REVIEW: Company (Griffin Theatre Company)

One’s Company…

 

Company

   
Griffin Theatre presents
   
Company
   
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by
George Furth
Directed by
Jonathan Berry
at
Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont (map)
through November 14  |  tickets: $22-$32  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Five more or less married couples and their seemingly confirmed bachelor friend–the contrast between their ambivalence and his fecklessness fuels this early, episodic Stephen Sondheim musical, a show with enough brains to hit the heart. So, if Bobby remains unyoked at 35, it could be because his “institutionalized” friends have set cautionary examples with their drugging, boozing, infidelities and threats of divorce. And Bobby’s lusty life of interchangeable dates is its own dead-end excuse for a mid-life crisis.

Stephen Sondheim and bookwriter George Furth cleverly chronicle the complications and contradictions in bittersweet, ambiguous showpieces like “Sorry-Grateful,” “Marry Me a Little,” “You Could Drive a Person Crazy,” as well as the vaudevillian warmth in “Side By Side By Side” and the title song. (Here “company” means both the opposite of loneliness and what misery loves best.)

Those songs, ably directed by Jonathan Berry, revolve like a carousel around eligible bachelor Bobby, a very un-lonely New Yorker who just turned 35 and receives contagious concern from the compulsively, reflexively or instinctively married couples who comprise his industrious friends. (The slick plot, with its sitcom setups and twisting revelations, recalls bookwriter Furth’s own The Supporting Cast and its gay counterpart, Paul Rudnick‘s Jeffrey.) Bobby’s tensile friends include control-freak Sarah and her co-dependent husband Harry; Southern-belle Susan and her estranged and closeted Peter; amiable Jenny and considerate David (who would love to be single "for an hour"); frantic Amy, a shiksa who almost doesn’t marry her adoring Paul; and sophisticates Larry and Joanne. Joanne’s amorous assault will help to shock Bobby from his fear of commitment. It also fuels the ending, where he determines to be himself, enough to realize one’s company and two’s a crowd.

For them and for the three women in and out of Bobby’s life (sweet stewardess April, ebullient Marta, "the soul of New York," and knowing Kathy, the girl who got away), Sondheim delivers delicious numbers, ranging from Marta’s New York tribute, "Another 100 People," to the sardonic anthem "Crazy Person."

Despite the drawback of an orchestra that’s so loud that the singers are overmiked, music director Allison Rae Kane maintains the Sondheim supremacy with this playful, bouncy and fluid tribute to New York in all its normal nuttiness. (Jessica Kuehnau’s functional set is just abstract enough to suggest New York’s teasing formlessness.)

Company is a hungry show, eager to assert its sometimes borrowed wisdom: Griffin’s rough-and-tumble urgency fits the bill, and here, despite a too-slow and deliberate second act, the ensemble acting is everything a chorus should be.

An instantly likable anti-hero and a solid survivor, Benjamin Sprunger’s Robert (who is almost exactly the right age for the character) conveys both the curiously unattached “Bobby baby, Bobby bubbie” who fascinates his friends and the haunted loner who aches for connection in the enthralling “Being Alive.” (Sprunger brings so much hunger to the number that you can imagine, from a slightly different perspective Bobby verging on tragedy instead of tragicomedy.) Amid so much Gotham craziness he’s a grounded, solid soul who stands out by hanging back. Standouts among Robert’s 13-member supporting “family” include Allison Cain whose bibulous ferocity in “The Ladies Who Lunch” makes you reconsider Prohibition and recalls Elaine Stritch but with repression as much as rage. Samantha Dubina’s winsome stewardess (so moving in “Barcelona”) says a lot with the look of longing. Dana Tretta incarnates the free spirit of 70s New York as a date too independent even for freedom-loving Bobby. Darci Nalepa runs Amy’s tour-de-force “Getting Married Today” along a fine knife edge between hope and farce.

Company may seem dated in its view of the Big Apple as a couples’ mecca where anonymity and intimacy constantly vie for dominance. (References to the “generation gap” and phones that lack even an answering machine don’t help this updated production.) But the interpersonal dynamics so cleverly lampooned and confirmed by these songs remain in full force: The show keeps the crowds it earned.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
  

more “Company” videos after the fold

          
        

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REVIEW: Cherrywood (Mary-Arrchie Theatre)

Party on, Dude!

