Review: Heartbreak House (Writers’ Theatre)

        
        

Writers’ Theatre unpacks Shaw’s layered comedy-drama

        
        

A scene from George Bernard Shaw's "Heartbreak House", now playing at Writers Theatre.

   
Writers’ Theatre presents
   
Heartbreak House
   
Written by George Bernard Shaw 
Directed by William Brown
at Writers’ Theatre, 325 Tudor Court (map)
through June 26  |  tickets: $65  |  more info 

Reviewed by Dan Jakes

Staging George Bernard Shaw’s 1919 satire with the expectation that it will carry relevance requires overcoming some steep hurdles. Without an encyclopedic understanding of period social structure, the play can lack gravity. It’s an uneven mix of broad hysterics and droll musings. It’s literary. It’s long.

Martin Yurek and Tiffany Scott in Writers' Theatre's "Heartbreak House" by George Bernard Shaw".Director William Brown clears or at least side-steps those obstacles through his focus on character accessibility and audience immersion, narrowing the gap between what resonates on the page and what functions in presentation. Great care is taken to ease the entrance to the world of the play–literally, at first. Keith Pitts’ scenic and Jesse Klug’s lighting design sprawls from the performance space to the house, stretching the Shotover manor garden as far they can cultivate it. It’s a hypnotic oasis featuring little touches like a delightfully audible pebble walkway, ethereal floating lanterns, and the general comforts of a privileged family. Think a 20th Century Midsummer garden.

But unlike the tightly-wound lovers who dwell in Shakespeare’s forest, Shaw’s well-to-do find no contentment under each others’ spell–only unrequited desires and disillusion. When young Ellie Dunn (Atra Asdou, romanticism embodied, well-cast as the wide-eyed guide) accepts an invitation to her friend’s (Karen Janes Woditsch) home, she discovers and is ultimately overcome by a web of self-consumed entitlements and entangled loves. If there’s any enchantment to be found, it’s in the thought of total liberation from the mythical heartbreak house and its emotionally-deteriorating inhabitants. Here, sleep is just paralysis.

     
Kevin Christopher Fox and Martin Yurek in Writers' Theatre's "Heartbreak House" by George Bernard Shaw". John Lister, Kareem Bandealy and Karen Janes Woditsch in Writers' Theatre's "Heartbreak House" by George Bernard Shaw".

Writers’ production speaks to what can be unearthed amidst the anguish of love gone awry and the catharsis of reckless abandon. As social commentary, not even a slight update–pushing the story up to WWII–makes the class predicaments entirely identifiable. Well-acted as the performances may be (John Reeger, Janes Woditsch and Tiffany Scott leading the strong ensemble), tedium undercuts several stretches within early scenes. Sex, too, is lacking. Improper seduction perpetuates some of the comedy, and jealousy and wanting perpetuate most of the story–both are dependent on clear sensuality. This Heartbreak could benefit from more. It’s a slow simmer, but by Act III, those shortcomings are easy to forget. Shaw’s skepticism on marriage and relationships progress from era-dependency to something more universal with each act. For all its long-windedness, Heartbreak’s takeaway is the final wordless tableau: a group unified by disappointment, knowing to move on, and looking to the sky for its own destruction.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
   
  

Karen Janes Woditsch, Martin Yurek and John Reeger in Writers' Theatre's "Heartbreak House" by George Bernard Shaw".

George Bernard Shaw’s Heartbreak House continues through June 26th, with performances Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm and Sundays at 4pm and 8pm. Tickets for all shows are $65, and can be purchased through Writers’ website. Running time: Two hours and 45 minutes, which includes two intermissions. 

     
     

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Review: Arms and the Man (ShawChicago)

     
     

A well-acted, comedic pretend!

