Review: The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia? (Remy Bumppo)

     
     

Albee tragedy hits all the notes, but not always in tune

     
     

Martin (Nick Sandys) stands helplessly by as wife Stevie (Annabel Armour) mourns the loss of their perfect marriage in Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's production of Edward Albee's The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?. Photo by Johnny Knight.

  
Remy Bumppo Theatre Company presents
    
The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia?
      
Written by Edward Albee
Directed by James Bohnen
at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through May 8  |  tickets: $30-$45  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

What an amazing season for Edward Albee fans, as three of his most groundbreaking and influential works have played at some of the city’s most esteemed theaters. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – the classic about the lies a couple tells to keep their dying love – saw a brilliant revival at Steppenwolf, featuring a terrifyingly dominant George played with ferocity by Tracy Letts. The Charles Newell-directed Three Tall Women at Court gorgeously exposed the hopes and regrets of one woman’s life, and starred three stunning actress particularly skilled at capturing the musicality and poetry of Albee’s script. Now Remy Bumppo joins the fray with The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia?, Albee’s tragedy about one man’s love for a goat and the cataclysmic damage it inflicts on his perfect marriage.

Stevie (Annabel Armour) and Martin (Nick Sandys) in Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's production of Edward Albee's The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?. Photo by Johnny Knight. Lies, hopes, regrets, secrets – these are the universal ideas that Albee operates with, but his plays are genius because of their specificity in plot and style. The game George and Martha play in Woolf, the fluid, interwoven recollections of A, B, and C in Women, and the utter physical destruction of Sylvia are all precisely structured to maximize the impact of their themes. George and Martha’s lie deceives the audience, the memories of the tall women are mirrors of the human experience, and the ruins of Martin (Nick Sandys) and Stevie’s (Annabel Armour) living room represent the devastating effects sexual secrets have on a marriage, bestial or otherwise.

Albee has often compared writing to composing music, and his plays have a specific rhythm in the dialogue that sets the cadence for the action: Woolf tense and discordant like a Bernard Herrmann movie score, Women delicate and aching as a Beethoven sonata, and Sylvia an explosive Wagnerian epic. Dynamics and articulation change, themes are passed around characters like sections of an orchestra. This specificity requires exceptionally skilled actors to capture the complexity of the script, and while Remy Bumppo’s cast of actors plays with passion and commitment, sometimes they have trouble finding the beat.

The opening scene finds Martin preparing for an interview with his good friend Ross (Michael Joseph Mitchell) as Stevie tidies up the living room. The couple jokes about Martin’s failing memory, acts out a Noel Coward pastiche – the perfect picture of a happy marriage, except for the unsavory scent of barn in the air. The British Sandys speaks in an American dialect that occasionally wavers during the quiet moments, like the opening scene, but while distracting, it is not the main problem with the start of the show. There’s an ease to the dialogue that the actors haven’t quite found, and that ease helps cultivate a sense of familiarity and comfort between the husband and wife. Martin and Stevie are accustomed to the wordplay and good-humored jokes of their repartee, but Sandys and Armour have difficulty finding the scene’s relaxed pace. The quiet moments are the most difficult for the cast, but they become stronger as the actors begin to expound their energy in the later scenes, using the rare instances of calm to get a much needed breather.

     
Billy (Will Allan) and Stevie (Annabel Armour) struggle to accept the reality of Martin's betrayal in Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's production of Edward Albee's The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?. Photo by Johnny Knight.   Martin (Nick Sandys) tries to comfort troubled son Billy (Will Allan) in Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's production of Edward Albee's The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?. Photo by Johnny Knight.
Martin (Nick Sandys) in a scene from Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's production of Edward Albee's The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?. Photo by Johnny Knight. Family friend Ross (Michael Joseph Mitchell) confronts Martin (Nick Sandys) in a scene from Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's production of Edward Albee's The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?. Photo by Johnny Knight.

Martin struggles to get through his interview with Ross, showing little pride or enthusiasm for his architectural achievements and displaying a guarded detachment that forces Ross to probe into the source of his unease. When Ross learns about Martin’s affair with Sylvia, a goat, the play switches into a heightened emotional mode that the actors are most comfortable in. Mitchell’s combination of disgust and disbelief is spot on, while Sandys begins to show the tortured, conflicted soul of Martin’s character. And when Ross sends Stevie a letter detailing Martin’s affair, their lives are shattered beyond repair. All three of the mentioned plays have these breaking points, but they are never the climax of the play: Martha mentions their son, A/B/C disowns her son for being gay, and Ross sends Stevie the letter. After the breaking, the characters are vulnerable enough that Albee can strip them down and reveal their deepest wants and fears.

