Review: Among the Squirrels (The Black Ship Co.)

  
  

Goths gone wild

  
  

Morgan Christansen, Ron Quade, William Goblirsch, Kaitlyn Whitebread - Among the Squirrels - Photo by Sean Howlett.

   
The Black Ship Company presents
  
Among the Squirrels
      
Written by Eric Appleton
Directed by
Nicki Mazzocca
at
Gorilla Tango Theatre, 1919 N. Milwaukee (map)
through Feb 26  |  tickets: $12  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Among the Squirrels is a charming, sensitive and emotionally mature new play by Eric Appleton—something I never expected see at the Gorilla Tango Theatre space, and I’m glad to be proved wrong. Of course, its production is an “import,” brought by the new and “itinerant theater company that hails from Chicago’s Bucktown,” The Black Ship Company. Black is the color, indeed. Directed by Nicki Mazzocca, Among the Squirrels traffics in the trials and tribulations of the sartorially dark denizens of Chicago’s urban Goth subculture as they contend with maintaining relationships and family at the mercy of the desperate absurdities of job-searching in a recession.

Morgan Christansen, William Goblirsch, Ron Quade - Among the Squirrels by Eric Appleton - The Black Ship Co. - Sean HowletTopher (William Goblirsch Jr.) counts off the days of his unemployment like the days of some macabre reign. However, while between jobs, television nature programming and the beneficent image of David Attenborough (Ron Quade) inspire him to turn toward the natural world, “red in tooth and claw.” He finds compelling diversion in observing his neighborhood’s squirrels, naming them with all the familiarity of Jane Goodall among the apes. His mate Vicki (Kaitlyn Whitebread) holds down the fort by working at a fashionable goth hair salon, but when she finds Topher’s joblessness wearing, Topher takes a customer service position at a big box store, regardless of his skills as an IT specialist.

Appleton’s script is clever and testifies to the wittiness of his play’s subculture. “May your life be complicated,” is Vicki’s benediction, just as equally full of terror as it is a blessing. The interview scene between Topher and the big box store manager (Morgan Christiansen in several roles) is a new classic in the way it points up the ridiculous disingenuousness that is the purview of the corporate job interview with a manager who has truly drunk the Koolaid. Meanwhile, pursuing his growing interest in nature observation stimulates a relationship with a local UIC professor, which propels Topher to new horizons just when his relationship with Vicki goes on the skids. Her posh salon goes under and, oh yeah, she is pregnant with Topher’s child.

Among the Squirrels genuinely and authentically explores the transition from wild, countercultural delayed adolescence to taking on the fierce demands of settling down and parenting. The play is almost a love letter to the influences of one’s youth that continue to mold one’s worldview long after the stage of youth has been passed. Topher and Vicki are pushed to grow without demanding that they give up themselves. Indeed, but for a little editorial trimming of overlong scenes, Appleton has constructed a mature and wise delight. The Black Ship Company’s cast makes these characters super-accessible, their handling of Appleton’s script practically a gentle, wry and no nonsense conversation with the audience about growing older/growing up in tough economic times without losing your soul. Their production is certainly worth your time, especially if you enjoy witnessing the Goth gone wild.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

William Goblirsch, Kaitlyn Whitebread - Among the Squirrels by Eric Appleton - The Black Ship Co.

William Goblirsch, Morgan Christansen - Among the Squirrels by Eric Appleton - The Black Ship Co William Goblirsch - Among the Squirrels - The Black Ship Co.

All photos by Sean Howlett.

  
  

Review: Moonstone (Lifeline Theatre)

  
  

Lifeline’s world-premiere adaption bedazzles

  
  

Godfrey Ablewhite (C. Sean Piereman, left) proposes to Rachel Verinder (Ann Sonneville, right), while Drusilla Clack (Kaitlin Byrd, center) spies from the next room; in Lifeline Theatre’s world premiere production of “The Moonstone,” adapted by Robert Kauzlaric, directed by Paul S. Holmquist, based on the classic mystery by Wilkie Collins. Photo by Suzanne Plunkett.

   
Lifeline Theatre presents
  
The Moonstone
  
Adapted by Robert Kauzlaric
Based on book by Wilkie Collins
Directed by Paul S. Holmquist
at Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood (map)
through March 27  |  tickets: $32-$35  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

Disease, suicide, addiction, murder: can a stolen piece of jewelry inflict pain and destruction on a family? Lifeline Theatre presents the world premiere of The Moonstone. Set in the 19th-century, a disreputable army officer steals a diamond during his service in India. He wills the cursed sacred stone to Rachel, his niece for her eighteenth birthday. Overnight, the adornment is missing. Who took it? The juggling party crashers from India? The maid just out of prison? One of the cousins? Or Rachel herself?

Rachel Verinder (Ann Sonneville, right) and Franklin Blake (Cody Proctor, left) admire the legendary Moonstone, an Indian diamond with a dark history; in Lifeline Theatre’s world premiere production of “The Moonstone,” adapted by Robert Kauzlaric, directed by Paul S. Holmquist and based on the classic mystery by Wilkie Collins. Photo by Suzanne Plunkett.Within 24-hours, the moonstone changes the shiny, happy home to a dark, suspicious lair. Curses? Or just pure greed? Rachel knows something but refuses to speak. It’s a mystery! The intricate story unfolds from the perspectives of the various characters. It’s like playing a virtual reality game of CLUE except Miss Scarlett’s not talking, Professor Plum is addicted to opium and Mrs. Peacock is a crazy evangelizing Christian. The Moonstone unravels the mystery by pulling hanging strings from everywhere and knitting them together for a warm wrap around.

Playwright Robert Kauzlaric penned the script based on the 19th century epistolary novel by Wilkie Collins. Epistolary refers to a collection of letters. The Moonstone originally ran as a series in Charles Dickens’ magazine. Kauzlaric’s challenge was to take episodic based material and condense it down to one solid play. Although a few details could be eliminated to shorten it, Kauzlaric writes witty narrations that cleverly connect the intrigue together. Scenes are entangled with characters reading from letters. Under the direction of Paul S. Holmquist, the audience is fishing for red herrings. The expedition leads to a theatre under detective-fever quarantine. Who did it?

The cast did do it… marvelously. Keeping the audience engaged and enthralled for a three hour period is a mystery… they solved. The entire ensemble bonds together like a shiny, happy functional family. Sonja Field (Penelope) looks amusingly and adoringly at her father during his charming but lengthy narration. He, Sean Sinitski (Gabriel), affectionately scolds her and greets characters with a warm I-haven’t-seen-you-since-Act-1 hug. The cast is enjoying telling the story! Cody Proctor (Franklin) and Ann Sonneville (Rachel) play out perfectly like a Victorian-era couple trying to get it together. Proctor is the zealous hero-wannabe. Sonneville goes delightfully from morose resignation to boyfriend obsession with one letter. With well-Colonel John Herncastle (Dave Skvarla) steals the legendary Moonstone from its hidden vault; in Lifeline Theatre’s world premiere production of “The Moonstone,” adapted by Robert Kauzlaric, directed by Paul S. Holmquist, based on the classic mystery by Wilkie Collins. Photo by Suzanne Plunkett.placed hilarity, Kaitlin Byrd (Drusilla Clack) hides religious propaganda while delivering judgmental snipes. Byrd is willfully obtuse to comic heights. She responds to being shunned with an ‘I made a private memorandum to pray for her.’ Big nod out to Byrd also for her trust walk with her cast mates. Shivering sands, indeed!

Lifeline Theatre’s tagline is Big Stories, Up Close. With a stage that actually looks like a ‘Gosford Park’ pop-up book (Scenic designer Ian Zywica), The Moonstone is a perfect winter read. The mystery entices with playful ruse. The story is told from intimate perspectives. And at the end, it’s just a nice, cozy fit.

   
  
Rating: ★★★
   
    

Godfrey Ablewhite (C. Sean Piereman, left) proposes to Rachel Verinder (Ann Sonneville, right), while Drusilla Clack (Kaitlin Byrd, center) spies from the next room; in Lifeline Theatre’s world premiere production of “The Moonstone,” adapted by Robert Kauzlaric, directed by Paul S. Holmquist, based on the classic mystery by Wilkie Collins. Photo by Suzanne Plunkett.

