Review: The Front Page (TimeLine Theatre)

  
  

Updated: Now extended through July 17th!!

TimeLine’s signature dramaturgy venerates classic media satire

  
  

Editor Walter Burns (Terry Hamilton, right) and reporter Hildy Johnson (PJ Powers, left) work the phones as the biggest story of the year breaks around them in TimeLine Theatre’s revival of the Chicago classic THE FRONT PAGE by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, directed by Nick Bowling. Photo by Lara Goetsch

  
TimeLine Theatre presents
  
The Front Page
      
Written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur
Directed by Nick Bowling
at TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington (map
thru July 17 (extended!)  tickets: $18-$38  |  more info

Reviewed by Dan Jakes

Former Chicago newspaper men Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur took aim at city politics, print journalism, corrupt justice practices, and even themselves in their scathing 1928 comedy about a Windy City press room. So what was their ax to grind?
Far as I could tell, they didn’t have one. Even as they unmercifully and repeatedly jab at their subjects, most of which are barely sheathed caricatures of then-contemporary real-life figures, you can read some smiles between Hecht and MacArthur’s searing lines. The Front Page lampoons Jazz Age Chicago the way Trey Parker and Matt Stone eviscerate 21st century pop culture week after week on South Park—with a dash of anarchy and a palpable love for their targets. It’s one of the reasons why this TimeLine revival of a historic work is actually funny.

Peggy Grant (Bridgette Pechman Clarno, left) isn’t so sure that Hildy Johnson (PJ Powers, right) is ready to leave his life as a reporter to get married in TimeLine Theatre’s revival of the Chicago classic THE FRONT PAGE by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, directed by Nick Bowling. Photo by Lara GoetschAnother is director Nick Bowling and artistic director PJ Powers’ willingness to play up the show’s silliness without playing down the characters’ grotesque flaws; these journalists are brash, lazy, immature, dishonest, misogynistic, racist buffoons. Maybe it was my imagination, but at a few points, I swear some were audibly farting on stage. When the most sympathetic man in the office is an escaped murderer, you know you’re working with a real handful…

Hildy Johnson (PJ Powers) makes a break from the boy’s club and heads to New York with his fiancé (Bridgette Pechman Clarno), or at least tries to before a death row inmate escapes from his office’s neighboring jail. The ensuing chaos exposes incompetence and corruption at every level of the city, from the opportunistic editors, to the deal making politicians, to the incapable police officers, to the dishonest reporters. Hilariously, too absorbed in troubles of their own making, the actual threat of the killer on the loose ranks near the bottom of the characters’ group consciousness.

Even near the brink, Powers and Terry Hamilton (Walter Burns) are grounded and convincing, while Bill McGough and Rob Riley get to have a little more fun as Chester Gould-type cartoons.        

Bowling’s production is brisk, clean, driven at just the right speed, and refined with an eye for details, both big—his cast is just right; it’s enough of a challenge to appropriately fill roles in a standard-sized show, and The Front Page is huge; and small—a 100 percent grease-saturated translucent hamburger bag evokes a reminder of why we’re the City of Broad Shoulders.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Hildy Johnson (PJ Powers, right) and Mollie Malloy (Mechelle Moe, left) are determined to hide escaped killer Earl Williams (Rob Fagin, center) before he can be discovered by the police in TimeLine Theatre’s revival of the Chicago classic THE FRONT PAGE by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, directed by Nick Bowling.  Photo by Lara Goetsch

Editor Walter Burns (Terry Hamilton, right) doesn’t want Hildy Johnson (PJ Powers, left) to quit his job as a reporter for the Herald-Examiner in TimeLine Theatre’s revival of the Chicago classic THE FRONT PAGE by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, directed by Nick Bowling. Photo by Lara Goetsch. Reporter Hildy Johnson (PJ Powers) calls the news desk at his paper the Herald-Examiner to report a scoop on the biggest story of the year in TimeLine Theatre’s revival of the Chicago classic THE FRONT PAGE by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, directed by Nick Bowling. Photo by Lara Goetsch
   

The Front Page continues through June 12th at TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington, with performances Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 4pm and 8:30pm, and Sundays at 7pm.  Tickets are $28-$38 ($18 for students), and can be purchased by phone (773-281-8436 x6) or online. More info at timelinetheatre.com.

All photos by Lara Goetsch.

        

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Review: Birthright (eta Creative Arts)

  
  

Melodrama drowns out Birthright’s take on personal responsibility

  
  

Birthright by Jackie Alexander - eta Creative Arts

  
eta Creative Arts presents
 
Birthright
 
Written by Jackie Alexander
Directed by Vaun Monroe
at eta Creative Arts Foundation, 7558 S. South Chicago (map)
through May 14  |  tickets: $10-$30  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Birthright is basically an African American melodrama, and Vaun Monroe makes the best choice in directing Jackie Alexander’s play with straightforward, almost elemental simplicity. Onstage at the eta Creative Arts Foundation, the play covers the mystery that surrounds a pastor’s checkered past and its connection to the family and friends he tries to counsel and comfort through their own relationship difficulties and economic hardships. Birthright conveys a distinctly Christian message but it relies on a melodramatic framework to make its points. While certainly an interesting vehicle to engage audiences on basic themes of personal responsibility, the play still yields to its melodramatic foundation and many of the show’s performances only serve to further flatten each character.

Etienne (Dion Strowhorn, Sr.) is an impassioned black pastor determined to make Scripture relevant and accessible to his modern flock. He, himself, works both day and night shifts at the factory and struggles with his enduring wife Juanita (Kona N. Burks) over whether they should mortgage their house to support their church. Etienne’s younger brother, Billy (Eric Walker), faces even tougher struggles over maintaining his dignity while suffering unemployment in post-Katrina Louisiana. When Billy attacks his girlfriend Monique (Toya Turner) during a fight over finances, Monique’s sister Michele (Christina Harper) pulls a gun on him and Etienne gets involved not just to set Billy right, but also look out for Michele’s welfare.

Etienne’s intense interest in Michele opens a whole can of worms concerning its appropriateness. Michele, having suffered sexual abuse from her and Monique’s father, Sonny, when they were girls, jumps to the conclusion that Etienne’s interest in her is sexual. Much as Harper strives to humanize Michele, she still comes across as the clichéd troubled bad girl of the plot, out to stir up more shit than she can handle. Her role, more than the others, seems to suffer the worst two-dimensionality. Other characters seem to get a reprieve from stereotype at least at some point in the play, but Michele goes down in the end without the power to redeem or broaden one facet of her troubled personality.

Overall, most conversations between characters come off flatly and give the whole production a community theater feeling. Certainly, it’s refreshing to see the patient and longsuffering Juanita get her licks in with Etienne upon learning he’s given Michele exorbitant amounts of money. The scene wherein the pastor reveals his secret also packs a punch, while Billy’s reconciliation with Monique comes off honestly and powerfully. Alexander definitely makes a Christian perspective on personal responsibility accessible and humanizing with this play. But greater emphasis on bringing out more emotionally nuanced exchanges between characters would enliven Birthright from start to finish, far beyond its melodramatic foundation. That would put the flesh on the show’s bones and bring its message across more vividly.

  
  
Rating: ★★½