Review: White Noise (Royal George and Whoopi Goldberg)

        
        

Though it doesn’t quite rock the hard place, it still rocks

  
  

MacKenzie Mauzy and the ensemble in Whoopi Goldberg's 'White Noise' at the Royal George Theatre in Chicago.

  
Whoopi Goldberg presents
  
White Noise: a cautionary musical
  
Book by Matte O’Brien
Music/Lyrics by
Robert Morris, Steven Morris, Joe Shane
Directed and choreographed  by
Sergio Trujillo
at Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted (map)
through June 5  |  tickets: $50-$65  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

Neo-Nazism, maybe now more than ever, is definitely a lonely philosophy, with both sides of the political spectrum trigger-happy to brand their opponents as followers of the Fuhrer. Unlike the more fashionable discrimination against Latinos, Muslims, and gays, wholesale white supremacy is not in vogue these days. White Noise, the new “cautionary musical” produced by Whoopi Goldberg, asks what would happen if subtle and coded racist rhetoric went viral? It’s already sort of happening over on 4Chan; in this way, Matte O’Brien’s book is screamingly relevant. He’s assisted by well-wrought, if often disturbing, songs and Sergio Trujillo’s snappy staging. However, by using tired Nazi philosophy Emily Padgett and MacKenzie Mauzy in Whoopi Goldberg's 'White Noise' at the Royal George Theatreas its punching bag, White Noise fails to present a nuanced reflection on racism in today’s America—something we desperately need.

The events of the play were inspired by a little duo of white nationalists who formed a band called Prussian Blue. The two tween girls sang about race wars and crushes on skinheads, nearly immediately gaining the ire, and spotlight, of the national media. However, the pinnacle of Prussian Blue’s career was playing a state fair or two. The titular band in White Noise is sexier, more talented, and more marketable—singing their ciphered bigotry, they become YouTube darlings and put out a number one single.

One wonders how their repulsive beliefs are kept hidden from the media – something the show never explains. In fact, you aren’t really told much about how those beliefs came to be; there is never the searing indictment of inherited racism you find in American History X.

What we’re left with is the terrifically short rise and fall of White Noise, which is comprised of sisters Eva and Eden (Mackenzie Mauzy and Emily Padgett), skinhead/bassist/Eva’s boyfriend Duke (Patrick Murney), and Jake (Eric William Morris), who’s slapped onto the band by record exec Max (Douglas Sills as a lukewarm Bobby Gould-lite) with the mission of repackaging the group. The show becomes a battle between the greed of the amoral Max and Duke’s desire to vocalize his disgusting views on a national platform. Eva and Eden are caught in the crossfire. Eden just writes the tunes; she’s never really that concerned with the message. Eva fully believes the stuff, but she’s also a capitalist.

This story is juxtaposed with Max and Jake’s attempts to repackage backpack rappers Dion (Wallace Smith) and Tyler (Rodney Hicks) as gangstas. It doesn’t help that the two’s original ideas are pretty lame (like a rap version of the Declaration of Independence – not kidding), lacking the intelligence of Lupe Fiasco or De La Soul. Against their will, Max turns them into Blood Brothers and Jake writes them a little tune called “N.G.S.,” a smash hit about N’s (think N.W.A.) shooting “white boys.” Obviously, Jake and Max are guilty of racist double-dipping, but Max could care less and Jake is concerned with making his career. The whole musical leads up to a giant concert featuring a double bill of White Noise and Blood Brothers. Needless to say, it doesn’t go down as smooth as “Ebony and Ivory.”

     
Eric Morris, Emily Padgett, MacKenzie Mauzy, Patrick Murney in Whoopi Goldberg's 'White Noise' at the Royal George Theatre
Rodney Hicks and Wallace Smith as the "BloodBrothas" in Whoopi Goldberg's 'White Noise' at the Royal George Theatre in Chicago. MacKenzie Mauzy and Emily Padgett in Whoopi Goldberg's 'White Noise' at the Royal George Theatre

Mauzy and Padgett give great performances and nail the musical numbers. Their tunes, penned by Robert Morris, Steven Morris, and Joe Shane, are legitimately catchy. Murney is chilling and Morris, who becomes the romantic lead in this tale, is decent. Max is a wannabe Mamet character who just isn’t quite ballsy enough, but Sills does the best he can.

