Review: Precious Little (Rivendell Theatre Ensemble)

     
     

Rivendell explores the boundaries of communication

 
   

Marilyn Dodds Frank, Meighan Gerachis - Rivendell Theatre Ensemble

   
Rivendell Theatre presents
  
Precious Little
  
Written by Madeleine George 
Directed by
Julieanne Ehre
at DCA Storefront Theater, 66 E. Randolph (map)
through April 2  | 
tickets: $15-$25  |  more info 

Reviewed by Dan Jakes

If you’re going to present a play about language, you may as well cast Marilyn Dodds Frank. Among her high attributes—she has plenty, versatility and precision hover near the top—Frank lays claim to one of the most interesting voices in Chicago. That’s a dubious designation, I guess, but much of Madeleine George’s Precious Little is indebted to it. Whether she be dressed as a gorilla (abstractly, thank god) in a zoo or timidly counting numbers aloud as a frail, elderly woman in a recording booth, Frank’s tenor and masterful delivery lends authority and depth to her multiple characters and, consequently, to George’s mixed-bag of a play.

Marilyn Dodds Frank, Kathy Logelin, Meighan Gerachis - Rivendell Theatre Ensemble - Precious Little 007More or less a showcase for fine acting, the scope of Precious Little is limited, but focused: an 80-minute meditation on human communication’s shortcomings told through three interweaving narratives. A lesbian professor and linguistics researcher (Meighan Gerachis) struggles to cope with news that her artificially-inseminated child may suffer a mental disability upon delivery. Stressed with complications in her research and unable to find enough solace confiding in her graduate-assistant lover (Kathy Logelin), the professor looks toward unconventional alternatives for an emotional connection.

Gerachis plays the troubled teacher with a balanced sense of sympathy and fault. Having sex with her student, betraying the trust of her test subject’s daughter, and openly confessing that she’d be more willing to handle raising a child with a physical set-back instead of a mental retardation, Brodie isn’t the most admirable protagonist. Gerachis makes those flaws identifiable and human.

The burdens these women shoulder aren’t light—a career-risking affair, an ailing mother, the ethics of abortion—yet the stakes of director Julieanne Ehre’s play never simmer to a high boil.

But maybe they don’t need to. The drama is frequently dotted with intellectual musings and light humor, and the partial detachment allows complicated ideas about expression to appear more clearly. Then again, if we’re to empathize with a supposedly sane 40-something-year-old scientist who’s driven to the extremity of fantasizing romantically about a caged animal, it would help if there were more emotional gravity to cling to along the ride. Ehre’s program note suggests the “quest for definitive knowledge ultimately leads to an acceptance of ambiguity.” Really though, it’s willingness of Precious Little to settle for ambiguity that sells the plight of its characters a bit short. What we are given to ruminate, however, is worthwhile, said subtly and said sincerely.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  
Marilyn Dodds Frank - Rivendell Theatre Ensemble - Precious Little Meighan Gerachis, Marilyn Dodds Frank - Rivendell Theatre Ensemble - Precious Little
Meighan Gerachis, Kathy Logelin, Marilyn Dodds Frank - Rivendell Theatre Ensemble - Precious Little Marilyn Dodds Frank - Rivendell Theatre Ensemble - Precious Little

Precious Little continues through April 2nd at the DCA Storefront Theater, 66 E. Randolph, with performances Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm, Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $15-$25, and can be purchased online or by calling 312-742-8497.

     
     

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REVIEW: 26 Miles (Teatro Vista and Rivendell Ensemble)

‘26 Miles’ is quite the trip!

 

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Teatro Vista and Rivendell Theatre Ensemble present
   
26 Miles
   
Written by Quiara Alegria Hudes
Directed by Tara Mallen
at Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago (map)
through November 21  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

The distance between Philadelphia and Wyoming is 1,835 miles. The distance between a mother and daughter is further away and closer than that. Teatro Vista and Rivendell Theatre Ensemble present the Midwest premiere of 26 Miles by Tony-Award winning playwright Quiara Alegria Hudes. Quirky teenager Olivia runs away from her dad’s house. She is assisted in the escape by her mother. After throwing up fifteen times, Olivia is desperate for someone to care. She calls her biological mother, Beatriz, who had given up custody and visitation rights eight years earlier. In fact, 26Miles6282according to Olivia’s journal log, Beatriz hasn’t spoken to her daughter in five months. A spontaneous road trip to see buffalo becomes a journey of self-realization for mother and daughter. With a jamming 80’s soundtrack, 26 Miles is a trip of discovery that takes some surprising turns.

