REVIEW: Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure

Sherlock Holmes Chicago Idle Muse review

The Game’s Afoot

 

Sherlock Holmes - Idle Muse 1

   
Idle Muse Theatre presents
   
Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure
  
By Arthur Conan Doyle and William Guilette
Adapted by
Steven Dietz
Directed by Evan Jackson
at
the side project, 1439 W. Jarvis (map)
through August 22  |  tickets: $15-$20  |  more info

reviewed by Barry Eitel

Idle Muse Theatre’s production of Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure makes it clear that it is different. They do their best to avoid falling back on any typical depictions of Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional genius. Don’t expect huge smoking pipes and capes or any neurotic antics a la Robert Downey, Jr. Director Evan Jackson Sherlock Holmes - Idle Muse 2 succeeds in coming up with his own spin on the Victorian-era play by Doyle and actor William Guilette, cleverly adapted by Steven Dietz. Luke Hamilton’s dapper Sherlock injects cocaine (a trait from the novels often overlooked in adaptations) and the space basks in steampunk nostalgia. Jackson and his team make bold choices, of which a fair amount fail, but they are able to keep the storm of suspense gathering on the tiny side project stage.

The ambitious play dramatizes Holmes’ last adventure, one where he faces his mortality at every twist and turn. It starts with Dr. Watson (Nathan Pease) eulogizing about his comrade. Then we’re thrown into the thick of the final case. The King of Bohemia (Brian Bengston) wants the duo to retrieve a salacious photo of him and Irene Adler (Elizabeth MacDonald). This seemingly inane investigation heats up when another long-time Doyle character, Professor Moriarty (Nathan Thompson), is linked to the caper. By then, as the saying goes, the game is afoot.

Dietz’s adaptation captures Doyle’s snappy sense of wit and intelligence. Holmes and Watson wax philosophical and, occasionally, poetical. There’s an authenticity that runs through the piece; it’s neither over-contemporized nor over-researched. The major flaw with the play is that it’s too neat. Dietz takes a Hollywood approach to the plot, bringing together all the major players of the series for one last hoorah. Moriarty and Holmes are simply painted as the villain and hero of this story, a stale aspect of this otherwise deftly-written show.

Sherlock Holmes - Idle Muse 5 Sherlock Holmes - Idle Muse 4

Sans goofy hat, Hamilton is remarkably charming as Holmes. With a script that meditates on death as much as this one, you need an actor who can humanize a character like Holmes. Hamilton finds all of it, layering on anxiety, love, and fear into Sherlock’s calculating psyche. He and Pease have fine chemistry, brotherly yet sometimes catty. The mousy Pease takes awhile to warm up to his long addresses to the audience, but he grabs control by the second act. MacDonald plays well against the two men. Her Irene Adler can be as cold as Holmes, a great choice for the character. The weak spot of the cast is Thompson, who ruins the quick pace with his pause-prone take on Moriarty. With such an atypical take on Sherlock, it’s a shame Moriarty is portrayed so two-dimensional. Thompson comes off as stock “slimy evil genius,” a choice that gets boring pretty quickly.

Moriarty’s reptilian essence is one of several missteps Jackson makes. For example, the supporting cast lacks the clarity of Hamilton and Pease. And the ending is marred by a deflating bout of stage combat, one that would have been better left to the imagination than illustrated.

Idle Muse definitely wins some, too. Dennis Mae’s set, which includes a maze of copper piping, is wonderful and flexible to all sorts of environments. Place is noted by beautiful etchings hung from the grid. And the production sits firmly with Idle Muse’s ‘poor theatre’ mission statement. The industrial world presented here feels both modern and old, a statement that could describe most of the production. However, it’s the commitment to honesty that really drives this show forward. While the mystery is kind of easy, we still want to follow Holmes along. Like Doyle’s books, it’s not really about the case, but the detective.

