REVIEW: Dream of a Common Language (Prologue Theatre)

   
   

Must good-girl painters always finish last?

 

 

Clovis at the wall w Victor, Pola, and Marc (high def)

   
Prologue Theatre presents
    
Dream of a Common Language
     
Written by Heather McDonald
Directed by
Margo Gray
at
Oracle Theatre, 3809 N. Broadway (map)
through Nov 18  |  tickets: $16-$18   |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Of what value are women’s gifts? What value are women’s talents, women’s work, or the creativity of women? These are the questions Heather McDonald’s play, Dream of a Common Language, focuses on. No amount of armchair theorizing about women’s critical place in cultural creation can erase the reality that women’s abilities, talents and artistic perspective often get placed at the low end of the hierarchy. Men’s creativity, like men’s work, is invariably classed above the creativity executed by women—and often because men are the judges of what is or is not art.

Clovis and the Train (high def)Director Margo Gray and Prologue Theatre struggle mightily against the restrictions of Oracle Theatre’s space and their own low-budget difficulties in order to carry off McDonald’s impressionistic language and scene structure. Unfortunately, serious lack of vision in doing more with less handicaps the execution of this play’s impressionist style. Especially in the first act, cumbersome, start-and-stop scene changes and awkward, unnecessary puppetry dooms this show to fits of embarrassing amateurism.

That’s really too bad, because Gray has collected a cast that capably teases out the delicate moods and emotional shifts that sculpt McDonald’s focus. Clovis (Carrie Hardin), a woman painter, suffocates under not having her painting taken seriously, as well as the stifling proscriptions of her new role as wife and mother in the mid-19th century. Victor (Michael John Krystosek), her husband, also a painter, is at a loss to understand just what is bothering her. Consumed with planning a dinner to organize an exhibition that will feature artists rejected by the establishment, he fails to see how leaving women artists out of the dinner, and out of the exhibition, disturbs his wife. Her long-time friend and fellow woman artist, Pola (Lara Janson), arrives by bicycle in time to lift Clovis’ spirits. Together with the housekeeper, Delores (Hayley L. Rice), the women stage a revolt. They hold a dinner of their own with food stolen from the men’s dinner.

Hardin is most expert in making the audience palpably feel Clovis’ pain. Shakiness and uncertainty plague Clovis’ attempts to re-establish herself, to find the core of who she is and not be swayed by the roles that have been scripted for her as a woman. We sense Clovis’ uneasiness of self and appreciate her struggle to define just what it is that bothers her. Alex Knell turns in an accurate and natural performance as her neglected son, pushed to the side because Clovis cannot accept her restrictive motherly role.

Clovis and Victor - Touch Me (high def) Clovis Poses Victor

Janson’s performance as Pola aptly contrasts her ruddy mental and physical health with Clovis’ shakiness. However, Janson’s constant good nature contradicts all indications that her character is not totally happy–a little more nuance could let the audience catch her frustration at being reduced to painting flowers, just like “all the good-girl painters.” The appearance of Marc (Les Rorick) kicks up the stakes, both because of the secret affair he’s had with Clovis and because Rorick captures a good, full-bodied 19th-century character within a few lines.

Other performers took more time to warm to their roles on opening night, but it’s difficult to discern whether that is their particular dilemma or the direction. Whatever the source, the cast finally congeals into a cohesive, lively and idyllic whole in the second act, sans scene changes and, mercifully, sans puppets. The restoration of Clovis’ self and her relationship with Victor delicately evokes real wonder and profound beauty.

If at all possible at this juncture, it would be wise for Gray to revise her direction for the first act. Flow from scene to scene is needed to preserve McDonald’s impressionist intent. Furthermore, shadow puppets and other forms of puppetry really should be saved for the budget and expertise to do them well. If the intent was to create a more dreamlike, childlike state, then McDonald’s language alone, as well as the energetic game playing of the women in the second act, connect us to the creative children in these characters. What other accoutrements are needed? Absolutely none.

