REVIEW: Aiming for Sainthood (Victory Gardens)

 

The Good Girl

 

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Victory Gardens Fresh-Squeezed presents
  
Aiming for Sainthood
   
Written and performed by Arlene Malinowski
Directed by Will Rogers
Richard Christiansen Theatre, 2433 N. Lincoln (map)
through September 26  |  tickets: $20  |  more info 

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Arlene Malinowski’s comic one-act monologue, Aiming for Sainthood, is about being an adult child of deaf parents, right in the middle of her mother’s struggle against cancer. Or, is she more a childlike adult—for Arlene’s vacation trip to her parents’ home in New Jersey alters radically after the out-of-the-blue discovery that Mom has cancer. From that point on everything Arlene attempts as damage control throws her back into the childhood state she knew before leaving home. Onstage at Victory Gardens’s Richard Christiansen Theater for only six performances, Malinowski’s warm and witty tale about managing the unmanageable in the face of mortality is sure to delight audiences familiar with the separate cultures and experiences created by deafness or other lifelong disabilities.

Aiming for Sainthood's Arlene Malinowski - with horns!Malinowski’s storytelling performance is funny and outgoing. Will Rogers direction keeps the pace moving around Nick Seiben’s sensible and subtly intriguing set. “I’m all about getting it done,” says Arlene, taking responsibility for Mom’s care, little suspecting her family’s battle with cancer will be a long and draining one that demands immense personal sacrifice from her. Malinowski lightens that struggle with accounts of running into various characters at the hospital, recollections of her thoroughly Catholic childhood, and the recognizable facets of Jersey culture. There’s Butch, the uber-practical gay male nurse in salmon-colored scrubs and Ruby, one of the hospital’s “regulars” who keeps passing out free coupons to the cafeteria. Finally, there’s Arlene’s Dad, who has a very poetic deaf way of telling people they’re stupid, and her sister, Diana, who gets off easy by being the perpetual baby of the family.

Malinowski’s abilities to humorously relate her tale need no critical coaching from the sidelines—a fact pounded home to me by the audience’s delighted response to her script and well-timed performance. From my own chair, I found her handling of these themes a little on the lite side. Think Erma Bombeck meets The Savages meets Late Night Catechism—nice is the sentiment that overwhelms Aiming for Sainthood. If nice and lite is how you like humor about facing down mortality, shouldering the burdens of caretaking, crises of faith and dealing with less-than-responsible siblings, this is your show. All those looking for darker, weightier humor will need to go elsewhere.

I, for one, was almost palpably relieved once Malinowski started acknowledging her propensity for self-neglect in her self-martyrdom. “My head throbs and I smell like a food court,” she says, once Mom’s stay in the hospital has been extended and extended. Taking on all the responsibility has reduced her to junk food, sweatpants and day time television. “I’ll take Perfect Daughters for a thousand, Alex,” she cracks, still thinking her return home to her husband in Los Angeles is imminent.

Malinowski’s humor exists to keep the darkness at bay. Since Arlene is capable of having her own miraculous revelations and since Mom ultimately survives cancer, why not? I left the theater feeling this play’s lightness, but not much depth. However, looking into the contented and moved faces of audience members as they were leaving, I realized that there are disparate ways to deal with resentment and pain. Whatever works.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
  
  

The production runs September 20-26, 2010, in the in the Richard Christiansen Theater at Victory Gardens, 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue, Chicago.  Recommended for ages 12 and up.

 

 

 

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REVIEW: Pinkalicious (Emerald City Theatre)

Think Pink!

 

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Emerald City Theatre presents
 
Pinkalicious   
  
Book/lyrics by Victoria and Elizabeth Kann
Music & additional lyrics by
John Gregor
Directed by
Ernie Nolan
at
Apollo Theater, 2540 N. Lincoln (map)
through January 3  |  tickets: $13-$16  |  more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian

Sometimes there is such a thing as too much of a good thing – as Pinkalicious Pinkterton learns in the Midwest premiere of Pinkalicious, the musical story of a young girl who gets Pinktitis from eating one too many pink cupcakes.

