REVIEW: K. (The Hypocrites)

 

Allen goes coo-coo for Kafka

 

 

The Hypocrites - K - by Greg Allen004

   
The Hypocrites present
   
K.
   
Written and Directed by Greg Allen
at
Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division (map)
through November 28   |  tickets: $14-$28  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

At the last three productions I’ve seen put on by The Hypocrites, arguably the local leader in avant garde storefront, there’s been some blatant reference to the originating text. In Sean Graney’s stage adaptation of Frankenstein last year (our review ★★), the pages of numerous copies of Mary Shelley’s book were pasted on The Hypocrites - K - by Greg Allen001the back wall. In No Exit (review ★★★), Inez splattered toothpaste all over the set and tacked on leaves from Jean Paul-Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. And in their season opener K., translated from “The Trial”, a semi-finished novel from that proto-surrealist genius, Franz Kafka, characters read, toss around, and swear upon a tiny copy of Kafka’s chilling story. The stage adaptation and direction are the handiwork of Neo-Futurist Greg Allen, a master of metatheatricality. The production unravels in the last few scenes, but the darkly funny story is an enthralling journey. One wonders, considering that Kafka died before finishing “The Trial” (or any novels, really), if this is sort of the point.

Allen first penned his adaptation in 1996. “K.” is Josef K., Kafka’s unwitting protagonist in his slamming critique of law, order, and bureaucracy. “The Trial” is pretty much an expressionist legal thriller, with less crime and more paperwork. K.’s monotonous life is disrupted when he is arrested one morning, but not detained and never told what offense he committed (the police don’t even know). The rest of the piece follows K.’s long, occasionally action-packed struggle to get his trial to go to trial.

 

The Hypocrites - K - by Greg Allen005 The Hypocrites - K - by Greg Allen002

Allen cherrypicks from Kafka’s plot. He hits important characters and scenes, but he streamlines the piece. This works well for the adaptation; K.’s Sisyphean legal journey is easy enough to follow and digest. Allen then plugs the gaps with a self-awareness that shocks the story into a stage life, one that is very aware that it is theatre. The actor playing K.’s father, Sean Patrick Fawcett, must yank a program from the audience to prove to K. that he is, in fact, K.’s father. A painter sells works with titles like The Hunger Artist, The Penal Colony, and The Castle. And there’s a full-on Metamorphosis moment. These choices tap into themes that both resonate with the original text and go beyond it: the nature of narrative, and reality, for that matter.

Brennan Buhl’s portrayal of K. syncs perfectly with Allen’s vision. He straddles the script, keeping one foot in the story and the other in our world. Sometimes he is charmingly aloof, making it seem like he’s part of some dark improv set—ready to joke and riff off whatever happens to him. At other crucial points, he snaps into the plot’s reality with devastating somberness. Buhl’s performance is stripped of sentimentality; his whole world is funny and inconsequential until the agonizing futility of his situation beats him into submission.

The Hypocrites - K - by Greg Allen003There are a few times when the Allen’s meta-theatre meddling fails to produce the fruit, the ending being the prime example. K. has a possibly fatal encounter with his arresting officers, but the final outcome isn’t revealed, and Buhl sucks in the audience at the last moment….except we don’t know where we’re going. We get a sort of “what happened?” moment, and I was very confused as to what actually happened. Allen’s tight focus slackens here and the moment clogs up the heavy theatrical metaphor flowing through the piece.

Buhl is joined by a great supporting cast who all jump into a massive gumbo of personas. They do great things with Chelsea Warren’s set, which features plenty of doors to shift around, open, and slam. There’s an energy present here that isn’t seen often today, one that doesn’t mock the fact that theatre is happening, but lovingly accepts the art form while pushing its limits. Even with K.’s misfires, Allen has created riveting, intellectual theatre.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Brennan Buhl - Hypocrites Theatre - Greg Allen

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REVIEW: The Magic Parlour (House Theatre of Chicago)

 

A Perfect Evening of Illusion and Laughter

 

 House Theatre Magic Parlour Dennis Watkins

   
The House Theatre of Chicago presents
   
The Magic Parlour
  
Featuring Dennis Watkins
at
Chopin Theatre, 1543 West Division (map)
through December 17  |  tickets: $10-$25  |  more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian

On Friday nights the basement of the Chopin Theatre is transformed into a space full of wonder, enchantment and intrigue. Beginning at 10:30 p.m. Dennis Watkins takes the stage for The Magic Parlour, a weekly, late-night magic show.

