REVIEW: Tying Up Loose Ends (Breathe Life Productions)

Face to face with ‘Loose Ends’


Breathe Life Productions present
Tying Up Loose Ends

Written and Performed by Catherine and Ann Gallogly
Directed By
Jamie O’Reilly
Music by
Ann Gallogly & Dan Stetzel

at Theatre Building Chicago
through July 28th  |  tickets:  $18-$25   |  more info

reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

I must preface this review by saying that I work with elderly people in my other existence. I had some trepidation about seeing a musical on the subject matter of people transitioning and dying. The decision of going into hospice care is quite often difficult; one that requires facing your own mortality. Catherine Gallogly has written a heart-rending set of stories from her own experiences as a hospice nurse. Tying Up Loose Ends takes the audience through twelve stories of individuals facing the end of life and how she helped them.

Lovely songs done in cabaret style by Ann Gallogly and pianist Dan Stetzel accompany the stories. Catherine and Ann are mother and daughter respectively and the mutual admiration and respect is felt when watching them perform. Actually, this is not so much a performance as it is a storytelling session done with great flair and purity. Catherine Gallogly never treads on maudlin territory or into making the story about her. She gives due justice to the lives of the people and how she shared in helping them to the next phase. Ms. Gallogly is not an actress and makes no pretense of great drama or false emoting. She is a comforting and refreshing presence intimately sharing with the audience.

The stories are sometimes romantic and always mindful that sometimes there is humor to be found in death because it is a part of life. The story of the man dying from liver cancer had an unexpected romantic edge to it that bordered on the erotic. Gallogly describes him coming home from the hospital for one last meal of pot roast and potatoes. He is an old man who has been married for a long time. The details of how his wife runs to him and how he kisses her and caresses her have a voyeuristic feel and indeed, Gallogly confesses, “I shouldn’t be here”. It was a privilege for her to witness such a love and to make that intimate moment possible.

I found much humor in the story of Gallogly traveling to a slum neighborhood to attend to a dying African American woman. The patient self medicates with liquor and asks her nurse to give her eulogy. Ms. Gallogly was taken aback but forged ahead, honored to have been asked and in awe of the resplendence of Black funerals. She tells of her plain, black “Irish funeral attire” and all of the church ladies in their colorful outfits and hats.

My favorite song of the evening- “Goin’ Home” accompanied this segment. Ann Gallogly belted out the tune wearing a serious hat and gospel flair from deep in her soul.

I recommend Tying Up Loose Ends for anyone who is contemplating their lives no matter the situation. These tales of hospice give strength and encouragement to live big and love bigger. They will make you laugh and possibly break your heart open. To be a witness of someone’s last moments of life is an intimate and profound thing. Catherine Gallogly shares a joyous and wonderful celebration of life.

It should be noted that I bristled a bit at the woman who came out before the show to question people about what they expected the show to be like. Perhaps some people came to settle their own issues but it felt like an unnecessary intrusion. The lady seemed a bit put off when I said I expected a musical about hospice and shared no other details. There is no need to prescreen or prep people for what they are about to see. It was as welcome as the $3.00 can of soda.

Rating: ★★★

Performances are on Wednesdays only through July 28th with no shows on June 2nd or June 9th. Tying Up Loose Ends is a Breathe Life Production at the Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont. Check it out.

REVIEW: Chaste (Trap Door Theatre)

Bizarre love triangle



Trap Door Theatre presents
by Ken Prestininizi
directed by
Kate Hendrickson
Trap Door Theatre, 1655 W. Cortland (map)
through June 19th   | tickets: $20  |  more info

reviewed by Keith Ecker 

Imagine the hit cornball sitcom “Three’s Company” re-imagined for an audience of existential-minded intellectuals. I know it’s a stretch, but bear with me. Brunette bombshell Janet Wood is recast as Paul Ludwig Carl Heinrich Ree, a lesser Jewish-German philosopher of the mid-19th century. Secretly straight bachelor Jack Tripper chastenenepaul is recast as Lou Andreas-Salome, the first female psychoanalyst and a student of Sigmund Freud. And buxom blond Chrissy Snow is Friedrich Nietzsche. Keep the copious amounts of sexual innuendo and add some pretty bizarre dream sequences and you have a template for the Trap Door Theatre’s newest production, Chaste.

Chaste is the third Ken Prestininizi play for the avant-garde theatre company to produce. In contrast to some of the other works that Trap Door has done recently, such as the enigmatic Minna (our review ★★★★), Chaste is much more digestible for a general audience. Although there are elements of the absurd sprinkled about, for the most part what you see is what you get. And what you get is an extraordinarily entertaining play about three abnormally awkward and hyper-intelligent thinkers who are stuck in a house and trapped in a love triangle.

The play borrows heavily from history. It is true that all three philosophers did once live together. It is true that Ree (John Kahara) introduced the much younger Salome (Sarah Tolan Mee) to Nietzsche (Antonio Brunetti). And it is true that the three made a pact to live together as a chaste trio in an effort to intellectually understand the secrets of life.

What actually transpired between the threesome is unknown. What is known is that Salome cut ties with Nietzsche, believing him to be desperately in love with her. This was made all the more complex because Ree and Salome had been a couple for some time.

chastehandkiss Prestininzi’s script is poetic without being overwrought. He conveys the madness and the intelligence of these three individuals without ever romanticizing their pursuit of an enlightened life through chastity. In fact, each character, in his or her own way, is somewhat pitiful. They all can wax-philosophic about the role of God, gender equality and the meaning of life, but not one of them seems to be a well-rounded, stable individual. It’s like watching three freakishly smart teenagers fight for the affections of one another.