Annabel Armour shows remarkable depth as she navigates Stevie’s breakdown, portraying a woman whose defenses are slowly worn away as she realizes she isn’t strong enough to hold her marriage together. She finds herself in a situation she could never conceive, her husband now a sexually deviant stranger. Armour and Sandys find the show’s rhythm in the chaotic second scene, one of the best in contemporary theater, spanning the entire emotional spectrum and sparking intense, intellectual debate about sexuality, marriage, and love. Albee takes the extramarital affair to its extreme, and the characters’ honest, painful reactions resonate even stronger in the absurd circumstances. Armour’s deterioration is heartbreaking, recalling her marriage’s joyous past in the context of its sordid present, and lashing out violently as Martin elaborates on the history of his relationship with Sylvia.

Upturning furniture and smashing pottery, Stevie turns the living room into a physical representation of her marriage, as each new revelation from Martin is another dagger in her side. Going back to the music metaphor, when the characters have the melody, during those big moments when everyone is at a forte, the James Bohnen directed Stevie (Annabel Armour) and Martin (Nick Sandys) in Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's production of Edward Albee's The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?. Photo by Johnny Knight. production achieves greatness. Stevie has a series of powerful monologues that Armour performs flawlessly, culminating in a series of screams that will give audience members goosebumps. The main conflict succeeds because Martin truly loves both his wife and Sylvia, and Sandys is completely believable in his affections. He performs his monologues with conviction and truth, and it’s easy to see how Stevie could fall in love with such a passionate man. And then you realize he’s talking about sex with a goat.

After Stevie and Martin duke it out, their seventeen year old son Billy (Will Allan) suffers a breakdown of his own, as his parents’ collapsing marriage coincides with his own sexual crisis. There’s a tension in Allen’s physicality that may be a character choice, but is ultimately a distracting one as he occasionally appears uncomfortable and stiff. In light of his father’s attitude toward his homosexuality, Billy reacts to his father’s affair with an appropriate mix of fury and repulsion, but the disturbing shift in Billy and Martin’s relationship is natural because of Sandys and Allen’s chemistry. When Ross returns, Mitchell enters at a lower emotional level than his costars, but he is able to reach their level of intensity by the time Stevie reenters. The play’s final moments build to a stunning release of emotion, and the actors hit all the right notes for the tragic end. As the 100-minute long demolition of a family concludes, the audience is left with a slew of questions regarding the nature of human sexuality, which may be the best part of an Albee play. Long after the production has ended, it’s themes resonate and resurface when we least expect them, because of the powerful experience within the theater.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Martin (Nick Sandys) comforts son Billy (Will Allan) in a moment of turmoil while family friend Ross (Michael Joseph Mitchell) looks on.

The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia? continues through May 8th at the Greenhouse Theater Center, with performances Wednesday to Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:30pm. Tickets are $30-$45, and can be purchased online, or by calling 773-404-7336. For more info, go to www.remybumppo.org.

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Review: The Buzz that Is the Buzz (Curious Branch Theatre)

     
     

Mighty mind blowing

     
     

The Buzz That Is the Buzz - Curious Branch Theatre

   
Curious Theatre Branch presents
  
The Buzz That Is the Buzz
   
Written and Directed by Beau O’Reilly
at Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston (map)
through April 10  |  tickets: $12  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Heaven only knows what to make of The Buzz That Is the Buzz–or why it all hangs together as well as it does. Is it the fun of riffing on bad guys, whether they’re the most treacherous of villains, like Shakespeare’s’ Richard the Third or the old-style street thugs with a lingo all their own? Is it the play’s oddball mix of slackers/hipsters with down-and-out private eyes and excessively specialized gay shopkeepers? Curious Theatre Branch has brought a lot of curious avant garde things to light but Beau O’Reilly’s world premiere play gives audiences a hallucinogenic trip where every odd move and play on words fits just right and gels into a funky seamless whole. Then again—maybe it’s those damn chickens, freaky harbingers of guilt and doom and just plain freakiness. Idiot chickens!

Based on a play that was never written, a collaboration between O’Reilly and William Shakespeare called “The Doom In the Bud,” The Buzz That Is the Buzz pursues the aftermath of the evil deeds of Lord Agit (Jayita Bhattacharya), which are twice performed by the cast in shadow pantomime form. O’Reilly’s utilizes movement and shadow theater not only to underscore the work’s random, dreamlike theatricality but also to distance the audience from the characters they are seeing. Lord Agit quotes lines from Richard the Third with self-conscious, almost cartoon-style villainy. But Bhattacharya’s portrayal cannot be received any more heavily than Matt Rieger’s interpretation of Con, a gangster and hit man with a sense of beat poetry about everything he observes. Con’s accompanied by his muscle, Randy (played with tight-jawed hilarity by Beau O’Reilly), who’s obsessive pre-occupation with safety forms its own safety hazard.