Emerald City Theatre’s production of Pinkalicious, based on the popular children’s book by Elizabeth Kann and Victoria Kann, brings children’s fantasy to life with its set design by Ernie Nolan. The stage is full of bright, vivid colors in hues of pinks, lime Pinkalicious 9.18.2010 2 greens, baby blues and yellows. The kid-friendly set boasts over the top scenery with giant pink glittery flowers, background houses decorated in musical scores and cupcakes everywhere. It’s certainly attention-grabbing, and the children in the audience were fascinated as they explored the set before the show began.

Pinkalicious opens on the Pinkerton family. Each cast member is automatically outgoing and bursting with energy. Pinkalicious (Lara Mainier) makes pink cupcakes with her mom, Mrs. Pinketeron (Rachel Klippel) and her brother, Peter (Shea Coffman). She wants to eat more and more but her mom and dad (Patrick Byrnes) says no, explaining why in the song “You Get What You Get and You Don’t Get Upset.” Mainier is bright and bubbly with a wonderful childlike demeanor. When she breaks out in to song, however, it seems as though some of the music is out of her vocal range and she loses the strength in her singing voice. Coffman’s Peter is a strong presence on stage and he’s a riot to watch.

The next morning Pinkalicious wakes up to discover she has turned pink from head to toe. Not know what else to do, her parents rush her to see Dr. Wink (Julia P. Gordon) who diagnoses the problem as Pinktitis. Pinkalicious is overjoyed at her condition but her parents worry. Dr. Wink informs them that the only cure is eating green foods, explained in the catchy song dance number, “Pinktitis.” Where the singing tends fall flat, the dancing shines. Highly entertaining dance numbers are well choreographed by Nolan and it’s hard not to smile while watching. The singing, on the other hand, is sometimes compromised for characterization and movement, and a little stronger diction could help audience members understand the lyrics.

John Gregor’s music throughout Pinkalicious varies in styles like pop, jazz and blues, but all the numbers are upbeat and amusing. Peter sings a bluesy number, “Pink Blues,” that allows Coffman to really show off his vocal talent. It’s clear he’s the strongest signing voice in the cast as he makes this number his own.

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Pinkalicious at first refuses to eat anything green, but after her condition worsens and she turns from pink to red she decides it’s time to be brave and sings “Green Food,” an adorable song about eating her greens. Pinkalicious is not only an entertaining show, but it also sends a good message to the children in the audience about the importance of eating healthy.

The whole cast offers quality, fully-embraced characterization that they push far enough out to create exaggerated, engaging characters that keep the children’s attention for the entire one-hour show time. Pinkalicious even allows for the children to interact with the performers, answering questions and allowing them to become a part of the magic. The show flows along well and never drags because they cast keeps their energy levels high throughout.

Pinkalicious proves to be a whirlwind of fun and fantasy that’s perfect for kids (and kids at heart) of all ages. It’s impossible not to leave with a smile on your face and your step – if not pinker – then just a little bit lighter.

   
 
Rating: ★★★½   
   
   

Pinkalicious plays at the Apollo Theater, 2540 N. Lincoln Ave., through December 31. Tickets are $16 for adults and $13 for children and can be purchased through Emerald City’s Web site or by calling 773-935-6100.

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Review: Thieves Like Us (House Theatre of Chicago)

 

Predictable bank-robbing adventure is fun as heck

Thieves Like Us - House Theatre - Byrnes Bowers Hickey

   
The House Theatre of Chicago presents
 
Thieves Like Us
   
Written by Damon Kiely
Directed by Kimberly Senior

at Chopin Theatre,  1543 W. Division (map)
through October 30  |  
tickets: $25-$29  |  more info

Review by Catey Sullivan

House Theatre fans will be in their raucous comfort zone with the company’s latest action-packed production. Thieves Like Us is chock full of the House’s signature elements:  Retro-comic book storyline? Check. Old school siren whose vocal stylings punctuate the scenes? Check. Cops, robbers, dames and drunks? Yup. And where previous House productions have made ingenious use of actors striding across the stage carrying picture frames and pop-up books to evoke small towns, big cities and points in between, Thieves uses a similar technique with newspapers to illustrate the Dust Bowl surroundings of Bowie Bowers and his posse of stick-up men.

