REVIEW: Mud (Village Players)

An update on Tobacco Road

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Village Players presents
 
Mud
 
by Maria Irene Fornes
directed by Lawrence Keller
at
Village Players Theatre, 1101 W. Madison, Oak Park (map)
thru April 25th |  tickets: $15-$20 |  more info

reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

The opening action of  Mud features the character of Mae (Stephanie Ganacoplos), a woman burdened by the weight of the laundry that she carries and by the harsh conditions in which she lives. When Lloyd (Nick Bonges) enters, his role is uncertain – is he her husband, another relative, a boarder?  Bonges plays the role of Lloyd with an atavistic ferocity as bounds into the scene and stares at Mae while she irons. The scene – spare on dialogue, save for a terse exchange of expletives – crackles with a dangerous sexuality.

It is eventually discovered that Mae’s father brought Lloyd to the home as a child. He was supposed to be company for Mae and in some fashion a future spouse. However, the father died and the children were left to raise themselves in poverty and illiteracy. Mae is the first to step out and try to learn arithmetic, leaving Lloyd to animal husbandry with the pigs. What follows is an excellent exploration of servitude, poverty, and the struggle for power in domesticity.

mud Having matured without adult guidance, Mae and Lloyd are accustomed to running on instinct. Mae’s sexuality is ripening and unrequited, as Lloyd has found sexual release in bestiality. The excellent timing and nuance of the actors temper the shocking revelation that Lloyd is having relations with a pig, and we’re not meaning a female slob. When it comes to human relations, Lloyd is impotent and an unfortunate venereal prostate disease has given him a constant fever.

Mae recruits a classmate from her arithmetic class, Henry (Dennis Schnell), to read the pamphlet on venereal disease to Lloyd, which hopefully will convince Lloyd to get some medicine. Schnell’s first scene is quite funny as he portrays Henry as a pompous stiff who can read big words. Henry believes that pronouncing the words will make people believe he knows what they mean. This sequence sets up the dynamic between the three of them, making Lloyd continuously suspicious and on guard. He is more worried that his portion of food will be compromised. Mae is enthralled by Henry’s knowledge of words and they begin a sexual relationship.

Lloyd is told that he can make a pallet on the floor from newspaper. It is similar to what he does for his swine. Mae has already compared him to pigs and wished that he would die and rot in the mud. Her frustration and desire lead her to believe that Henry will free her from the dirt. Lloyd shows himself to be more astute that believed when Henry has a stroke. He has the upper hand and Henry’s care is delegated to him but both men are shown to be dependent and ignorant. They tether Mae to the house, the marital bed, and the mud.

Mud is written by Maria Irene Fornes and is featured as part of the Village Players Theatre “Women on the Cutting Edge” series. The dialogue is beautifully written and lends itself to varying degrees of interpretation. My theatre companion for the evening was disappointed the actors did not have country accents, though it could be said that the scenes prove to be much more visceral without accent – this dire situation could surely take place in urban America just as much as the boondocks. Affecting ‘country’ accents would have put too much Erskine Caldwell in the mix.  Though the action seems to take place in the 1930’s, it could be in present time as well. How often are we supposedly shocked at tales of lurid sex and unusual relationships on the evening news? Or worse, inured to tabloid adventures of the local citizenry (especially if they’re famous!).

Kudos to Annalee Johnson for her set design and props – both superb. The props look authentic down to the washing bowl made of distressed zinc. I cringed every time the character of Lloyd would soak a rag in the water and suck on it to cool his fever. Though counterintuitive, it takes talent to create a palpable feeling of dust, sweltering heat, and despair in the set design.

Applause is due to director Lawrence Keller for excellent staging and pacing of what could have been melodramatic or overwrought. This series is dedicated to showcasing women writers or women characters with an edgy sensibility. Mae is a woman on the edge and punching her way out of an untenable situation. The ending left me shaken even though I knew what was coming. The actors created a fever pitch unsullied by self-awareness. All three actors were amazing and completely consumed by the characters. The surprise was that they could shake off the characters to smile when they took their bows.

