Review: Terminus (Abbey Theatre – MCA Stage)

 
   

Ireland’s best takes to the MCA stage

  
  

Declan Conlon, Catherine Walker, Olwen Fouere - Terminus

  
Abbey Theatre, i/a/w Goodman Theatre presents
  
Terminus
  
Written and Directed by Mark O’Rowe
at
Museum of Contemporary Art Stage, 220 E. Chicago (map)
through March 6  |  tickets: $28-$35  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

The monologue is a difficult thing to master, both in terms of writing and performance, so I was a little wary when I found out Terminus is only three intertwining monologues. Luckily, Abbey Theatre, the national theater of Ireland, knows how to transform the monologue into riveting theater, as Mark O’Rowe’s poetry is exquisitely performed by the three actors. Standing inside a shattered picture frame, giant shards of glass surrounding them, A (Olwen Fouéré), B (Catherine Walker), and C (Declan Conlon) recount the events of one evening that will change them forever.

A, an emergency hotline operator, explores seedy Dublin pubs as she looks for an ex-student who is trying to abort a child nearly come to term. When a night out goes horribly wrong, B finds herself face to face with the supernatural, and loves what she sees. And C cuts people up without any remorse, so he’s a bit of a wild card in the proceedings. O’Rowe’s evocative language uses rhyme liberally, giving the monologues a bit of a freestyle rap vibe that helps keep the momentum constantly moving forward. O’Rowe is an immensely skilled playwright, and he creates a bleak image of Dublin that is both intensely alive while horrifyingly decayed. The verse allows him to present information in new ways, creating images in segments to build suspense until the big comedic/dramatic reveal.

Catherine Walker, Declan Conlon, Olwen Fouere - TerminusConsidering how serious the subject matter is, O’Rowe’s script is very funny, albeit darkly. There’s a Bette Midler through-line in all the stories that lends itself to comedy but takes on a dark meaning in the context of the plot, and finding the comedy in the midst of all this darkness is why the script is so successful. His characters may speak in verse, but their speech is natural, and the language flows very comfortably from all three actors, who have the unenviable task of keeping an audiences attention on their own. There’s a strength between the three actors that has undoubtedly comes from their time spent in rehearsal, and the connection between them can be felt throughout the entire play, uniting them despite their separate stories.

O’Rowe doesn’t have the same problems as other writer-directors, and that’s because Terminus is a tightly constructed production that doesn’t over-conceptualize or complicate the script with directorial flourishes. The ambition of this play is in it’s script, and the actors turn in beautifully nuanced performances that capture all the ecstasy, terror, and heartbreak of urban life. Often cringe-inducing in its explicitness, O’Rowe’s script is a grim and graphic image of Dublin life, but the poetry of the langue finds the beauty hidden within the darkness of the city’s soul. I didn’t know what to expect from Ireland’s national theater, and now I know not to expect anything less than brilliance.

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
   
  

All photos by Ros Kavanagh

  
  

REVIEW: Betontanc and Umka – Show Your Face! (MCA)

     
     

The Face of Freedom and Struggle

     
     

Betontanc and Umka, Show Your Face  - Photo courtesy of Bunker

   
Betontanc and Umka.lv presents
  
Show Your Face!
   
Written by members of Bentontanc and Umka.lv
Directed by Matjaž Pograjc
at MCA Stage, 220 E. Chicago Ave. (map)
through Jan 16  |  tickets: $28  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

I admit that I was left in awe of the Betontanc and Umka.lv production of Show Your Face! at the Museum of Contemporary Art. I was expecting something out of the ordinary because of the origins of the companies presenting. Slovenia and Latvia were mysteries when I was growing up. They were obscured by the politics of the dreaded ‘Iron Curtain’ and came into my consciousness in the 90’s with the fall of the Berlin Wall and unrest in the Balkans. This energetic and gripping production exposes how much we all are alike in our struggle for individual freedom, no matter the ideology of our origins.

Show Your Face is a multi-disciplinary production involving mainly dance, music, theatre, and puppetry. A faceless individual fights against the larger collective trying to possess him and his ideas. “The Faceless One” is portrayed by a child’s snowsuit used as a puppet. The scale of the snowsuit as a puppet gives an animated quality to the entire production. The human interactions take on a surreal quality that play on the psyche in a convoluted manner. None of the players seem to be human as a result – they are all emotion, enveloping the various manipulations of emotion: anger, fear, sex drive, and need for companionship or camaraderie.

The Faceless One of Show Your Face  - MCA Chicago - Photo courtesy of BunkerUmka.lv is the collective that performs on the stage. They are the acting and puppetry part of the production in collaboration with Betontanc (Concrete Dance) a Slovenian dance theatre company. The collaboration is brilliant and terrifying all at once. No one is immune to the terrors of war and oppression these days. Water boarding and other tortures have been amply demonstrated for all to see. The question is: Do we really see it? Do we have empathy? The Faceless One is on the run constantly. The baby blue of the snowsuit has a gray and worn quality to it and the excellent puppetry gives a breathless and anxious animation to the Faceless One. The emotions are drawn in, and there are audible gasps in the audience when Faceless One is tortured. He is forced to drink liquor, clothes-lined with an iron bar, nearly drowned in a bucket, forced to stay awake, and in a particularly disturbing scene raped by a red masked seductress.