 

cherrywood

  
Mary-Arrchie Theatre presents
  
Cherrywood: The Modern Day Comparable
   
Written by Kirk Lynn
Directed by
David Cromer
at
Angel Island Theatre, 735 W. Sheridan (map)
through August 8th  |  tickets:  $13-$22  |  more info

reviewed by Katy Walsh

Fliers announce ‘Party Tonite for anyone who wants a change.’ Mary-Arrchie Theatre presents the Midwest premiere of Cherrywood: The Modern Day Comparable.  A foursome decides to host a party. They have three kinds of chips, an array of music, bottles of booze and a shots of… milk? In response to their fliers, the guests arrive and fill up the house. The usual party suspects are all present. Free loading crashers. Whiny girl. Depressed divorced guy. Unwanted neighbor. Gaggle of gals in bathroom line. P.D.A. couple on the dance floor. Hot shirtless guy. Person continually announcing ‘I’m wasted.’ Sporadic drunken wrestling. It feels, looks and sounds familiar except with a couple of twists: Somebody brought a gun. Everybody has been drinking wild wolves’ milk. People are opening boxes of their secret desires. Cherrywood: The Modern Day Comparable is a virtual reality party experience without the pressure to mingle or the aid of a cocktail.

In a large living-room-like space, the audience seats encircle the action. Closely matched in numbers, the 50+ wallflowers watch the 49 performers party. It’s such a tight fit that I needed to move my purse before a guy sat on it. Director David Cromer has gone fire-code-capacity to create an authentic party.

The proximity blurs the fourth wall completely in deciphering between the party gawkers versus goers. I consciously refrain from shouting out an answer to ‘name a good band that starts with the letter ‘A’.’ It seems like a jumbling of improv mixed in with scripted lines. Crediting playwright Kirk Lynn with some of the best lines, it’s existentialism goes rave with the ongoing philosophy ‘if you want something different, ask for it.’ Lynn writes dialogue describing cocktail banter as ‘question-answer-it-doesn’t-always-happen-like-that’ mockery. One character describes herself with ‘everything I do is a form of nodding. I want to break my neck to stop nodding.’ In a heated exchange, the neighbor jabs, ‘you remember the world? It’s the room outside the door.’ It’s genuine party chatter. Some conversations are playful. Some are deep. Some just don’t make any sense. Clusters of people are sharing philosophical drunken babble throughout the room. A gunshot brings the house of strangers together in a communal bonding alliance.

For the theatre goer looking for a break from classic plot driven shows, Cherrywood: The Modern Day Comparable is performance art. It is a ‘Party Tonite for anyone who wants a change.’ For those who wonder what Chicago actors and designers do off-season, this is an opportunity to fly-on-the-wall it. If you’ve anticipated they hang out together and party, this would be your imagined drunken haze. The who’s who of storefront theater is boozing it up. It’s a Steep, Lifeline, Dog & Pony, House, Griffin, etc. reunion bash, and man do they know how to party!

  
   
Rating: ★★★
       
    

Running Time: Ninety minutes with no intermission

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REVIEW: The Artist Needs A Wife (side project)

Cohesive set adds clarity to an otherwise jumbled script

Freud stabs painting

the side project presents: 

The Artist Needs a Wife 

by Jesse Weaver
directed by
Carolyn Klein
thru February 14th (ticket info)

review by Ian Epstein

The side project’s production of The Artist Needs a Wife, by Jesse Weaver, tells the claustrophobic tale of Freud and Mott (played by John Ferrick and Chris Hainsworth).  Freud and Mott are two older, similar looking, starving artist types.  The duo lives in a decrepit hovel that doubles as a garden level apartment with walls so leaky, rusty, and paint-smeared that the canvas of Freud’s many-year masterpiece looks like a natural extension of the wall itself.  His muse is a woman named Whore (Allison Cain).  If she hadn’t dried up at the same pace as Freud’s inspiration to paint, the pair might’ve produced something like a de Kooning together.  Instead, there’s a lot of struggling. 

In fits and starts, Freud and Mott come and go, looking for a touch of Michelangelo’s genius at the bottom of a box of corn flakes or hidden among the pages of a Polish mail-order bride catalog.  When they don’t find inspiration in these places, they make bold dramatic gestures: stabbing the empty box of cornflakes to the wall with a carving knife or tearing the apartment to pieces.  And in a moment rife with dramatic possibility, one even orders the redheaded bride that the other was eyeing in the catalog.  Suddenly the image in the catalog is flesh, and Whore has competition in the form of a sexy little redhead (Ann Sonneville) with a thick stutter.

