Review: My Filthy Hunt (The Right Brain Project)

     
     

‘My Filthy Hunt’ sells itself on grit, but offers better

     
     

Elizabeth Orr, Bries Vannon, The Right Brain Project, My Filthy Hunt

   
Right Brain Project, i/a/w Horizon Arts and Richard Jordan Productions presents
   
My Filthy Hunt
      
Written by Philip Stokes
Directed by
Nathan Robbel
at
The RBP Rorschach, 4001 N. Ravenswood (map)
thru March 19  | 
tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by Dan Jakes

In the first minute of Philip Stokes’ curiously-titled My Filthy Hunt, four brooding actors stare down the audience, strip to their skivvies, then bounce around while manically accompanying some blaring rock.

From this unpromising start comes a thoughtful, engaging, sensitive play about devastation and recovery.

Though it doesn’t “spit in the face of theatrical convention” as the show’s press release–and indirectly, the grim, tawdry posters– suggest, it’s probably Erin Elizabeth Orr, Greg Wenz, Right Brain Project, My Filthy Huntbest that it doesn’t. “In-yer-face theatre” is challenging in the era of anything-goes art, and dependence on shock to elicit attention usually comes at the sacrifice of actual substance. These artists have something to say, and though the source-material may allow it to in lesser directorial hands, the message doesn’t get muddied with an initiative to offend.

Even when delivered by players in their underpants.

Four strong, detached monologues follow the opening, each centering on sexual or emotional insecurities. The cast (comprised of Erin Elizabeth Orr, Emma Peterson, Bries Vannon, and Greg Wenz) is animated and earnest, finding the anguish and humor in each speech.

When those concepts overlap, such as when a young man relays his attempt to commit suicide with a bottle of fish oil supplements, the ensemble is at its best. Likewise, a woman’s lament about the more sinister side of growing up attractive is touching and thought-provoking.

The latter-half of this one-act is where director Nathan Robbel’s focus on specificity really shines. The quartet responds to a tragedy with a tightly-woven, almost Pinter-like scene of short-fused call-and-response dialogue. It’s almost musical. The details of the event are left mostly in the background, but they’re unimportant. Elements of loss are universal, and these actors convey them with empathy and authenticity. One shouts out for donuts, and we see the nonsense that can overtake us in moments where reality becomes incomprehensible.

Stokes’ text is composed with a careful hand, exploring dark issues with a sense of maturity and restraint. His otherwise talky play is made visually fascinating by Robbel’s movement work–always enough to heighten the stories without distracting from them.

Robbel makes playful, decisively physical use of The Right Brain Project’s tiny (it’s a stretch to call the space a black box) Ravenswood theater. Though sight-lines are at times an issue, the production team embraces the opportunity for smart minimalism. There are no props save for some cell phones and one well-used coat rack, and many of the emotional and thematic shifts are indicated through Michael C. Smith’s resourceful lighting design.

Good theatre doesn’t require much to be compelling. My Filthy Hunt is an argument for how.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
   
  

Bries Vannon, Elizabeth Orr, Right Brain Project, My Filthy Hunt

My Filthy Hunt continues through March 19th (8:00pm Thursdays – Saturdays, 7:00pm Sundays), with an additional industry performance scheduled Monday, March 7th. Admission is a suggested donation of $15. Reservations are highly recommended, and can be made by calling the RBP box office at 773.750.2033, or by emailing requests to tickets@therbp.org. For more information, please visit www.therbp.org.   All photos by Nathan Robbel.

     
     

Continue reading

REVIEW: Hesperia (Right Brain Project)

An Exploration of Love and Trust

 

     IanDaisy03

   
The Right Brain Project presents
  
Hesperia
   
Written by Randall Colburn
Directed by
Nathan Robbel
at
RBP Rorschach Theatre, 4001 N. Ravenswood (map)
through August 14th  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

The Right Brain Project is staging an intriguing production called Hesperia. This show exposes how love, friendship, and trust transcend class and social mores. The playwright, Randall Colburn, takes these themes and puts them smack dab in post-modern America, offering up some interesting musings on what happens to those who buy into the American Dream and the underbelly of that dream.

Right Brain Project's "Hesperia" by Randall Colburn In the opening scene we are introduced to Claudia and Ian played by Natalie DiCristofano and Billy Fenderson respectively. Ian has shown up at Claudia’s door in the small town of Hesperia not far from where they grew up. Ms. DiCristofano is a sylph-like beauty that exudes vulnerability and a hard edge at the same time. The character of Claudia is has come to this town to shake off her past as a porn actress. She is now a born again Christian and engaged to marry the youth minister at the local church. Billy Fenderson also has a wonderful edge as a man who is trying to escape the past but perhaps got in deeper than he should have.

