REVIEW: The Dining Room (Appetite Theatre)

     
     

Shared setting not enough to unify disconnected scenes

      
     

The Dining Room 3

   
 Appetite Theatre Company presents
   
The Dining Room
   
Written by A. R. Gurney
Directed by
Basia Kapolka
at
Charnel House, 3421 W. Fullerton (map)
through Nov. 20  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

Their dining room’s a place where children celebrate birthdays, wives work on dissertations, and matrons fuss over fingerbowls. Through a series of short vignettes, A. R. Gurney’s The Dining Room chronicles generations of WASP history through social interactions in the dining room, creating a portrait of privileged America over the course of the 20th-century. Six actors play a large cast of characters, and are required to change age, status, and dialect depending on the scene – yet bizarre creative choices detract from the actual events on stage.

From the very start of the show it’s unclear what tone director Basia Kapolka is trying to capture. A creepy whispering voice asks patrons to turn off their cellular phones before the show, and the whispering continues throughout the production, repeating choice lines from the preceding scenes. When it becomes evident that there is no  horror aspect to the show, this becomes extremely distracting, and diminishes the energy at the end of scenes. The Dining Room 4Because of the disconnected nature of the play, the emotional flow from scene to scene is essential to keeping the show interesting, and the whispering breaks that momentum.

Another strange choice is to have the entire cast costumed in early 1900’s period wear, which causes confusion when the scenes are set in more contemporary times. When there are no visual clues as to when a scene is set, it would be extremely helpful if the clothes could reflect the shifts in some way. Instead, the actors have to deal with restrictive layers of clothing and hairstyles that oftentimes trump the comedy of the actual play. Why wig an actress when you don’t have to? And the turn of the century Snooki poof should be a no-no anytime, anyplace.

Appetite Theatre’s The Dining Room is a production in need of serious polish. The actors still need to get more comfortable in their environment if they are going to convincingly portray people that have used that dining room for years. In general, the energy of the production could be much higher, which would help bring out the chemistry between the romantic pairs while heightening the dramatic moments. If more time was spent on building actual relationships instead of odd creative decisions, The Dining Room could be a much different place.

  
  
Rating: ★★
   
   

Ensemble

The Dining Room-logoFEATURING: Jesse Aukeman, Mark Dodge, Kelly Helgeson, Betty Lorkowski, Eric Prahl & Kelly Yacono.

Design Team

LIGHTING: Kyle Anderson; SOUND: Mark Penzien; COSTUMES: Darcy Elora Hofer; STAGE MANAGEMENT: Amber Dettmers.

      
     

REVIEW: All Saints Day (Ruckus Theatre)

A Superb Ruckus

 

 

Pictured in The Ruckus’ production of All Saints’ Day: 44 Poems About Jeffrey Jones are (l to r) Elizabeth Bagby as Non-Tot and Kevin Crispin as Tot.  Photo by Lucas Gerard Photography.

   
Ruckus Theater presents
   
All Saints’ Day
   
Written by Ron Riekki
Directed by
Brian Ruby
at
the side project theatre, 1439 W. Jarvis Ave. (map)
through September 26  |  tickets: $15-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

It’s been quite a while since I’ve had such a good laugh or a mind challenge in the theatre. I believe that the theatre is an art that challenges, enlightens, inspires and provokes. All of these qualities are present in All Saints’ Day: A.K.A. 44 Poems About Jeffrey Jones. It’s made clear that this Jeffrey Jones is not he guy from “Ferris  Bueller” but a playwright who also wrote Pictured in The Ruckus’ production of All Saints’ Day: 44 Poems About Jeffrey Jones is Elizabeth Bagby as Non-Tot. All Saints’ Day begins performances on September 2 and runs through September 26 at The Side Project Theatre (1439 W Jarvis Ave). For more information, visit ruckustheater.org. Photo by Lucas Gerard Photography.about Halloween and inspired writer Ron Riekki for this production. However, the story of the actor Jeffrey Jones would have fit right in with this play.

All Saints’ Day presents vignettes, at varying paces, showing the American tradition of trick-or-treating. Do you remember the feeling when you approached the door of the neighborhood crazy lady or the family with cars on blocks in the front yard? This play takes us into the homes and psyches of those folks and others whose doors perhaps you were too timid to approach. The vignettes represent different eras in global history from an American perspective. What lay beyond the door and who walks up to the door?

There are three characters in this play with names from the absurdist tradition. We have Tot, Non-Tot, and Other played by Kevin Crispin, Elizabeth Bagby, and Mathew Humphrey respectively. Ms. Bagby is brilliant as the Non-Tot behind the door. She inhabits the characters at whiplash speed, hilarity and incandescent pathos. Her chemistry with Mr. Crispin as Tot is spot on and electric. It is a surprise every time Tot knocks on the door and says, “trick or treat!” Mr. Crispin is a wonder of physicality and comic timing. He and Ms. Bagby cover a time capsule of Halloween horrors that still reverberate in American culture every time the calendar approaches October 31st. The Tylenol poisonings, cyanide in candy straws, animal waste dipped in chocolate and dispensed by a seemingly sweet neighbor is presented. The play asks the question – whose fault is it really?