     
     

Arms and the Man - poster

  
ShawChicago presents
  
Arms and the Man
  
Written by George Bernard Shaw
Directed by
Robert Scogin
at DCA Studio Theatre, 78 E. Washington (map)
through May 15  |  tickets: $10-$22  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

A young girl is enchanted by war.  Her plan for survival is to close her eyes and cover her ears.  When the enemy advances through her window, she must rethink her strategy.  ShawChicago presents Arms and the Man by George Bernard Shaw.  In a Bulgarian village, the Petkoffs are treated like royalty.  They have wealth, servants and a library.  Their pampered lives have them glossing over the bad stuff… even war!  The arrival of a tattered soldier into their home changes everything.  At first, the armed man is a harbored rebel.  When he returns to the house, he’s a dark, secret indiscretion for mother and daughter and an honored guest to father and fiance.  Who is the chocolate cream soldier really?  Arms and the Man is a witty make-love-not-war farce.

As is the ShawChicago tradition, Arms and the Man is billed technically as a staged reading.  A staged reading has no costumes, no sets and no physical movement.  And actors read from the script and don’t interact with each other. As often is the case at ShawChicago, Arms and the Man falls closer to ‘play‘ than ‘staged reading.‘  Under the direction of Robert Scogin, the talented ensemble use vocal stylings, facial expressions and limited gestures for powerful impact.  With ‘noble attitude and thrilling voice,‘ both Jhenai Mootz (Raina) and Ian Novak (Sergius) are hysterical exaggerated versions of the upper-crust.  Shiny-eyed optimist, Mootz charms with her amusing grandiosity.  Staying within his small designated space, Novak throws s a magnificent red-faced, body convulsing tantrum.  Kate Young (Catherine) is animated with elegant sophistication and natural animosity.  When her husband muses that ‘Raina always happens at the right moment,‘ Young zings the one liner with a droll ‘yes, she listens for it.’  Christian Gray (Bluntschli) ends the show in tears.  Gray is beautifully swept up in the romantic moment and weeps.

It’s Gray’s and the others’ level of character interpretation that pushes Arms and the Man away from ‘staged reading’ and up the spectrum to ‘play.‘  The entire cast performs magic.  Sure, in the beginning, it’s a bare stage with music stands holding scripts.  But as the actors connect on an in-depth level with the audience, theatrical imagination produces the window, the bed, the chocolate creams.  The charade constructs the majestic house on the hill.  You see it because the actors feel it.  Arms and the Man is well-acted, comedic pretend!   

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

George Bernard Shaw writing

ShawChicago’s Arms and the Man continues at the DCA Studio Theatre, 77 E. Washington, through May 15th, with performances Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm; Mondays at 7pm.  Running Time:  One hour and fifty minutes includes a fifteen minute intermission. Tickets are $10-$22, and can be purchased online or at the door.

  
  

Review: Arms and the Man (Saint Sebastian Players)

  
  

Wrap your arms around this play!

  
  

Arms and the Man by George Bernard Shaw - presented by Saint Sebastian Players

  
Saint Sebastian Players presents
 
Arms and the Man
  
Written by George Bernard Shaw
Directed by
Jim Masini
at
St. Bonaventure Church, 1625 W. Diversey (map)
through March 13  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

I always look forward to what I consider classics. I love Shakespeare, Wilde, and yes George Bernard Shaw. It’s the stuff that I had to read and write reports about in high school. Shaw has a special place in my heart for his character development, especially the female characters. In Arms and the Man, the female characters are wise, witty, and multidimensional, especially in light of the time period portrayed.

Arms and the Man - Saint Sebastian Players 05The actors in the Saint Sebastian Players’ production are pitch-perfect in this production directed by company member Jim MasiniKelly Rhyne plays the role of Raina Petkoff with coquettish aplomb and a dash of spicy feminism. Yes – feminism, which manifests itself in many way; here as a fiery, girlish, woman of power. Rhyne is a radiantly beautiful young actress, perfectly cast as the aristocratic Raina with her glowing ivory skin and delicate features. She looks as if she were really related to Melissa Reeves, who plays the archly funny matriarch Catherine Petkoff, whose comic timing and subtle physicality is a hallmark of Shavian comedy (also at home in the work of Oscar Wilde).

