REVIEW: Casanova Takes a Bath (Theater Oobleck)

From Frivolous Flings to Serious Finances


Theater Oobleck presents
Casanova Takes a Bath
Written and performed by David Isaacson
Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston (map)
through June 13th  |  tickets: $12 donation  |  more info

reviewed by Paige Listerud

David Isaacson’s one-man show, Casanova Takes a Bath, passes itself off as something as light and whipped as blanc mange. His sartorial transformation from modern-day satirist to Giacomo Casanova takes place by means of a few articles of clothing ransacked from his wife’s closet. The bareness of the studio stage at Prop Theatre contains only a blackboard, a stack of newspapers, and an antique music stand with its own stack of papers—Isaacson’s script. Complete with bare-bones lighting design (Martha Bayne), Isaacson’s examination of our current financial crisis, from the perspective of the world’s greatest lover, adherences to the utmost minimal of minimalist theatre principles.

How economical. How unlike the shenanigans of Wall Street financiers, the shenanigans of free-market advocates of deregulation, the blind faith of defenders of “the efficient markets hypothesis,” and those who still believe that math will always represent accurate reality. These dreamers, these practitioners of “creative economics,” these “masters of the universe” only use their various economic jargons to hide those tendencies that mirror the wanton habits of the protagonist of Isaacson’s show. Casanova becomes, for us, the expert to turn to precisely because own his financial profligacy was equal to his perpetual, serial, sexual debauchery.

And why not? When modern day financial instruments and credit default swaps begins to resemble the impulsive gambling schemes of an 18th-century libertine, why shouldn’t we turn to that sly, witty, and insouciant rogue–especially when, down on his luck in prison, he is being candid about all his vices, compulsions, hair-brained money-making misadventures and sexual entrapments. Isaacson has rediscovered the perfect figure to expose us to the implications and ramifications of real-life venture capitalism. Add a little sex, an aspect of human nature that is driven by many of the same delusions and impulses as gambling with other people’s money, and you have the 21st-century financial crisis, only saucier.

But it’s not all witty euphemisms, scandalous liaisons, and weird predictions wrought from engaging in fake occult practices. No, the fun’s got to stop sometime. Isaacson is great at linking the fluff to the finance. But, while he is quite accurate when linking a moment of 18th-century shenanigan to its present-day incarnation in our financial sector, there are moments when his dry, humorous approach just doesn’t bring the hammer down hard enough, hard enough to bring home to the audience the greater perils of our current financial and political situation.

I wonder if Casanova couldn’t be a source to turn to, yet again, in order to awaken us to the deeper implications of the hole we have dug and are still digging ourselves into. Concerning his own experience of his times, Casanova reflected:

All the French ministers are the same. They lavished money which came out of the other people’s pockets to enrich their creatures, and they were absolute: The down-trodden people counted for nothing, and, through this, the indebtedness of the State and the confusion of finances were the inevitable results. A Revolution was necessary.”

Ah, yes. Revolution. Enlightenment revolution, wars for independence taking place in the context of The Enlightenment; bloody revolutions that spiral out of control and lead right on into dictatorship—at some point, all the fun and frivolity stops. Once again, because we have gambled with our future too far, the fun stops and someone gets an eye poked out or a head chopped off or somebody gets thrown into prison. I just hope it’s not me. I didn’t know anything about the financial shenanigans when they started—way back during the Reagan revolution. I just know about the dangerous outcomes; I know them because, creature of the lower orders that I am, I get to be subjected to them.

“All the French ministers are the same. They lavished money which came out of the other people’s pockets to enrich their creatures, and they were absolute: The down-trodden people counted for nothing, and, through this, the indebtedness of the State and the confusion of finances were the inevitable results. A Revolution was necessary.”     Giacomo Casanova

Rating: ★★★

REVIEW: Hunting and Gathering (Theatre Seven)

Who knew the drudgery of moving could be so much fun?

 hunting & gathering

Theatre Seven presents
Hunting and Gathering
by Brooke Berman
directed by
Brian Golden
Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through June 27th  tickets: $18-$24   |  more info

reviewed by Barry Eitel

Here in Chicago, the Memorial Day holiday also coincides with massive inter-city migration. Moving season is very much upon us. How appropriate, then, that the wonder-kids at Theatre Seven are putting on a show focused entirely on that frustrating activity. Hunting and Gathering is about moving, but also not about moving; hunting & gathering it’s really about relationships and finding yourself, among other things. Brooke Berman’s play dwells on listlessness, both geographically and emotionally. Theatre Seven’s production makes for a thoroughly entertaining 85 minutes, even if Berman’s script is too fluffy to make a fresh statement.

The meandering story (set in that other theatre city, New York) is driven by director Brian Golden and features an eager cast of four. Mostly, we journey alongside Ruth (Tracey Kaplan), who finds herself over 30 with most of her stuff stashed in a storage unit. Her struggle to find the perfect apartment is entangled with her history with brothers Astor (Todd Garcia) and Jesse (Michael Salinas). Astor is her best friend and a self-professed “couch-surfer”; however, like many opposite-sex best friends, he desires something more. Jesse, a college professor, had an adulterous affair with Ruth, which seems to have really screwed with her head. But by this moving season, he is divorced and dating a student, Bess (Paige Collins), a girl who has confidence way beyond her years.

Berman’s tale of urban nomads is fun and relatable, especially for anyone who can appreciate the value of a friend with a van. The play has a breezy feel to it, though. It seems like we are skipping along vast swaths of character information, and we don’t have enough to glue together for a complete picture. Relationships are under-nourished, especially the romance between Jesse and Ruth. By the end we’re led to believe that the affair did quite a number on Ruth’s psyche, but we aren’t sure why.

Kaplan digs into the heart of the Ruth, shaping her as both pugilist and irrational idealist. She can be adorable without being sticky sweet, such as in one scene where she stakes out a prospective apartment with techniques ripped from “Mission Impossible” and the “I Ching”. Salinas also connects deeply to his character, nailing down Jesse’s gawky charm. Garcia seems a tad uncomfortable on-stage, but he brings in most of the humor. Collins is fine, but her Bess exudes too much self-assurance. Just a bit more vulnerability, tucked away somewhere, would make her character a lot more likable.

hunting & gathering hunting & gathering
hunting & gathering hunting & gathering

Although not jaw-dropping, the design of Hunting and Gathering is clever and very fitting. Sarah Burnham’s set consists almost entirely of brown boxes and packing tape. With a few well-placed lights and props, these boxes become everything from refrigerators to café tables. As with past Theatre Seven shows, C.J. Arellano provides refreshing video wizardry, jolting multi-media pizzazz into the production, as well providing narrative guideposts (although they could be cued better).

With all of Theatre Seven’s energetic talent, it’s a letdown that a better play couldn’t be found. Berman’s stories read like memoirs or, more specifically, memoirs written by someone with a sense of humor. Although given a comedic finishing-coat, Ruth is plainly a doppelganger for Berman. Comedies can, and should, have significance, but Hunting and Gathering walks along beaten trails. It seems Berman wants to find dramatic riches in the smoldering coals of Ruth and Jesse’s failed relationship, but she doesn’t earn it. We aren’t given enough to hold onto—the audience is presented with a generalized wave of relationships. Literary importance aside, the play still functions delightfully as a zippy comedy geared towards the younger set. Considering the gallons of sweat, blood, and tears that go into moving season, it’s about time someone tapped into that dramatic well.

Rating: ★★★

hunting & gathering