Review: Soul Samurai (Infusion Theatre Company)

     
     

Not quite enough soul in ‘Soul Samurai’

     
     

Glenn Stanton, Megan Tabaque, Paul Tadalan, Christine Lin, Zach Livingston, Anji White.

  
Infusion Theatre Company presents
   
Soul Samurai
  
Written by Qui Nguyen
Directed by Mitch Golob
at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map)
through June 5  |  tickets: $15-$25   |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel 

Bloodthirsty shoguns run a post-apocalyptic New York City. A female warrior seeks revenge for her murdered girlfriend, armed with only a katana and a wise-cracking sidekick.

It’s a pretty sweet premise for a play. Especially when a live DJ is scoring the activities and comic book-style video projections provide visual gimmickry. Infusion Theatre Company’s production of Qui Nguyen’s Soul Samurai promises to attract nerds and action-addicts alike. If only the product lived up to the hype.

Nguyen’s play falls into the same pit many of the action movies he’s sending up fall into. Instead of a cohesive plot, the story just seems to be an excuse for the next battle. Even with director Mitch Golob at the helm and Geoff Coates crafting the complex sword brawls, the production can’t overcome the play’s flaws. The pacing of the entire show is jilted and the fights seem to be running at about 75%, not full Christine Lin, Amy Dellagiarino in Infusion Theatre's 'Soul Samurai' by Qui Nguyen. Evan Lee, Christine Lin in a scene from Infusion Theatre's Soul Samurai by Qui Ngyuen. Photo by Anthony LaPennaspeed. It’s fun, but it is not fun enough.

Nguyen writes in a style that is half neo-Kung Fu flick and half Blaxploitation. He sets his story several years after New York City has fallen to ultra-violent gangs and a few genuine psychopaths. We follow Dewdrop (Christine Lin) as she seeks to avenge the death of her lover, Sally December (Amy Dellagiarino), who was attacked by a mob of bad guys right in front of Dewdrop’s eyes. The narrative is chopped up so we also see how Dewdrop went from a demure, Asian college student to an urban Amazon. She battles through to Brooklyn, along with her loudmouthed pal Cert (Steve Thomas). But as she slashes deeper into the city, the thugs get more sinister. And maybe a soul-deprived Sally December is among them. Like any good hero, Dewdrop presses on to the bloody end.

I have to give Infusion props for bringing a tale on-stage that you usually don’t see—something action-based instead of focusing on a bunch of characters jabbering the whole time. Although the play is a unique beast for theatre, it doesn’t feel entirely original. While “Kill Bill” was Tarantino’s homage to Hong Kong cinema, it was also an entirely new tale. Soul Samurai seems like an homage to “Kill Bill”. It doesn’t help that the soundtrack is referenced at least twice.

While his production generally exudes the cool necessary for something like this, Golob’s show is flawed. On paper, the running time was an hour and 45 minutes; in reality, the show clocked a half hour over that. A lot of that was due to slow transitions Master Leroy (Evan Lee), Dewdrop (Christine Lin)and dragging scenes, including a training montage that overstays it’s welcome. And on opening night, at least, the on-stage action, music, and video weren’t entirely synced up.

The cast captures Nguyen’s tough, dog-eat-dog style well. Lin has a bit of tough time commanding the space, but she finds it eventually. She’s got the spunk, but she can’t always externalize it. Thomas is the highlight of the show, always flying at a breakneck pace and delivering his profanity-laced witticisms with flair. Other favorites include Glenn Stanton as a pimp-coat donning shogun and Evan Lee as the stereotypical sensei (“Sally” comes out as “Sarry”).

Considering how cool the show could be, the end product is just sort of disappointing. There’s a lot of flash, and Jesse Livingston’s musical styling adds some fun. But, for me anyway, it wasn’t enough to cover up the holes in Nguyen’s pedestrian script. How often, though, is there a chance to see live samurai battles in this city? The slice-and-dice novelty is indeed worth checking out.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
  
  

Evan Lee, Christine Lin in a scene from Infusion Theatre's Soul Samurai by Qui Ngyuen. Photo by Anthony LaPenna

Soul Samurai runs April 28 – June 5 at Theater Wit, 1229 W Belmont Ave.
The performance schedule is Thursday – Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3
p.m. Tickets are $25 during the run with student, senior and industry
discounts available. Industry tickets, $15, are available at all Thursday
performances. Tickets may be purchased by calling 773-975-8150 or at
infusiontheatre.com.   