Drew Longo as Captain Bluntschli is reminiscent of Giancarlo Giannini in Wertmuller’s “Seven Beauties”. The exhaustion from battle, the hunger, and the desperation all play across Mr. Longo’s face – and he is hysterically funny. The dialogue is given the full weight of irony that is so essential to a comedy or farcical presentation of high society.  And the scene where Longo gobbling up the chocolates from Raina’s bureau is poignant and funny because of how well the characters interact.

Another brilliant bit of casting is Victoria Montalbano as the maid Louka. Ms. Montalbano gives great face to the all-knowing servant. Shaw illustrates the hypocrisy of elite society with the lower classes. The coercive sexual mores are turned on their heads in this work as Louka holds the aces. What a feminist she is! Her character shuns the dreary and dependable suitor, Nikola, played by the wonderful Chris McGillivray. The life of being the manservant’s wife who is taken behind the topiary is no life for her. Mr. McGillivray is also poignantly funny as the schlumpy manservant, having a great face for comedy, as perfectly witnessed as he offers the blue satchel around the room of characters.

        
Arms and the Man - Saint Sebastian Players 02 Arms and the Man - Saint Sebastian Players 03 Arms and the Man - Saint Sebastian Players 04
Arms and the Man - Saint Sebastian Players 08 Arms and the Man - Saint Sebastian Players 07

This production also stars two of the finest fall guys that I have seen in a while. Greg Callozzo as Major Petkoff is near genius in the puffed up buffoonery of nouveau riche in epaulets. The hair and the expressions fit the character’s obliviousness to what is hitting the fan and the electric bell in his home. The dialogue about bathing is just choice. Charles Askenaiser as Major Sergius Saranoff is wonderfully farcical as well. He portrays the silliness of the privileged officer braggart exquisitely.

Arms and the Man resonates to this day as a portrait of the futile nature of military war, the war between social classes, and the wars of the sexes. The human imperative to dominate obscures meaningful purpose and puts up blocks to true connection.

Emil Zbella’s sets are quite lovely and authentic-looking for turn of the 19th century. The brocades and floral patterns are fun and well designed. I loved the oh-so-special library that Lady Petkoff speaks of in proud tone and the look on her face when she pushes the electric bell is just great. The costumes (Tina Godziszewski) are fun and also appear quite authentic for 1885. There are bustles, furs and parasols (I want that fur night cloak that Raina wraps in when the bedraggled Captain Bluntschli invades her dainty bedchamber!). The wigs and hair are worthy of an operatic wig master. When I saw the actors after the show it was hard to tell who was who. That is a sign of a great production where the actors disappear into the characters on stage. They were just as gracious off stage. Go see this play. It is fun and goes way beneath the surface. The more the world changes-the more it stays the same.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
   

Arms and the Man - Sebastian Players - setArms and the Man continues through March 13th at Saint Bonaventure Parish at Diversey and Ashland n Chicago. This play is part of the 30th Anniversary season for theatre company. Visit the website for more information www.saintsebastianplayers.org


Artists

 

Cast: Kelly Rhyne* (Raina Petkoff), Victoria Montalbano* (Louka), Charles Askenaizer (Major Sergius Saranoff), Greg Callozzo (Major Petkoff), Drew Longo (Captain Bluntschli), Chris McGillivray (Nikola), and Melissa Reeves (Catherine Petkoff).

Production: Jim Masini (director), Emil Zbella (set designer), Tina Godziszewski  (costume design) Mansie O’Leary (costume design) Kalin Gullberg (lighting design), Leah Cox (dramaturg), Adam Seidel* (set construction manager), Don Johnson* (sound design), Al Cerkan* (stage manager), Mary Whalen* (properties manager), John Oster (photos), Nancy Pollock* and Jill Chukerman Test* (co-producters).

