Review: I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (James Downing Theatre)

     
    

Witty, fun show upended by uneven cast

     
     

From left to right are: Micah Fortenberry, Elissa Newcorn, Elise Morrow-Schap and David E. Wojtowicz.

  
The James Downing Theatre presents
   
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change
 
Book/Lyrics by Joe DiPietro
Music by
Jimmy Roberts
Directed by
Dale Hawes
at
John Waldron Arts Center, Chicago (map)
thru March 6  |  tickets: $15-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian 

Love.

Whether you’re in it, searching for it, hating on it or agonizing over it, love is always a favorite topic of discussion, and never fails to spark heated discussions or wistful storytelling. Love causes people to do crazy things, and no matter how many times people have been spurned by it, most find themselves right back out there hoping that this next first date will lead to “the one.”

Elissa Newcorn is “Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Bride” in a scene from 'I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change' by the Charles Downing Theatre Chicago.I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, a musical revue, explores the highs and lows of dating, relationships, marriage, children and everything in between. The show itself is clever and witty, humorously exploring the plight of single people, the highs and lows of marriage and what having children does to a married couple’s sex life.

James Downing Theatre’s production of I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change starts of well with the four-person cast (Micah Fortenberry, Elise Morrow-Schap, Elissa Newcorn and David Wojtowicz) singing the ensemble opening number. Each cast member shows off their personality and distinguishes their characterization right from the beginning.

As the series of vignettes and musical numbers continues, it becomes increasingly clear that the casting is uneven, causing an imbalance between the cast. The woman (Morrow-Schap and Newcorn) clearly outshine the men with both their musical talents and their strong stage presence. The woman belt out the songs with confidence and flair, showcasing their voices and offering genuinely touching or side-splitting moments with solos such as “I Will be Loved Tonight” and “Always a Bridesmaid.” Both Morrow-Schap and Newcorn are sassy and quick with the comedic timing.

Because the women are so fantastic, it makes it abundantly clear that the men are not on the same level. Fortenberry begins a little stiffly but does relax and eases into his characters as the show progresses. He becomes adorable as the “awkward guy” on dates. Yet his singing voice is not powerful enough to withstand the fullness of a musical revue. His voice isn’t bad by any means, but it lacks the power and depth to belt out number after number with force. A man’s man (David E. Wojtowicz, right) is mortified when his date (Elissa Newcorn) picks a romantic tearjerker.Wojtowicz also lacks the depth in his voice to carry through the musical numbers. Perhaps it’s the character voices he uses, but his singing voice is less than stellar and his performances are dimmed by his fellow cast mates.

The costuming for I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change borders on high school musical costumes. In some scenes it looks like the actors have just brought in clothes to wear from their own closets and in other scenes the makeshift costumes look cheap and unfortunately visually detract from the performances. Some stronger direction and detail with costuming could have amped up the show.

I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change finishes strong with an ensemble finale number. Though this production struggles to overcome its mismatched ensemble, the show itself proves to be witty and entertaining, finishing on a high note.

  
  
Rating: ★★
 
 

From left to right: David E. Wojtowicz, Elissa Newcorn and Elise Morrow-Schap. James Downing Theatre Chicago

I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change plays at the James Downing Theatre, 6740 N. Oliphant, through March 6. Tickets are $20 and $15 for seniors and students. They can be purchased at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/153540.


Cast and Production Team: Directed by Dale Hawes with Music Director, David Richards, the wonderful comically and musically talented cast includes Micah Fortenberry, Elise Morrow-Schap, Elissa Newcorn and David E. Wojtowicz. Lighting and sound design is by Steve Kedzierski. Set design is by Joshua Dlouhy.