 
   
Rating: ★★½   
   
   

Centaur in the Garden (high def)

Cast and Crew Biographies

CAST

Carrie Hardin (Clovis) is a company member at Prologue Theatre. You may have seen her at the Snapshots Festival recently, or this spring at Prologue’s Landmark Festival. Carrie has also worked around town with Promethean Theatre, City Lit Theatre, TUTA., and Point of Contention, among others.

Lara Janson (Pola) is pleased to appear in her second show with Prologue.  She performed in Prologue’s Landmark Festival last spring, shortly after returning to the States from graduate study in Northern Ireland.  Lara holds a BA in English from Grinnell College, with a concentration in gender & women’s studies. She also studied voice and acting at Grinnell.  Lara has performed street theatre in South America and used Theatre of the Oppressed methods in outreach to teens at risk for human trafficking in juvenile detention centers in the U.S.  Ms. Janson holds an MA in Latin American Studies/Cultural Politics from Ecuador and an MA in Peace & Conflict Studies from Northern Ireland.  She is passionate about social justice, particularly combating human trafficking.  Lara spent the summer counting Chicagoans for the Census and is currently researching the commercial sex industry in Chicago and preparing to apply to graduate programs this fall.

Alex Knell (Mylo). A new graduate of Northwestern University, Alex thanks Prologue for her Chicago debut. Favorite credits include Hennie in Awake and Sing and Tinkerbell in Northwestern’s Peter Pan. Alex has studied with The Artistic Home, 500 Clown, and the magnificent Gail Shapiro to whom she is greatly indebted. Thanks to the Knell family and Alberto for their tireless love and support.

Michael John Krystosek (Victor) is proud to be involved in his first Prologue Theatre production. He recently graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Illinois at Chicago’s BFA Performance program. Past credits include A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Bottom), In the Blood (The Doctor) and The Pillowman (Michal) at UIC and Amadeus (Venticelli) at The Oak Park Village Players.

Hayley Rice (Dolores). Previous credits include Lady Mathilda in The Castle of Otranto, Bianca in The Tamer Tamed, Luce in Comedy of Errors (First Folio Theatre), Clementine in Bonnie and Clementine…, Flora in The Wonder (Point of Contention Theatre), Mrs. Trotsky in All in the Timing (Focal Point Theatre), Simone the Cat in The Nerdy Girl and the Intergalactic Dog,  Sarafina in Beauty and the Beast (Prairie Fire Children’s Theatre), Sister Felicity in Suddenly Last Summer (IL. Theatre Center), Hero in For Love of the Nightingale (Livewire Theatre), The Legalizer in Rogue 8, Chorus/Nurse 1 in Rogue’s Orestia (Rogue Theater).  Hayley is a proud member of Focal Point Theatre Company and artistic associate with First Folio Theatre where she will appear in Blithe Spirit this coming February.

Les Rorick (Marc) left Southern California for the Chicago theatre scene just over a year ago.  Before the winter of his discontent (the first actual winter of his entire life), he played Brutus in Julius Caesar and Raleigh in The Last Train to Nibroc.  The role of Marc is his Chicago debut.  He is indebted to the grace of God and the loving support of his family and friends, especially him community from The Line Chicago.  Les trains at Act One Studios, in downtown Chicago.

PRODUCTION STAFF

Kent Cubbage (Lighting Designer). This is Kent Cubbage’s first theatrical design in Chicago, and he’s glad it’s with Margo! Locally, he has assisted at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Comedy of Errors and The Emperor’s New Clothes, and at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire on Married Alive. He has previously designed for the Minnesota Fringe Fest, Monomoy Theater in Cape Cod, Orchesis in Tallahassee, and New Jersey Shakespeare Theater in Summit. Recently, he won a USITT Ezekiel award for outstanding design and spots in the 2011 Prague Quadrennial Exposition and USITT Exposition for The Wonderful World of Dissocia, at Ohio University. Other assists include the premiere of the current Broadway show The Scottsboro Boys and Dollhouse at the Guthrie, Grey Gardens at the Studio in D.C., Rabbit Hole at Indiana Repertory, and Take Flight at the McCarter. He’d like to give a shout-out to Grinnell, or at least a polite Iowan nod.