 
 
Rating: ★★½
 
 

“Mud” plays through April 25th at Village Players Theater 1010 Madison Street in Oak Park. Call the box office at 866-764-1010 or go to www.village-players.org for ticket information. The theater is easy to reach by public transportation or Metra. It is worth the field trip to the suburbs.

"Mud" stars Nick Bonges, Stephanie Ganacoplos, and Dennis Schnell. Designers include Annalee Johnson (set/props) and Emma Weber (costumes). Kelly Herz is stage managing.

Village Players taps storyteller Megan Wells as first artistic associate

 

Village Players' new Artistic Associate, Megan WellsDirector, actor and storyteller Megan Wells has been named Artistic Associate at Oak Park’s Village Players Theatre. She is the first Artistic Associate to be named at the 50-year-old non-Equity theater, and ushers in a new program implemented by Artistic Director Daniel Taube.

Taube was named Artistic Director at the theater in August, after former Artistic Director Carl Occhipinti left the post to devote himself full-time to his thriving career in therapeutic massage. VPT has two stages, the 50-seat black box Studio Theatre established by Occhipinti several years ago, and a 180-seat main stage that’s been the bulwark of the 1010 W.  Madison Street facility since it opened in 1984.

Wells, of Lagrange Park, is well known in story-telling circles for her prowess with original works. She has toured locally and regionally with her one-woman performances of Dracula, Psyche and Eros, Helen’s Troy, Firebird, and The Last Supper, spinning tales that merge rich dramatic detail with thorough scholarship.  Wells has numerous awards for storytelling, including the EdPress Distinguished Achievement Award for “Fire in Boomtown”, a piece on the history of the Chicago fire she performer with composer/musician Amy Lowe. Her most recent work at VPT was helming The Miracle Worker for the studio space earlier this season.

While the precise nature of the Artistic Associate program has not been spelled out, it will be a “sort of residency fundamental to improving the quality of progressive work at VPT in the coming years,” Taube said in a prepared statement.

VPT is in the middle of its 2009-2010 season, with the main stage shows dedicated to “New American Classics” and the studio programming to plays written by women or focusing on a strong, central female character. A Chorus Line opens March 13 on the main stage, while Marie Irene FornesMud opens in the studio space March 27. The main stage season continues with Christopher Durang’s The Marriage of Betty and Book May 7 – June 27. The studio space will host Naomi Iizuka’s Polaroid Stories June 10 – July 18.

 For more information or to reserve tickets, go to www.village-players.org or call the box office at 866-764-1010.

REVIEW: Lost in Yonkers (Village Players)

Two brothers zing Simon’s show

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Village Players Theater presents:

Lost in Yonkers

 

Written by Neil Simon
Directed by
Brian Rabinowitz
Thru February 21st (more info)

By Katy Walsh

Living on top of a candy store is every kid’s dream – unless the shop is owned by a tyrannical grandmother! yonkers2Set in the early 1940’s, Neil Simon’s Purlitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play is a coming-of-age story about two teenagers forced to live with their cruel grandma for a year. When financial complications require their father to take a job on the road, Arty and Jay leave the Bronx for Yonkers. Sleeping on the pull-out couch, the boys live in the 2 bedroom dictator world with their grandma as supreme leader. Making family life a little more pleasant and weirder, they get to know their crazy Aunt Bella, con artist Uncle Eddie and strange Aunt Gert. Playwright Neil Simon is the master for portraying family dysfunction in a comical manner, and in Lost in Yonkers, the two young boys’ antics lead family members to face their past destructive patterns.

Under the direction of Brian Rabinowitz, Andrew Raia (Jay) and Jake Walczyk (Arty) are fantastic as the brothers. Their onstage chemistry makes the relationship bond seem real. Raia’s Bronx accent is the best in the cast. Whether his sulking on the couch or challenging his grandma, his timing is authentic and flawless. Walczyk’s delivers some of Simon’s best zingers. The comedy is heightened for extra laughs from this pint size messenger with a big attitude. As Grandma, Deanna Norman’s presence alone on stage is disapproving and threatening. Add in the character’s severe child raising practices, Norman makes anyone squirm in their seat.

yonkersThe most demanding part in the show is the role of Bella. A woman incapacitated by mental illness and her mother’s hold, the role requires a combination of child-like innocence, a woman’s romantic desires, and neurotic outbursts. Stephanie Ganacolpos does a fine, but not consistent, job of hitting all these elements sporadically throughout the show.

