Review: The Metal Children (Next Theatre Company)

     
     

A fiery display of uncompromising conflict

     
     

Laura T Fisher, Caitlin Collins, Sean Cooper in 'The Metal Children' by Adam Rapp. Photo credit: Michael Brosilow

   

Next Theatre Company presents

 
The Metal Children
 

Written by Adam Rapp
Directed by Joanie Schultz
at The Noyes Cultural Arts Center, Evanston (map)
through May 8  | 
tickets: $25 – $40  |  more info  

Reviewed by Jason Rost

The inspiration for Adam Rapp’s 2010 play, The Metal Children, now having its Midwest premiere with Next Theatre Company directed powerfully by Joanie Schultz, stems from Rapp’s own personal experience with the subject matter. Rapp’s 1997 real-life young adult novel, “Buffalo Tree”, deals with very different topics than the heated novel his fictional character, Tobin Falmouth (Sean Cooper), has written with The Metal Children. “Buffalo Tree” was a fictional account of a 12-year old boy in a juvenile detention center (something Rapp is also familiar with), while Falmouth’s The Metal Children is a novel revolving around teenage pregnancy and abortion. However, both were banned from the school curriculum lead by an opposition of the Christian right. In Rapp’s play, this sets the stage for a fierce debate between art and religion, modern feminism and the purpose of education.

Bradley Mott and Laura T Fisher in Next Theatre's 'The Metal Children' by Adam Rapp. Photo credit: Michael BrosilowBack to Rapp’s real-life novel, in 2005, “The Buffalo Tree” was banned from the school curriculum of a Middle American high school, causing a heated debate involving students, teachers and parents. The school board meeting was attended by Rapp and was covered by the New York Times. This was the incident causing Rapp to write The Metal Children, which brings his fictional author into the same scenario—only in many ways the similarities between Rapp’s life and his play end there. The journey he takes us on is both unpredictable and disturbing, as any fan of Rapp’s plays has come to expect from the playwright of such unflinching plays as Red Light Winter.

The play is set in the fictional town of Midlothia. While there are no specifics other than “Middle America” on the exact location, it could be assumed as Pennsylvania due to the moderate distance to New York implied, references to hills and the fact that Muhlenberg, PA was the actual site of Rapp’s 2005 controversy. Tobin Falmouth begins the play filming a video address for the school board debate addressing his controversial book, using a camcorder belonging to his agent, Bruno (Marc Grapey). Tobin is the picture of self deprecation: living in filth, receiving visits from his drug dealer and slutty neighbor, drugs, drinking and clinging onto any scrap of hope his ex-wife will return to him.

Bruno eventually persuades Tobin to make the trek to Midlothia and personally appear at the debate. He is largely convinced by an impassioned letter from a progressive English teacher, Stacey, defending his book. His first remarks after hearing Bruno read the letter are, “She sounds hot. Do you think she’s hot?” Well, flash-forward to a motel room in the middle of nowhere and we learn that Stacey (Paul Fagen) is not the attractive woman Tobin had in mind, but rather a gay man in his thirties who appears very on edge.

As events unfold, Midlothia begins to seem more like a Steven King setting with spray painted cryptic warnings, gold painted teenage girls, driving rain, phone calls with vacuum cleaners on the other end, means of escape destroyed and one creepy looking pig-masked man with nunchucks. Tobin meets his devotees in Edith (strongly played by veteran actor Meg Thalken), who runs the motel, and her daughter, Vera (a defiantly complex Caroline Neff). Our hero continues to test our expectations, however Rapp excels in creating empathy for unspeakable actions.

The school board debate arrives after an evening of unbelievable occurrences. It is led by a civil and church leader, Otto (Bradley Mott). Shultz and her design team create the most perfect atmosphere for this scene. (There were several moments where I felt the urge to raise my hand, shout out and participate in the debate.) Caitlin Collins, as Tami, the conservative Christian student opposed to the book, is terrifyingly fascinating in her accusations that “Tobin Falmouth is attempting to glorify teen pregnancy.” Vera’s rebuttal is determined exclaiming, “To remove art from a culture, is to name that culture dead!” Laura T. Fisher is yet another standout in the debate as Roberta Cupp, the conservative community leader. When Tobin finally speaks, he clearly is less passionate than anyone about his book; he instead tells the heartbreaking story of what compelled him to write The Metal Children. The brilliance of Rapp lies in that the more we learn of the content of this book and its consequences, the more that even the most progressive audience members find it difficult to choose which side is “right.” What is clear is that each side is far too invested in their own cause to ever understand the other.

