Review: Adrift in Macao (InnateVolution Theater)

  
  

Strong acting, lush visuals can’t overcome acoustic issues

  
  

Rick's Song in InnateVolution's production of "Adrift in Macao" at The Call. Photo credit: Eamonn Sexton Photography

  
InnateVolution Theater presents
   
Adrift in Macao
  
Book/Lyrics by Christopher Durang
Music by Peter Melnick
Directed by Toma Tavares Langston
at The Call, 1547 W. Bryn Mawr (map)
thru May 29  | 
tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

The Film Noir translated to stage is a brilliant concept. It is one so abstract and far flung from the history of the musical that it would be absurd unless crafted by a master such as Mel Brooks or the playwright Christopher Durang. The Innatevolution Theater gamely tackle Durang’s Adrift in Macao with mixed results. It’s not clear who lifted what from whom in this mélange of music, farce and romance.

Lena Dansdill as Corrina Evil Princess of Desire in InnateVolution Theater's production of "Adrift in Macao" at The Call. Photo credit: Eamonn Sexton PhotographyThe play is set in 1952 when the Noir film was on the wane in favor of saturated Technicolor melodramas with morals dictated by Eisenhower’s America. The loose flowing hair and perceived even more loose morals of the noir goddess was fading to exotic places such as the Portuguese territory of Macao. Opium dens, shady women and racial stereotypes abound and in the midst of it all are the hard drinking and misunderstood American antiheros.

The performances by the Innatevolution cast are quite good – when they aren’t swallowed by the bad acoustics and poor sightlines from bad staging. The performance takes place in what has potential to be a great theater cabaret space. The actors come out and mix among the audience while in character and then are in place for the action to begin with a murder on a supposedly foggy dock in Macao. (Either the fog machine was not working or a cue was missed.) We are introduced to Lureena stranded on the dock in the dark wearing a slinky dress.

Stephanie Souza plays the role of Lureena, the femme fatale fallen on hard times but not yet on her back. Ms. Souza has a nice set of pipes and is beautifully costumed in a sumptuous gown made for Rita Hayworth. Her introduction song, like all of the others, is swallowed by the acoustics and by having to play to both sides of the room. Johnny Kyle Cook plays the role of Rick Shaw who is the owner of ‘Rick Shaw’s Surf and Turf and Gambling Casino". The long name is a running joke that falls flat because the timing is rather flat and the double takes and beats never quite synchronize.

The antihero Mitch is played by Jordan Phelps. He also appears on the dock in a trench coat and fedora singing of being grumpy. The effect is a satirical take on Humphrey Bogart that is given fresh and frenzied energy by Mr. Phelps. He has better projection with his voice and is the most able to hit all sides of the room.

The other bad girl with a bad opium habit is Corinna played by Lena Dansdill. This is a bravura combination of Betty Boop, Theda Bara, and Myrna Loy. Ms. Dansdill is transformed into a caricature amalgam that is visually stunning and funny. When Corinna starts getting her jones on for opiates, she blurts out things such as ‘has anybody seen my glass pipe?’ and then catches herself countering with an absurd request for pancake mix.

     
Tempura's Ugly Bird - scene in InnateVolution's production of "Adrift in Macao" at The Call. Photo credit: Eamonn Sexton Photography Lureena and Corrina Fight - a scene in InnateVolution's production of "Adrift in Macao" at The Call. Photo credit: Eamonn Sexton Photography

Good Luck to you Ladies - scene in InnateVolution's production of "Adrift in Macao" at The Call. Photo credit: Eamonn Sexton Photography

Ashley Morgan plays the alluring Daisy. Ms. Morgan is a fierce drag actress who introduces herself as a cigarette girl in an exotic cheongsam one minute and then as a freaked out tourist in a Mamie Eisenhower leopard coat the next. Daisy is the native girl who loves the antihero but ends up alone and rejected every time.

