REVIEW: Luna Negra Dance

 

snapshots of a lost tribe

 

lunanegra-logo

Luna Negra Dance Company

at Harris Theatre

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Fast growing and now firmly established since its 1999 debut, Chicago’s justly praised Luna Negra Dance Company has now entered its second season. It marks that occasion with a new artistic director to succeed founder Eduardo Vilaro. 33-years-old, tall and elegant, Gustavo Ramirez Sansano is a Spanish choreographer who just made an auspicious premiere with the ensemble in a gala Millennium Park performance. It was a promissory note that seems to ensure the troupe a bright and certain future.

Sansano will bring a more theatrical, European-based style to the company’s works, You saw it on display in the world premiere of “Toda Una Vida (All My Life),” the lead offering in Saturday’s fall program. (It’s also the third creation he’s imagined for the company.) Set to Ravel’s achingly predictable “Bolero,” it opened with a quirky and seemingly improvised duet between an agitated (and uncredited) couple. They furiously indulge in Flamenco-like eruptions of frenzied independence as they come closer and finally establish contact. Their cavorting courtship ritual swells with the escalating music, like a tango in overdrive, until they cross a barrier and seem to consummate their quarrel with carnal delights.

This wild wooing is soon followed by music from Los Panchos and Eydie Gorme in which the male dancers back up the couple in robotic movements that seem to formalize their engagement while suggesting the wildness between them that they have yet to tame. The work is billed as “deeply personal” to Sansano and that presents a problem: This precious particularity may have kept it from touching the Harris crowd as publically as possible.

Much quirkier, “Bate” (“heartbeat” in Portuguese), a North American premiere by Fernado Melo that pays whimsical homage to Brazilian soap operas and was created for a Swedish ballet, tightly frames the male dancers in parts rather than as persons. They appear and disappear in scenic “cut-outs” that follow the appearance of a long bridal train which carries objects in its wake—and is finally followed by a symbolic flower pot. The men, in black suits and bare feet, alternately inflate and deflate with passion but seem more enervated than passionate. When the entire stage finally opens up, the men indulge in staggering, very un-macho, rubber-like like steps, sort of like enervated Slinkies. Seemingly double-jointed and gravity impaired, they dance as if driven. We can only imagine the unseen women who so effortlessly emasculated them. But in the end the flower pot has been replaced by a cascade of rose petals. The soap opera apparently has a happy ending.

Finally, in a nod to the past, a reprise of Vilaro’s complex and sensuous 2008 “Deshar Alhat (Leave Sunday”) evokes the culture and even language (Ladino) of the Sephardic News who settled in Latin America in the early 20th century. The haunting work, performed in sensuous red costumes, surges with languorous duets and pulsating ensemble numbers that suggest both displacement and tradition. As much as the movement, it’s the frozen tableaux that speak here, almost like snapshots of a lost tribe caught up in a moment that manages to brush eternity.

   
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

REVIEW: McMeekin Finds Out (Route 66 Theatre Company)

 

Did I mention we’re in Pittsburgh?

 

 Kate Buddeke, Blair Robertson, and Randy Steinmeyer

   
Route 66 Theatre presents
   
McMeekin Finds Out
   
Written by Scott T. Barsotti
Directed by Damon Kiely
at Richard Christiansen Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln (map)
through November 14  |  tickets: $25-$37   |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

I hate seeing a bad play. You walk into the theater full of hope and high on expectations. The play may start out okay: an intriguing opening, some snappy dialogue and characters that are brimming with potential. But by the intermission, you realize the mess you’ve gotten yourself into, so you reach for your car keys. But then you remember you’re a theatre critic, so you have to stay and see if this agonizingly, dead-on-arrival play miraculously gets any better. And, more often than not, it doesn’t. Now you’re out two hours of your time, plus you must set out on the task of panning someone else’s beloved creation, which, let me tell you, makes you feel like a total and utter schmuck.

Route 66 Theatre Company’s world premier of McMeekin Finds Out makes me feel like a schmuck. This play is so seriously flawed that I am amazed the collective of talented artists behind the production didn’t demand this thing incubate a bit longer before letting it go to term. Don’t get me wrong; there is certainly potential. But as it stands, this mess of a slapstick comedy is like seeing a mediocre improv show, where everything rests on a thrown-together goofy premise and where louder means funnier.

Randy Steinmeyer and Kate Buddeke 2 The play, written by Scott T. Barsotti, centers around a family in Pittsburgh. And Barsotti doesn’t let you forget for a minute where this play takes place. Mentions of the Steelers occur in every other sentence, and everyone possesses the standard Pittsburgh dialect, sprinkling their dialogue with words like “yinz.”

At the play’s opening, we witness the daughter Carla (Blair Robertson) getting on a guy at a house party. She’s drunk, and we can’t quite see the young man the way the couch is positioned. What we do know is that he’s immobilized somehow, possibly drunk or possibly tied up. In any case, she proceeds to have sex with him, which surprisingly serves as the basis of the play’s entire plot. That’s because, upon arriving home the next morning, Carla confesses to her parents, Guy (Randy Steinmeyer) and Pam (Kate Buddeke), that she may have raped the young man, since technically he didn’t consent.

That’s about it. There’s really not much more to this play. Oh sure, Guy and Pam are both laid up due to a car accident that was Guy’s fault. Guy now wears casts on both arms, which may have destroyed his career in construction. And Pam’s leg cast has made it impossible for her to continue being a chef for the time being. But Guy’s underlying guilt over the accident and Pam’s resentment are barely touched upon. Instead, the question of whether Carla raped a boy and what is the family to do dominates every single moment.

