REVIEW: Aftermath (Signal Ensemble Theatre)

  
  

The battle for the soul of Rock ‘n’ Roll

  
  

(left to right) George (Andrew Yearick) introduces Brian (Aaron Snook) to the sitar, in Signal Ensemble Theatre’s world premiere of the drama with music “Aftermath,” written and directed by co-artistic director Ronan Marra.  Photo by Johnny Knight.

  
Signal Ensemble Theatre presents
  
Aftermath
  
Written/Directed by Ronan Marra
at
Signal Ensemble Theatre, 1802 W. Berenice (map)
through Jan 23  |  tickets: $20  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Coming late to the Aftermath party, I wanted to see how well the production has held up since switching to Signal Ensemble’s own theater space. Extremely well, it would seem, from the sold-out crowds. Chicagoans are undeniably enjoying playwright and director Ronan Marra’s musical bio and tribute to Brian Jones, the eclectic 60s rock genius and tragic founder of The Rolling Stones.

Mick (Nick Vidal) sings while Brian (Aaron Snook) plays the sitar, in Signal Ensemble Theatre’s world premiere of the drama with music “Aftermath,” written and directed by co-artistic director Ronan Marra. Photo by Johnny KnightClearly, critical kibitzing may mean nothing, now that Signal’s production has rolled along just fine, both reawakening Boomer nostalgia and exposing a younger generation to the Stones with a laudable facsimile of the original band’s performances. In fact, Marra’s requirement for musical proficiency in his cast stands at the throbbing heart of Signal’s production. Much as Aaron Snook charismatically captivates the audience, intrepidly holding attention under a fabulous mop top of blonde hair, he also pulls his weight hinting at Brian’s natural facility with multiple instruments by playing dulcimer, sitar and electric guitar. The music is the thing. The band’s excellence is the show’s mainstay. Once Mark J. Hurni’s dramatic lighting comes up on “Paint it, Black,” you know that this train is stopping for no one.

Except for one small, perceivable flaw—as Mick Jagger, Nick Vidal’s voice achieves a suitably approximate timbre but is almost drowned out by the force of the band. At least at my Sunday matinee viewing, seated in the front row, most song lyrics were indiscernible. Only during “Lady Jane” does Vidal hold his own, volume-wise. That’s too bad, especially since every other aspect of Vidal’s portrayal is electrifying. He has captured Mick’s strut, the liquid energy that made Jagger a consummate showman and indisputable sex idol. When acting, Vidal has Jagger’s snarky insouciance down pat, but behind the mic his voice pales. Joseph Stearns also doesn’t make for a thoroughly realistic Keith Richards—but the pressure isn’t on him as it is Vidal. He’s not the front man.

Dramatically, Marra’s writing also is lacking. His jukebox musical has an excellent sense of structure, with each number placed to move the action and characters forward; the boilerplate dialogue and predictable storytelling, however, may as well have come from MTV’s “Behind the Music.” Marra wants a balanced reflection on Brian Jones’ life and forgotten contributions to the Rolling Stones’ aesthetic. Yet, he simply hasn’t taken risks to plumb the depths of his troubled but fascinating rock idol. Instead, the audience is lead through a pageant of Brian’s struggles—his battles with Mick for artistic leadership of the Stones, his musical giftedness, his affair with model Anita Pallenberg (Simone Roos) and his downward spiral into paranoia and drug dependency.

     
(left to right) Brian (Aaron Snook) and Mick (Nick Vidal) perform a song, in Signal Ensemble Theatre’s world premiere of the drama with music “Aftermath”. Photo by Johnny Knight (left to right) Bill (Nathan Drackett) and Charlie (Bries Vannon) laugh at the rest of the band during an interview, in Signal Ensemble Theatre’s world premiere of the drama with music “Aftermath”.

In Snook, the show has an actor whose performance gives more ballast to Marra’s two-dimensional writing, but even he cannot redeem the material from its well-worn clichés. Once Brian suspects Anita in an affair with Keith, he and Roos together carry out especially visceral performances, but most of the rest of the action is a predictable dance of rock star dissolution that skirts the edges of both Jones’ genius and his darker side. We leave knowing no more about what made Brian Jones tick than before.

