Review: 6th Annual Chaos Festival (Point of Contention)

  
  

Where ten writers write ten plays actualized by ten directors

  
  

chaos festival 6th annual poster big

  
Point of Contention Theatre presents
  
The Sixth Annual Chaos Festival
  
at Lincoln Square Theatre, 4754 N. Leavitt (map) 
through April 6  | 
tickets: $15  | more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

Lovers, killers, single-cell organisms, survival is dependent on embracing the chaos.  Point of Contention Theatre Company presents The Sixth Annual Chaos Festival. Ten writers wrote ten plays actualized by ten directors.  The cluster of ten minute shows is a showcase sampling of new work.  It’s something for everyone on the all-you-can-eat-buffet.  The morsel nibbling allows for tasting a variety of a la carte offerings without getting stuck with a dissatisfying main entree.  For the curious palate, it’s a series of one bite wonders.  If it’s sweet, there is the next daily special by the actors, writer, or director to crave. If the recipe is bland, a future spicier version could bring out the flavor.

Second Helping, Please 

Three of the shows were unique, lip-smacking, gourmet surprises.  Minutiae written by Barry Eitel, is an evolutionary exploration of scientific wit.  Under the direction of Rachel Staelens, Nicci Schumacher and Rafael Torres spar in a lively, rambunctious survival of relevance.  The Four Senses of Love written by Arthur M. Jolly is a hilarious coupling of two members of a sensory-deprived support group.  Under the direction of Brandon Boler, individually and collectively, Jonathan Helvey and Lisa Cordileone sarcastically work through their affliction with no senses.  Wet Work written by Jenny Seidelman is an intriguing, comedic encounter between two very opposite men.  Under the direction of Brandon Baisden, Ray Ready plays it perky, irritant to an established, smoldering Joshua Volkers.  The odd duo captivates to an unexpected conclusion.

Can’t Make Out the Taste, But I Like it

Two of the shows aroused with a lingering aftertaste. Jib and The Big Still written by Elizabeth Birkenmeir is a guy zoning out to avoid the chaos around him.  Under the direction of Michael Wagman, David Holcombe, Jaclyn Keough, and Warren Feagins effectively use extremes in physicality to contrast angst.  Quiet Killers, written by Kristen Palmer, is teenagers musing over death and human instinct.  Under the direction of Brea Hayes, Drew Anderson, Natalie Nassar, and Eric Ryan Swanson are over-the-top morose.  It’s how the goth-set does funerals.

Had It Before, It’s Enjoyable

Three of the shows have the familiar homestyle goodness of leftovers.  The Narcoleptic Pillow Fight written by Alex Dremann is a couple fighting through bouts of hysterical, empathetic or selective narcoleptic episodes.  Under the direction of Allyson B. Baisden, Megan E. Brown and Andy Cameron heighten the amusing buffoonery of ‘narking out’.  The Rollercoaster of Love written by Joe Musso and A Play or Something Like That written by McCarry Reynolds are two delicious potato salads at the same picnic!  It’s actors playing actors working a relationship scene.  Both are interesting miniCircle Mirror Transformationbut not everybody eats potato salad.

Pass the Salt 

The final two shows are a little too bland to make it to the big meal.  A Portrait of The Artist as a Middle Age Woman written by Jerry Lieblich is a mid-life crisis without the crisis. It needs a dash of Charlie Sheen antics to make it more potent.  A fictional Latin lover (Ben Johnson or Jeff Taylor, no headshot, identify unknown) overpowers with his humorous take.  He’s hilarious but it’s like putting ketchup on eggs… all you taste is ketchup!   White Cotton written by Craig Jessen flirts with infidelity as an engaged man visits his ex-girlfriend.  The love triangle doesn’t have quite enough foreplay to make the audience care about who has the long-lasting orgasm. 

The Sixth Annual Chaos Festival is a savory smorgasbord offering. With ten opportunities to curb your theatrical craving, your hunger will be satisfied. Bon Appetite!

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

chaos festival 6th annual poster big

The Sixth Annual Chaos Festival plays through April 6th at the Lincoln Square Theatre (address), with all April performances at 8pm.  Tickets are $15, and can be purchased online or by calling 773-326-3631. Running time: Two hours, which includes a ten minute intermission.

