Review: Ephemera (Polarity Ensemble Theatre)

  
  

The last lost in space cadets

  
  

Kaelan Strouse and Kim Boler - Ephemera

  
Polarity Ensemble Theatre presents
  
Ephemera
  
Written by Bryce Wissel
Directed by Laura Sturm
at Josephinum Academy, 1500 N. Bell (map)
through May 1  |  tickets: $19  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

You have to hand it to Polarity Ensemble Theatre’s latest production, a daffy space opera called Ephemera. It wings its charming way through its almost stream-of-consciousness universe while, at the same time, interjecting notes of wisdom and flashes of sobering reality. Not so sobering that it subverts its comic balance—playwright Bryce Wissel challenges his characters but never allows them to sink into maudlin self-pity or self-absorption. Directed by Laura Sturm, Ephemera does that delicate dance of riffing on well-worn and outlandish tropes from sci-fi, creates a few new ones on its own, while nodding to the obvious drawbacks of a life suspended in space. The crew of orbital space station Ephemera shows all the wear and tear of living the most ungrounded of existences but that hardly keeps them from playing out all their individual idiosyncrasies, even to the living end.

Kim Boler and Jonas Gray - EphemeraPresented in “installments” by greeter Androids 1 and 2 (Hilary Holbrook and Sarah Grant), the story begins with Ephemera’s crew discovering a talking monkey trapped in its airlock. The monkey, Davy (played with superb body language by Charley Jordan) was the original test monkey sent into space during NASA’s early exploration days. Perhaps–and only perhaps–decades of exposure to interstellar radiation have speeded his evolution to the point where he can hold affable conversation, jovially drink down the station’s alcohol and hit on Colonel Kate McBride (Kim Boler). True to sci-fi/action thriller formula, Kate’s the only female on board–so, of course, Davy’s not Kate’s only suitor. Manuel (Kaelan Strouse), an android who was probably weaned on Telemundo programming, exerts all his exuberant Latin charm to woo her–not to mention showboat the audience.

As hotly pursued as Kate is, it’s through her we discover the darker aspects of Ephemera’s nut-house environment—they have been on board, orbiting Earth, for who knows how long or for what purpose. There’s been no communication from Earth and they all have no memory of any time before they were there. “I don’t even know if we came here willingly,” she plaintively tells Davy. It quickly becomes clear that the crew’s behavior reflects the time-wasting, random goofiness of people without direction or relief from meaningless routine. “Everyone I know has heard all of my jokes,” complains Colonel James Bowie (Jonas Grey). The only one having fun with his role seems to be Commander William B. Travis (played with absurdist brilliance by Bob Wilson) and mostly because his role on the station seems to have been fabricated out of thin air.

      
     Kim Boler, Jonas Grey, Charley Jordan, Kaelan Strouse, Bob Wilson, Sarah Grant and Hilary Holbrook - Ephemera Charles Jordan and Kim Boler - Ephemera
Jonas Grey, Kaelan Strouse, Kim Boler, Charles Jordan - Ephemera Kaelan Strouse in 'Ephemera'

Even the comedy’s non-linear story structure, replete with dropped-in asides from the characters, instills repetitive and nonsensical time loops in the action. Wissel’s comedy matches the flukiness of Douglas Adams’ or even Tom Robbins’ novels. At the heart of its highly randomized exposition is a workplace comedy, where work is very definitely not the issue but getting along with the quirks of one’s co-workers is. For the most part, the non-linear storytelling is very successful—only in the second act does it begin to wear itself out as a MacGuffin. However, Sturm’s cast is spot-on in pace, timing and delivery—a factor made all the more exacting by the production’s technical elements. Plus, artist lewis lains’ set design and further art installations create a great space for the cast’s gentle and gracious finale that brings the show home clean, clear and truthful. If a little more editing could be employed, Ephemera just might takes its place in the stars among its illustrious space comedy forebears.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Jonas Gray, Charles Jordan, Kim Bolder

Ephemera continues through May 1st at Josephinum Academy, 1500 N. Bell (map), with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $19, and can be purchased online. More info at www.pettheatre.com.

