Review: Murder for Two (Chicago Shakespeare Theater)

     
     

Giddy, lighthearted show makes for perfect night at Navy Pier

     
     

Alan Schmuckler and Joe Kinosian in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s "Murder for Two—A Killer Musical", directed by David H. Bell and playing Upstairs at Navy Pier's Chicago Shakespeare. (Photo: Liz Lauren)

  
Chicago Shakespeare presents
  
  
Murder for Two – A Killer Musical
   
Music and Book by Joe Kinosian 
Lyrics and Book by Kellen Blair
Directed by David Bell 
at
Chicago Shakespeare, 800 E. Grand, Navy Pier (map)
through June 19  |  tickets: $25-$30   |  more info

Reviewed by Catey Sullivan

For all those who have ever wanted to just let loose on those entitled, staggeringly clueless cretins who let their cell phones ring in the theater – I mean really school them with an unsparing, five alarm verbal evisceration – there is a mighty catharsis that comes not once, not twice but three times within the confines of Murder for Two. Listening to Joe Kinosian go off after the loathsome twarbles (Who the fuck do you think you are?) invade the world of the play is not as deeply satisfying as hearing a skillfully delivered Shakespearian monologue. But it comes close. Such are the times we live in.

Joe Kinosian in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Murder for Two—A Killer Musical, directed by David H. Bell and playing Upstairs at Chicago Shakespeare. (Photo: Liz Lauren)As for the rest of Murder for Two, think The Mystery of Irma Vep infused with the world’s most gleefully wackadoodle piano recital. The two-person musical , which stars Alan Schmuckler as aspiring detective Marcus Moscowicz and Kinosian as nine murder suspects – is about as giddy and lighthearted as you can get short of climbing into a hermetically sealed, helium-filled bubble.

Kinosian (book and music) and Kellen Blair (book and lyrics) take the familiar elements of Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians” and set them drunkenly careening through a music-filled spoof wherein homicide is hilarious and the climactic capture of the criminal isn’t nearly as important as the four-handed piano jam that follows it.

Directed by David Bell, Murder for Two is about as campy, over the top and self-consciously silly as theater gets. The piece is a showcase for the seemingly effortless madcap comic talents and fleet-fingered piano virtuosity of Schmuckler and Kinosian, whose musical repartee is just as important as their verbal repartee. The two manhandle and finesse the baby grand onstage with an athleticism you don’t usually associate with piano performance and a synergy that evokes Siamese twins – no mean feat, given that Kinosian is as lanky as a bean pole and limber as taffy while Schmuckler is significantly more compact both in personal architecture and in gesture.

The production’s highlight isn’t the solving of the murder, it’s the joyful, rollicking duet the pair unleash as an encore.

If that implies the balance of the show isn’t perfect, well, it isn’t. The primary problem here is that Murder for Two is a whodunit in which the “who” doesn’t really matter . It’s a genuine laff riot to be sure, and one in which the comedy is spectacularly well executed – but there’s never much momentum. Was it the self-absorbed ballerina, the looney tunes wife or the needy psychiatrist? Eh, who cares. The show doesn’t seem to care about creating a serviceable mystery as much as creating a comedy. If Murder for Two had both, it’d be killer. As it is, the show remains a marvelous romp.

Alan Schmuckler and Joe Kinosian in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Murder for Two—A Killer Musical, directed by David H. Bell and playing Upstairs at Chicago Shakespeare.  (Photo: Liz Lauren)

Although be warned: If you’re not a fan of the meta-exaggerated mugging school of comedy, Kinosian’s camptacular overdrive will grow grating in a hurry. His mugging is so relentless you’d be forgiven for checking to ensure you still had your wallet post-show. He’s a shameless maelstrom of energy, playing a dizzying, high-energy whirl of suspects that include a daffy grad student in criminal justice, an ice maiden prima ballerina diva, a needy psychiatrist, an utterly insane party hostess (arguably Kinosian’s best work of the night) and a the trio of scamps (Skid, Yonkers and Timmy – think Our Gang crossed with a bunch of circus freaks) that comprise the 12-member all-boys choir brought in to entertain the guest of honor.