  
  

Review: Lost & Found: Recycled Circus (Actors Gymnasium)

  
  

Energetic production will charm, warm and wow you

  
  

Lost and Found - Little Circus Actors Meredith Tommy Tomlins rehearsing for Lost and Found - Actors Gymnasium
   
  
The Actors Gymnasium presents
  
Lost and Found: a Recycled Circus
 
Created by Larry DiStasi and Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi
at
Noyes Cultural Arts Center, Evanston (map)
thru March 13  |  tickets: $10-$15  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

There’s something rather “Mad Max” about Lost and Found: a Recycled Circus. Its child performers are costumed in ragged, industrial odds and ends, recalling Tina Turner and the Thunderdome more than an Actors Gymnasium production at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. An apocalyptic circus at the end of the world suits, with its the rag-tag cast carrying on with life’s basic concerns and recreating new wonder out of the old and nearly forgotten. Under the direction of Larry DiStasi, a circus tradition is handed down to younger generations—a little worn and hodge-podge, but no less exciting for all that.

Andrew Adams, Zoe Boyer, Will Howard, Matt Roben, Meredith “Tommy” Tomlins and Lindsey Noel Whiting make up the adult members of the cast, stumbling clownishly through their own dilemmas of losing and finding love. Matt Roben, in baggy clown pants, timidly and haltingly pursues Lindsey Noel Whiting who, prior to the start of the show, tries to sell concessions that include uncooked parsnips and cans of spam. Roben, who has enough on his hands with mischievous kids cramping his dating game, has a rival in the hilariously portly Will Howard, who gives Whiting a date she’ll never forget—for all the wrong reasons.

 

 

DiStasi’s direction intersperses sly and nuanced clowning with aerial work on some pretty tough and industrial circus apparatus. Imposing an almost threatening presence is an aerial ring attached to ladders that form a cone at the top and bottom. Besides an elegant performance on it rendered by two young women in synchronized movement, Whiting also takes a daring turn on it to the tune of Queen’s “Somebody To Love.” If that were not enough, on a spare tire hung from the ceiling, Whiting’s acrobatic work alone thrills with its inherent danger. Meanwhile, Andrew Adams creates wordless, impressive poetry with two suspended cords and an umbrella to an instrumental version of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters.”

Lost and Found is brilliant in bits and moments. Some of these inspire with Dada-esque disjointedness, as when Hannah Schwimmer sings “Poor Wandering One” with the introduction of Howard. But the integration of Actors Gymnasium Teen Ensemble into the storyline between Roben, Whiting and Howard seems to almost be an afterthought. Their numbers create a brilliant visual impact during a choreographed juggling sequence with Adams and their drumming with the younger cast members boosts the excitement of the show. But for a high-concept sort of circus, it’s curious that their acrobatic work is not integrated with the rest of the story. DiStasi tacks their turn at the teeterboard at the end—and as an encore to the production.

Still, it’s an encore that produces a burst of energy and that’s the most beautiful thing about Lost and Found. On these final chilly and rainy days of winter, this production will charm, warm and wow you.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
   
   

Lost and Found: A Recycled Circus, featuring aerial acrobatics, live music, and magical, found-object invention, continues through March 13th at the Noyes Cultural Center.  Performance schedule: Fridays 7:30pm, Saturdays 4:30 and 7:30pm, Sundays 3:00pm.

     
Teen Actors Gymnasium Team Evanston Will Howard performs with kids from the Actors Gymnasium for production 'Lost and Found a recycled circus'
     
     

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Review: Arms and the Man (Saint Sebastian Players)

  
  

Wrap your arms around this play!

  
  

Arms and the Man by George Bernard Shaw - presented by Saint Sebastian Players

  
Saint Sebastian Players presents
 
Arms and the Man
  
Written by George Bernard Shaw
Directed by
Jim Masini
at
St. Bonaventure Church, 1625 W. Diversey (map)
through March 13  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

I always look forward to what I consider classics. I love Shakespeare, Wilde, and yes George Bernard Shaw. It’s the stuff that I had to read and write reports about in high school. Shaw has a special place in my heart for his character development, especially the female characters. In Arms and the Man, the female characters are wise, witty, and multidimensional, especially in light of the time period portrayed.

