REVIEW: Betrayal (Oak Park Festival Theatre)


Who’s zoomin’ who? The tangled webs of betrayal



Oak Partk Festival Theatre - Betrayal 1 - photo by  Michael Rothman

Oak Park Festival Theatre presents
Written by Harold Pinter
Directed by
Kevin Christopher Fox
at The Performance Center, Oak Park (map)
through November 13  |  tickets: $20-$25  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Nobody gets a break in Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, now produced by the Oak Park Festival Theatre at the Performance Center of Oak Park. Everyone is suspect, everyone’s version of events is dubious, and unspoken motives lurk beneath the most mundane conversations. One fumbles to guess at what a character really means, whether he is repeating invitations to play squash or inquiring into the latest authors worth reading. Pinter’s highly educated and exceedingly well-mannered characters seem weighed down and contained by civilized behavior. A long-running adulterous affair, once discovered, instead of being the source of passionate rage or outcry is dealt with only in the most repressed and passive-aggressive ways.

Oak Partk Festival Theatre - Betrayal 5Director Kevin Christopher Fox well sustains the closed, inbred relationship between this terrible triangle. Jerry (Ian Novak) has had a seven-year affair with Emma (Kathy Logelin), who is the wife of his best friend, Robert (Mark Richard). Part of the intrigue of Betrayal is that Pinter starts the audience at the very end of Jerry and Emma’s affair and then winds backward, through all its stages, toward its origin. One sees what the affair has become before one sees how it began; one sees the relationship after the love has been exhausted, which gives a completely new twist on how one interprets the beginning, when Jerry woos Emma with an explosive profession of love.

Indeed, it interrogates Jerry’s motives for starting the affair with Emma or Emma’s motives for capitulating to Jerry’s effusive language. It interrogates Robert’s motives for letting the affair go on for so long, as well as his motives for ending his marriage to Emma. Who’s zoomin’ who—and what do they hope to get out of each power play or emotional twist?

The play is adultery viewed in hindsight, based upon Pinter’s own extramarital affair with Joan Bakewell, a BBC Television presenter, which lasted seven years. With the beginning placed at the end, one notices those inklings of repressed jealousy and competitiveness between Jerry and Robert taint the affair from the start and make its origins suspect. One hopes that, at least at the start, Jerry and Emma’s affair soared with the kind of romance that movies and advertising sell – but that is never certain. Nothing is ever allowed room for certainty in this play. Betrayal makes us doubt love itself, as well as the possibility for love’s survival.

Since we learn from the beginning that the affair is over, the rest remains with the characters’ interactions. Oak Park Festival’s production feels like it is operating with a slightly defective third wheel. Kathy Logelin’s performance pulls the greatest emotional impact—the burden of secrecy, lies and deceptive silence show up clearly in Emma’s face. Logelin’s emotional accuracy Oak Partk Festival Theatre - Betrayal 2wins sympathy for her character, in spite of the fact she is cheating on her husband and not totally truthful to Jerry. Mark Richard may have the least sympathetic role, cruel, dry and manipulative in his relationship with Emma. But one commiserates with his desperate defensiveness in the veiled conversations Robert holds with Jerry once he’s found out about the affair.

Ian Novak delivered an excellently timed and crisp performance as George Tesman in Raven Theatre’s Hedda Gabler—but, as Jerry, he’s still trying to find his way and his occasional slippage in English dialect certainly doesn’t help matters. Pinter writes Jerry so suspect that he comes across, at certain moments, as a real cad. However, Jerry’s cannot be a role totally devoid of sympathy or the delicate balance that leaves the audience in uncertainty becomes undone. Here is a character that at least began as a fool for love. His desire for a love larger than life is very like Madame Bovary’s–a deep, inchoate longing for something more than the finite emotional space that civilized society allows us.

