REVIEW: The Boys Next Door (Metropolis Arts)

  
  

Metropolis succeeds in shining a light on special needs

  
  

'The Boys Next Door' by Tom Griffin - Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Arlington Heights

  
Metropolis Performing Arts Centre presents
  
The Boys Next Door
  
Written by Tom Griffin
Directed by David Belew
Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Arlington Heights (map)
through Feb 13  |  tickets: $35-$43  |  more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian

Arnold has decided that he’s going to move to Russia. Barry thinks he’s a golf star. Norman can’t stop eating donuts and Lucien is concerned that they don’t have any trees. These men are all roommates and they all have special needs. They’re looked after by Jack, the caretaker who works with them. Metropolis Performing Arts Centre’s production of The Boys Next Door, tenderly written by Tom Griffin, tells the story of how these five men’s lives are interwoven and the effect each man has on the other.

'The Boys Next Door' by Tom Griffin - Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Arlington HeightsThe set, designed by Adam L. Veness, initially consists of a typical-looking, unassuming front porch complete with shutters on the windows and a rocking chair out front. Painted a deep green, it looks inviting and charming. Once the show begins, the house opens down the middle like an oversized doll house to reveal the inside rooms, in particular the apartment the four men live in. Although moving the set piece is noisy, it’s an interesting visual to get a glimpse into the inner and outer workings of this building.

The Boys Next Door opens on the men having a typical day. Arnold (Andrew J. Pond) has been to the market and explains his trip as well as his condition as he understands it. He’s a “nervous person,” he says, and Pond is immediately charming and engaging. His characterization of Arnold is strong and humanized. Also introduced are Norman (David Elliot) and Lucien (Bear Bellinger). They are the two of the four men who live in the apartment. Both Elliot and Bellinger play their characters in a charming and lovely manner. It’s clearly evident that these actors did their research in order to learn every aspect of their characters and it comes across and genuine and believable. It’s not actors playing parts, but rather actors transforming into these new people and fully embodying these men. The fourth roommate is Barry (Adam Kander), who, like the rest, has been fully embraced and brought life. Kander carefully shows the cracks in Barry’s seemingly put together demeanor to reveal the true feelings underneath – you can’t help but feel for him.

As the men are going about their lives, Jack (Michael B. Woods), their caretaker, comes in to check on them. He is sweet and patient with these men; it’s evident he sincerely cares about them. Like the others, Woods put a lot of thought and consideration into his character. What makes him feel most genuine is the fact that he is not sugarcoated nor does Woods play him as such. Jack shows the audience all sides of his life, including the fact that he loses his temper on occasion with the men and that he is burning out in his current situation. Woods does a wonderful job of displaying the range of emotions, allowing it to feel like the audience gets a glimpse into the real life of this man.

     
'The Boys Next Door' by Tom Griffin - Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Arlington Heights 'The Boys Next Door' by Tom Griffin - Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Arlington Heights

Every week the men attend a dance, and it’s here where Norman meets his girlfriend Sheila (Denise Tamburrino). She’s sweet and lovely, although not as believable as the men in her characterization. Michelle Ziccarelli rounds out the main portion of the cast, playing the multiple characters of Mrs. Fremus, Mrs. Warren and Clara, distinctly defining each one.

David Belew’s adept direction keeps energy and emotion of the show moving at a quick pace.  In fact, when Act I ended I looked at my watch and was shocked at how time had flown by. Same goes for Act II. Although the ending seems a little abrupt and like the action should continue, the pace is quick and the energy stays high the whole time.

The Boys Next Door waivers on that fine line between comedy and tragedy, pulling from both to create a touching, funny, sad and wonderful portrayal of how five men live their lives and what it means to have each other in their lives. They create a genuine emotional connection with the audience that both tickles the funny bones and pulls on the heart strings. Mostly importantly, the play never mocks or pokes fun at those with special needs, but simply offers a glimpse into their lives.

  
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
  

The Boys Next Door plays at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell St. Arlington Heights, Ill., through February 20. Tickets are $35 to $43 and can be purchased here. Read an excerpt from The Boys Next Door.

'The Boys Next Door' by Tom Griffin - Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Arlington Heights

     
     

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REVIEW: Robin Hood: The Panto! (Piccolo Theatre)

  
  

Raucous humor amidst the Dark Forest

  
  

piccolo theatre, robin hood, 2010, Fairy (Vanessa Hughes), Robin Hood (Berner Taylor), Fairy (Amy Gorelow), Bess Flatbottom (Andrew Roberts)

  
Piccolo Theatre presents
   
Robin Hood: The Panto!
   
