REVIEW: Dralion (Cirque du Soleil)

     
     

Cirque’s ‘Dralion’ a visual feast but lacks thematic arch

     
     

Cirque du Soleil's 'Dralion', now playing at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates

  
Cirque du Soleil presents
  
Dralion
  
Guided by Guy Laliberté and Gilles Ste-Croix
Directed by
Guy Caron
Music composed by
Violaine Corradi
at
Sears Centre, Hoffman Estates (map)
through Jan 30  |  tickets: $33-$100  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

Now the definition of circus in the 21st-century, Cirque du Soleil has brought millions of smiles and awe-struck looks to millions of faces. For a few nights, their 11-year-old tour of Dralion shacks up at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates before embarking on the rest of the continent. Its name coming from a mash-up of “dragon” and “lion,” this classic in the Cirque lineup touts a combination of Western and Eastern cultures. The acts are pulled from across the globe, with clowns from South America, dancers from Africa, and acrobats from the Far East. It’s a fascinating, eye-catching medley of cross-cultural pollination, and there is a lot of magic at work.

Cirque du Soleil's 'Dralion', now playing at the Sears Centre in Hoffman EstatesFor a group known for their conceptual wizardry and honest performances, however, Dralion comes across shallow. The concession stand is open the entire show. If you leave for a hot dog at any point, sure, you might miss some stunning performances, but you wouldn’t be totally lost upon reentry (did I mention that there’s free refills on popcorn and pop?!?)  Dralion would be better if it forced the audience to follow, instead of being a take-what-you-want of visual delights.

Director Guy Caron claims the show is inspired by Eastern philosophies, especially a sense of connection with nature. To be honest, I didn’t see any driving philosophy working behind-the-scenes. The four elements fire, water, earth, and wind are personified, but there isn’t any sense of journey or character ever.

It’s a shame, because Dralion contains some haunting moments. Amanda Orozco and Lorant Markocsany perform a beautiful and heart-wrenching aerial pas de deux on rich, blue silks in the second act. The ballet-like grace of the two puts one in a trance. Directly following, a large group of performers float around in a high-flying dance. Shrouded in shadow, the stage looks like a home to ghosts. Both moments take your breath away, leaving you hanging on every muscle movement.

Other times are less exciting. Three multi-lingual clowns speckle the show with a few skits here and there. Juan Carlos Bratoz, Michael Edward Hughes, and Christopher Neiman’s brand of comedy is very broad and feels forced at times, especially a bit with a fake hairpiece. The comic breaks seem like interruption.

Many of the show’s light-hearted moments really shine, too – like the chaotic hoop diving or the double-dutch insanity of the final act (see video above). Another astounding part is the bouncy antics of the trampoline jumpers, who literally bounce off the walls.

The ever-pounding orchestra, led by Stephen Poulin, gives the performers all the aural inspiration they need. The score focuses heavily on Eastern rhythms and massive amounts of percussion, but also pulls from classic rock and new age stylings. Agnes Sohier and Cristian Zabala lend their gorgeous voices and foreign tongues. For Cirque, the music score is almost as important as the visuals. The Dralion pas de deux - Cirque du Soleilattention to music direction and choreography ensure a dazzling, multi-sensory experience.

Nowadays, Cirque seems most concerned with tacking their shows onto the legends of superstar musicians, with Viva Elvis playing in Vegas and a Michael Jackson-inspired extravaganza in the works. Considering this trajectory, it’s nice to see one of the original innovative shows that propelled Cirque into the common conscience. There’s a zippy, wait-till-ya-see-this energy to the piece.

Judging from the empty rows at the Sears Centre, though, it seems like Cirque will have to keep evolving to keep audiences. The separate acts are truly amazing—Dralion really nailed down a winning cast. But the conceptual glue requires review. The show needs to dive deeper and more strongly connect to its fundamental ethos. Dralion’s biggest failing is that – possessing a more consistent, cognizant thematic arch – it could be even more remarkable and relatable. Then it would really be worth the ticket price.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
  
  

A scene from Cirque du Soleil's 'Dralion', now playing at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.