Rating: ★★½

Oak Partk Festival Theatre - Betrayal 3

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REVIEW: In the Jungle of Cities (Ka-Tet Theatre Company)


Absurdist Play is an Acquired Taste


Scene from Bertolt Brech's "In The Jungle of Cities" - Ka-Tet Theatre

Ka-Tet Theatre Company presents
In the Jungle of Cities
Written by Bertolt Brecht
Directed by
Max Truax
Translated by
Anselm Hollo
at Red Tape Theatre, 621 W. Belmont (map)
through November 20  |  tickets: $20   |  more info

To not hate In the Jungle of Cities, the new production by Ka-Tet Theatre Company, you have to have some context of the work and its eccentric, yet heavily influential, playwright. The play was penned by Bertolt Brecht, a German playwright and devout Marxist whose modernist take on drama helped him carve out a unique niche in the world of theatre. His style of theatre is far from the traditional. The audience is discouraged from identifying with the characters. Rather, they are to see them as societal symbols personified. Meanwhile, the actions of the play are less like a plot and more like a long and winding allegory.

Scene from Bertolt Brech's "In The Jungle of Cities" - Ka-Tet TheatrePersonally, I’m not a fan of plays that require an audience to have a familiarity with the author’s aesthetic and body of work in order to derive enjoyment. It just feels so pretentious. But for those that are either already Brecht fans or don’t mind doing some research beforehand, you’ll definitely be pleased with Ka-Tet’s efforts in bringing the bizarrely absurdist piece to life.

The play takes place in Chicago. Two men are engaged in a bitter fight. One is a book clerk named George Garga (James Errico). The other is a wealthy Chinese lumber merchant named Schlink (Jeremy Clark). Going into the specifics of the plot for a play like this is worthless as there really isn’t much of a story but rather a seemingly stream of consciousness series of actions. True, there are bursts of coherent scenes here and there, such as Schlink handing over his lumberyard to Garga. But overall it’s a frantic, and sometimes frustrating, piece of work.

Although the uninitiated will likely leave the theater scratching their heads, even those unfamiliar with Brecht’s body of work will appreciate Clark’s spellbinding portrayal of Schlink. With an intense gaze and a commanding presence, Clark’s performance is gripping. It doesn’t hurt that he can cry on cue, too.

The supporting cast is also quite talented, including Rory Jobst as The Barker, a narrator-like figure who opens each scene with a strange and detached sort of rant before suddenly, as if possessed by a spirit, spouts out the scene’s time, date and location.

Scene from Bertolt Brech's "In The Jungle of Cities" - Ka-Tet Theatre

Despite its sheer weight and weirdness, the play is surprisingly funny. Perhaps this is in part because it is a translation of the original, so the language is comical. But I’d like to think that this was Brecht’s intention, to highlight the absurdity of our greedy capitalist culture through absurd humor.

Max Truax directs, using the Red Tape Theatre’s open space to his full advantage. The expansive and bare-boned set has the feel of a desolate city, thanks in part also to the use of a fog machine. During the play’s most charged moments, Truax positions the actors to play extremely far downstage, making the emotional intensity of the scene’s that much more effective.

In the Jungle of Cities will certainly not be everyone’s cup of tea. In fact, I can’t imagine many having the palette for it. But despite the lunacy of it all, the production succeeds thanks to some strong performances and adept direction.

Rating: ★★★

In the Jungle of Cities - Ka-Tet Theatre - poster


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REVIEW: Defamation (Canamac Productions)


Strong intentions elevate predictable stereotypes



left to right are Rob Riley, AEA (as Judge Barnes), Bernie Beck, AEA (as defendant Arthur Golden), Shariba Rivers (as the defendant’s lawyer Ms. Allen), Steven Pringle (as the plaintiff’s lawyer Mr. Lawton), and Jacquie Coleman (as plaintiff Regina Wade), in Todd Logan’s “Defamation,” a Canamac Productions world premiere courtroom drama in a limited run at three Evanston, Illinois, houses of worship, directed by Richard Shavzin.  In the scene pictured defendant Golden is on the witness stand being questioned by his attorney, Ms. Allen.