Photos by Anthony LaPenna

  

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REVIEW: Ghostbox (InFusion Theatre Company)

 

Where Bergman dared to tread

 

 

Ghostbox (1) - Photo by Kevin Viol

    
InFusion Theatre presents
    
Ghostbox
   
Written by Randall Colburn
Directed by Mitch Golob
Apollo Theater Studio, 2540 N. Lincoln (map)
through October 31  |  tickets: $12-$20  |  more info 

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

I have to give credit to InFusion Theatre Company for stepping out of the usual experimental game with Ghostbox. Randall Colburn has taken more than a page from one of my favorite directors and made it work by means of multimedia. The one-act play opens with Wife, played by Victoria Gilbert, demonstrating how a simple transistor radio can pick up supernatural signals. The film is shot in a grainy 1970’s patina of de-saturated color. It has an eerie feel and sets the mood for what comes next. The actual stage is painted in washed out gray tones with the screen set center stage. The actors are dressed in gray scale colors as well, with the exception of the Shadow that looms ominously.

Ghostbox is reminiscent of two of Bergman’s masterpieces: “Through a Glass Darkly” and “The Seventh Seal”. Victoria Gilbert’s dialogue would seem repetitive in the hands of a less emotive actor. As Wife, she portrays the agony of loss and the psychology that lies beneath. Colburn’s dialogue reaches into the exotic territory of Reykjavik as the beginning of the love story of Husband and Wife. Husband spoke of Reykjavik as if it were the Promised Land where their love would be perfect. Wife reveals that he kept his deep melancholy and sexual dysfunction a secret.

Ghostbox (7) - Photo by Nastassia JimenezThe characters are kept from connecting and roam a wasteland of radio signals and flashbacks on film. This is indeed a thriller, but thankfully not in the obvious slasher mode. There are no winks at the audience in Ghostbox. This play grabs, releases, and toys with the subconscious. The images of water suggest drowning versus cleansing and purity. Even the scenes of Gilbert standing in a field of solid green are ominous and somehow stark.

Kevin Crispin plays the role of Husband. He bears a stricken hollowed visage that harkens back to German Expressionism films as well as the man playing chess with Death in “The Seventh Seal”. It’s a mystery – is Husband trying to avoid Wife in this murky place that they roam or is he keeping clear because of Shadow.

Ghostbox makes excellent use of sound (sound design by Claudette Perez) with jagged piercing radio signals that cause a few gasps in the audience, adding another layer for the characters to navigate in this nebulous place. I had visions of the old ‘Radio Free Europe’ commercials that called for open radio signals behind what was called the Iron Curtain. I was back in my seven year old psyche and recalling the terror I felt for the people who couldn’t just turn on the radio for pleasure as well as the pain and the smell of what I imagined was a real iron curtain. With Ghostbox, Colburn has created an onomatopoeia of vision and sound that projects a stark and frozen hell. When Gilbert and Crispin are together on the stage the action is taut, feeling as if glass is breaking everywhere without hearing the sounds. Gilbert goes from stricken and grieving to anger – anger at being denied love and sexuality. Crispin treads a tightrope of emotion as it is slowly revealed where they are and how they got there.

If Ghostbox were a film it would be in black and white. Director Mitch Golob keeps the scenes tight and efficient as if he were a film auteur. The suffering of humankind is said to be universal, but how it is expressed varies. It’s a refreshing experience to see a theatre production that does not go for the obvious but definitely hits the jugular. (A strange contrast to see the folks in line for Million Dollar Quartet in the main theatre.) It is a shot of surreal Technicolor and then an Icelandic blast downstairs in the Apollo Studio. Ghostbox is marketed for Halloween entertainment and it will hit the spot. Sleep well children…

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
  

Ghostbox (5) - Photo by Nastassia Jimenez

InFusion Theatre Company presents Ghostbox at the Apollo Studio on Thursdays through Saturdays with a special Halloween Performance on October 31st at 8:30 pm. The Apollo Studio Theater is located at 2540 N. Lincoln. Call 773-935-6100 or www.ticketmaster.com

 

   
   

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REVIEW: Return to Haifa (Next Theatre)

Accomplished design team elevates poignant story

 

ReturnToHaifa26 

Evanston’s Next Theatre presents:

Return to Haifa

by M.E.H. Lewis
directed by
Jason Southerland
through March 7th (more info)

review by Aggie Hewitt

Return to Haifa is a smart and moving new play that follows two couples, one Jewish and one Palestinian during the ugly formation of the Jewish state. M.E.H. Lewis, a Chicago playwright, has created a nicely structured play, balancing the two couples against each other in a simple and effective way. She is credited in director’s note as being “famous as a playwright who does research worthy of a PhD dissertation,” and that is evident in her work – though, at times, it feels too academic.