Both old school Chicago gangsters are followed by Benny Benjamin (Brian Collins), a cop turned private detective, who’s face was burned in a fire set by Con after he’d dispatched two lives on Lord Agit’s commission. Benny follows the thugs through their various wanderings, as they make contact with people far outside their world–therapists, gay shopkeepers and hip youngsters taking their first crack at selling a drug called “the mighty mind blow.” It turns out that Lord Agit has her origins in the mighty mind blow and that the whole of the world of the play just might have its origins there, too.

More than anything else, the work is a kaleidoscopic interplay of words and movement and images—and somehow, in some mysterious part of the medulla oblongata, it all comes together brilliantly. Evil and its consequences and regret meet with curiosity, dialogue and a bit of healing power to connect. Most of O’Reilly’s characters are haunted; those damn chickens especially haunt Lord Agit, but the mad whirlwind of friends and strangers strangely juxtaposed with each other goes on. I suppose just the fact that they’re talking to each other at all is a celebration of a more hopeful world than the one we’ve usually got.

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

Artists

Cast

Kelly Anchors, Jayita Bhattacharya, Brian Collins, Courtney Kearney, Stephen Lehman, Beau O’Reilly, Matt Rieger & Jordan Stacey

Production

Beau O’Reilly (director); Joseph Riley (set design); Diane Hamm (costumes & masks).

  
  

Review: Unbroken (Kid Brooklyn Productions)

  
  

‘Unbroken’ unleashes new company, fresh, young talent

  
  

A scene from "Unbroken" by Alexandra Wood and directed by Evan F. Caccioppoli; presented by Kid Brooklyn Productions

  
Kid Brooklyn Productions presents
  
Unbroken
  
Written by Alexandra Wood
Directed by Evan F. Caccioppoli
at side project theatre, 1439 W. Jarvis (map)
through April 2  |  tickets: $10  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

It was with great sadness that we caught Kid Brooklyn Production’s inaugural show the very last weekend of its extremely short run. Unbroken, a contemporary play by Alexandra Wood inspired by Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde, enjoyed a short but exceptional American premiere at side project theatre. We can only hope the producers will seriously consider remounting again for a longer run. Director Evan Caccioppoli displays deft handling of very mature themes with a cast of fresh and promising young actors.

A scene from "Unbroken" by Alexandra Wood and directed by Evan F. Caccioppoli; presented by Kid Brooklyn ProductionsBrian Barber (Johnno), Kate Black (Laura), Sara Jo Buffington (Amy), Julia Daubert (Zoe), Jason Nykiel (Steve) and David Henry Wrigley (David) play a round robin of characters searching for someone to meet their emotional and sexual needs. Their one-on-one sexual encounters with each other reveal secrets, longings and disappointments they keep from other partners. Vulnerability lies side-by-side with game-playing, the expressed needs and desires of each character are always up for second-guessing and Caccioppoli has finely honed his cast to build suspense from what goes unsaid as much as what is.

Every scene, every pairing is finely crafted and brimming with daring, fresh energy. If a few moments go a little rough around the edges from the young cast, those are quickly overridden by vital connections between desperate lovers. Amy finds herself alone with Johnno, who acts very much the cool and brazen rock star with her. But he shrinks to brokenhearted neediness with Laura, his adolescent sweetheart who has moved on to Steve to build a family. Laura discovers from her husband Steve that he is infertile, which cements her anxiety over creating a family, implicitly hinting at regret over not choosing Johnno after all. Steve plays along with the business sharp Zoe on their faux speed date, but she ambitiously lays snares for her boss, David, who seems more distracted by the fact that a male friend is getting married. The show subtly builds to the biggest showdown between Amy and David. Amy has detected all along David’s feelings for Joe and craves more than anything else an honest exchange between her and her husband. “Just confide in me like someone you could trust,” she demands over David’s perpetual need for denial and the catharsis released from that demand is palpably felt.

Kid Brooklyn Productions is off to a surprisingly good start. With a little more time to view their work, they could very well be judged as a theatre production company to watch out for.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

A scene from "Unbroken" by Alexandra Wood and directed by Evan F. Caccioppoli; presented by Kid Brooklyn Productions

Artists

Cast

Brian Barber, Kate Black, Sara Jo Buffington, Julia Daubert, Jason Nykiel, David Henry Wrigley

Production and Creative

Alexandra Wood (playwright); Evan F. Caccioppoli (director); Dina Marie Klahn (stage manager); Andrew Zamirowski (set/light designer); Katherine Meister (costume designer); Rachel Rizzuto (dialect coach); Brooke Johnson (asst. stage manager).