And then there’s Schmuckler. Having single-handedly saved Drury Lane’s tedious Sugar from being a total loss, he returns in fine form here. Moscowicz may not get to swan about the stage ronde de jambing or performing all-jazz-hands-on-deck disco showstoppers. He doesn’t need to. Wide-eyed and utterly sincere even as the lunacy reaches size XXL Crazypants, he makes you care and makes you laugh with equal force. He’s not showy, but he’s dazzling nonetheless.

Between them, Kinosian and Schmuckler almost makes you forgive the nagging fact that the murder mystery in Murder for Two seems irrelevant by the end.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Alan Schmuckler performs the role of the investigator and Joe Kinosian performs the roles of 13 murder suspects in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's premiere of Murder for Two—A Killer Musical, created by Kinosian (music/book) and Kellen Blair (lyrics/book) and directed by David H. Bell. (Photo: Michael Brosilow)

Photos by Liz Lauren and Michael Brosilow 

        
        

Continue reading

Review: Murder for Two (Chicago Shakespeare Theater)

     
     

Giddy, lighthearted show makes for perfect night at Navy Pier

     
     

Alan Schmuckler and Joe Kinosian in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s "Murder for Two—A Killer Musical", directed by David H. Bell and playing Upstairs at Navy Pier's Chicago Shakespeare. (Photo: Liz Lauren)

  
Chicago Shakespeare presents
  
  
Murder for Two – A Killer Musical
   
Music and Book by Joe Kinosian 
Lyrics and Book by Kellen Blair
Directed by David Bell 
at
Chicago Shakespeare, 800 E. Grand, Navy Pier (map)
through June 19  |  tickets: $25-$30   |  more info

Reviewed by Catey Sullivan

For all those who have ever wanted to just let loose on those entitled, staggeringly clueless cretins who let their cell phones ring in the theater – I mean really school them with an unsparing, five alarm verbal evisceration – there is a mighty catharsis that comes not once, not twice but three times within the confines of Murder for Two. Listening to Joe Kinosian go off after the loathsome twarbles (Who the fuck do you think you are?) invade the world of the play is not as deeply satisfying as hearing a skillfully delivered Shakespearian monologue. But it comes close. Such are the times we live in.

Joe Kinosian in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Murder for Two—A Killer Musical, directed by David H. Bell and playing Upstairs at Chicago Shakespeare. (Photo: Liz Lauren)As for the rest of Murder for Two, think The Mystery of Irma Vep infused with the world’s most gleefully wackadoodle piano recital. The two-person musical , which stars Alan Schmuckler as aspiring detective Marcus Moscowicz and Kinosian as nine murder suspects – is about as giddy and lighthearted as you can get short of climbing into a hermetically sealed, helium-filled bubble.

Kinosian (book and music) and Kellen Blair (book and lyrics) take the familiar elements of Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians” and set them drunkenly careening through a music-filled spoof wherein homicide is hilarious and the climactic capture of the criminal isn’t nearly as important as the four-handed piano jam that follows it.

Directed by David Bell, Murder for Two is about as campy, over the top and self-consciously silly as theater gets. The piece is a showcase for the seemingly effortless madcap comic talents and fleet-fingered piano virtuosity of Schmuckler and Kinosian, whose musical repartee is just as important as their verbal repartee. The two manhandle and finesse the baby grand onstage with an athleticism you don’t usually associate with piano performance and a synergy that evokes Siamese twins – no mean feat, given that Kinosian is as lanky as a bean pole and limber as taffy while Schmuckler is significantly more compact both in personal architecture and in gesture.

The production’s highlight isn’t the solving of the murder, it’s the joyful, rollicking duet the pair unleash as an encore.

If that implies the balance of the show isn’t perfect, well, it isn’t. The primary problem here is that Murder for Two is a whodunit in which the “who” doesn’t really matter . It’s a genuine laff riot to be sure, and one in which the comedy is spectacularly well executed – but there’s never much momentum. Was it the self-absorbed ballerina, the looney tunes wife or the needy psychiatrist? Eh, who cares. The show doesn’t seem to care about creating a serviceable mystery as much as creating a comedy. If Murder for Two had both, it’d be killer. As it is, the show remains a marvelous romp.

