REVIEW: The Boys Next Door (Metropolis Arts)

  
  

Metropolis succeeds in shining a light on special needs

  
  

'The Boys Next Door' by Tom Griffin - Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Arlington Heights

  
Metropolis Performing Arts Centre presents
  
The Boys Next Door
  
Written by Tom Griffin
Directed by David Belew
Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Arlington Heights (map)
through Feb 13  |  tickets: $35-$43  |  more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian

Arnold has decided that he’s going to move to Russia. Barry thinks he’s a golf star. Norman can’t stop eating donuts and Lucien is concerned that they don’t have any trees. These men are all roommates and they all have special needs. They’re looked after by Jack, the caretaker who works with them. Metropolis Performing Arts Centre’s production of The Boys Next Door, tenderly written by Tom Griffin, tells the story of how these five men’s lives are interwoven and the effect each man has on the other.

'The Boys Next Door' by Tom Griffin - Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Arlington HeightsThe set, designed by Adam L. Veness, initially consists of a typical-looking, unassuming front porch complete with shutters on the windows and a rocking chair out front. Painted a deep green, it looks inviting and charming. Once the show begins, the house opens down the middle like an oversized doll house to reveal the inside rooms, in particular the apartment the four men live in. Although moving the set piece is noisy, it’s an interesting visual to get a glimpse into the inner and outer workings of this building.

The Boys Next Door opens on the men having a typical day. Arnold (Andrew J. Pond) has been to the market and explains his trip as well as his condition as he understands it. He’s a “nervous person,” he says, and Pond is immediately charming and engaging. His characterization of Arnold is strong and humanized. Also introduced are Norman (David Elliot) and Lucien (Bear Bellinger). They are the two of the four men who live in the apartment. Both Elliot and Bellinger play their characters in a charming and lovely manner. It’s clearly evident that these actors did their research in order to learn every aspect of their characters and it comes across and genuine and believable. It’s not actors playing parts, but rather actors transforming into these new people and fully embodying these men. The fourth roommate is Barry (Adam Kander), who, like the rest, has been fully embraced and brought life. Kander carefully shows the cracks in Barry’s seemingly put together demeanor to reveal the true feelings underneath – you can’t help but feel for him.

As the men are going about their lives, Jack (Michael B. Woods), their caretaker, comes in to check on them. He is sweet and patient with these men; it’s evident he sincerely cares about them. Like the others, Woods put a lot of thought and consideration into his character. What makes him feel most genuine is the fact that he is not sugarcoated nor does Woods play him as such. Jack shows the audience all sides of his life, including the fact that he loses his temper on occasion with the men and that he is burning out in his current situation. Woods does a wonderful job of displaying the range of emotions, allowing it to feel like the audience gets a glimpse into the real life of this man.

     
'The Boys Next Door' by Tom Griffin - Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Arlington Heights 'The Boys Next Door' by Tom Griffin - Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Arlington Heights

Every week the men attend a dance, and it’s here where Norman meets his girlfriend Sheila (Denise Tamburrino). She’s sweet and lovely, although not as believable as the men in her characterization. Michelle Ziccarelli rounds out the main portion of the cast, playing the multiple characters of Mrs. Fremus, Mrs. Warren and Clara, distinctly defining each one.

David Belew’s adept direction keeps energy and emotion of the show moving at a quick pace.  In fact, when Act I ended I looked at my watch and was shocked at how time had flown by. Same goes for Act II. Although the ending seems a little abrupt and like the action should continue, the pace is quick and the energy stays high the whole time.

The Boys Next Door waivers on that fine line between comedy and tragedy, pulling from both to create a touching, funny, sad and wonderful portrayal of how five men live their lives and what it means to have each other in their lives. They create a genuine emotional connection with the audience that both tickles the funny bones and pulls on the heart strings. Mostly importantly, the play never mocks or pokes fun at those with special needs, but simply offers a glimpse into their lives.

  
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
  

The Boys Next Door plays at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell St. Arlington Heights, Ill., through February 20. Tickets are $35 to $43 and can be purchased here. Read an excerpt from The Boys Next Door.

'The Boys Next Door' by Tom Griffin - Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Arlington Heights

     
     

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REVIEW: The Lady’s Not For Burning (Theo-Ubique)

Eloquent Period Piece Is an Endurance Test

 

Ladys Not For Burning - Theo Ubique 8

   
Theo-Ubique Cabaret Theatre presents
  
The Lady’s Not For Burning
   
Written by Christopher Fry
Directed by
Fred Anzevino
at
No Exit Cafe, 6970 N. Glenwood (map)
through October 31  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker

Watching Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre’s production of The Lady’s Not for Burning is like a marathon for your mind. For a comedy, the play is incredibly dense. Written in Shakespearean-style prose, the language is beautifully ornate at times while confusingly verbose at others. The whole thing in the end feels like a riddle, a riddle that goes on and on for two-and-a-half hours.