The basement space feels more like someone’s living room than a theatre venue. Around the stage are various rugs overlapping one another as well as comfy couches, chairs and tables. It’s a very intimate setting, creating a warm and inviting backdrop. As the crowd begins to fill in, the buzz runs throughout. Audience members range from children to adults and everyone is excited for the magical show they’re about to see.

The moment Watkins’ steps on the stage, it’s clear that he’s a character. He’s immediately charming and personable, warming the audience up with a clever comedic trick. It’s evident that Watkins’s is a talented performer and magician as he makes a torn up dollar bill reappear in a most unusual fashion.

Watkins’ reveals that he comes from a family of magicians as he bonds with the audience over life stories. His specialty is sleight of hand and the tricks he performs under this category are both crowd-House Theatre Magic Parlour posterpleasing and simply amazing. He’s incredibly talented at his craft, and there’s never any indication of how tricks are done or how they work. Nor is there any wish to know because the magic is too wonderful to be ruined.

Many of Watkins’ tricks involve audience participation, which not only adds another layer of entertainment, but it also furthers his connection and trust level with the audience. The interactive aspect is fun for both those involved and those watching the participation. Watkins does a great job of making his volunteers feel comfortable up on stage with him, easing any tension with jokes and humor. Crowd favorites include mind reading numbers, card tricks and tricks with money.

Watkins proves to be not only a magician but a comedian as well. In between and during tricks, he keeps the crowd doubled over with laughter and he recites joke after joke. During the hour-long show, I don’t think more than five minutes went by without something hilarious occurring. Watkins fills the entire space with his charming presence and personality. The hour flew by and I found myself wishing there was an encore performance.

Because he’s so talented, Watkins’ doesn’t need to employ a lot of fuss in order to wow the crowd. There aren’t major special effects or smoke and mirrors. It’s simply him on stage delivering his talent simply and wonderfully.  Come enjoy 60-minutes of pure magic and laughter!

   
   
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

The Magic Parlour plays at the Chopin Theatre, 1543 West Division, through December 17 on Friday nights at 10:30 pm. Tickets are $25 for adults, $10 for students and can be purchased at the Chopin Theatre’s Web site.

  
  

Review: Thieves Like Us (House Theatre of Chicago)

 

Predictable bank-robbing adventure is fun as heck

Thieves Like Us - House Theatre - Byrnes Bowers Hickey

   
The House Theatre of Chicago presents
 
Thieves Like Us
   
Written by Damon Kiely
Directed by Kimberly Senior

at Chopin Theatre,  1543 W. Division (map)
through October 30  |  
tickets: $25-$29  |  more info

Review by Catey Sullivan

House Theatre fans will be in their raucous comfort zone with the company’s latest action-packed production. Thieves Like Us is chock full of the House’s signature elements:  Retro-comic book storyline? Check. Old school siren whose vocal stylings punctuate the scenes? Check. Cops, robbers, dames and drunks? Yup. And where previous House productions have made ingenious use of actors striding across the stage carrying picture frames and pop-up books to evoke small towns, big cities and points in between, Thieves uses a similar technique with newspapers to illustrate the Dust Bowl surroundings of Bowie Bowers and his posse of stick-up men.

But even with its profoundly predictable ending (which pays homage and owes a debt to both Bonnie and Clyde and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Thieves Like Us  is a step up for the House. After bursting onto the scene in the early Aughts with an inspired, revisionist take on Peter Pan,  the House continued with variations on the theme of lost boys long enough to become repetitive. The particulars changed as the House churned out stories of Samarai, cowboys, wannabe rockstars, science nerds and flying cheerleaders (our review ★★★½) – but the core of each adventure remained the same: Adolescence is tough. Growing out of it is even tougher.  For a while, it seemed that their target audience was restricted to ‘tween boys.

thieves Like Us - House Theatre - posterThat demographic will love Thieves Like Us, no doubt. But Thieves, written by Damon Kiley and directed by Kimberly Senior also has enough smarts and wry self-awareness to make grownups smile as well. It’s hero – Bowie Bowers, Depression-era desperado driven to thieving because an honest Joe can’t catch a break in the Dust Bowl – is surely relatable to anybody who has felt the pinch of the current recession (which is to say, everybody).