Arms and the Man - Saint Sebastian Players 05The actors in the Saint Sebastian Players’ production are pitch-perfect in this production directed by company member Jim MasiniKelly Rhyne plays the role of Raina Petkoff with coquettish aplomb and a dash of spicy feminism. Yes – feminism, which manifests itself in many way; here as a fiery, girlish, woman of power. Rhyne is a radiantly beautiful young actress, perfectly cast as the aristocratic Raina with her glowing ivory skin and delicate features. She looks as if she were really related to Melissa Reeves, who plays the archly funny matriarch Catherine Petkoff, whose comic timing and subtle physicality is a hallmark of Shavian comedy (also at home in the work of Oscar Wilde).

Drew Longo as Captain Bluntschli is reminiscent of Giancarlo Giannini in Wertmuller’s “Seven Beauties”. The exhaustion from battle, the hunger, and the desperation all play across Mr. Longo’s face – and he is hysterically funny. The dialogue is given the full weight of irony that is so essential to a comedy or farcical presentation of high society.  And the scene where Longo gobbling up the chocolates from Raina’s bureau is poignant and funny because of how well the characters interact.

Another brilliant bit of casting is Victoria Montalbano as the maid Louka. Ms. Montalbano gives great face to the all-knowing servant. Shaw illustrates the hypocrisy of elite society with the lower classes. The coercive sexual mores are turned on their heads in this work as Louka holds the aces. What a feminist she is! Her character shuns the dreary and dependable suitor, Nikola, played by the wonderful Chris McGillivray. The life of being the manservant’s wife who is taken behind the topiary is no life for her. Mr. McGillivray is also poignantly funny as the schlumpy manservant, having a great face for comedy, as perfectly witnessed as he offers the blue satchel around the room of characters.

        
Arms and the Man - Saint Sebastian Players 02 Arms and the Man - Saint Sebastian Players 03 Arms and the Man - Saint Sebastian Players 04
Arms and the Man - Saint Sebastian Players 08 Arms and the Man - Saint Sebastian Players 07

This production also stars two of the finest fall guys that I have seen in a while. Greg Callozzo as Major Petkoff is near genius in the puffed up buffoonery of nouveau riche in epaulets. The hair and the expressions fit the character’s obliviousness to what is hitting the fan and the electric bell in his home. The dialogue about bathing is just choice. Charles Askenaiser as Major Sergius Saranoff is wonderfully farcical as well. He portrays the silliness of the privileged officer braggart exquisitely.

Arms and the Man resonates to this day as a portrait of the futile nature of military war, the war between social classes, and the wars of the sexes. The human imperative to dominate obscures meaningful purpose and puts up blocks to true connection.

Emil Zbella’s sets are quite lovely and authentic-looking for turn of the 19th century. The brocades and floral patterns are fun and well designed. I loved the oh-so-special library that Lady Petkoff speaks of in proud tone and the look on her face when she pushes the electric bell is just great. The costumes (Tina Godziszewski) are fun and also appear quite authentic for 1885. There are bustles, furs and parasols (I want that fur night cloak that Raina wraps in when the bedraggled Captain Bluntschli invades her dainty bedchamber!). The wigs and hair are worthy of an operatic wig master. When I saw the actors after the show it was hard to tell who was who. That is a sign of a great production where the actors disappear into the characters on stage. They were just as gracious off stage. Go see this play. It is fun and goes way beneath the surface. The more the world changes-the more it stays the same.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
   

Arms and the Man - Sebastian Players - setArms and the Man continues through March 13th at Saint Bonaventure Parish at Diversey and Ashland n Chicago. This play is part of the 30th Anniversary season for theatre company. Visit the website for more information www.saintsebastianplayers.org


Artists

 

Cast: Kelly Rhyne* (Raina Petkoff), Victoria Montalbano* (Louka), Charles Askenaizer (Major Sergius Saranoff), Greg Callozzo (Major Petkoff), Drew Longo (Captain Bluntschli), Chris McGillivray (Nikola), and Melissa Reeves (Catherine Petkoff).