The actors all play their roles with a fiery passion. Kahara as the nebbish Ree does an excellent job of playing up Ree’s patient restraint, which makes his sudden outbursts of insanity all the more impactful.

Brunetti is a scene stealer with his Salvador Dali-like facial expressions. Even when sequestered from action on another part of the stage, you can’t but help to look his way. No doubt the role of Nietzsche must have been a fun character to assume, and it is obvious that Brunetti revels in doing it.

Mee definitely has the thinnest resume out of the bunch, but she holds her own alongside her cast mates. Although there are moments where her portrayal of Salome threatens to become a Charles Dickens Estella caricature, she juggles the complex layers of the early feminist who seemed to have a schizophrenic love-hate relationship with men.

Tiffany Joy Ross rounds out the cast as Nietzsche’s overprotective sister Elisabeth. Ross’ frigid stare and scowling face could suck the fun out of any ménage a trios. She also succeeds in balancing the character’s stoic exterior with her brother-loving heart.


Director Kate Hendrickson has directed every play that Trap Door has produced by Prestininizi. She has a keen eye for stunning stage pictures. And thanks to a fairly bare set save for a few platforms, the characters’ positions in reference to one another speak amply of their evolving relationships.

Chaste is a clever and often funny example of dramatic historical fiction. It is also probably the closest we’ll ever get to a 19th-century season of “Real World”. But contemporary television references aside, the lunacy that love inspires within these three lunatics, as told by a talented writer through a talented cast, makes for a four-star play.

Rating: ★★★★


Creative Team: Assistant Director: Jen Ellison / Sound Designers Jason Meyer & Shane Oman / Lighting Designer Gina Patterson / Set Designer Joseph Riley / Stage Manager Gary Damico / Costume Designer Nevena Todorovic / Makeup Designer Zsófia Ötvös / Graphic Designer Michal Janicki

REVIEW: Neverwhere (Lifeline Theatre)

‘Wicked’ isn’t the only dark Oz



Lifeline Theatre presents
Adapted by Robert Kauzlaric from the novel by Neil Gaiman
Directed by Paul S. Holmquist
Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood (map)
Through June 20  |  Tickets: $30  |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Alice fell through the rabbit hole. Dorothy was swept up by a tornado.

For good-hearted, mild-mannered Richard Mayhew, unlikely hero of Neil Gaiman’s dark fantasy Neverwhere, now in a world-premiere adaptation at Rogers Park’s Neverwhere1always innovative Lifeline Theatre, it’s stumbling on and aiding an injured girl that propels him into a strange new world — London Below – a grimmer, underground  version of the city he knows, a place of sewers and magic and people who fell through cracks … and from which there can be no return. Like Wicked, the 1995 Gregory Maguire novel from which the lighter, happier Broadway musical was adapted, Neverwhere, gives us an upended and blackly humorous view of a familiar place.

Directed by Paul S. Holmquist, Kauzlaric’s adaptation, ten years in the making, sticks closely to Gaiman’s 1996 novel, which was in turn based on a teleplay Gaiman did for a BBC miniseries.  Gaiman’s storyline leaves unanswered questions, and so does this play, but his creatively imagined world overcomes the hanging threads. Kauzlaric’s trimming removes some of the most gruesome and ugly bits, retaining most of the action.

The hapless Richard (guilelessly portrayed by Robert Kauzlaric, the playwright) journeys through the bizarre and deadly London Below with the hunted girl, Lady Door (plucky Katie McLean), and her companions, the dodgy, sardonic Marquis de Carabas (a wonderfully dry and laconic Chris Hainsworth) and the enigmatic bodyguard Hunter (Kyra Morris, in fighting trim). They’re off to see the angel Islington (somewhat over-deliberately played by Phil Timberlake) in an effort to find out who ordered Door’s whole family murdered and how Richard can, like Dorothy, go home again. The wizard … er, angel … sends them on a quest to bring back a mysterious key.


Neverwhere3 Neverwhere6 Neverwhere4

Lifeline does its usual beautifully inventive job of bringing the written word to the stage, with just a few minor flaws. Here and there, unexplained lines leftover from the book may be puzzling to those who haven’t read it. Mikhail Fiksel‘s eerie original music fits the mood quite well, but in several places underlying music or sound-effects distract from the dialogue. A few longish monologues slow the action (and add up to a 2½-hour-long production).

Alan Donahue’s multi-level set, full of doors and tunnels and ladders, goes a long way toward evoking the forbidding London Below, aided by puppets created by Kimberly G. Morris and rich performances from Patrick Blashill, Christopher M. Walsh and Elise Kauzlaric as a series of creepy, colorful, underworld characters. Sean Sinitski is spine-chillingly funny as the loquacious and sinister Mr. Croup.

Gaiman fans should be thrilled, but you needn’t know the novel to enjoy this lively fantasy adventure on stage.

Rating: ★★★½


Note: Not suitable for young children. Free parking available in the lot at the northeast corner of Morse and Ravenswood avenues, with free shuttle-van service before and after shows.

A scene from the BBC’s Neverwhere

Neil Gaiman on Neverwhere, Naperville, Feb. 2010


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