REVIEW: The Wedding Singer (Circle Theatre)

 

A Sweet Wedding Confection

 

 

Wedding Singer (L-R) Kelli LaValle, Patti Roeder, Eric Lindahl, Rachel Quinn, Nathan Carroll and Shawn Quinlan. Photo by Bob Knuth.

   
Circle Theatre presents
   
The Wedding Singer
   
Book by Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy
Music/Lyrics by
Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin
Directed by
Kevin Bellie
at
Circle Theatre, 1010 W. Madison, Oak Park (map)
through October 31  |  tickets: $26   |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

I must make a shocking confession. I have never seen the film “The Wedding Singer”. I have however lived through the 80’s and still have the bag of removable shoulder pads to prove it. The Circle Theatre musical production of The Wedding Singer is a fun romp through the decade that was all about froth and hair looking like spun sugar. The creators – Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy wrote the book of the movie with music by Matthew Sklar and Beguelin have done a brilliant job bringing this 80’s-sounding score to life. 

Wedding Singer - Eric Lindahl and Rachel Quinn. Photo by Bob Knuth. Eric Lindahl plays our hero Robbie Hart with none of Adam Sandler’s snark. That is precisely why I liked him so much in this role. It is a tribute to the time when musicals were all about a girl and a guy up against the odds and winning. Lindahl has a good voice and sings the wedding schmaltz as well as the arena rock ballads. Rachel Quinn plays leading lady Julia Sullivan. Ms. Quinn has the moves to play the heroine but her voice is not made for pop music. She is reminiscent of the Rogers and Hammerstein era of musicals and does well as the bereft heroine.

Blowing the lid off of the power ballads are Kelli LaValle and Britni Tozzi. Ms. Tozzi plays bad girl Linda who channels Pat Benatar while giving Robbie Hart the heave ho. I absolutely adored Ms. LaValle as the slightly trampy best friend Holly. She is dressed in classic tulle layers and spun sugar hair- so unlike a virgin. It is a standout performance and LaValle has a powerhouse voice that rocks the rafters.

The storyline is not a surprise but it is still fun. Robbie Hart is the leader of a wedding band called ‘Simply Wed’ who gets his heart broken and falls for the local banquet hall waitress. The waitress is of course waiting for a dual-life jerk executive to put a ring on it and keep her in claw hair and sparkly duds. Hart lives in Grandma’s basement somewhere in Jersey and what a grandma she is. Patti Roeder plays the role of a frisky grandmother who pulls out the rapping chops to great comic effect. Roeder brings down the house with her double entendres and libidinous one- liners.

 

(L-R) Dennis Schnell, Michael Mejia, Nathan Carroll, Eric Lindahl, Shawn Quinlan, Tommy Bullington, Jimmy Lis and Tommy Thurston The Impersonators of The Wedding Singer - Photo by Bob Knuth
Wedding Singer (L-R) Toni Lynice Fountain, Michael Mejia, Rachel Quinn, Melody Latham and Patti Roeder Wedding Singer - (L-R) Nathan Carroll, Eric Lindahl and Shawn Quinlan

Making up the rest of ‘Simply Wed’ are Nathan Carroll in full ‘Flock of Seagulls’ regalia and Shawn Quinlan as a Boy George clone. They are very funny and touching in their bromance roles. Jim DeSelm rounds out the leading cast as Glen the blazingly arrogant Wall Street raider. He leads a fine song about money and greed as his character shows his true colors.

The rest of the cast is stellar. They are really good dancers, and the choreography by Director Kevin Bellie is great nostalgic fun to watch. The Las Vegas scenes are hysterically surreal with a cornucopia of classic characters as Vegas impersonators. This goes way beyond Elvis and deep into ‘Behind the Music’ territory with Patti Labelle, Michael Jackson, Billy Idol, Imelda Marcos (!) and a brilliant cameo by Dennis Schnell as Sam Kinison.

The Wedding Singer is well worth the travel to Oak Park.  Don’t miss it!