There are direct jabs at the collusion of religion and government in a scene with a priest and the Faceless One. The cast screams at the audience to tell the truth (meaning, in my opinion, see the truth and don’t turn away). The choreography element in Show Your Face! is raw and fluid. The physicality of the actors is called upon to project ragged emotion on one hand and to keep the action flowing seamlessly at the same time. There is a scene where the dancers become one organism and fall into an abyss that evolves into a stick-figure parade being swallowed by a giant red wave. Eventually the forced mating of the Faceless One and the red masked seductress results in a birth scene that is funny and difficult to watch because of the result.

Cast of Show Your Face - by Betontanc and Umka - MCA ChicagoUgis Vitins and Silence provide the musical accompaniment. The words are sung in English and are a vital contribution to the narrative of Show Your Face!. Vitins’ voice is eerie and plaintive in the manner of David Byrne, and one passage pays tribute to Iggy Pop’s ‘The Passenger’. The musicians play piano, brass, percussion, and electronic embellishment. It is haunting, melodic and quite beautiful.

Show Your Face! is part of the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Global Stage Series. Performance companies from all over the world bring their collective cultural sensibilities and individual interpretations of theatricality to Chicago. These are companies that may not get the same exposure of those with larger budgets or more standard interpretations. Show Your Face! is written collectively by Betontanc and Umka.lv, directed by Matjaž Pograjc and producted by Bunker.

Take a look and take the time to check out the amazing theatre resource that is the MCA Stage Series.  Highly Recommended!

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

 

 

Betontanc and Umka, Show Your Face - Photo courtesy of Bunker

  
  

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Review: The Hypocrites’ “Frankenstein”

Without firm skeleton, confusion and unfocused choices persist

Frankenstein1

The Hypocrites present:

Frankenstein

by Mary Shelley
Adapted and directed by Sean Graney
at the Museum of Contemporary Art Stage
through November 1st (program)

reviewed by Barry Eitel

Frankenstein3 From the moment the audience enters the MCA stage for The Hypocrites’ rendering of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, adapter/director Sean Graney makes it clear that this production is enamored with the idea of Frankenstein. On one wall, the famous 1931 film version of the story is projected. The opposite wall is plastered with the pages torn from a couple copies of the novel. In adapting the book for the stage, Graney collides a handful of sources together, creating his own monster. Shelley’s novel provides the heart and mind, but other sections are lanced from Macbeth, Faust, and ideas from inventors like Oppenheimer and Edison. The finished creature, though, chooses riffing on themes over delving into character or plot. Without a firm skeleton, the production sinks into confusion and unfocused choices.

Graney’s adaptation plays heavily with Shelley’s original (which she wrote when she was 19). The sprawling novel is condensed into a four-character piece, focusing heavily on the monster’s (Matt Kahler) desire for a wife. Paralleling the creature’s search for companionship is the engagement of Dr. Viktor Frankenstein (John Byrnes) to his sister, Elizabeth (Stacy Stoltz). Graney’s script could use more explication; although powerfully presented, the incestuous relationship is not deeply explored. This lack of detail flaws many aspects of the story—the characters seem more like symbols than believable people (or daemons). Because it is difficult to connect to the characters, the element of tragedy is excised. It also stifles the themes this production tries to shout out so loudly.

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It doesn’t help that Graney’s staging sometimes adds to the confusion inherent in the script. Like most Hypocrite shows, all aspects of Frankenstein are beautifully designed. Bloodied baby doll parts hang from the grid, and the space is filled with staticky old-school televisions. Some of these choices are pretty hard to decipher. I still can’t figure out how performing the play in front of the film version enlightens the text. It felt like the play wanted to be far more self-reverential than it was. Even though the audience is confronted by different versions of Frankenstein on all fronts, the actors only reference the film a handful of times. Viktor pulls out a hard copy of Shelley’s original, but this is utilized even less. The design celebrates the fact that in the 200 years since Frankenstein was first published there have been a myriad of takes on the story; the script and staging fail to be as self-aware. This disconnect between design and performance drags down the production.

Brynes’ representation of the famous doctor rightly portrays the passion of a man playing at God. However, he can’t figure out how to layer Viktor quite right, and the full impact of his gradual ruination is glossed over. As Dr. Frankenstein’s sister/bride-to-be, Stoltz is motherly and soft. It would be nice to see more of Elizabeth; although Stoltz is pretty clear, the tract is still hard to follow. Jessie Fisher is sweetly innocent as the Strange Girl, a character created by Graney. The richest performance in the bunch, though, comes from Kahler as the famous monster. His poetical musings on death, creation, and loneliness are incredibly poignant considering he looks like an abomination for most of the show. His moving philosophizing is contrasted sharply by his propensity for extreme violence, reminding us, after all, that this show was intended for the Halloween season. Probably the best scene in the show is when the Girl is mercilessly beaten by Frankenstein’s creation.

The promenade style that Graney has developed over the years falls short here. While in certain spaces the intermingling of actors and audience is enlightening (like last year’s Edward II at Chicago Shakes), here the stage is filled with too many people and key moments are lost in the crowd.

Graney’s adaptation definitely has potential. Workshopping the piece would do it a lot of good, strengthening the plot to match the powerful themes. In its current form, though, it is hard to sew all the pieces together into a cohesive beast.

Rating: ★★½

 

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Photos by Paul Metreyeon

Adaptor/Director: Sean Graney
Music: Kevin O’Donnell
Lyrics: Sean Graney
Cast: John Byrnes, Jessie Fisher, Matt Kahler, Stacy Stoltz
Lighting: Jared Moore
Sound: Mikhail Fiksel
Set: Tom Burch
Video Projections: Mike Tutaj
Costumes: Meghan Raham
Fight Choreography: Matt Hawkins