Shultz’s direction is masterful in her gradual unraveling of these strange events. Scenic designer, Chelsea Warren, creates efficient use of the space using tracked blinds to frame each scene. Shultz’s cast is also of the highest caliber. Cooper is decidedly subtle in his soft-spoken, yet versatile performance as Tobin. A conversation he has with a certain voicemail is devastating. In addition, Cooper has a strong resemblance to Rapp in this somewhat autobiographical role.

Rapp’s plays rarely take place in a realistic world. There are numerous events in his plays that defy society’s logic. However, Rapp is also one of the gustiest playwrights today and embraces fiction without reservation. His plays are decidedly “messy” with open questions, plot points left unsettled and mixed visceral emotions. The Metal Children is no exception, and with this intelligent, emotional and honestly executed production, the boundaries are tested of what contemporary realism can achieve on the stage.

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
 
 

Sean Cooper and Marc Grapey in Next Theatre's 'The Metal Children' by Adam Rapp. Photo credit: Michael Brosilow

Next Theatre Company’s Midwest Premiere of Adam Rapp’s The Metal Children continues through May 8th at the Noyes Cultural Center, 927 Noyes Street in Evanston. The performance schedule is: Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Saturdays, April 23 and 30 and May 7 have an added 4 p.m. matinee. The play runs 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission. Tickets are $25 – $40, and can be purchased at nexttheatre.org or by calling 847-475-1875 x2.

  
  

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Review: Solo Works (Theatre Zarko)

  
  

Fragments of a puppeteer’s life

  
  

Theatre Zarko puppet - from Solo Works, Spring 2011

  
Theatre Zarko presents
   
Solo Works
       
Created and performed by Michael Montenegro
at Noyes Cultural Center, Evanston (map)
through May 21  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Michael Montenegro has long held a singular place as Chicago’s master puppeteer. With Solo Works at Theatre Zarko in Evanston, he returns to his roots —a set of simple performances that recall his early days performing for children at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Most of Chicago’s theater community remembers him through his haunting, ethereal contributions to Mary Zimmerman’s Argonautica in 2006 or Writers’ Theatre production The Puppetmaster of Lodz in 2007. Plus, critical accolades have heightened attention to his brainchild Theatre Zarko, with Klown Kantos/The Sublime Beauty of Hands in 2009 and Haff the Man/Falling Girl (our review ★★★★), which we named as one of the top 25 shows of 2010. Montenegro eschews the limelight, but, more often than not, his ever-changing artistry draws a small but extremely devoted following.

Theatre Zarko puppet - from Solo Works, Spring 2011Solo Works displays the craftsman alone with his puppets—a modest presentation pared down to the most basic elements of light and darkness, spare proscenium, and one musician, long-time collaborator Jude Mathews, at a low lit keyboard, providing most of the production’s carnival atmosphere. As such, each short theatrical piece forms a fragment or a mediation on the puppeteer’s life. “Myself at Ten” starkly sets a black and white photo of Montenegro at 10 years old atop his darkly dressed adult body, with a simple four-legged puppet that he manipulates to run, walk, stretch and leap. It wordlessly explores a boy’s budding discovery of the ability to animate inanimate objects–filled with enigmatic wonder and not a little hint of control. But the question of who controls whom pops up again and again.

