Review: Dracula (Idle Muse Theatre)

  
  

“Twilight”, eat your heart out!

  
  

Edward Harch as Dracula and Nathan Thompson as Renfield in a scene from Idle Muse Theatre's 'Dracula'

   
Idle Muse Theatre presents
   
Dracula
   
Adapted by Steven Dietz
Directed by
Lenny Wahlberg
at
side project theatre, 1439 W. Jarvis (map)
through March 6  |  tickets: $15-$20  |  more info

Review by Paige Listerud

Idle Muse Theatre has captured the quintessential gothic vibe. Their production, Dracula, now at Side Project Theatre under the direction of Lenny Wahlberg, is traditional, to say the least. It slays because it is dutifully faithful to Bram Stoker’s vision and language, resonating with deep Victorian observations on human passion and the human condition. “Great men, like galaxies, end in dust,” quotes the supreme vamp himself, as he plays host to his unsuspecting guest, Jonathan Harker (Chris Waldron). Abraham Van Helsing (Brad Woodard) is the equal to the Count (Edward Karch) in weighty sentiments, especially when he warns John Seward (Brian Bengtson) not to reveal their secrets to “God’s madmen”—that is, just about everybody.

Edward Karch as Dracula in Idle Muse Theatre's production of 'Dracula'Gothic fetish aside, the real joy lies in witnessing Wahlberg’s young cast wield Stoker’s lush, dark language like mature, seasoned pros, adding those necessary flashes of humor at their critical moments. Of course, it helps to have Renfield (Nathan Thompson), the lunatic in Dr. Seward’s asylum, as your guide. Thompson maintains total and fierce control over Renfield’s twists, zipping from raving lunacy to childlike pleas–“May I have a kitten?”—never mind that Renfield, in possession of a kitten, is not an innocent thing.

But Renfield’s master also strikes a silent, controlling and imposing presence. As Dracula, Karch conveys the original deadliness of the vampire of vampires with icy elegance. The Count has aristocratic pedigree and a living recollection of history but he is much closer to Nosferatu in raging animalism. Here is fresh relief from the mooning, insipid vampires of “Twilight” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. The original Dracula makes them all look like pussies. Here is sex as danger, real danger, danger for the both physical body and the immortal soul.

Idle Muse’s production starts off very strong. The sensual and witty Victorian friendship between Mina Murray (Alex Fisher) and Lucy Westenra (Stacey Sublette) is established immediately, along with Mina’s powers as an uncommonly independent woman and Lucy’s driving romantic passions. In fact, it’s rather sad that one of them has to get staked—Fisher and Sublette really make a great team. Meanwhile, Chris Waldron’s portrayal of Jonathan Harker is dead-on as the fresh-faced Englishman who has no clue what awaits him in Transylvania. Bengtson’s Seward may be a little on the stiff side, but in some ways that’s apt for a character that is all ideals and naïve faith in science and rationality. Woodard, for his part, gives us a younger, more vigorous Van Helsing than we’re accustomed to from film—but that too, is a very good thing. With only a little more knowledge of vampire lore on his side, his hunt for Dracula proceeds almost on equal footing with Seward and Harker.

Where the play begins to wobble a bit is in the second act. Fisher is wonderful as the bitten Lucy but getting to the final showdown proves too much for Steven Dietz’s adaptation. Stoker’s novel has Dracula’s demise take place on a racing wagon with Lucy’s three suitors delivering the strategic deathblows. Nothing like that can take place at the Side Project’s storefront space. But the company might want to look into other special effects to stage the death of the Count. Spectacular evil deserves a spectacular end. That is the way we mere mortals honor it.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Nathan Thompson as Renfield in a scene from Idle Muse Theatre's 'Dracula'.

 

Artists

 

Cast

Alex Fisher as Mina Murray
 Chris Waldron as Jonathan Harker
Stacey Sublette as Lucy Westenra
 Brian Bengtson as John Seward
Nathan Thompson as Renfield
Brad Woodard as Van Helsing
Eddy Karch as Dracula

Ensemble: Mara Kovacevic, Liz MacDougald and Matthew Gibson

Creative: Lenny Wahlberg (Director), Evan Jackson (Assistant Director), Greg Poljacik (Fight Choreographer)

 

  
  

Review: Letters/X (Apollo Theater Chicago)

     
     

‘Anti-Valentine’s cabaret’ comes on too strong, but not without laughs

  
  

Bergen Anderson, Jessica Jane Childs, Matthew Isler, Tom McGrath, and Anthony Roberts in 'Letters/X' at Apollo Studio Theater in Chicago.

    
Apollo Theater presents
  
Letters/X
  
Adapted by Anthony Roberts
Directed by
Matthew Zaradich
at
Apollo Theater, 2540 N. Lincoln (map)
through March 12  | 
tickets: $10-$12  |  more info

Reviewed by Dan Jakes

Only in the emotional vacuum of a break-up does it seem like a good idea to e-mail unsolicited diary entries to your married ex-boyfriend.

So goes one hilarious story of dejection in Letters/X, Chicago’s annual cabaret devoted to performing real-life exchanges about love gone sour. Currently in its eighth incarnation, the Shadenfreude slam is currently performing its first run in its new venue at the cozy, well-suited Apollo Studio Theater.

Dressed mostly in V-Day red, white and black, The young five-person ensemble (Bergen Anderson, Jessica Jane Childs, Matthew Isler, Tom McGrath, Anthony Roberts) presents submitted texts as monologues and songs by adaptor Anthony Roberts with direction by Matthew Zaradich.