Alan Schmuckler and Joe Kinosian in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Murder for Two—A Killer Musical, directed by David H. Bell and playing Upstairs at Chicago Shakespeare.  (Photo: Liz Lauren)

Although be warned: If you’re not a fan of the meta-exaggerated mugging school of comedy, Kinosian’s camptacular overdrive will grow grating in a hurry. His mugging is so relentless you’d be forgiven for checking to ensure you still had your wallet post-show. He’s a shameless maelstrom of energy, playing a dizzying, high-energy whirl of suspects that include a daffy grad student in criminal justice, an ice maiden prima ballerina diva, a needy psychiatrist, an utterly insane party hostess (arguably Kinosian’s best work of the night) and a the trio of scamps (Skid, Yonkers and Timmy – think Our Gang crossed with a bunch of circus freaks) that comprise the 12-member all-boys choir brought in to entertain the guest of honor.

And then there’s Schmuckler. Having single-handedly saved Drury Lane’s tedious Sugar from being a total loss, he returns in fine form here. Moscowicz may not get to swan about the stage ronde de jambing or performing all-jazz-hands-on-deck disco showstoppers. He doesn’t need to. Wide-eyed and utterly sincere even as the lunacy reaches size XXL Crazypants, he makes you care and makes you laugh with equal force. He’s not showy, but he’s dazzling nonetheless.

Between them, Kinosian and Schmuckler almost makes you forgive the nagging fact that the murder mystery in Murder for Two seems irrelevant by the end.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Alan Schmuckler performs the role of the investigator and Joe Kinosian performs the roles of 13 murder suspects in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's premiere of Murder for Two—A Killer Musical, created by Kinosian (music/book) and Kellen Blair (lyrics/book) and directed by David H. Bell. (Photo: Michael Brosilow)

Photos by Liz Lauren and Michael Brosilow 

        
        

Continue reading

Review: Summer Series (Hubbard Street Dance Chicago)

  
  

Spiraling into Summer

  
  

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's Tech Run of Jiri kylian's 27'52" at Governors State University in University Park, IL. (photo: Rosenberg Photography)

   
Hubbard Street Dance presents
    
   
Summer Series
   
at Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph, Millennium Park (map)
through May 22  |  tickets: $25-$94  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago has returned to Randolph Street to showcase its Summer Series, a three-piece program that – if not as warm as the season it ushers in – generously records the latest passions in the world of dance as accurately as a seismograph.

The start of a bold, new collaboration, the most significant event was the company premiere of the evening’s second offering–the hauntingly named Following the Subtle Current Upstream. The 2000 creation of Alonzo King (originally commissioned by the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater), artistic director of the ground-breaking, San Francisco-based LINES Ballet, this free-wheeling experiment in motion has the ensemble, clad in monochromatic leotards, languorously or frenetically erupting to a score by Indian tabla composer Zakir Hussbain, South African balladeer Miriam Makeba and composer Miguel Frasconi.

Presumably depicting “the subtle currents that exist in the body as the path of liberation,” this fluid, sometimes seemingly improvised, choreography reflects King’s interest in grounding movement in the moment, with shifting combinations of dancers flowing in and ebbing out of formation, much like the thunder that interrupts the shape shifting. The Hubbard Dancers seem entirely at home in this inventive and self-fulfilling enterprise.

     
5/18/11 4:31:59 PM -- Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's Jesse Bechard and Kellie Epperheimer perform Alonzo King's "Following the Subtle Current Upstream."  (Photo: Todd Rosenberg Photography) 5/18/11 4:24:18 PM -- Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's Jonathan Fredrickson with Kevin Shannon and Christian Broomhall perform Alonzo King's "Following the Subtle Current Upstream."  © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2011

The remaining works are back by popular demand, opening with Aszure Barton’s Untouched, a maroon-hued creation performed against an elegant, half-opened curtain. Sensuous with sudden, gyrating hip swings and outstretched hands and performed to music by Njo Kong Kie, Curtis Macdonald and Ljova, Untouched was set in motion before the music was selected–so, unusual for dance, the latter is servant to the former. The result is a series of mysterious processions, comings and goings, separated by curious offstage wolf whistles, that managed to be sensuous and haunting. Hypnotic stuff, Untouched hardly describes its effect on the audience.

