Review: The First Ladies (Trap Door Theatre)

  
  

Play proves potty language can be poetry

  
  

Nicole Wiesner, Dado, Beata Pilch - Trap Door Theatre - The First Ladies

  
Trap Door Theatre presents
    
The First Ladies
   
Written by Werner Schwab
Translated by
Michael Mitchell
Directed by
Zeljko Djukic
at
Trap Door Theatre, 1655 W. Cortland (map)
through April 16  |  tickets: $10-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker

I don’t think it is a coincidence that playwright Werner Schwab hails from the same nation as Sigmund Freud. Both are utterly obsessed with notions of sex and bowel movements. Human orifices attract their attention, especially when something is going in or coming out one. And both enjoy venturing to the deep, dark crevices of the human mind, those mental closets where our skeletons are stored. In short, Austria must be one hell of a place.

This is what I have deduced after seeing Trap Door Theatre‘s brilliant production of Schwab’s The First Ladies. The flawless work is a wicked and twisted comedy about the futile dreams of the lower class. The language is poetic without pretension, the acting is solid as stone and the set design is exquisitely detailed—and all this from a play that proudly boasts several lengthy monologues about scooping excrement out of a toilet with one’s bare hands.

Nicole Wiesner - Trap Door Theatre - The First LadiesThe play, told in two acts, is about three lower class ladies, each of whom sports her own unique dream of fulfillment and satisfaction. The first act is mainly exposition.

Erna (Dado) is the prude. She is a teetotaler and a woman of God. She is proud of the fur hat and color television she found in a garbage dump, and she is quick to judge the other ladies for their lack of restraint. We learn she has a son who has an affinity for drinking and violent outbursts.

Meanwhile, Greta (Beata Pilch) is the saucy one. She dons faux-snakeskin pants and a series of gold chains. While Erna eagerly watches televised communions, Greta slouches in her gaudy armchair, legs akimbo, looking bored out of her mind. She is the type of lady you would neglect to call a lady. She has an estranged daughter who lives in Australia that she hasn’t heard from in nearly a decade.

And then there’s Marie (Nicole Wiesner), sweet and simple Marie. She is the Lenny of the bunch, prone to wild hand gestures and goofy facial expressions. She is a people pleaser at heart, but the way she chooses to please is unorthodox to say the least. Her profession is to unclog toilets. But she does it with gusto and bare hands. Because of her imbecile nature, the other two ladies are quick to overlook her.

The second act focuses on each lady’s dream. The three women take turns sharing bits and pieces of their fantasies, which all take place at the same fancy nightclub. Erna dreams of being swept off her feet by the local butcher; Greta envisions being sexually pleasured by a tuba player and Marie finds treasures at the bottom of toilets. It’s incredibly absurd, but the conviction of the actors, the adeptness of the direction and the cleverness of the script make it work.

Beata Pilch - Trap Door Theatre - The First LadiesAll the actresses do outstanding jobs, but special accolades must be paid to Wiesner, whose portrayal of Marie the simpleton is absolutely stunning. She truly embodies this character, as evidenced by her performance’s unwavering consistency. And the end, where Marie delivers a powerful, metaphor-laced monologue, is a prime example of technical acting skill.

TUTA Theatre‘s artistic director Zeljko Djukic directs The First Ladies with the skilled hand of a master. There is a lot of give and take in this play, with the women exchanging focus regularly. Djukic makes sure the hand off is smooth and the energy never drops. Also, changes in tone and mood are handled in an organic matter so as to be unforced yet still effectively jarring.

Schwab’s word choice and sentence structure (as translated by Michael Mitchell) is wholly unique. He certainly practices the economy of language, using precision to create concise sentences impregnated with significant meaning. It’s a staccato form of poetry that hits the ear in what I would describe as musical cacophony. It’s not necessarily pretty, but its ugliness has a certain beauty.

The First Ladies is an unsettling laugh-out-loud comedy that proves high art can have elements of the low brow. If you’re easily sickened by graphic talk of bathroom by-products, toughen up and see this play.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

Nicole Wiesner - Trap Door Theatre - The First Ladies

The First Ladies continues through April 16th with performances on Thursday-Sunday at 8pm.  Tickets are $10 on Thursdays and $20 on Friday and Saturdays.  For more information and tickets, go to trapdoortheatre.com.

