REVIEW: Seven Snakes (The Mammals)

 

No Country for Young Women—or Anyone Else

 

Seven Snakes - The Mammals - Roy Gonzales as the Man

   
The Mammals present
  
Seven Snakes
   
Written and Directed by Bob Fisher
at
Zoo Studio, 4001 N. Ravenswood (map)
thru Nov 6  |  suggested donation: $20 – BYOB  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

This past spring, under Bob Fisher’s deliciously skewed playwriting and direction, The Mammals really brought the excessive testosterone with their retro boxing melodrama, The Meatlocker (our review ★★★). They do no less with their current ode to spaghetti Westerns, Seven Snakes, staged in the dungeon-like confines of the Zoo Studio. While every line and gesture expresses sensual longing for the heyday of Eastwood films, Fisher sagely places Seven Snakes a full 30 dystopian years into the future. This is a desperate futuristic Western, playing off of nostalgia for rugged Seven Snakes - The Mammals - dont-want-to-be-coldblooded individualism and the joys of Manifest Destiny. Meanwhile, it cites those American cultural qualities as the source of our current military misadventures in the Gulf and Afghanistan.

Our story begins “in the remains of what was once the Arizona desert.” Heaven only knows where the rest of the USA has gone, but only two women and six Octogenarian Veterans of Foreign Desert Wars survive to live out dry days and lonely, love-starved nights in Skillet County. When The Mother, played in drag by Don Hall, gives up the ghost and leaves The Daughter (Erin Elizabeth Orr) to fend for herself as the solitary nurse at the VA, the elderly vets turn increasingly, dangerously frisky. Their sexual tension turns to outrage and suspicion when a wounded stranger arrives—a drifter who could be either a sexy, lone gunslinger or a terrorist out to destroy what’s left of America. Mother’s ghost returns both to spur on her Daughter and to comment on the action. But for the most part, girl is on her own with these crazy mens.

The real comic heroes of this play are the vets, led by the leadenly appropriate but no less sex-starved or suspicious Colonel (Matt Kahler). The action and humor grow decidedly freakier with the old boys’ growing frustrations. The further their young nurse progresses in her intimate relations with the Man (Roy Gonzalez), the more the vets believe he is one of a mythical terrorist team, the Seven Snakes.

Like most new works, Fisher’s comedy could use a strategic editing, but the lead-up to the second act is well worth the wait. The play achieves the surreal state of 60s Westerns, parodying and doing homage to them at the same time. The priceless comic timing of the Colonel, Radar (Ian Brown), Sgt. Ringo (Adam Dodds), Corporal Cheese Grits (Vincent Lacey), Private Toadsuck (Shane Michael Murphy) and Mr. Hey (Sean Ewert) make lines like, “So, what about that drifter’s penis?” and “That is the art of camouflage, girly” ring hysterically and resonantly funny.

 

Seven Snakes - Mammals - kahler-gods-mouth Seven Snakes - The Mammals - erin-orr-3 Seven Snakes poster

Completing the show’s testosterone is the rest of the Seven Snakes and the American Psychic Surveillance Team. As for the Snakes’ Segundo (Riso Straley), Chupa Fuerte (Bert Matias), Cuchillo (Miguel Nunez) and Angel (Fernando S. Albiar), these are men who have been fighting so long, their culture and history are as mythically-based as their reputation. Their roles don’t carry the comic impact of the Desert Wars Vets–happily, Matias plays his role as a “dirty-old-snake” to the goofy hilt. The rest of the Snakes are mournfully hip and fiercely outlaw–not to mention desperately needy for human touch. But one wonders if a little political correctness has crept into their character development. As for Agent V (Jim Hicks) and Agent Fido (Warwick Johnson), much as I appreciate how they represent the USA, their torture scene goes a little too long for either comedy or political commentary.

Since Erin Orr is the only player with XX chromosomes, one can only salute her no-holds-barred approach to keeping octogenarian lechers at bay, while struggling to get the young guys to open up emotionally. The former keeps the action going at a hilarious tilt, even as things turn dicey. Be prepared for fun stage violence and bloody bandages. Sadly, her romance with the Man drags. Their last crucial scene together doesn’t ring true. There still isn’t enough chemistry between them to sell lines like, “I don’t want to be cold-blooded anymore.” Seven Snakes is a man’s comedy and has to be appreciated as such. Still, even the Marx Brothers knew the importance of producing romance between their romantic leads, film after film. Besides, the world of the Seven Snakes could use a little tenderness. It helps to make the laughs complete.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

Seven Snakes- The Mammals - erin-orr-4

 

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REVIEW: 25th Annual Spelling Bee (Metropolis Arts)

 

Who knew spelling could be so much fun?

