REVIEW: Beast Women (Greenhouse Theater)

Feminine. Animal. Magnetism.



Beast Women Productions present
Beast Women: Summer Series 2010
Produced by Michelle Power and Jillian Erickson
Greenhouse Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through August 28th  |  tickets:  $15   |  more info

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Something about Greenhouse Theater Center’s space brings out the animal in women. So I like to think, because I’ve now seen two different styles of comedy here based on women doing their animal thang. First, there was Cougars! The Musical (our review ★★★), a whacked-out review about women acting on animal urges well past menopause. Now on the mainstage, Beast Women: Summer Series 2010 promises even more beastie grrls—no sleep until the estrogen riot is over.

Not that the ladies don’t display their cojones . . . or juevos . . . ovarian fortitude—whatever you might call it; it’s just that the talented acts co-producers Michelle Power and Jillian Erickson have amassed for our delectation demonstrate considerable sophistication. The Beast Women are sexy and fun, but definitely not the usual sexed up, late-night monkey business. Expect the laughs to be full figured, the songs to dip into deep seriousness, and the belly dancing to round out the evening with more sensual joie de vivre than the usual bump and grind. Beast Women with a Touch of Class—that’s the real title of this production.

Out of 64 auditions of talented women, Power and Erickson selected around 30 to actually perform in this showcase. Hence, the acts change with each new night, and if opening night is any indication, then late-night crowds will find fun that gives both a subtle and sassy nod to women’s empowerment.

Singer-songwriters Jana St. Stjarna and Kristina Cottone display very different styles in music and performance, but both relay lyrics with surprisingly deep poetry, intelligence, and power. Just a touch of world-weariness suggests itself in both their opening songs—“A Love Song for Abraham Lincoln” and “Oh What a Dark Age,” respectively. Their CDs are on sale in the lobby.

beast-women-logoAmy Lynne Sumpter executes classic stand-up comedy, delivering balls-to-the-wall, good-time boisterousness. Her method of surviving back spasms during a game at Wrigley Field is simply to engage in more drinking. “Then I did yoga poses until security asked me to leave,” reports Sumpter, only to continue her quest to end the spasms with more drinking at Sluggers. Meanwhile, Claire Wedemeyer’s comedy is coyly reminiscent of the silent sketches of Carol Burnett. A gal dances and romances with her curling broom to classic recordings of Edith Piaf—and Wedemeyer’s classic clown training evokes something as silly and innocent as comedy right out of the 1950s.

The works of Angie-O (Angela Oliver), Shanna Shrum and Jillian Erickson slide into the performance art and actor’s monologue genres; all exhibit their artful ability to amuse, provoke, and bring one close to tears. Angie-O delivers spoken word and a song piece about an artist’s life that’s so accurate in its economic deprivation, I thought the girl could see right into my life. As Dr. Kim Dickinson, academic advisor for the daughters of over-privileged parents, Shrum delivers the only advice that will keep their teenager’s sagging grades up and her hymen intact: fatten her up to lonely, unfuckable unpopularity. “Now, I know what I am telling you may sound radical,” says Dr. Dickinson, Twinkie filling glistening in the corners of her mouth. But really, what’s a lifetime of eating disorders compared to academic and career advancement?

Jillian Erickson’s turn on stage is about our culture’s obsessive wedding disorder—and it’s reassuring to see her realistically trash the bride-mania that gets shoved into women’s faces, reality TV show after reality TV show. “I’ve never understood this whole big wedding production thing,” she says, squeezed into another unwearable bridesmaid’s dress, “telling someone you love them in public shouldn’t cost $10,000.” But Erickson is at her most poignant when she acknowledges that the death of her own fun and funky fiancé does make her jealous of her bride-bound sister, no matter how ridiculously she’s surrounded by wedding accoutrements.

Belly dancer Kamani Raqs rounds out the show with a sensual, elegant and flirtatious performance. Her interaction with the audience shows such flare, moxy and daring, she’ll be watched for again all over town. But Powers and Erickson have plenty of other burlesque and belly dancers in their line up, so check them out each weekend. Beast Women 2010 is sure, smart, and fun entertainment—both for gal pals and the men who love them.