I will admit to a bit of discomfort with the character of Tempura (Nico Nepomuceno). Racial stereotyping was rampant in Film Noir. The long suffering Black mother from ‘Imitation of Life’ or the fumbling buffoon played by Mantan Moreland in the Abbott and Costello films or happy and faithful Hop Sing on Bonanza. Mr. Nepomuceno takes the role to an expressionistic extreme mocking the American way of life in the staid 1950’s. On one hand Tempura is laying low and disguised by his so-called inscrutable Asian stereotype wearing traditional attire and the queue braid hiding a baton rather than a weapon. On the other hand Tempura’s character plots the demise of the stupid Americans methodically using their own ignorance against them. Nepomuceno’s performance can’t help but be derivative of Ken Jeong’s Mr. Chow from "The Hangover". Jeong and Margaret Cho are the comic standards for turning an Asian stereotype on its head. Some of Mr. Nepomuceno’s performance is uncomfortably funny and like the other characters some of his performance is absorbed into acoustic no-man’s land.

Christopher Thies-Lotito‘s character of Joe is the most clearly heard as a Gildersleeve-type emcee for variations of Rick Shaw’s night clubs.

There are several wonderful moments in this uneven production. The red fan dance is a great send up of both Esther Williams films and the kaleidoscopic June Taylor Dancers choreography. The costumes are spot on with the lurid colors of a Douglas Sirk drama and the wacky spin on Busby Berkeley and Flo Ziegfield . I liked the sly homage to Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" with the flashy duet between Dansdill and Souza.

There needs to be some strategic restaging of this play for it work well. 1) Move the band to the back bar area. They drown out the singing from where they are placed. 2) Use the entire stage facing away from the middle of the room. Whole lyrics are being swallowed into a black hole that neither side can ascertain. 3) Some work needs to be done on the timing to make the farcical aspects of a Noir spoof to work. It may just be sightlines but more plausibly pacing issues.

I do recommend this show (if sound problems are fixed) – and then I recommend that one spends some time checking out such Noir classics as "Gilda", "Out of the Past", or my favorite "The Strange Love of Martha Ivers". The Film Noir is a genre that casts a jaundiced eye on the morals and class war in post war America. This is what Durang was aiming for and this talented cast deserves a chance to hit the mark.

  
  
Rating: ★★
 
 

Corrina's Dressing Room in InnateVolution's production of "Adrift in Macao" at The Call. Photo credit: Eamonn Sexton Photography

Adrift in Macao runs through May 29th at The Call, 1547 W. Bryn Mawr in Andersonville. Check out www.innatevolution.org for more information on the company and performance times.  Tickets are $25.00 which includes 1 well, house wine or Miller Lite drink. Discount Tickets for Students, Industry and Senior Citizens are available. Tickets may be purchased by calling 312-513-1415 or by visiting www.innatevolution.org.

     
      

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Review: Helen (Vintage Theater Collective)

     
     

Vividly adept ensemble reveals the emptiness of beauty

     
     

Bergen Anderson (Servant) and Katy Carolina Collins (Helen) in a scene from Vintage Theater Collective's "Hellen" by Ellen McLaughlin.

  
Vintage Theater Collective presents
  
Helen
   
Written by Ellen McLaughlin
Directed by Kelley Ristow
at Strawdog Theatre, 3829 N. Broadway (map)
through May 25  |  tickets: $20  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

All I know about the Gods is the anguish of my own body.      –Io

Nothing should come between success and the intense wisdom of playwright Ellen McLaughlin’s Helen, produced by the Vintage Theater Collective at Strawdog Theatre’s space. Taking off from Euripides’ play by the same name, Helen investigates the troubling and enigmatic power that beauty maintains over women and men, not to mention its interplay with war, fame, fate, and loss. The legendary Greek beauty whose face launched a thousand ships finds herself stuck in a three-star hotel in Egypt, transported there by the gods to wait out the end of the Trojan War–at least until her husband Menelaus arrives to take her home. Meanwhile, to fool everyone and keep the war going at Troy, the gods have replaced her with an eidolon, an ancient Greek word that means both “phantom” and “image.”

