REVIEW: Stalk (La Costa Theatre)


Grim fairy tale never lightens up


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La Costa Theatre presents
By Stephen Gawrit
Directed by James Wagoner
La Costa Theatre, 3931 N. Elston, et al. (map)
Through Nov. 28  | 
Tickets: $15–25  |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Uncomfortable topics have been the subject of many musicals, but rarely one so agonizing as Stalk, a world premiere by Stephen Gawrit currently at La Costa Theatre. This very dark story uses the fairy tale of "Jack and the Beanstalk" as a metaphor for child abuse.

That Stalk isn’t an ordinary musical becomes apparent right from the beginning … more than 10 minutes go past before we get to the first song. Instead, we hear young Jack’s parents engaged in a bitter off-stage argument, full of invective and foul language, and watch him sneak away with his grandmother to a strange circus where an odd, Bradburyesque barker tells the familiar story of the boy who traded the family cow for a handful of magic beans.

Stalk the Musical - La Coste Theatre 023Cleverly conceived in many ways, the show features larger-than life puppets and masks conveying the fairy-tale characters. Gawrit employs interesting characterizations and intriguing uses of fantasy to emphasize his point.

But it never, ever lightens up. Stalk is a downer from start to finish. We watch Jack grow up in fear and pain with his brutal father and drug-addled mother, two bitterly disappointed souls forced to give up their youthful goals to be a musician and actress to return to their hometown, where he works in an abattoir and she waits tables. We witness a vicious beating and worse. Poor Jack’s only solace is his fey and ineffectual grandmother, and she dies in a pretty ugly way in front of him.

Hamlet has more bright notes than this show. There’s almost no comic relief. Other musicals, The Who’s Tommy, for instance, manage to deal with such very serious themes in far more entertaining and less depressing ways.

The pop/soft-rock tunes of Gawlit’s often dirgelike score underscore the grim mood. The music’s pleasant and well-performed, but after a while it all sounds the same. There’s not an upbeat song in the bunch.

Even "I Shine for You," a love song that Lily and Gregory, Jack’s parents sing to each other, has dark edges. "Edge of My Horizon," a song the then-teenaged Jack and his friend, Greta, sing at the start of the second act is lighter and more charming than most, but it isn’t enough to provide a lift. The score needs a few sparklers.


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The cast sings and acts well. Helene Alter-Dyche puts in a beguiling, if not always comprehensible performance as the grandmother. Scott Danielson terrifies as Gregory, the gruesome father/giant, and Meghan Phillipp seems suitably vacant as Jack’s mother, who metamorphoses into an ugly witch. Jacob Carlson creates a barker full of sinister mystery, really a highlight of the show.

Melissa Imbrogno portrays Greta, a friend of Jack’s who isn’t very well explained, but may live in a similarly abusive household. Jordan Phelps imbues Jack with terror and confusion.

The brightest spots in the whole show, though, are Lauren Michele Lowell’s fanciful costumes, particularly those of Jack and Greta in the second act.

Only sadists enjoy watching this much relentless pain. As important as the musical’s message is, Gawlit and company need to remember that they’re creating entertainment, and take this back to the drawing board to add happiness and hope, not to mention some stand-out songs.

Rating: ★★

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Cast/Crew/Designer Biographies:

  • Stephanie Wilson (Stage Manager)

    Stephanie is excited to be stage managing at La Costa for the world premier of Stalk.  Other recent stage management credits include Ghosts at Bohemian Theatre Ensemble, and [title of show], Rhinoceros, Into the Woods, Yerma, and Dance Concert at Illinois State University where she recently received her B.A. in Theatre Design and Production. Stephanie has also spent three seasons at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival working as Assistant Production Manager, Assistant Stage Manager, and Prop Artisan.

  • Rachel Griesinger (puppeteer)

    Rachel considers herself a Chicago native, but is a fresh eager face to the theatre scene.  She recently graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in the performing arts.  She was last scene in Talk Radio as several of the callers with The State Theatre.  Rachel is thrilled to be making her debut as a puppeteer with this great cast and musical.  There is nothing more exciting to her than using her theatre skills in new forms.  She believes that theatre can breakdown walls between people and cultures. It has the power to be the great equalizer between all walks of life.  Unmeasurable gratitude for her parents, little bro, and Trev’s endless support.