One unforgettable vignette presents a television remote gone mad. Non-Tot is watching television when the remote takes on a personality and power beyond her control. Tot knocks on the door and she discovers that she can switch his personas through the remote. Non-Tot furiously hits the clicker as Tot goes from LBJ on Vietnam to Cool Hand Luke to Princess Diana and a still funny George W. Bush. Bagby and Crispin then recite lines simultaneously as they collapse to the floor. This was one of the serious parts of the show as they speak of Joe Hill, The Weathermen, and Dr. King, and others who have advocated for change on many different platforms. It did not break the rhythm of the action with the serious nature of the subject matter because all of comedy has a serious core of truth.

Pictured in The Ruckus’ production of All Saints’ Day: 44 Poems About Jeffrey Jones is Matthew Humphrey as Other. All Saints’ Day begins performances on September 2 and runs through September 26 at The Side Project Theatre (1439 W Jarvis Ave). For more information, visit ruckustheater.org. Photo by Lucas Gerard Photography. In between the scenes Matthew Humphrey as Other injects comic brilliance and levity with placards announcing the scenes. He portrays a priest, a boxing round cutie holding a bout sign and prancing about the ring, and my favorite was an inspired use of whipped cream as body art. Mr. Humphrey is mute for most of the play and yet is integral to the movement, pacing, and dialogue. He is heard offstage in some of the scenes and appears in a speaking role in the final vignette.

The final scene is a departure from the other vignettes, offering a contrast from the American sensibility with a foray into pre-war Germany in the late 1930’s. At first, it’s quite jarring as Mr. Crispin knocks on the door as a character named Ernst and the device of Halloween seems to become the pagan origins of the holiday. It is more of a Samhain feel when the veil between life and death is said to be more evident than any other time of the year. Ernst has come to say goodbye to his friend Franz as the German Workers Party has taken a sinister turn rounding up Jews and displaying an alarming nationalistic fervor – the playwright is alluding to the origins of how hatred takes hold. Ernst gets a trick when he knocks on the door expecting to find familiarity but Franz and his mother have taken on a new guise. Hatred and bigotry are unmasked and unleashed on the world like a virus. That era still holds ominous power as people all over the planet imitate Nationalism to varying degrees. The fact that Riekki can reduce this behavior to brilliant farce is a saving grace of recognition and possible redemption.

Pictured in The Ruckus’ production of All Saints’ Day: 44 Poems About Jeffrey Jones is Kevin Crispin as Tot. All Saints’ Day begins performances on September 2 and runs through September 26 at The Side Project Theatre (1439 W Jarvis Ave). For more information, visit ruckustheater.org. Photo by Lucas Gerard Photography. Pictured in The Ruckus’ production of All Saints’ Day: 44 Poems About Jeffrey Jones are (l to r) Matthew Humphrey as Other and Elizabeth Bagby as Non-Tot. All Saints’ Day begins performances on September 2 and runs through September 26 at The Side Project Theatre (1439 W Jarvis Ave). For more information, visit ruckustheater.org. Photo by Lucas Gerard Photography.
Pictured in The Ruckus’ production of All Saints’ Day: 44 Poems About Jeffrey Jones are (l to r) Elizabeth Bagby as Non-Tot and Kevin Crispin as Tot. All Saints’ Day begins performances on September 2 and runs through September 26 at The Side Project Theatre (1439 W Jarvis Ave). For more information, visit ruckustheater.org. Photo by Lucas Gerard Photography. Pictured in The Ruckus’ production of All Saints’ Day: 44 Poems About Jeffrey Jones are (l to r) Elizabeth Bagby as Non-Tot and Kevin Crispin as Tot. All Saints’ Day begins performances on September 2 and runs through September 26 at The Side Project Theatre (1439 W Jarvis Ave). For more information, visit ruckustheater.org. Photo by Lucas Gerard Photography.

All Saints’ Day” contains language, violence, and portrayal of drug use. The LSD scene is one of the funniest things I have seen ever. The treat offered by Non-Tot is two hits of acid to Tot. He doesn’t feel anything and then Other appears as a dinosaur before morphing into a giant pig. This is theatre on the edge and I loved it.

The play is presented in a minimalist manner in a small black box theatre. The props (Joshua Davis) and scenery (J. Clay Barron) are all very simple but brought to life by the brilliance of the actors and the direction of Ruckus member Brian Ruby. This kind of theatre is what makes Chicago a place where New York comes to look for inspiration and fresh material to bring to their stages. Applause to Ruckus and an appeal to keep the lunacy evident lest we forget.

   
   
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

All Saints’ Day: AKA 44 Poems about Jeffrey Jones runs through September 26th at Side Project Theatre at 1439 W. Jarvis in Rogers Park and steps from the Red Line Jarvis stop. More information is available at www.ruckustheater.org This is a great opening for the theatre season. It’s a short run-do not miss it!

 

     
     

 

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