REVIEW: The War Plays (Strangetree Group)

  
   

Time travel can be fun!

 

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The Strangetree Group presents
   
The War Plays
   
Written by Emily Schwartz
Directed by Kate Nawrocki
Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport (map)
Through Nov. 20  |  
Tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Go back in time to World War II with Emily Schwartz’s quirky The War Plays, three connected one-acts about love during wartime given an especially charming bridge in The Strangetree Group’s world premiere production.

The War Plays - Strangetree Gourp 002Do get to the theater early — about 20 minutes before the announced curtain time, the cast commences a musical pre-show designed to start your travels back to the 1940s, and it’s well worth your time. Musical Director Jennifer Marschand plays the lead singer in the five-piece Allied Orchestra, performing period numbers such as "G.I. Jive" and "In the Mood" with Scott Cupper, Noah Ginex, Karen Shimmin and Thomas Zeitner. They play throughout the show, providing the segues between each piece. Like many groups that played during the war, they make up in enthusiasm for what they lack in musical talents.

Announcements, costumes and more really convey the flavor of the time. In a wonderful touch as we walked in, I saw one actress drawing a fake stocking seam up the leg of another one.

Once into the theater proper, we get more music (a nice rendition of "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen," among others, and then the first act, my favorite of the three. In this charmer, Delia Baseman and Marty Scanlon play a pair of teenagers who meet in the London Underground during an air raid. She’s an American, looking after her young brother (Michael Mercier), and hates everything about England and every minute of the war; he’s a cheeky young local who finds the Blitz exciting and romantic. You can practically see the sparks fly as they connect.

Next, Patrick Cannon plays a dull-witted and gawky soldier out at a dance hall with a young woman whose company he’s paid for. It’s not entirely clear what’s going on between them — she’s apparently neither a dime-a-dance girl nor a prostitute, but something in between. Cannon is all ungainly awkwardness while Jenifer Henry ranges from petulant disdain to slow tenderness in a sequence that provides a fine contrast to the first act.

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In the longest and least successful of the three plays, Bob Kruse plays a stiffly unhappy soldier invalided home and unable to get rid of an intrusive visiting relative (a debonair Weston Davis) who, to his embarrassment, brings him face-to-face with the lover he’s abandoned (a grim Elizabeth Bagby). While it features the most overt comedy of the trio, this act has the least heart.

Including the pre-show, the whole thing runs about an hour and 15 minutes. The War Plays is a short trip back in time, but a fun one.

  
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

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Photographer: Tyler Core

   
   

Production Cast

Elizabeth Bagby, Delia Baseman, Patrick Cannon, Scott Cupper, Weston Davis, Noah Ginex, Jenifer Henry, Bob Kruse, Jennifer Marschand, Michael Mercier, Marty Scanlon, Karen Shimmin, Thomas Zeitner

   
   

REVIEW: Traces (Broadway in Chicago)

   

Extended through January 1st!!

  
  

I heart ‘Traces’!

 

 

Cast of Traces

   
Broadway in Chicago presents
  
Traces
   
Directed/Choreographed by
Shana Carroll and Gypsy Snider
at
Broadway Playhouse, Water Tower Place (map)
through Dec 19 Jan 1  | tickets: $50-$72  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

A teeter-totter is harmless, right? Sure, until two men plummet from 20+ feet above to land on the teeter to send another guy tottering to the ceiling. Then, a teeter-totter officially becomes a death threat. Broadway in Chicago presents the Chicago premiere of Traces. The Montreal-based performance troupe kicks off its North American Tour at the newly renovated Broadway Playhouse. Six guys and a gal open the show with a strobe-lit pulsating number of flips and tumbles. With exhilarating music and shadow silhouettes, people are flying through the air without wires or nets.

Chairs - Florian ZumkehrClad in similar suits, the ensemble sheds their attire in a let’s-get-down-to-business energy. Traces stomps the mundane with Fuerza Bruta jams (our review ★★★) and Hephaestus stunts (review ★★★½) to Rent stories. The result is a heart-pounding, heart-tugging, heart-attacking spectacle. I heart Traces!

It’s the combinations that make Traces a unique stand-out on the cirque. At the heart of it, the combo of performers is surprising. One girl? Valerie Benoit-Charbonneau is one of the guys until she isn’t. In a flirtatious number with Mason Ames, Benoit-Charbonneau uses athletic ballet moves to simulate a smoldering encounter. Ames hurls and catches her… over his head, her feet on his palms. Playing out a very physical disagreement, this tryst is an exercise in trust. At 6’2 and 228 pounds, it’s not shocking that Ames anchors aerobatics. The astonishment is when he shoots through a small circle or dangles from a pole. Ames is one limber lumberjack. Philippe Normand-Jenny is the other big guy amazingly tottering with heights, his own and the stage’s. Florian Zumkehr balances on his head but the impressive part is it’s on the tippy-top of the back of a chair on the peak of a mountain of chairs. Crazy-breath holding moments. Zumkehr also scales two poles with monkey-like agility. The entire troupe hit the poles for a gravity-denying seduction. It’s some of the hottest pole dancing ever imagined! The mixture of props adds to the intriguing concoction. In a life-size hoola hoop, Bradley Henderson spins his own whimsy with controlled balance. Matthieu Cloutier dons roller skates swirling around stage and over playmates effortlessly. In the finale, all seven flip, jump and twist through stackable circles. Just when it seems the pile shouldn’t get any higher, 7 Fingers heaps on three more rounds to continue the captivating escalation. Each time, Xia Zhengqi magically bulls-eyes the target. Zhengqi is a supernatural phenomenon.

 

Chinese Poles - Bradley Henderson Chinese Hoops - Bradley Henderson Hand to Hand - Mason and Valerie

Besides the freaky-talented ensemble combo, Traces provides a personal approach to the circus theatrics. Biographical information is shared by individual performers. Not just driver’s license info but three words to use to self describe. An intimate bond develops. Knowing Mason self identifies as ‘clumsy’ makes me worry about his scaffold plunging. Multi-media is also used for a distinctive element. Various projected camera angles showcase action from different perspectives. Overhead filming provides a kaleidoscope effect to the visual. The stage looks like a rehearsal room. The illusion makes the drawing, dribbling, reading, keyboarding, and strumming seem like organic breaks in the action. To some, the transition might seem clunky. For me, these shifts allowed the performers and myself to get our heartbeats back to a normal rhythm

      
     
Rating: ★★★★
   
    

Traces runs Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Sundays at 7:30pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, and Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays at 2pm.  Traces runs thru December 19th.

Running Time: Ninety minutes with no intermission

        
        

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