REVIEW: Hesperia (Right Brain Project)

An Exploration of Love and Trust



The Right Brain Project presents
Written by Randall Colburn
Directed by
Nathan Robbel
RBP Rorschach Theatre, 4001 N. Ravenswood (map)
through August 14th  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

The Right Brain Project is staging an intriguing production called Hesperia. This show exposes how love, friendship, and trust transcend class and social mores. The playwright, Randall Colburn, takes these themes and puts them smack dab in post-modern America, offering up some interesting musings on what happens to those who buy into the American Dream and the underbelly of that dream.

Right Brain Project's "Hesperia" by Randall Colburn In the opening scene we are introduced to Claudia and Ian played by Natalie DiCristofano and Billy Fenderson respectively. Ian has shown up at Claudia’s door in the small town of Hesperia not far from where they grew up. Ms. DiCristofano is a sylph-like beauty that exudes vulnerability and a hard edge at the same time. The character of Claudia is has come to this town to shake off her past as a porn actress. She is now a born again Christian and engaged to marry the youth minister at the local church. Billy Fenderson also has a wonderful edge as a man who is trying to escape the past but perhaps got in deeper than he should have.

Claudia and Ian are childhood best friends and were partners in porn apparently working only with each other. The porn career for both of them seems to have been done on a lark or a childish dare that got out of hand. Claudia has escaped, but there are thugs on Ian’s trail. Being saved or born again is an escape for both characters – but who really takes it to heart is the lingering question for both of them.

Claudia is engaged to Trick whose real name is Trevor. The nickname is a result of youthful horsing around with language. It is an interesting choice for the character considering his fiancée’s former profession. (I wonder if the playwright was going for homage to Tennessee Williams with the double entendre.) Nick Freed plays the role of Trick with an endearing innocence and country boy energy. He keeps the energy level high, especially when drilling young Aaron for the state Bible Bee. It is a finely balanced portrait of fundamentalist America without the judgmental sneer that is evident in other works, and Nick Freed embodies the innocence and the frustration of having been anointed in the ministry. Trick tells Claudia that his gift is discernment that comes into play when Ian shows up and tries to reclaim his small town past. Trick accepts without judgment and with a trusting open heart. Claudia knows better in spite of her innocent past with Ian.


ClaudiaTrick01 Hesperia06

Trick fixes Ian up on a date with a nice girl from church named Daisy, played by Katy Albert with a refreshing country girl sexiness, looking clean scrubbed and apple cheeked like a 50’s Ladies Home Journal girl. Daisy is instantly smitten with the new boy in town, no doubt unaware of his extensive experience. Albert and Fenderson have good chemistry; the post date with the two of them is timed perfectly and staged with a voyeuristic flair. The sex scene is done well, with an edge of discomfort and shame. Surprisingly it’s Trick that feels the shame while Daisy wants him to stay.

The one chink in the play is the character of Aaron. It’s played well by Danny Mulae, but feels like a throwaway device for shock effect. Aaron finds a DVD of Claudia and Ian’s early work. The interaction between Ian and Aaron feels somehow false. Trick’s character alludes to Aaron starting to show interest in sex and then the boy comes off like the “bad seed,” interrogating Ian about the film. Also, some of Mr. Fenderson’s lines get lost due to either odd staging or poor enunciation.

This drawback really should be remedied because Ian’s character is open for judgment and it could be made clearer regarding why he should not be judged harshly. By the time the wedding of Trick and Claudia takes place Ian has been picked up by the thugs calling for him from California. Everything falls into place for Claudia, but did she turn on her former best friend or did he willingly return to his former life:  The matter is not easily resolved in a neat package, which is more realistic than Ian settling down with Daisy and popping out the kids. It is also Hesperia Photosatisfying that Trick and Claudia don’t have an instant sexual connection on their wedding night. Claudia has more experience but doesn’t want the same feelings from before. It is honest, painful, funny, and wonderful to observe.

Throughout the production the actors are confined to a small stage with seating around the perimeter, remaining on stage during other scenes. The actors remain in character with the emotional impact from the previous scene remaining fresh. This is a contemplative work that requires that the audience focus on the actors’ subtleties. The sparseness of the stage is a good choice as is the audience seating. I don’t know if it was deliberate but the backless seats caused me to be more in tune with the play. It took effort and concentration to sit comfortably as well as watch the stage. It is an integrative approach at best, and I felt for the actors having to be still and not drown in sweat without a stage exit. Here’s my heartfelt wish for a better air conditioner-you all deserve one!

