REVIEW: The Scarecrow (Theatre-Hikes)

              
      

Nebulous ‘Scarecrow’ comes to life in historic location

 

 

Theatre-Hikes - The Scarecrow 2

   
Theatre-Hikes presents
   
The Scarecrow
   
Written by Percy Mackaye
Directed by
Frank Farrell
at the
Pullman Factory, 11057 S. Cottage Grove (map)
through November 14  |  tickets: $10-$15  |  more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian

Theatre-Hikes takes a break from its normal outdoor theatre productions to bring the action (basically) indoors with Percy Mackaye’s The Scarecrow. Written in 1908, The Scarecrow is based on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “Feathertop”, but expands the tale and is not to be taken as a dramatization of the short story.

The setting for The Scarecrow is an abandoned warehouse in the Pullman Historic District. It’s got a cool, loft vibe with a bit of creepiness for added natural effect. The set itself resembles an old blacksmith’s barn with tools and equipment scattered about, and straw covers the floor. The only downside to the warehouse usage is that there’s a distinct echo, so when the actors speak loudly or yell it’s difficult to understand them.

Theatre-Hikes - The Scarecrow 1Set in seventeenth century Massachusetts, The Scarecrow opens on Goody Rickby (Joni Arredia) working in the blacksmith shop, creating a scarecrow for her cornfields. Arredia initially seems too over-the-top with her performance but as she eases into her character she becomes interesting with a depth that’s clear. You can see that she’s developed a backstory for her character because the emotions come out in her eyes. As Goody Rickby works, she converses with Dickon (Drew Patrick) who is also the devil. Patrick is entertaining and clever in his characterization with an eerie quality that stays with him throughout the production.

Dickon has taught Goody Rickby witchcraft after she has an affair with the town’s justice and he abandons her, causing their child to die due to lack of medical care. Justice Gilead Merton’s niece, Rachel (Athanasia Sawicz) is fascinated by witchcraft and purchases a “mirror of truth” from Rickby. Sawicz offers a somewhat lackluster performance and it’s hard to decipher what her intentions are for her character. She’s rather meek for someone who’s the niece of a prominent town figure.

After Rachel leaves, Rickby and Dickon devise a plan of revenge against Justice Merton. Together, they bring the scarecrow to life to be Rickby’s son and woo Rachel away from her current betrothed, Richard Talbot (Chris Yearwood). The scarecrow, whom they’ve named Lord Ravensbane (Bill Zimmerman), comes to life much like Pinocchio does in the fairy tale, finding his legs and voice to pass as a real man. Zimmerman brings a touchingly naïve charm to Lord Ravensbane, with an adopted stutter and sweet demeanor. He’s eager to please and ready to do what he’s told.

Theatre-Hikes - The Scarecrow 3With Dickon as his tutor, Lord Ravensbane enters the Merton home with every intention, he is told, of winning Rachel for himself. Judge Merton (Marty Couch) plays the justice well enough but seems a bit nervous. The justice is unhappy with his new houseguests, but when Dickon reveals himself as the devil to Merton, Merton realizes he must comply. Rachel develops a crush on Lord Ravensbane and he feels the same way. He becomes enamored of her and she becomes torn between him and Talbot. Although she is supposed to be wrought with emotion, Sawicz doesn’t emit much emotion through her body language and it often feels more like she’s reciting lines she’s memorized rather than that she’s embodied fully the character of Rachel.

Dickon has Merton throw a party in Lord Ravensbane’s honor and at this party, Zimmerman’s Ravensbane proves to be both charismatic and regal, as if her were a real lord. Zimmerman delivers stunning monologues that play to the emotions of his character and the audience. Patrick’s Dickon makes intentional and superb character choices, both with his words and his actions. He is his character through and through.

The Scarecrow proves to be in interesting production with some ups and downs, but it does offer some truly wonderful performances.

    
 
Rating: ★★½   
   
   

The Scarecrow plays through November 14 at the historic Pullman Factory, 11057 S. Cottage Grove Ave., Chicago. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased by emailing theatrehikes@gmail.com or call 773-293-1358.The Scarecrow - Theatre-Hikes

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REVIEW: The Other Cinderella (Black Ensemble Theater)

 

Definitely not your Mama’s Cinderella!

 

Katrina Miller, Candace Edwards, Rhonda Preston, Robin Beaman

    
Black Ensemble Theater presents
    
The Other Cinderella    
 
Written and Directed by Jackie Taylor
at
Black Ensemble Theater, 4520 N. Beacon (map)
through January 9  |  tickets: $45   |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

“Cinderella” has always been one of my favorite stories from childhood. I have to qualify this statement by revealing that I like the original Grimm’s version called “Aschenputtel,” that was more about the hard economic realities of marriage. Black Ensemble’s The Other Cinderella is a hilarious and decidedly unsanitized take on the classic. As with most BE musical productions, this show starts with a dazzling revue of the cast’s talents that introduce us to the Land of Other – a.k.a. the hood.

Candace Edwards and Lawrence Williams (1)After a dazzling musical opening that introduces the cast, we are taken to the hood, er..Land of Other, where three buddies and a girl are hanging out, waiting to hear the lottery numbers. This lottery will decide who gets the job in the palace court. Rueben Echoles is the lucky winner of the job as Page in the palace. Daniel Simmons and Joshua N. Banks play his pals Groundhog and Peanut Butter respectively. Niina Coleman plays Alice, the Page’s sister. The roles are a celebration of the better side of life in the hood. Page, Groundhog, Peanut Butter and Alice have a sweet camaraderie that rarely gets portrayed in the usual venues. Mr. Echoles is a comic wonder with his elastic face, great physicality, and bulls-eye timing as Page. Simmons and Banks are a lot of fun to watch as well.