Plus, for hardcore rock aficionados, Marra’s work is just as much an act of forgetting as it is a loving tribute to the fallen Rolling Stone. Significant figures in Brian Jones’ life get tossed wholesale from Aftermath’s storyline. Instrumental to Jones’ ouster from the band was the arrival of Andrew Loog Oldham, who eventually took over most of Jones’ managerial duties and pushed for Jagger/Richards’ songwriting in the name of sustained financial success. Without Oldham’s presence or mention in the drama, Mick Jagger comes across as the principal villain behind Brian getting sacked from the group.

Brian (Aaron Snook) tells his story to the audience, in Signal Ensemble Theatre’s world premiere of the drama with music “Aftermath” What’s more, significant musical creations get lost in Marra’s truncated retelling. At one point Marra has Brian Jones bring up “Their Satanic Majesties Request”, only to toss it off as just a forgettable, sub-par Stones’ album. Actually, the album was the Stones’ brief venture into psychedelic rock, which reached its apex in 1967. This was the direction in which Jones, with all his world music influences, was going. But its production, broken up by court appearances and random showings by band members and their friends, proved to be a monster to complete. Once produced, it looked like a cheap knock off compared to the Beatles’ wildly successful “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” which had beaten the Stones to release by six months.

“Their Satanic Majesties Request” was Jones’ last hoorah in terms of his musical influence on the band. According to Richie Unterberger of Allmusic, the album “. . . incorporated African rhythms, Mellotrons, and full orchestration. Never before or since did the Stones take so many chances in the studio. In 1968, the Stones would go back to the basics, and never wander down these paths again . . .” A 1998 bootleg box set of the outtakes of the Satanic sessions reveals Jones in fruitful collaboration with Keith Richards and session pianist Nicky Hopkins, creating the album’s eerie soundscapes. But psychedelic rock was soon to fade as quickly as it had blossomed and Brian was going with it.

Obviously not everything about the Jones’ life can be mentioned, but certainly these milestones deserve more than a glossing. In the end, however, Aftermath remains an enjoyable evening of nostalgic entertainment.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
    
   

Brian (Aaron Snook, left) talks to a reporter (Vincent Lonergan, center) while Mick (Nick Vidal, right) listens, in Signal Ensemble Theatre’s world premiere of the drama with music “Aftermath".

   
  

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Unleash the Rhino!! (a festivus for the restofus)

  
 

Okay, Chicago theatergoers, time to get your fringe on

  
  

klutenyfinal

Written by Paige Listerud

Curious Theatre Branch opened its 22nd Annual Rhinoceros Theatre Festival this past Friday, January 14th, drawing hundreds of avant-garde theater artists from around the country to showcase over 20 off-beat and experimental works and performances at the Prop Theatre space. Curious Theatre remounts Sarah Kane’s critically acclaimed 4:48 Psychosis under the direction of Beau O’Reilly, plus an adaptation of Gertrude Stein’s little known play, Mexico. Expect mind-opening and consciousness-bending theater experiences from School for Designing a Society, Deja Links, Strange Lupus, BoyGirlBoyGirl, The Whiskey Rebellion and many, many more.

“We’ve struck an interesting balance between past and future with this festival,” explains Beau O’Reilly. “We decided to accept Deja Links—they’re a continuation of Club Lower Links which Leigh Jones ran in the 1990s. Even though Rhino Fest began around the same time, they’re really pre-Rhino and a lot of performance art was generated out of there. It’s where Ira Glass and David Sedaris got started. So, we have a significant number of people represented from that period—older artists doing some very mature and complete work, like Lisa Fay and Jeff Glassman Duo and then, of course, we showcase some student work from the SAIC and full-length work from young writers.”

Curious Theatre also kicked off the Fest with a benefit opening night–the Full Moon Vaudeville, hosted by Curious and the Crooked Mouth String Band.

psychosis


 

Rhino Festival Schedule

for more information, visit the Rhino Festival website

All tickets $12 in advance, $15 at the door  |  Buy tickets  |   See calendar.

 

Curious Theatre Branch presents

4:48 Psychosis

By Sarah Kane

Sarah Kane’s last play returns in a critically acclaimed production directed by Beau O’Reilly.

The play charts the journey from life into death, from darkness into light, from pain into love.Spiked with gallous humor, the play charts the journey from life into death, from darkness into light, from pain into love. Talk back / post show panel discussion with director John Moletress, the cast and crew and invited guest speakers (TBA).Spiked with gallous humor, the play charts the journey from life into death, from darkness into light, from pain into love Spiked with gallous humor, the play charts the journey from life into death, from darkness into light, from pain into loveSpiked with gallous humor, the play charts the journey from life into death, from darkness into light, from pain into love

Performance Dates: Friday, January, 14, 21, 28, February 4, 11.  All dates at 7pm


School for Designing A Society presents

10 to 4

directed by Susan Parenti

An acoustic play which twists shards of political activism and thought’s aging into the brain of language.