Vintage Theater Collective - Helen poster“I do worry about the world. The splitting of image from being doesn’t bode well,” says Helen (Katy Caroline Collins) to the Servant (Bergen Anderson) of the hotel who perpetually offers her manicures and facials to pass the time. To be in a desired body or not to be in one—that is the question. Director Kelly Ristow assembles an excellent and intuitively adept ensemble cast to take on McLaughlin’s heady and thoroughly philosophical script. This they achieve with a lightness and ease that, nevertheless, nails some pretty dark and powerful revelations.

Collins holds the center with her bored, frustrated, yet quintessentially entitled heroine, solidly elucidating the tendency for perfect beauty to be emptied of everything pertaining to the self, flattened to a reflective surface for the projections of others. Her Waiting for Godot-style role is vitally flanked by the vivid performances of Miriam Mintz as Io and Emily Shain as Athena. Charmingly self-effacing, Io arrives in Helen’s room after being agelessly driven across the Mediterranean by Hera’s gadfly, still recovering her woman’s body after its transformation into a cow. “It made a kind of awful sense,” she says of Zeus’ attempt to hide her from Hera through the transformation, “because it arrived at a time when my body wasn’t my own anymore.” Of being at the mercy of the gods she can only surmise, “I guess I have to think of my suffering as sacred—it’s the only thing they ever gave me.”

Alternately, Athena shows up in chic black, callously glib about the Trojan War, which, as she announces to Helen, has already been over for 7 years. Humanity is a curiosity for the gods because we, unlike them, experience death. But their aspirations for the war to be a compelling spectacle were soon worn out by its boring 10-year siege of Troy. “We lost respect for you guys. You looked like a bunch of beetles scrambling around on a dung heap. When all is said and done, death is pretty boring.” To her credit, Shain blithely tosses off these lines with all the effortlessness as a socialite at a cocktail party.

If there is one snag in the fabric of McLaughlin’s script, it seems to be its over-reliance on the Servant’s storytelling to provide context for Helen’s next set of choices or emotional journey. Also, Jeff Trainor makes a terribly sympathetic war-torn Menelaus, yet his arrival in Helen’s room seems almost anti-climatic. McLaughlin has brought up and fleshed the conundrums involved over women being adored for their physical appearance–yet still having very little control or agency in their lives. She doesn’t seem to know how to wrap up what she’s plunged into. A certain form of immortality is held out to Helen but that hardly seems to compensate for the life the gods have taken from her. Perhaps we will have to wait for the next great beauty of Western culture to have independence, resourcefulness and self-possession. That would certainly be a refreshing change from her literary predecessors.

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

Jeff Trainor (Menelaus) and Katy Carolina Collins (Helen) in a scene from Vintage Theater Collective's "Hellen" by Ellen McLaughlin.

Vintage Theater Collective’s Helen continues through May 25th, with perfomances Mondays-Wednesdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 1pm. Performances are located at the Strawdog Theatre, 3829 N. Broadway).  Tickets cost $20, and are available by phone (214-725-5217) or online at vintagetheatercollective.com.
  
  

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Sanity Break: Gotta Share! Improv social media musical

Love this! A musical breaks out at the tech conference in New York. A speaker is suddenly interrupted by a man who refuses to turn off his cell phone. Knowing how our society has become so “I-have-to-share-everything-about-my-life”, this really hits the funny bone.

