REVIEW: Alligator (Brikenbrak Theatre Project)

 

Brikenbrak chomps into “Alligator”

 

Alligator Show 056

  
Brikenbrak Theatre Project presents
  
Alligator
  
Written by Jeremy Menekseoglu
Directed by
Paul Cosca
at
Dream Theatre, 556 W. 18th Street (map)
through August 14  |  tickets: $15-$20   |  more info

reviewed by Barry Eitel

The Brikenbrak Theatre Project had quite a memorable final rehearsal of their new show, Alligator. They arrived at the space to find it completely flooded, and had just a few precious hours to caravan everything over to Dream Theatre. They also had to change up their schedule to allow for the Dream Theatre’s own Orestes. That means that the weekend shows start at 10:30, but they have more manageable start times on Mondays and Tuesdays. Although stripped, stark, and often indulging in the melodramatic, Jeremy Menekseoglu’s little 5-character play sparks and pops alive in director Paul Cosca’s hands.

Alligator Show 086 First, a note for playwrights. There are plenty great, screwed-up plays out there brimming with molestation and incest (there are also plenty of bad ones). We know this sort of depravity adds instant drama and shock value – but wears thin quickly. Unless you’re planning to view child abuse in a new way—Blackbird comes to mind—find something else to push buttons. We’ve been seeing incest on-stage since Oedipus first poked out his eyes. One of the chief problems with Menekseoglu’s script is that it falls back on hushed family secrets at the expense of strong characters. Child abuse is tragic when it happens in real life; on-stage, it feels a little cheap, probably due to repetition.

That said, Alligator does explore some intriguing consequences of abuse. We follow the neurotic antics of Velvet (a ragged Clare Kander) as she is chauffeured to a mental hospital by her brother Lone (Graham Jenkins) and his girlfriend, Cricket (Jessica London-Shields), who both happen to be Olympians. She also forges a relationship with a grocery store-clerk/ex-con, the portly Ben (Michael Plummer). As Velvet slowly loses her mind, the alligators in her past come out to feed.

Kander is the one who really drives the show forward. She is belligerent, self-destructive, and nuttier than a Payday, but ultimately engaging. She teases the audience into being on her side. Jenkins also adds interesting facets to Lone, who may be just as insane as his sister, but much more violent. Plummer does well picking up on chemistry from other actors, but he sinks during long scenes where Ben is interacting with invisible characters. Whether he’s herding customers through his line or fighting a non-existent diner owner, the scenes just aren’t believable. On the opposite end of spectrum of Kander, Shields drags the pace down, coming off as whiny and stiff. When they’re all together, the group of actors explodes into life, shattering any of their old acting habits.

 

Alligator Show 040 Alligator Show 082 Alligator Show 013

The entire cast (with the exception of Plummer) way overpowers the space. Cosca allowed far too much shrieking, screaming, and screeching. While crazy people in real life may yell a lot, no theatre audience wants to be assaulted like they are in Alligator. It takes us right out of the play and breaks the carefully-constructed link we had to the characters. There are other, far more interesting ways to build intensity.

Menekseoglu’s script is messy. There is a layer of metatheatricality that is poorly handled, especially in the final moments. Velvet seems to directly address the audience, but it’s left unclear. The play veers into controversial topics like mental health and domestic abuse without really saying anything new. It’s reminiscent of Sam Shepherd, obsessed with blue collar Americana but allowing for some Classical Greek undertones. Unfortunately, Alligator fails to resonate like Curse of the Starving Class or True West.

But Brikenbrak brings tons of heart to the play; the cast’s commitment is rock-solid. They do a remarkable job using the almost bare stage, creating and transforming worlds with just a few props. Cosca remains faithful to the text, even if leads the production down some dead-ends.

   
   
Rating: ★★½
   
   

Cypress Swamp
Lance Rosier Unit of Big Thicket National Preserve
near Sartoga, Hardin Co., Texas
3 April 2004

           
All photos by Paul Cosca      
        

REVIEW: Love’s Labour’s Lost (Oak Park Festival)

A Labour of Love in Oak Park

 

Oak Park Festival Theatre's Photos - Love's Labours Lost 002

   
Oak Park Festival Theatre presents
  
Love’s Labour’s Lost
   
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by
Jack Hickey
at
Austin Gardens, 100 block North Forest, Oak Park (map)
through August 21  |  tickets: $20-$25  |  more info

reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

Okay – sitting in the park on a buggy summer night is not exactly my idea of fun. There has to be something of worth to make this kind of sacrifice. I took a loaner lawn chair from the box office and was grateful to see that the park provided insect repellant for a voluntary donation. I gratefully slipped a buck in the jar and took my place on the lawn in Austin Gardens. There was a lovely pre-performance from the newly formed Oak Park Opera Company. A soprano and tenor performed selections from Verdi and Puccini to warm up the crowd. The music was quite beautiful and set the mood for a very cultured evening.