Playwright Quiara Alegria Hudes doesn’t rush to the destination. Hudes allows the characters to continue to identify themselves right up until the show comes to a complete stop. The mother-daughter duo drives the experience perfectly. Ashley Neal (Olivia) is hilarious as the creative philosophical teenager. She muses her journal thoughts out loud with “note: do I believe in…” She publishes a magazine. Neal is that high school geek that is too smart to fit in. Her animated face adds another layer of humor to her stellar performance. Sandra Marquez (Beatriz) is the feisty Cuban mother. Marquez rages with impulsiveness. Unlike Neal’s character, Marquez is not easily recognizable. As the M.I.A. mom, Marquez has to work extra hard to win the audience over. Marquez commits for the long haul! She faces the situation with wise resignation of ‘it’s not good. It’s not bad. It’s like erosion. It just is.’ Keith Kupferer (Aaron) and Edward Torres (Manuel) are the guys that cause the gals to run. They take a back seat to the mother-daughter bonding. Although their supporting roles are important, it’s their amusing scene transition antics that are most memorable.

 

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Director Tara Mallen has mapped the journey with purposeful appeal. Mallen doesn’t settle with poignant performances by a talented cast. She adds in paper flying, music blaring and Blues Brothers’ scene transitions. The extras provide the scenic route on what could be a long road trip. The scenery itself also supplies a subtle layer of storytelling. The set, designed by Regina Garcia, has a slanted floor with suspended stairs that don’t quite connect. The backdrop is a snippet of Olivia’s journal with pictures and words. It’s a trip! Teatro Vista and Rivendell travel well together; all the parts work together for high performance. It’s the truly collaborative effort that catapults 26 Miles to go the distance.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
    
    

26 Miles plays every Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm through November 21st.  Running time is 90-minutes with no intermission.

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REVIEW: Mary’s Wedding (Rivendell Theatre)

Even Rivendell can’t save this wedding from mediocrity

 picture by Mark Campbell

Rivendell Theatre presents:

Mary’s Wedding

 

by Stephen Massicotte
directed by
Mark Ulrich 
thru February 20th (ticket info)

review by Paige Listerud

What can be said about a simple and elegant production of a mediocre play? It is like trying to praise the beauty of an exquisitely hand-carved chair that, nevertheless, shows one leg significantly shorter than all the rest. A clunky, fundamental flaw overrides whatever other virtues one could acknowledge about graceful line or sleek finish. So it is with Rivendell’s production of Mary’s Wedding, a one-act dream play about two young Canadians striving to maintain their love affair during the First World War.

photographer: Mark Campbell Stephen Massicotte received Canadian playwriting and literary awards for Mary’s Wedding, recognition that, no doubt, has won its career of productions throughout Canada, the US, and the UK. However, in spite of a sure-handed facility with dramatic structure that blends one character’s storyline with the other—no small talent, to be sure—the play is encumbered by basic shallowness.

First and foremost, the romance between Mary (Cassandra Bissell) and Charles (Shane Kenyon) is the most generic sort. She has recently arrived from England, upper-crustiness intact, and he is a common, horseback-riding, farm boy “colonist”—these stereotypes in the play are as entrenched as anything along the Western Front. What draws these two together remains one of its most underdeveloped features. Sadly, while Bissell and Kenyon’s interactions show freshness and innocence, there is not enough chemistry between them to make up for the text’s deficiencies. Be prepared for tepid barn scenes, “startling” horseback rides, boring tea parties, and a disapproving, upper-crusty mother.

The audience must slog through 30 minutes of that before finally getting on to the war. Once there, creaky exposition comes across more like cliff notes to Canada’s participation in the Great War than any young man’s authentic first person experience. Trenches, lice, poison gas—even “my first kill”—gets ticked off like a laundry list. Throw in Gordan Muriel Flowerdew and the Battle of Moreuil Wood and you’ve got something that will easily serve as a Canadian after-school-special.