Claudia and Ian are childhood best friends and were partners in porn apparently working only with each other. The porn career for both of them seems to have been done on a lark or a childish dare that got out of hand. Claudia has escaped, but there are thugs on Ian’s trail. Being saved or born again is an escape for both characters – but who really takes it to heart is the lingering question for both of them.

Claudia is engaged to Trick whose real name is Trevor. The nickname is a result of youthful horsing around with language. It is an interesting choice for the character considering his fiancée’s former profession. (I wonder if the playwright was going for homage to Tennessee Williams with the double entendre.) Nick Freed plays the role of Trick with an endearing innocence and country boy energy. He keeps the energy level high, especially when drilling young Aaron for the state Bible Bee. It is a finely balanced portrait of fundamentalist America without the judgmental sneer that is evident in other works, and Nick Freed embodies the innocence and the frustration of having been anointed in the ministry. Trick tells Claudia that his gift is discernment that comes into play when Ian shows up and tries to reclaim his small town past. Trick accepts without judgment and with a trusting open heart. Claudia knows better in spite of her innocent past with Ian.

 

ClaudiaTrick01 Hesperia06

Trick fixes Ian up on a date with a nice girl from church named Daisy, played by Katy Albert with a refreshing country girl sexiness, looking clean scrubbed and apple cheeked like a 50’s Ladies Home Journal girl. Daisy is instantly smitten with the new boy in town, no doubt unaware of his extensive experience. Albert and Fenderson have good chemistry; the post date with the two of them is timed perfectly and staged with a voyeuristic flair. The sex scene is done well, with an edge of discomfort and shame. Surprisingly it’s Trick that feels the shame while Daisy wants him to stay.

The one chink in the play is the character of Aaron. It’s played well by Danny Mulae, but feels like a throwaway device for shock effect. Aaron finds a DVD of Claudia and Ian’s early work. The interaction between Ian and Aaron feels somehow false. Trick’s character alludes to Aaron starting to show interest in sex and then the boy comes off like the “bad seed,” interrogating Ian about the film. Also, some of Mr. Fenderson’s lines get lost due to either odd staging or poor enunciation.

This drawback really should be remedied because Ian’s character is open for judgment and it could be made clearer regarding why he should not be judged harshly. By the time the wedding of Trick and Claudia takes place Ian has been picked up by the thugs calling for him from California. Everything falls into place for Claudia, but did she turn on her former best friend or did he willingly return to his former life:  The matter is not easily resolved in a neat package, which is more realistic than Ian settling down with Daisy and popping out the kids. It is also Hesperia Photosatisfying that Trick and Claudia don’t have an instant sexual connection on their wedding night. Claudia has more experience but doesn’t want the same feelings from before. It is honest, painful, funny, and wonderful to observe.

Throughout the production the actors are confined to a small stage with seating around the perimeter, remaining on stage during other scenes. The actors remain in character with the emotional impact from the previous scene remaining fresh. This is a contemplative work that requires that the audience focus on the actors’ subtleties. The sparseness of the stage is a good choice as is the audience seating. I don’t know if it was deliberate but the backless seats caused me to be more in tune with the play. It took effort and concentration to sit comfortably as well as watch the stage. It is an integrative approach at best, and I felt for the actors having to be still and not drown in sweat without a stage exit. Here’s my heartfelt wish for a better air conditioner-you all deserve one!

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

Hesperia plays Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00pm through August 14th at RBP Rorschach Theatre, 4001 N. Ravenswood. The theatre is easily accessible by CTA or Metra. Call 773-750-2033 or go to www.therbp.org for tickets or more information.

IanDaisy02

 

Continue reading

REVIEW: Pretty Penny (Right Brain Project)

Sexual appetite meets physical bodies – or vice-versa

Pretty Penny_1

Right Brain Project presents:

Pretty Penny

by Randall Colburn

directed by Nathan Robbel

through March 20th (more info)

reviewed by Ian Epstein 

Having cabin fever? Then check out the brooding, close quarter’s production of Randall Colburn‘s Pretty Penny over at Right Brain Project instead – it’s an inappropriately intimate storefront variation on an increasingly common theme: the uncomfortable mixture of sexual appetite, physical bodies, and the tech-induced separation of the one from the other.

Pretty Penny_3Victoria (Katy Albert) is a mischief-prone, present-day Women’s Studies student. She decides to pick up twenty hours a week at a no-restrictions-whatsoever phone sex line operation. Jerry (Josh Sumner) owns and operates this wiry brothel.  He’s a would-be photographer but instead of making pictures he wound up taking them from other people, then mixing and matching them to someone else’s voice-for-hire. People on one end of the line pay for what’s repeatedly described as a fiction – a total fantasy. Meanwhile, Jerry’s employees, and Victoria in particular, fall dangerously into the allure of the fantastical, no-restrictions alter-egos.