ReturnToHaifa21 The Jewish & Palestinian husbands (nicely played by Daniel Cantor & Anish Jethmalani , respectively) are named Jacob & Ishmail for the estranged decedents of Abram who fathered Judaism and Islam. Playwright Lewis does not allow Ishmail a single scene in the first act where he does not mention a goat: “He will be so strong he will be able to kick a goat over the ocean” or “He can’t even milk a goat without knocking the bucket over three times.” Do you get it? Palestinians used a lot of goats in the 1940’s. This kind of writing can feel a little bit cold, especially during the first act, where large chunks feel like historical exposition. By the second act, however, all of this research comes together; creating a tension and frustration in the dialogue that would not be possible without the sometimes-alienating moments in Act One.

It’s the production’s women that make the play: Diana Simonzadeh as Safiyeh does some of the best on stage aging I have ever seen, both physically and emotionally. She goes from a playful, happy young mother to a wise, angry, regretful old woman without ever losing a bit of integrity or honesty. Her counter part, Saren Nofs-Snyder, gives a truly heartbreaking performance as Sarah, the holocaust survivor.

The over-arching themes of Return to Haifa deal with one’s possessions and where you call home. The house that these women both call home at different points of the play is always the most prominent thing on stage, and it’s well designed by Tom Burich. The walls are made of gauzy scrim, giving the inside of the house a nostalgic, dream-like and unattainable feel.

ReturnToHaifa12 ReturnToHaifa10
ReturnToHaifa28 ReturnToHaifa14

Whenever Jared Moore is involved in lighting design, he seemingly becomes one of the play’s leading roles, as he comments on and advances the story on stage. He is so intuitive and artful about his work. The house is lit mostly in warm ambers, making it look inviting and safe, until it isn’t, and the stage becomes washed out with a nauseous grey blue that actually looks like death.

Return to Haifa is a good show, and a good choice for Next Theatre, whose shows often tend to be more traditional. Return to Haifa is not a challenging play, even though the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is a challenging topic. It examines horrible things without any true horror. The result is a nice and moving drama, which focuses more on the emotional than the political.

Rating: ★★★

 ReturnToHaifa38

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View (2010-02) Return to Haifa - Next Theatre

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Chicago theater openings/closings this week

chicagoriverblast

show openings

A You Like It Loyola University

Burlesque Is More Annoyance Theatre 

Gossamer Adventure Stage Chicago

High Holidays Goodman Theatre

Horrible Apollo Theatre

Murder in Green Meadows Citadel Theatre

The Music Man Rising Stars Theatre

Phedra New World Repertory Theater

The Shape of Things University of Chicago

Shootin’ the Shit with EJ and TJ Annoyance Theatre

The Spectacular Comedy Spectacle Theatre Building Chicago

When She Danced TimeLine Theatre

Young Frankenstein Cadillac Palace Theatre

 

chicago-river-from-vietnammemorial

show closings

An Apology for the Course and Outcome of Certain Events Delivered by Dr. John Faustus on His Final Evening Theater Oobleck 

Arsenic and Old Lace Northwestern University 

Bastards of Young Tympanic Theatre

Calls to Blood The New Colony

Cotton Patch Gospel Provision Theater

Everyone’s Favorite Lobster Gorilla Tango Theatre

Fake Steppenwolf Theatre

The Flowers About Face Theatre

The House on Mango Street Steppenwolf Theatre

Kill the Old Torture Their Young Steep Theatre

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow Filament Theatre

Lettice and Lovage Redtwist Theatre

Lucinda’s Bed Chicago Dramatists

Night Watch Jedlicka Performing Arts Center

Rhymes with Evil InFusion Theatre

A Streetcar Named Desire Polarity Ensemble Theatre

Yeast Nation (The Triumph of Life) American Theater Company

 

List courtesy of The League of Chicago Theatres 

Chicago theatre openings/closings this week

chicagoskyline-atnight2

show openings

Ah Wilderness! Loyola University Chicago Theatre 

Alice in Wonderland Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

Anton in Show Business Theatre Building Chicago

Baroque and Beatles Chicago a cappella

The Berenstain Bears Northbrook Theatre

Cats Cadillac Palace Theatre

C’est La Vie Light Opera Works

Death of a Salesman Raven Theatre

Disturbed Oracle Productions

Dracula Oak Park Festival Theatre

The Dreamers Apollo Theatre

Fedra: Queen of Haiti Lookingglass Theatre

Lettice and Lovage Redtwist Theatre

Lucinda’s Bed Chicago Dramatists

Pericles O’Malley Theatre

Rhymes with Evil InFusion Theatre

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead Writers’ Theatre

Scared Stiff Chemically Imbalanced Comedy

Slavic Strings McAninch Arts Center 

Two by Pinter Piven Theatre Workshop

 

chicago-river-from-vietnammemorial

show closings

1001 Merle Reskin Theatre

Creepy Hug: Dirt Nap Gorilla Tango Theatre 

The Darkest Pit Prop Thtr

It’s Good for You 2 Gorilla Tango Theatre

Moonlight and Magnolias Buffalo Theatre Ensemble

Pericles O’Malley Theater

Stoop Stories Goodman Theatre

Taking Steps UIC Theatre

The Thin Man City Lit Theater

Village of K_ Bruised Orange Theater

Review: Infusion Theatre’s “Intrigue With Faye”