Page comes up against the royal court of Other played by the formidable Michael Bartlett as the King’s Attendant and Mandy Lewis as the Queen’s Lady in Waiting. Mr. Bartlett has a marvelous baritone speaking voice that he uses to great humor lavishing praise on the King. Ms. Lewis is lovely and sings a beautiful duet with Mr. Bartlett about skin color called “Look at Me”. Trinity Murdock plays the King with wonderful bombast and command. Noreen Stark plays the Queen with just the right amount of royal serenity and backbone to stand up against the King. Writer and director Jackie Taylor mixed some modern ingredients in this production. The King and Queen are stressed out that their son the Prince (Lawrence Williams) is not giving any signs of finding a suitable wife. The King doesn’t like one of the Prince’s friends because he is gay.  He also insists on throwing a ball which forces the Prince to pick a woman from the attendees. The Queen is aghast at this edict and would rather see her son with a man if that would make him happy. (I guarantee you that this was not in the Grimm’s version or the Lesley Anne Warren/Stuart Damon version back in the 60’s!)

Meanwhile, back in the hood, we are introduced to Cinderella and her stepfamily. It is truly the villains that make this production laugh out loud funny. Rhonda Preston plays Stepmother, who works all day at the post office and is “lookin’ for a man to ring my bell”. Robin Beaman plays Stepsister Geneva and Katrina Miller plays Stepsister Margarite. Beaman and Miller made my sides hurt from laughing as they taunted Cinderella, played by the lovely Candace Edwards. They engage in what is known as playing the dozens, which is trying to out-insult your adversary. Preston brings down the house when she reaches her boiling point with Cinderella, pulling a classic neighborhood fight move by taking off her wig and doing a Mohammed Ali boxing dance. Ms. Preston channels some of the greatest comic women, including Carol Burnett, as she descends the stairs to the ball. Ms. Miller is absolutely brilliant as a vain hoochie mama who tries to seduce the prince with a bump-and-grind. Her hair color changes with each scene in true ghetto fabulousness. Ms. Beaman plays the wide-eyed Prince-stalker to perfection. When she meets him at the ball she goes into a crazy baby voice asking for a ring. The Stepsisters sing a mocking tune called “Wash Them Walls” that is very funny both visually and lyrically.

As this musical takes place in the hood, the props and the premises are a bit different. The Fairy Godmama is a Jamaican style wish-granter, played by the talented and beautiful Deja Taylor. Cinderella doesn’t have little rodents for friends as that is no joke or cute to some folks. Fairy Godmama puts a stretch Hummer outside the door with Usher as the driver and Denzel Washington as a goody for herself. Cinderella’s hair is magically done under the do rag that she always wears. A gorgeous gown is under her frumpy housecoat and golden stilettos appear in Godmama’s purse. The mostly Black audience got a laugh when Godmama told Cinderella to be home by 11:45. She would have said midnight but worried about CP time, which stands for Colored People time-always a bit late.

 

Christina Cain Mandy Lewis, Noreen Stark, Lawrence Williams, Trinity Murdock, Michael Bartlett
Katrina Miller, Robin Beaman, Rhonda Preston Lawrence Williams, Katrina Miller

The ball is a dazzling display of costumes and dancing. The men are garbed in gorgeous long jackets and cream-colored shoes. The women are visions in gold – that is until the Step Sisters arrive in tacky mantrap splendor. A special party crasher arrives in the form of Christina Cain as Dorothy from Kansas. She wants to join the Kingdom of Other and a gasp goes up in the court. Everyone gives the White girl an incredulous look but the King and Queen are more welcoming if she can pass some tests to prove she belongs in Other.

She has to eat the royal watermelon and identify the three most popular greens in Black households by taste. Ms. Taylor has spun the stereotypes on their ridiculous heads by writing this role. Dorothy Gale from Kansas went to Oz and apparently didn’t like home when she went back. The final test is for Dorothy to sing the blues and sing she does. Ms. Cain rocks “The White Girl Blues” and is welcomed into the kingdom.

The story has an interesting ending that is a departure from both Grimm and the sanitized Disney version. The shoe fits more than one woman! You will have to check out this wonderful production to see how that plays out. You can be assured that you will have a good time, hear some great music, and be astounded by the costumes both on stage and in the audience. I love seeing a man in head to toe turquoise down to the socks and shoes and women actually dressed for the theatre. It’s old school all the way.

   
    
Rating: ★★★   
   
    

Daniel Simmons, Rueben Echoles, Joshua N Banks

The Other Cinderella runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sundays at 3:00pm through January 9th, 2011. The theatre is located at 4520 N. Beacon in Chicago. This location is around the corner from what will be Black Ensemble’s new home at 4440 N. Clark. The company broke ground in September on a state of the art theatre complex. This promises to be another jewel in the tradition of great Chicago theatre companies and a springboard for our awesome local talent!

Wednesday Wordplay: meaning of the word ‘pretty’ – very powerful!

 

Katie Makkai – ‘Pretty’

 

 

Katie Makkai, a veteran poetry slammer – defining the word “pretty”.