REVIEW: Our Town (Theatre-Hikes)

Strong ensemble brings Grover’s Corners to life

 

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Theatre-Hikes presents
   
Our Town
  
Written by Thornton Wilder
Directed by
Frank Farrell
at
The Pullman Historic Museum and Morton Arboretum
through September 26  |  tickets: $13-$19  |  more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian

Our Town, written by Thornton Wilder, offers a glimpse into the daily lives of average Americans in small town New Hampshire. Set from 1901 to 1913, this play takes the audience on a journey of growth and discovery. Focused mainly on the characters of George Gibbs and Emily Webb, Our Town depicts life typical of how things were at the beginning of the twentieth century.

The Pullman Historic Museum provides the backdrop for Theatre-Hikes’ Our Town, creating a feeling of being transported back to the early 1900s. (Note: future performances will occur at the Morton Arboretum). Grover’s Corners, NH, the location of Our Town, is brought to life through this use of this space. Being outdoors however, the cast had to compete with airplanes overhead, car alarms and some rather jubilant church music wafting through the air. The cast succeeds, however, in distracting the  audience from such deterrents with their george & emily A 50 strong, captivating performances. Each scene has very minimal set pieces – only six stools. The rest of the action and props are pantomimed. The cast does a good job acting out different experiences without the use of physical props, allowing for the story to really shine through.

Our Town opens on a typical day in Grover’s Corners with the actions narrated by the stage manager (Dan Scurek). Our Town is a meta-theatrical play that announces it’s a play, breaking through the fourth wall to directly address the audience. Scurek’s stage manager/narrator jumps right into character from his first line. He’s incredibly personable and animated with both his words and his actions, creating a character that one looks forward to hearing from. The narrator introduces the rest of the characters in act one, “the Daily Life,” including Mrs. Gibbs (Mary Nigohosian) and Mrs. Webb (Jeanne Scurek). Nigohosian clearly fleshed out her character with a relatable demeanor. She is entertaining to watch as she neatly gets her family ready for the morning – making breakfast and attending to her husband and children. She proves to be the stronger of the two women, set against J. Scurek. Mrs. Webb is, of course, a proper woman, but Scurek plays her a bit too stiffly. She overacts at times, causing the character to feel forced.

The audience is also introduced to young George Gibbs (BJ Engelhardt) and Emily Webb (Courtney Payne). Interacting through typical conversations of homework and baseball, Engelhardt and Payne offer an innocent and sweetly awkward portrayal of two young people discovering their feelings for one another. The first act also introduces the two standout supporting roles of Professor/Constable (Kevin Lambert) and Simon Stimson (Dan Toot). Although these are smaller roles, the actors take them to heart and really make them come to life. Lambert is amusing and proves to be a strong presence while on stage. Similarly, Toot’s character, the choir organist and town drunk, is quite comical, sometimes stealing the spotlight when he’s on.

Act two, “Love and Marriage,” offers a glimpse further into the relationship between Emily and George. There’s a clear chemistry between the two actors, and as the second act progresses, the characters grow and come truly to life. “Love and Marriage” runs a bit quicker than act one, which slightly drags in the beginning. It’s lovely to see George and Emily’s relationship grow; it’s evident that both Engelhardt and Payne have an understanding of their character’s psyche and the reasoning behind their actions and words. Act two concludes with their marriage and all the townsfolk gathering to wish them well.

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Our Town concludes with act three, “Death and Eternity.” The townsfolk have gathered in the cemetery to attend the funeral of one of their own. The tone shifts here from light and happy to stark and contemplative. Payne’s character arch becomes even greater as she attempts to deal with the situation at hand, and real, raw emotions come through, connecting her even further to the audience. Mrs. Gibbs proves to be a comforting presence in this time of sorrow, and Nigohosian’s gentle character is a relief for both the characters and the audience members.

Overall, Our Town is a solid show. The acting is generally on point, and the two-and-a-half hours go by quickly. There is quality direction by Frank Farrell, which allows each actor the confidence to move about without fumbling, and the costuming by Melissa Snyder adds another layer to the show. Each outfit is appropriate to both the characterization and the time frame of Our Town, which helps to shape the story.