I have to give props to this show – which has Broadway-level production design – for not shying away from the vile language. The show may be as blunt as Nazi propaganda. It presents racism in a polarized manner that doesn’t speak to the insidious, quieter racism that we see today. But White Noise still asks some relevant questions. The Hitler salute-inspired choreography in the video of White Noise’s hit single, “Mondays Suck,” inspire rounds of fan vids on YouTube, a la “Single Ladies.” At the end of the night, I was wondering how stupid all those kids must feel after they realize they posted videos of themselves goose-stepping.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Eric Morris, Emily Padgett, MacKenzie Mauzy, Patrick Murney in Whoopi Goldberg's 'White Noise' at the Royal George Theatre

White Noise: a cautionary musical continues at the Royal George Theatre through June 5th, with performances Tuesday-Thursday at 7:30pm, Fridays 8pm, Saturdays 5pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm and 5pm. Tickets are $49.50-$64.50, and can be purchased online or via the box office (312-988-9000). For more info, download the

.

All photos by Carol Rosegg

     

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Review: There Is a Happiness that Morning Is (Theatre Oobleck)

  
  

A witty, cerebral look at love in all the wrong places

  
  

Diana Slickman, Colm O’Reilly and Kirk Anderson in Theater Oobleck’s “There Is a Happiness That Morning Is”. Photo by John W. Sisson, Jr.

  
Theatre Oobleck presents
  
There Is a Happiness that Morning Is
   
Written by Mickle Maher
at DCA Storefront Theater, 66 E. Randolph (map)
through May 22  |  tickets: pay what you can  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh 

The college watches two people have sex on the quad.  Shocking… especially because the public intercourse is between teachers who will enter courses the morning after.  Theatre Oobleck presents There Is a Happiness that Morning Is. Two poetry professors consummate decades of collaboration. The next day, they acknowledge the super-sized P.D.A. in very different ways.  A barefoot Bernard is in full bloom with twigs and leaves sticking out of his hair and pants.  He poetically states ‘I happy am‘ but wants to apologize for the visual spectacle.  A pulled together Ellen owns the intimacy to her class but not necessarily to Bernard.  And she absolutely refuses to ask for pardon from the college. They teach unrelated but related lessons on William Blake’s poetry.  Discourses of ‘Infant Joy‘ versus ‘The Sick Rose‘ probe happiness and dark secret love.  The Colm O’Reilly and Diana Slickman in Theater Oobleck’s “There Is a Happiness That Morning Is”. Photo by John W. Sisson, Jr.separate verses are interrupted by the college president’s twisted reveal. There Is a Happiness that Morning Is is a witty, cerebral look at love in all the wrong places.

Playwright Mickle Maher pays homage to 18th-century poet William Blake with this show.  Maher builds the action from two characters’ interpretations of two different poems.  It’s living verse as the professors reflect on their intellectual and physical connection to the words.  As an Oobleck practice, the story unfolds without a director.  The devised piece works with the cast’s obvious synergy in storytelling.   Looking like Timeout’s Kris Vire’s brother, Colm O’Reilly (Bernard) is hilarious using his fornication as education.  A starry-eyed O’Reilly teaches a lesson in ‘at last I am this poem.’  Diana Slickman (Ellen) counters O’Reilly’s flowery romanticism with no-nonsense practicality.  Slickman’s drollery entertains with a he-said/she-said discourse.  Overlapping lectures set in different times are particularly amusing as he pours his heart out and she takes attendance. In an opposites attract way, O’Reilly and Slickman’s mismatch heightens the humor.  Kirk Anderson (James) surprises with his arrival and adds another kink(y) to the lovemaking.  Anderson deadpans his buffoonery with lighthearted results.

‘Love makes all the difference. With love, all things are better.  Love makes a magic zone.‘  Poets write about love.  Poetry professors interpret the meaning of love… from their own personal experience. There Is a Happiness that Morning Is is a clever, intellectual love lesson.  Although avid readers of poetry will sustain a higher level of pleasure, this course is a stimulating perusal for anyone! 

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Diana Slickman, Kirk Anderson and Colm O’Reilly in Theater Oobleck’s “There Is a Happiness That Morning Is”. Photo by John W. Sisson, Jr.

There Is a Happiness that Morning Is continues through May 22nd at the DCA Storefront Theater, with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays at 3pm.  Tickets are pay-what-you can ($15 donation suggested), and can be reserved online or by calling the box-office at 312-742-TIXS.  Show running time: Ninety minutes with no intermission.  More info here.