     
5/20/10 2:03:04 PM -- Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Tech Rehearsal for new work by Azsure Barton. (Photo: Todd Rosenberg Photography) 5/20/10 3:17:07 PM -- Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Tech Rehearsal for new work by Azsure Barton. © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2010

Finally, Jiri Kylian’s 27’52”, named for its near half-hour length, opens as a company warm-up, with a huge bank of lights dangling over the dancers. The dancers are then seen to perform on a tear-away white floor that will later give way to a tear-away black one. Like scenes from a David Lynch film, the diverse action unspools with a spoken text in English, German and French extolling the artist’s vocation. The score by Dirk Haubrich was backdrop to quirky movements, descending and ascending curtains, and jerky aerobic exercises that seemed to create a waking dream. Perhaps a bit too abstract to engage us beyond its eclectic activities, nonetheless this dance game of alternating intimate encounters followed by solo exits seems as much a metaphor for life itself as dance deserves.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  
1/20/10 4:59:52 PM -- Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's Tech Run of Jiri kylian 27'52" at Governors State University in University Park, IL. © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2010 1/20/10 4:41:29 PM -- Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's Tech Run of Jiri kylian 27'52" at Governors State University in University Park, IL. © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2010
1/20/10 3:48:53 PM -- Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's Tech Run of Jiri kylian 27'52" at Governors State University in University Park, IL. (Photo: Todd Rosenberg Photography) Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's Tech Run of Jiri kylian' 27'52" at Governors State University in University Park, IL. (Photo: Todd Rosenberg Photography)
     

All photos by Todd Rosenberg Photography ©2010

     
     

Review: War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short (Viaduct)

 
 

A scintillating evening of dance and theater

  
  

Prologue to "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello

   
Jim Manganello presents
   
   
War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short
       
Adapted and Directed by Jim Manganello
Choreography by Amanda Timm and Sarah Fornace
at Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western Ave. (map)
through May 22  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short is a collaboration of theater and dance companies. They are some of the best that Chicago and London across the pond offers. The result is a funny, relevant, and brilliant evening of theater. The artists and the support team hail from Redmoon, The London International School of the Performing Arts, Starkid, and Collaboraction.

Luke Couzens and Dustin Valenta fight in "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim ManganelloTolstoy’s novel of the aristocracy, patriotism, and Napoleonic aggression rings frighteningly true of today’s society and the conflicts the world over.

This adaptation strips the novel down to a stark set with meager props. The set is colored in by the actors and dancers in a frenzy of stage combat, graceful dance, satirical renderings of the aristocracy, and stark reminders of the cost of war.

The players in this piece are exceptional together and individually. The timing for satire is more crucial that what is needed for traditional comedy. The segment of Napoleon being bathed, fed, and dressed while in the midst of a tirade is visual poetry. Napoleon, played by Marc Frost, is rolled in on a table stuffed with his limbs out in a zinc washtub. His head is adorned with a gilded laurel crown. From there is a brilliant pantomime of scrub, rinse and powdering the mini tyrant. Frost’s nudity is covered by a perfectly timed placement of towels and bath accoutrement.

Lauren Lopez does a funny turn as an aristocratic lady mocking the advances of a suitor. The baseness and ludicrous mores of the upper crust in Napoleon’s reign is brought to glaring light. She seduces a guest with the prospect of canapés and biscuits. Ms. Lopez is one of the founding members of Starkid Theater Company and true to her bio, she prances about the stage in a sylph-like manner that is seductive and endearing.

     
 Lauren Lopez, Blake Russell dance in "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello Luke Couzens and Dustin Valenta in "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello
"War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello

Blake Russell plays a patriotic young man off to war. This segment is a poignant sketch of how a family is affected by war. The youth are drawn in by an atavistic need for battle-the territorial imperative. The result is the same no matter the era when war takes its toll. Russell imparts the disillusionment and sadness of a generation whether it be 1812 or modern times.