  • Helene Alter-Dyche (Grandma/Fairy Godmother)

    Helene is thrilled to be part of this first production of STALK. She is a singer, actor, dancer, cabaret performer and award-winning songwriter/lyricisit. She has sung leading operatic roles in Europe and Israel, including title roles of CARMEN and MADAME BUTTERFLY.

    As an actor, Helene has appeared in theatre, musicals, and film. She was featured at Bailiwick Theatre in THE OLDEST PROFESSION, where she aslo presented her orginal one woman cabaret show, DRAMA DIVA. Other cabaret shows include CABARET TANGO, CABARET INTERNATIONALE and CABARET OLE. With Bohemian Theatre (Bo-Ho) she was seen in the musical drama BERNARDA ALBA. Her most recent appearance was this September in FINDING ELEUSIS as Hecate, with TERRA MYSTERIUM THEATRE, part of Chicago’s first Fringe Festival.

    Helene has appeared in several feature films, most recently, SLICES OF LIFE, directed by Anthony G. Sumner, which saw its premiere at Portage Theater this October.

    As a dancer, Helene has been a company member of Lin Shook’s PERCEPTUAL MOTION DANCE COMPANY for eight years, appearing in hundreds of dance performances throughout the Chicago-land area.

    Helene is a songwriter/lyricist, having 130 copyrighted to her credit. She wrote the songs to Experimental Theatre’s DESDEMONA and Cornservatory’s BODILY FUNCTIONS: THE MUSICAL.

    Helene is honored to be listed in Marquis’ WHO’S WHO OF AMERICAN WOMEN.

  • Scott Danielson (Gregory)

    Stalk marks Scott’s first production with La Costa, and he’s very proud to be a part of it.  Scott is a graduate of Illinois State University, and has been performing throughout the city and suburbs for the last five years.

    Scott’s recent work includes How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found (Mary Arrchie), Aladdin (Marriott Theatre), The Bowery Boys (Marriott Theatre), and Women of Manhattan (Playing Space Theatre).  You may also listen to Scott during his weekly podcast with Chicago Improv group Octavarius. For more information, visit

    Scott would like to thank his parents for their never ending support, and his wife Susan for all her love.  Thank you for believing in me, Beautiful.  Love to Sookie and Shakespeare.

  • Nicole Legette (butoh & movement choreographer)

    Nicole LeGette, a maverick of Chicago’s dance and performance art scene, is the only regional artist dedicated to performing, producing, and teaching butoh; a provocative, rigorous, expressive form of dance-theater that originated in 1959 Japan. blushing poppy productions encompasses these endeavors. Since 2000, Nicole has trained with master butoh artists in Japan, Mexico, Canada, and across the US; and has produced several of these artists in Chicago-based events. Nicole was selected as Chicago Dancemakers Forum lab artist (2007-2008) and has received numerous grants from the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs (2002-2010) and Chicago Seminar on Dance and Performance (2007). Primarily a solo performer, Ms. LeGette’s dance has been presented throughout the US. In addition to performing, Nicole organizes workshops and curates events that bring regional, national, and international butoh artists to Chicago. Nicole has been independently teaching butoh classes, workshops, and performance ensembles since 2004. The University of Chicago, The School Of The Art Institute Of Chicago, Columbia College Chicago, and Illinois State University (among others) have featured Ms. LeGette’s artistry and teaching. Nicole was an active member (2000-2008) of The Spareroom, Chicago’s only time-arts based artist collective. In addition to butoh-based performance work, Nicole is an accomplished amateur cellist and seasoned yoga instructor.

  • Jordan Phelps (Jack)

    Jordan is thrilled to make his La Costa debut as Jack and is eager to work with such a wonderful team of artists on this project. Previous Chicago credits include work with MODOFAC production’s new musical “You Took Away My Flag” at the former Theatre Building Chicago, and Emerald City Children’s Theater production of Peter Pan. He also attended a year at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University majoring in Musical Theater. Native to northwest Washington state, Jordan performed in several seasons with Western Washington University’s Performing Arts Center, the Bellingham Theater Guild and was nominated nationally in USA Today’s Top High School Musicals of 2008 for his role as Valjean in Les Miserables. He was also featured in the premier of a dark new work called “2022″ while studying abroad in Toulon, France in 2006. Vocally, Jordan has competed in multiple State Solo and Ensemble competitions and was appointed as one of three soloists for the All Northwest 6-State Choir Convention in Portland, Oregon. He would like to send love to his family and friends for their immense support and understanding.