Written by Jessica Puller
Music by Tyler Beattie
Directed by Glenn Proud & Brianna Sloane
at Evanston Arts Depot, 600 Main (map)
through Dec 18  | 
tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

You’ve got to hand it to Piccolo Theatre for perennially bringing a bit of wacky English theater tradition to Evanston environs each holiday season. British Pantos are pure, unadulterated silliness. At Robin Hood: The Panto!, expect all the traditional British ribaldry—cheering the hero, booing the villain, and shouting, “He’s behind you!” when our hero is under sneak attack. The real fun of the show is witnessing full-on participation from a typically polite and respectful theater crowd.

Bess Flatbottom (Andrew Roberts) and Robin Hood (Berner Taylor)Oh—and the Dame (Andrew Roberts)—did I forget to mention that one must whistle and hoot every entrance made by the Dame? Shame on me! Whistle the Dame, everyone, or be known as real drag.

Co-directed by Glenn Proud and Brianna Sloane, Robin Hood: The Panto! is the newly-minted creation of young playwright Jessica Puller, who authored their successful last year’s panto, Perseus and Medusa: or It’s All Greek To Me (our review ★★★). You’d better not expect something like the Ridley Scott or Kevin Reynolds’ versions of the Robin Hood legend—Puller takes a nice big swipe at those.

No, in this version, Robin Hood (Berner Taylor) looks hot in fishnets but has a head the size of a watermelon from all the hero worship he gets from fans and the media. An eager overreacher, Scarlet (Nicole Keating) just wants to be part of Robin’s Merry Men but Robin, Little John (Adam McLeavey) and Alan A Dale (Maxx Miller) never cut her the slack to let her join. Of course, it’s tough when one is constantly outshone and out-thieved by Philip, the Cow (Vanessa Hughes and Amy Gorelow). Rescuing the lovely Maid Marian (Kaitlin Chin) from the deliciously sinister and effete Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Ben Muller) is a weekly event, but this time a trek to The Dark Forest leads Scarlet to discover a magic spell book by which she can rewrite events as she wills.

Piccolo’s production shamelessly rips off “I Love Lucy” and every other old vaudeville bit and joke. When I say old, friends, I mean that, no doubt, many of these jokes and shticks were unearthed from the catacombs. But the cast excels at driving a sassy pace and playing every moment with gusto. What is even more important is the spot-on improvisation and interaction with the audience that they deliver. On opening night, an audience member trying to sneak back into her seat after intermission was greeted with a scathing “Nice of you to join us!” from Sir Guy. But our plucky audience gave as well as they got. Once the Sheriff of Nottingham (Vic May) got turned into a duck from Scarlet’s magic spell book, someone from the audience yelled out “AFLAC!”

The Fairies (Vanessa Hughes and Amy Gorelow) piccolo theatre, robin hood, 2010, Fairy (Vanessa Hughes), Robin Hood (Berner Taylor), Fairy (Amy Gorelow), Bess Flatbottom (Andrew Roberts) Robin Hood (Berner Taylor)

Other memorable moments include Noah Ginex’s magic scene and puppetry design, as well as Vanessa Hughes and Amy Gorelow playing the evil spirits of the Dark Forest, busting out a power ballad just like the 1980’s duo, Heart. But the show really is about the pact between audience and players to have a ridiculous, raucous good time. To that end, bring your friends and family. And watch out for the whipped cream.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
   
   

Fairy (Amy Gorelow)

     
     

REVIEW: Low Pay? No Pay! (Piccolo Theatre)

The workers’ sweet revenge

 Piccolo Theatre of Evanston - Low Pay, No Pay 001

   
Piccolo Theatre presents
  
Low Pay? No Pay!
  
Written by Dario Fo
Directed by John Szostek
at Evanston Arts Depot, 600 Main, Evanston (map)
through October 23  |  tickets: $15-$25 |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

This may be the worst of all possible times to be a banker, broker, or “master of the universe.” Masters of disaster, more like it, since the economic crisis has revealed as never before what a house of cards our financial system has been, what a gambling den deregulation has turned the stock market into, and furthermore, what a perfidious and ineffectual democracy we have in its wake. Into the fray comes Piccolo Theatre with its ribald production of Low Pay? No Pay!, a slapstick comedy by Italian playwright and Nobel Prize winner Dario Fo. Be prepared for Italian socialism on the rocks. Director John Szostek and cast certainly rock it till it pops.

Of course, if you’re a Tea Partier or Rush Limbaugh or you still think that unregulated capitalism is the only cure for what ails us, this may not be your kind of comedy. No, it’s a play for taxpayers looking for a little comic revenge against the capitalist system, even if they’re not so sure about the alternatives. Come one, come all! –to Dario Fo’s manic festival of jibes against financial shell games, irresponsible political parties, battling ideologies and the hysterically desperate tactics of the working poor trying to survive. Oh, and let’s not leave out slams against religion.