Enter Crystal (Susan Myburgh), strutting. Crystal is a no nonsense model with the drive and perseverance it takes to succeed in the business of flesh and posing – so naturally there are some skeletons in her closet.  Namely, some lurid, pre-nose-job skeletons, erotic photos taken by Adam some ten years earlier. She’s also got a push-over boyfriend named Tommy (Nick Mikula) who lacks the courage or emotional flexibility to go down on one knee and make Crystal his fiancée.

Jerry, on the other hand, is a pretty keen, emotionless business operator.  And he wants to put those Crystal photos on the hot-line’s site. Crystal resists, then concedes and consents to become the face of Victoria’s fictional persona. Victoria has already seen the picture that is “her.”  She’s busy trying out voices and personalities like new clothes, settling eventually on a squealy, whimsical lilt she names “Penny.”

Early on, Colburn sets the forces in motion that will eventually bring Crystal and Victoria face to face.  He also sets this meeting up as one of those forbidden encounters, likely to cause a cataclysmic disturbance.

Pretty Penny_2 It’s a difficult, almost cruel journey for an audience set in the round and just feet from the actors.  Nathan Robbel‘s otherwise strong directing might’ve benefited from an arrangement that didn’t force audience members to deal with the script’s themes of flesh and disconnect in such hyper-focused, claustrophobic quarters.  Luckily, the actor’s are, on the whole, captivating, making it natural to watch them and their subtlest gestures.

Set and props are minimal to not at all – there’s a good bit of miming, which emphasized the play’s thematic focus on our awareness of bodies in digital and physical space.  Colburn’s script is strong, dipping equally into material that is comedic then, all of a sudden, disturbing.  But the real gem of this production is Katy Albert, whose playful ease makes her electric in the collapsing double role of Victoria/Penny.

There’s a lot of writhing around in dim light talking dirty on the phone to a sordid cast of characters in Pretty Penny, but the complexity and maturity of Colburn’s writing in the talented hands of Katy Albert make the show thoughtful and rewarding for those willing to stray into its otherwise dark territory.

Rating:  ★★½

Review: Right Brain Project’s “The Modern Prometheus”

More Entertainment Than Intellectual Challenge

 

The Right Brain Project presents:

The Modern Prometheus

adapted by Brad Lawrence
directed by David Marcotte and Nathan Robbel
thru November 21st (buy tickets)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

IT 3_5x2 - Front - Portrait The Right Brain Project enjoyed success with Brad Lawrence’s play Chalk in 2007, a gumshoe noir retelling of the Oedipus myth. Their collaboration seems a constructive fit with this world premiere of The Modern Prometheus, Lawrence’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein set in the middle of modern debates between science and religion. It is definitely a more thoughtful piece than most Frankenstein versions—one that RBP gears toward maximum entertainment–but it falls short of being the intellectual challenge touted by its press.

There’s no denying the thrill and accessibility of this production. Right Brain Project has not sacrificed the guilty pleasures of the Frankenstein myth, but tried to integrate them with the play’s more serious content. But before getting into special effects, first and foremost, the production is well grounded in even casting and strong performances. Directed by David Marcotte and Nathan Robbel, the progressive pacing and cast invigorate what could have been a well-worn story stuffed with stock roles.

Dennis Newport, in particular, shows depth and range in his humanistic portrayal of Pastor Friedmann. Erin Elizabeth Orr conveys the full-bodied charm and intelligence of a Victorian heroine as Victor Frankenstein’s fiancé, Elizabeth. Tom McGrath makes a delightfully smooth and insouciant villain as the devious lab assistant, Henry. Colby Sellers’ Frankenstein Monster achieves that badly needed balance between terror and pathos to make his creature compelling; while Ned Record (Schultz) and Katherine Jordan (Selma) make a vivid and memorable father-daughter pair.

prometheusStrange that the performance that leaves something of a vacuum is the man of the hour himself, Victor Frankenstein (Nathan Robbel). Brad Lawrence’s Frankenstein is more driven young scientist than mad doctor. Still, Robbel’s interpretation seems a little too relaxed to render a man capable of groundbreaking experiments, let alone playing God.

Likewise, Lawrence’s writing overplays the challenge Frankenstein’s discoveries present to Christian faith, even in this 19th century period. The text shows very little recognition that faith itself is a slippery thing.

In the play, little Selma dies, to be brought back to life dramatically by Victor. Victor Frankenstein’s discoveries have temporarily subverted the natural order. Yet, the scene wherein Pastor Friedmann presents Selma’s testimony that she saw nothing in death, neither heaven nor hell, simply does not hold water. Any tent revivalist preacher could make hash of that “evidence” of God’s non-existence in two minutes.