(Side note: Act three even allowed for a bit of audience interaction when audience member Dale Gallian was asked to step in a fill a small role of Farmer McCarthy.)

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

Our Town plays at the Morton Arboretum, 4100 Illinois Route 53 in Lisle, IL. The show runs on Saturdays and Sundays at 1:00 pm through September 26. Tickets are $13 to $19 and can be purchased at www.mortonarb.org or by calling (630) 725-2066.

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REVIEW: Rollin Outta Here Naked Burlesque (Vaudezilla)

Burlesque Revue Lands a Spare

 

 

   
Vaudezilla presents
   
Rollin’ Outta Here Naked:
     A Big Lebowski Burlesque
 
Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through September 25th  |  tickets: $15   |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

There’s no question that burlesque has seen a dramatic resurgence in popularity over the last decade, and Chicago has become a hotbed for this sultry, sexy and comedic form of entertainment.

biglebowskiburlesque2 Vaudezilla is one of the newer players in the Chicago scene. Founded by performer Red Hot Annie and producer Keith Emroll in 2008, the company began performing monthly gigs at the punk club Exit Chicago and weekly gigs at Blue Bayou in the Southport corridor. The company then achieved national recognition with the premier of Rollin’ Outta Here Naked: A Big Lebowski Burlesque.

Now Vaudezilla is back with a remounting of its signature show. If you’re a fan of the classic Cohen brothers movie, this show is definitely aimed at you. Otherwise, you might feel a little lost amongst the barrage of inside jokes. Fortunately, I am one of these diehard “Big Lebowski” fans.

Released in 1998, the movie is a surreal comedy of errors involving The Dude (Jeff Bridges), an ultra-relaxed stoner type who embodies everything Zen. He is paired with his exact foil, a large loud-mouthed Vietnam War vet named Walter (John Goodman). The two end up caught in the middle of an extortion scheme gone awry that involves a cast of colorful characters, including a disabled millionaire, an avant-garde artist, a pornographer and a band of nihilists. The Dude and Walter, along with their third-wheel friend Donny (Steve Buscemi), bowl in their spare time—thus the title of Vaudezilla’s revue.

The revue is not a dramatic retelling of “The Big Lebowski.”  It is rather more akin to a sketch show where a series of fairly unconnected scenes are strung together to form a cohesive whole. These scenes are all inspired by the movie, and some are in fact directly lifted from the film. Every three or four scenes there is a burlesque performance highlighting a different member of the Vaudezilla company. Audience members are encouraged to hoot and howl because, presumably, nothing is more awkward than undressing for a completely deadpan, silent audience.

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The highlight of the show is by far and away the burlesque scenes. Let’s be clear here: Burlesque is not stripping. Yes, the girls disrobe and tantalize the audience by gyrating and coyly revealing exposed skin. But the ladies always purposefully undercut this sexiness with their wry sense of humor. Take for example the scene titled “Nobody Fucks with The Jesus,” in which performer Maria May I dresses in drag to portray the pedophiliac bowler and Dude nemesis Jesus. Throughout the dance, in which she manipulates a bowling ball to sensual effect, she sports a fake goatee. No matter how much her conventional sexiness draws you in, you are immediately slapped in the face by the sight of her facial hair. It is a clever and entertaining bit of theater that succeeds on multiple levels.

biglebowskiburlesque8 However, non-burlesque portions of the show weigh the revue down. Meant as comedic vignettes to separate the dances, these short sketches inspired by characters and scenes in the movie feel too much like senseless filler. That’s not to say a couple don’t hit their marks, especially “Just Dropped In,” a live re-enactment of the movie’s famous dream sequence, as well as “Knox Harrington, Video Artist” in which actor Kyle Greer gives the performance of a lifetime as an operatic nut job. But overall, one finds himself wanting to see more burlesque in this burlesque revue.

Rollin’ Outta Here Naked is a gimmicky formula that could probably be applied to any cult classic (I for one would love to see “The Goonies” get the burlesque treatment). Although there are sluggish parts throughout the show, the ladies of Vaudezilla really know how to pick the energy up with their serpentine moves and flirtatious glances. If you identify with The Dude or you just really enjoy burlesque, gyrate over to the Greenhouse Theater Center.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

     
     

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