REVIEW: Redeemers (New Leaf Theatre)

  
  

Struggling to save the corporate soul

  
  

Pat King, Joel Ewing and Marsha Harman -  Photo by Tom McGrath

   
New Leaf Theatre presents
   
Redeemers
  
Written by Bilal Dardai
Directed by
Jessica Hutchinson
at
Rocco Ranalli’s Pizzeria, 1925 N. Lincoln (map)
through Dec 19  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

A distinctly Eighties vibe pervades New Leaf Theatre’s production, Redeemers — and it’s not just that Pat King, who plays Nick, resembles a young James Spader both in looks and acting style. Directed by Jessica Hutchinson and set in the warm, casual and seasonally festooned environs of Rocco Ranallli’s back dining room, Redeemers revisits class warfare in the same way Eighties Brat Pack films explored them—as if Redeemers_NL_6photo by Tom McGrathsome black and white lesson in morality could be drawn from the conflict.

Nick, Mercy (Marsha Harman) and Abel (Joel Ewing) all work for Charles Edwin of Edwin Financial, then meet at their favorite watering hole each evening to rehash their existence under Mr. Edwin’s rule. Playwright Bilal Dardai gives these characters a sharp, witty and convincingly incestuous rapport while King, Harman and Ewing mark their territory at Ranalli’s with their tight, responsive and slightly sinister threesome. One never questions that they have known each other for years and can map each other’s moods by the stalling tactics they engage in or from the drinks they order. Over time, one silently asks what draws these three together besides shared history or a mutual workplace.

But never mind about that now. Charles Edwin dominates all their thoughts. His role in their lives infects even happy hour, when they might truly desire a break from the boss. Fine enough that they should grouse about Mr. Edwin when he was a tyrant, but a sudden change of heart—literally a double-bypass surgery—transforms him into the noble, fair and generous employer of Charles Dicken’s dreams. All of which strikes the threesome with incredulity and is simply too much for Nick, for one, to take. He masterminds with Mercy and Abel a series of relentless pranks meant to test Mr. Edwin just to see how far his personal reformation endures.

Sadly, the play suffers from the very thing it is founded upon—storytelling style theater. The most significant events have already occurred and must be related to the audience through the obviously suspect threesome. The cast is smart, charming and play their roles to second-skin perfection but the storytelling style inevitably dampens emotional immediacy. Redeemers_NL_5photo by Tom McGrathEven Nick’s obsession with Mr. Edwin loses tension because he must always be spoken of in the past tense. Even the jokes scripted to make fun of the style cannot relieve its subtly annoying impact. The only segment that doesn’t suffer is Abel’s tragic childhood account regarding his father.

New Leaf has engaged Dardai’s script with thoroughly professional talent to make it present; its crackling dialogue alone indicates the emergence of a promising new playwright that should be watched. However Redeemer’s wrap-up is as paper thin, implausible and morally simplistic as the Eighties films mentioned above. Tyrant or reformed saint, one has the boss one has and acquiesces to that arrangement as part of the cost of accepting the hierarchy of corporate life. Or one joins a commune or a co-operatively owned business—a choice that these cynical three, no doubt, would mercilessly ridicule over a scotch and soda.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Redeemers_NL_002-1093834846-O

FEATURING

Pat King
Joel Ewing
Marsha Harman

PRODUCTION

Assistant Director: Josh Sobel
Production Manager: Marni Keenan
Stage Manager: Tara Malpass
Dramaturg: Emily Dendinger
Environment Design: Michelle Lilly
Sound & Projections Design: Nick Keenan
Costume Design: Rachel Sypniewski

  
  

REVIEW: Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Christmas Binge (A Reasonable Facsimile Theatre)

     
    

A comedy hangover about the crappiness of Christmas

     
     

Mrs. Bob Cratchits Wild Christmas Binge - Reasonable Facsimile Theatre

  
A Reasonable Facsimile Theatre presents
   
Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Christmas Binge
   
Written by Christopher Druang
Directed by
Michael Buino
at
The Cornservatory, 4210 N. Lincoln  (map)
through Jan 2  |  tickets: $12-$15   |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