If fundamentalist Christians in our era build Creationist museums, which squeeze billion of years of geological time into 6000 years of creation, then they can discount any evidence that does not fit the narrative of the faithful. Sadly, Lawrence’s text overshoots this nuance to make the struggle between science and faith a direct and full-throttle wrestling match.

Lawrence shows greater sophistication placing Frankenstein’s discoveries in the context of the Franco-Prussian War. What chaos would erupt if news broke out that brought people all over Europe to Ingolstadt, clamoring for their war dead to be brought back to life? Further recognition that, most likely, the rich would be harvesting the poor to resuscitate their dead would lend even greater horror to Frankenstein’s macabre achievement. Lawrence’s work also shows tremendous promise in the acknowledgement–from the mouth of the pastor, no less–that war is a “terrible invention.” It convincingly depicts the ambiguous, compromised relationship that Frankenstein has with his own creation. A little more consideration of whether any invention actually improves humanity’s lot and this play could be all that it intellectually aspires to be.

Dramatically, the end of the second act requires clean up. One moment especially strains all credulity: the pastor hands over Selma’s prostrate body to the Creature he had denounced as a “vessel of heresy” two minutes before. It’s moments like these that I deeply appreciate the actors’ ability to go full-bore, but they must be corrected all the same.

As is, The Modern Prometheus still provides good, solid entertainment. Special nods go to Anthony Ingram (set design), Mark Hurni (light design), Sarah Elizabeth Miller (costume/makeup/props design), Amy Sokol (music director), and Christopher M. Walsh (fight choreographer) for providing the well balanced and vital special effects needed to vivify a timeless tale.

Rating: «««

Review: “Put My Finger In Your Mouth”

Slouching Toward the Theater of the Ridiculous

Put your Finger in my Mouth

The Right Brain Project presents

Put My Finger In Your Mouth
by Bob Fisher
Directed by Nathan Robbel
Runs thru August 29th (773.750.2033 for tickets)

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Is everything old new again? If Right Brain Project succeeds at anything with its production of Put My Finger In Your Mouth, a new play by Bob Fisher, it’s in evoking a nostalgic, psychedelic, Rocky Horror-like vibe.

Like so many before it, this production’s roots lay the work of New York transgender playwright Jackie Curtis, Andy Warhol film star and creator of The Theater of the Ridiculous. Always on the outside, always fringe, Curtis’s influence prevails to this day through shows like Annoyance Theatre’s Co-ed Prison Sluts or, my old favorites, Cannibal Cheerleaders On Crack or The Vampire Lesbians of Sodom.

finger in my mouth Under Nathan Robbel’s direction, with a sound design that culls tunes from the 60s, 80s, and 00s, Put My Finger In Your Mouth is a much softer, gentler show intent on generating a dream world that its characters inhabit and pull the audience into, rather than shock or outrage it. But the audience can only receive minor moments of dreamlike satisfaction from themes that are worn, trite and underdeveloped.

The play is a club-kid fable about two sisters, Birdy (Erin Elizabeth Orr) and Turtle (Stacie Hauenstein) whose conflicts revolve around the competing claims of pleasure and security. Birdy wants to risk all for discovery and new experiences, while Turtle clings to a safe, co-dependent existence at home. The risks become greater for Birdy upon entry into the bizarre club world of the androgynous Snailman (Emily Mark), whose fingers secrete a hallucinogenic substance that enslaves all who taste it.

Orr and Hauenstein generate sympathy as the two sisters, but a script that repeats the risk vs. security theme ad nauseum hampers their performances. Sadly, Turtle’s hidden past is telegraphed so far in advance, it has no impact at all once finally revealed. The sultry androgyny of the Snailman and the hold s/he has on her willing minions, create the appropriate otherworldly space for Birdy to be ensnared in, but there is something to be aware of in the play’s limitations regarding gender identity difference.

How Victorian the play is in the portrayal of its leading transgender or intersex character as Other, dangerous, and suspect. Snailman still ends up being the coolest thing aroundit’s just disappointing that, once again, the clichéd dangers of gender transgression get a tired, unimaginative, and unthinking rehash here. Right Brain Project clearly wants to go beyond the predictable. More careful consideration or development of material before production would serve it well.

For all that, the cast certainly creates a “scene” with its performance. From time to time, glimmers of poetry strike up from the script. The Battle of the Furries that takes place in the nightclub finally achieves the psychedelic effect the play has been promising all the while. If one could exhort the playwright and the company to anything, it would be this: be bolder. Be even more right brain. Don’t hang back in the safe zone.

Rating: «½

 

CatherineFingerPageChristianFingerPage

ErinFingerPage EmilyFingerPage

JesseFingerPage StacieFingerPage
NealFingerPage FINGERFront04