Review: 500 Clown Trapped (500 Clown & Adventure Stage)

  
  

Getting stuck has never been more fun

  
  

Adrian Danzig, Leah Urzendowski, Timothy Heck - 500 Clown Trapped - photo by Johnny Knight

  
500 Clown and Adventure Stage Chicago presents
   
  
500 Clown Trapped
   
Conceived by Adrian Danzig
Directed by Paola Coletto
at Adventure Stage Chicago, 1012 N. Noble (map)
through May 21  |  tickets: $12-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

Teaming up with Adventure Stage Chicago, 500 Clown brings their acrobatic, improvisational storytelling style to an all-ages audience with 500 Clown Trapped. Conceived by 500 Clown artistic director Adrian Danzig, who also stars as the clown trio’s leader Bruce, Trapped finds its three characters stuck in a variety of situations that require them to use their imaginations, bodies, and comedic skills to escape. The show begins with a requisite educational discussion about music, opening conversation between the clowns and audience. Dialogue and interaction with the audience is a trademark of children’s theatre, and Bruce, Stacy (Tim Heck), and Lily (Leah Urzendowski) are constantly finding ways to make the viewer a player as well, sometimes by just walking out into the audience and turning their seats into the stage.

There’s not much plot to speak of, but the main appeal of the production is the ways the actors bring their characters to bombastic life, engrossing the audience as the clowns become further ensnared on their platform full of hamster paper. Bruce the responsible leader, Stacy the clueless goofball, and Lily the emotional wreck combine Keaton-esque slapstick with impressive acrobatic feats to escape their traps, providing comedic context through jokes and sight gags. The banter is quick and natural, and the movement swift and exaggerated, giving the show a rapid pace perfect for a young audience.

Adrian Danzig - 500 Clown Trapped

500 Clown Trapped is definitely intended for children, but there are plenty of elements that adults will be drawn to. Honestly, who doesn’t love a good pratfall? Lily’s pained rendition of “My Heart Will Go On” elevates the sinking Titanic sequence, while her flirtation with Bruce on a crashing plane elicits giggles for the grown-ups as the kids laugh at the organized chaos. And it is organized. Paola Coletto’s sharp direction has the actors utilizing the entire theater space, and the aerial movement is performed flawlessly. The cast never breaks character, and they are completely comfortable engaging with the audience, projecting a welcoming energy that encourages participation. The clowns are always aware of the audience’s reactions, often responding to the comments of excited children in the middle of a bit without ever breaking the flow. It’s clear that these are skilled improvisers, and they’re able to think quickly on their feet, under ground, or suspended in the air.

500 Clown Trapped is the first collaboration between the city’s premier clown company and one of its largest children’s theaters, and hopefully it’s the start of a fruitful relationship between the two. 500 Clown’s history with more adult material makes their approach to children’s theatre one free of condescension, perfect for parents looking for a fun night of family-friendly theater. It may be light on plot, but the 500 Clown gang definitely brings the laughs, and Trapped is a joyful show for the kid in all of us.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Leah Urzendowski, Timothy Heck, Adrian Danzig in "500 Clown Trapped", conceived by Adrian Danzig. (Photo: Johnny Knight)

All photos by Johnny Knight

  

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Review: Virginia Woolf’s Orlando (Court Theatre)

     
     

Ruhl’s ‘Orlando’: A decent romp

     
     

Amy J. Carle as Orlando (Michael Brosilow).

  
Court Theatre presents
  
Virginia Woolf’s Orlando
  
Adapted by Sarah Ruhl
Directed by Jessica Thebus
at Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis (map)
through April 10  | tickets: $10-$60  | more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, with a protagonist that flips sexes and a narrative that slithers through time and space, is required reading for any student of women in literature. The genre-twisting novel, a thinly-veiled biography of Woolf’s sometimes-lover Vita Sackville-West, is Woolf’s most accessible and popular book. The light tone and fantastical story make Orlando ripe for the stage; however, putting the broad and populous novel on stage requires an innovative touch. The Court Theatre put the task of writing a stage adaptation in the very capable hands of Sarah Ruhl. To direct, they snapped up Jessica Thebus, always full of fascinating theatrics.