Ladys Not For Burning - Theo Ubique 9 It is this length that serves as the production’s greatest hindrance. The cast is confident and spot on with their comedic timing. The staging is economic given the awkwardly shaped theater space. You would think that such skillful acting and direction would be able to sustain a play. And although The Lady’s Not for Burning charges out of the gate, it eventually loses steam and limps its way to its conclusion.

Written by Christopher Fry in 1948, the play takes place in the Middle Ages, incorporating period style dress and speech. As Arthur Miller would later do with The Crucible, Fry touches on themes relevant to post-World War II society, including the Red Scare. However, unlike The Crucible, The Lady’s Not for Burning is a comedy, and so it uses satire to address these heavy social issues. Unfortunately, the language and plot are so heavy themselves that these social commentaries get lost within the thick of the play.

To simplify it as much as possible, the play is about a soldier (Layne Manzer) who encourages the mayor (J. Preddie Predmore) to execute him by hanging. Conversely, there is an alleged witch (Jenny Lamb) who wants to live. The two have long conversations about their predicaments, which leads to a blossoming love.

There is of course much more to the story than this. Why else would it stretch on for so long? The problem is the other elements of the story are inconsequential. In fact, it’s unclear as to what purpose the other characters serve other than to occupy space and battle wits with one another for humor’s sake.

And humor is the highlight of the play. Even if the piece becomes crushed under its own weight, the humor adds some much-needed levity.

As mentioned, the acting is superb. Predmore plays the mayor with a wonderful mix of overconfidence and idiocy. Manzer embodies the soldier’s sardonic personality, and Drew Longo, as both the depressed chaplain and the town drunk, proves himself to be a dynamic actor and effective clown.

 

Ladys Not For Burning - Theo Ubique 5 Ladys Not For Burning - Theo Ubique 3
Ladys Not For Burning - Theo Ubique 1 Ladys Not For Burning - Theo Ubique 6

Director Fred Anzevino, who is also the artistic director of Theo Ubique, characterizes The Lady’s Not for Burning as a musical without song or music. While I can understand the sentiment behind the statement, the play is more akin to an epic poem, emphasis on the epic. There is no denying that there is some fine writing here. The descriptions are clever and unique. The imagery painted through Fry’s words is vibrant. But unfortunately, it is this same diction that serves to disconnect the audience from the play. While interesting sentence structure, word choice and figurative language may be pleasant, coherency should be the ultimate goal. Unfortunately, the writing at times impedes understanding.

I’m not sure what instrument from the director’s toolbox could have been employed to help this play. There is little to no downtime between scenes, so there isn’t much that can be whittled away to shorten the piece. In the end, there’s a lot of talent at work here, and there is a lot of potential in the commentary, especially in the play’s first half. But as we stretch into the third act, our patience is tested, and we begin watching our watches rather than the stage.

   
  
Rating: ★★½
  
  

Ladys Not For Burning - Theo Ubique 4

 

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REVIEW: Shakespeare’s R & J (Journeymen Theater)

Play combines schoolboy charm with star-crossed lovers

 

Luke Daigle, Brenton Abens, Chris Necker & Adam Kander_1

   
The Journeymen Theater presents
      
Shakespeare’s R & J
   
Adapted by Joe Calarco
Directed by Frank Pullen
Berger Park Coach House, 6205 N. Sheridan (map)
through August 21st  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

reviewed by Keith Ecker

“O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?” This is one of Shakespeare’s most famous lines, second only to the Hamlet quote “To be, or not to be.” I remember being able to recite both bits of dialogue as a child without knowing the difference between Shakespeare and Dr. Seuss.

Luke Daigle & brenton Abens And that’s just one of the great things about Shakespeare. The bard’s work has become not only larger than the man himself, but larger than the art of theatre. People who have never seen a play in their lives can quote Shakespeare. The stories, with their heavy reliance on dramatic irony and literary archetypes, have been retold time and time again in countless forms from television shows to feature films.

It is because of this universal familiarity with Shakespeare that a play like Shakespeare’s R&J works. By recontextualizing Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet into a play within a play about schoolboys that share a love that dare not speak its name, playwright Joe Calarco creates new themes, impregnating the classic tragedy with contemporary poignancy. And in the directorial hands of The Journeymen Theater’s artistic director, Frank Pullen, the production is one of the most vivacious renditions of Romeo & Juliet I’ve seen yet.