        

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Review: One Flea Spare (Eclipse Theatre)

  
  

Eclipse tightly weaves sexual and cerebral dark comedy

  
  

Darcy (Susan Monts-Bologna) and Bunce (JP Pierson) in Eclipse Theatre's production of "One Flea Spare” by Naomi Wallace, directed by Anish Jethmalani.  Photo by Scott Cooper

  
Eclipse Theatre presents
   
One Flea Spare
   
Written by Naomi Wallace
Directed by Anish Jethmalani
at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through May 22  |  tickets: $28  |  more info

Reviewed by Dan Jakes

Charles’ Law: confine elements together, turn up the heat, watch them expand. Prevent them from expanding, and you watch them burst.

It’s a basic principle of chemistry, and a loose outline for any drama in which characters are trapped together during a crisis. The heat, per se, in Naomi Wallace’s 1995 play is in part the Great Plague that ravaged London during the 17th Century, L-R: Morse (Elizabeth Stenholt) and Darcy (Susan Monts-Bologna) in Eclipse Theatre's production of "One Flea Spare” by Naomi Wallace, directed by Anish Jethmalani. Photo by Scott Cooper.and in part the class and sexual inadequacies of her characters: a wealthy couple quarantined inside their home, and the two poor, desperate scavengers who sneak in for shelter.

Twenty five days into a preventative lockdown with boards and a guard (Zach Bloomfield) sealing the couple’s walls and windows, a young servant disguised as a wealthy man’s daughter (Elizabeth Stenholt) and a sailor (JP Pierson) inadvertently extend the couple’s incubation stay from three more days to a full twenty eight. Tensions quickly escalate.

The plague is only the backdrop in Wallace’s story—to some of these characters, it’s more or less a nuisance than a crisis. The real threats within the estate are offenses to each others’ presumptions and social sensibilities: sexual bargaining, class warfare, homoeroticism…One Flea Spare explores these tasty ideas with a steady mix of poetry and prose, absurd comedy and claustrophobic tension.

Even with violence always looming, and several onstage nods to penetration, the experience is more intellectual than visceral. It’s always satisfying to think about, if Morse (Elizabeth Stenholt) in Eclipse Theatre's production of "One Flea Spare” by Naomi Wallace, directed by Anish Jethmalani. Photo by Scott Cooper.only mostly fun to watch. Underneath the play’s linear-plot exterior lies a mosaic play’s heart, mashing together styles and tones, sometimes with enlightening results; other times, the product is more convoluted.

Director Anish Jethmalani is able to help keep the show grounded in places where Wallace doesn’t, knowing not to overwhelm the tightly packed text. Her straightforward and precise staging provides clarity to themes that could easily otherwise be murky. The cast does likewise. This small ensemble is exceptional, especially Brian Parry as the proud, aging, and sometimes oafish house master. Susan Monts-Bologna achieves sympathy without victimhood as his oppressed wife, and JP Pierson conveys a sense of maturity that’s found somewhere in between a young man’s idealism and an adult’s surrender to reality.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Morse (Elizabeth Stenholt, center) introduces herself to William and Darcy Snelgrave (Brian Parry and Susan Monts-Bologna) in Eclipse Theatre's production of "One Flea Spare” by Naomi Wallace, directed by Anish Jethmalani. Photo by Scott Cooper

 

All photos by Scott Cooper

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Review: The Metal Children (Next Theatre Company)

     
     

A fiery display of uncompromising conflict

     
     

Laura T Fisher, Caitlin Collins, Sean Cooper in 'The Metal Children' by Adam Rapp. Photo credit: Michael Brosilow

   

Next Theatre Company presents

 
The Metal Children
 

Written by Adam Rapp
Directed by Joanie Schultz
at The Noyes Cultural Arts Center, Evanston (map)
through May 8  | 
tickets: $25 – $40  |  more info  

Reviewed by Jason Rost

The inspiration for Adam Rapp’s 2010 play, The Metal Children, now having its Midwest premiere with Next Theatre Company directed powerfully by Joanie Schultz, stems from Rapp’s own personal experience with the subject matter. Rapp’s 1997 real-life young adult novel, “Buffalo Tree”, deals with very different topics than the heated novel his fictional character, Tobin Falmouth (Sean Cooper), has written with The Metal Children. “Buffalo Tree” was a fictional account of a 12-year old boy in a juvenile detention center (something Rapp is also familiar with), while Falmouth’s The Metal Children is a novel revolving around teenage pregnancy and abortion. However, both were banned from the school curriculum lead by an opposition of the Christian right. In Rapp’s play, this sets the stage for a fierce debate between art and religion, modern feminism and the purpose of education.