Rating: ★★★

Running Saturdays @ 10:30pm, July 10 – August 28, in the Greenhouse Theater Center’s Upstairs Studio.  Show runs approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.


REVIEW: Twelfth Night (First Folio)

Indian concept hinders First Folio production


Donald Brearley (Toby), Craig Spidle (Feste), Mouzam Mekkar (Maria) & Nick Maroon (Aguecheek)

First Folio Theatre presents
Twelfth Night
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by
Michael F. Goldberg
Mayslake Peabody Estate, Oakbrook (map)
Through August 8th  |  tickets: $23-$28  |  more info

reviewed by Oliver Sava

When developing a concept for a Shakespeare production, it is important to keep in mind how the changes will affect the audience’s experience. First Folio and director Melanie Keller (Olivia) & Nick Sandys (Malvolio)Michael F. Goldberg re-imagine Twelfth Night in colonial India, and the concept  comes with a variety of strengths and weaknesses in the outdoor venue.

Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare’s cross-dressing comedies, with heroine Viola (Minita Gandhi) disguising herself after a shipwreck separates her from her twin brother Sabastian (Behzad Dabu). As Cesario, Viola finds herself in the employ of Orsino (Anish Jethmalani), a nobleman hopelessly enraptured with the Lady Olivia (Melanie Keller), who falls in love with Cesario, who is really Viola in disguise. Then Sabastian shows up and gets confused with Cesario and everything eventually gets wrapped together in a nice little bow.

The romantic leads don’t seem to have much fire in their performances, with Gandhi and Jethmalani never really establishing a strong chemistry between their characters. Keller fares better in this respect, and I think that is because she isn’t burdened with an Indian dialect.

The choice to have some characters speak in an Indian dialect is unnecessary, and doesn’t add much to the piece besides muddling the diction and verse. It’s impossible to have a strong Shakespeare production without a precise handle on the language, and the dialect restricts the actors, making plots and jokes unclear and making it difficult to follow the action on stage amidst the chirps of crickets and other outdoor distractions. Twelfth Night struggles to really get the momentum moving because of this, and the acting fails to reach the same level of excitement as the design elements.

TwelfthNightPress02That isn’t to say the production isn’t without its charms. The Indian locale does bring an exotic flair to the proceedings, but aesthetics can only go so far. The strongest performances come from Sir Toby (Donald Brearley) and his gang, classic Shakespeare fools that drink and sing and comment on the inanities of the main plot line while relishing in their own silliness. Craig Spidle is a great co-star as the fool Festes, giving his scene’s partners plenty to work off of with his dry wit and perverted sense of humor, and Brearley is quite adept at playing drunk. Nick Sandys dominates the stage as Malvolio, Olivia’s manservant who meets a tragic fate after a prank goes awry. His Malvolio is pretentious, dowdy, and completely clueless, and he has a firmer handle of the language in dialect than his fellow castmates.

From a design perspective, Twelfth Night is spectacular, with the Eastern-inspired costumes and sets creating a beautiful environment for Shakespeare’s comedy to unfold in. Henry Marsh’s score is perhaps the most transformative aspect of the production, filling the outdoor space with the sitar sounds of traditional Hindustani music. The theatre’s Oakbrook location is a beautiful spot for a summer evening of theater, but in an area where sound is going to be a major issue, there shouldn’t be many changes to the language of the piece. By taking the concept too far, the production suffers as a whole, and is just barely saved by above-average supporting performances.

Rating: ★★½
Minita Gandhi (Viola) and Anish Jethmalani (Orsino) Donald Brearley (Toby), Craig Spidle (Feste) & Mouzam Mekkar (Maria)
Behzad Dabu (Sabastian), Melanie Keller (Olivia), Anish Jethmaliani (Orsino) & Minita Gandhi (Viola)

All Photos by David Rice.