But even with its profoundly predictable ending (which pays homage and owes a debt to both Bonnie and Clyde and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Thieves Like Us  is a step up for the House. After bursting onto the scene in the early Aughts with an inspired, revisionist take on Peter Pan,  the House continued with variations on the theme of lost boys long enough to become repetitive. The particulars changed as the House churned out stories of Samarai, cowboys, wannabe rockstars, science nerds and flying cheerleaders (our review ★★★½) – but the core of each adventure remained the same: Adolescence is tough. Growing out of it is even tougher.  For a while, it seemed that their target audience was restricted to ‘tween boys.

thieves Like Us - House Theatre - posterThat demographic will love Thieves Like Us, no doubt. But Thieves, written by Damon Kiley and directed by Kimberly Senior also has enough smarts and wry self-awareness to make grownups smile as well. It’s hero – Bowie Bowers, Depression-era desperado driven to thieving because an honest Joe can’t catch a break in the Dust Bowl – is surely relatable to anybody who has felt the pinch of the current recession (which is to say, everybody).

We first meet our hero at hard labor on a prison somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon line – the locale being evident by the oozing-syrup Okie drawl everybody talks with. It’s mere moments before the first burst of cartoon violence breaks out as Bowie (John Byrnes), hardened convict Chicamaw (Shawn Pfautsch) and elder statesman T-Dub (Tom Hickey) make a break for it. Across the plains they go, knocking over banks and planning One Last Score so that all can retire, maybe in sunny May-hee-ko. There’s A Girl (of course), who is instrumental in convincing Bowie to give up the stick-ups and settle down to a quiet life “on the straight.”  But of course Bowie can’t do that until he makes that One Last Score. And but of course, the last heist goes spectacularly awry.

The plot may be less than innovative, but the Kiley’s dialogue and the ensemble’s zesty execution of it make it mighty entertaining.

As Bowie, Byrnes creates a man of simple wants and basic decency – all he wants is a clean start, Bowie keeps emphasizing, but of course that’s just not possible, no matter how much money he steals.

Senior elicits strong performances from her supporting cast as well, starting with Pfautsch’s Chicamaw, who comes close to stealing the show along with the loot from the vault. Pfautsch instills the violent, hard-drinking, hardened criminal  Chicamaw with an impish spark that’s part playful sprite and part psychopath. It’s hard to say which is dominant, and that’s part of the character’s dangerous, wild-eyed charisma. The third man in the gang is Hickey‘s T-Dub, the nominal brains of the group. Also memorable is Tim Curtis, who exudes sly, degenerate charm first as a retired hold-up man and later as an oily attorney.

As for the women in the cast, Chelsea Keenan radiates joy, lust and deliciously girlish immaturity as Lula, a good-time blonde who can turn a kitchen table into a dance floor faster than you can say Jack Robinson.  And as a one-woman Greek goddess of a Greek chorus, Beth Sagal’s torch song narration is as rich and velvety as fine chocolate.  Breathing life into the composer Kevin O’Donnell’s seductive melodies, she’s a showstopper whose perspective adds significant depth to the comic book veneer. As for Bowie’s gal, the “Pistol Princess” Cheechie, Paige Hoffman is an appropriately hard-nosed moll although her romance with Bowie isn’t especially believable – they seem to love each other only because conventional storytelling demands that the main gangster have a girl to complicate matters.

The adventures of Bowie Bowers might not be especially original. But they’re colorful and clever and entertaining as heck.

   
   
Rating: ★★½       
   
      

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REVIEW: Sunday in the Park with George (Porchlight)

 

Porchlight’s ‘Sunday’ doesn’t quite put it together

 

Cast of Sunday in the Park With George

   
Porchlight Music Theatre presents
   
Sunday in the Park with George
   
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by James Lapine
Directed by L. Walter Stearns, music direction by Eugene Dizon
Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, Chicago (map)
Through Oct. 31  | 
Tickets: $38  |   more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

"His touch is too deliberate, somehow."