“Sing” cunningly portrays a man coming home to disrobe and unveil his latest purchase, a bird in a birdcage that he exhorts to sing. But nothing can be exacted from bird without a little performance from the man first. Likewise, both “A Man with A Bag” and “A Short Lecture” reveal the ever-present danger of puppets taking control, once they assume a life of their own. Even “Gustavo” depicts a puppet violinist being dictated to by his own violin, which opens its toothy mouth and makes demands like, “I want to go to Hawaii,” or “I want to be a cello.” Time and again, Montenegro’s creations make Id-like pronouncements that inform, critique or disrupt the puppeteer’s course of action. It’s a testament to Montenegro’s skill that he can transform his bare hand into a puppet with a menacing presence. But more to the point, the puppeteer must respond to what he has vivified.

Theatre Zarko puppet - from Solo Works, Spring 2011By far, the evening’s boldest, most enigmatic and existential work may be “Giacco,” wherein a grotesque, almost ghostly head is manipulated to speak, urging another puppet, formed only by Montenegro’s back, to run toward the crowd. But Solo Works mixes intricate, esoteric puppetry with elements of crowd-pleasing, Punch-and-Judy street puppetry. Childlike rudeness and joy blends with the graceful, the magical and the profound. What is more, Theatre Zarko always produces work in constant evolution through the course of the run–the show an audience sees one night may not be the same the next.

At times, the fragmentary nature of Solo Works frustrates because it lacks a strong cohesive arc. But that will not prevent anyone from becoming absorbed, moment-by-moment, by the master’s dreamlike figures sculpted from wood, wire and cloth. The figures may reflect a life made up of pieces and bits–found, repurposed, and re-awakened.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
     
     

Theatre Zarko puppet - from Solo Works, Spring 2011

Solo Works continues through May 21st at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center in Evanston, with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm.  Tickets are $15 at the door, and reservations can be made by calling 847-350-9275.  For more information, visit www.theatrezarko.org

  
  

Review: Lost & Found: Recycled Circus (Actors Gymnasium)

  
  

Energetic production will charm, warm and wow you

  
  

Lost and Found - Little Circus Actors Meredith Tommy Tomlins rehearsing for Lost and Found - Actors Gymnasium
   
  
The Actors Gymnasium presents
  
Lost and Found: a Recycled Circus
 
Created by Larry DiStasi and Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi
at
Noyes Cultural Arts Center, Evanston (map)
thru March 13  |  tickets: $10-$15  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

There’s something rather “Mad Max” about Lost and Found: a Recycled Circus. Its child performers are costumed in ragged, industrial odds and ends, recalling Tina Turner and the Thunderdome more than an Actors Gymnasium production at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. An apocalyptic circus at the end of the world suits, with its the rag-tag cast carrying on with life’s basic concerns and recreating new wonder out of the old and nearly forgotten. Under the direction of Larry DiStasi, a circus tradition is handed down to younger generations—a little worn and hodge-podge, but no less exciting for all that.

Andrew Adams, Zoe Boyer, Will Howard, Matt Roben, Meredith “Tommy” Tomlins and Lindsey Noel Whiting make up the adult members of the cast, stumbling clownishly through their own dilemmas of losing and finding love. Matt Roben, in baggy clown pants, timidly and haltingly pursues Lindsey Noel Whiting who, prior to the start of the show, tries to sell concessions that include uncooked parsnips and cans of spam. Roben, who has enough on his hands with mischievous kids cramping his dating game, has a rival in the hilariously portly Will Howard, who gives Whiting a date she’ll never forget—for all the wrong reasons.

 

 

DiStasi’s direction intersperses sly and nuanced clowning with aerial work on some pretty tough and industrial circus apparatus. Imposing an almost threatening presence is an aerial ring attached to ladders that form a cone at the top and bottom. Besides an elegant performance on it rendered by two young women in synchronized movement, Whiting also takes a daring turn on it to the tune of Queen’s “Somebody To Love.” If that were not enough, on a spare tire hung from the ceiling, Whiting’s acrobatic work alone thrills with its inherent danger. Meanwhile, Andrew Adams creates wordless, impressive poetry with two suspended cords and an umbrella to an instrumental version of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters.”