And perhaps this wouldn’t be so bad if we, the audience, hadn’t already seen exactly what happened within the first minutes of the play. We know that she took advantage of this boy. We know most of the circumstances. And so when characters continually say things like, “Well, we don’t really know what happened,” you want to yell, “We do!” and hope everyone just moves on to something more interesting.

Another issue I had with this play is that it’s just not funny. The humor, solely because of the subject matter, occasionally verges on edgy. But overall, most of the jokes are on par with sappy sitcom schlock.

For what it’s worth, much of the acting is solid. Steinmeyer is entertaining. His portrayal of Guy is as if you mashed Edith and Archie Bunker into one person. Likewise, Buddeke provides some much-needed understatement and realism to this otherwise over-the-top, harebrained play.

McMeekin Finds Out doesn’t know what it’s trying to say. It goes nowhere while being simultaneously all over the place. Worst of all, there’s no driving force that compels the audience to keep watching. Give this play a thorough rewrite or transform it into a brief one act and you may have something. Otherwise, the only thing you’ll find out is that you just sat through a bad play.

       
   
Rating: ★½
   
   

 Randy Steinmeyer and Kate Buddeke

 

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REVIEW: Me Too, I Am Catherine Deneuve (Trap Door)

 

Sultry Songs, Scene-chewing Fabulousness

 

 Catherine Deneuve - Trap Door Theatre - top logo

   
Trap Door Theatre presents
    
Me Too, I Am Catherine Deveuve
   
Written and Composed by Pierre Notte
Directed by
Valery Warnotte
Translated by
David Bradby
at
Trap Door Theatre, 1655 W. Cortland (map)
through November 20  |  tickets: $10-$20   |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

There’s no logic in Trap Door Theatre’s current production, unless it is the quixotic logic of the heart. In the throes of Me Too, I Am Catherine Deneuve, every character, except for the piano player (Gary Damico), gets to be a desperate diva or forlorn heroine. It’s a grand, overwrought premise that, in the hands of French playwright Pierre Notte, cunningly receives deconstruction, satire and adulation. Meanwhile, Belgian director Valery Warnotte maintains the family tension of this play, executing their enigmatic emotional arc in one cohesive, graceful sweep. It’s quite an achievement for director and cast to simply run on subtext alone. More than once I  went looking for the linchpins that hold this drama together. It’s the heart. More than most plays, no matter now melodramatic, Me Too, I Am Catherine Deneuve is about the absurd, relentless demands of the heart.

Catherine Deneuve - Trap Door Theatre 2Therefore, action is never far from a torch song. The incredibly poignant songs, also written by Notte, are what bring real emotional gravitas to the play. They prevent its self-conscious and over-the-top dialogue from degenerating into silliness. Genevieve (Holly Thomas), in rebellion against her overbearing Mother (Beata Pilch), takes on the identity of Catherine Deneuve. Assuming the identity of France’s most beautiful modern actress liberates Genevieve from all constraints—she can say what she thinks, do what she wants and upstage her diva of a Mother, which may be the real point.

The Mother, portrayed exuberantly by the juggernaut that is Beata Pilch, must deal with this latest development in family madness. Her other daughter, Marie (Sadie Rogers), engages in self-cutting and retreats to her room to sing, in gorgeous chanteuse style, all the songs her Mother used to sing before she married and ended her career. Her only other child, The Son (John Kahara), lives prodigally in Bordeaux—a fact uttered by the Mother as if it Bordeaux itself were the sixth ring of hell. Everyone in the family is mourning the absent Father. Although he never spoke and may be responsible for the death of the cat, all hope of love has gone wherever Daddy has gone.

Hidden in this play’s maze of humorous complaints against the lovelessness of life lie some of the deepest observations on the human hunger for love, recognition or empowerment. “You can’t prevent and you can’t help,” says the Mother, frustrated in her inability to bring her family back to some semblance of sanity or unity. “Why try to prove we exist when no one gives a damn?” says Genevieve to her sister, berating her for cutting herself. “I was lovely. I was meant to be loved,” says Marie at the end, anticipating her demise. Everywhere the search for love is the constant search for recognition that affirms one’s uniqueness, which affirms the necessity to go on living.

With extensive help from the French Consulate in Chicago, Trap Door Theatre has brought Pierre Notte’s contemporary avant-garde play to Chicago. Speaking engagements with the playwright and director on contemporary French drama have been scheduled throughout this weekend, some co-coordinated with the University of Chicago. We’re indebted to the French Consulate and Trap Door for introducing far-flung works like these to Chicago. Me Too, I Am Catherine Denueve is a fabulous, irreverent breath of fresh air.

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
   

 

Catherine Deneuve - Trap Door Theatre 2 Catherine Deneuve - Trap Door Theatre - top logo Catherine Deneuve - Trap Door Theatre - top logo Catherine Deneuve - Trap Door Theatre 2  

 

Monday, October 18th, 3:30pm:

Politics & Esthetics of French Theater

French Theater Week will culminate with a lively and informative round-table discussion with Gérald Garutti (ENSATT, Sciences Po), Pierre Notte (Théâtre du Rond-Point), Valéry Warnotte (L’Intervention), Beata Pilch (Trap Door Theatre) moderated by John Ireland (UIC). Wine and cheese reception to follow.

More info: http://fcc.uchicago.edu/ 

Other France Chicago Center events:

          
          

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