   
   
Rating: ★★½
    
   

Sherlock Holmes - Idle Muse 3

       
       

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REVIEW: The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet (Two Pence)

A mixed bag at Two Pence Shakespeare

 

2Pence # 6

   
Two Pence Shakespeare present
 
The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet
 
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Tom Wells
at
Evanston Arts Depot, 600 Main St., Evanston (map)
through August 21  | 
tickets: $9-$20   |  more info

reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

The publicity materials for The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet led me to believe that this adaptation was to show the after-effects of war, and how society deals with returning veterans. Such an interpretation of possibly the Bard’s most renowned  work held, for me, remarkable potential – but I saw very little effort to portray a post war mentality. The conflict in most of Shakespeare is universal. There are and will be rivalries and feuds for as long as there is humanity. The civil unrest in Romeo and Juliet comes off here more as a feud or an unfortunate gang war.

2Pence # 3 In spite of this, It is the actors that make this production spellbinding and fun, despite the tragic outcome. Taking place in a converted train station, the sounds of the Metra pulling in add to the production’s nostalgic setting between the wars.

The tussling between the Capulet and Montague fractions is convincingly vicious and bloody. Daniel McEvilly is absolutely stunning as Mercutio. Some would argue that Mercutio is the most compelling character and McEvilly makes the case in this production. He stalks the stage with a feral presence that gives a razor sharp edge to the gang unrest. The words of Shakespeare sound mellifluent and stabbing all at once. Mr. McEvilly’s Mercutio is profane and fierce; one feels more sadness when he meets his tragic end than at the conclusion of the play when the titled lovers lay dead.

Austin Campion portrays a gentle Romeo with grace and a light touch. Mr. Campion begins tentatively, but then we have to remember that Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet’s characters as youths on the brink of adulthood. This Romeo fights with his buddies against the Montague’s and speaks lustily of girls, but Campion successfully portrays the longing soul beneath the veneer of bravado.

Christa Sablic (Juliet) brings joy and a wonderful colt-like energy to her role. Juliet has been played as a mooning petulant girl for literally 400+ years. Ms. Sablic portrays her as a teenager who falls in love. It’s been a while since I was a teenager but I do remember how ‘he’ was all consuming and all about which I thought. Ms. Sablic plays Juliet as a sensuous young woman who is ripening under the spell of love and, yes, lust.

Another standout in this production is Sherry Legare as Nurse. Ms. Legare adds a compelling comic touch to her role as Juliet’s guardian and conspirator. She takes on the visage of a toddling old nanny with all but the rolled up stockings, seemingly paying homage to Carol Burnett, but with a more muted slapstick take.

2Pence # 5Charles Cowen as Juliet’s parent-approved suitor is something out of a 1930’s film drama. His portrayal of all a parent wants for a daughter to marry is spot on. Cowen has a royal posture and perfects the arrogant sneer that one has come to love in the character, versus the tragic hero story.

The rest of the cast performs quite ably, but the rhythm noticeably changes in the speaking scenes with Lady Capulet and Juliet. KC Karen Hill plays Lady Capulet, and she comes off as miscast. Ms. Hill is a beautiful actress, but she projects a speedy energy that is out of sync with the story and the rest of the cast. Part of this is costume and makeup/hair choices – the production’s setting is between the wars that took place in the earlier 20th century and Ms. Hill is costumed and coiffed for the post punk 90’s.

Andy Baldeschwiler is appropriately stern as Lord Capulet, possessing a very dignified presence and a most traditional Shakespearean-sounding voice. Additionally, Eliza Hofman is fun to watch in two dual male roles. She has excellent comic timing and exudes a nice gangster aura in spite of being quite pretty.

Any adaptation of Shakespeare runs the risk of seeming pompous and out of touch with the times. It is classic theatre, and taught in almost every school as a reading assignment. Getting the rhythm of Shakespeare and having the ability to translate it into universal understanding is what is difficult for a lot of people. Two Pence’s aspirations for creating a post war ambiance falls a little flat and perhaps should have been more conventional with the era costuming and props.

Given the production’s material and groovy performance space, The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is an enjoyable evening of classic theatre.