Saturday, January 29 and Sunday, January 30 at 7pm


Lisa Fay & Jeff Glassman Duo presents

Currency

Dense theater shorts in which ‘natural-looking’ behavior is subjected to contortions, subversions and convolutions, letting ‘natural’ show its socially constructed face.

Friday, January 21, Saturday, January 22 and Sunday, January 23 at 7pm

  
  

See the rest of the schedule after the jump.

  
  

mexico

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REVIEW: Six More Scary Tales (Clock Productions)

  
  

Spookiness and slapstick give play unexpected charm

  
  

Donaldson, Ryan Huges and Mark Dodge as The Gentlemen Suitors and Jessamyn Fitzpartrick as Madelene , Photo by D. Denman

  
Clock Productions presents
  
Six More Scary Tales
   
Written by David Denman
Directed by
Jesse Stratton and Mark Dodge
at
National Pastime Theater, 4139 N. Broadway (map)
through Feb 26  |  tickets: $15 (call 773-327-7077 for tix) 

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

Although it’s more than nine months until Halloween, you can still get into the spooky spirit with Clock ProductionsSix More Scary Tales, the second play in the “Scary Tales” series. Written and produced by David Denman, the play is composed of six vignettes, each a cross between a campfire story, a morality play and a comical farce. The blend of genres usually works, though at times the cheese factor can be off-putting. But, overall, the six pieces come together to create a reasonably entertaining whole.

The play opens with "A Tale of Super Powers." The extremely short piece, which comes off more as a clunky sketch, is about a mugging victim who claims to have super strength, speed and imperviousness to bullets. There really is no fear factor in the short at all. It’s strictly a comedy, and a rather poor comedy at that. It certainly didn’t set the right tone for the pieces that would come, but fortunately it ended up being the weakest link of all the stories.

Derek J. Elstra as Kent and Linsey Falls, Photo by D. DenmanThe next story is "A Tale of Curiosity." It’s that often told tale about the woman with the choker around her neck, the one that she refuses to remove—ever. Of course, when the man of her dreams finally convinces her to remove it, he gets a shocking surprise. Although stronger than the previous piece, this tale also is weak. The story alone is trite. I’ve probably read it more than half a dozen times in various scary story collections. There is nothing added to the plot to give it a twist. The only redeeming quality is how laughably hokey it is when [spoiler alert?] the woman’s head pops off.

It is here at the third story where Six More Scary Tales finally begins to deliver. "A Tale of Avarice" tells the story of an Arabian man who is tempted to enter the harsh desert by a stranger who promises him great wealth. Eventually the man encounters three bewitching women who magically replace his tongue with an evil doppleganger. The result is a comic tragedy that works theatrically on a number of levels. The story is compelling, the acting is decent and the blend of spooky and silly is a good balance.

"A Tale of Morality" is next, and the only short to elicit applause at the end. Actress Andrea Young steals the piece (if not the whole production) with her portrayal of Death as a godfather-like figure imbued with genuine maternity. The story is about a young Sicilian man who is taken up as the godson of Death. With such a benefactor, he grows up to become a successful doctor. However, things get a little tricky when he must choose to either honor his supernatural godmother or save the woman he loves.

"A Tale of Vampires" is a predictable piece that works only because of how it pokes fun at the lack of American worldliness. Three American girls ride a train through Romania and Hungry while reading a book on the region’s history, which includes vampire folklore. Two strange locals board the train as well, and, as you’d imagine, suspicions rise. Although it doesn’t have the story of "A Tale of Avarice" or the heart of "A Tale of Morality," it’s still an entertaining segment.

Finally, the play ends on "A Tale of Monsters in the Attic," a piece that is introduced early in the production and resolved at the end. It’s a pretty traditional tale about a mad scientist, an attic and, of course, monsters.

Although spotty throughout, there’s real heart to this small production. That heart shines through, almost making up for the faults of the play. Still, some of the faults, especially those committed early on, weigh the entire piece down. My advice: Skip the first 10 minutes, and you’ll enjoy Six More Scary Tales.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
  
  

Six Scary Tales - Clock Productions - by David Denman