Kevin Douglas, Amy J. Carle, Erica Elam, and Lawrence Grimm (Michael Brosilow).The end product has six actors, loads of quick scenes, heavily-thematic design, and a tendency to stuff the audience full with exposition.

The plot spans 500 years, from the rule of Queen Elizabeth to today. Orlando (the ever-energized Amy J. Carle) is a young and restless poet, looking to write an ode to an oak tree but never finding the right verses. His shapely legs and youthful vigor catch the eye of the Queen (Lawrence Grimm, part of a four-man chorus that plays a galaxy of roles), who brings the kid into her court. There Orlando falls for Sasha (Erica Elam), who is visiting England with the Russian embassy. She departs for Moscow, and Orlando is restless once again. He travels the world, only to awake one morning in Constantinople to find that he has transformed into a woman. She then must navigate the new social implications and a whole new set of suitors. Along with the switch in gender, Orlando also must deal with living for hundreds of years and her ever-pressing need to finish her poem.

Ruhl and Thebus use plenty of theatrical magic to sail Orlando’s story. The stage is nearly bare for most of the time, allowing for quick transitions from place to place and time to time. Collette Pollard’s set contains many tricks; for example, a rolling bed becomes both a ship and a chrysalis for Orlando’s transformation. Linda Roethke’s monochrome costumes evolve with the time periods, but also play with gender roles. The four male chorus members begin the show strapped up in corsets, and there isn’t a real effort to hide Carle’s gender. It’s intriguing to watch Orlando go from loose trousers and vests to frilly, voluminous dresses.

Ruhl’s adaptation has a bad case of telling rather than showing. The characters often narrate to the audience about feelings, as well as discuss where the story is traveling. Much of this direct address is full of Ruhl’s trademarked lyricism, but it still leaves one yearning for more dramatization. It seems she unable to exactly figure out how to put Woolf’s tale up, so she uses the direct address as a crutch.

Ruhl’s adaptation is also hampered by a lowered stakes in the second half. The first act – which showcases Orlando’s romances with the Queen and Sasha – builds until Orlando becomes a woman. After intermission, the play can’t quite find its footing again. The second act hurriedly leaps through centuries to reach a rather bland conclusion.

     
Amy J. Carle, Adrian Danzig, Thomas J. Cox, Kevin Douglas, and Lawrence Grimm (Michael Brosilow). Kevin Douglas (Michael Brosilow).
Kevin Douglas, Thomas J. Cox, and Adrian Danzig (Michael Brosilow). Adrian Danzig, Lawrence Grimm as Queen Elizabeth, Thomas J. Cox, and Amy J. Carle (Michael Brosilow).

The actors are all eager and willing. Carle never disappoints as Orlando, and she has a huge journey to take every night. Orlando starts as wide-eyed and lusty and ends as darkly meditative and matured over his 500 years; Carle can nail every aspect of the character. The four chorus members, Thomas J. Cox, Adrian Danzig, Kevin Douglas, and Grimm, make their constant character-swapping look easy. They carry the show, both literally and figuratively. Although not on-stage very much, Elam does decent work as Sasha, alternating between sexy and innocent.

Woolf claimed she started Orlando as a joke, a way to tease Vita. Ruhl’s adaptation captures this light mood, and Orlando’s prevalent attitude through the centuries seems to be “just go with it.” This tone and Thebus’ antics are sure to amuse and inspire, even if Ruhl’s writing gets a tad clunky.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
       
  

Orlando meets "The Great Queen" featuring Amy J. Carle as Orlando and Lawrence Grimm as Queen Elizabeth I:

 

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Adventure Stage Chicago announces 2010-2011 Season

Adventure Stage Chicago

 

Adventure Stage Chicago Announces 2010-2011 Season

 

for Young Audiences

 

Adventure Stage Chicago (ASC) proudly announces their 2010-2011 season for young audiences, comprised of three thrilling plays making their Chicago debuts: a moving Holocaust drama, an action-packed magical adventure and a comedic physical theater event.