The play centers on a group of schoolboys, who at the top of the play diligently scribble in their notebooks and recite their daily lessons. We get the sense that there is much pressure from an unseen force, some adult force, to conform. The boys don uniforms, they stand in a perfect square and they list the handful of sins they are forbidden to commit, which predictably includes lust.

Once the school bell chimes, the boys relax a bit and begin horsing around. One pulls out a copy of Romeo & Juliet, and they giddily begin assuming the roles of the various characters. At first, the boys are playful, fulfilling their parts with a self-awareness of their schoolyard lark. But as the play progresses and a real romance sprouts between Student 1 (Luke Daigle) and Student 2 (Brenton Abens), who play Romeo and Juliet respectively, the young men show more commitment to their roles. It is here that we witness the source of Shakespeare’s R&J’s power and weakness.

Luke Daigle, Brenton Abens, Chris Necker & Adam Kander Adam Kander, Chris Necker & Brenton Abens

The less the boys commit to their Shakespearian parts, the less we feel as if we’re simply watching an all-male performance of the original play. It is in the moments where the schoolboys break character that the charm and weight of the first play—the one about schoolboys in love—shines through. For example, the marriage scene between Romeo and Juliet is emotionally charged thanks to a stop in the action. As Student 1 thinly veils himself as Romeo and reads from the text as if it is actual wedding vows, Students 3 and 4 (Chris Necker and Adam Kander respectively) repeatedly snatch the book away. It is here that we see how the love between Romeo and Juliet, despite its purity and innocence, is parallel to the love between these two students.

However, as the play continues into its final act, it begins to lose its momentum. We all know how Romeo & Juliet ends. No one sits foolishly rooting for a happy outcome. And so as the frequency of schoolboy interjections diminishes, the incentive to be engaged in the action diminishes as well.

Luke Daigle and Brenton Abens All actors have their Shakespeare chops down. They speak the bard’s words with clarity, eloquence and passion. Actors give special consideration to the rhythm of the words, transforming the dialogue into narrative poetry, as it was intended. Abens (for whom Shakespeare’s R&J is his professional debut) does an outstanding job playing the young Juliet with a genuine femininity and fragility without debasing the character to female parody. Although a great orator, Necker is miscast in this role. His look and delivery are best suited for comedy, which works when he plays the mischievous Mercutio. However, the same qualities impede him in the roles of Lady Capulet and Friar Lawrence.

Artfully staged and well acted, Shakespeare’s R&J is good entertainment, especially for the Shakespeare aficionado. Nonetheless, other audience members may grow weary as the piece becomes engulfed in the original text, and the story of two boys in love takes a backseat.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

Adam Kander, Brenton Abens, Luke Daigle & Chris Necker

     
     

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Review: Piccolo Theatre’s “Black Comedy”

Precision, passion still needed in “Black Comedy”

Black Comedy

Piccolo Theatre presents:

Black Comedy
by Peter Shaffer
directed by P. Marston Sullivan
thru October 31st (buy tickets)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

If timing is everything in comedy, then that is true in spades for Peter Shaffer’s comic staple Black Comedy, onstage now at Piccolo Theatre, directed by Peter Sullivan. Written in the 1960s, this outrageous British sex farce requires broad physical comedy blended with exquisite timing to work. Pity the cast that has not had substantial experience or training in that area. Their efforts truly are a lot of flailing around in the dark.

Black Comedy That’s too bad, because this cast definitely displays the energy for it. Brindsley (Adam Kander) is a young, struggling artist about to privately show his work at his apartment to a mysterious millionaire, Mr. Bamberger (David W. M. Kelch), who could make his fortune. The sale of his work is also meant to placate his potential father-in-law, Colonel Melkert (Andrew J. Pond), into letting him marry his poncy fiancé Carol (Liz Larsen-Silva). With Carol and Brindsley redecorating his bare flat with the posh antique furniture “borrowed” from next-door neighbor Harold (Brian Kilborn), their plans for a successful showing are ruined by a blown fuse and Harold’s early return from his weekend away in the country.

In the role of Brindsley, Kander does the yeoman’s job, in that his character must move all the furniture back to Harold’s apartment in the dark out from under everyone’s nose . . . or arse . . . or something. This is where the majority of the physical comedy takes place. Not a role for the faint of heart–or an actor without the skills of someone like Jim Carrey. What is more, Kander’s interpretation lacks the mischievousness that would make his character think that he could pull this whole thing off in the first place. Brindsley must be something more than just a desperate loser; he’s a desperate loser who thinks he can win.