Extra Credit:

     

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REVIEW: Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Polarity Ensemble)

  
   

This ‘Journey’ lacks propulsion

 

 

Long Days Journey - Polarity 002

   
Polarity Ensemble presents
    
Long Day’s Journey Into Night
    
Written by Eugene O’Neill
Directed by
Susan Padveen
at
Josephinum, 1500 N. Bell (map)
through Dec. 5  |  tickets: $10-$19  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, one of the most important plays in the American canon, is a marathon experience. Four acts, four actors (mostly), and enough substance abuse to melt your liver. Clocking in at almost four hours, the bulky play is rarely done. Polarity Ensemble has bravely engaged with the monster, opening their season with the highly-biographical play. The spark driving this production is dim, causing the world to feel artificial. Considering the challenges, however, Polarity and director Susan Padveen should be commended.

Long Days Journey - Polarity 011Long Day’s Journey can be seen as O’Neill’s love letter to the theatre. Alternatively, it could also be seen as a suicide note.

The play is based on O’Neill’s family life, one that is accustomed to second-rate hotels and late night trains. The father of both the real-life O’Neill and Edmond, his doppelganger in his story, played the lead in a perpetually touring production of The Count of Monte Cristo for thousands of performances. In Long Day’s Journey, the stress of the road has shredded apart Edmond’s family, along with cheap doctors, alcoholism, and a mother with a nasty morphine addiction.

Somewhat surprisingly, the play reads like a living, breathing text rather than a starchy closet drama. O’Neill never saw the play staged. He finished it, threw it in a vault, and said it could only be published a quarter-century after his death. His wishes were subverted, though, and the play saw the light of the day only three years after he was buried. It was met with enormous acclaim, won Eugene a posthumous Pulitzer Prize, and now is required reading for any lover of American theatre. O’Neill’s memories are made watchable because of his charming wit and penchant for writing scorching conflicts which are constantly poked and resuscitated.

After sitting through that crushing diurnal cycle at Polarity’s space, you aren’t left snoring. But you aren’t left electrified, either. The cast shies away from the play’s essential weightiness. They never look comfortable just letting themselves sit immersed in the Tyrone’s dysfunction. The actors can’t get across the giant, swerving egos the script requires.

Long Days Journey - Polarity 013 Long Days Journey - Polarity 012
Long Days Journey - Polarity 003 Long Days Journey - Polarity 019

Kevin Kenneally is patriarch James. The role is perhaps the most difficult in the tale. He has probably the most stage time, and the hardest journey: watching the aftershocks of a family he had a major hand in destroying. Keanneally cannot plug into the raw power needed for James. For the most part, Keanneally steers his James well. But when the cards are down and pretenses have broken apart, he often retreats into vulnerability, as opposed to struggling to paint over his sensitivity with anger and disappointment.

Caroline Dodge Latta as James’ wife, Mary, fares better. She particularly shines in the last moments, where she brings down the house with one of my favorite monologues of all time. The two brothers are the most interesting piece of the cast. Bryan Breau’s Edmond and Eric Damon Smith’s whiskey-soaked Jamie spar with zest, even if some of the stakes aren’t high enough.

Long Day’s Journey into Night is a powerhouse play. Requiring thorough, battle-ready actors, the experience should be a punch in the throat. Padveen’s production is not a powerhouse. The lying isn’t believable enough, the delusions aren’t thick enough, and the family’s utter inability to communicate isn’t fully fleshed-out. The volatility needs to be wrenched up. O’Neill allows little room for tepidness.

That being said, Polarity could have done much, much, much worse. The major themes all bleed out, leaving plenty to ponder after the night finally arrives. Padveen’s production sucks the breath from you. But O’Neill’s incendiary script can knock you cold.

   
   
Rating: ★★½
       
     

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Chicago theater openings/closings this week

buckingham-fountain-at-night

show openings

 

1985 The Factory Theater 

All the Fame of Lofty Deeds The House Theatre of Chicago 

Becoming Ingrid Rubicon Theatre Project

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University

Cooperstown Theatre Seven of Chicago

The David Bowie Hepzikat Funky Velvet Flarney Solstice Spectacular Live!…From Space (David Bowie’s 1977 Christmas Special Network Edit) New Millenium Theatre