  • James Wagoner (Director)

    Stalk is James Wagoner’s first collaboration with Stephen Gawrit and LaCosta Theatre Company. His recent directing credits include Rhinoceros, MuchAdo About Nothing, and This is How it Goes. He assisted at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival with The Three Musketeers, adapted by Lifeline Theatre’s Robert Kauzlaric. James is originally from Atlanta Georgia where he hasdirected such plays as Othello, Sweeney Todd, A Raisin in the Sun and The Pirates of Penzance. He is also a composer and sound designer, who enjoys creating original works. Mr. Wagoner attended the MFA Directing program at Illinois State University and studied acting at Carnegie Mellon University and Webster Conservatory. He has a degree in playwrighting from Georgia State. He is in the process of moving to Chicago with his wonderful wife Erica and their dog Jack.

  • Michelle Jacobson (Production Assistant/Puppeteer)

    Michelle is excited to be working with La Costa Theatre Company for the first time.  She recently graduated from Illinois State University with a B.A. in Acting and Theatre Design/Production.  Recent acting credits include Much Ado About Nothing; Play It Again, Sam; The Diary of Adam and Eve; and The Philadelphia Story.  Michelle just moved to Chicago from the suburb of Western Springs.

  • Alex Potanos (head puppeteer/fight captain)

    Alex is very excited to be working with such as lovely group of people, on a show he has such confidence in. A graduate from Illinois State University, Alex ‘s professional credits include Charley’s Sonata with On The Spot Productions, Troilus and Cressida with Taffety Punk, and most recently Twelfth Night at First Folio. Alex would like to thank his Parents, Sisters, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, Friends, and Cady Leinicke for all the support he has received over the years.

  • Meghan Phillipp (Lily/The Witch)

    Meghan Phillipp is a Chicagoland native hailing from the southwest suburb of Burr Ridge.  She received her Bachelor of Arts in Music for Voice and minor in Theatre Arts from Lawrence University.  Performance credits include a variety of music, theater, sketch and improv projects at various theaters, music venues and festivals through out the city of Chicago. Many thanks to her family and friends for their support in her ambitions to become a barista and beyond.  Special thanks to Stephen for this opportunity.

  • Steven Hill (Technical Director)

    Steven has been doing theatre for many years and has worked on shows ranging from high school and college productions to community theatre and professional companies.  He has worked professionally with The Body Politic, Idle Muse, Gemini Productions, Endangered Species, Remy Bummpo, First Folio Theatre, and Il Penseroso Productions.  In addition to his Design and Technical credits, he is formerly a certified Actor-Combatant in the Society of American Fight Directors. Steven has directed “Echoes” and a children’s show for Gemini Productions of which he was also the Artistic Director. Steven has attended such prestigious schools as Millikin University, Columbia College and College of DuPage. Some of Steven’s favorite productions that he has worked on are “What the Weird Sisters Saw”, “Echoes”, “Standing on my Knees”, “The Fox”, “Whistle in the Dark” and “The Seagull”.

  • Jacob Carlson (The Barker/ Fight Choreographer)

    This is Jacob’s first production here at La Costa Theatre where he is a company member and resident fight choreographer. After getting a degree to do this kind of stuff from Columbia College, he spent the summer of ’09 at the Barn Theatre. When he got back, Jacob got a gig on the interwebs voicing Jack Skellington in the collegehumor parody of “What’s This?” Since then, he’s been selling discount electronics and dancing on Lake Michigan non-stop. Special thanks and hollas go out to Da Family, his family, Stephen Gawrit (for being born) and last but not least his LOML. Oh, and if you haven’t already, start climbing.

  • Lauren Michele Lowell (Costume Designer)