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

FYI: I would advise getting there early to have dinner before the curtain because the sidewalks roll up in Oak Park at 10pm.The Wedding Singer runs through October 31st at The Performance Center, 1010 W. Madison St. in Oak Park (map). Go for some great music, laughs, romance, memories, and great ideas for Halloween! The Performance Center is accessible by Metra as well as the CTA Green Line. Shoulder pads and claw hair are optional.

Wedding Singer (L-R) Sarah Conrad, Rachel Quinn, Kelli LaValle, Kendle Lester, Kristen Calvin and Britni Tozzi

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REVIEW: Disgrace (Blank Line Collective)

 

Brilliant Disgraced

 

 

blank line collective - disgrace card

   
Blank Line Collective presents
  
Disgrace
   
Written by John O’Keefe
at
Lacuna Artist Lofts, 2150 S. Canalport (map)
through October 16  | 
tickets: $10  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

I am always leery of tales about women on the edge. They never seem to go far enough in showing how far a person can be pushed. It’s considered normal to think of men as coolly murderous or lecherous characters in theatre and film. When that character is a woman there is much made of analyzing the behavior and fraught discussion of how this abomination came to be. The Blank Line Collective production of John O’Keefe’s Disgrace lives and breathes brilliantly in a nebulous now moment. The setting is described as a picnic, but there ends the bucolic scenario. Three women are running away to have a picnic but seem to have escaped an institution of some sort. Stephanie Brown, Amanda Lewis, and Melanie Sizemore play the roles of Simone, Katherine, and Christine. These women are framed in a surreal state of mind. They are dressed in diaphanous dresses and delicate lace but the accoutrement are mired in dirt and sweat – not at all ladylike.

Have Simone, Katherine, and Melanie formed a band of refugees fleeing a crime or has the crime been committed against them? They are vicious with each other and at once loving as they manically roam the countryside of imagination. The women claim to be disgraced and outcast for the crimes of love, lust, psychotic visions, and worst of all forming an unbreakable and incestuous bond with each other.

I have to say that my breath was taken away the minute the action began. Blank Line Collective has created a near perfect synthesis of space and action. The audience is in the center of the room while the action occurs in the round. I felt like I was on a runaway carousel and not the cute kind. The animals on this ride were frothing, sweating, and open to the world with nostrils flared. The audience is sitting in a pure blackout. All senses are on edge when you hear the women’s voices coming offstage in a shrieking cacophony. The lights come up and there is a collective consciousness of hypersensitivity. Brown, Lewis, and Sizemore give gorgeous and devastating performances. They present a kaleidoscope of escapist whimsy, delusion, and atavistic violence in the pursuit of escape.

The characters have all loved the same man and they all claim to have participated in his murder and the murder or disappearance of his progeny.

Blank Line Collective - Stephanie Brown The cast makes its’ way around the raw loft space that is scattered with what looks like detritus from a derelict country estate. Each quadrant of the space represents a step closer to a peak they are racing toward and yet terrified to reach. All of the picnic spots have the eerie feel of a Fauvist painting gone awry. The garden is a sparse collection of pots and dried branches but the women imagine it to be the field of poppies from Oz as they wallow in the narcotic escape. The picnic is but a utilitarian meal of two sandwiches and a can of soda perversely taking the role a dainty tea spread. Simone savages part of the meal with a purloined pocketknife. The washing scene is cleansing, erotic and yet still leaves the mind to wonder what they are preparing for now. Even though I knew what the climax of the play would be, I still felt shocked and drained by the pure adrenaline of the cast.

John O’Keefe was raised in Catholic orphanages and juvenile homes during the post-war baby boom years. The institutions of that time suppressed human urges and freedom of the soul while purporting to save the soul. The feel of society decaying rather than progressing is palpable in his work and from that decay comes renewal and hope for freedom. The rhythm of this particular work drummed in my psyche like the works of the Beats. All of the elements of nature are alive and viscerally dangerous despite seeming to exist in hyper Technicolor. O’Keefe presents the American female psyche and frees it from the everyday minutiae. The feminine attire and mores are torn asunder and literally dragged through dirt. The biological restraints of womanhood are figuratively seared off.

