REVIEW: All Saints Day (Ruckus Theatre)

A Superb Ruckus

 

 

Pictured in The Ruckus’ production of All Saints’ Day: 44 Poems About Jeffrey Jones are (l to r) Elizabeth Bagby as Non-Tot and Kevin Crispin as Tot.  Photo by Lucas Gerard Photography.

   
Ruckus Theater presents
   
All Saints’ Day
   
Written by Ron Riekki
Directed by
Brian Ruby
at
the side project theatre, 1439 W. Jarvis Ave. (map)
through September 26  |  tickets: $15-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

It’s been quite a while since I’ve had such a good laugh or a mind challenge in the theatre. I believe that the theatre is an art that challenges, enlightens, inspires and provokes. All of these qualities are present in All Saints’ Day: A.K.A. 44 Poems About Jeffrey Jones. It’s made clear that this Jeffrey Jones is not he guy from “Ferris  Bueller” but a playwright who also wrote Pictured in The Ruckus’ production of All Saints’ Day: 44 Poems About Jeffrey Jones is Elizabeth Bagby as Non-Tot. All Saints’ Day begins performances on September 2 and runs through September 26 at The Side Project Theatre (1439 W Jarvis Ave). For more information, visit ruckustheater.org. Photo by Lucas Gerard Photography.about Halloween and inspired writer Ron Riekki for this production. However, the story of the actor Jeffrey Jones would have fit right in with this play.

All Saints’ Day presents vignettes, at varying paces, showing the American tradition of trick-or-treating. Do you remember the feeling when you approached the door of the neighborhood crazy lady or the family with cars on blocks in the front yard? This play takes us into the homes and psyches of those folks and others whose doors perhaps you were too timid to approach. The vignettes represent different eras in global history from an American perspective. What lay beyond the door and who walks up to the door?

There are three characters in this play with names from the absurdist tradition. We have Tot, Non-Tot, and Other played by Kevin Crispin, Elizabeth Bagby, and Mathew Humphrey respectively. Ms. Bagby is brilliant as the Non-Tot behind the door. She inhabits the characters at whiplash speed, hilarity and incandescent pathos. Her chemistry with Mr. Crispin as Tot is spot on and electric. It is a surprise every time Tot knocks on the door and says, “trick or treat!” Mr. Crispin is a wonder of physicality and comic timing. He and Ms. Bagby cover a time capsule of Halloween horrors that still reverberate in American culture every time the calendar approaches October 31st. The Tylenol poisonings, cyanide in candy straws, animal waste dipped in chocolate and dispensed by a seemingly sweet neighbor is presented. The play asks the question – whose fault is it really?

One unforgettable vignette presents a television remote gone mad. Non-Tot is watching television when the remote takes on a personality and power beyond her control. Tot knocks on the door and she discovers that she can switch his personas through the remote. Non-Tot furiously hits the clicker as Tot goes from LBJ on Vietnam to Cool Hand Luke to Princess Diana and a still funny George W. Bush. Bagby and Crispin then recite lines simultaneously as they collapse to the floor. This was one of the serious parts of the show as they speak of Joe Hill, The Weathermen, and Dr. King, and others who have advocated for change on many different platforms. It did not break the rhythm of the action with the serious nature of the subject matter because all of comedy has a serious core of truth.

Pictured in The Ruckus’ production of All Saints’ Day: 44 Poems About Jeffrey Jones is Matthew Humphrey as Other. All Saints’ Day begins performances on September 2 and runs through September 26 at The Side Project Theatre (1439 W Jarvis Ave). For more information, visit ruckustheater.org. Photo by Lucas Gerard Photography. In between the scenes Matthew Humphrey as Other injects comic brilliance and levity with placards announcing the scenes. He portrays a priest, a boxing round cutie holding a bout sign and prancing about the ring, and my favorite was an inspired use of whipped cream as body art. Mr. Humphrey is mute for most of the play and yet is integral to the movement, pacing, and dialogue. He is heard offstage in some of the scenes and appears in a speaking role in the final vignette.