Oak Park Festival - Love's Labour's Lost 21011 The cast from the play mixed about on the perimeter of the stage, playing bocce in the characters of men at court. When the action began it flowed smoothly as if they really were bystanders in the park.

Love’s Labour Lost is not as popular as other works written by Shakespeare, despite the facts that it is one of his funnier plays. The language is less convoluted and ornate – but it is that simplicity that makes this a deceptive pleasure. The audience gets more of a voyeuristic look into life and the social games that may have occurred in the Elizabethan court.

Love’s Labour’s Lost is one of Shakespeare’s earlier comedies, setting the bar for future farcical comedies full of ribaldry and mistaken identity. Comedy requires a cast to work hard without appearing to try. Kudos to the cast of the Oak Park Festival Theatre for pulling off this feat with grace and skill in spite of a sound system that battled the seemingly endless parade of air traffic overhead and blaring night insects below. Also, a little program coordination would be in order so that the actors don’t have to compete with amplified street performances a block over.

I was able to tune out the distractions for the most part as the play unfolded. Adam Breske as King Ferdinand shone as the pompous monarch setting an impossible social standard on his young attendants. Joseph Wycoff played the Lord Biron with sparkle and a wink to Walter Matthau. Mr. Wycoff has a great face for the frustration and trickery that ensues. It is Lord Biron who is the last of the king’s court to agree to a vow of celibacy and intense scholarship. It is Wycoff who shows the best and funniest reaction as the one who admits his own hypocrisy last when all are revealed as having broken their vows.

Oak Park Festival - Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost

The performance of Stephen Spencer as Don Adriano de Amado – a fantastical Spaniard – is a wonderful mix of buffoonery with Kabuki subtlety. Mr. Spencer is also a wonderful speaker of Shakespeare’s rhythms with sharp and well-placed inflections. No pun is left unturned without perfect inflection hitting the target each time. Charlie Cascino makes brief but crazy energetic appearances as Country Wench Jaquenetta.   Ms. Cascino’s mischievous smile and frisky demeanor are perfect for scenes with the clown Costard, played with equally great skill by Bryan James Wakefield.

Richard Henzel plays the character of Holofernes, a character is pivotal to the wonderful confusion and double takes that ensue with letter exchanges and identities. Henzel is a Chicago theater veteran and takes firm command in this role. The scenes between Holofernes and Sir Nathaniel are comic gems. Two of the audience’s favorite performers are the thoroughly enjoyable Skyler Schrempp as Oak Park Festival - Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost 2Don Armado’s attendant Moth and Robert Tobin as Dull the Constable. They both have a gift for physical comedy and verbal timing.

Love’s Labour Lost is not one of Shakespeare’s best works in regards to women roles. Katherine Keberlein is regal as the Princess of France, but she and the other ladies in waiting do not match the frenetic energy of the people in King Ferdinand’s court. This is partially due in part to Shakespeare’s interpretation or society women of the late 1500s, as well as the also the directing choice of reigning in the female cast a bit more than the male cast members, which is a wise choice by Artistic Director Jack Hickey.

All in all, Shakespeare Under The Stars is a great idea.  You will have to make some concessions for the environmental sounds that hinder full enjoyment, but a night out in a wonderful town with a big city feel more than makes up for this. 

   
   
Rating: ★★½
   
   

 

Love’s Labour Lost plays through August 21st at Austin Gardens in Oak Park. The park is a block away from both the Metra and the Green Line. If you take the Metra please pay attention to the schedule as it has an intermittent nature (Metra schedule). It could happen that you end up in Wheaton like I did. Go early to catch the great sidewalk sales and community energy that is Oak Park. Be aware that Oak Park basically closes the sidewalks at 9:00, so either arrive in Oak Park early enough to dine at a restaurant before the performance, or bring a meal and a beverage (wine is allowed) because there is nada après theatre to be had. Check online at www.oakparkfestival.org for availability and ticket information. Bring your insect repellant or at least leave a tip in the donation jar if you use the park’s resources.

   
   

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