All photos by Michal Janicki.

  
  

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REVIEW: Lobby Hero (Redtwist Theatre)

     
     

Redtwist’s near-perfect lesson on late-night discretion

     
     

  Andrew Jessop (Jeff), Eric Hoffmann (Bill), Maura Kidwell (Dawn)

  
Redtwist Theatre presents
   
Lobby Hero
   
Written by Kenneth Lonergan
Directed by
Keira Fromm
at
Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr (map)
through Jan 2  |  tickets: $20-$30  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Redtwist Theatre’s Lobby Hero, under the direction of Keira Fromm, is so organic, natural and spot-on in its shifting moods and comic timing, you’re guaranteed to get that fly-on-the-wall feeling from start to finish. Step into this lobby’s peachy and cheerfully bland environ, complete with Christmas tchotchkes, and you might be fooled into proceeding to the elevator. Picture window exposure of the street lends even greater veritas, especially when actors playing police officers have to contend with joggers, shoppers and curious passers-by for sidewalk space.

 Maura Kidwell (Dawn), Andrew Jessop (Jeff)At least for the night shift, this is the domain of the doorman, Jeff (Andrew Jessop), a fairly sweet slacker dude with a sharp sense of the ridiculous, helplessly coupled to a real motor-mouth problem. Of course, it doesn’t help that Jeff’s easy-going nature leads others to confide in him beyond the normal boundaries of discretion–so perhaps speaking before thinking isn’t just Jeff’s shortcoming. But, much like a bartender, being the late night guy who’s there to talk to puts Jeff in the crossfire between his boss William (Michael Pogue) and two beat cops, Bill (Eric Hoffman) and Dawn (Maura Kidwell).

Jessop doesn’t hit a wrong note in his blithe portrayal of Jeff’s affable lack of boundaries or appropriateness. One hardly knows if he decided in his youth on a policy of truth or if he simply can’t help compulsively saying what he thinks. Yet, whether he’s revealing his sexual fantasies to William or telling Dawn how much he wishes he had Bill’s overweening self-assurance, so that he could get away with the asshole stuff Bill gets away with, it becomes quite clear that Jeff has no sense of where he is, who he is talking to or what the ramifications of his speech could be.

So it is that Kenneth Lonergan’s humorous, quicksilver script flows easily and smoothly from this cast, with Jeff centered directly at its funny bone. But Jeff also sits at the center of peril once William, who Pogue plays with wound-tight perfection, confides to Jeff that his brother may have been involved in a terrible crime and now wants William to provide him with an alibi.

Michael Pogue (William), Andrew Jessop (Jeff)If William’s secret were Jeff’s to bear alone, there might not be any problem. But as police partners Bill and Dawn, Hoffman and Kidwell convincingly convey a menacing police presence–even as they humorously fuck up their own relationship. Kidwell’s Dawn may be a baby on the force, but she already has the intractable bearing of a cop who can commit violence in one minute and excuse it the next. Bill, for his part, works like the Mafia, backing up William’s dubious alibi for his brother at the precinct solely as a way to implicitly gain favors. One of the other comic highlights of this production is how Hoffman delivers Bill’s bad-cop excuses with stalwart conviction.

Kidwell generates laughs simply by playing an impeccable straight woman in Dawn’s growing relationship with Jeff. But Jeff hardly knows with whom he is dealing as he flirts with Dawn or wisecracks at Bill. By the end of the play, he learns full well just how little power he has in this dynamic. Lobby Hero relies upon ever-shifting circumstances to underline the ambiguity of making moral choices. Basically it comes down to this: when can the little guy tell the truth? When it’s safe for him to tell it. It’s a hard lesson in discretion to learn. No doubt, other late-night guys have had to learn it.

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

Maura Kidwell (Dawn), Andrew Jessop (Jeff), Eric Hoffmann (Bill)

  

Lobby Hero runs: Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun, 7:30pm through Sunday, January 2nd.
Please Note: There are no performances on 12/24, 12/25, 12/26, 12/31, 1/1. There are no matinees.   Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, includes one intermission.

  
  

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