  
 

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Review: Cubicle! An Office Space Musical (New Millennium)

  
  

A contemporary classic becomes a mangled musical

 
 

New Millennium Theatre presents "Cubicle! An Office Space Musical"

    
New Millennium Theatre presents
   
   
Cubicle! An Office Space Musical
   
  
Adapted by Ian McPhaden and Steven D. Attanasie Jr.
Original music by Megan Piccochi
Directed by Laura Coleman & Sean Harklerode
at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map)
through June 4  |  tickets: $17-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

The musical theatre landscape of today is riddled with the picked over remains of derivative ideas. It’s not that the genre doesn’t have the ability to be new and fresh (see The Book of Mormon or Next to Normal). It’s just that it’s perceived to be easier and less risky to take a previously successful work, abridge it and insert some songs to fill the gaps. The problem is that this method results in such monstrosities as Spiderman Turn Off the Dark.

New Millennium Theatre presents "Cubicle! An Office Space Musical"In 2005, New Millennium Theatre Company took this formula and applied it to the movie “Office Space”, the hilarious 1999 Mike Judge comedy about the ironies of office life. The company has revived its musical—christened Cubicle! An Office Space Musical. Although I can’t speak for the original production, the current production is a play that only a true hardcore fan of the movie could love. And even then, this might be pushing it. For though the script is a very close adaptation of the movie, the caliber of talent is lacking. This is a musical sung by non-singers who do not have the luxury of proper technical tools to lift their voices above the muffling canned score.

The play is about everyman Peter (Joseph H. White), a white-collar cubicle dweller who can’t stand the rat race. His office features all the common annoyances of contemporary work life, from a confusing hierarchy of middle managers to unexpected weekend workdays. After a hypnotherapy session goes awry, Peter is awoken to life’s zest and decides to seize the day by becoming an utter and complete slacker. Fortuitously, this attitude ends up benefiting him in his work life.

Other plot elements include Peter’s love interest Rachel (Kelly Parker), a disgruntled waitress at a TGI Friday’s style restaurant; Peter’s friends Michael Bolton (Michael James Graf) and Samir (Rafael Torres), who help him execute a plan to embezzle thousands of dollars from the company; and Milton (Guy Schingoethe), the meek and mentally unstable employee who threatens to burn the building to the ground if he doesn’t get his red stapler back.

New Millennium is working with a solid script. The adaptation, penned by Ian McPhaden and Steven D. Attanasie Jr., rips much of the movie’s famous dialogue word for word right down to the famous "O face" scene. You would think it’s too identical to the film to fail.

But it does fail. And it has everything to do with the musical part of this musical. The singing is just atrocious. Much of the songs are spoken with a singsong affect. And even the rap numbers, which don’t require a gift for melody, are executed with a disappointing lack of passion and commitment. The performers, whose vocal strength can be likened to a light breeze, lack microphones, which makes it all the more impossible to hear the lyrics over the pre-recorded tracks. Speaking of which, the music is also problematic. Musical director Megan Piccochi has created a cacophonous and rather uncatchy series of songs that fail to stick. Rather than rely on clear and straightforward instrumentation, she has spliced pre-existing songs with digital samples to create a tangle of audio.

There are two saving graces to this show. The number "Flair" is by far and away the musical’s best. Much of this can be credited to performer Adam Rosowicz, who gives a dynamic performance and sports a strong voice. The other high point is Schingoethe, whose portrayal of Milton is captivating. His powerful pipes eclipse the majority of the cast.

If you’re a giant fan of “Office Space”, you may derive pleasure out of Cubicle! If you are a fan of musicals, prepare to be disappointed. And if you like to go to bed early, drink some coffee (the show runs from about 11 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.).

  
  
Rating: ★★
  
  

New Millennium Theatre presents "Cubicle! An Office Space Musical"

Cubicle! An Office Space Musical will run Friday and Saturday nights May 6th through June 4th at 11:00pm at Theater Wit (1229 W. Belmont Ave.). Tickets are $20 at the door or $17 in advance. There will be a limited number of half price tickets available through goldstar.com and hottix. For more information, or to purchase tickets, call 773-975-8150 or visit www.nmtchicago.org.

  
 

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