Kean (Steve O’Connell) comforts his girlfriend Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) to assuage her fears that she cannot count on anyoneProduction: Intrigue With Faye
Producers: Infusion Theatre

Set-up: Intrigue With Faye explores the intimate world of an urban couple whe reach an impasse in their relationship when an infidelity is revealed.  Determined to repair their broken trust, documentary filmmaker Kean proposes to therapist Lissa that they videotape their every move.  Through this videotaping and self-analyzing and reflection, the couple attempts to heal the mistrust and co-dependency that pervades their relationship. 

StrengthsIntruge With Faye’s video effects are pretty cool.  The two leads, Steve O’Connell as Kean and Kate Tummelson as Lissa are gifted actors, and it’s notable that – depsite the fact that Tummelson is the understudy – you never would have known it.  Mitch Golob’s directing skills are adeptly displayed by his ability to keep the production’s focus directly on the two leads, despite the surrounding multimedia bells-and-whistles.   

Weaknesses: Though O’Connell and Tummelson do an exemplary job with their roles, this unfortunately does not allay the fact that their characters are quite uninteresting, especially once they plunge into the seemingly endless videotaping and sef-analyzing imbroglio.  Indeed, it’s interesting to note that the most piquant roles in Intrigue With Faye. 

Summary: This Infusion Theatre Company, now in it’s second year, has set out for itself a very valient and exciting mission: bringing in a new audience of theatre goers through the use of multi-media in telling its stories on stage. Though InFusion’s multi-media themed productions are a breath of fresh air towards Chicago theatre’s pursuit of a wider audience, Intrigue With Faye does not prove to be the best material towards this endeavor.  Slightly recommended.

Rating: ««½

 

Production:

Intrigue With Faye

Playwright:

Kate Robin

Director:

Mitch Golob

Featuring:

Steve O’Connell (Kean), Leah Nuetzel (Lissa), Kate Tummelson (Lissa – understudy), James Farrugio (Frank), Dan Flannery and Marueen Tolman Flannery (married couple), Callie Munson (Tina), Kevin Stark (male patient) and Leah Wagner (Faye)

Design Team:

Lucas Merino (Video Design), Chelsea Meyers (Scenic Design), Michael Smallwood (Lighting Design), Scotty Iseri (Sound Design), Christine Pascual (Costume Design), James Gibson (Props Design)

Technical Team:

Bridgette O’Connor (Assistant Director, Production Manager), Tara Malpass (Stage Manager), Jamie Bragg (Dramaturg), Blair Robertson (Casting Director)

Coming next:

Midwest premiere of Rhymes With Evil (Oct 16 –Nov 23)

More info:

www.InfusionTheatre.com

 

 Kean (Steve O’Connell) breaks the romantic moment with Lissa (Leah Nuetzel)

Kean (Steve O’Connell) breaks the romantic moment with Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) by checking the mail, in InFusion Theatre Company’s Midwest premiere of “Intrigue With Faye” by Kate Robin of “Six Feet Under”.

 Kean (Steve O’Connell) attempts to comfort Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) after missing their date, in InFusion Theatre Company’s Midwest premiere of “Intrigue With Faye” by “Six Feet Under’s” Kate Robin, running April 17 – June 1, 2008, at the Royal George Theatre Gallery Space, 1641 N. Halsted St. in Chicago.  Tickets at 312-988-9000, and info at www.infusiontheatre.com  Photo by Johnny Knight.

Kean (Steve O’Connell) attempts to comfort Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) after missing their date

Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) turns the camera on her boyfriend Kean (Steve O’Connell) to stop him from cheating on her

Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) turns the camera on her boyfriend Kean (Steve O’Connell) to stop him from cheating on her

 Kean (Steve O’Connell) explains to his girlfriend Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) that she should give their relationship another chance (by putting their lives on tape)

Kean (Steve O’Connell) explains to his girlfriend Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) that she should give their relationship another chance (by putting their lives on tape)

Kean (Steve O’Connell) pleads with his girlfriend Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) to give their relationship another chance (by putting their lives on tape)

Kean (Steve O’Connell) pleads with his girlfriend Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) to give their relationship another chance (by putting their lives on tape)

Kean (Steve O’Connell) comforts his girlfriend Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) to assuage her fears that she cannot count on anyone

Kean (Steve O’Connell) comforts his girlfriend Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) to assuage her fears that she cannot count on anyone