*Saint Sebastian Players member

  
  

Arms and the Man - Saint Sebastian Players 06

         
            

REVIEW: Candida (ShawChicago)

 

Shaw explores love by choice rather than passion

 

shawchicago logo

    
ShawChicago presents
    
Candida
  
Written by George Bernard Shaw
Directed by
Robert Scogin
at
Ruth Page Theater, 1016 N. Dearborn (map)
through November 8  |  tickets: $10-$22   |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh 

Everyone loves the Morells but nobody wants to talk about it! ShawChicago presents Candida, George Bernard Shaw’s play about love in and outside the marriage. In 1894 London, Reverend James Morell is in demand on the lecture circuit. His social reform stance has made him a celebrity. His idolizing fans place him on a pedestal. The Reverend enjoys the adoration of his followers including his favorite admirer, Candida –his wife. Life for the Reverend is worship as usual until a young man declares his own love for Candida. Not just that, the young man proposes he’s better suited for her because he’s totally focused on HER happiness. Over a hundred years later, Shaw’s deconstruction of love is timeless humor. In the formalized culture of the time period, love is and isn’t discussed with apologies and controlled emotion. Shaw scrutinizes a marriage to a husband, who has a healthy sense of self. When one confession leads to another, love happens. Candida is a humorous debate of the meaning of love without feelings.

George_bernard_shaw As is ShawChicago’s style, Candida is performed as a staged reading. No sets. No costumes. Under the direction of Robert Scogin, it’s all about Shaw’s words interpreted by a talented cast. Matt Penn (Morell) has controlled intensity as the Reverend. His bursts of rage are a surprising contrast to his confident public self. The target of the anger, Christian Gray (Eugene) plays the young confessor of love with nervous energy and a hint of evil intent. Gray provides a complex version of the love opponent with poetic horrors. Barbara Zahora (Candida) is coarsed-grain. She lives in her husband’s world but maintains her own identity. Zahora charms with a strong sensibility. Lydia Berger (Garnett) is hysterical as the uptight typist. A victim of a secret love, Berger is sharp-tongued with delicious bitterness.

Jack Hickey (Mr. Burgess) assesses the ‘madness’ around him with humor and a strong working class English accent. Sparring with Berger, Kaelen Strouse (Lexy) is also crushing on the Reverend with a sweet devotion. This cast magnificently flirts with all the aspects of unrequited love.

Undoubtedly, Candida shocked the turn-of-the-century audiences. Today, it still surprises for its ageless topic, love. In 2010, love is expressed with emotion. Uncontrollable passion drives people together and apart. It’s not so much a decision to love, as the fated outcome of animalistic urges. Perhaps we should all channel our inner Shaw for lively intellectual debates on love before going heels over head.

Critics, like other people, see what they look for, not what is actually before them. –George Bernard Shaw

   
   
Rating: ★★★
    
   

Running Time: Two hours includes a fifteen minute intermission

   
   

REVIEW: Doctor’s Dilemma (ShawChicago)

A timeless treatise on today’s healthcare debate?

 

doctors-dilemma

 
ShawChicago presents
 
Doctor’s Dilemma
 
Written by George Bernard Shaw
directed by Robert Scogin
DCA Studio Theatre, 78 E. Washington (map)
thru May 10th  |  tickets: $10-$22  | more info 

By Katy Walsh

Who to save? If allotted only enough serum to cure one patient, how to choose who is worthy of it? ShawChicago, in conjunction with DCA Studio Theatre in the Cultural Center, presents Doctor’s Dilemma. Illustrating a lifelong disdain for the healing profession, George Bernard Shaw pens a comedy about doctors debating the sanctity of healthcare for a price. Under the enchantment of a pretty lady, four doctors struggle with the decision to save her charming husband or their bumbling colleague.

shawportrait Although Shaw first produced the play in 1906, his viewpoints are still prevalent one hundred years later. Economics still influences healthcare in adequate coverage for the poor and research interests of the wealthy. Doctor’s Dilemma illustrates the timeless issues of healthcare and arrogant doctors; ShawChicago injects a talented cast. The result is a robust tonic sure to cure any ailment.