Designed by Annette Vargas, the set is that of an apartment in Yonkers that’s seen better years. In the first scene, the audience learns how particular grandma is about the doilies on the couch – with this realization, however, the sloppy wallpaper seems a little too imperfect for grandma’s home. Bella’s wardrobe also malfunctions after grandma throws a cup of tea on her. The tea results in Bella displaying distracting wet stains on her cotton dress in the next scene. The costumes by Emma Weber add a layer of understanding of the time period, especially Arty’s short pants. Under Weber’s guidance suits, ties, and dresses rule the day – there are no casual comforts. It’s hard to imagine today’s teenage boys wearing suits and ties in an un-air conditioned apartment.

Although taking place more than a half of century ago, Lost in Yonkers has timeless themes of family dynamics, teenage rebellion, and financial struggles. It’s a perfect show to escape and compare family war wounds. If nothing else, go to see the beginnings of the brilliant stage careers of Andrew Raia and Jake Walczyk.

 

Rating: ★★★

 

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Theater openings and closings this week in Chicago

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show openings

 

Twas the Night Before Christmas Center for Performing Arts at Governors State

500 Clown Christmas North Central College 

American Stars in Concert for the Holidays Paramount Theatre

Civic Ballet’s The Nutcracker James Lumber Center for the Performing Arts

Icarus Lookingglass Theatre

It’s a Wonderful Life Improv Playhouse

The Klezmatics North Shore Center for the Performing Arts

The Nutcracker McAninch Arts Center

W is for Winter Prop Thtr

 

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show closings

1985 The Factory Theater (our review)

All the Fame of Lofty Deeds House Theatre  (our review)

Aunt Dan and Lemon BackStage Theatre Company

Beethoven, as I Knew Him Drury Lane Water Tower

Burlesque is More Annoyance Theatre

Carnival Nocturne – Storefront Theater  (our review)

Chad Morton’s TV Christmas Miracle Village Players Performing Arts Center

Cockettes: Christmas Spectacular Annoyance Theatre

Cold Dream Theatre

Cooperstown Theatre Seven of Chicago (our review)

The David Bowie Hepzikat Funky Velvet Flarney Solstice Spectacular Live…From Space! New Millenium Theatre

D-Cup Diatribes Gorilla Tango Theatre 

Democracy Eclipse Theatre (our review)

Faith Off Gorilla Tango Theatre

The Flaming Dames in Naughtier and Nice New Millenium Theatre

Florid Deveraux Does the Holidays Prop Thtr

Gift of the Magi EverGreen Theatre Ensemble

Gossamer Adventure Stage Chicago

Graceland Profiles Theatre 

Horrible Apollo Theatre (our review)

Hunky Dory The Factory Theater (our review)

Improv Children of the Corn 3 Corn Productions

Low Toner: Decision Quality Gorilla Tango Theatre

LUNATIC(a)S Teatro Luna (our review)

Perseus and Medusa: Or It’s All Greek to Me Piccolo Theatre

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Annoyance Theatre (our review)

Short Shorts Annoyance Theatre

A Silent Night: Grandma Got Run Over Without Healthcare Gorilla Tango Theatre

Souvenir Northlight Theatre (our review)

When She Danced TimeLine Theatre

Whining in the Windy City Royal George Theatre

Review: Village Players’ “You Can’t Take It With You”

You Can't Take It With You

 Village Players Theater presents

You Can’t Take It With You

by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart
directed by Jack Hickey
runs through Nov. 22 (ticket info)

reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

take-it-with-you During hard times, people seek the warmth of the well-known, the solace of childhood memory and happier days. In dining, that means comfort food. The stage equivalent — comfort theater, if you will — arises in low-risk revivals.

So, this season has seen Animal Crackers at the Goodman Theatre, a revival of a 1928 Marx Brothers comedy.  Porchlight Theatre did The Fantasticks, that long-running off-Broadway favorite. Marriott Theatre revived Hairspray, a 2002 Broadway hit based on a 1988 cult film set in 1962. And so on.