I love schlock comedy as much as the next two-fisted drinker; I also have as much disdain for overwrought and overplayed Christmas sentimentality as anyone. But even that much common ground simply couldn’t bring me to open up to A Reasonable Facsimile Theatre’s production of Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Christmas Binge. Christopher Durang’s musical comedy is already a messy hodge-podge of spoofed feel-good Christmas tales, thrown together and slung like hash to the masses. Too bad that messiness is unintentionally amplified by the paucity of cast cohesion and a majority of performances that settle on bland.

Mr. Scrooge (Steve Hickson) is to be taught a lesson by an attending Ghost (Samantha Garcia) about the real meaning of Christmas. However, the magic isn’t working out as planned and the couple keeps getting transported to the whereabouts of Mrs. Bob Cratchit (Tina Haglund), the wife of Scrooge’s subservient employee. It isn’t quite part of the game plan, still they witness her breakdown over Bob bringing home another homeless child while there is no money to feed the children they have on his measly salary. Not able to take it anymore, Mrs. Cratchit tears off to get drunk and throw herself into the river.

The musical’s supposed to be a messy, nonsensical train wreck but, Durang’s unwieldy composition seems to have overwhelmed the cast and that isn’t a good thing. Michael Buino’s direction seems perfunctory at best, designed to get the actors on and off stage and that’s that. Sluggish and cumbersome are the only ways to describe the show as it progresses, with the intentional jaded boredom of the techies in charge of scene changes seeming to have infected the whole production by osmosis.

Mrs. Bob Cratchits Wild Christmas Binge - Reasonable Facsimile TheatreThe cast needs to pick up its energy, as well as pick up on their lines. During the mid-run performance the show exhibited a persistent drag in the action, only alleviated when Steve Truncale bounced into the second act as George Bailey to show us Zuzu’s petals. Now, with character performances as sharp delineated and driven as that, the show would be twice as funny.

Of the notable exceptions: Karen Shimmin gives us a delightfully masochistic Tiny Tim who grows more joyful at the thought of being made even more pathetic by his mother’s absence. Tina Haglund’s Mrs. Bob Cratchit is certainly sympathetic in her mournful disdain of her goody-goody husband, Bob Cratchit (Christopher Slavik), and her 24 + starving children. Haglund’s rapport with Steve Hickson’s Scrooge is quite good, too bad the play takes so long to get them together. Samantha Garcia starts out well as the Ghost of past, present and future, but seems to get as lost in her role as the Ghost does.

Cornservatory certainly doesn’t need critical acclaim or press attention. On the evening I saw the show, the house was packed with boisterous friends and Lincoln Park neighbors who had brought their own drinks. No doubt, I could have used a few to be merrier about what I witnessed. But I also wonder if I would wake up the next morning from a bad comedy hangover about the crappiness of Christmas.

  
  
Rating: ★½
   
   

xmas postcard for Mrs. Bob Cratchits Christmas Binge

Performances continue Friday & Saturday nights at 8:00 pm, Sundays at 4:00 pm thru January 2, 2011.  All performances at  The Cornservatory, 4210 N Lincoln Avenue. Tickets are $15.00, $12.00 for students and seniors.

 

Production Team

        
  Direction: Michael Buino*
  Set/Costume Design: Tina Haglund*
  Choreogrpher: Chani Buchic
  Prop Design: Susan Gaspar*
  Music Direction: Sarah Buino
  Stage Manager: Hazel Marie*
        

Ensemble 

Michael Buino*, Sipriano Cahue, Miquela A. Cruz*, Kristin Danko, Lena Dansdill, Samantha Garcia*, Susan Gaspar*, Tina Haglund*, Steve Hickson*, Bridget Rue, Karen Shimmin*, Christopher Slavik, Angela Snow*, Steve Truncale*, and Robert A. Walter    

* ARFTCo. Ensemble Member