REVIEW: Sketchbook X (Collaboraction)

Collaboraction celebrates the creative spirit with Sketchbook X

 Pictured (left to right): Beth Stelling, Maari Suorsa, Mary Hollis Inboden and Meg Johns in The New Colony Ensemble’s world premiere “Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche,” one of the 19 original short works in SKETCHBOOK  X, a mixed media festival of theatre, music and video presented by Collaboraction, now in its 10th year. The show runs through June 27, 2010 at The Chopin Theatre.

Collaboraction presents
Sketchbook X:   People’s Choice
at Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division (map)
through June 27th  |  tickets: $20-$35   |  more info

reviewed by Keith Ecker 

What is a play exactly? Is it a dramatic staging of a story? Is it people moving around in a physical space in front of an audience? And furthermore, what separates a play from a sketch or a scene or even a performance art installation?

Pictured (left to right): Jeffrey Gitelle, Ian McLaren and Emily Shain in “Eighty Four” written by Cory Tamler, directed by Dan Stermer. “Eighty Four” is one of the 19 original short works in SKETCHBOOK  X, a mixed media festival of theatre, music and video presented by Collaboraction, now in its 10th year. The show runs through June 27 at The Chopin Theatre These are the questions I was left pondering after seeing Collaboraction’s tenth annual Sketchbook festival, a showcase of original mixed media performances. This  year’s theme was “exponential.” Yes, it is fairly nebulous, and this is perhaps one reason why the output lacks a certain concreteness and cohesion. Characters and plot become secondary to evoking visceral emotions. Sketchbook X in many ways is more circus than drama.

This isn’t to say that the finished product is all spectacle and no substance. There are some standout pieces.

The one that clearly stands out the most is Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche. Unlike other pieces that become crushed under their own weight, Five Lesbians is a witty, stylized comedy. Devised by Evan Linder, the play features five women (Sarah Gitenstein, Mary Hollis Inboden, Beth Stelling, Maari Suorsa and Megan Johns) who head a local social club centered around a shared love of quiche. The women click and cluck like 1950s southern church ladies and harass the audience. When communist Russia bombs the outside world, all quiche is destroyed. The women go into a tizzy, which leads to their outings.

Five Lesbians works because it is the most refined piece of the festival. The script feels fully fleshed out, the actors are well aware of their characters and the comedic timing is impeccable. There is a lot of commitment, and there is little ambiguity. It has an aesthetic all its own that is so engaging I’d pay to see a full-length production.

Pictured (left to right): Beth Stelling, Maari Suorsa, Mary Hollis Inboden and Meg Johns in The New Colony Ensemble’s world premiere “Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche,” one of the 19 original short works in SKETCHBOOK  X, a mixed media festival of theatre, music and video presented by Collaboraction, now in its 10th year. The show runs through June 27, 2010 at The Chopin Theatre

Other standouts include Sacrebleu (devised and performed by Dean Evans, Molly Plunk and Anthony Courser), a pantomimed, slapstick comedy about two eccentric French fur trappers. The short monologue The Blueberry (written by Sean Graney and featuring Celeste Januszewski) is a thoughtful meditation on existence that explains string theory with blueberry imagery.

Other pieces, however, just don’t pan out. What I’m Looking For (written by Brett C. Leonard and featuring Joel Gross and Heather Bodie) is little more than a heavy-handed music video for a Rufus Wainwright song. Meanwhile, The Untimely Death of  Adolf Hitler (written by Andy Grigg and featuring Eddie Karch, Anthony Moseley, Erin Myers, Greg Hardigan and Dan Krall) lacks enough wit to drive the piece beyond its premise. But you can’t expect all the pieces to be gems. Besides, if you don’t like something, just wait 7 to 10 minutes for another play.

Sketchbook-Four-Women As usual, Collaboraction has succeeded in making the festival feel like a big event. The interior of the Chopin Theatre is awash in glowing light and fog. Two large screens flank the sides of the stage and streamers stretch from the floor to the ceiling. It all makes for a breath-taking first impression.

If you want to see all 19 pieces in a row, you’ll have to see the show on a Saturday. Be warned, though. It’s a 4.5-hour long journey, though you are encouraged to come and go as you please.