Who steals my purse steals trash; ‘tis something, nothing;
Twas mine, ‘tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.

            –Iago, Othello Act 3, scene 3, 155-161


Canamac Productions presents
Written by Todd Logan
Directed by
Richard Shavzin
various church locations, Evanston
through November 7  | 
tickets: $20  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Todd Logan designed his world premiere play, Defamation, to be staged at various church locations in Evanston–the better to provoke conversation about where we are about race and class today. Richard Shavzin directs this courtroom drama in which the Chicago area forms the template for all relations between its characters.

Regina Wade (Jacquie Coleman) is a tough African-American businesswoman, raised in Lawndale, preferring to reside in Bronzeville, who sues prominent realtor Arthur Golden (Bernard Beck), a wealthy resident of Winnetka, for the downfall of her business, due to his public accusations that she had stolen his heirloom watch. Both parties, through their lawyers, never deviate from their cross-accusations of each other. The audience must vote after closing arguments on who has made their case.

left to right are Shariba Rivers (as the defendant’s lawyer Ms. Allen), and plaintiff Jacquie Coleman (as plaintiff Regina Wade), in Todd Logan’s “Defamation,” a Canamac Productions world premiere courtroom drama in a limited run at three Evanston, Illinois, houses of worship, directed by Richard Shavzin. But does the audience vote on the case or on the racial dynamic put so clearly before them? It’s difficult to say, since Logan’s text gives them plenty of room for doubt. Ms. Wade might have lost her business because Golden slandered her among mutual clients. Or she might have lost her business due to another fiercely competitive company that undersold her products and services. Golden may have lost or misplaced his watch or it perhaps it has been stolen by someone else, but his unfamiliarity with a black woman in his own environment may have led him to think of her as the primary suspect. Logan allows ambiguity to rule. Instead of being a courtroom drama that unravels mystery and establishes the truth, the audience is left with their own conjectures over who did what and why.

As a source for discussion, the play is solid and enjoyable. It’s cast is strong, the acting personable, the direction simple and to the point. If all who show up are just the post-Obama crowd, who think that African Americans now have nothing left to complain about, then Defamation makes for good social tonic.

However, as drama, Defamation relies excessively on stereotype. Complete with a crotchety old judge, showboating lawyers, and a rich realtor more Jewish than Jesus, Defamation’s characters emerge direct from central casting. The production hangs on just as fiercely to that relatively new American stereotype, the Strong Black Woman.

left to right are Jacquie Coleman (as plaintiff Regina Wade), giving direct testimony to Steven Pringle (as the plaintiff’s lawyer Mr. Lawton), in Todd Logan’s “Defamation,” a Canamac Productions world premiere courtroom drama in a limited run at three Evanston, Illinois, houses of worship, directed by Richard Shavzin. In fact, one could re-name this play “The Battle of the Strong Black Women,” since the racial game played in the court pits Golden’s lawyer Ms. Allen (Shariba Rivers) and lawyer-witness Lorraine Jordan (Demetria Thomas) against Ms. Wades’ claims to innocence. Not that I don’t enjoy watching strong black women duke it out with each other, and these three actresses definitely give good dramatic conflict, but theirs is a battle that gives more heat than light.

Furthermore, it’s a game in which no one is fooled. Everyone knows Mr. Golden has hired a black woman as his lawyer to defeat any allegation of racism or sexism. Everyone knows Ms. Wade’s white lawyer, Mr. Lawton (Steven Pringle), has probably been hired for a similar reason. Racism has become all too predictable in American culture; likewise, defenses against racism emerge predictably. Sadly, that level of stale predictability dooms Defamation to being an interesting exercise, but not something that awakens and enlightens its audience—either to a more nuanced racial dynamic today or to a way out of our present racial malaise.

Rating: ★★½   

Extra Credit: