Review: Run-of-the-Mill (Currently Untitled Theatre)

  
  

When ‘Run of The Mill’ happens to good actors

  
  

scene from "Run-of-the-Mill" by Tyler Dean, presented by Currently Untitled Theatre.

  
Currently Untitled Theatre presents
  
Run-of-the-Mill
  
Written by Tyler Dean
Directed by
Nate Silver
at
Act One Studios, 640 N LaSalle,Suite 535 (map)
through Feb 26  |  tickets: $20 |  more info

Sometimes people tempt fate. That seems to be the case with the title of the world premiere production of Run-of-the-Mill by Tyler Dean at Currently Untitled Theatre.

This is the story of a family dealing with the foibles and failings of modern life while trying to avoid the mistakes of the past. This is a noble and fecund premise but the seeds lay fallow in spite of some good acting.

scene from "Run-of-the-Mill" by Tyler Dean, presented by Currently Untitled Theatre.This story follows two marriages. Cynthia and Darryl are parents to Stacy, David, and Collin. Darryl has been unemployed for over a year and things are getting tense. Cynthia is a hard driving real estate agent who is fighting to live down past mistakes.

Brit Cooper Robinson, playing the part of Cynthia, balances the role without coming off as brittle or shrill. Patrick Rybarczyk is wonderful as the ever-optimistic Darryl.

Andrea DeCamp, as a daughter who is struggling with graduation dreams and a marriage proposal, is cool and unaffectedly hip in her portrayal. She and Robinson have a good dynamic as mother and daughter.

Mike Hahalyak and Dan Toot play brothers David and Collin respectively. David has messed up his marriage to Donna (Virginia Marie) and Collin is home from Iraq with a less than honorable discharge.

All of the ingredients are in place, but the writing is stilted and weak. Dean takes a long time with the expository elements of the characters. Though much angst is expressed over the dissolution of David and Donna’s marriage, we aren’t told why until after the intermission in the middle of the second act. Ms. Marie does a beautiful and subtle job of suppressed rage and sexual rejection. Hahalyak is appropriately penitent but by the time we find out about her infidelities – who cares? Hahalyak’s David is given a worn excuse of ADHD and depression for screwing around. It’s a punchline; not a reason. This storyline is so drawn out that it feels like an episode of the retro soap “Search for Tomorrow”.

Collin comes home from Iraq packing a bag of weed in his duffle and dishonorable discharge papers. Dan Toot is great as a kid soldier who grew up through combat. He portrays heartbreak, and there is a subtle hint of post- traumatic stress syndrome simmering. The ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ repeal seems thrown in as an afterthought. It’s not why Collin is ejected from the Army but the real reason is less compelling.

scene from "Run-of-the-Mill" by Tyler Dean, presented by Currently Untitled Theatre.The second act does not continue with the stark mystery but jumps right into an ill- conceived series of flashbacks. The soundtrack plays Huey Lewis and the News’ ‘Power of Love’ just as in ‘Back to the Future’. (Some Marty McFly humor would have helped.) What happened to Cynthia and Darryl is what happens to thousands of families and therefore it’s ‘run of the mill’. That doesn’t make for a great night at the theater. To be certain, there are families whose lives are ordinary and mundane, but I go to the theater to see a more tense dynamic or a story that I haven’t heard before. If I’m going to watch a soap opera, then somebody needs to be held captive in a well or Granny’s in the attic living in Imagination Land.

There are other kinks to be worked out in Run of the Mill”. The staging is rather clumsy. Did anyone think to put brakes on the casters? Moveable sets should not keep moving in the middle of the scene. Why do props in some scenes and then completely expressionistic in others? Is this a fleshed out story or a workshop in invisible burger flipping? Go for the fake food. We know it’s not real and in that case go for the satire, for this story has that potential: “Ward and June discover something happened to the Beaver in Iraq. Will things ever be the same on Morning Glory Lane? Tune in for the finely crafted acting!”.

  
  
Rating: ★½
  
   

scene from "Run-of-the-Mill" by Tyler Dean, presented by Currently Untitled Theatre.

Run of the Mill runs on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 through February 26th at Act One Studios,  640 N. LaSalle in the West Loop. Go to www.currentlyuntitledtheatre.org for more information on the company and the actors.  All photos by Gretchen Allnutt.

 

     
     

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Review: Volpone (City Lit Theater)

     
     

17th-century satire is sly like a fox

     
     

Don Bender and Eric Damon Smith in Volpone - City Lit Theater.  Photo credit: Johnny Knight

  
City Lit Theater presents
  
Volpone
   
Written by Ben Jonson
Music composed by Kingsley Day
Directed by Sheldon Patinkin
at City Lit Theater, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr (map)
thru March 27  | 
tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian

Volpone, or The Fox, was written by Ben Jonson in the seventeenth century in just five weeks. It was first performed by the King’s Men at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in 1606. City Lit Theater’s production is the company’s fourth production of their 31st season.

Volpone tells the story of an old miser, Volpone (Don Bender) who, with his servant Mosca (Eric Damon Smith), fakes a deathly illness in order to convince a handful of wealthy men to shower him with expensive gifts after promising each that they are his sole heir. Bender fits into the part of Volpone like a glove. From his voice to his body language, Bender owns the part as well as the stage. Bender’s Volpone is slimy, greedy and everything you would hope to see from such a character. Likewise, Smith’s Mosca is simply entertaining as Volpone’s faithful servant. He plays up the character and is quite funny as he help to Don Bender as Volpone by Ben Jonson - City Lit Theater. Photo by Johnny Knight.work over the wealthy men as they arrive to pay tribute to the “dying” Volpone. Smith, like Bender, understands just want is required of the character, and Smith is both charming and persuasive as Mosca, like a good salesman who could convince anyone man to buy anything he was selling.