Production: Jim Masini (director), Emil Zbella (set designer), Tina Godziszewski  (costume design) Mansie O’Leary (costume design) Kalin Gullberg (lighting design), Leah Cox (dramaturg), Adam Seidel* (set construction manager), Don Johnson* (sound design), Al Cerkan* (stage manager), Mary Whalen* (properties manager), John Oster (photos), Nancy Pollock* and Jill Chukerman Test* (co-producters).

*Saint Sebastian Players member

  
  

Arms and the Man - Saint Sebastian Players 06

         
            

Sanity Break: 5-year needs a job before getting married!

Funny!!

 

Here is the story from YouTube:

I am a singer/songwriter and had been asked to go on National Television to sing one of my original so-ngs. My little 5 year old sister (she’s six now) was upset and feeling left out because her big sister was doing all these fun and interesting things. This 1 minute clip is part of a 15 minute video where she discusses her views on life and decides she isnt going to let anything come between her and her goals.

Review: Iphigenia Crash Land Falls…. (Halcyon Theatre)

     
     

Halcyon’s updated Greek tragedy’s as disjointed as its title

     
     

Adam Dodds and Christine Lin  in Halcyon Theatre's Iphigenia ... (a rave fable) Photo by Tom McGrath.

  
Halcyon Theatre presents
  
Iphigenia Crash Land Falls on the Neon Shell
  that Was Once Her Heart (a rave fable)
  
Written by Caridad Svich
Directed by
Tony Adams
at
Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
thru March 27  |  tickets: $18-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

Modern playwrights know you can get a lot of mileage from shaking up the Greek classics. The themes thought up by Euripides, Aeschylus, and Sophocles are vibrant and the stakes are feverish. The drama is easy to understand; lives are on the line. Because of their conceptual enormity, they are easily tinkered with. Euripedes’ Iphigenia in Aulis is one such classic, with a plot boiling down to a king sacrificing his daughter for good luck on the battlefield.

In our day, the ever-inventive Charles Mee and the ever-misanthropic Neil LaBute have all taken swings at Iphigenia. Caridad Svich’s 2004 technology-infused Iphigenia Crash Land Falls on the Neon Shell That Was Once Her Heart (a rave fable) is as disjointed as its title. Svich smashes together 21st Century political discourse, the club scene, and the horrendous violence committed by numerous Christine Lin with Derrick York onscreen in 'Iphigenia ... (a rave fable)' by Caridad Svich. Photo by Tom McGrath. Latin American dictators with the myth. There’s a lot to swallow. Agamemnon is a despot, Orestes is a crack-addicted baby, and Achilles is a sexually-ambiguous raver. Halcyon’s production, directed by artistic director Tony Adams, stumbles over the script’s weaknesses and the cast fails to fully embrace the material.

General Adolpho (Arch Harmon) is Svich’s envisioning of Agamemnon, but he isn’t planning to invade Troy. Instead, he seeks reelection, which may be hard considering his terrible human rights record. In order to get the people on his side, he hatches a plan to kill his daughter Iphigenia (Christine Lin) for sympathy points (although it’s never made clear why he doesn’t just rig the election—seemingly small potatoes for most dictators). Iphigenia flees to the outskirts of town, meeting several of her father’s victims on the way (including three female ghosts played by men). She also comes across Achilles (Adam Dodds), who always has chemicals in his bloodstream and melancholy in his mind. But, like in all the Classics, Iphigenia learns you just can’t beat fate.