Sullivan’s staging delivers some good bits, but without the requisite skills to execute them, it’s like watching the cast paint by the numbers. Spontaneity and surprise vanish into thin air.

Under-training plagues the whole production; even the dialect needs more consistency throughout the entire cast. Comic timing also goes missing in the preliminary sketches taken from British comedy favorites. It’s tough to tell a production to go back to the drawing board, but there it is.

Little moments of characterization are enjoyable: Liz Larsen-Silva is delightfully annoying as the spoiled Colonel’s daughter. Kelli Walker’s Ms. Furnival would probably writhe her way out of her clothing eventually, alcohol or not. Sandy Elias’ role as Schuppanzigh adds some badly needed, earthy humanism. The cast is certainly proficient in developing their roles. Would that their skill set had expanded sufficiently to pull off this monstrously demanding comedy.

Rating: «½

 

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2008 After Dark Awards Announced!

Gay Chicago Magazine has just announced this year’s After Dark AwardsBelow is an abbreviated list.  For the complete list, as well as production photos, go to Venus Zarris’s website: Chicago State Review

 

2008 After Dark Awards.  For more information go to ChicagoStageReviews.com

Best Production

Passion Play: A Cycle in Three Parts (Goodman Theatre)

The Mark of Zorro (Lifeline Theatre)

Hunchback (Redmoon Theatre)

 

Outstanding New Work

Sarah Ruhl – Passion Play: A Cycle in Three Parts (Goodman Theatre)

Anna CariniSweet Confinement (SiNNERMAN Ensemble)

Tracy LettsSuperior Donuts (Steppenwolf Theatre)

 

Outstanding Adaptation

Shishir KurupMerchant on Venice (Silk Road Project)

Devon de Mayo and Ensemble – As Told By The Vivian Girls (Dog & Pony Theatre)

 

Outstanding Musical

Old Town (Strawdog Theatre)

 

Outstanding Direction

David Cromer – Our Town  (Hypocrites Theatre)

John MossmanJuno and the Paycock (Artistic Home)

Anna Bahow – Sweet Confinement  (SiNNERMAN Ensemble)

Peter Robel – Merchant of Venice (Bohemian Theatre Ensemble)

 

Outstanding Direction of a Musical

Fred Anzevino – “Cabaret” and Jacque Brel’s Lonesome Losers of the Night  (Theo Ubique Theatre)

 

Outstanding Musical Direction

Joshua Stephen Kartes – Jacque Brel’s Lonesome Losers of the Night  (Theo Ubique Theatre)

 

Outstanding Performance in a Play

Jennifer Grace – Our Town  (Hypocrites Theatre)

Mark Ulrich – Juno and the Paycock  (Artistic Home)

Nicole Wiesner – Passion Play: A Cycle in Three Parts (Goodman Theatre)

Keland Scher – Much Ado About Nothing  (First Folio Theatre)

Madeline Long – Soldiers: The Desert Stand (LiveWire Chicago Theatre)

Sadieh Rafai – Speech and Debate (American Theatre Company)

Jeremy Sher – Hunchback (Redmoon Theatre)

Annabel Armour – Fiction  (Remy Bumppo)

Jenn Remke – Resort 76  (Infamous Commonwealth)

Andy Hager – Red Light Winter (Thunder and Lightning Ensemble)

Polly Noonan – Passion Play: A Cycle in Three Parts  (Goodman Theatre)

Nick Vatterott – Love is Dead: A NecRomantic Musical Comedy  (Annoyance Theatre)

Adam Kander – The Merchant of Venice (Bohemian Theatre Ensemble)

 

Outstanding Performance in a Musical or Review

E. Faye Butler – Ain’t Misbehavin’   (Goodman Theatre)

Kat McDonnell – Old Town (Strawdog Theatre)

Summer Smart – Sweet Charity  (Drury Lane Oakbrook)

Bethany Thomas – Nine  (Porchlight Music Theatre)

 

Outstanding Ensemble

Emma  (Trapdoor Theatre)

As Told by the Vivian Girls  (Dog & Pony Theatre)

Juno and the Paycock  (The Artistic Home)

Sweet Confinement  (SiNNERMAN Ensemble)

Superior Donuts  (Steppenwolf Theatre)

 

For the complete listing of all 2008 After Dark Awards, including full descriptions and great pictures, go to my friend Venus Zarris’s theatre blog: www.chicagostagereview.com.   Go Venus!!