Katja with knife at Mott's throat Mott punches Whore

All of this sounds great, but the script feels like a sprawling rough draft with too little knowledge of its many subjects to be either funny or serious.  It reaches towards the kind of tension that builds up in the back and forth of a Pinter exchange supplemented with a healthy dose of the absurd – but it doesn’t grab hold of anything.  There isn’t a particularly developed stage vocabulary for lack of inspiration so this prominent thematic thread is hard-pressed to hold an audience’s interest for what feels like an unending two-hours-and-fifteen-minutes.  Whenever passage of time comes up, the actors dismiss it with affected lists — a trait that might work if the actual chronology of the characters were made legible anywhere (the walls, the plot, their intimacy).   There are words misused without intending to be, confusion about Polish being written in Cyrillic (which it isn’t), and profanity that reads like a loud placeholder for what a truly ticked-off down-and-out artist might yell.  All of this leaves the audience excusing too much of the playwright’s shorthand to enjoy the show.

William Anderson‘s set, with its moldy colors, its cramped, cockeyed amenities, and its fragmented ceiling tiles may be the only piece of this production that strikes a tone appropriate to the subject matter.  It is especially admirable for its clarity, economy, and versatility. 

Rating:

FEATURING: Allison Cain, John Ferrick, Christopher Hainsworth, and Ann Sonneville 
CREATIVE TEAM: Carolyn Klein (director) William Anderson (sets), Emily Duffin (props), Miles Polaski (sound), Greg Poljacik (fights), Seth Reinick (lights), and Mieka van der Ploeg (costumes)

Tickets: $18 General, $12 Industry   (with H/R, business card or student ID)
Group discounts available

REVIEW: Factory Theatre’s “Hunky Dory”

A little less loud. a bit more funny.

HunkyDory 

The Factory Theatre presents:

Hunky Dory

by Joe Gehr
directed byJosh Graves
thru December 19th (ticket info)

review by Aggie Hewitt

The Factory Theatre is a quirky little theatre that produces comedic farcical productions. Hunky Dory, their late night show, introduces us to a Texas family that is part “Deliverence”, part “Rosanne”. But this family is not just poor, trashy and evil – they own a coach house that is absolutely irresistible to retired Sarah Lawerence professors and Chicago doctors looking for a quiet place to write their memoirs. Why? It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that this family is going to kill those upper-crust Northerners and collect their social security checks.

Performers at the Factory Theatre like to yell. They seem to have picked up the idea that this is how humor is communicated. In the world outside the theatre, a lot of people have this misconception as well, and I have never understood it. What is there about loud noises that is so funny to these people? Are they just all fighting for one’s attention? If that’s the case I have news for the Factory Theatre bombasts: all of the chairs in the house face the stage. If you are on stage, someone will pay attention to you. Please stop screaming.

Apart from that, the whole production just seems lazy; as if no thought at all were put into any aspect of it. The story, staging and writing in this show are unfortunately equally bland – monotone and without heart. Chicago performers, writers and directors looking to work in comedy have to understand that big does not equal funny. (Of course, big can be funny if it is an aspect of the entire joke, but it’s not a secret formula for it). 

My advice? Steer clear from this production, but please do not write off the Factory Theatre. They’re a smart group that perhaps lost some guidance on this particular show. I look forward to smaller and brighter things to come in future productions.

Rating: ½

 

Cast

Elmer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Blake Dalzin
Char . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sarah Rose Graber*
Momma . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Christine Jennings*
Aunt Sue . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Jennifer Pompa*
Guj . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Christopher Marcum
Grandpa Freddy. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Steve Welsh
Mr. Thompson/Snyder/Russell . . . . . . . .Justin Cagney
Mrs. Thompson/Snyder/Russell . . . . Erin Elizabeth Orr

Crew:

Director……………….…….…Josh Graves*
Writer……………………………Joe Gehr*
Executive Producer……………Carrie J. Sullivan*
Producer………………..……………Allison Cain*

Sound Design…………………………….Nick Booth*
Stage Manager………………….Elizabeth Boros-Kazai

* connotates Ensemble Member

for cast bios, click on “Read More”

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REVIEW: Factory Theater’s “1985”

 Papa Bear is watching you

 

1985Poster

The Factory Theater presents:

1985

by Chas Vrba
directed by Eric Roach
thru December 19th at Prop Thtr (ticket info)

reviewed by Aggie Hewitt

1985-castThe Factory Theater’s 1985 is a work of true love, from beginning to end. Chas Vrba is passionate about the subject matter, and it comes across in the concept and the layout of his farcical first full-length play. A re-imagining of George Orwell’s iconic science fiction novel “1984” set in 1985 Chicago at the height of the Bears season.

Winston (Vrba) has the same name and function as George Orwell’s protagonist, but we never get much of a read on him or any of the other Orwell inspired characters (it’s a farce, remember?). A sports writer, he is in charge of writing pro-Bears propaganda (and believing it, too) and collecting reports on new mem-bears (sic). This is what gets him in trouble with the beautiful and mysterious Juila (Laura McKenzie), who opens his eyes to a world out side of bear nation, and who steals his heart.