You can’t ask for better inspiration. Break-up letters are a special brew of bad ideas, written by the emotionally compromised for reasons beyond their better sensibilities. And–surely to Letters/X‘s mirth–the emergence of text messages and Facebook posts as forms of legitimate romantic communication have only grown the broken heart rant supply. After all, unlike their handwritten counterparts, those digital venting-outlets share a brand of immediacy that outperform the body’s rate of metabolizing the alcohol that usually provokes angsty letter-writing in the first place.

Sometimes the performed letters aren’t break-up notes at all, but instead love propositions that are so bad they accomplish the same task. It all makes for superb material for cathartic, cringe-worthy comedy.

When the creative team here trusts that material, it does.

Too often, though, it seems like they feel the need to heighten it. These comedians have talent, but for some reason it gets veiled behind loud, cartoonish facades–never so much so to wholly smother the risible material, but just enough to become grating (the ladies are a little less guilty than the gents). A crank-it-to-eleven style may play well in a 1,000-person proscenium, but the Apollo Studio seats about 50. When good jokes are performed at you instead of to you, they feel less funny as a result.

Fortunately, there are segments where the comics subdue their inner-Screech and relax, bringing out the sensitivity and irony of the monologues. In response, the laughs become easier and more genuine.

The songs too are hit and miss. Numbers like “Psycho Hose Beast” don’t offer much more than their title, but others like “Brokenhearted Anthem” are surprisingly sweet and catchy. The music interludes help keep the pace brisk and the action engaging.

Conceptually, Letters/X is gold, and I hope it remains a Chicago institution–albeit a better tweaked one. This year’s presentation is a satisfying if warbly song for the newly single. 

  
  
Rating: ★★½
  
  

Bergen Anderson, Jessica Jane Childs, Matthew Isler, Tom McGrath, and Anthony Roberts in 'Letters/X' at Apollo Studio Theater in Chicago.

Ensemble: Bergen Anderson, Jessica Jane Childs, Matthew Isler, Tom McGrath, and Anthony Roberts.   

Production: Jessica Jane Childs (producer), Stephanie Clark (stage manager), Anthony Roberts (producer/adaptor & composer), Jessica Roberts (lighting design), Matthew Zaradich (producer/director).

  
  

Review: El Stories – Red Line (Waltzing Mechanics)

     
     

Passionate passengers tell their stories

     
    

CTA red line belmont stop

  
Waltzing Mechanics present
  
El Stories: Red Line
   
Adapted and Directed by Thomas Murray
at
City Lit Theatre, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr (map)
through Feb 23  | 
tickets: $10  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

As it crosses the city, the Red Line delivers its own cross-section within every car on each train. This inexhaustible supply of “war stories”–from bemused or outraged commuters and less than passive passengers–supplies the oral histories in Waltzing Mechanics’ hour-long trove of an urban travelogue.

waltzing mechanics - el storiesAs fluid as their material, the ten young performers, smoothly blocked by adaptor Thomas Murray, keep their imaginary el ride real. There’s a story for almost every stop from Jackson to Howard, with the action as random and revealing as accidental encounters and unintended intimacies deliver. Happily, given the Mechanics’ tough-loving sympathy for life’s underdogs, there’s little condescension in these vignettes.

So, not only do we hear about the homeless guy who took a dump on the Jackson stop’s platform, we also learn how in his crazy way he tried to warn his fellow travelers not to look before, well, nature took its course.

Imagine the craziest Red line trip you could take from downtown through Uptown to Rogers Park, with close encounters that are sometimes, well, too close for comfort. Along the wild way you meet a loud huckster who creates fake gospel songs to promote her incoherent promotions. A bicyclist who’s also a serial abuser of books from the CPL carefully wraps up evidence of his neglect. A cute blue-eyed stranger reluctantly reveals why he’s heading west–by showing the needle marks on his arms that he hopes will gradually fade away.

     
el train interior CTA red line wilson stop

A screamer discharges his mania at the station and suddenly silences himself on the train. Between naps, a drunk eats the world’s largest sub sandwich. News of Patrick Swayze’s death spreads like wildfire throughout a car. There’s a caped crusader, two very inept flash-mob “twins,” a diva who cleans her eyeliner brush on the seat, out-of-control kids, an imbecile who thinks the Union Jack is the Nazi swastika, a hand that goes up the wrong butt during a tight trip, a group of guys whose sexist rap is spread all over the car, a jerk who confuses a brush with a push, and all those who just don’t want to get involved, even when someone needs help.

All that the CTA provides so generously for only $2.25 is even more concentrated in this wacky assemblage (which at $10 is a bargain as well). Judging from the title, it’s far from finished, not when there’s still blue, brown, pink, purple and green lines left to expose.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
  
   

cta subway train

El Stories continues through February 23rd, with 8pm performances Monday-Wednesday @ City Lit Theatre, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr.  $10 general admission at door; advanced tickets available here.  More info: waltzingmechanics.org/EL_Stories.html 


Artists

 

Adapted from original interviews and directed by Thomas Murray

Featuring Bryan Campbell, Nick Chandler, Zack Florent, Lance Hill, Keely Leonard, Eric Loughlin, Adrienne Matzen, Eleni Pappageorge, Shariba Rivers, and Margaret Scrantom.

Stage managed by Tina Frey