Bradley Mott and Laura T Fisher in Next Theatre's 'The Metal Children' by Adam Rapp. Photo credit: Michael BrosilowBack to Rapp’s real-life novel, in 2005, “The Buffalo Tree” was banned from the school curriculum of a Middle American high school, causing a heated debate involving students, teachers and parents. The school board meeting was attended by Rapp and was covered by the New York Times. This was the incident causing Rapp to write The Metal Children, which brings his fictional author into the same scenario—only in many ways the similarities between Rapp’s life and his play end there. The journey he takes us on is both unpredictable and disturbing, as any fan of Rapp’s plays has come to expect from the playwright of such unflinching plays as Red Light Winter.

The play is set in the fictional town of Midlothia. While there are no specifics other than “Middle America” on the exact location, it could be assumed as Pennsylvania due to the moderate distance to New York implied, references to hills and the fact that Muhlenberg, PA was the actual site of Rapp’s 2005 controversy. Tobin Falmouth begins the play filming a video address for the school board debate addressing his controversial book, using a camcorder belonging to his agent, Bruno (Marc Grapey). Tobin is the picture of self deprecation: living in filth, receiving visits from his drug dealer and slutty neighbor, drugs, drinking and clinging onto any scrap of hope his ex-wife will return to him.

Bruno eventually persuades Tobin to make the trek to Midlothia and personally appear at the debate. He is largely convinced by an impassioned letter from a progressive English teacher, Stacey, defending his book. His first remarks after hearing Bruno read the letter are, “She sounds hot. Do you think she’s hot?” Well, flash-forward to a motel room in the middle of nowhere and we learn that Stacey (Paul Fagen) is not the attractive woman Tobin had in mind, but rather a gay man in his thirties who appears very on edge.

As events unfold, Midlothia begins to seem more like a Steven King setting with spray painted cryptic warnings, gold painted teenage girls, driving rain, phone calls with vacuum cleaners on the other end, means of escape destroyed and one creepy looking pig-masked man with nunchucks. Tobin meets his devotees in Edith (strongly played by veteran actor Meg Thalken), who runs the motel, and her daughter, Vera (a defiantly complex Caroline Neff). Our hero continues to test our expectations, however Rapp excels in creating empathy for unspeakable actions.

The school board debate arrives after an evening of unbelievable occurrences. It is led by a civil and church leader, Otto (Bradley Mott). Shultz and her design team create the most perfect atmosphere for this scene. (There were several moments where I felt the urge to raise my hand, shout out and participate in the debate.) Caitlin Collins, as Tami, the conservative Christian student opposed to the book, is terrifyingly fascinating in her accusations that “Tobin Falmouth is attempting to glorify teen pregnancy.” Vera’s rebuttal is determined exclaiming, “To remove art from a culture, is to name that culture dead!” Laura T. Fisher is yet another standout in the debate as Roberta Cupp, the conservative community leader. When Tobin finally speaks, he clearly is less passionate than anyone about his book; he instead tells the heartbreaking story of what compelled him to write The Metal Children. The brilliance of Rapp lies in that the more we learn of the content of this book and its consequences, the more that even the most progressive audience members find it difficult to choose which side is “right.” What is clear is that each side is far too invested in their own cause to ever understand the other.

Shultz’s direction is masterful in her gradual unraveling of these strange events. Scenic designer, Chelsea Warren, creates efficient use of the space using tracked blinds to frame each scene. Shultz’s cast is also of the highest caliber. Cooper is decidedly subtle in his soft-spoken, yet versatile performance as Tobin. A conversation he has with a certain voicemail is devastating. In addition, Cooper has a strong resemblance to Rapp in this somewhat autobiographical role.

Rapp’s plays rarely take place in a realistic world. There are numerous events in his plays that defy society’s logic. However, Rapp is also one of the gustiest playwrights today and embraces fiction without reservation. His plays are decidedly “messy” with open questions, plot points left unsettled and mixed visceral emotions. The Metal Children is no exception, and with this intelligent, emotional and honestly executed production, the boundaries are tested of what contemporary realism can achieve on the stage.

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
 
 

Sean Cooper and Marc Grapey in Next Theatre's 'The Metal Children' by Adam Rapp. Photo credit: Michael Brosilow

Next Theatre Company’s Midwest Premiere of Adam Rapp’s The Metal Children continues through May 8th at the Noyes Cultural Center, 927 Noyes Street in Evanston. The performance schedule is: Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Saturdays, April 23 and 30 and May 7 have an added 4 p.m. matinee. The play runs 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission. Tickets are $25 – $40, and can be purchased at nexttheatre.org or by calling 847-475-1875 x2.

  
  

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