Hillary Gibson (Stage Manager) is a proud 2009 graduate of Bowling Green State University where she received a BAC in Technical Theatre/Design and Acting/Directing. Her most recent show credits include The Trojan Women, A Christmas Carol and Our Town where she served as Stage Manager. Hillary’s professional credits include working as Company Manager at Northern Stage in Vermont, Assistant Company Manager at West Virginia Public Theatre and Assistant to the Company and Production Managers at Florida Studio Theatre. She would like to thank her amazing friends and family for support.

Margo Gray (Director) is pleased to be directing her fourth show with Prologue, where she serves as artistic director. Margo is a graduate of Grinnell College and a former Fulbright Fellow with the Moscow Art Theater School in Russia. Recent projects includeThe Cat’s Meow: a Vaudeville (Prologue), The Wonder: a woman keeps a secret! (Point of Contention), and What of the Night? (Halcyon Theatre). Margo Twitters about the Chicago theatre experience (@margogray) and you can find other updates on her work at margogray.com. She wants to thank you for choosing to spend your evening seeing live theatre.

Cathy Matchette (Set, Properties, and Puppet Designer) majored in metal-smithing at Oregon College of Art and Craft in Portland, with minors in ceramics and photography. Early on she became interested in mechanisms and incorporating movement into her work. She began fabricating tiny puppets as jewelry pieces, and moved on to build larger crank operated automatons. These merely served as a gateway to her eventual addiction to all types of puppets. She also has a BA in Architecture from University of Illinois at Urbana, and has worked as a commercial jeweler, a welder, and renovated buildings as a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. Currently Cathy finds great satisfaction working for theaters building props, set pieces, and most of all – puppets. She is very happy to have encountered the talented artists at Prologue Theatre and to be working on her first show with them.

Molly Mullen (Dramaturg) is a 3rd year MFA candidate in Dramaturgy from Columbia University’s School of the Arts in New York City. A native Chicagoan, Molly is spending her thesis year as an intern in the casting department at Steppenwolf Theatre Company, in addition doing free-lance work and writing her thesis. Chicago dramaturgy credits include Eduardo Machado’s The Cook, Tom Creamer’s adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and Conor McPherson’s Shining City, during her internship at the Goodman Theatre. Molly received her BA in American studies and a minor in theater from Lake Forest College.

Sarah Smith (Sound Designer) is a theatre practitioner and social service provider based in Iowa City IA.  Focusing her theatrical work on sound design, Sarah has recently designed the sound for 9 Parts of Desire and and A View from the Bridge for Dreamwell Theatre.  Other sound design credits include The Visit, The Winning Streak, Boy Gets Girl, Fair Ladies at a Game of Poem Cards, and Red Devils.  Sarah received a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and Sociology from Grinnell College.  She also completed internships with the Riverside Theatre Shakespeare Festival in Iowa City and Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago.

Valerie Vanderkolk (Costume Designer) Valerie Vanderkolk has most recently designed costumes for Chicago Fusion Theatre‘s production of J.B. and for Heritage Theatre Group in Grand Rapids, MI. She also has worked at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and on the film Touchback (2011) and the indie film Jamie and Jessie are Not Together.

Kari Warning (Assistant Stage Manager) recently graduated with a BA in Theatre from Western Illinois University. There she worked in the costume shop and also gained various other technical experience. Her favorite credits at WIU include 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee directed by Ray Gabica, (Stage Manager), Samarai(Assistant Stage Manager), the WIU touring production of Hansel and Gretel: The New Story (Costume Designer), and Dead Man’s Cell Phone (Costume Designer). She just recently finished a summer stock at Tibbits Opera House (Coldwater, MI) where she was production stage manager for On Broadway: A Modern Songbook, Crazy for You, Run for Your Wife, and 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. She would like to thank her family and Ryan for all their love and support.

Note: Production bios courtesy of Prologue Theatre’s website.

   
   

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