 

  
  

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REVIEW: Madagascar (Next Theatre)

     
     

Flight and fright in a Roman hotel

     
     

Mick Weber and Carmen Roman in a scene from 'Madagascar' by JT Rogers, now at Next Theatre, Evanston

  
Next Theatre presents
  
Madagascar
  
Written by J.T. Rogers
Directed by
Kimberly Senior
at
Noyes Cultural Center, 927 Noyes, Evanston (map)
through Feb 20  |  tickets: $25-$40  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Now in an absorbing but ultimately frustrating Midwest premiere, J.T. Rogers’ 2004 puzzle play employs three characters who deliver concurrent confessions in the same stripped-down hotel room overlooking the Spanish Steps in Rome. They speak from different times and the subject of their unmotivated outpourings gradually becomes the strange vanishing of Gideon. A scion of wealth and privilege, this attractive young man went to Madagascar on a mission that may have ended in disappearance or death.

Nick Weber, Carmen Roman and Cora Vander Broek in a scene from "Madagascar" by J.T. Rogers - Next Theatre, EvanstonThe testimony is supplied by Lilllian (Carmen Roman), Gideon’s wealthy and detached mother; Gideon’s sister June (Cora Vander Broek), now working as a tour guide for the ancient ruins, and Lillian’s adulterous lover Nathan (Mark Weber), who is also an economist like the boy’s now-dead dad.

As they give themselves away, they provide clues about Gideon, an enigmatic beauty who seems to have been altogether too sensitive to the world’s wrongs; especially his mother’s coldness to him and warmth to Nathan.

Gideon’s discovery that his life was built on a lie (about his mother’s fidelity, his sister’s affection, Nathan’s loyalty to his father, or some schoolgirls recently raped in Africa?) seems to unhinge him and sets in motion a train of tragedies. Why is he so upset? “Because people just can’t be trusted!” and his mother is “selfish” and “grotesque.” Gideon sounds like a poor man’s Hamlet.

Sean Mallary’s lighting changes and the choreographed confessions blocked in Kimberly Senior’s staging keep the clue-mongering fluid and forceful. The play repeatedly raises the fascinating question of why some driven people all but will themselves to be missing persons. Do we have the right to disappear? Or do we owe it to others to keep our identity intact, however wrong it feels within?

Still, there’s too much deliberate or perverse mystery-mangling in this torturous witness to an escape that remains maddeningly evasive. There are too many blanks for the audience to fill in without finally feeling that the playwright hasn’t played fair with the facts.

Roman brings magisterial command to this ultimately devastated mother. Vander Broek’s questing sister, Gideon’s fraternal twin, gives us a refracted portrait of her brother. Weber’s Nathan supplies metaphors from micro-economics that shed a little light on the motivations or mentality of the missing Gideon.

If only this complex kid had appeared, we’d get some closure or at least an illusion of completion. But if you like to spend two hours not solving a missing person’s case, Madagascar is your ticket to nowhere.

  
  
Rating: ★★
  
  
Mick Weber and Carmen Roman in a scene from 'Madagascar' by JT Rogers, now at Next Theatre, Evanston Scene from Madagascar by JT Rogers, now at Next Theatre, Evanston 5

Scene from Madagascar by JT Rogers, now at Next Theatre, Evanston 7

 

   
   

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REVIEW: The New Electric Ballroom (A Red Orchid Theatre)

  
  

The once-in-a-lifetime chance at pure love

  
  

Buddeke, Larson and Fitzgerald in A Red Orchid Theatre's 'The New Electric Ballroom". Photo credit: Michael Brosilow.