We first meet our hero at hard labor on a prison somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon line – the locale being evident by the oozing-syrup Okie drawl everybody talks with. It’s mere moments before the first burst of cartoon violence breaks out as Bowie (John Byrnes), hardened convict Chicamaw (Shawn Pfautsch) and elder statesman T-Dub (Tom Hickey) make a break for it. Across the plains they go, knocking over banks and planning One Last Score so that all can retire, maybe in sunny May-hee-ko. There’s A Girl (of course), who is instrumental in convincing Bowie to give up the stick-ups and settle down to a quiet life “on the straight.”  But of course Bowie can’t do that until he makes that One Last Score. And but of course, the last heist goes spectacularly awry.

The plot may be less than innovative, but the Kiley’s dialogue and the ensemble’s zesty execution of it make it mighty entertaining.

As Bowie, Byrnes creates a man of simple wants and basic decency – all he wants is a clean start, Bowie keeps emphasizing, but of course that’s just not possible, no matter how much money he steals.

Senior elicits strong performances from her supporting cast as well, starting with Pfautsch’s Chicamaw, who comes close to stealing the show along with the loot from the vault. Pfautsch instills the violent, hard-drinking, hardened criminal  Chicamaw with an impish spark that’s part playful sprite and part psychopath. It’s hard to say which is dominant, and that’s part of the character’s dangerous, wild-eyed charisma. The third man in the gang is Hickey‘s T-Dub, the nominal brains of the group. Also memorable is Tim Curtis, who exudes sly, degenerate charm first as a retired hold-up man and later as an oily attorney.

As for the women in the cast, Chelsea Keenan radiates joy, lust and deliciously girlish immaturity as Lula, a good-time blonde who can turn a kitchen table into a dance floor faster than you can say Jack Robinson.  And as a one-woman Greek goddess of a Greek chorus, Beth Sagal’s torch song narration is as rich and velvety as fine chocolate.  Breathing life into the composer Kevin O’Donnell’s seductive melodies, she’s a showstopper whose perspective adds significant depth to the comic book veneer. As for Bowie’s gal, the “Pistol Princess” Cheechie, Paige Hoffman is an appropriately hard-nosed moll although her romance with Bowie isn’t especially believable – they seem to love each other only because conventional storytelling demands that the main gangster have a girl to complicate matters.

The adventures of Bowie Bowers might not be especially original. But they’re colorful and clever and entertaining as heck.

   
   
Rating: ★★½       
   
      

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REVIEW: 1001 (Collaboraction)

A breathtaking testament to the power of storytelling

 

 Pictured (left to right): Joel Gross (as Shahriyar) and Mouzam Makkar (as Scheherazade) in "1001". Photo by Saverio Truglia

  
Collaboraction presents
  
1001
  
Written by Jason Grote
Directed by
Seth Bockley
at
Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division (map)
through October 9  |  tickets: $15-$25  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

Jason Grote’s 1001 uses the story of “The Arabian Nights” as the foundation for a centuries-spanning epic that examines the nature of stories and the ways in which they shape and define the world. After a nuclear blast starts the play, the One-Eyed Arab (H.B. Ward) begins to tell the familiar story of the murderous sultan Shahriyar (Joel Gross) and his crafty bride Scheherazade (Mouzam Makkar), who tells stories that never end to elude her death the next morning.