Rating: ★★★

Hesperia plays Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00pm through August 14th at RBP Rorschach Theatre, 4001 N. Ravenswood. The theatre is easily accessible by CTA or Metra. Call 773-750-2033 or go to for tickets or more information.



Productions Personnel


Nathan Robbel (Director, Scenic and Costume Design)

Anthony Ingram (Technical Director, Lighting Design)

Trevor Patrick Watkin (Music Director, Sound Designer)

Emma Peterson (Assistant Director, Stage Manager, Prop Design)

Jamie Bragg (Dramaturg)

Featuring: Katy Albert, Natalie DiCristofano, Billy Fenderson, Nick Freed, Danny Mulae



Katy Albert (Daisy) is delighted to be working with the Right Brain Project again. She was last seen as Victoria in Pretty Penny with the RBP this winter. Katy graduated in the spring with a B.A. in Theatre from Western Washington University. Recently she has been in the NPA readings of Framed and Bootleg at the Seattle Repertory Theatre and A Story That Ends and Begins With a Dream, and Never Swim Alone with Balls Deep Theatre.

Natalie DiCristofano (Claudia) has had a lovely time working with the wonderful folks at the RBP. For the last few years she has served as Managing Director of Chicago Fusion Theatre and has appeared in J.B. (Sarah), 12 Hungry Men (Mary Magdalene), bobrauschenbergamerica (Phil’s Girl), and Hugging the Shoulder (Christy). Other favorite roles include herself (Celebrity Guest Judge) in Cornservatory‘s Original Improv Gladiators, and Irina in Space with the side project’s Cut to the Quick. She would like to thank her family and friends for their unwavering support.

Billy Fenderson (Ian) is excited to be working with the Right Brain Project. Billy has trained in Vassar College’s apprentice program and in Columbia University’s MFA program. Past theatre credits include Max in the Open Floor Theatre‘s production of Stage Lights, Mr. Coffee and Cigarettes in Rising Sun Ensemble‘s Goodnight Lovin’ Trail, Camille in A Flea in Her Ear, Rasklonikov in Juan Souki’s Crime and Punishment, Silvius in As You Like It, and Didi in Waiting for Godot. Recent film credits include Johnny-Boy in Sneakers and Soul, and the Editor in Carmen Vidal’s Slate.

Nick Freed (Trick) is a proud Missourian who has been in Chicago since the spring of 2008. Since arriving, he has worked with wonderful companies on wonderful shows including NachtKabarett with Painted Lady Productions, Dracula at the Building Stage, and both iterations of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow with Filament Theatre Ensemble, as well as A Commedia Christmas Carol, Murder, Murder, Murder, A Hampstead Hooligan in King Arthur’s Court, and The Literati with Chicago dell’Arte of which he is Associate Artistic Director. Nick would like to thank Nathan and the Right Brain Project, his friends, and 100% most importantly his family for their completely undying support of his vast dreams.

Danny Mulae (Aaron) is incredibly honored to be making his Right Brain Project debut. This past year, Danny has been immersed in musical theater, as Charlie Bucket in Deerfield Family Theater‘s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and as Benjamin in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat with Big Deal Productions. He has also appeared as Billy Ray Jr. in On Golden Pond with Big Noise Theatre and as Nathan Lukowski in the Highland Park Player‘s presentation of The Full Monty. In his spare time, Danny convincingly plays a 15 year-old high school student who loves theater and hopes for more opportunities to work with the amazing actors, directors and writers at the RBP.

Randall Colburn‘s plays have been seen or heard at the Alliance Theatre, the Public Theater, Victory Gardens, Stage Left Theatre, and Dream Theatre, among others. He is the recipient of a 2010 Individual Artist Grant from the Illinois Arts Council, as well as playwriting fellowships from Dad’s Garage Theatre and the Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference. His play Lamp & Moth was a finalist for the Alliance’s 2009 Kendeda Graduate Playwright Competition and the 2009 New York Summer Play Fest, and his short play Ravishment was part of the Northwest Playwrights Alliance‘s 2008 British Arts Tour. Colburn’s "bad" play, Scarecrow… won Stage Left’s 2009 DrekFest award for World’s Worst 10-Minute Play last summer, and this fall his horror play Ghostbox will premiere at InFustion Theatre, which commissioned the piece. He is currently working on a commission from Writers’ Theatre as well as developing a piece that will premiere this fall at Brain Surgeon Theatre, where his is an artistic associate. A bad movie scholar, Colburn is also the co-founder and co-host of B-Rated, an online review show, and is featured in the hit documentary Best Worst Movie.