Lost and Found is brilliant in bits and moments. Some of these inspire with Dada-esque disjointedness, as when Hannah Schwimmer sings “Poor Wandering One” with the introduction of Howard. But the integration of Actors Gymnasium Teen Ensemble into the storyline between Roben, Whiting and Howard seems to almost be an afterthought. Their numbers create a brilliant visual impact during a choreographed juggling sequence with Adams and their drumming with the younger cast members boosts the excitement of the show. But for a high-concept sort of circus, it’s curious that their acrobatic work is not integrated with the rest of the story. DiStasi tacks their turn at the teeterboard at the end—and as an encore to the production.

Still, it’s an encore that produces a burst of energy and that’s the most beautiful thing about Lost and Found. On these final chilly and rainy days of winter, this production will charm, warm and wow you.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
   
   

Lost and Found: A Recycled Circus, featuring aerial acrobatics, live music, and magical, found-object invention, continues through March 13th at the Noyes Cultural Center.  Performance schedule: Fridays 7:30pm, Saturdays 4:30 and 7:30pm, Sundays 3:00pm.

     
Teen Actors Gymnasium Team Evanston Will Howard performs with kids from the Actors Gymnasium for production 'Lost and Found a recycled circus'
     
     

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REVIEW: Madagascar (Next Theatre)

     
     

Flight and fright in a Roman hotel

     
     

Mick Weber and Carmen Roman in a scene from 'Madagascar' by JT Rogers, now at Next Theatre, Evanston

  
Next Theatre presents
  
Madagascar
  
Written by J.T. Rogers
Directed by
Kimberly Senior
at
Noyes Cultural Center, 927 Noyes, Evanston (map)
through Feb 20  |  tickets: $25-$40  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Now in an absorbing but ultimately frustrating Midwest premiere, J.T. Rogers’ 2004 puzzle play employs three characters who deliver concurrent confessions in the same stripped-down hotel room overlooking the Spanish Steps in Rome. They speak from different times and the subject of their unmotivated outpourings gradually becomes the strange vanishing of Gideon. A scion of wealth and privilege, this attractive young man went to Madagascar on a mission that may have ended in disappearance or death.

Nick Weber, Carmen Roman and Cora Vander Broek in a scene from "Madagascar" by J.T. Rogers - Next Theatre, EvanstonThe testimony is supplied by Lilllian (Carmen Roman), Gideon’s wealthy and detached mother; Gideon’s sister June (Cora Vander Broek), now working as a tour guide for the ancient ruins, and Lillian’s adulterous lover Nathan (Mark Weber), who is also an economist like the boy’s now-dead dad.

As they give themselves away, they provide clues about Gideon, an enigmatic beauty who seems to have been altogether too sensitive to the world’s wrongs; especially his mother’s coldness to him and warmth to Nathan.

Gideon’s discovery that his life was built on a lie (about his mother’s fidelity, his sister’s affection, Nathan’s loyalty to his father, or some schoolgirls recently raped in Africa?) seems to unhinge him and sets in motion a train of tragedies. Why is he so upset? “Because people just can’t be trusted!” and his mother is “selfish” and “grotesque.” Gideon sounds like a poor man’s Hamlet.

Sean Mallary’s lighting changes and the choreographed confessions blocked in Kimberly Senior’s staging keep the clue-mongering fluid and forceful. The play repeatedly raises the fascinating question of why some driven people all but will themselves to be missing persons. Do we have the right to disappear? Or do we owe it to others to keep our identity intact, however wrong it feels within?

Still, there’s too much deliberate or perverse mystery-mangling in this torturous witness to an escape that remains maddeningly evasive. There are too many blanks for the audience to fill in without finally feeling that the playwright hasn’t played fair with the facts.

Roman brings magisterial command to this ultimately devastated mother. Vander Broek’s questing sister, Gideon’s fraternal twin, gives us a refracted portrait of her brother. Weber’s Nathan supplies metaphors from micro-economics that shed a little light on the motivations or mentality of the missing Gideon.

If only this complex kid had appeared, we’d get some closure or at least an illusion of completion. But if you like to spend two hours not solving a missing person’s case, Madagascar is your ticket to nowhere.