The final scene is a departure from the other vignettes, offering a contrast from the American sensibility with a foray into pre-war Germany in the late 1930’s. At first, it’s quite jarring as Mr. Crispin knocks on the door as a character named Ernst and the device of Halloween seems to become the pagan origins of the holiday. It is more of a Samhain feel when the veil between life and death is said to be more evident than any other time of the year. Ernst has come to say goodbye to his friend Franz as the German Workers Party has taken a sinister turn rounding up Jews and displaying an alarming nationalistic fervor – the playwright is alluding to the origins of how hatred takes hold. Ernst gets a trick when he knocks on the door expecting to find familiarity but Franz and his mother have taken on a new guise. Hatred and bigotry are unmasked and unleashed on the world like a virus. That era still holds ominous power as people all over the planet imitate Nationalism to varying degrees. The fact that Riekki can reduce this behavior to brilliant farce is a saving grace of recognition and possible redemption.

Pictured in The Ruckus’ production of All Saints’ Day: 44 Poems About Jeffrey Jones is Kevin Crispin as Tot. All Saints’ Day begins performances on September 2 and runs through September 26 at The Side Project Theatre (1439 W Jarvis Ave). For more information, visit ruckustheater.org. Photo by Lucas Gerard Photography. Pictured in The Ruckus’ production of All Saints’ Day: 44 Poems About Jeffrey Jones are (l to r) Matthew Humphrey as Other and Elizabeth Bagby as Non-Tot. All Saints’ Day begins performances on September 2 and runs through September 26 at The Side Project Theatre (1439 W Jarvis Ave). For more information, visit ruckustheater.org. Photo by Lucas Gerard Photography.
Pictured in The Ruckus’ production of All Saints’ Day: 44 Poems About Jeffrey Jones are (l to r) Elizabeth Bagby as Non-Tot and Kevin Crispin as Tot. All Saints’ Day begins performances on September 2 and runs through September 26 at The Side Project Theatre (1439 W Jarvis Ave). For more information, visit ruckustheater.org. Photo by Lucas Gerard Photography. Pictured in The Ruckus’ production of All Saints’ Day: 44 Poems About Jeffrey Jones are (l to r) Elizabeth Bagby as Non-Tot and Kevin Crispin as Tot. All Saints’ Day begins performances on September 2 and runs through September 26 at The Side Project Theatre (1439 W Jarvis Ave). For more information, visit ruckustheater.org. Photo by Lucas Gerard Photography.

All Saints’ Day” contains language, violence, and portrayal of drug use. The LSD scene is one of the funniest things I have seen ever. The treat offered by Non-Tot is two hits of acid to Tot. He doesn’t feel anything and then Other appears as a dinosaur before morphing into a giant pig. This is theatre on the edge and I loved it.

The play is presented in a minimalist manner in a small black box theatre. The props (Joshua Davis) and scenery (J. Clay Barron) are all very simple but brought to life by the brilliance of the actors and the direction of Ruckus member Brian Ruby. This kind of theatre is what makes Chicago a place where New York comes to look for inspiration and fresh material to bring to their stages. Applause to Ruckus and an appeal to keep the lunacy evident lest we forget.

   
   
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

All Saints’ Day: AKA 44 Poems about Jeffrey Jones runs through September 26th at Side Project Theatre at 1439 W. Jarvis in Rogers Park and steps from the Red Line Jarvis stop. More information is available at www.ruckustheater.org This is a great opening for the theatre season. It’s a short run-do not miss it!

 

     
     

 

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REVIEW: The Gay American (The Ruckus)

Sexual fear and loathing in American politics

  TheGayAmerican_Production09

  
The Ruckus presents
 
The Gay American
  
by Kristian O’Hare
directed by
Allison Shoemaker
at
the side project, 1439 W. Jarvis (map)
through May 26  tickets: $10  |  more info

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Washington D.C. is the perfect place for a gay sex scandal. The nexus of American political power, the district is already so rife with desperation, loneliness, self-loathing, overweening hypocrisy and insidious self-compromise that the closeted  queers fit right in. Hand in glove. It’s both here, and in the benighted environs of New Jersey, that Kristian O’Hare’s dark, freewheeling satire The Gay American takes its stand. Director Allison Shoemaker has pulled together a sharp and seductive cast, luring us with laser-like sarcasm and poignant reflection into TheGayAmerican_Production11the small studio space at the side project theatre space in Rogers Park, where The Ruckus has set up shop for this world premiere.