In the ShawChicago tradition, the show is a public reading. No costumes. No scenery. It’s just Shaw, Scogin and the ensemble. Under the direction of Robert Scogin, the entire cast adds their own version of razzle-dazzle. The doctors are a variety of superior condescension. Jack Hickey (Sir Ralph Bloomfield Bonington) is hilarious as the know-it-all physician with one basic prescription, “stimulate the phagocytes.” Hickey is riotous rambling his lunatic theories then stopping abruptly to utter “I’ve lost the thread of my conversation.” Will Clinger (Cutler Walpole) is in turn outrageous with his repeated diagnosis of ‘blood poisoning’ and his declaration that he is, “not a doctor. I’m a surgeon.” Skip Lundby (Sir Patrick Cullen) is the delightful retired doctor who starts an argument with, “when you’ve killed as many people as I have…” Matt Pen (Sir Colenso Ridgeon) is the smug bachelor with the God complex. The patient is Christian Gray (Louis Dubedat). Gray is the fast-talking scoundrel and the arrogant match for the doctors. In his immorality justification, Gray argues that lawyers threaten prison, parsons threaten damnation and doctors threaten death. Gray is deliciously unapologetic for his rogue ways. Barbara Zahora (Jennifer Dubedat) is the loyal wife and object of the doctors’ affections as she pleads for healthcare for her husband. In smaller roles but with superior accents, Mary Michell (Emmy) and Kaelan Strouse (Newspaper Man/Mr. Darby) are outstanding.

Sixteen years ago, ShawChicago started its artistic initiative with Doctor’s Dilemma in the DCA Studio Theatre in the Cultural Center. Back then, it was Clinton and healthcare. Now, it’s Obama and healthcare. But then and now and since 1906, Doctor’s Dilemma is a Shaw timeless classic.

 
 
Rating: ★★★
 
 

Extra Credit:

Running Time: Two hours and thirty minutes includes a ten minute intermission.

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REVIEW: The Philanderer (ShawChicago)

A no-frills sophisticated comedy

 shawlogo

ShawChicago presents:

The Philanderer

Written by George Bernard Shaw
Directed by
Robert Scogin
Ruth Page Theatre (1016 N. Dearborn)
Thru March 1st (more info)

By Katy Walsh

Leonard wants to marry Grace as a way to finally break-up with Julia. Although this sounds like the plot of the next Hugh Grant romantic comedy, it’s not. ShawChicago presents The Philanderer, a play written by George Bernard Shaw in 1893. Unlike many contemporary movies, The Philanderer is a sophisticated comedy with many layers of humor. On one level, the love affairs are discussed with polite sensibilities. Whether it’s the prudish time period or British formality, love is an unemotional state. Another dimension of absurdity is the Ibsen Club. Most of Shaw’s characters are members of this new-age association requiring members to denounce being a “womanly woman” or “manly man” to generate true equality of the sexes. The club’s premise must have been shockingly hilarious at the turn of the century. Even in modern times, it’s still funny. Encouraged by the young men, women are smoking and drinking in the “old boys club” and it’s freaking their fathers out.

With the tradition of producing shows more like readings, ShawChicago stages The Philanderer without scenery, costumes or other design elements, thus relying heavily on the talents of its playwright and its cast to stimulate the audience. And this talented cast delivers, providing brilliant dialogue with British wit.

Lydia Berger is outstanding as Julia Craven. Berger scores the emotional character and plays it out to the maximum. Very much a “womanly woman”, Julia’s club membership is threatened by her tendency to resort to crying to manipulate men. Berger is hilarious in her struggle to be less womanly. Kevin Christopher Fox is the philanderer, Leonard Charteris. Fox amuses as the nonchalant playboy. Without any hint of self deprecation, Fox states he’s not gallant, handsome or well-dressed. In a very matter of fact manner, Fox takes no responsibility regarding why women keep falling in love with him. Making a smaller role memorable, Richard Marlatt has a ludicrous melt-down as the bumbling physician, Dr. Paramore. Even though the show is auditory, as Col. Craven, Skip Lundby looks very natural saying words like “vexed” and “confounded.” Despite the presence of the script, most of the cast have memorized their lines. On occasion, when an actor resorts to actually reading, there is stammering.