  
A Red Orchid Theatre presents
  
The New Electric Ballroom
  
Written by Enda Walsh
Directed by
Robin Witt
at
A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells (map)
through March 6  |  tickets: $25-$30  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

“Stamped by story, aren’t we Patsy?”

                                –Breda

To attend A Red Orchid Theatre’s production of The New Electric Ballroom is to feel Enda Walsh’s sea of language wash over you, wave upon wave, repetitive yet morphing into new constructions, building to exhilarating maximum impact, then receding to leave an inconspicuously altered shore. Here, within the borders of this abstract play, language is king. Words–“idle words, as if there could be anything idle about them,” says Breda—and stories continuously retold, mark and mold each character by repetition as constant as the monotonous, everyday routines that support and curtail daily life. Clara (Laurie Larson), Breda (Kate Buddeke), and Ada (Kirsten Fitzgerald) are like Three Sisters without a Moscow to which to escape or dream of escape. What they have are Clara and Breda’s stories, which Ada directs them to tell over and over again.

Guy VanSwearingen and Kate Buddeke in A Red Orchid Theatre's 'The New Electric Ballroom". Photo credit: Michael Brosilow.If life in their coastal Irish town is bleak, then so, ultimately are Clara and Breda’s tales of young, hopeful love, crushed by betrayal and lost chances. Only Patsy (Guy Van Swearingen), the fisherman, disturbs their telling by his regular and comic fish deliveries. But Patsy himself is haunted by his dull, meaningless routine, imagining that even the seagulls inquire of him: “What is the purpose of you, Patsy?” Walsh owes an immense debt to Samuel Beckett, yet he manages to construct yet another level of existential drama onto Beckett’s cathedral.

Now all that director Robin Witt requires is an acting ensemble of steel to carry and drive the weight of Walsh’s language—and to have fun with it. She has that witty, mature, and polished ensemble in Buddeke, Fitzgerald, Larson and Swearingen. Won’t somebody please get them Superman T-shirts to commemorate their achievement? (Although, I’m quite sure getting yourself to the show would be reward enough.) The play’s beginning is bleak, sometimes so bleak it’s comic, but the action heats up when Patsy is finally allowed into the house, where he allows himself to be transformed into the kind of crooning performer who won Clara and Breda’s hearts years before at the New Electric. The strategic ease with which the play’s atmosphere swings from oppressive melancholy to exuberant, magical fantasy attests to Witt’s mastery of the material and the cast’s ability to submit completely to the theatricality of the work.

Walsh’s surreal and existential play may not be for everyone. However, as a meditation on life’s possibilities being just as overwhelming and personally threatening as its stultifying daily grind, few other works are its equal. Ada has a chance at first love with the transformed Patsy, only to watch that chance melt away because of Patsy’s own failure of nerve. That’s an everyday story–a story that marks and molds a lot of people. A Red Orchid delivers Walsh’s heightened version of that story consummately, professionally, and superlatively. Perhaps that is all we can demand of art.

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

Laurie Larson and Kate Buddeke in A Red Orchid Theatre's 'The New Electric Ballroom". Photo credit: Michael Brosilow.

Laurie Larson, Kirsten Fitzgerald and Kate Buddeke in A Red Orchid Theatre's 'The New Electric Ballroom". Photo credit: Michael Brosilow. Guy VanSwearingen, Laurie Larson, Kate Buddeke and Kirsten Fitzgerald in A Red Orchid Theatre's 'The New Electric Ballroom". Photo credit: Michael Brosilow.
     

All photos by Michael Brosilow.

     
     

REVIEW: Funk It Up About Nothin’ (Chicago Shakespeare)

     
     

Holla Q Bros – ‘Funk it Up’ is da bomb!

     
     

Funk it Up Cast (left to right) - DJ Adrienne Sanchez, Jillian Burfete, GQ, Ericka Ratcliff, Postell Pringle, JQ and Jackson Doran. Photo by John W. Sisson Jr.