The Wedding Feast from Collaboraction's "1001" - Photo by Saverio Truglia From there, Grote presents amidst stories about Prince Yahya al-Husayni’s (Edgar Miguel Sanchez) lust for his twin sister and Sinbad’s (Ward) afternoon with Jorge Luis Borges (Antonio Brunetti), the narrative of two 21st-century Columbia students takes shape: Dahna (Makkar), an Arab, and Allen (Gross), a Jew. Grote masterfully intertwines the various story threads, bleeding slapstick comedy, relationship drama, political criticism, and post-modern philosophy together to create a play that defies categorization. Under Seth Bockley’s clear and concise direction, the cast navigates the complex script with a momentum that never stops, playing multiple characters and switching between genres without ever skipping a beat.

As Shahriyar, Gross shows an amazing comedic talent, particularly in his handle of malapropisms (“ceviche” for “cesspool” is my favorite), which can cause more groans than laughs in the wrong hands. As a sultan that face palms his wives to shush them, Gross shows no sense of tact or restraint, which increases his comedic worth without diminishing his threat. In his first scene as Allen, Gross delivers a fantastic monologue of incredible difficulty, as the mentally fractured character recalls the events that have led to his residence in the underground tunnels of Manhattan.

Makkar has the least comedic parts of the show, but she helps ground the play by creating characters that feel more realistic than her funnier co-stars. As the primary storyteller, she has fantastic diction, and her voice commands attention when she speaks. The only other female of the cast, Carly Ciarrochi gets the brunt of the humor, and she handles it fantastically. Ciarrochi has a talent for goofy voices, but it is her comedic timing that makes her scenes so memorable, like her Act 1 hysterics as one of Shahriyar’s virgin brides about to be killed.

Pictured (left to right) Antonio Brunetti and Edgar Miguel Sanchez in "1001". Photo by Saverio Truglia. Pictured (back to front) Edgar Miguel Sanchez and Mouzam Makkar in "1001". Photo by Saverio Truglia H.B. Ward in "1001". Photo by Saverio Truglia.
Pictured (left to right): Carly Ciarrochi, Edgar Miguel Sanchez and Joel Gross in "1001". Photo by Saverio Truglia Pictured (left to right): Mouzam Makkar (as Dahna) and Joel Gross (as Alan) in "1001". Photo by Saverio Truglia.

The rest of the cast does admirable work playing a plethora of different characters, giving each one a distinct physicality and voice so that no clarity is lost. Ward’s Sinbad stands out for his complete lack of awe at the spectacular sights he encounters on his journey, with Ward underplaying each of the sailor’s memory for maximum comedic effect.

The brilliance of the script comes from the ways in which Grote uses the fantastic – and oftentimes comic – stories that Scheherazade tells to enrich Dahna and Allen’s relationship. Towards the end of the play, Scheherazade asks the audience, “What are any of us but a collection of stories?” In that moment the story within a story within a story structure of the play makes perfect sense, revealing the limitless potential in every person to imagine and create at any moment. Collaboraction’s 1001 is an inspiration, and with only a few more weeks before the end of the run I suggest you hurry to get your tickets.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
   
  

1001_photo by Saverio Truglia_7573

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House Theatre: The Magic Parlour extends to open-run

  The Magic Parlour - House Theatre of Chicago 

The House announces an Open-Ended Run of The Magic Parlour

Originally intended to be a one-night-only benefit for The House Theatre of Chicago, The Magic Parlour has already proven to be so successful that The House is producing the show as Chicago’s only weekly late-night magic show!

Dennis Watkins, a third-generation magician, currently performs his one-man comedy magic show for corporate events and colleges all across the country. The performance contains some of his favorite pieces of magic, alongside some brand new routines in an hour-long show packed with mind-reading, levitations, escapes, and a ridiculous new adaptation of the classic “Card Stab” during which Watkins climbs inside of a fully inflated 7 foot balloon!

The show, intended for an audience of approximately 50, is hugely interactive. Guests of The Magic Parlour will participate by having their minds read, offering every day objects such as money, rings, or watches to be used as props, and even performing unexpected miracles through out the show.

The downstairs cabaret at The Chopin offers the perfect setting for this slightly timeless, quirky and unique event. With its comfortable seating, intimate stage and off-beat décor, the cabaret is the perfect venue for this style of magic.

Beer and wine are served before and after the performance.