Blank Line Collective is dedicated to presenting theatre that is new and off the grid. They are a group of artists who do not toe the usual line; it is a slap of bracing fresh air. This is something to see and to be supported.

    
    
Rating: ★★★★
   
   

“Disgrace” has a limited run Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm September 24th through October 16th. Performances are at the Lacuna Lofts, 2150 Canalport in Chicago. Get more information at www.blanklinecollective.com

 

REVIEW: Oleanna (American Theater Company)

 

ATC Takes Mamet to School

 

 

Oleanna - American Theater Company 1 Oleanna - American Theater Company 3
   
American Theater Company presents
  
Oleanna
  
Written by David Mamet
Directed by Rick Snyder
at ATC, 1909 W. Byron (map)
through October 24  | 
tickets: $35  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

Watching the American Theater Company’s production of Oleanna, you get the sense that the young David Mamet must have been really pissed off by one of his professors. The two-person academic melee screams with anger towards the ivory tower. I bet Mamet must have known and hated someone like John, the pedantic teacher on the brink of tenure. Helmed by director Rick Snyder, ATC’s Oleanna sears and fumes, leaving the audience awe-struck after the chilling finale.

The incendiary play races along for three acts. Each one depicts Jon (the towering Darrell W. Cox) and Carol (the contrastingly petite Nicole Lowrance) clamor for control, the fight escalating exponentially with time. Carol, a meek student well aware of the price of college admission, seeks academic freedom and understanding, while Jon fights for his right to dispense knowledge as he sees fit. His entire livelihood is at stake; he is in the final throes of achieving tenure and purchasing a house, and complaining Carol could ruin everything. And as much as Oleanna is about a teacher and student, it is about a man and a woman.

Oleanna - American Theater Company 2Seen by some as misogynistic, the play taps into the lingering sexism that survived third-wave feminism. When read or played wrong, Carol can come off as a nagging, soul-sucking imp. But Lowrance nails it; her Carol isn’t bright, but she wants to learn and becomes demoralized and angry when her arrogant professor tears into her high opinion of secondary education. I always find myself siding with her—yeah, she becomes vicious and cocky by the end, but Jon’s like that from the beginning, and has probably been that way for his entire teaching career. At times, Carol feels like a character who doesn’t want to be in a Mamet play. She sputters and gropes for words, unlike most of his creations with razor-sharp vocabularies, Jon included. Her inarticulateness actually grounds the character, who is probably one of the best concoctions Mamet’s typewriter has conceived.

Cox creates a fascinating portrayal of Jon, a man who paints himself as a social revolutionary but actually plays strictly by the rules, however elitist or sexist they may be. Cox’s Jon is surprisingly unassuming, speaking in crackly, tenor tones. He’s pompous and long-winded, but it comes out of a place of insecurity. Worn down by the stress of the real estate deal, he seems at the end of his rope, especially as Carol tosses wrenches into his plans. Cox also adds a stitch of creepy social awkwardness. When he consoles Carol by caressing her back at the end of Act One, everyone in the house was squirming in their seats.

Together, Lowrance and Cox are dynamite. They squawk rhetoric at each other, grabbing for the reins of the relationship. Snyder’s staging navigates the text wonderfully and sculpts the tension. For example, the famous brutal assault in Act Three springs like a trap and knocks the audience’s wind out. As it turns out, John is actually a terrific teacher because Carol becomes just as power-hungry as him.

Although usually well-forged, a few aspects of the production were muddy. One major issue is that we never really know why Carol continues to visit Jon. We’re left wondering if she’s just wrathful or driven by something more powerful than mere revenge.

ATC placed Oleanna alongside Speed-the-Plow (our review ★★★) to form a combo platter entitled “The Mamet Repertory.” Placing both plays next to each oddly pulls out similar themes in each. However, I preferred the claws-out combat of Oleanna to Plow’s Hollywood cynicism. The ending of Oleanna is superb. The characters are shattered, but there is no resolution, no catharsis. When the lights go down, we’re left gasping for air.

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

 

    

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