Review: Arnie the Doughnut (Lifeline Theatre)

  
  

A sweet indulgence of children’s theater

  
  

Mr. Bing (Anthony Kayer, center) and Arnie the doughnut (Brandon Paul Eells, right) plead with Mrs. Plute (Julia Merchant, left) to let Arnie stay at the Cozy Confines Condo Community; in Lifeline Theatre’s production of “Arnie the Doughnut,” adapted by Frances Limoncelli, music by George Howe, and directed by Elise Kauzlaric, based on the popular children’s book by Laurie Keller;  Photo by Suzanne Plunkett.

     
Lifeline Theatre presents
 
Arnie the Doughnut
 
Adapted by Frances Limoncelli
Based on book by Laurie Keller
Music/Lyrics by George Howe
Directed by Elise Kauzlaric
at Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood (map)
through May 15  |  tickets: $12  | 
more info

Reviewed by Jason Rost

The First Lady would maybe not approve of this delightful children’s musical due to the fact that the play’s hero is a talking fried fatty confectionary void of nutritional value. Nevertheless, Frances Limoncelli’s adaptation of Laurie Keller’s acclaimed children’s book, “Arnie the Doughnut is chock full of moral and whimsical value. Limoncelli’s adaptation is further enhanced by George Howe’s catchy doo-woppy music and lyrics complimented with doughnut hole background singers.

Mr. Bing (Anthony Kayer, right) and Arnie the doughnut (Brandon Paul Eells, left) negotiate a new relationship between man and doughnut; in Lifeline Theatre’s production of “Arnie the Doughnut,” adapted by Frances Limoncelli, music by George Howe, and directed by Elise Kauzlaric, based on the popular children’s book by Laurie Keller Photo by Suzanne Plunkett. The story begins on Arnie’s (Brandon Paul Eells) birthday. He was born earlier that morning in the fryer at the Downtown Bakery. Arnie is a chocolate frosted doughnut, with somewhere between one hundred and one million sprinkles. Proving to be quite philosophical for his young age, he wonders, “What’s my purpose?” He has a strong desire to be the “best doughnut he can be” doing whatever it is doughnuts were made for. Oh, poor naive Arnie doesn’t realize his fate.

He meets new friends vying to be chosen in the doughnut display case, Jelly (Julia Merchant), Powdered (u/s Jasmine Ryan charmingly played at the performance I attended; regularly portrayed by Audrey Flegal) and French Cruller (Abby E. Sammons). They break into the Howe’s most infectious number, “Sunshiny Goodness.”

Arnie is chosen from the display case by the routine obsessed Mr. Bing (Anthony Kayer). Mr. Bing has come to the bakery for his normal plain donuts, but in a fluke, they’ve run out. You know Mr. Bing: he’s the bachelor who pays every bill ten days early, is in bed by 9PM on weekends and still has all of his vacation days left at the end of the fiscal year. He finally takes a risk on a chocolate covered sprinkled doughnut. During the song “A Bumpy Ride”, Arnie rides in a giant paper bag alongside Mr. Bing. Scenic designer, Melania Lancy creates a fun doughnut car that looks more like a deep fried Segway. Arnie learns the hard reality of his true purpose in life when Bing takes his first bite. It’s all a fun adventure from there, trying to figure out what role Arnie can fill in Bing’s life. Julia Merchant is deliciously evil as Mr. Bing’s rule-loving condo president, Ms. Plute.

Lifeline excels in children’s theater, because they clearly treat it no differently than their main stage. The talent takes this play to the next level. Eells is expressive and genuine, not to mention a wonderful comedic actor in every sense. His vocal work is full of life and character. The interplay between him and Kayer bring some subtle comedic laughs for adults. The design is whimsically thrilling. Mean Mrs. Plute (Julia Merchant, left) informs Mr. Bing (Anthony Kayer, right) that the bylaws of their condo community demand that Arnie the doughnut must go by the end of the day; in Lifeline Theatre’s production of “Arnie the Doughnut,” adapted by Frances Limoncelli, music by George Howe, and directed by Elise Kauzlaric, based on the popular children’s book by Laurie Keller. Photo by Suzanne Plunkett. The colors in Lancy’s set are just as vibrant as Keller’s book. Also, Kat Doebler’s costumes allow for wonderfully fanciful transformations of characters. Joe Court’s sound design is the sprinkles on top, particularly one great gag implementing the Psycho sound effect.

In the end, the message of variance in life and companionship may lie a little over the head of the youngest of audiences. Also, do be warned that this play encourages breaking rules (which I found refreshing). I would probably recommend this play for slightly older children, or kids who love the “Arnie” book. A little like a doughnut, the story is light on sustenance and heavy on delight. It seems as though the adults in the audience were laughing constantly, while the children were slightly in awe.