  
  
Rating: ★★
  
  
Mick Weber and Carmen Roman in a scene from 'Madagascar' by JT Rogers, now at Next Theatre, Evanston Scene from Madagascar by JT Rogers, now at Next Theatre, Evanston 5

Scene from Madagascar by JT Rogers, now at Next Theatre, Evanston 7

 

   
   

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REVIEW: The Piano Teacher (Next Theatre)

   
   

A heartfelt lesson on facing the music

 

Next_Piano_Teacher_1 (2)

   
Next Theatre presents
 
The Piano Teacher
 
Written by Julie Cho
Directed by Lisa Portes
at Next Theatre, 927 Noyes, Evanston (map)
through Dec. 5  |  tickets: $30-$40  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

“What’s so wonderful about honesty? Mama said, ‘don’t be 100% honest.’” A retired widow shares her cookies and recollections. Next Theatre presents the Midwest premiere of The Piano Teacher. Mrs. K self-identifies as being effortlessly good at many small things. Musically inclined but not quite the concert pianist, Mrs. K starts out as a piano tuner. Later, she teaches piano from her home. Over the course of thirty years, she instructs hundreds of children. Out of loneliness, Mrs. K starts calling up her former pupils to reminisce. The reconnection jars memories that she forgot she had wanted to forget. While she was practicing scales in the living room, Mr. K was providing life lessons in the kitchen. The musical appreciation class was overshadowed by Genocide 101. The K homeschooling did have a profound impact on its students. It just wasn’t the recital variety. The Piano Teacher dramatizes the long lasting effects of being traumatized as a child.

Next_Piano_Teacher_2“My husband always said I expected too much… people are just being who they are.” Mary Ann Thebus (Mrs. K) hits all the right notes as the piano teacher. Under the direction of Lisa Portes, Thebus delivers Julia Cho’s monologues with all the familiar charm of the grandmother-next-door. Thebus is outstanding as she directly addresses the audience in the narration of her story, engaging with humorous reflections on the simple pleasures of cookies and “Dances with the Stars” enjoyed over a cup of tea. Shaking her head in amusement and continually nibbling on cookies, we see the authenticity of Thebus as a sweet old lady trying to piece together her life. This visual becomes haunting as Mrs. K is confronted with the past. Manny Buckley (Michael) gives a darkly crazed but controlled performance as a prodigy child turned disturbed adult. Buckley’s forceful interaction makes for a heart-wrenching contrast to Thebus’ fearful denial. Buckley’s wild eyes are especially threatening even when he speaks with eloquent normalcy. Representing another side to the same story, Sadieh Rifai (Mary) brings an empathetic balance as a grateful student that is worried about her favorite teacher.

The past meets present on a set, designed by Keith Pitts, that captures perfectly a piano teacher’s living room complete with musical artwork. The visual adds to the storytelling with a layer of cozy familiarity. It’s this preconception that makes the revelations more stimulating. Playwright Julia Cho introduces character analogies that are beautifully sad ‘He looked thirsty and he looked at me like I was rain.’ The narrations are delivered in fragment ramblings by a nice old lady, but when the puzzle pieces are placed together, it’s not the picture perfect image of a piano teacher’s home. Cho tells a thought-provoking tale of children’s loss of innocence. Combined with the homey atmosphere and the talented cast, The Piano Teacher is a genuine lesson in facing the music.

SPOILER ALERT: The front row gets cookies. Plan accordingly.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
 
 

Next_Piano_Teacher_3 (2)

The Piano Teacher runs Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Saturdays (20th, 27th, 4th) at 4pm, and Sundays at 2pm – thru December 5th

Running Time: Ninety minutes with no intermission.

  
  

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REVIEW: Three Sisters (Piven Theatre Workshop)

   
   

Chekhov’s naturalist classic enjoys lively revival at Piven

 

Nofs-Snyder, Underwood, Batista - H

   
Piven Theatre Workshop presents
 
Three Sisters
   
Written by Anton Chekhov 
Adapted by
Sarah Ruhl
Directed by Joyce Piven
at
Noyes Cultural Center, Evanston (map)
thru November 21  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

For sisters Olga (Joanne Underwood), Masha (Saren Nofs-Snyder), and Irina (Ravi Batista), the road to Moscow is long and bumpy in Piven Theatre’s finely acted, elegantly directed production of Chekhov’s naturalist classic Three Sisters. Tethered to their provincial town by occupation, spouse, and status, they struggle to find the meaning in their tiresome existence, dreaming of a utopian Moscow that is just out of reach. As their hopes fall apart around them, they learn that the only people they can trust are each other, and the three actresses develop the relationship between the Smith, Barnes, Nofs-Snyder - Vwomen beautifully. Under the guidance of director Joyce Piven, the relationships between the sisters and the men around them come to life, creating believable drama that is thick with emotion.

