REVIEW: What’s to Fear? (Time of Your Life Players)

Music to soothe the tough realities of aging

 

time of your life players

   
The Time of Your Life Players present
   
What’s To Fear?
   
Written and Directed by Avrum Krause
Music/Lyrics by Bryan Dunn
at
Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through November 6  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

The Time of Your Life Players, who have just opened What’s To Fear? at the Greenhouse Theater Center, were founded to create musical comedies that speak to the experience and perspective of the elderly, as well as utilize the musical talents of performers ranging 50 to 70 years of age. As any afternoon at their latest production will reveal, these seniors are no slouches at generating fun, communal feeling while delicately addressing the challenges of growing older.

First of all, the band is tight. Music makes the show and Musical Director Julie B. Nichols has honed a cohesive ensemble that could give some paid professionals a run for their money. After-show discussion revealed the collaborative process that the players go through in the creation of each musical. The result is an obvious atmosphere of conviviality and gentle fun, as well as top-notch performances.

whats to fear Written and directed by Artistic Director Avrum Krause, with Bryan Dunn handling music and lyrics, What’s To Fear? explores the personal journey of a man who enters the golden years of his retirement only to have them rudely interrupted. Joe (Larry Hazard) is asked what he will do with his retirement time–“Clean the shed . . . read the Great Books in bed . . . pursue photography, study oceanography.” A world of choices, many that he has put off for years, seem to open before him. Unfortunately, prostate cancer has other ideas, and soon Joe must contend with his fears, the loss of control in his life, and the indignities of his new medical reality.

The production handles its heavy themes with a consciously light touch. Krause and Dunn never forget to bring humor into the scenario, balancing bad news with clever lyrics, whether its facing a ready-to-cut doctor, a male nurse who will show you how to clean your catheter, or contending with those romance and incontinent issues after the operation. In a creative dream depiction of Joe’s fears, Cancer (Mary Gault, also playing Joe’s wife, Ann) comes to Joe dressed as a woman in a black veil. It’s death as both danger and seduction set to a Latin beat.

The average Chicago theatergoer might find Krause and Dunn’s handling of prostate cancer just a little too light. But Krause has gone through this experience himself and knows the value of leavening harsh experience with equal parts philosophy and good humor. Besides, The Time of Your Life Players not only perform in general theater venues, but also take the show on the road to retirement communities, senior living facilities, religious institutions—anywhere they can find their senior audience. Their lead song says it all: “Growing Old is Not for Wimps” and don’t they all know it deeply, one player having survived cancer three times.

What’s To Fear? is that bit of sugar to make the hard times go by easier. What is beautiful about Krause and company is that they establish, through their music, an experience of community against what can be the lonely journey of facing chronic illness and mortality. Music binds their show from beginning to end. If Joe comes out of his ordeal with a deeper appreciation for life, that same music may help us to appreciate the trials and tribulations of growing old. We will be there too, someday.

   
   
Rating: ★★½
   
    

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REVIEW: Drum Circle Pandora (Quest Theatre Ensemble)

 

Come To The Circle!

 

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Quest Theatre Ensemble presents
   
The People’s Drum Circle Pandora
  
Conceived and Directed by Andrew Park
at
St. Gregory’s Theatre, 1609 W. Gregory (map)
thru September 19  |  tickets: FREE  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

Quest Theatre Ensemble has created a community experience in the truest sense of the word with Drum Circle Pandora. This is actually theatre of the people where in the audience is encouraged to participate in a celebratory manner. Many theatres try too hard to draw the audience into an alternative reality for a short time.  Quest, however, provides a dizzying array of percussion instruments for the audience to use, allowing participants to create the production on a primal level.

IMG_4320 The first act is the drum circle part of the evening. Drum circles invite people to release emotion and raise inner consciousness through communal drumming and singing.  Quest expertly uses this vehicle, then, to create an open and receptive audience-experience.  The audience is first given a lesson in achieving different sounds from the drums by cast member Aimee Bass, aka ‘Sister Drum’.  Bass is accompanied by Kim DeVore, aka ‘Sister Didge’.  Bass and DeVore are exceptional musicians; their charismatic presence adds color and intensity to the music emanating from their chosen instruments.

Act two, which adds an electric ensemble to the first act performers, is centered on the myth of Pandora – but with a twist: Pandora was not responsible for all of the evils of the world. Instead, by opening the box, Pandora illuminated what was already there. This makes it possible for humankind to see that the perception of evil comes from within as does all good and hope. Creator Andrew Park provides a Greek Chorus of Brother Sun and the Sunshine Girls to accompany Pandora’s journey. Jason Bowen plays the role of Brother Sun with great humor and a touch of lusty naughtiness.

In the tradition of musicals such as Hair and O Calcutta, songs are anthems to moral restraints breaking free. But Pandora instead explores the responsibility that springs from that freedom. The quandaries are still the same in every era. How does humanity ignore what we have wrought? There is poverty, war, and environmental ravages, but people choose not to put light on the situation. While the entire cast does a wonderful job of dancing and singing, Angelica Keenan does a star turn in the title role. Her skills as a dancer are excellent. One unfortunate exception, however, is a dance she performs while wearing boots, a clunky costume choice that literally hampers the beauty of her movement and the gravity of the scene. Ms. Keenan is paired with Merrill Matheson as her spouse Epemethious. Matheson is excellent in portraying societal denial with the personas of businessman, husband etc.

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A wonderful ensemble featuring music in arena rock style enhances the song productions, harkening back to the Rick Wakeman days of the group Yes or Emerson, Lake & Palmer in their heyday. The addition of a didgeridoo by Ms. DeVore adds a sinister and primordial shading to Act 2. The music underscores the archetypal essence of the Pandora myth, i.e., women are usually to blame for the downfall of man in patriarchal tales. There was Eve and her apple, before her Lillith and concurrently Pandora. Drum Circle Pandora seeks to put an equal spin on how it all went down and how everyone must look at what we create in full light as the ultimate solution for harmony, prosperity, and good stewardship of the environment. In the process, Quest creates a timely tale, especially considering the state of the world at the moment.

A special mention must be given to the production’s set design and scenic artistry. Nick Rupard and Julie Taylor have done a fabulous job of alternating cyc walls and moveable scenery. Whether it is sunflowers or destruction, the sets are lush, giving added depth to the action. The masks and puppetry by Megan Hovany are exceptional as well. Drum Circle Pandora is a rich and crazy carnival for the eyes and ears. You will be singing the theme song ‘Come To The Circle’ long after you leave the theatre.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
  
  

IMG_4300 The mission of Quest Theatre Ensemble is to provide free access to theatre for everyone. The productions are free of charge but donations are welcome  – and will certainly help the company buy more instruments and to help spread the word about the production. Drum Circle Pandora is best for ages 12 and up, as some scenes are quite intense.  Also, other than the drumming, I’m not sure if kids younger than 12 will understand the premise (though I’m speaking from a mother’s perspective).

Drum Circle Pandora runs every Friday and Saturday at 8:00pm and Sundays at 2:00pm. Admission is free but reservations are encouraged and honored. The theatre is located at Quest’s Blue Theatre – 1609 W. Gregory. It is in the St. Gregory the Great School building that is accessible by CTA. Go and get your drum on as the summer wanes!

 

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