 

Productions - Spelling Bee - 02

   
Metropolis Performing Arts Centre presents
   
The 25th-Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
   
Music/Lyrics by William Finn 
Book by
Rachel Sheinkin
Directed by
Robin M. Hughes
Metropolis Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell, Arlington Heights
through November 6  | 
tickets: $35-$43   |  more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian 

For children who enjoy spelling, a spelling bee is to them as football or baseball is to children who enjoy sports. In Metropolis Performing Arts Center’s production of The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee, based on the original play C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E by The Farm, children of various backgrounds and school districts to come together for one goal: to win the bee and move on to nationals in Washington D.C.

Productions - Spelling Bee - 29 The set, designed by Adam L. Veness, boosts clean, simple lines and looks high quality and authentic. The stage is transformed into a school gym complete with basketball court, bleachers and a climbing rope. School colors are yellow and purple, reflected in the lighting by Yousif Mohamed, which adds depth to the set.

The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee opens strong, with the entire cast exuding energy right from the start. Each character brings their own strength to the stage with a catchy and upbeat opening number. This play also calls for audience interaction, which not only bring the audience into the story, but also allows for audience members to experience what it’s like to be on the opposite end of theatre. All the audience members who participated did a good job and added some extra laughs to this already funny show.

As the Bee begins, it becomes clear that each actor worked hard to develop a unique characterization. Logainne Schwartzandgrubernierre (Justine Klein) is sweetly adorable with her lisp. As the show goes on, it becomes clear that under that demeanor is a lot of pressure and expectation to live up to. Klein does an excellent job of rounding out her character and providing multiple layers to keep her character from falling flat. Olive Ostrovsky (Kristine Burdi) has a wonderful childlike innocence and she’s so eager to participate. Burdi has a rockin’ voice that’s on full display in “The I Love You Song,” which also allows her to show the pain Olive is in beneath her cheerful front.

As the Bee goes on, the students prove to be terrific spellers, spelling a random selection of words, as they offer glimpses into their personal lives. Returning Bee champ Chip Tolentino (Ryan Hunt) gets knocked off his horse when a crush on a girl deters his mind and he misspells a word, disqualifying him from nationals. Hunt offers up strong, stellar vocals and is hilarious as he sings about the troubles of teenage boys and puberty in “Chip’s Lament.” Leaf Coneybear (Patrick Tierney) tells about his large family and where he fits in their grand scheme of things in “I’m Not That Smart.” Tierney clearly explored his character’s background and motivations, which come through in his performance. He’s fascinatingly endearing as we witness his winning spelling technique: he falls into a trance, and the letters just come. James Nedrud is spot on with know-it-all William Barfee. Nedrud plays his character acting older than he is and trying to be very serious, which is just hilarious.

 

Productions - Spelling Bee - 26 Productions - Spelling Bee - 04

Throughout The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee, the entire cast keeps up their energy level, keeping the show running smoothly along and the audience engaged. The musical numbers are high energy and feature excellent choreography by Kristen Gurbach Jacobson. What is most impressive is that the singing never suffers during the dancing. The actors are able to continue singing strongly and passionately as they dance around the stage. At a few points the singing fell out of tune, but it never took away from the enthusiasm and enjoyment of the show.

The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee is a children’s show for adults that leaves the audience laughing as they cheer on the Bee contestants.

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

Productions - Spelling Bee - 21

The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee plays at Metropolis Performing Arts Center, 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights, IL, through November 6. Tickets cost $35 to $43 can be purchased through the theatre’s Web site.

     
     

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Theater Thursday: Lady’s Not For Burning (Theo Ubique)

Thursday, October 30th

The Lady’s Not For Burning  

 

Written by Christopher Fry
Directed by Fred Anzevino
Theo-Ubique Cabaret Theatre
at No Exit Cafe, 6970 N. Glenwood (map)

ladyburningA romantic comedy written in verse by Christopher Fry. Set in the Middle Ages, it reflects the world’s exhaustion and despair following World War II. The Story is about a disillusioned veteran who wants to be hanged unitil he is wooed by the happier accused witch on her way to the stake. Special guest, Neil Tobin, a well known Chicago mentalist and expert in supernatural history will appear with Fred Anzevino, director and Theo Ubique’s artistic director in a post-show discussion.  A complementary dessert and coffee will be served to Theatre Thursday guests at intermission and a $5 discount is offered.

Show begins at 7:30 p.m.

Event begins immediately following the performance.  

Tickets: $20

For reservations visit www.theoubique.org 

and use discount code "TheatreThursday."


 

Additional offers for The Lady’s Not For Burning

 

Weekend Special: 2-for-1 tickets for Friday, Sunday shows

 

Buy 2 tickets for the price of one for the Friday and Sunday performances this weekend (October 1 and 3) through the ticket service at 800-595-4849 or through their website: www.theoubique.org.

A limited number of discount tickets also will be offered through Hot Tix for the duration of the run of The Lady’s Not for Burning, closing October 31 with a special Halloween Party performance package.