   
       
Rating: ★★½
   
   
2Pence # 1 2Pence # 2

NOTE: For this production, Two Pence has collaborated with the Vet Art Project, and some production proceeds will be donated to the organization. The show is performed at the Evanston Arts Depot, 600 Main Street. This is a cool space in the Metra station and accessible by CTA, Pace and of course Metra. Check out www.twopenceshakespeare.org for tickets and information about the Vet Art Project. The play runs Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 pm through August 21st 2010.

      
       

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REVIEW: Les Enfants Terribles: Prom Night (Red Tape)

Well, that was weird.

 

 Les enfants Terrible - Prom Night postcard

   
Red Tape Theatre presents
  
Les Enfants Terribles: PROM NIGHT
   
Directed by Keland Scher
at
St. Peter’s Church, 621 W. Belmont, FL2 (map)
through August 14  |  tickets: $10-$20  |  more info

reviewed by Oliver Sava

Welcome to Senior Prom. In the sweltering St. Peter’s gymnasium, Susie Summers (Amanda Beth Miller) urges people to get on the dance floor while Eugene Shortz (Jonathan Helvey) takes pictures of couples sitting in a giant diorama of a half moon. The mood is jovial, the punch is free, and the King and Queen are about to be announced. And then the Les Enfants Terribles appear.

A clown troupe in the style of French bouffons, the dirty, deformed Les Enfants bring chaos to the controlled environment, working as a unit to desecrate all the innocent traditions of high school proms. Physical violence, sexual deviance, and a cappella arrangements of pop hits are primary method of communication for the gang, and the appeal of Prom Night lies in seeing what level of depravity they will sink to next, although the sequence with the panties is up there on the disturbing meter.

Les Enfants Terribles

As there isn’t much in the way of a story to latch onto, the humor arises out of the unnerving situations the clowns create for the audience. The talent behind Les Enfants Terribles cannot be denied. These men have amazing control of their bodies and voices, creating sounds and images that are both hilarious and creepy. Their timing is impeccable, and they clearly have a rapport that allows them to move as one and create on the fly without stumbling. Their initial entrance as a malformed brown mass moaning and wheezing as it shuffles across the floor sets the mood perfectly, preparing the audience for the bizarre experience to follow.

The weird factor of Prom Night may be a little too high for some people, and for the first ten minutes it seemed like the audience was reluctant to laugh at the action on stage. The a cappella pop music, as odd as it is, served to make the audience more comfortable with the wackiness onstage, and if that is the intended effect then bravo to Red Tape. The maybe-story of which clown will be Prom King to Mother’s (Casey Kells) Prom Queen doesn’t really provide much in the way of emotional resonance, but it sets up some fun gags spotlighting their clowning prowess. The overambitious final sequence was plagued with technical issues at the performance I attended, but the dark conclusion of the play overshadowed it with pitch black comic absurdity. As bizarre as the experience is, it’s worth going back to high school for Les Enfants Terribles: PROM NIGHT.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

    
     

REVIEW: Talk Radio (State Theatre)

Small storefront ends its inaugural season with a roar

 

State Theatre - Talk Radio - Production Image 1

   
State Theatre presents
   
Talk Radio
   
Written by Eric Bogosian
Directed by Ross Matsuda
at
Heartland Studio Theater, 7016 N. Glenwood (map)
through August 15th   | 
tickets: $10-$20  |  more info

reviewed by Keith Ecker 

When Eric Bogosian’s Talk Radio premiered in 1987, shock jocks and morning zoo crews dominated the air waves. You couldn’t drive to work without some knucklehead on the dial making crass jokes or belittling his audience. It was sadism and masochism at its most commercial.

Today, the market has changed, but unfortunately not for the better. Radio—now competing for attention with television and the Internet—is threatened to become a relic of the past. And so, to survive, it has tweaked its format. Many of the shock jocks and zoo crews of yesterday couldn’t adapt. But some have evolved into a new beast that is even more vile and wretched than a thousand Howard Sterns. That’s right. The talking head. The political pundit. The Glenn Beck.

State Theatre - Talk Radio - Production Image 2 The play’s antihero is of this Glenn Beck ilk minus the religious piety but with the need to belittle, fear monger and win every argument intact. His name is Barry Champlain (Nathan Randall), and he’s a Cleveland late-night DJ, who as of tomorrow will be going national.