What all of this means to you depends entirely upon your experience as a Chicagoan, as a reader of classic science fiction, and as a sports fan. The audience I saw the show with adored it. They were enchanted by the familiar and obscure references that the play is laced with. I on the other hand am not, so was completely lost for a lot of it. Judging from the amount of references to Billy Buckner,  I feel safe in saying that this show was not intended for those of us not originally from Chicago without any sports knowledge or memories of years predating 1988.

It’s hard to talk about such a personal show without personally responding to it. And what’s wrong with that? This show is unapologetically specific, local and esoteric; which is the best that theater can be. Theater does not and should not have the scope of its competing form of entertainment. It is a personal, local thing. This show will not be for everybody. But for some people, it will hit nerves that run very deep.

1985-3 The play has clever ways of weaving Chicago Bearophillia into an Orwellian dystopia. First, it replaces Big Brother with “Papa Bear” George Halas (Ernie Deak), who owned the Bears until his death in 1983. It then turns Chicago into “Bear Nation,” where thoughtcrimes against the Bears are punishable by being sent to the dreaded and mysterious room 101. It saturates the dialogue with so many Bears puns that less than 15 minutes in, you can feel them coming and where. Finally, it shows Chicago hard-core sports fans for the brainwashed, cold-hearted intellectual slaves they sometimes appear to be. One of the best moments in the play comes after one character; a particularly devoted and disturbed mem-bear delivers a monologue explaining the camaraderie between the Cubs and the Bears. His conclusion is that cubs are baby bears, meaning that the two go together. He then rhetorically asks, “What goes with White Sox? White Hose? That would be better suited for describing their women!” which is met with cheers and applause by his brainwashed brethren. This moment is so shocking because the language is so course and out of place – especially falling on ears numbed by 45 minutes of Bears puns – that it totally encapsulates what is wrong with Chicago fandom. For those not from here, or with out the memories of 1985, the show may not hit home. But all who live in Chicago can relate to the dangerous peaks that fans climb to, the dangers of seeing black and calling it white, and more than that, believing it is white. The dangers in seeing a losing team and calling it a winner, and worse than that, believing that it is a winner. In that regard, maybe you don’t have to be from here to get it.

It should be noted that Angelina Martinez’s set is wonderful, minimal, usable and clever, perfect for just such a small Chicago production.

 

Rating: ★★★

 

85bears-1 

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Lifeline welcomes Allison Cain as new Managing Director

Allison Cain Joins Lifeline Theatre as Managing Director

Allison Cain, new managing director at Lifeline Theatre Lifeline Theatre welcomed Allison Cain as their new Managing Director starting March 24, 2009. In this fulltime, on-site position, Cain will be responsible for all the theatre’s non-artistic functions, including operations, finance, marketing and strategic planning, and hsave oversight of all development and fundraising. Together with Artistic Director Dorothy Milne, Cain will continue to work on the ensemble’s 26th anniversary, 2008-2009 season, which will feature the “Mystery3(or “Mystery Cubed”) benefit with Sara Paretsky on April 16 at the Chicago Cultural Center, and concludes with the world premiere adaptation of Dorothy L. Sayers“Busman’s Honeymoon,” running May 1–June 21, 2009. Lifeline Theatre is also a member of the community partnership that will present this summer’s Glenwood Avenue Arts Fest (August 22–23, GlenwoodAve.org). The non-profit’s 2009–2010 season begins with two world premiere stage adaptations – the MainStage production “Treasure Island” (running September 11–November 1, 2009) , and the KidSeries musical “Dooby Dooby Moo” (running October 17–December 6, 2009).

Lifeline_logo From 2001-2008, Cain was Factory Theater’s Executive Director (where she remains an ensemble member), and was Artistic Director of Studio 108 from 1991–1998. She received her training at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA, and at Chicago’s Columbia College, and, since 1990, has worked almost exclusively on new work in Los Angeles, Connecticut, and Scotland, in addition to Chicago. Lifeline audiences will recognize Cain from her work as an actor in the MainStage productions of “Johnny Tremain,” “Crossing California,” “The Mark of Zorro,” and “Mariette in Ecstasy,” as well as in numerous productions over the past 17 years with Factory and other Chicagoland theaters. Cain had been concurrently working in the corporate world for the past 25 years, and for 13 of them as a Human Resources professional.  She said, “I am thrilled to make the full-time transition to the not-for-profit theater world, and remain committed to the development and production of new works.”

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