  
  

REVIEW: Candide (Goodman Theatre)

Zimmerman fills stage with playful imagery

 

Candide at Goodman Theatre - Rebecca Finnegan, Govind Kumar, Erik Lochtefeld, Margo Seibert, Geoff Packard, Lauren Molina

   
Goodman Theatre presents
   
Candide
   
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Based on novella by Voltaire
Adapted and Directed by Mary Zimmerman
at Goodman’s Albert Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn (map)
through October 31  | 
tickets: $25-$85   |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

Mary Zimmerman is the mastermind behind The Goodman Theatre’s new musical production of Candide. The Tony-award winner not only directed the epic, whose plot literally spans years and oceans, but she also adapted the script. Normally, I’m not a fan of one person having such a heavy hand in the development of a drama. Having a  separate writer and director has major benefits, namely the benefit of distance from the work. And it is this distance that can fix any glaring errors in the script or add directorial nuances to strengthen the production.

Geoff Packard as Candide in Goodman Theatre production - Photo by Liz LaurenFortunately, Zimmerman has crafted a cohesive, entertaining and visually stunning piece of work. Thanks to her affinity for levity, Zimmerman saves Voltaire’s classic philosophical narrative from becoming crushed under the weight of its own ideology. I’m amazed that such a sprawling script and dense story can be so digestible.

Candide begins peacefully enough, with Candide (Geoff Packard), a young lad of unremarkable lineage, studying with blue-blooded siblings Cunegonde (Lauren Molina) and Maximilian (Erik Lochtefeld). They are learning metaphysics from their instructor Pangloss (Larry Yando), whose core belief is that this world is the best of all possible worlds. Although wonderfully optimistic, his mantra is also incredibly naïve, a fact that Candide soon learns.

Once the Baron (Tom Aulino) discovers his daughter, Cunegonde, passionately throwing herself at Candide, the young boy is banished (and we witness a scene transition that is surreal as it is stunning). Now Candide is on his own; caught in the middle of war-torn Europe with only Pangloss’ feeble-minded philosophy to guide him from one atrocity to another.

The play does Voltaire’s work justice. Zimmeran does a wonderful job highlighting the short-sightedness of optimism in the face of pervasive human tragedy. For example, the musical’s darkly humorous number “Auto-da-fe,” a song about a town’s eagerness to witness public executions, is instilled with a playful, cartoonish enthusiasm that makes the capital deaths that much more disturbing.

Jesse Perez and Geoff Packard in Candide at Goodman Theatre - photo by Liz Lauren Candide is also very funny. For instance, there’s a running gag with a flock of red sheep, which, although a little silly, provides some light-heartedness to a play that is otherwise filled with people getting maimed and mutilated. There are also some subtle gags, like the use of miniatures to convey the scene’s setting. In one scene in particular, Candide and his travel companions face a storm while at sea. Although the stage does not resemble a boat at all, an actor moves a small boat on a pole to illustrate the tossing and turning of the vessel as Candide and others rock back and forth in unison.

The acting is solid with noteworthy performances from Packard, Yando and Hollis Resnik as the charming and crass Old Lady. Although some performers may fall short of their notes here and there, the singing is still remarkable, considering the amount of energy and endurance that this play requires. Stand out numbers include the hilarious “I Am Easily Assimilated” and the show closer “Make Our Garden Grow.”

Daniel Ostling’s set design is minimal but striking. A large wood-paneled wall occupies all of stage right where secret compartments allow characters and props to easily enter and exit. Trapdoors are used generously, which extends the world of the play farther beyond the extraordinarily roomy stage.

Hollis Resnick and Lauren Molina in Candide at Goodman Theatre - photo by Liz Lauren Hollis Resnick in Candide at Goodman Theatre - photo by Liz Lauren
Erik Lochtefeld as Maximillian in Candide at Goodman Theatre - photo by Liz Lauren Tom Aulina and Geoff Packard in Candide Goodman Theatre - photo by Liz Lauren Larry Yand and Geoff Packard in Candide at Goodman Theatre - photo by Liz Lauren

Despite all these positives, there is one flaw to Zimmerman’s work that I cannot overlook. By being so close to this production, she has blinded herself to the fact that by infusing Candide with so much comedic sentiment, she guts the characters of relatable qualities. Actors often indicate rather than act and sport affectations that comment on the work rather than serving as part of the work. In making these characters merely pawns in a farce, we aren’t really invested in them, and thus the stakes for Candide to eventually find his lost love Cunegonde are set so low that we really don’t care whether they’re reunited or not.

Still, Voltaire’s work isn’t so much about separated lovers as it is a commentary on the contemporary philosophies of his day. And Zimmerman’s work is effective at bringing Voltaire’s talent for satire to life. So this drawback does not overshadow the fact that Candide is a very good play, not necessarily the best of all possible plays, but a good play nonetheless.

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

Geoff Packard and Lauren Molina in Candide at Goodman Theatre - photo by Liz Lauren

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