Overall, Sketchbook X is a mixed bag of intriguing works. The majority of the pieces lack refinement, but there are a few plays that are polished treasures. The theme gets lost among the many productions, but I don’t think that’s the point. Rather, Sketchbook is more of a party that aims to celebrate the creative spirit, and in that sense, it succeeds.

Rating:  ★★★


Astronomy for Beginners

by Kristin Idaszak, directed by Sarah Moeller

Sponsored by Stoptime341

At a romantic crossroads, a scientist is confronted by a younger version of herself.

The Blueberry
by Sean Graney, directed by Jen Ellison

Faced with her own mortality, Elle is inspired by a vision of the world in which all matter is composed entirely of blueberries.

by Cory Tamler, directed by Daniel Stermer

Everyone but Grandma is worried that the town of Eighty-Four, Pennsylvania, has recently squared itself.

by Ira S. Murfin, directed by Jamie Abelson

Waiter attacks man, narrated from three different points of view.

Play (by play by play by play by play by play by play by play by play by play by play. No repetition.)
by Ira Gammerman, directed by John Gawlik

The disintegration of a romantic relationship becomes an absurd exercise in repetition.

The Ring
by Greg Hardigan, directed by Keira Fromm

A desperate man faces his demons–and his prescription drugs–in a metaphorical boxing ring.

Tight Curls Today
by Jennifer Barclay, directed by Logan Vaughn

Hair styles may change but Hildy, Debs, and Rachelle never will–at least until it’s too late.

The Untimely Death of Adolf Hitler
by Andy Grigg, directed by Jeremy Wechsler

Mark thinks he’s doing the right thing by traveling back in time to assassinate Hitler, but the road to robot Armageddon is paved with good intentions.

Yetsi’at Metzrayim
by Jason Grote, co-directed by Seth Bockley and Ethan Dubin

The seven-minute story of the Book of Exodus, as told by Gertrude Stein, Wikipedia, and finger food.

What I’m Looking For
by Brett C. Leonard, directed by Anthony Moseley

In a dance of death murderers kill the ones they love.

SKETCHBOOK X  Devised Works

Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche
Devised by Evan Linder and The New Colony.
Collaborators: Andrew Hobgood and The New Colony ensemble

Global thermonuclear war breaks out at the Annual Quiche Breakfast of the Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein.

Four Women
Devised by Patrese McClain
Collaborators: Pure Art: Patrese D. McClain, Jessica Ellis, Whitney White, Rhonda Bynum, Andi Earles, Samantha Jones, Brandice Manuel, Ashley Honore

Four dancers and four actresses move through time and space to tell the story of the journey of African-American women from slavery to the present.

The One about the Whale
Devised by Emily Schwartz (five-time SKETCHBOOK writer, Artistic Director of Strange Tree Group), with The Strange Tree Group, directed by Anna C. Bahow

In his ten years living inside the belly of a whale, a man hosts an eccentric assortment of guests.

Devised by Dean Evans
Collaborators: Dean Evans, Molly Plunk and Anthony Courser

Physical theater performer Dean Evans and two clowns explore a post-apocalyptic landscape.

The Saint and the Imp
Devised by Carolyn Hoerdemann
Collaborators: Carolyn Hoerdemann, Kennedy Greenrod of The Thinman

The Saint, a fifteenth century religious icon, and her Imp, a musically gifted monk, embark on a meta-spiritual journey across time.

Spider in the Attic
Devised by Jessica Hudson

In this physical theater solo performance, a spider sits at a typewriter recording memories of a lost loved one.

Video Phone
Devised by Derrick Sanders
Through poetry and movement, an ensemble reflects on the tragic death of Chicago Public School student Derrion Albert.

When I was…
Devised by Larry Grimm
Collaborators: Larry Grimm and Steve Wilson

The Red Orchid Youth Ensemble performs interviews with adults about their childhood.

You Enjoy Myself
Devised by Chloe Johnston and Jon Sherman

Collaborators: Sophie Ostlund, Tim Reid, Vanessa Valliere

A movement piece explores the science and philosophy of human consciousness and the way humans make contact with each other.


One Response

  1. […] The Chicago Reader picked Beth Stelling as their stand-up of the year this year. If that’s not awesome enough, how about this: She’s also a really, really nice person. Beth co-hosts Entertaining Julia at Town Hall Pub with the Puterbaugh Sisters and does stand-up all around Chicago. She’s also quite the actress, having appeared recently in Collaboraction’s Sketchbook X. […]

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