Photographer: Mark Campbell Photographer: Mark Campbell
Photographer: Mark Campbell Photographer: Mark Campbell

These are terrible things to say in the face of a cast and crew striving for a balanced, lean, heartfelt, and poetic production. By that, I mean true poetry—not the faux poeticism of repetitions in the text that lose their power to resonate and can, in fact, become as irritating as nails on a blackboard. Mark Ulrich’s directorial choices are, for the most part, clean, spare, and agile, eliciting the play’s dreamlike structure. Shane Kenyon is adeptly profound at portraying Charles’ encroaching war-weariness, while Cassandra Bissell brings the play’s emotional impact home during its final moments. The trouble is in waiting for the play to get there, enduring all its speed bumps along the way.

As a theater company, Rivendell Theatre has moved far beyond works like these. It shows a cohesion and professionalism that has lifted it to a higher level of excellence for small theaters in this city. It can take pride in its achievements and elevate its vision of what it can accomplish in future productions. And it can leave less fulfilling works behind—perhaps even in the dustbin of history.

Rating: ★★½

Scene from Mary’s Wedding on YouTube

Chicago Theater Openings and Closings this week

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Show Openings

The (edward) Hopper Project The Storefront Theatre

24 Hour Project Infamous Commonwealth Theatre

Annie Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University

The Artist needs a Wife the side project

I Hate Hamlet Big Noise Theatre

Killer Joe Profiles Theatre

Kink Annoyance Theatre

Mamma Mia! Rosemont Theatre

Mary’s Wedding Rivendell Theatre Ensemble

The Original Improv Gladiators Corn Productions

Out of Order Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

The Prisoner of Second Avenue Citadel Theatre

Private Lives Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Sleeping Beauty Winnetka Theatre

Some Paradise Annoyance Theatre

Too Hot to Handel Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University

The Wedding TUTA Theatre Chicago

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Show Closings 

Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival Chicago SketchFest

Death of a Salesman Raven Theatre

It Came Upon a Midnight Queen Chemically Imbalanced Theater

A Look Through Our Eyes Gorilla Tango Theatre

Sketch and Sniff Gorilla Tango Theatre

Sublime Beauty of Hands and Klown Kantos Next Theatre and Theatre Zarko

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

Arthur Miller Project

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The Arthur Miller Project – An Exploration

by Paige Listerud

In fall, at the start of the 2009-2010 Season, it became quite apparent that the Chicago theater community was responding to the economic crisis and the shifting political tone of Washington with works that depicted hardship, deprivation, and introspection over the meaning of American identity.

Profiles Theatre produced Neil LaBute’s response to 9/11, The Mercy Seat; Eclipse Theatre brought back the political corruption of the Grant Administration with Romulus Linney’s Democracy; Brain Surgeon Theatre reconstructed a cramped Depression Era tenement with their world premiere 1512 West Studebaker Place; Northlight Theatre will take their turn at the Clifford Odets’ classic Awake and Sing this January; eta Creative Arts Foundation examined the American Dream through African American eyes with Sam Kelley’s Pill Hill; while These Shining Lives, produced by Rivendell Theatre Ensemble and The Artistic Home’s production of Lillian Hellman’s Days To Come touched on the dynamics of American labor.

Into the mix, it seemed striking that not just one or two, but seven productions of Arthur Miller’s work emerged on the roster for the 2009-2010-theater season. In a world-class theater city like Chicago, one is accustomed to seeing plenty of Shakespeare, Chekhov, Shaw, and even a production of The Crucible each season. But this time, it was clear that something was in the air. True, almost half of the productions are from Eclipse Theatre’s seasonal selection; but to see so much attention by individual theaters devoted to the playwright known for his piercing examination of the American mythos signaled both a return to basics and an interrogation into who we are and where we are going.

Here at ChicagoTheaterBlog, we took this as an excellent opportunity to create dialog about Miller’s work; to ask what still remains vital and provocative about the issues his plays bring up. And, of course, to get more people out to the theater, talking about theater and participating with their theater community. To this end, we’ve embarked on our first videotaped interview, with more to come. Our goal is to interview directors, actors, and scholars regarding the Arthur Miller productions of this season and to give you a chance to respond to our findings. We hope that our coverage of Miller’s works through our “Arthur Miller Project” will prompt you to engage in the exciting exchange that live theater can bring and is so accessible to us in this great city.