Even though I’m no ecstasy expert, Halcyon’s production feels false. The ever-looping electronica (composed by Zebulun Barnow) never reaches the decibels needed. I wanted to feel the bass (although that would probably disrupt Infamous Commonwealth’s A Doll’s House going on down the hall). Svich’s dialogue seems to be penned by an outsider to the scene, especially in these actors’ mouths. The slang feels awkward and the cast seems uncomfortable (especially the drag queens in their heels). Most importantly, Lin and Dodds don’t reach the epic highs needed for Greek drama. Even though Svich’s scenes pull from a huge wardrobe of influences, she relies heavily on Euripedes’ sense of tragedy. Halcyon is unable to grab hold of that level of hubris.

     
Christine Lin and Derrick York onscreen in Iphigenia ... (a rave fable). Photo by Tom McGrath. Arch Harmon in Iphigenia ... (a rave fable), presented by Chicago's Halcyon Theatre. Photo by Tom McGrath.
Adam Dodds and Christine Lin in Halcyon Theatre's 'Iphigenia ... (a rave fable)'. Photo by Tom McGrath Derrick York in the forground and Arch Harmon on screen in "Iphigeni", produced by Halcyon Theatre in Chicago. Photo by Tom McGrath. Christine Lin  in Iphigenia ... (a rave fable) Photo by Tom McGrath.

To their credit, Adams and video designer Rasean Davonte Thomas Johnson do a mostly fantastic job with integrating stage action and video. Steph Charaska’s set and Pete Dully’s lights make the world jump to life. And the cast captures Svich’s dark sense of humor, especially Rafael Franco, Derrick York, and Arvin Jalandoon as the ghosts. The run time is a little over an hour with no intermission, but the play has a kernel of the epic style of Homer. We watch a journey unfold on-stage, with lots of characters, motivations, and points of view.

In the end, the production takes itself too seriously. There are a lot of moments that feel as melodramatic as the angst-ridden tunes that fuel the play. In a bout of meta-theatricality, Iphigenia brings up the burden of playing a character bound by a plot, a very intriguing idea. But like most of the ideas in this Iphigenia, it’s tossed on a heap with all the others. Almost as if we participated in a bender, the audience leaves bewildered and confused.

  
  
Rating: ★★
       
  

Arvin Jalandoon, Derrick York Christine Lin and Rafael Franco in Halcyon Theatre's Iphigenia. Photo by Tom McGrath.

 

Artists

 

Cast: Adam Dodds (achilles), Rafael Franco (fresa girl 1), Arch Harmon (adolpho/general’s ass, soldier x), Erica Cruz Hernández (violeta imperial/hermaphrodite prince), Arvin Jalandoon (fresa girl 3), Christine Lin (iphigenia), Terri Lopez (camila), Miguel Nuñez (virtual mc), Derrick York (orestes/news anchor/virgin puta/fresa girl 2)

Production: Tony Adams (director), Steph Charaska (scenic design), Rasean Davonte Thomas Johnson (video design), Annie Hu (animation design), Kate Setzer Kamphausen (costume design), Pete Dully (lighting design), Zebulun Barnow (sound design and music), Lee Strausberg (props design), Morgan Gire (stage manager), Tom McGrath (photography)

        
       

Review: Leaving Iowa (Fox Valley Repertory)

     
     

‘Leaving Iowa’ backs its rustic corniness with heartfelt characters

     
     

Diane Dorsey (Mom), Don Forston (Dad), Katherine Banks (Sis), Alex Goodrich (Don) in 'Leaving Iowa' by Tim Clue and Spike Manton - directed by Rachel Rockwell

   
Fox Valley Repertory presents
  
Leaving Iowa
       
Written by Tim Clue and Spike Manton
Directed by Rachel Rockwell
at Pheasant Run Resort, St. Charles (map)
thru March 13  |  tickets: $29-$39  |  more info

Reviewed by Dan Jakes

As a boy, I endured my share of 6-hour road trips to Mount Pleasant, Iowa, a pint-sized rural town where my sister attended college. I can’t say the experience left me with playwrights Tim Clue and Spike Manton’s fondness for the Hawkeye State, but I can appreciate the sentiment behind this charming family comedy.