Dustin Valenta of Redmoon among others has an impish appeal as the prologue narrator and others in the production. There is a mischievous twinkle in eye that bodes gleeful mayhem to come.

"War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim ManganelloRounding out this cast is Luke Couzens as the Russian Captain and others. He stands out in the opening combat segment after he is stabbed by Dustin Valenta‘s character. The action represents 1812 but his screaming, "You fucking stabbed me! No I’m not alright!" brings the action to present day. He is touching and funny with a young man lost appeal.

War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short is minimalist with the props, but when they are used it is for maximum impact. A hidden fan produces a funny moment and the gauze/linen draping is a wonderful representation for the frozen tundra of Russia. Look out for the table in all of its incarnations and you may reconsider your relationship with pasta after one segment.

In all, I hope that there will be more collaboration of these talented actors, dancers, puppeteers, and acrobats. They work well together and their respect for the individual craft as well as the collective has produced something wonderful. This is a short run so get out this weekend to see War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short. The Viaduct is a great space. It is fun and artistic without airs of pretentiousness. It is literally located under a viaduct at 3111 N. Western Ave. There is a laid back lobby bar where you can chill before the performance. Go see it!

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
     
     

The Atom Bomb scene in "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello

 

     
     

Continue reading

Review: Alvin Ailey Dance – Revelations (Auditorium Theatre)

  
  

Annual visit visually majestic, exquisitely visionary

  
  

Alvin Ailey REVELATIONS, Move, Members, Move

  
Auditorium Theatre and Blackwell Global Consulting present
   
   
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
   
at Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress (map)
thru May 22  |  tickets: $30-$87  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

This show is a celebration!  Having first performed in Chicago in 1969, the Alvin Ailey dance company is commemorating its 140th performance on the Auditorium Theatre stage.  In addition, the annual visit by the New York based troupe marks the final season of Artistic Director Judith Jamison’s leadership. The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University and Blackwell Global Consulting present Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.  The limited engagement will produce six Chicago premieres during the six performance and two student matinee run.  Although each show will have a different program schedule, Revelations will be the consistent finale.  Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater uses a spectacular combination of elegant and primitive body movement to narrate vivid folk tales.

Y. Lebrun, D. Hopins, K Boyd and R. Deshauteurs in "Annointed". (Photo: Paul Kolnik)

Anointed (2010, video), choreographed by Christopher L. Huggins, illustrates the leadership change at Alvin Ailey.  It’s a beautiful memoriam to founder Alvin Ailey, a stunning tribute to Judith Jamison and an exciting preface to Robert Battle.  Set to music by Moby and Sean Clements, the dancing starts as an intimate coupling.  Linda Celeste Sims and Jamar Roberts intertwine in fluid connectivity.  Dressed in simplistic black, they are mesmerizing in a poetic union.  Sims exits and Roberts has a masterful and athletic solo before his departure.  It’s an inspirational heartbreaker. Sims arrives back in fuchsia and the dance continues.  The music shifts to salsa-funk and the ensemble showcases innovative feats of energetic expression.  Roberts returns in white as divine intervention within the chorus.  The piece powerfully ends with Sims and Roberts in a reconnecting duet.  As the ensemble exits the stage, the last dancer turns around.  He joins Sims and Roberts to make the ultimate trifecta.  It’s a poignant demonstration to the timeless vision.  WOW!

After an intermission, The Evolution of a Secured Feminine (2007, video), choreographed by Camille A. Brown, features Rachael McLaren. The sassy McLaren exercises her inner masculine side. She confidently struts and gyrates in player style. It’s an intriguing manly exhibition that is partially performed without any sound. The illusion is enhanced with a stylish peak-a-boo suit and fedora by costume designer Carolyn Meckha Cherry. Next, The Hunt (2001, video), choreographed by the Incoming Artistic Director Robert Battle, is male bonding to music. Six male dancers are clad in long skirts. Their exposed torsos are eye-gawking sculpted art. The number is tribal and primitive with pounding drums and ritualistic gestures. The primal movements generate definite heated sensuality. Ooh-la-la!