 

October 30 – Dec. 9, 2010

 

And a Child Shall Lead by Michael Slade

Directed by ASC Producing Artistic Director Tom Arvetis

Chicago Premiere!

     
  Thirty miles outside Prague lies the city of Terezin, a Nazi-described "Jewish ghetto" and makeshift way station for millions of people awaiting transfer to death camps. Amid such bleak surroundings, a group of courageous children create stories, music, poetry, drawings, plays, puppets, and even an underground newspaper to craft a dream world of hope and beauty in a place where neither exist. Incorporating actual poems and other writings recovered from Terezin after the war, this exquisite play explores the strength, optimism and extraordinary resilience at the core of the human spirit. Recommended for ages 11 and older.

Performance Schedule:

  • Previews: 10:30 a.m. Oct. 28 & 29
  • Weekends: 2:00 p.m. Oct. 30, Nov. 6, Nov. 13, Nov. 20 & Nov. 27 (Saturdays) and Nov. 14 & 28 (Sundays)
  • Weekdays: 10:30 a.m. Nov. 2, 4, 9, 16, 18, 23, 30 & Dec. 2, 7, 9
  • Evenings: 7:00 p.m. Friday, Nov. 26 only.

 

March 19 – April 16, 2011

Sinbad: The Untold Tale  by Charles Way

Directed by Amanda Delheimer

U.S. Premiere!

     
  Ittifaq, the pampered daughter of famed sailor Sinbad of the Seven Seas, bristles under her father’s overprotective care and longs for an adventure of her own. Young Sinbad, an orphaned porter, lives on the streets and relies on his clever wit to survive. The two meet by chance just before a bitter sorceress casts a poison cloud over the city of Baghdad. Rendered sick by the witch’s curse, the elder Sinbad bids his daughter and the porter to set sail in search of the poison’s antidote. On their quest, the unlikely duo form a reluctant bond as they encounter good and evil genies, daring swordfights, magic boats and flying carpets. But can Sinbad and Ittifaq defeat the sorceress in time, or will their beloved city be destroyed forever? Recommended for ages 9 and older.

Performance Schedule:

  • Previews: 10:30 a.m. March 17 & 18
  • Weekends: 2:00 p.m. March 19, March 26, April 2, April 9 & April 16 (Saturdays)
  • Weekdays: 10:30 a.m. March 22, 24, 29, 31 & April 5, 7, 8, 12, 14, 15
  • Evenings: 7:00 p.m. Friday, April 8 only.

 

 

May 3 – May 21, 2011

500 Clown Nose

  World Premiere!
 

Experience 500 Clown’s signature mix of high physicality, raw emotion and powerful storytelling with content accessible to an all-ages audience. In 500 CLOWN NOSE, three clowns stumble into a quagmire and soon find themselves jailed in a barren landscape. Their attempts at escape encompass slapstick mishaps, vaudevillian turns, clown acts and daring physical feats. Their desperate search for a way out relies on ingenuity and resilience. When they find the exit, freedom comes at the price of leaving the fun world they’ve created. Featuring 500 Clown founder Adrian Danzig with Timothy Heck and Lea Pascal.   

Performance Schedule:

  • Weekends: 2:00 p.m. & 7:00 p.m. May 7, 14, & 21 (Saturdays) and 7:00 p.m. May 6, 13 & 20 (Fridays)
  • Weekdays: 10:30 a.m. May 3, 5, 10, 11, 17 & 19

 

Tickets for all shows are $17.00 for adults, $12.00 children aged 14 and under, $10.00 previews and $8.00 school groups. Other group discounts available. Passport to Adventure subscriptions are available beginning in mid-September. For tickets or more information, call (773) 342-4141 or visit www.adventurestage.org.

All shows are performed at Vittum Theater, 1012 N. Noble St., in the heart of Chicago’s West Town neighborhood. Street parking is available, and the theater is close to the Noble St. stop on the #56 Milwaukee bus line and the Division stop on the CTA Blue Line. The theater is wheelchair accessible.

Each Adventure Stage Chicago production presents weekday performances primarily for school groups, as well as weekend matinees for the general public. Every performance includes a post-show audience talkback with the cast.

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