When I was a kid my grandfather was my teacher. This show is a collection of some of the magic we developed together over the years. It’s also sprinkled with tidbits of his magical wisdom and some material he’s never seen, but would have really loved. It’s light, it’s fun, and it’s totally mind-boggling,” says Watkins.

WHEN: Every Friday night at 10:30 pm – STARTING SEPTEMBER 10
WHERE:
The Chopin Theatre: 1543 W. Division, Chicago, IL
TICKETS:
$25, available online at www.thehousetheatre.com or via phone at 773.769.3832

The Magic Parlor: An intimate evening of classical magic with Dennis Watkins

More info at www.thehousetheatre.com

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Collaboraction announces 2010-2011 Season

Collaboraction announces their 15th-Anniversary Season

* including their 11th annual SKETCHBOOK Festival *

 

guinea pig solo 2006 From the critically-acclaimed 2005 production of Guinea Pig Solo


Anthony Moseley, Collaboraction’s executive and artistic director, has announced the line-up for the company’s 15th season to be staged in its entirety at the Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division Avenue:

 

September 13 – October 10, 2010

1001


World premiere by Jason Grote
Directed by Seth Bockley
The Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division Street

Seth Bockley takes the directing reins of the season’s first production, Jason Grote’s ambitious 1001, a wild time-bending re-imagining of The Arabian Nights. Interweaving Scheherazade’s tales with contemporary Manhattan, 1001 examines East and West in the post-9/11 world.

This Chicago premiere takes the audience on a surrealist politically charged, Monty Python-esque journey through the precarious world of the 21st Century.

 

March 21 – April 17, 2011

Guinea Pig Solo

By Brett C. Leonard
Directed by Anthony Moseley
The Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division

The season continues with Collaboraction’s revival of its 2005 critically acclaimed production of Guinea Pig Solo by Brett C. Leonard.  The play is loosely based on Buchner’s “Woyzeck” and follows the difficult return to society of Iraq War veteran Jose Solo. The remount will feature Dale Rivera and Sandra Delgado reprising their original roles as Jose and Marie.  (pics below are from the 2005 production)

Anthony Moseley directs the revival as part of the “The Woyzeck Project”, a collaborative exploration around Buchner’s seminal work anchored by full length productions by Collaboraction, About Face Theatre and The Hypocrites, as well as featuring short plays, visual art and film.

Guinea pig solo 2005-2  From the critically-acclaimed 2005 production of Guinea Pig Solo

 

Jun18 – July 3, 2011

11th Annual Sketchbook Festival

 

Collaboraction rounds out the season with the 11th-annual SKETCHBOOK Festival of short plays, visual art, video and music, also at the Chopin Theatre. Since 2000, this unique festival has provided an incredible platform for emerging and established playwrights, actors, directors, videographers, musicians, artists and more.

SKETCHBOOK is Collaboraction at its best: breaking down the walls that divide theater, music, visual art, video, and the internet. Selected from hundreds of submissions, SKETCHBOOK once again brings together the collective talents of more than 200 pioneering directors, designers, actors, musicians, and artists from Chicago and around the country for a jaw-dropping evening of creativity, experimentation, and celebration.

 

Flex Pass Tickets Now Available

Collaboraction’s season Flex Pass, which grants tickets to every performance of the 2010-2011 season, is now available. If subscribers miss a production, the tickets can be applied to any of the performances in the rest of the season. A four-pack of tickets is available for $75 and a 10-pack for $150. Reservations must be made in advance and tickets are subject to availability. To purchase a Flex Pass, call 312.226.9633 or go to collaboraction.org

 

Sketchbook 9a Sketchbook 9c Sketchbook 9d Sketchbook 9e

Pictures from Sketchbook 9

 

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REVIEW: Sketchbook X (Collaboraction)

Collaboraction celebrates the creative spirit with Sketchbook X

 Pictured (left to right): Beth Stelling, Maari Suorsa, Mary Hollis Inboden and Meg Johns in The New Colony Ensemble’s world premiere “Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche,” one of the 19 original short works in SKETCHBOOK  X, a mixed media festival of theatre, music and video presented by Collaboraction, now in its 10th year. The show runs through June 27, 2010 at The Chopin Theatre. http://www.collaboraction.org

   
Collaboraction presents
   
Sketchbook X:   People’s Choice
   
at Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division (map)
through June 27th  |  tickets: $20-$35   |  more info

reviewed by Keith Ecker 

What is a play exactly? Is it a dramatic staging of a story? Is it people moving around in a physical space in front of an audience? And furthermore, what separates a play from a sketch or a scene or even a performance art installation?