Written in the 1600s, Volpone is written in Early Modern English, but the cast does a wonderful job of making the script accessible to the audience. That being said, the script’s dense at times, and while the energy continues to run high through the performance, the action can seem to drag at times.

Occasionally, Volpone calls on his fool (Ben Chang), Castrone (David Fink) and Androgyno (Chris Pomeroy) to entertain him. Equipped with musical instruments, these three sing and play and are a joy. They never fail to get the audience laughing with the lightness and humor of their performances. They are not the best singers but that fact is pushed aside because they’re so enjoyable to watch on stage.

The men whom Volpone tricks are Corvino (Alex Shotts), Corbaccio (Larry Baldacci) and Voltore (Clay Sanderson). These three men deliver exact portrayals of rich and greedy men who think themselves quite clever when, in fact, there are gullible and easily duped. All three men do a fine job, but Shotts in particular as Corvino takes his character over-the-top, not in an obnoxious way, but in a way that works for a satire. He’s very funny in his characterization and his body language.

For the most part the staging is fine-tuned, although Laura Korn, who plays Corvino’s wife Celia, is stiff in her movements and does not completely commit to her actions.

The set, designed by William Anderson, is simple in its style and coloring. With an art deco style set in the 1920s, the palate is of muted colors like brown, beige, blue and black, and there’s not a lot of flair. The simplicity of the set design offers a nice backdrop for the crazy antics of the show and does not detract from the performance.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
   
       

Patti Roeder and Don Bender in Volpone - City Lit Theater. Photo by Johnny Knight.

Don Bender as Volpone in City Lit's VOLPONE.  Photo by Johnny Knight. Eric Damon Smith (left) as Mosca and Don Bender as Volpone in City Lit's VOLPONE.  Photo by Johnny Knight.

Volpone plays at City Lit Theater, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr, through February 27. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased by calling 773-293-3682 or visiting citylit.org.

All photos by Johnny Knight

  
  

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Review: The Merry Widow (Joffrey Ballet Chicago)

     
     

Parisian elan, Austrian elegance, Pontevedran panache

     
     

Victoria Jaiani and Miguel Angel Blanco in Joffrey Ballet's 'Merry Widow'.

  
Joffrey Ballet presents
  
The Merry Widow
  
Written by Franz Lehar, adapted by John Lanchberry
Choreographed by
Ronald Hynd
Conducted by
Scott Speck
at
Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress (map)
through Feb 27  |  tickets: $24-$145  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

70 years after Franz Lehar’s beloved operetta debuted in 1905, Ronald Hynd transformed the popular gem into an energetic ballet. Now, 36 years later, the 80-year-old choreographer has brought this polyglot divertissement to Chicago in a sumptuous, two-hour fantasy that takes the Joffrey Ballet into wonderful new waters.

Ensemble from Joffrey Ballet's 'Merry Widow'Though the original vaudevillian and rhapsodic tunes get mixed up among the three acts and the subplot involving an incriminating fan has been mercifully dropped, the story mirrors the original in all that matters. Cultural contrast was always the fuel for the fun. Here it’s the fact that the Pontevedran embassy in Paris needs to hold onto the fortune of the title character, if only to preserve its quaint customs and Balkan folk dances in the midst of the world’s most cosmopolitan center.

Three styles keep both operetta and ballet fascinating throughout. The Embassy ball in the first act harks back to the classic waltzes of Vienna. The Second, set in the villa of the fabulously wealthy Hannah Glawari, delights in pseudo-Pontevedran Polonaises and ethnic novelty numbers. Finally, Lehar drenches the third act in French frivolity as the action moves to Maxim’s, with its can-can grizettes and dapper Parisian dandies straight out of Toulouse-Lautrec.

Since this is ballet, the story, compressed and created by Sir Robert Helpmann, is second to the steps. Unlike the operetta, there’s never any doubt that Hanna will return to her rakish former lover, Count Danilo. (We don’t need to burden our pretty little heads with silly doubts.) There’s little more suspense over the illicit courtship between Valencienne, the Ambassador’s flirtatious French wife, and the handsome French attaché Camille de Rousillon, a nightingale indeed.

The duets between these couples echo the musical styles. Victoria Jaiani’s Hana and Miguel Angel Blanco’s Danilo turn the first act waltzes into surprisingly vertical affairs, with lifts that defy the horizontal swirl of the sweeping melodies. Likewise, Yumelia Garcia’s capricious Valencienne, with her sensuous twirls and bodice-bending dips, finds a perfect partner in Graham Maverick’s quicksiliver, gravity-defying Rousillon. Both blend in beautifully with the galloping gaiety of Maxim’s in full fluorescence.

Ensemble from Joffrey Ballet's 'Merry Widow'

Hynd has given the ensemble glorious moments, whether as gallant members of the Pontevedran entourage or hellbent, high-kicking, skirt-tossing soubrettes making plays for the gentry. They’re impeccably costumed by Italian designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno, while the stenciled facades and imitation marble pillars of the first act, wisteria-laden garden of the second, and monumental cabaret setting of the third act, are also the gorgeous work of the exquisitely talented Di Bagno.

It lasts no longer than it should, since a fantasy should never be pushed beyond its initial allure. As the English say, you should never let daylight shine on magic.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
      
   
Lucas Segovia, Yumelia, Garcia, Matthew_Adamczyk in Joffrey Ballet's 'Merry Widow' Victoria Jaiani as Hannah the wealthy widow in Joffrey Ballet's 'Merry Widow'
Yumelia Garcia and Graham Maverick in Joffrey Ballet's 'The Merry Widow' Christine Rocas, Miguel Angel Blanco, Jaime Hickey in Joffrey Ballet's 'The Merry Widow'

All photos by Herbert Migdoll.

     
     

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