We get a sneak peak into a charged episode of the show. Callers include a 15-year-old pregnant girl whose deadbeat boyfriend skipped town, a woman who is deathly afraid of her garbage disposal and a teenaged burnout whose girlfriend may or may not have just suffered a drug overdose.

Intermittently, between this string of callers, we get a sneak peak inside Barry’s psyche. His colleagues provide brief monologues that detail their relationship with Barry, revealing a confused and deeply disturbed individual who has turned his back on himself only to recede further into the depths of dementia.

As caller after caller chimes in with another fear, question or inane statement, Barry becomes increasingly agitated. Slowly, the radio host begins to question himself and his audience. Is he an entertainer or a public servant? Is he part of the solution or the mouthpiece for the problem?

Talk Radio is only as good as your Barry Champlain. And the State Theatre has found an amazing Champlain in Randall. His performance is unwavering in its callousness and coldness. His eyes are fiery with a flame that is at once both outwardly searing and self-engulfing. This is a character who is consumed by himself, and whose self-vitriol is projected out to millions of listeners. He is not a likeable character, and Randall doesn’t make you like him. But Randall does make you believe in him; that he is real and right in front of you and that you should hate him. And I hated him, which is why I loved Randall’s performance.

The supporting actors all do good work, and Tyler Ravelson, who plays the stoner teenager Kent, deserves to be spotlighted. Growing up in suburbia, I’ve seen my share of dopey doped up teenagers, and I can say that Ravelson’s portrayal is a carbon copy. In addition, there is such a smoothness to his performance, so much so that when Kent suddenly commandeers the in-studio mic, it feels spontaneous and unscripted.

State Theatre - Talk Radio - Nathan Randall and Tyler Ravelson

The production’s only drawback is the play’s use of a video feed during the first half. Rather than sticking with voiceovers for callers, the play’s director, Ross Matsuda, decided to go with a Webcam feed projected on a translucent screen behind Barry. The images are a distraction from the callers’ words, and as an audience member, I want to use my imagination to envision Barry’s listeners.

In a world of 24-hour news cycles that merge editorial with opinion, that live by the motto “If it bleeds, it leads,” that serve less to inform and more to threaten, Talk Radio is a highly relevant piece of drama. Who knows? You may even find some solace in the play because, although Barry Champlain might not embody the solution, his existence at least reveals that others out there know there’s a problem.

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

Extra Credit:

REVIEW: Pinocchio (Marriott Theatre)

A thrilling show for kids of all ages

 

PINOCCHIO Jameson Cooper and Cory Goodrich 2

   
Marriott Children’s Theatre presents
   
Pinocchio
   
Music, Lyrics and Book by Marc Robin
Directed and Choreographed by
Rachel Rockwell
Musical Direction by
Roberta Duchak
at
Marriott Theatre, Lincolnshire (map)
through August 29th  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

reviewed by Allegra Gallian

When people think of Pinnocchio, most would refer back to the Disney movie featuring the morally-conscious Jiminy Cricket and the wonderfully naïve little wooden puppet who dreams of becoming a real, live boy. Not this time. Marriott Lincolnshire’s Children’s Theatre has brought a new spin to the beloved fairy tale through their original musical production of Pinocchio, adapted for the stage by Marc Robin.

PINOCCHIO Michael Haws, Jackson Evans, Jameson Cooper 2 Minimal set pieces cover the stage, giving way for the large personalities of each character to fill the space. Just a worktable and door frame rest on the stage of the in-the-round theatre. Still, there’s a cozy feeling running through as groups of children and their parents take their seats. A fantasy-like quality is emitted and, as the lights go down and anticipation builds, the stage is dimly lit by a singular center spot on Geppetto’s work table, where the puppet Pinocchio rests.

The well-known character of Geppetto (Michael Haws) instantly brings an energy to the stage as he introduces his puppet shop through a cheerful song-and-dance number. Haws conveys the kind and gentle feel of the old wood-worker, creating an engaging presence that’s hard not to bond with. With the energy level set high from the start, Pinocchio, under the direction of Rachel Rockwell, flows smoothly along with quick scene changes and keeps an excited buzz running to the audience.