Pictured (left to right): Jeffrey Gitelle, Ian McLaren and Emily Shain in “Eighty Four” written by Cory Tamler, directed by Dan Stermer. “Eighty Four” is one of the 19 original short works in SKETCHBOOK  X, a mixed media festival of theatre, music and video presented by Collaboraction, now in its 10th year. The show runs through June 27 at The Chopin Theatre These are the questions I was left pondering after seeing Collaboraction’s tenth annual Sketchbook festival, a showcase of original mixed media performances. This  year’s theme was “exponential.” Yes, it is fairly nebulous, and this is perhaps one reason why the output lacks a certain concreteness and cohesion. Characters and plot become secondary to evoking visceral emotions. Sketchbook X in many ways is more circus than drama.

This isn’t to say that the finished product is all spectacle and no substance. There are some standout pieces.

The one that clearly stands out the most is Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche. Unlike other pieces that become crushed under their own weight, Five Lesbians is a witty, stylized comedy. Devised by Evan Linder, the play features five women (Sarah Gitenstein, Mary Hollis Inboden, Beth Stelling, Maari Suorsa and Megan Johns) who head a local social club centered around a shared love of quiche. The women click and cluck like 1950s southern church ladies and harass the audience. When communist Russia bombs the outside world, all quiche is destroyed. The women go into a tizzy, which leads to their outings.

Five Lesbians works because it is the most refined piece of the festival. The script feels fully fleshed out, the actors are well aware of their characters and the comedic timing is impeccable. There is a lot of commitment, and there is little ambiguity. It has an aesthetic all its own that is so engaging I’d pay to see a full-length production.

Pictured (left to right): Beth Stelling, Maari Suorsa, Mary Hollis Inboden and Meg Johns in The New Colony Ensemble’s world premiere “Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche,” one of the 19 original short works in SKETCHBOOK  X, a mixed media festival of theatre, music and video presented by Collaboraction, now in its 10th year. The show runs through June 27, 2010 at The Chopin Theatre

Other standouts include Sacrebleu (devised and performed by Dean Evans, Molly Plunk and Anthony Courser), a pantomimed, slapstick comedy about two eccentric French fur trappers. The short monologue The Blueberry (written by Sean Graney and featuring Celeste Januszewski) is a thoughtful meditation on existence that explains string theory with blueberry imagery.

Other pieces, however, just don’t pan out. What I’m Looking For (written by Brett C. Leonard and featuring Joel Gross and Heather Bodie) is little more than a heavy-handed music video for a Rufus Wainwright song. Meanwhile, The Untimely Death of  Adolf Hitler (written by Andy Grigg and featuring Eddie Karch, Anthony Moseley, Erin Myers, Greg Hardigan and Dan Krall) lacks enough wit to drive the piece beyond its premise. But you can’t expect all the pieces to be gems. Besides, if you don’t like something, just wait 7 to 10 minutes for another play.

Sketchbook-Four-Women As usual, Collaboraction has succeeded in making the festival feel like a big event. The interior of the Chopin Theatre is awash in glowing light and fog. Two large screens flank the sides of the stage and streamers stretch from the floor to the ceiling. It all makes for a breath-taking first impression.

If you want to see all 19 pieces in a row, you’ll have to see the show on a Saturday. Be warned, though. It’s a 4.5-hour long journey, though you are encouraged to come and go as you please.

Overall, Sketchbook X is a mixed bag of intriguing works. The majority of the pieces lack refinement, but there are a few plays that are polished treasures. The theme gets lost among the many productions, but I don’t think that’s the point. Rather, Sketchbook is more of a party that aims to celebrate the creative spirit, and in that sense, it succeeds.

   
   
Rating:  ★★★
   
   

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