Throughout, ShawChicago showcases its namesake George Bernard Shaw with The PhilandererWithout the distraction of movement on a stark stage, Shaw’s words are the focus. With clever twists and entertaining banter, Shaw wittingly promotes his social agendas of the time period still relevant a century later: feminism, casual sex, animal testing, medical research, and vegetarianism.

CRAVEN: … How jolly it must be to be able to go to the theatre for nothing! I must ask him to get me a few tickets occasionally. But isn’t it ridiculous for a man to talk like that! I’m hanged if he doesn’t take what he sees on the stage quite seriously.

CHARTERIS: Of course: that’s why he’s a good critic. Besides, if you take people seriously off the stage, why shouldn’t you take them seriously on it, where they’re under some sort of decent restraint?      *Act I: The Philanderer

 

Rating: ★★★

Wednesday Wordplay – Warhol, Freud and Facebook crushes

Inspirational Quotes

I was always looking outside myself for strength and confidence, but it comes from within. It is there all the time.
            — Anna Freud

When we are unable to find tranquility within ourselves, it is useless to seek it elsewhere.
            — Francois de La Rochefoucauld

A dog is the greatest gift a parent can give a child. OK, a good education, then a dog.
            — John Grogan, An Interview with John Grogan, 2008

Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency. Nothing is that important. 
        — Natalie Goldberg

We have, I fear, confused power with greatness.
        — Stewart L. Udall, commencement address, Dartmouth College, June 13, 1965

A person has three choices in life. You can swim against the tide and get exhausted, or you can tread water and let the tide sweep you away, or you can swim with the tide, and let it take you where it wants you to go.
        — Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider, Northern Exposure, Northern Lights, 1993

Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.
        — George Bernard Shaw

They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.
        — Andy Warhol, “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol

The world is full of women blindsided by the unceasing demands of motherhood, still flabbergasted by how a job can be terrific and torturous.
        — Anna Quindlen, O Magazine, May 2003

I like manual labor. Whenever I’ve got waterlogged with study, I’ve taken a spell of it and found it spiritually invigorating.
        — W. Somerset Maugham, “The Razor’s Edge”, 1943


Urban Dictionary

 

time vampire

Something or someone who literally sucks your time like a vampire sucks blood.

My computer broke again, I spent all night working on that fucking time vampire.

 

text-hole

Someone who texts on their cellphone in really inappropriate places, like movie theatres, concerts, plays, or during sex.

1. The movie was great, except right during the best scene, this text-hole in front of me lit up his phone and started texting away.
2. We were humping away, and she started texting her friend. She was a certified text-hole.

 

Leno Giver

When someone retires from a legendary television franchise, passes the torch to a worthy successor. Then he gets bored and starts a new show which sucks and then asks for their old job back by firing the successor.

He’s a leno giver.

 

Facebook crush

A crush on a FB friend is characterized by the unexplainable urge to revisit the friend’s Photos tab repeatedly and checking to see if other friends have written new messages on their Wall. Usually afflicts users who are only somewhat acquainted.

"I’ve got a Facebook crush on a guy I was going to rent a room from, but in the end we just friended each other."

 

friendly review

A positive review you give to a movie, book, TV series or CD that you don’t like but which a friend has recommended to you, usually because you don’t want to hurt their feelings.

Rod: I watched that movie The Departed last night which John lent me.
Tom: What did you think?
Rod: I hated it.
Tom: Oh boy, he loves that movie. What did you tell him?
Rod: I told him it was great.
Tom: You gave it a friendly review, huh?
Rod: Yeah, you know what hes like.