The Moonstone continues through March 27th, with performances on Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 4pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 4pm  Running Time: Two hours and fifty minutes includes two intermissions

All photos by Suzanne Plunkett.

  
  

Review: Starship the Musical (Team Starkid)

  
  

Live onstage now—with internet afterlife to follow

  
  

Team Starkid's new musical, Starship, opens on February 11, 2011 in Chicago.

Credit: Chris Dzombak/Starkid

   
StarKid Productions presents
  
Starship
  
Music and Lyrics by Darren Criss
Book by
Matt and Nick Lang, Brian Holden, and Joseph Walker
Directed by
Matt Lang
at
Hoover-Leppen Theatre, 3656 N. Halsted (map)
thru Feb 23  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

For an Internet sensation that began on YouTube, the young folks of Team Starkid sure can produce a ton of theater in one sitting–like their 2009 success A Very Potter Musical, a fan-generated parody that went viral (in the best sense). Created by the likes of Darren Criss (now a regular on “Glee”) and puppet designer Russ Walko (of “The Simpsons” fame), their new 210-minute creation is the epic spoof Starship, a show you can read about here but can’t see because the short run is sold out (though their website says that there may be tickets available at the door).

Bug (Joey Richter) discovers February (Denise Donovan) trapped in the Bug World Hatchery, from "Starship the Musical" now playing in Chicago.  Photo credit: Chris DzombakDon’t worry: It’s far from the best show you (probably) never get to see. It’s not just its humongous, three-and-a-half-hour length, including ten endings and too many character crises to resolve for anyone to care about the results. Loosely based on the grisly 1996 film “Starship Troopers” (itself a parody of World War II propaganda newsreels), this overlong concoction owes 90% of its plot to other sources too—“Avatar,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Shrek,” “Avenue Q,” “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and, above all, “Antz” and “A Bug’s Life.” Take away all these influences and you’ve got practically no plot. What remains are a few semi-memorable songs by Criss, who knows how to spin generic pop anthems out of too few notes. Still, as a pastiche, this is no worse than Lloyd Webber’s “Joseph” and almost as much fun.

There’s also the staging by co-author Matt Lang which, despite its excesses, is charming throughout, energized by a 13-member cast who will look just as good on your laptop as at the Center on Halsted.

The voluminous and futuristic plot, here drastically reduced to a bare synopsis, focuses on a planet like the arachnid colony Klandathu in the Casper Van Dien film—but here the insects are much more varied and much less vicious. One, broadly named Bug, wants to become a Starship Ranger, like the ones that crashed on the planet 18 years before, only to be devoured by the still insatiable Pincer. Bug (the sweet-faced, strong-lunged Joey Richter) finds himself transformed into a humanoid and, Mermaid-like, is drawn to the airhead science officer February. She’s one of the new very stereotypical Starship Rangers who have reached the planet for the purpose of recolonization. But the maleficent Junior has other plans for enslaving the bugs and exploiting them as mutant slaves.

Taz (Lauren Lopez) and Up (Joe Walker) take off into battle in StarKid’s new comedy musical Starship, now playing in Chicago's Center on Halsted.  Photo credit: Chris Dzombak.

These colorful caricatures mate with plodding precision: The human-hating robot Mega-Girl overcomes her distaste for weak earthlings by going for the rhapsodic redneck Tootsie Noodles. The nerdy Specs falls for the burly Krayonder, gung-ho Commander Up falls for demure Taz, and Bug wins valley girl February.

Because the show borrows so widely from so many sources, it barely works as a subversion of the mindless action sequences of “Starship Troopers,” with its semi-fascist message that soldiers are more important than citizens. But the true believers in the opening night audience (mostly teen girls and tweener fans) were delighted with every thudding cliché. Sometimes it really helps not to know a show’s influences – another way that ignorance is bliss.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Team Starkid's new musical, Starship, opens on February 11, 2011 in Chicago.

Credit: Chris Dzombak/Starkid

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