REVIEW: Lakefront Property (Bruised Orange Theater)

      
     

Apocalypse of the Heart

 

 

   
Bruised Orange Theater presents
   
Lakefront Property
   
Written by Clint Sheffer
Directed by Mark Spence
at
Acme Art Works, 2215 W. North (map)
through Dec 18  |  tickets: $18   |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

I have lived near Lake Michigan for all of my adult life, and when I moved here I noticed that the people were different. Was it the water’s tidal pull or did an inordinate amount of strange folks gravitate here? That question re-emerged as I watched Bruised Orange Theater’s fascinating production Lakefront Property.

Lakefront Property - Trish and Pokey Lakefront Property tells the story of two isolated and lonely souls who live in a fantasy world – literally. Jeff Harris plays the self conscious Pokey who constantly puts himself down as fat and unattractive. He has an imaginary girlfriend named Trisha who is played with brilliant insanity by Ann Sonneville. Trisha is what could be called the postmodern girlfriend experience. She is demanding, impulsive, sexually driven and, did I mention, a figment of Pokey’s imagination?

Jeff Harris gives a razor sharp performance of Pokey. He is that guy that you see on the bus painfully shy about everything from his coat to his hairline. He may be talking to himself or is he? Part of Director Mark Spence’s notes relay a line form his favorite band Record Low. ‘What if I’m wrong?’ The theme of this play is just that. What if we the observers are wrong about the pull of the invisible partner or the tides of Lake Michigan?

Delving deeper into the parallel lives theory is the character of Kyla, played by Stephanie Polt. Kyla is a coke-addled waitress who is living on the edge of reality. Ms. Polt is achingly real in her portrayal of not wanting to give a damn anymore while her heart longs for the right man. That man turns out to be a ghost named Harold, played with equal parts folksy charm and sinister menace by David Bettino. Harold is from the mid to late 1800’s and comes on to Kyla with the charm of inviting her to an ice cream social. Whatever you believe about ghosts, it is said that there are benevolent and malevolent spirits. Harold comes to take Kyla to the other side. He is attuned to her cocaine habit and dangerous lifestyle and thus sees her as ready to accompany him to a parallel universe where he has literally witnessed train wrecks in the early days of rail travel. She is another wreck that he witnesses.

Lakefront Property is written by Clint Scheffer, and this is a revival of a Bruised Orange’s early days. That first production took place in an abandoned storefront without a city sanctioned amusement license!

BOTC has come a long way from those days, and have made brilliant use of the Acme Art Works space in Wicker Park/Bucktown. The play is staged in an old protestant church sanctuary that adds a ghostly allure. The stage is set under a mural of Jesus ascending much to the awe and ecstasy of the disciples. Director Mark Spence has the characters flowing in and out of this abandoned altar space as sacrifices to the search for love and companionship from all levels of consciousness. It is a powerful and moving play in these times of personal ads and Internet dating. When Pokey and Kyla find each other after fleeing their imaginary/ghostly lovers I actually breathed a temporary sigh of relief. I say temporary because Trish and Harold remain on the perimeter of the stage glowering just as they remain in the character’s minds.

 

Lakefron Property - Pokey and Kyla on Lakefront - Bruised Orange Lakefront Property cast - Bruised Orange Theater

Trish becomes a boiling obsession in Pokey’s mind. He yearns to be wanted by both women – one for real and the other an imaginary backup who will love without fail. Harold becomes malevolent and terrifying to watch.

So – what if they are wrong? What if we are all wrong about the search for love and relationship? As Mr. Spence noted, this question turns to a defiant statement after going through the hell of life imagined or hallucinated. Either way you could die trying. This is what I consider Chicago theatre at it’s best. It’s raw, unadorned, and yet skilled and polished.

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

lakefront property - landscape poster

Lakefront Property runs Thursday through Saturday until November 20th and then December 2nd through the 18th on the same days. Show time is 8:00pm. Get there a little early to check out the exhibit in the space as well as to sit in the theatre space itself. Let the ambiance of the old sanctuary get inside your head a bit. You might feel a bit of that parallel universe tugging at you. Acme Art Works is located at 2215 North Avenue in Chicago. Go to www.bruisedorange.org for more information.

     
     

REVIEW: The Story of My Life (Chicago Muse)

  
  

Strong performances buried under clichéd story

 the story of my life - poster

   
Chicago Muse presents
   
The Story of My Life
   
Music/Lyrics by Neil Bartram
Book by
Brian Hill
Directed by
Richard Maltby, Jr.
Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln (map)
through January 2  |  tickets: $46-$56  |  more info 

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

The inaugural production of new company Chicago Muse, The Story of My Life was voted the best new musical of twelve read by a committee of theater patrons and professionals. Walking out of the Biograph Theater, I couldn’t help but wonder what those other shows were, that they couldn’t beat Bartram and Hill’s uninspired musical. Chronicling the friendship between recently deceased Alvin (Davis Duffield) and his estranged best friend Thomas (Jack Noseworthy), The Story of My Life tries to fit as many clichés as possible in its 90 minute running time.

 

davis-duffield

jack-noseworthy

Thomas, a renowned novelist, struggles to write Alvin’s eulogy, and as he recalls the history of their relationship he learns to appreciate the role Alvin played in his creative success. The characters share an affinity for Frank Capra’s “It’s A Wonderful Life” and Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”, and the show’s book is heavily influenced by both iconic American creators. Alvin and Clarence are Clarence and George, watching the events of the past, or Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, secretly spying on funerals. What they’re not is captivating characters, and their relationship is as unbelievable as it is unoriginal.

Once the pair grows into adolescence it becomes difficult to believe that the charming, collected Thomas would maintain a friendship with the socially awkward Alvin, who still dresses as the ghost of his dead mother for Halloween (yes…still). As adults, the two men sing songs about butterflies and snow angels to recall the times they shared as children, but the result is so cheesy that it’s hard to take seriously.

The conflict of the latter half is basically the two falling out of touch because Thomas avoids Alvin, which doesn’t translate to very compelling theater yet takes up a large chunk of time. By the time Thomas finally realizes Alvin was his inspiration all along, which the audience knew five minutes into the show, the production has already lost most of its momentum, despite the efforts of its talented stars.

Both the story and music of The Story of My Life owe much to Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along and Sunday in the Park with George. Merrily’s theme of friends and their influence on an individual’s creative growth is combined with Sunday’s meditations on the limits artists place on themselves, and both shows’ musical themes are reflected in Bartram’s score. The general lack of originality drags down the show, even though.Duffield and Noseworthy are capable performers, with Noseworthy hitting some particularly difficult notes with fantastic clarity and power. They try their hardest to make their characters realistic, but the source material’s flaws overcome their respective efforts. While the two actors never miss a beat, the beats are so derivative that, unfortunately, their talent is wasted.

   
   
Rating: ★★
   
   

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