Alvin Ailey Dancers perform "The Hunt", choreographed by Robert Battle (photo: Paul Kolnik)

The finale is introduced with a short film. “Revelations at 50,” produced and directed by Judy Kinberg, is a wonderful introspective of the Alvin Ailey’s 50+ year history. The founder dances and speaks with passionate conviction. It’s a perfect preface for the three phased finale: Revelations (1960, video) choreographed by Alvin Ailey. The sequence initiates with dancers dressed in natural tones for the Pilgrimage of Sorrow. The movement has an earthy groundedness that contrasts beautifully to the next section’s fluid whimsy. Take Me to the Water uses white costumes and blue silks to emphasize the spiritual cleansing. The dancing becomes joyful and uninhibited. The concluding segment, Move, Members, Move, brings the company together for a sensational culmination. The visual is a majestic pageantry of African American history rooted in its own unique, community spirit. A timeless classic devised by the founder, Revelations is an Alvin Ailey force

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is always an annual riveting spectacle. This year’s show feels particular momentous as the resigning Artistic Director Judith Jamison says farewell to Chicago. It’s a goodbye party that shouldn’t be missed.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

Alvin Ailey’s Revelations continues through May 22nd, with performances May 19-20 at 7:30pm, May 21st at 2pm and 8pm, and May 22nd at 3pm.  Running times vary – see below the fold for exact timeframes.  Tickets are $30-$87, and can be purchased by phone (800-982-2787) or online here. For more information, go to the Alvin Ailey tour webpage.  Complete repertoires for each performance are also listed below the fold and on Alvin Ailey website.  See all Alvin Ailey dance videos here.

  

Alvin Ailey - The Company (Picture: Nan Melville)

  
  

Continue reading

Review: No More Dead Dogs (Griffin Theatre)

  
  

Griffin Theatre focuses on ‘Dead Dog’ fun

  
   

Alex Kyger, Colton Dillion, Cameron Harms, Jeff Duhigg and Ryan Lempka in Griffin Theatre's "No More Dead Dogs"

  
Griffin Theatre presents
  
  
No More Dead Dogs
   
Based on novel by Gordon Korman
Adapted by William Massolia
Directed by Dorothy Milne
at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map)
through June 19  |  tickets: $25-$30  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Just what is it about children’s literature? On the one hand, classics in the genre can zap heartstrings and endear us to them forever. On the other hand, they, too, fall back on tired formulas that make us wonder what we ever saw in them. Heaven help the public school teacher trying to turn kids onto literature using “age appropriate” work from the 1950s. Wallace Wallace (Ryan Lempka) is just the kind of kid who won’t accept that kind of fodder without blunt and unforgiving commentary. Griffin Theatre’s latest production at Theatre Wit, No More Dead Dogs, follows Wallace’s keen observation that many books for young people, such as “Old Yeller” and “Where the Red Fern Grows”, often have dogs die in them in order to foster some tear-jerking Ellie Reed and Ryan Lempka in Griffin Theatre's "No More Dead Dogs"realization about life for the young reader. (Don’t get us started about Bambi.)

But dead dogs and orphaned deer aside, Griffin’s show, under the easy, swift and agile direction of Dorothy Milne, is a joyous romp for both cast and audience. Co-Artistic Director William Massolia has adapted Gordon Korman’s best-selling comic novel for the stage and his light handling of the ‘tween material usually carries off without a hitch. Wallace, having been lied to so often by his Dad (Jeff Duhigg), simply cannot bring himself to lie about anything, ever—including how much he thinks the book he’s assigned to report, “Old Shep, My Pal”, stinks. Too bad his English teacher, Mr. Fogelman (Jeremy Fisher), can’t accept that his favorite children’s classic may be past its prime. He perpetually puts Wallace in detention until he can write a book report that meets with his approval. What could have been Wallace’s irresistible force running into Fogelman’s immovable object instead morphs into school jock meets the drama club, since Fogelman has adapted “Old Shep, My Pal” for their next production.