    Lauren Michele Lowellis a member of the Design faculty in the Illinois State University School of Theatre. Head of Costume Design, Lauren leads programs in the field at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Recent design credits include WAR (Seanachai Theatre Company, Chicago); EVERY CHRISTMAS STORY EVER TOLD and UNDERNEATH THE LINTEL (Noble Fool Theatricals, Chicago); THE BED (Victory Gardens Greenhouse Theater, Chicago); A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, JULIUS CAESAR, TWELFTH NIGHT and AS YOU LIKE IT (Illinois Shakespeare Festival); SHAME THE DEVIL! AN AUDIENCE WITH FANNY KEMBLE (Fanny Kemble Tours); BEFORE THE FIRE (University of Georgia, Shorter College, and the New York Fringe Festival); LES LIAISON DANGEREUSES, INTO THE WOODS, THE ROVER, The Who’s TOMMY, RING ROUND THE MOON, THE CRUCIBLE, AMADEUS, and THE CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE (Illinois State University);  MEASURE FOR MEASURE and THE LIVING NEWSPAPER: 1935 (University of Georgia). Lauren also created costumes for the Travel Channel’s “Haunted Campuses” episode of Weird Travels and the independent films PAPERTHIN IMMORTALS and NIGHTTIME CATTAILS SWANS from Wayside Entertainment. Lauren spent 5 years at The Highlands Playhouse in the mountains of North Carolina where she served in various capacities including 3 years as the Costume Shop Manager and Resident Designer. Recipient of the 2008 ISU College of Fine Arts Outstanding Teacher Award, Lauren also received the W. Joseph Stell Design Expo Award in 2001, and the USITT-SE Design Award in 2000. She remains an active member of the United States Institute of Theatre Technology.  Lauren Lowell has had two articles and a book review published in Costume Research Journal, and an article published in Sightlines. She has also presented papers at the 5th Annual International Hawaiian Conference on the Arts & Humanities in Waikiki and the New Dialogues in Costume Conference at The Wallace Collection in London.

  • Mike Oleon (Puppet Designer)

    Mike is a Chicago based actor, puppeteer, and freelance web designer. He graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles with a Bachelor’s in Musical Theater and moved to the City of Broad Shoulders to pursue a more immersive career in theater than the West Coast could provide. Since moving here in 2008, Mike has performed regularly with Blair Thomas and Co., Redmoon Theater and many others. Some favorite puppetry gigs include the shadow puppet version of Swan Lake at Chicago Symphony Orchestra, The Cabinet, and the world premier of The Houdini Box. Mike is curating the Puppy Tears Festival of Puppetry to be held in September at Oracle theater and is creating the puppets for the all-new IchthyOddyssey: a Fish Puppet Rock Opera. He also tours the Midwest with his puppet show, Gong Lab: Suite for Dreamers. Mike co-founded the performance space, the Rough House in Logan Square and works as the Technical/Design Director at the not-for-profit High Concept Laboratories. His work can be seen at

  • Sarah E. Mikrut (Lighting Designer)

    Originally from Rockford, MI, Sarah received her Bachelor’s degree from Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, IN. She received her Master of Fine Arts in Lighting Design from Florida State University. She has designed and assisted on many productions. Her favorite designs include HAMLET, YERMA, and THE GIVER.

  • Steven House (Scenic Designer)

    Steven House is a Third Year MFA Canidate in Scene Design at Illinois State University and has a BFA in Technical Theatre and Design from the University of Montevallo. Other scenic designs include: Equus, Our Countries Good, Playboy of the Western World and Candide at ISU, COMPANY and Capitol Steps Caper at UM, and The Trip to Bountiful at Heartland Theatre. Steven has also scenic painted for the Santa Fe Opera, The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey and Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre.

  • Melissa Imbrogno (Greta)

    Melissa is thrilled to be making her debut with LaCosta Theatre Company! A graduate of Illinois State University (2009), Melissa received her B.A in Acting through the School of Theatre. Recent credits include, The Armageddon Dance Party (Janis), Existence (Laura), Twelfth Night (Olivia), This Is How It Goes (Woman), and A Perfect Wedding (Tessa), for which she received an Irene Ryan Nomination for. Melissa would like to thank her big Italian family, Conor Burke, Stephen Gawrit, James Wagoner, friends, fellow theatre artists, and especially her mom and dad for the constant love and support for without that, she would definitely not be where she is today! No siree.

  • Stephen Gawrit (Playwright/Composer)

    Stephen, a native Chicagoan, is extremely excited to make his playwriting debut with La Costa Theatre Company, where he serves as Resident Playwright/Composer. He’s a graduate from both the Chicago Academy for the Arts (Theatre) and Illinois State University (B.A. Acting). Stephen has also trained with Profiles Theatre and the National Institute for Dramatic Arts Australia (NIDA). Recently Stephen has been seen, as an actor, in such productions as: PRETTY PENNY (Right Brain Project), CHARLEY’S SONATA (On the Spot), GARDEN OF THE THREE (Gorilla Tango), COMEDY OF ERRORS (Chase Park Theatre), and TROILUS AND CRESSIDA (Tafety Punk Theatre). Special thanks to his family, friends, teachers, and Amanda for their constant support.

  • Biographies courtesy of La Costa Theatre webpage.


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