  
Chicago Shakes and Merrigong Theatre Company presents
  
Funk It Up About Nothin’
   
Adapted and Directed by JQ and GQ
at
Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand (map)
thru Feb 13  | 
tickets: $25-$30  |  more info

Reviewed by Catey Sullivan

One of our great regrets of 2008 was missing Funk It Up About Nothin’, a “hip-hoptation” of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing by a pair of brothers who go by JQ and GQ. It you did likewise, we urge you to run, not walk, to get a ticket to this raptastic take on Shakespeare’s equally brilliant comedy.

The Q Brothers, GQ (top) and JQ (bottom), co-creators and directors of Chicago Shakespeare Theatre's 'Funk It Up about Nothin' at Navy Pier. Photo by Bill Burlingham.Fear not if you’re someone who leans more toward classic rock than the frenzied spin of contemporary scratch ‘n burn djs or the rapid-fire beats of rappers. You definitely do not need to be a hip-hop hipster to appreciate the whipsmart wordplay and percussive joys of Funk It Up. Were Shakespeare alive, dare we say, he would surely love what the Qs have done with “Much Ado”.

The key to the piece’s success is this: The Q Brothers are all about the text. As both directors and adaptors of the piece, they demonstrate a deep understanding of it, and from that well of knowledge, they create an adaptation wherein the words bounce, ricochet, rocket, rattle and hum with all the smarts, heart and – most importantly – the wicked humor of the original. Funk It Up is an hour-long word party that remains true to its source in terms of plot, characters and tone.

The cast, all of whom play multiple roles, spits out the verbiage like master poet slammers. As MC Lady B (Beatrice), Ericka Ratcliff is all sass and strut, a ferocious wit packaged in latex, fishnets and bling, deploying more brains of a Mensa member and more crackling sex appeal than a studio full of gyrating video vixens. As Benedick, JQ swaggers like a peacock, loving the single life and bragging about the ladies with a preening vanity that doesn’t quite conceal the one-woman heart that lies beneath his rep.

One of the (many) joys of Funk It Up is the attention paid to the supporting characters. Sure they’re broad, but they are also as well-defined as the leads – right down to the bumptious groundlings.

     
MC Lady B (Ericka Ratcliff) proclaims her love for Benedick (JQ) in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's Funk It Up About Nothin'.  Photo by John W. Sisson, Jr. Hero (Jillian Burfete) learns how to be a diva from MC Lady B (Ericka Ratcliff), in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's Funk It Up About Nothin' at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Photo by John W. Sisson Jr.

As Lady B’s cousin Hero, Jillian Burfete makes the ingénue amusingly simple. Hero is one of Shakespeare’s flatter characters – she’s pretty, and innocent and that’s about it. Burfete uses that one-dimensionality to wonderful comic advantage, making Hero a dim but enthusiastic princess whose head is full of unicorns and rainbows and whose brow furrows with effort whenever she’s called on to understand anything involving more than, oh, two syllables.

GQ is a hoot as the bastard brother Don John, whose clarion call to funk up Hero’s wedding is absolutely infectious. He’s also a terrific Sheriff Dingleberry, “part pimp, part police”, and part “Shaft” homage. As Claudio, Jackson Doran gives the feckless youth the demeanor of an earnest frat boy. And Postell Pringle is utterly riotous as the prince Don Pedro and as Dingleberry’s flamingly flamboyant lieutenant.

In all, Funk It Up is electric, an hour-long onslaught that combines the best parts of a grooving concert, a rip-roaring good story and a night bopping at the clubs. And as the dj who provides the electronic foundation of all the cunning linguistic gymnastics, Adrienne Sanchez brings the noise and the funk, ensuring that the beat goes on throughout the merry war of words.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

 

 

Scene from 'Funk It Up' - Borachio (JQ, left) and Don John (GQ, right) lure Claudio (Jackson Doran). Photo by John W. Sisson, Jr.

All photos by John W. Sisson Jr.

 

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