Democracy Eclipse Theatre

G.I.F.T. Collaboraction Theatre

Little Women Circle Theatre

Macbeth Dominican University Performing Arts Center

MassNorthwestern University 

Plaid Tidings Noble Fool Theatricals

Spanish Strings McAninch Arts Center

Stars in the Morning Sky UIC Theatre

A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant A Red Orchid Theatre

 

CHICAGO_HOLIDAYS

show closings

 

As You Like It Loyola University

The Black Duckling Dream Theatre 

Book of Days EverGreen Theatre Ensemble 

C’est La Vie Light Opera Works 

Dinner for Six Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

The Fantasticks Porchlight Music Theatre 

Fedra: Queen of Haiti Lookingglass Theatre 

Graceland Profiles Theatre

The Last Unicorn Promethean Theatre

The Mercy Seat Profiles Theatre

Pump Boys and Dinettes Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

Spoon River Anthology Saint Sebastian Players

A Streetcar Named Desire Polarity Ensemble Theatre

Treasure Island Lifeline Theatre

Two by Pinter Piven Theatre Workshop

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 

show openings/closings this week

chicagoriverblast

show openings

1001 The Theatre School at DePaul University

American Psyche or a Breath of Fresh Care Gorilla Tango Theatre

Bucket of Blood Annoyance Theatre

The Castle of Otranto First Folio Theatre

Dirty Talking Amish Gorilla Tango Theatre

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity Victory Gardens Theater

Endira Aguijon Theater

The Hundred Dresses Chicago Children’s Theatre

Kill the Old, Torture Their Young Steep Theatre

The Last (and therefore Best) Comedy Show on Earth Gorilla Tango Theatre

The Mercy Seat Profiles Theatre

Mouse in a Jar Red Tape Theatre

Richard III Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Salem! The Musical Annoyance Theatre

Sleeping Beauty Big Noise Theatre

Sleepy Hollow Theatre-Hikes

A Streetcar Named Desire Polarity Ensemble Theatre

Taking Steps UIC Theater

Ten Square Pegasus Players and MPAACT

 

chicago-river-from-vietnammemorial

show closings

 

All My Sons TimeLine Theatre (our review)

Baroque and Beatles Chicago a cappella 

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Circle Theatre

Desperate Gorilla Tango Theatre

A Hampstead Hooligan in King Arthur’s Court Chicago dell’Arte

High Fidelity…The Musical Route 66 Theatre

Lorca in a Green Dress Halcyon Theatre

Merce Cunningham Dance Company – Dance Center of Columbia College

Miami City Ballet Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University

The Miracle Work Village Players Performing Arts Center

The Set Up Prop Thtr

A Shroud for Lazarus Halcyon Theatre

Texas Sheen Chemically Imbalanced Comedy

Chicago Theater Show Openings

BAD GUYS IN SUITS – Apollo Studio Theatre

BANK OF A-MATTRESS-CA – Gorilla Tango Theatre

CHANSONS D’AMOUR – Chicago a cappella

A CHORUS LINE – Ford Center for the Performing Arts/Oriental Theatre

COMEDY AFTER CURFEW – Cornservatory

GHOSTS – Storefront Theater

THE LONG COUNT – New Leaf Theatre

LYSISTRATA – Dominican University Performing Arts Center

THE MIRACLE WORKER – Lincoln Square Theatre

MOJO – Chicago ScriptWorks

MOVEMENT/GENTLEMEN – Storefront Theater

MOVIN’ OUT – Paramount Theatre

MOZART’S LA CLEMENZA DI TITO – Chicago Opera Theater

THE OVERWHELMING – Next Theatre

PAT PATTON – Cornservatory

RED NOSES – Strawdog Theatre

THE RIVALS – Polarity Ensemble Theatre

SKETCHBOOK FESTIVAL – Collaboraction Theatre

URINETOWN – The Theatre School at DePaul University

WHAT IS LOVE? – Gorilla Tango Theatre

Shows closing this week – don’t miss out!

Show closings – Don’t miss out!

BEER The Neo-Futurists

BETRAYAL New World Repertory 

A BRONX TALE – Ford Center for the Performing Arts/Oriental Theatre

NOT ENOUGH AIR TimeLine Theatre

TWELFTH NIGHT Piccolo Theatre

THE WHITE AIRPLANEPolarity Ensemble Theatre

 

Not Enough Air - TimeLine Theatre