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Review: Death and the Powers (Chicago Opera Theater)

  
  

Avatars create their own opera

  
  

Sara Heaton, soprano: Miranda; Hal Cazalet, tenor: Nicholas - in Chicago Opera Theater's 'Death and the Powers'. Photo credit: Paula Aguilera

  
Chicago Opera Theater presents
   
Death and the Powers: The Robots’ Opera
   
Written by Tod Machover and Robert Pinsky
Directed by Diane Paulus
at Harris Theater, Millennium Park (map)
through April 10  |  tickets: $30-$120   |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

You could call it an elaborate futuristic puppet show or a techo triumph that pushes opera deep into the 21st century. But you won’t confuse Death and the Powers: The Robots’ Opera with any staging you’ve seen. Developed by composer Tod Machover’s Opera of the Future Group at the MIT Media Lab, this 90-minute cyborg concoction, a Midwest premiere, is based on a libretto by former poet laureate Robert Pinsky and staged by Diane Paulus, who recently revived Hair on Broadway. Together they’ve created a curious amalgam, a sci-fi one-act opera that could also pass for a domestic tragedy.

James Maddalena, baritone: Simon Powers in 'Death and the Powers' at Chicago Opera TheaterThe plot quirkily combines our fear of death with our ardor for and reliance on technology. Though apparently unwilling to risk consigning his dying body to frozen cryonics, multi-billionaire inventor Simon Power still refuses to die in the flesh when he can live in the circuitry. As dying focuses his faculties, he devises a scheme to “download” himself into the world he refuses to leave behind, to escape from matter into the machine. It’s called The System: This Matrix-like hive of embedded memories and personality will perpetuate Powers indefinitely. You CAN take it with you, it seems.

Of course, those left behind can’t help but feel a bit abandoned, especially his doting daughter Miranda (an allusion to the magician Prospero’s daughter in The Tempest). She clings to the world of “sweat and death,” but her mother Evvy, now a semi-widow, is gradually captivated by the System: Evvy cherishes how well this sprawling motherboard has cloned Simon–even though she still craves to be touched. Behind all the Frankenstein-like wizardry is a bionic boy named Nicholas whose arm was transformed by Simon’s benevolence and who wants to repay the favor with electronic immortality.

But the System’s scheme requires the reconstituted Power to turn his back on the finite world of flesh. His “departure” causes a worldwide financial depression. When confronted by the Miseries, a wailing crowd of distressed supernumeraries, not so simple “Simon” retreats back into his cyber cocoon. Miranda is left to choose between real life and an authentic simulation.

It’s easy to find the brain behind this bold enterprise, a bit harder to locate the heart. (More on that later.) With its “disembodied performance” of feedback sensors, customized audio system of 143 speakers, analysis software, surround sound, movable and brightly lit robotic androids, collapsible, bird-like Chandelier, and massive rotating control banks (the bookshelf-like “Walls”) that reflect Simon’s every mood change, the production is itself a “system” that dominates the doings. Far more impressive than affecting, Death and the Powers keeps us as detached emotionally as Simon is physically removed from reality.

     
Emily Albrink, soprano: Evvy - Death and the Powers at Chicago Opera Theater Sara Heaton, soprano: Miranda in 'Death and the Powers' at Chicago Opera Theater
Hal Cazalet, tenor: Nicholas;  Emily Albrink, soprano: Evvy - Death and the Powers at Chicago Opera Theater Hal Cazalet, tenor: Nicholas - Chicago Opera Theater

Happily, James Maddalena’s all-controlling Simon refuses to be cowed by the elaborate equipment that surrounds and finally absorbs the mad mogul. He sings up a storm, a swan song that haunts the action. Simon’s “second coming” obsession with a cyber rather than cellular afterlife is echoed by Hal Cazalet’s equally possessed Nicholas. It’s even shared by Emily Albrink’s easily converted Evvy. (This wife loves Simon enough even to feel him in banks of modules and flashing book spines.) It’s up to an anguished and effective Sara Heaton to keep tortured Miranda in the real world. Valiantly and defiantly, she refuses to sacrifice the “meat” of mortality for the sinful pride of becoming your own posterity.

With musical amplification by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project conducted by Gil Rose, Mahover’s pulsating score eschews melodic rhapsodies for the coiled intensity of frenetic passages and occasionally rhapsodic outbursts. Pinsky’s brilliant libretto lifts it throughout. This proud poet delivers fascinating riffs on the paradox of running out of matter but not out of time and the hubristic arrogance of Power’s neo-Faustian bargain with the all-sustaining System.

It’s an awesome tour de force, enough to cement C.O.T.’s reputation for enterprising risk-taking, not the usual menu you encounter from an opera company. This state-of-the-art showcase for electronic innovation is probably not the future of opera (it still comes down to singing a story). But it’s a bracing look at a brave new world. Death and the Powers will either soon be dated or depict the shape of things to come. But until the computer writes the review, I pick meat over machinery.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Hal Cazalet, tenor: Nicholas - Chicago Opera Theater

All photos by Paula Aguilera and Jonathan Williams

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