George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart‘s quirky You Can’t Take It With You needs no economic crisis to be worth a remount. Although this 1937 Pulitzer Prize winner certainly shows its origins in the Great Depression, You Can’t Take It With You is one of the funniest and most endearing plays of the 20th century. The New York Times’ Brooks Atkinson called the original production "tickling fun," and so it remains.

Everyone should know this play. If you’ve never seen it, take advantage of Village Players‘ fine production in Oak Park.

A little acquaintance with 1930s popular history will enrich your experience, but it’s by no means required. Some understanding of the times in which the play was written may be needed to surmount 21st-century sensibilities, though for its period, You Can’t Take It With You seems quite progressive.

The farce follows the eccentric Sycamore family. Grandpa Martin Vanderhof (Paul Tinsley), the retired patriarch, has spent 35 years going to college commencements, collecting snakes and avoiding income tax.

His daughter, Penelope (Judith Laughlin), has spent the past eight years engaged in writing never-finished plays. Penny’s husband, Paul Sycamore (Errol McLendon), manufactures fireworks in the basement with help from the family’s lodger, Mr. DePinna (Eric Cowgill). Housekeeper Rheba (Elana Elyce), serves up dinners of corn flakes, watermelon and mystery meat and entertains her unemployed boyfriend, Donald (Ronaldo Coxon), overnight.

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Granddaughter Essie (Zoe Palko) makes candies for sale but spends every spare moment practicing, unsuccessfully, to be a ballerina. As her boisterous Russian dance teacher, Boris Kolenkhov (Jeff McVann), puts it, "She stinks." Essie’s husband, Ed Carmichael (Josh Wintersteen), prints up unlikely circulars on a hobby letterpress and plays the xylophone.

The most conventional member of the clan, granddaughter Alice (Jhenai Mootz), a secretary, is in love with her boss’s son, Tony Kirby (Bryan Wakefield), though she fears her beloved but trying family won’t pass muster with his stuffy, Wall Street father (James Turano) and snobbish socialite mother (Katherine Keberlein). Also drifting through the scenes are an irritated IRS investigator (Michael M. Jones), a couple of G-men (Jones and Anthony Collaro), a drunken actress and the Russian Grand Duchess Olga Katrina (Courtney Boxwell).

They don’t write plays like this one anymore.

Village Players’ whole cast and crew merit kudos for this nicely presented ensemble piece. Director Jack Hickey paces his actors well, keeping things moving and the comedy coming. As Grandpa, Tinsley is perhaps overly laconic, but Laughlin does an especially sweet job as Penny, and Palko is wonderfully zany as Essie. Coxon offers some rare comic turns as Donald, as well.

Ricky Lurie‘s effective period costumes deserve mention, too, particularly Essie’s absurd ballet bloomers.

It’s tickling fun!

Rating: «««

 

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Chicago theater openings/closings this week

chicagoriverblast

show openings

Anna, in the Darkness: The Basement

Dream Theatre

Bastards of Young Tympanic Theatre

Calls to Blood The New Colony

Cats Cadillac Palace Theatre

Dooby Dooby Moo Lifeline Theatre

Everyone’s Favorite Lobster Gorilla Tango Theatre

The Flaming Dames in Vamp II New Millenium Theatre

Heroes Remy Bumppo Theatre

The House on Mango Street Steppenwolf Theatre

The Last Unicorn Promethean Theatre

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow Filament Theatre Ensemble

The Man Who Was Thursday New Leaf Theatre

Mrs. Gruber’s Ding Song School Gorilla Tango Theatre

Plans 1 Through 8 from Outer Space New Millenium Theatre

Rachel Corn and the Secret Society Corn Productions

You Can’t Take It with You Village Players Performing Arts Center

 

Skyline-Chicago

show closings

Ah, Wilderness! Loyola University Chicago Theatre

Bad Touch and the Deep End Annoyance Theatre 

Dirty Talking Amish Gorilla Tango Theatre

Dracula Oak Park Festival Theatre

The History Boys – Timeline Theatre 

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Court Theatre

The Night SeasonVitalist Theatre

Rent Big Noise Theatre

Sleeping Beauty Big Noise Theatre

Stripped: An Unplugged Evening with Marilyn’s Dress Gorilla Tango Theatre

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

 

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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