Arthur Miller Plays in the Chicago 2009-2010 Theater Season

Aug 31 All My Sons at Timeline Theatre (our review)

Oct 6 Death of a Salesman at Raven Theatre (our review)

Mar 25 Resurrection Blues at Eclipse Theatre

Mar 27 The Crucible produced by Infamous Commonwealth Theatre (at Raven Theatre)

July 8 After the Fall at Eclipse Theatre

July 24 Incident At Vichy at Redtwist Theatre

Sept 2 A Memory of Two Mondays at Eclipse Theatre


 Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman

 

Raven Theatre’s artistic director Michael Menendian, talks with Paige Listerud regarding their critically successful production of Death of a Salesman

Review: Rivendell’s “These Shining Lives”

Find Time To See It!

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Rivendell Theatre Ensemble presents:

These Shining Lives

by Melanie Marnich
directed by Rachel Walshe
at the Raven Theatre thru November 21st (buy tickets)

reviewed by Katy Walsh

Catherine is elated to be starting a new job painting 100+ watches a day at 8 cents a watch. Time is her friend? Or is it? Rivendell Theatre Ensemble remounts its critically acclaimed and Jeff Award nominated These Shining Lives.  Directed by Rachel Walshe,These Shining Lives is the true story of four of the many women who work at the Radium Dial Company in Ottawa, Illinois in the 1920’s. Unaware of the risk, these workers paint the glow-in-the-dark faces on watches utilizing radium. Women are voting, smoking in public and joining the workforce. Having a well-paying job in a challenging economy brings independence and validation. Later, suspecting that something isn’t quite right, the women struggle to not lose the freedom, security and camaraderie of employment. These Shining Lives uses a tragedy in history to illustrate the strong bonds of marriage and friendship.

As Catherine (Kathy Logelin) tells us at the beginning of the show “this story starts out as a fairy tale.” And she’s right – it’s enchanting!  Playwright Melanie Marnich chooses the non-Silkwood route and focuses instead on the vulnerability and innocence of a young woman’s love for her husband, her job and her friends. The onstage intimacy between Logelin and her husband Tom (Guy Massey) isn’t of the sizzle variety (that never sustains anyway). It’s the “looks like you had a worse day at work than me, Katy, I’ll cook dinner” charming kind. Logelin also shines with her gal pals: Charlotte (Ashley Neal), Frances (Caitlin McGlone) and Pearl (Rani Waterman). They start as a work clique with mindless chatter to fill up the workday. “Gossip is the devil’s radio,” proclaims Frances. “It’s my favorite station,” quips Charlotte. Then, it’s six years later, and the women with whom Catherine has randomly been assigned to have become her family. And her family is dying. Under the direction of Rachel Walshe, the cast does an excellent job of portraying finding joy in the simplistic shininess of the everyday.

Throughout the play, we wonder why these women stick a radium laced paintbrush repeatedly in their mouth. This conjures up the ominous thought that perhaps sometime in the future, people may be surprised, but not shocked, to learn there is a link between cell phones and brain tumors….

Rivendell Theatre Ensemble is giving Chicago a second opportunity to find joy in the simplistic times of These Shining Lives. It would be a tragedy to miss it! (Remember to turn off your cell phone during the show.)

Rating: ««««

 

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The offstage Tom described the show as beautiful, ornate and tragic.

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Chicago theater openings/closings this week

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show openings

Abrose Bierce: Tales and Times Lincoln Square Theatre

Arsenic and Old Lace Northwestern University

Book of Days EverGreen Theatre Ensemble

Death Toll Corn Productions

Estranged Men at Seven Gorilla Tango Theatre

The Flowers About Face Theatre

Frankenstein The Hypocrites

Holes Merle Reskin Theatre

Hunchback Redmoon Theater

Macabaret Porchlight Music Theatre

The Magic Ofrenda Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

Silk Road Cabaret Silk Road Theatre Project

Spoon River Anthology Saint Sebastian Players

These Shining Lives Rivendell Theatre Ensemble

 

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show closings

Alice in Wonderland Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

American Psyche or a Breath of Fresh Care Gorilla Tango Theatre 

Animal Cracker Goodman Theatre    (our review here)

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

The Marvelous Wonderettes Northlight Theatre

 

openings/closings list courtesy of League of Chicago Theatres