That lyric, from the 1984 Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning Sunday in the Park with George, might well describe Porchlight Music Theatre Director L. Walter Stearns’ uneven revival, which somehow fails to connect the dots of the Stephen Sondheim musical.

Sondheim James Lapine’s imagined backstory behind 19th-century painter Georges Seurat’s pointillist masterpiece "A Sunday on La Grande Jatte" (now housed at the Art Institute of Chicago) has only a tangential relationship to the real biography of the groundbreaking neoimpressionist whose early death deprived the art world of what surely would have been a brilliant career. Instead it concentrates on the troublesome issues of balance between art and life, work and relationships, ambition and practicality.

The artist calls for "Order. Design. Composition. Tone. Form. Symmetry. Balance" — elements that can make or break any work of art. This imbalanced production falters under too much design and not enough tone.

Hidden behind the scenes, Music Director Eugene Dizon on piano and his orchestra — Carolyn Berger, violin; Michelle Lewis, cello; Allison Richards, viola; Patrick Rehker and Derek Weihofen, woodwinds; and Jennifer Ruggieri, harp — do a stellar job with the music. Unfortunately, many of the singers don’t measure up.

Amanda Sweger‘s massive backdrop and Liviu Pasare‘s distracting video projections overwhelm the small stage and the cast as well.

Brandon Dahlquist ably captures George’s sensitivity and absorption, with an expressive face that suggests the real Seurat’s soulful looks and a fine tenor. Yet too often he’s obscured behind the scrim or facing away from the audience. (John Francisco will take this role for the final three weekends of the run.) Seurat’s painting may be the subject of the play, but we really don’t need to see it all the time. An empty stretcher would have conveyed the idea of the work just as well and allowed us to see the actor’s face.

On the other hand, Jess Godwin’s passion is all in her face and rarely in her singing. Playing George’s lover, Dot, the animated and lovely Godwin displays an almost palpable yearning for the artist. The slender redhead bears no resemblance to the Seurat’s actual mistress, Madeleine Knobloch (the buxom subject of "Young Woman Powdering Herself"), which doesn’t matter, but her voice often sounds as thin as her figure, and that does.

Several members of the supporting cast put in excellent performances, however. Sara Stern is superb as George’s peevish, elderly mother. Her fabulous version of "Beautiful" is the highlight of Act I. Sarah Hayes and Daniel Waters do a hilarious job as the unhappy American tourists. Bil Ingraham and Heather Townsend are aptly haughty as the successful painter Jules and his wife, Yvonne, delivering tittering pronouncements on George’s work in "No Life," and Michael Pacas makes a wonderfully wry and full-voiced boatman.

The second act, which jumps forward to a modern artist, also named George — a fictional great-grandson of Seurat — seems much stronger, as if the cast and crew felt more comfortable in the 20th century. Dahlquist, now fresh-faced and beardless, is out in front here. But Godwin, now portraying George’s grandmother, sings "Children and Art" so softly she’s nearly inaudible.

Sunday is one of Sondheim’s more challenging musicals. Porchlight would have done much better to concentrate on the essentials of light and harmony instead of reaching for the heavy design elements that weigh down this production.

"Art isn’t easy, no matter how you look at it."

   
   
Rating:★★
   
  

Benefit Concert

Porchlight Music Theatre hosts a benefit concert, "By Popular Demand," at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 11, at Mayne Stage, 1328 W. Morse Ave., Chicago (map).

In Act I, singers Jayson Brooks, Sean Effinger-Dean, Nick Foster, Jess Godwin, Lina Kernan, Ryan Lanning, Bethany Thomas, Joseph Tokarz and others perform. At intermission, the audience votes to determine who’ll return to sing again in Act II.

Tickets are $40. Two votes are included with your admission. Each additional vote costs $1 and supports new talent, new works and new productions at Porchlight.