Their production will sell out every night, if there is any justice in this world. The Gay American is top-drawer, savage American comedy. Its script is an outrageous, non-stop interrogation of the value of gay identity politics at its intersection with its closeted presence on the national political scene. Coming out, while a cornerstone in the valorous struggle for sexual identity equality, yellows sickly with corruption, duplicity, and solipsism in the hands of a politico as sleazy and self-promoting as Jim McGreevey (Neal Starbird).

Scene: our nation’s capitol. Gay pages suck up to powerful Washington players in the pursuit of a political career wherein they get to be the top. A closeted power player and vociferous foe of sexual predators, Mark Foley (Walter Brody) keeps a stable of young pages that he can text suggestive comments to back and forth during their term in the page program. After page graduation, once the boys are legal enough, he meets up with them for sex at the hotel room that is “the second most favorite address in D.C.” New Jersey Governor McGreevey, an up-and-coming presidential hopeful, siphons off a Page (Aaron Dean) to serve as his personal aide, whether for his own personal service, or to service him and his wife Dina (Julie Cowden) during one of their “Friday Night Specials”–starting with drinks and jalapeno poppers at no less a place than TGIF Fridays.

All the above is true and established fact. In some respects, O’Hare’s wild and absurd script has written itself and there is no way that he can top the inanity that passes for political reality in America. But the real charm lies in his capacity to craft 3-dimensional comic characters; allowing them softer, sadder, even more poetic moments, while never letting up on the cynical, mercurial rationales by which they sell themselves and each other out. The rest of the charm relies on the crisp and exacting pace with which this show is executed. If there’s an award for lightening fast scene changes in a mercilessly cramped space, this cast and crew have earned it.

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Beyond scene changes, what a joy to witness a complex and sophisticated script fleshed out by such a brilliantly comic cast. Starbird’s Jim McGreevey looks like he has sprung, fully formed, from the New Jersey muck. His office—his real office—is a bathroom stall, for which he explains his preference on two separate occasions: “I love the bathroom stall. It reminds me of my Catholic upbringing,” and “Remember Clark Kent and Superman? That’s the way I feel about bathroom stalls. I enter it Irish Catholic, middle class, married, a normal guy . . . and after a nameless fuck, I leave it feeling like Superman.” For his part, Walter Brody looks so much like Mark Foley he had me doing double takes all evening long. He also captures the fluid ease with which a true Washington player makes the switch from rank exploiter to pillar of morality in 2.8 seconds.

Joshua Davis renders a deliciously tender and corruptible Golan Cipal. He’s the lover that McGreevey continually mistakes for Mexican and, in a 9/11 environment, promotes to homeland security advisor at a six-figure salary–even though Cipal is still an Israeli citizen. O’Hare is ready to play the romance card regarding Cipal’s involvement with McGreevey and Davis digs deep into the role’s contradictions,  evolving Golan’s progress from warm, poetic naïveté to gullible and overwhelmed self-compromise for one’s lover to immersion in self-loathing rage from a lover scorned.

TheGayAmerican_Production14But his rage cannot match the post-partum blackness in the soul of Dina McGreevey (Julie Cowden). I might have wished that O’Hare could have played up the sleaze factor a little more for this character. Certainly the real Dina Matos McGreevey deserves it. O’Hare relies just a little too much on “poor, betrayed woman” tropes for his Dina. Only once does he have her acknowledge her own complicity in her lavender marriage. Plus, a little research reveals that those “Friday Night Specials” were going on well before marriage. Nevertheless, Cowden’s performance is immaculate in its searing emotional truth. Her boozy, pill-popping chats with Jersey gal pal Patty (Elise Mayfield) become especially memorable, particularly when Patty morphs into Constance Wilde. Now that’s a side to Constance that Oscar may never have seen.

Aaron Dean and Freddie Donovan play a perfect pair of congressional pages—perfect bookends portraying the young gay have and have-nots in Washington’s political game playing. Stevie Chaddock gives us a sympathetic and vulnerable Morag–ignored by her parents as they enjoy the “cup quality” of their coffee, lost in the brave new world of cyber-dating, hoping to gain something from exploiting herself before others exploit her. I might have wished for more empowerment for Morag, Page, and Philly Buster but that will never come to pass in this world. No, in this dark, gay tale of Washington sexual shenanigans everyone loses, especially when they think they are winning.

    
     
Rating: ★★★½
    
    

 

 

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