Leaving Iowa is straight-up Americana, full of the diner waitresses, Civil War re-enactors, helpful motel clerks and hyped-up mechanics we like to believe still pepper the Midwestern landscape. The narrative is familiar but sturdy: Don, a city boy (Alex Goodrich), returns home to take care of family business and finds himself reconnecting with his roots in the process.

'Leaving Iowa' by Tim Clue and Spike Manton - directed by Rachel Rockwell, playing at Pheasant Run Resort by the Fox Valley Repertory.

On a mission to scatter his father’s ashes, he is hit with a wave of nostalgia for his family car trips. The action leaps back and forth between Don’s narration (richly performed, which is no easy task with light-hearted material), his present day quest, and flashbacks to his vacation adventures with Mom (Diane Dorsey), Dad (Don Forston), and Sis (Katherine Banks). The childhood scenes are largely dominated by broad comedy—the kind you’d expect in a self-rated PG play about nostalgia and making things right. At times, jokes about incessant backseat wailing just become incessant wailing, but mostly the gentle humor earns at least a smile.

The real heart of the show lies in Don’s relationship with his father. For a play that ends its first act with an ensemble chorus of “This Land is Your Land” set against a waving flag, director Rachel Rockwell touches on some unexpectedly honest, complicated ideas about growing up. When adult Don tries to have a long-distance phone call with his father, boredom and guilt fill the pauses in between banal sports chatter and monosyllabic responses. Dad, planted in front of a television, silently hurts. The son lacks the will to make the connection his old man needs.

The same goes for a later lament about opportunities passed.

This father-son duo has convincing chemistry. Forston is loveable, and Goodrich fills the All American Boy bill with a sense of earnestness and relatable imperfection. Wacky bits about navigating in the bygone collapsible-map era are swell, but Rockwell never lets us forget there are real humans in that car. The show contains substance underneath its silliness—themes that are affecting and brave.

In other words, Leaving Iowa gives us the apple pie without making us stomach too much gooey, fluorescent cheese on top.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
     
  

Stop Fighting!  Diane Dorsey (Mom), Don Forston (Dad), Katherine Banks (Sis), Alex Goodrich (Don) encounter a vacation car fight in 'Leaving Iowa' by Tim Clue and Spike Manton - directed by Rachel Rockwell

Artists

Cast: Diane Dorsey (Mom), Don Forston (Dad), Katherine Banks (Sis), Alex Goodrich (Don), Sean Patrick Fawcett (Character Man), Anna Carini (Character Woman), Torey Adkins (Male Understudy), Géraldine Dulex (Sis Understudy), Valerie Glowinski (Mom & Character Woman Understudy)

Production: Rachel Rockwell (Director), Tim Clue & Spike Manton (Playwrights), Mike Tutaj (Video Designer), Yousif Mohamed (Lighting Design), Elizabeth Flauto (Costume Design), Kevin Depinet (Scenic Design), Miles Polaski (Sound Design), Kristi J. Martens (Stage Manager), Laura Eilers (Performance Assistant Stage Manager), Mark Johnson (Replacement Stage Manager), Jesse Gaffney (Properties Master)

***NOTE: Valerie Glowinski has taken over role of The Character Woman***

Leaving Iowa, Rachel Rockwell, Tim Clue, Spike Manton, Fox Valley Rep

Review: Sleuth (Theatre at the Center)

     
     

A delightfully cunning mystery in Munster

     
     

SLEUTH Lance Baker playing game & Larry Yando

   
Theatre at the Center presents
   
Sleuth
     
Written by Anthony Shaffer
Directed by
William Pullinsi
at Theatre at the Center, 1040 Ridge Road, Munster (map)
thru March 20  | 
tickets: $36-$40  |  more info