What young audiences will receive, regardless of age, is a wonderful experience in the theatre. The intimacy of a production such as this, compared to a large commercial “Disney-fied” children’s show, provides for a much more magical and personal experience for kids. Just be prepared to shell out for Howe’s irresistible soundtrack on CD, resulting in sudden outbursts expressing the desire to be “More Than Just Delicious.”

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

Arnie the doughnut (Brandon Paul Eells, right) meets his new doughnut-hole friends at the Downtown Bakery; in Lifeline Theatre’s production of “Arnie the Doughnut,” adapted by Frances Limoncelli, music by George Howe, and directed by Elise Kauzlaric, based on the popular children’s book by Laurie Keller. Photo by Suzanne Plunkett.

Arnie the Doughnut continues at Lifeline Theatre through May 15th, with performances Saturdays at 1PM and Sundays at 11AM and 1PM. There are no performances Easter Sunday, April 24; or Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 8. Running time is 55 min. with no intermission. Ticket prices are $12 and may be purchased at the Lifeline Theatre Box Office, 773.761.4477, or by visiting www.lifelinetheatre.com.

All photos by Suzanne Plunkett

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Review: Woyzeck (Oracle Theatre)

     
     

‘Woyzeck’ shows uncompromising artistic vision

  
  

Woyzeck by Georg Bruchner, now being presented by Chicago's Oracle Theatre, directed by Max Truax

  
Oracle Theatre presents
  
Woyzeck
  
Written by Georg Büchner
Translated by David Steiger
Directed by Max Truax
at Oracle Theatre, 3809 N. Broadway (map)
through April 30  |  tickets: free (public access)  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Woyzeck, now onstage at Oracle Theatre, is not just a searing, bold display of German expressionism, it’s also a unique theatrical experience of uncompromising vision, daring and macabre power. Georg Buchner’s unfinished 1837 tragedy about a working class soldier faced with insurmountable oppression, madness and betrayal has seen several revisions, including Werner Herzog’s film of the same name. David Steiger’s translation utilizes direct, clear poetry in expressing Woyzeck’s (Sean Patrick Ward) terrifying schizophrenic state. But is it the multiple elements pulled together by Max Truax’s direction that carry the day—or, rather, the unrelenting night–from which Woyzeck cannot escape.

Woyzeck by Georg Bruchner, now being presented by Chicago's Oracle Theatre, directed by Max TruaxEric Van Tassell’s lighting design, with its bleary reds and blues, melds perfectly with the projected images of wild fields inexorably buffeted by the wind (cinematography by Michael Fernandez and Jeremy Applebaum, video design by Max Truax and Bill Ryan, projectionist Ben Fuchsen). James Ogden’s set design elevates the stage to give us subterranean levels that reflect not only the hellish depths of Woyzeck’s mind but also the darker undercurrent of the human soul. One feels that when the actors are playing on top of the stage, they are always a step away from its precipice, emotionally as well as physically. Leon Rothenberg’s sound design crowns the production with its eerie nails-on-the-blackboard effects. Woyzeck is mad, but madness surrounds him, it is his environment, it is the world in which he lives.

The Captain (Sarah Shook) and the Doctor (Sarah Pretz) stand out as Woyzeck’s primary tormentors—the former believing that his underling must be immoral by dint of his poverty, the latter conceiving of Woyzeck as little more than a specimen for his experiments. Both actors possess disturbing otherworldliness, enhanced, no doubt, by the gender-bending aspects of their performance. But it’s Pretz’s deliciously icy delivery that brings home the benighted place that Woyzeck holds in 19th century society. Furthermore, it presciently foretells the development of Nazi eugenics a century before the Third Reich.

Reduced to being a pawn in his lowly position, Woyzeck can hardly hope to hang on to Marie (Stephanie Polt), the mother of his child once the Drum Major (James Errico) sets his sights on her. Ward’s performance as the troubled soldier almost seamlessly portrays a man hanging on to sanity by his fingernails, the loss of Marie being the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Polt’s sensuality is undeniable; her costume (Joan Pritchard) stands out as one more inspired detail in a production built on ripe symbolism. As for Errico, his flare for vain, bullish masculinity definitely contrasts with Woyzeck’s vulnerability and insecurity, as well as doubly underscoring the terror and despair Woyzeck feels against chthonic and unstoppable desire.

If there’s one flaw in Oracle’s efforts, it’s in its commendable, yet overlong dance sequence (choreography Lyndsay Rose Kane) to Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me To the End of Love.” It depicts Woyzeck’s obsessive horror with Marie’s betrayal, as well as subversive desire in general. A bit of editing here would only punch up the piece. Dragged on too long, the power of the moment becomes lost. But this is just one flaw in an otherwise dead-on production. Oracle knows how to reap the most dread out of oppression, cruelty, heartlessness and insanity. Theirs is the must-see show of this season.

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

Woyzeck by Georg Bruchner, now being presented by Chicago's Oracle Theatre, directed by Max Truax

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