By no means is No More Dead Dogs a John Hughes drama. Crafted for younger audiences, the comedy kindly skirts the rancor between high school cliques. Indeed, sub-cultural clashes become virtually negligible once Wallace starts updating Fogelman’s adaptation to something his classmates can relate to. This includes incorporating Vito’s (Joey deBettencourt) garage band, The Dead Mangoes, into the production, much to Fogelman’s chagrin. Lempka strongly shows he knows the importance of being earnest in his humorously straightforward interpretation of Wallace. Fisher, however, almost steals the show, as Fogelman journeys from escalating frustration over his play being usurped, to hip cat on a sax once the band tells him he can join.

          
 Cameron Harms, Jeff Duhigg and Ryan Lempka in Griffin Theatre's "No More Dead Dogs" Ellie Reed and Joey Eovaldi in Griffin Theatre's "No More Dead Dogs"

Ellie Reed and Cameron Harms in Griffin Theatre's "No More Dead Dogs". (background: The Mangos)

Indeed, much as the play spoofs stale children’s lit, the show looks strangely reminiscent of zany, overtly physical 50s comedy, where every character pretty much stays in type and the show winds up even more crazy from there. Milne’s direction never overplays its hand but always builds the action to its appropriately goofy outcomes. Wallace is solidly flanked by his football buddies and the nerdier drama club, with Joey Eovaldi adding coy and energetic mischief in his role as the younger Dylan. Would that the parts of Rachel (Elllie Reed) and Trudi (Samantha Dubina) could have gone beyond girls-with-crushes-on-the-lead cliches—but at least Reed and Dubin handle their characters sportingly and generously. In fact, one would be hard put to find a more good-natured production, focused solely on dealing out firm and lively fun for the young, than this.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Joey deBettencourt, Erin O'Shea, Morgan Maher and Jeremy Fisher as The Mangos in Griffin Theatre's "No More Dead Dogs"

Griffin Theatre’s No More Dead Dogs continues at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont, through June 19th, with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 7pm and Sundays at 3pm.  Tickets are $25-$30, and can be purchased by phone (773-975-8150) or online.  More info at www.griffintheatre.com.

  
  

Continue reading

Review: The Last Saint on Sugar Hill (MPAACT)

     
     

A new modern tragedy classic is born

  
  

Chicago's award-winning theatre company MPAACT presents "The Last Saint on Sugar Hill" by Keith Josef Adkins.

  
MPAACT presents
  
  
The Last Saint on Sugar Hill
   
Written by Keith Josef Adkins
Directed by Carla Stillwell
at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through June 12th  |  tickets: $23  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

It is a privilege to see new theater works from the outset. MPAACT’s production of The Last Saint on Sugar Hill is one of those rare privileged moments in time. This is destined to be a classic written by Keith Josef Adkins and directed by Carla Stillwell – Resident Director of MPAACT. Adkins opens the hot button issue of gentrification and those who profit from it for examination of motives and consequences.

The Pedigrew family lives a comfortable life in what remains of hardscrabble Harlem. The residence of former President Clinton, gourmet coffee, and wine shops threaten to change the landscape and remove the people who know no other home.

In a stunningly visceral performance, journeyman actor Trinity Murdock potrays the character of Napoleon Pedigrew, who presides over the last of the Harlem buildings gone to seed. I have seen Murdock in several roles on Chicago stages and he can be depended upon to play the neighborhood good guy or singing griot.

Chicago's award-winning theatre company MPAACT presents "The Last Saint on Sugar Hill" by Keith Josef Adkins. Chicago's award-winning theatre company MPAACT presents "The Last Saint on Sugar Hill" by Keith Josef Adkins. The role of Napoleon Pedigrew is rooted in ancient traditional tragedy and 20th Century social unrest. Playwright Adkins has carefully crafted a non-stereotypical role in Napoleon. I say that because it is an unflinching and honest look at what has been unspoken on the mainstream stage. Mr. Murdock presents a sociopath whose interests and wealth are literally ripped from the bodies and souls of those who are unfortunate enough to inhabit his buildings or contain his DNA.