Reviewed by Catey Sullivan

Let the games begin. They’re rarely more intriguing and diabolically delicious than they are as played in Anthony Shaffer’s cork-screw twisting crime caper Sleuth. The suspensor has the intelligence of an international chess match and the tension of a frayed high wire poised to snap under the weight of a two-man aerial team, sending those who would traverse plummeting it to their deaths. With director William Pullinsi helming the master-class cast of Larry Yando and Lance S. Baker, Theatre at the Lance Baker as clown breaking in - a scene from Theatre at the Center's 'Sleuth'.  Photo by Michael Brosilow.Center‘s production of Sleuth is a first-rate cut-throat thriller.

Actually, forget the corkscrews. This is a murder mystery with more twists than a switchback trail up a Finlandian Matterhorn. Sleuth isn’t merely a whodunit; it’s also a who-has-been-done, meaning that you’re never quite certain which of several apparent victims has been slain until the final curtain. Is it the Nordic mistress, strangled with the silk stocking? The cuckolding travel agent, executed with the revolver? Shaffer builds illusion upon reality until the two mirror each other in a whacked-out, fun-house reflection, toying with the audience much as the story’s dueling gamesmen toy with each other.

And oh, such gamesmen are at play in Munster. Larry Yando plays Andrew Wyke, a mystery writer whose disdain for the plodding numbskull police is inversely proportional to his love of a good, old-fashioned match of wits. Watch him as he sits contemplating his chess board: The man’s eyes veritably gleam. Listen as he reads a passage from his latest detective novel: This is a fellow enraptured with both the sound of his own voice and the romance of role-playing, a man who is never so happy as he is when he’s putting on a charade.

Lance Baker plays Milo Tindle, a rather condescending travel agent who has been called to Andrew’s aptly Gothic old mansion (an elaborately spooky two-storey set by Rick and Jackie Penrod) for reasons that become clear only gradually. It wouldn’t do to reveal much more about the connection between Andrew and Milo, so suffice to say, the snare that binds them creates an elaborate labyrinth of a live-action brain-teaser. And every time you think you have it all figured out? You haven’t.

Baker and Yando are at the top of their craft; watching them turn and turn back the tables on each other is sheer delight. Milo has quite a journey, going from contained, arch smugness to quivering desperation to scary, dead-eyed psycho to gloating triumph, and Baker carries it off with dizzying grace. Yando cackles like a gleefully demented child as he manipulates his quarry, moving around the stage like a spider hopped up on amphetamines. When predator becomes prey, Yando morphs from elegantly controlled, slightly sadistic alpha male to clawing underdog, wild-eyed with fear and yet somehow also secretly joyous because he’s finally met a worthy opponent.

     
SLEUTH Lance Baker, Jack & Larry Yando, Theatre at the Center Munster SLEUTH Larry Yando with gun & Lance Baker in clown

Director Pullinsi keeps the pace crackling along like a brushfire. In between its trio of Big Reveals, Sleuth is an inherently talky play. Its rich, almost Stoppardian dialogue doubles back on itself as schemes, counter-schemes, crosses and double-crosses volley across the stage. Yando and Baker parry with the ease of fencers, making the intricate wording sound as spontaneous as an unexpected gunshot.

Our one criticism of the production is that Pullinsi downplays the narrative’s essential homosexual subtext (and regular text, for that matter) substantially. That means the end-game lines about diminished manhood and blackmail don’t make quite the sense they should. Still, Pullinsi has constructed a house of games that’s totally worth the drive to Munster.

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

SLEUTH Larry Yando & Lance Baker - smoking jacketSleuth continues at Theatre at the Center, 1040 Ridge Road, Munster, Indiana, running February 17 through March 20. To purchase individual or group tickets call the Box Office at 219.836.3255 or Tickets.com at800.511.1552.  For more information on Theater at the Center, visit www.TheatreatTheCenter.com.  All photo by Michael Brosilow.

     
     

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