After Geppetto’s wife dies, he spends his lonely nights wishing on stars until he meets a new friend, an over-the-top grasshopper name G. Hopper. Played by Jackson Evans, Hopper is a larger-than-life character, full of energy as he bounces and flits around the stage. Evans’ Hopper provides plenty of laughs with his adept comedic timing throughout the production.

As a foil to the rest of the cast’s lively antics, the Blue Fairy (Cory Goodrich) creates a regal and calming presence. She comes to grant Geppetto’s wish of bringing the puppet Pinocchio to life because Geppetto has been such a good and honest man his whole life. Goodrich supplies a genuine characterization that truly touches the audience. Her voice fills the stage as she sings of all the positive attributes Pinocchio will need to possess if he’s ever to become a real boy.

Once Geppetto’s wish is granted, Pinocchio (Jameson Cooper) is taught to walk and talk in a catchy musical duet by his newly named conscience, Hopper. Evans and Cooper’s freshly-formed friendship feels authentic and honest. Throughout his misadventures: ditching school, hanging out at Pleasure Island and getting lost in a whale, Cooper offers up an adorable portrayal of Pinocchio with a quality endearing him immediately to audience members.

PINOCCHIO Jameson Cooper as Pinocchio

Cory Goodrich as Blue Fairy Jackson Evans as Hopper

With musicals, one generally expect the singing to be top-notch. Unfortunately, this is where Pinocchio comes up short. The singing is good-quality work, but not stellar – which may partly be caused by the fast-paced choreography. That being said, Goodrich’s Blue Fairy sings with a wonderful soprano voice that rings clear to the back of the house.

While the singing lacks, Rachel Rockwell’s choreography shines. Intricate dance numbers are a pleasure to watch, and it’s clear that these actors have natural dance talent. There’s even a crowd-pleasing scene at Pleasure Island complete with beat boxing and break dancing, spectacularly performed by Adrian Aguilar.

What really promotes the magic of this show is the exceptional lighting design by Jesse Klug. The fanciful, special effects lighting creates a fairy tale world full of color and enchantment that transports the audience to a world of wonder.  Jesse Gaffney’s minimalist set also elevates the magic.

Pinocchio proves to be a thrilling show for kids of all ages who wish to be marveled by inherently good blue fairies and hopeful wooden boys whose wishes come true by telling the truth and always letting your conscience be your guide.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

Jackson Evans as Hopper, Jameson Cooper as Pinocchio

Pinocchio plays Wednesday through Sunday at 10:00 am through August 29th at the Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Dr., in Lincolnshire. Single and group tickets are available. Call 847-634-0200 or visit www.MarriottTheatre.com.

     

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REVIEW: Shrek The Musical (Broadway in Chicago)

Big, green, and immensely entertaining

 

 Shrek - Eric Petersen as Shrek and Alan Mingo Jr as Donkey

   
Broadway in Chicago presents
   
Shrek the Musical
   
Book and Lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire
Music by
Jeanine Tesori
Directed by
Jason Moore and Rob Ashford
at
Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph (map)
through September 5th  | 
tickets: $25-$90  |  more info

reviewed by Catey Sullivan

Shrek (L-to-R) Eric Petersen as Shrek, Alan Mingo as Donkey, Haven Burton as Princess FionaAsk any fifth grader. All those after school specials and heart-felt parent/child talks about how everybody is beautiful are a load of hooey. “You’re ugly,” Shrek’s father tells the seven-year-old ogre during the first scene of the green guy’s eponymous musical, “That means life is going to be much harder for you.”  There’s something almost subversive (not to mention laugh-out-loud funny) about such bracing honesty.

And indeed, life for little Shrek is no frolic.  His parents’  heartfelt warning to “watch out for men with pitchforks” is grounded in reality.  While the normal kids are off learning to read and dancing around maypoles and such, poor little outcast Shrek finds himself being barbequed by angry villagers.  So begins the story of Shrek’s life as told with wit, wisdom and no small degree of sophistication by David Lindsay-Abaire (book and lyrics) and Jeanine Tesori (music).