The language is street raw and dismissive of political or societal correctness. There is no "N" word- it is nigger said with ferocity. At first, the rap that flows from Napoleon is pithy and comedic in the folksy style of that favorite or feared drunk relative. It is funny in the style of Richard Pryor performing for a Black audience. As the play barrels forward like a bullet, Napoleon Pedigrew’s words take on a frightening tilt. Here is a man who felt the spike of poverty and the chokehold of the underclass so keenly that his conscience snapped. Trinity Murdock plays this character laid bare and full of angry hubris. Napoleon brags of his knowledge from snippets of PBS to which he donates to give him the cache of current education. It is a bravura performance.

Napoleon Pedigrew’s sons are the vehicles for his parasitic real estate empire and the victims of his stranglehold on their memories. Mateo Smith plays the role of eldest son Dexter Pedigrew. Dexter was a promising med student who has been drawn into his father’s world of cracking heads for rent and unscrupulous methods to hide cheap or dangerous repairs. Mr. Smith gives a nuanced and heartbreaking performance as a man who wants to please his father and somehow be of service to the neighborhood that is crumbling under his feet. Napoleon tells Dexter that he is a thug and it would be a waste of his talent to be a doctor.

Dexter’s childhood holds a traumatic event that pressed his humanity to the side at his father’s behest. Napoleon tells his son, "Thinking is for thinkers and you are a thug down to the bone." He pounds the thought into Dexter’s head that boxing is the greatest form of capitalism and one of the fringe benefits of his daddy’s sperm. Smith subtly recoils at each of the jabs from the father character. Each jolt builds in a slow and controlled simmer that is on an equally frightening steady boil at the climax of the play.

The youngest son Z is played by David Goodloe. At first Z seems to play into his father’s world of debauchery. He reduces women to asses, thighs, and panties. Mr. Goodloe is at first funny as the tail-chasing stud playing with his daddy’s money. His father has him under the control of the promise of being comfortable no matter what happens in the neighborhood. Z gleefully hits happy hour at the new fancy cigar bar to see how much sex he can rack up. It’s sad to know that his youth has been wasted on violence and sex as an education. Napoleon encourages the hedonism in misplaced elevation of how he can rule the world with money.

Goodloe’s performance evolves into a man discontented with what his life has become. His realization comes as a sudden jolt after the father is fully revealed as a monster. Goodloe fleshes out the Pedigrew dysfunction by playing an unwitting victim who was never taught to be a fully evolved and involved man. The cast is rounded out by Terry Francois and Sati Word in perfectly crafted motif roles that fill in the story. Mr. Francois plays a homeless man who becomes the living conscience for Dexter. It is a beautiful performance that never becomes maudlin. Sati Word is another MPAACT ensemble regular that I last saw in the highly-recommended Tad in the 5th City (my review). He plays medical resident Joseph who reminds Dexter of his potential and responsibility to himself and his community. He represents another facet of Dexter’s conscience. Mr. Word is an engaging presence that I would love to see in a showcased role.

It should be noted that opening night was full of local actors and friends of the cast. I found it unsettling that they kept laughing long after it became obvious that Napoleon Pedigrew believed all of his egotistical folksy ravings. He meant that he would cut the heads off of his children if it would get him what he wanted. I felt great sorrow when Napoleon stated," America is trying to kill us Black men. We are an endangered species scrambling for our own crumbs. The only way to stop the watchful eye of The Man is to sit on a throne of cash!" Like any great art, there is painful or recognizable truth contained in the words, notes, or brushstrokes. It seems as if they have not seen much of the life they portray on the stage and I felt that it was very disrespectful of their fellow actors.

This show is something that should be put on your viewing schedule. It is entertaining but also a telling social commentary about how business gets done in America. Bernie Madoff and Donald Trump are just the tip of a very dirty iceberg. Also, Trinity Murdock’s performance is not to be missed. Bravo!

     
    
Rating: ★★★★
   
   

Chicago's award-winning theatre company MPAACT presents "The Last Saint on Sugar Hill" by Keith Josef Adkins.

MPAACT’s The Last Saint on Sugar Hill continues through June 12th at Chicago’s Greenhouse Theater Center (2257 N. Clark), with performances Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm.  Tickets are $23, and can be purchased from the MPAACT website.

  
  

Continue reading