For Olga and Irina, the oldest and youngest, returning to Moscow is not near the fantasy it is for their middle sister Masha, in a loveless marriage with tenuous schoolteacher Kulygin (Brett T. Barnes), and Nofs-Snyder’s melancholic portrayal of Masha captures the sense of helplessness that defines the character. When the handsome Lieutenant Colonel Vershinin (Daniel Smith) enters Masha’s life, she is given a reason to live, and their romance smolders despite Smith’s distracting dialect. The first kiss between the two is one of the highlights of the production, a wonderfully awkward moment filled with hesitation that erupts into lust as the creaking of the wooden sofa breaks through their sensual silence.

Masha is the heart, Irina the soul, and Olga the mind of the play, allowing these core elements to dictate the direction of their lives. Meanwhile, their brother Andrei’s (Dave Belden) wife Natasha (Amanda Hartley) lacks all three, and she sucks them from her husband as the story progresses. A petulant, anxious ice queen with a superiority complex and unhealthy levels of self-righteousness, Natasha is played with villainous gusto by Hartley, who fearlessly depicts the character’s power trip once she marries Andrei. Her treatment of house servant Anfisa (Kathleen Ruhl, mother of adapter Sarah) is appalling, and creates great conflict with Olga, who cherishes Anfisa like a member of the family.

Ruhl, Batista - HDirector Joyce Piven uses the space beautifully, crafting spatial relationships to build tension between characters that explode when they finally come together. Solyony (Jay Reed), the play’s most combustible character, hates everything and never backs down from an argument, his intense misery venturing into comedic territory in its exaggeration. His love for Irina, a love shared by Baron Tuzenbach (Andy Hager), is unreturned by the youngest sister, who is more concerned with discovering fulfilling work than a man. Batista gives an emotionally resonant performance, especially as Irina begins to understand the kind of work available to her in town, but there’s a maturity in her voice and carriage that takes away from the character’s youthful energy. There is an early moment when Vershinin describes the sisters’ old home in Moscow and the older two’s faces become teary-eyed at the memory while Irina struggle to recapture the image, likely too young to truly remember. It’s a small moment, but it helps solidify her position in the trinity.

It’s a good time to be a Chekhov fan in Chicago. Goodman’s The Seagull (our review ★★★★) as the theatrical theory and situational humor, while Three Sisters eloquently showcases Chekhov’s philosophical genius and occasionally nihilist world view. As the lights go down on the three sisters standing united against the world, it’s like they are watching Moscow burn before their very eyes. The power of these three women together is the play’s beauty, the reality of their circumstance its tragedy.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
 
 

Smith, Nofs-Snyder - H

Cast:

Ravi Batista* (Irina)
Saren Nofs-Snyder (Masha)
Joanne Underwood (Olga)
Brent T. Barnes (Kulygin)
Dave Belden (Andrei)
Marcus Davis (Fedotik)
Kevin D’Ambrosio (Ferapont)
John Fenner Mays (Chebutykin)
Andy Hager (Tuzenbach)
Amanda Hartley (Natasha)
Jacob Murphy (Rode)
Jay Reed (Solyony)
Kathleen Ruhl (Anfisa)
Dan Smith (Vershinin)
Susan Applebaum (Understudy – Anfisa)

 

Production Staff:

Producer: Jodi Gottberg
Production Stage Manager: Wendy Woodward*
Scenic Design: Aaron Menninga
Technical Director: Bernard Chin
Lighting Design: Andrew Iverson & Alex Bradford Ruhlin
Costume Design: Bill Morey
Composition & Sound Design: Collin Warren
Sound Engineer: Alex Bradford Ruhlin
Properties Design: Jesse Gaffney
Asst. Director & Dramaturg: Stephen Fedo
Asst. Stage Manager: Chad Duda
Asst. to the Director: Skye Robinson Hillis
Costume Assistant: Melissa Ng
Production Intern: Nathaniel Williams

* Member, Actors Equity Association

Nofs-Snyder, Batista, Underwood - H

REVIEW: Haff, the Man – Falling Girl (Theatre Zarko)

 

The Gossamer Poetry of Light and Dark

 

Haff the Man and Falling Girl poster - Theatre Zarko

   
Theatre Zarko presents
   
Haff, the Man and   Falling Girl
   
Haff, the Man: written and directed by Michael Montenegro
Falling Girl: co-directed by Ellen O’Keefe and
Michael Montenegro 
Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes, Evanston (map)
through November 21  |  tickets: $13-$18   |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Theatre Zarko does something far more profound than ably tell stark, simple tales with charming puppets. They revive the very meaning and value of Symbolist Theater for Chicagoland audiences. Artistic Director Michael Montenegro has a vision—and that vision is to mount productions that reawaken the Symbolist mission of creating drama as poetry, not just re-do Symbolism as a period movement, creaky with inbred art house nostalgia. He and his ensemble of performers succeeded last season with The Sublime Beauty of Hands and Klown Kantos. They win once again with Haff, the Man and Falling Girl at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center in Evanston.

In fact, the show provides the best of both worlds. It contains all the immediacy and risk of live theater, while integrating light (Scott Lee Heckman), music (Jude Mathews), sound, projections (Ellen O’Keefe) and movement to almost pristinely pure cinematic effect. Even the performers’ stately movements – setting up between scenes – take on a ritualistic element within the overall performance, replicating the economy of modern poetry. Nothing is wasted. Every word, every sound, every puppet’s shaky gesture or turn of the head generates deep and lasting poetic impact.

Haff the Man and Falling Girl poster - Theatre Zarko Haff, the Man generates tension and suspense through the two warring halves, literally, of one desolate man, Lou. The left half of Lou retreats reclusively and bitterly at home. The arrival of his right half is an unwelcome visit, as if from a dangerous stranger or an enemy with which he’s achieved an uneasy détente. But the right half of Lou has met a young woman and wants to take the rest of him forward into a new and promising future. Lou’s woundedness recalls left brain/right brain theory and the puppeteers are masters at suggesting mood, as much as the orchestra sets up perfect atmospherics with singing bowls and African djembes.

Montenegro and O’Keefe have adapted Falling Girl from a short story of the same name by Dino Buzzati (English translator Lawrence Venuti). A young woman jumps off the top of a city skyscraper, not to end  her life but to begin it. She jumps, not from depression or desperation, but out of anticipation.Haff the Man and Falling Girl poster - Theatre Zarko “They’re waiting for me down there. Opportunity. Romance. The true inauguration of my life. I hope I’m not late.”

Is she delusional? Is her jump really a cry for help? Or is it a daring act beyond the comprehension of the people who witness it? Her witnesses are many–jaded party-goers who think that young women throwing themselves off of buildings are “an interesting diversion for the tenants.” Others urge her, as if to stop her in mid-fall, “You still have time to rush around and be busy.” A line of identical secretaries begs her to take them with her. What’s more, Falling Girl’s fall seems interminable, suspending her and all who watch her in a dreamlike state.

Falling Girl and Haff, the Man are the stuff of dreams. Theatre Zarko’s interplay of light and dark with each story evokes the silver screen. At the same time, their production is homey, earthy and intimate. They have achieved both epic and minimalist theater; they have found the macrocosm in the microcosm.

   
   
Rating: ★★★★
   
   

Show runs October 8 thru November 21 at Noyes Cultural Arts Center.  (Friday and Saturday at 7pm & 9pm; Sundays at 3pm).  Note: This production is not recommended for children.

Haff the Man - Theatre Zarko - Noyes Cultural Center - a photo of Haff, the Man. Carl Wiedemann photographer. 

 

   
   

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