Fractured fairytales are nothing new –  Spamalot, Into the Woods, Honk! and even Once Upon a Mattress have trod such ground. Shrek succeeds with the best of them. This is no grating child’s cartoon or soulless movie rip-off.   With one significant caveat, directors Jason Moore and Rob Ashford’s staging is marvelous. Shrek is innovative and irreverent  and – thanks to it’s affirming exhortation to let your freak flag fly – a show that feels like a celebration.

Speaking of letting your freak flag fly, Shrek is also a big fat green slice of musical-theater-geek heaven.  Insider references to GypsyDreamgirls, A Chorus Line, Wicked, Les Miserables, The Lion King and Sweet Charity pop-up in the score like little balloons of laughing gas.  And within this whackadoo land of misfit fairy tale creatures, Shrek even manages a shout-out to Judy Blume, the now-and-forever patron saint of  misfit middle schoolers.

Shrek - Haven Burton as Princess Fiona

It matters not whether you get all those inside musical theater jokes. Shrek  is mightily entertaining if you don’t know Mama Rose from “Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret.” How can one not be taken with a show wherein the Big Bad Wolf laments the mean villagers who “tore my cotton granny dress (and) call me a hot and tranny mess.”  (Which he totally is, btw, not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

The creative ingenuity of the production is exemplified by the ongoing sight-gag that defines the bullying tyrant, Lord Farquaad. His stunted stature is a feat of clever puppetry and movement. Despite the fact that the joke is pretty much the same every time his wizened little poppet legs wobble across the stage, it never gets tired no matter how many times it is trotted out.

Shrek 02 Which brings us to Shrek’s glaring shortcoming.  The performances are all terrific, but for this touring production, all kinds of corners seem to  have been cut in the special effects department. A crucial scene involving a fiery demise-by-dragon looks cheaper and cheesier than a hunk of cut-rate Velveeta. Ditto the transformations of Princess Fiona from traditionally pretty porcelain princess to  Elphaba-chartreuse green goddess. Such bargain-basement production values are maddening beyond their skinflint looks. Producers, apparently, see nothing wrong with demanding ticket prices for a show that’s been significantly cheapened. Maybe they think audiences are stupid, and won’t notice the sloppiness. They’re wrong.

That said, Shrek’s cast is faultless. As the titular ogre, Eric Petersen’s booming voice matches his huge-hearted performance.  Haven Burton’s Princess Fiona is delightfully off-kilter, displaying just the kind of crazed mania you’d expect from someone locked in a padded tower for over a decade . David F. M. Vaughn’s  vainglorious Lord Farquaad has a smirky demeanor utterly befitting a man sporting a Prince Valiant bowl-cut on purpose. And as Donkey, Alan Mingo Jr. is worthy sidekick.

Josh Prince’s choreography is a hoot, from the chorus line of rats  (“Morning Person”) to the march of the misfits (“Freak Flag.”) And when everybody  rocks out to “I’m A Believer,” the sense of joy is so palpable you almost forgive those chintzy special effects .

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

Shrek Cast 01

   
    

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Theater Thursday: Talk Radio (State Theatre at Heartland)

Theater Thursday

 

Thursday, July 29

Talk Radio   by Eric Bogosian

The State Theatre of Chicago at Heartland Studio, 7016 N. Glenwood Ave

talkradioVisit the Heartland Studio for a radical re-imagining of Eric Bogosian‘s Pulitzer-Prize nominated play, Talk Radio. Then stick around immediately following the performance for a discussion with the director, cast, and Artistic Director. Light refreshments and drinks will be provided. Talk radio host Barry Champlain is a relic of an analog age, on the verge of a deal for national syndication. Tonight, not only is he under assault from many callers-in, but he also has digital communication thrust upon him. Bogosian meets Orwell in this commentary on the media.

Show begins at 8 p.m.   Event begins immediately following the performance

Tickets: $20    For reservations visit www.statetheatrechicago.com.