies that undo Farnsworth don’t receive much focus, failing to resonate when overshadowed by the massive amounts of scientific and historical knowledge needed to advance the plot. Granted, a staged essay written by Aaron Sorkin is still better than the majority of theater fare, but many of the particularly soapboxy passages feel like rehashed material from the writer’s previous works, especially a closing monologue that is basically this “West Wing” scene:

 

In spite of the script’s misgivings, Timeline turns out an excellent production. John Culbert’s alley set design makes transitions easy and provides an elevated plane that is used effectively to display balances in social status and power. Giving Sarnoff’s side of the stage stairs and Farnsworth’s side a ladder is also a clever way of revealing character: Sarnoff can walk, Farnsworth must always climb. Lindsey Pate’s costumes have a modest beauty, historically accurate yet still exciting, and a parade of schoolgirls in pastel dresses is a particular highlight.

Powers plays Sarnoff with a cool demeanor that intimidates in the boardroom, but melts away to reveal a fiery core when his ideals are questioned. Sarnoff is the major outlet for Sorkin’s criticism, and his hopes for the entertainment industry are a stark contrast to the current media landscape, particularly in the fields of advertisement restriction and tasteful content. The major dramatic tension of the play is in Sarnoff’s mission to discover television first, and Power succeeds in capturing the intensity of a man that has few limits when obtaining what he desires, both financially and ethically. Fagin has a Midwestern charm that serves as a great foil to Sarnoff’s pretension, and both actors do fantastic work with the tricky dialogue. Philo’s relationship with wife Pem (Bridgette Pechman) is where a large portion of the production’s heart arises, and Pechman plays her with a concerned anxiety that allows for comic moments while still bringing a sense of foreboding.

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Timeline explores new possibilities and builds consistently excellent productions while protecting the past that gives them their name. Recycled as it may be, the final monologue has even more power when spoken by Artistic Director PJ Powers: “We were meant to be explorers. Explorers, builders, and protectors.” After a year of unprecedented success, where will Timeline go next?

 
 
Rating: ★★★½
 
 

Extra Credit:

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Production publicity photos by Ryan Robinson.

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REVIEW: Doctor’s Dilemma (ShawChicago)

A timeless treatise on today’s healthcare debate?

 

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ShawChicago presents
 
Doctor’s Dilemma
 
Written by George Bernard Shaw
directed by Robert Scogin
DCA Studio Theatre, 78 E. Washington (map)
thru May 10th  |  tickets: $10-$22  | more info 

By Katy Walsh

Who to save? If allotted only enough serum to cure one patient, how to choose who is worthy of it? ShawChicago, in conjunction with DCA Studio Theatre in the Cultural Center, presents Doctor’s Dilemma. Illustrating a lifelong disdain for the healing profession, George Bernard Shaw pens a comedy about doctors debating the sanctity of healthcare for a price. Under the enchantment of a pretty lady, four doctors struggle with the decision to save her charming husband or their bumbling colleague.

shawportrait Although Shaw first produced the play in 1906, his viewpoints are still prevalent one hundred years later. Economics still influences healthcare in adequate coverage for the poor and research interests of the wealthy. Doctor’s Dilemma illustrates the timeless issues of healthcare and arrogant doctors; ShawChicago injects a talented cast. The result is a robust tonic sure to cure any ailment.

In the ShawChicago tradition, the show is a public reading. No costumes. No scenery. It’s just Shaw, Scogin and the ensemble. Under the direction of Robert Scogin, the entire cast adds their own version of razzle-dazzle. The doctors are a variety of superior condescension. Jack Hickey (Sir Ralph Bloomfield Bonington) is hilarious as the know-it-all physician with one basic prescription, “stimulate the phagocytes.” Hickey is riotous rambling his lunatic theories then stopping abruptly to utter “I’ve lost the thread of my conversation.” Will Clinger (Cutler Walpole) is in turn outrageous with his repeated diagnosis of ‘blood poisoning’ and his declaration that he is, “not a doctor. I’m a surgeon.” Skip Lundby (Sir Patrick Cullen) is the delightful retired doctor who starts an argument with, “when you’ve killed as many people as I have…” Matt Pen (Sir Colenso Ridgeon) is the smug bachelor with the God complex. The patient is Christian Gray (Louis Dubedat). Gray is the fast-talking scoundrel and the arrogant match for the doctors. In his immorality justification, Gray argues that lawyers threaten prison, parsons threaten damnation and doctors threaten death. Gray is deliciously unapologetic for his rogue ways. Barbara Zahora (Jennifer Dubedat) is the loyal wife and object of the doctors’ affections as she pleads for healthcare for her husband. In smaller roles but with superior accents, Mary Michell (Emmy) and Kaelan Strouse (Newspaper Man/Mr. Darby) are outstanding.

Sixteen years ago, ShawChicago started its artistic initiative with Doctor’s Dilemma in the DCA Studio Theatre in the Cultural Center. Back then, it was Clinton and healthcare. Now, it’s Obama and healthcare. But then and now and since 1906, Doctor’s Dilemma is a Shaw timeless classic.

 
 
Rating: ★★★
 
 

Extra Credit:

Running Time: Two hours and thirty minutes includes a ten minute intermission.

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