Nathan Robbel is the artistic director of the RBP and has been directing in the Chicago-land area for nine years. For the Right Brain Project, Nathan has directed Pretty Penny, And They Put Handcuffs on the Flowers, Put My Finger in Your Mouth, The Modern Prometheus, The Empire Builders, Franz Kafka’s The Castle, and Chalk, amongst others. He has also had the pleasure to direct at Around the Coyote, the side project, the Bailiwick, Goshen Indiana’s New World Center for the Arts, and the Chicago Sable Ensemble. Nathan also dabbles in sound design and occasionally jumps on stage himself when the opportunity presents itself. Special thanks to Sarahbeth, Michelle, Tony, Cole, Heidi, Signal Ensemble Theatre, his countless friends who are near and dear, and especially Randall for allowing him the opportunity to helm his work yet again. Extra special thanks to Emma and this incredible cast and crew who are willing to take the risks and sacrifices that make great art. You’re all true professionals.

Emma Peterson is a recent transplant from St. Louis, MO where she had the great pleasure of working with companies such as Hot City, St. Louis Shakespeare, Tin Ceiling, and Teens Make History at the Missouri History Museum. In October 2009, she moved to Chicago to direct J.B. with Chicago Fusion Theatre and could not be more tickled to be working on Hesperia with the Right Brain Project. In her rare adventure on the other side of the stage, she can be seen playing Emily Dickinson in FreedYorick’s touring production of Voices. With sincere love in her heart she thanks every person on the journey who has given a kind word and encouraging heart. Love to the Corporation.

Jamie Bragg is delighted to collaborate again with the Right Brain Project and playwright Randall Colburn. Recent Chicago dramaturgy credits include the RBP’s Pretty Penny, and InFusion Theatre’s Rhymes With Evil and annual New Play Development Workshop. She held a literary internship (2005-2006) at Actors Theatre of Louisville, home of the Humana Festival of New American Plays. Also an actor, Jamie last performed in Tympanic Theatre‘s Ozma & Harriet, and she is currently directing a one act featured in Tympanic’s Extinction Fantasies (July2-18 as the side project). She holds B.A.s in Drama and English from the University of Georgia.

Trevor Patrick Watkin is a huge fan of both the Right Brain Project and Randall Colburn and is thus delighted to be a part of Hesperia. He is a founding member of Tip Your Waiter Productions, known for its ongoing collaborative project Hatemail, and is a member of Dream Theatre. He has performed at numerous venues in the area, including the Green Mill, Millennium Park, and the Music Institute of Chicago, and appears on local composer Julia Miller’s latest CD release. Favorite past productions include Chicago Opera Vanguard’s premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s opera Greek (flue/piccolo), Dream Theatre Company’s Theatre of Women IV (playwright), and has provided incidental music as part of Infamous Commonwealth Theatre‘s 5th Annual 24-Hour Project and Dream Theatre Company’s Electra and The Black Duckling – the latter for which he was deliriously thrilled to be honored with a 2010 Jeff Award. Love to the urban family as always.

Anthony Ingram is a co-founder of the RBP and has had his work seen or heard in nearly every production since 2005. Highlights include production design for Arrabal’s And They Put Handcuffs on the Flowers, his directorial debut with Abaire’s A Devil Inside and set design for Brad Lawrence’s new play The Modern Prometheus. Tony is also the production manager and resident sound designer for Signal Ensemble Theatre, where he has worked on a number of shows including the smash hit Aftermath, as well as The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and Six Degrees of Separation. Additionally, he has been building, designing, performing in, directing, and stage managing productions in the Chicagoland area since his arrival in 2002. Other recent sound designs include the Factory’s Dead Wrong, Shattered Globe Theatre‘s The Little Foxes, and the Bailiwick’s Thrill Me. He would like to thank Jill, Kyle, Erik and Stephanie for their love and support, and dedicates his work to Marlene.

Note: all bios obtained from Right Brain Project’s production page.

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