Low Pay Don't PayAntonia (Brianna Sloane) and Margherita (Amy Gorelow) return home to Antonia’s apartment, laden with groceries. Antonia has just stolen them in a shoppers’ rebellion from the local supermarket. Prices have escalated to twice as high as in the last month and the working class Italian housewives aren’t taking it anymore.

Since a riot has broken out and Antonia and Margherita have gotten away with some of the booty, Antonia has to hide her stash before her law-and-order working class husband, Giovanni (Ken Raabe), gets home. Margherita stuffs her share of food under her coat, creating an all-too-noticeable bump that Giovanni can’t help but notice when he comes home. Antonia lies to her husband, telling him that Margherita is pregnant. But Giovanni cannot understand why his friend and co-worker Luigi (Glenn Proud), who is also Margherita’s husband, would not tell him about the coming baby. Antonia covers further, by saying that Margherita has been hiding the pregnancy from Luigi.

And so it goes. The lies build up, both on Antonia and Giovanni’s part, and the hilarity ensues over characters trying to maintain them. Old formulas, tried and true–but, still, congratulations to Szostek’s well-honed cast. Prepare to see pairings as classic as Lucy and Ethel, Rickie and Fred or, for the guys, Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton. In American terms, Low Pay? No Pay! is “I Love Lucy” meets “The Honeymooners” meets Inspector Clouseau—only this Inspector (David W.M. Kelch) is Italian, is a bit quick with the handcuffs and his mustache keeps falling off.

Low Pay Don't Pay Low Pay Don't Pay

Ken Raabe reprises his role as Giovanni from Piccolo’s inaugural production. His confidence and expertise with the role shines through. Amy Gorelow’s frustrated and run-around Margherita is a delightful, sweet gal pal to Sloane’s chatty and devious Antonia. Kelch does yeoman-like work in four different roles—my favorites were his Undertaker and Old Man. Proud’s performance as Luigi is as nice a prole as they come. Joel Thompson brings up the rear with his turn as the Inspector’s assistant police officer; only his comic timing could use some refining. Thank goodness he really sells the officer coming out of the closet. Goofy, good-natured fun is the key to Szostek’s direction. As much as upper class institutions and their political lackeys get their comeuppance, the whole cast keeps the comedy light, silly and fast-paced.

Lucky for them, the playwright allows changes in his material in order to keep up with our current events. Only the play’s ending doesn’t translate so well from its Italian origins. That’s because Italy’s social and political reality is not ours; its modern cultural creations could never be an easy fit for Americans who don’t know their history. All the same, these last 10 minutes are more than forgivable for a full two-hours of comic revenge. Piccolo’s revival is well worth that.

   
  
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

 Low Pay Don't Pay

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REVIEW: Six Dead Queens and an Inflatable Henry (Piccolo Theatre)

A royal cat fight

 

Amy Gorelow as Catherine of Aragon Denita Linnertz as Catherine Parr Brianna Sloane as Jane Seymour
 
Piccolo Theatre presents
 
Six Dead Queens and an Inflatable Henry
 
Created by Foursight Theatre, UK
Devised by the Women of
Piccolo Theatre 
at the
Evanston Arts Depot, 600 Main St. (map)
through June 5th | tickets: $15-$20 | more info
 

reviewed by Keith Ecker 

Though its been more than 500 years since his rule, England’s King Henry VIII still ranks in the minds of many as one of the most boorish and misogynistic men to ever hold the title of head of state. That’s saying something considering we live in a world that brought us the likes of Attila the Hun, Ivan the Terrible and Adolph Hitler. Yet unlike these other wretched men, there’s always been a bit of a whimsical fascination with Bluff Harry from Herman’s Hermits’ “I’m Henry the VIII, I Am” to Piccolo Theatre’s production of Six Dead Queens and an Inflatable Henry.

Dani Bryant as Anne Boleyn Originally created by the women of Foursight Theatre in the UK, Six Dead Queens is one part cabaret, one part biography and a whole lot of comedy. It stars the six unfortunate wives of King Henry VIII all forced to spend eternity at a sleepover. Like school-age girls at an overnight, they talk about boys—or rather one particular boy—while poking each other with catty jabs—sometimes in the form of words and sometimes in the form of swords.

The opening scene sets the tone perfectly. As all the women lie concealed under the covers, the silence of the moment is broken by a well-paced series of flatulent outbursts. This dashes any worries that we’re about to be bored by a heady academic romp through history.

Next, each queen is introduced through song. There’s the spicy Spaniard Katherine of Aragon (Amy Gorelow), the beheaded Anne Boleyn (Dani Bryant), little-miss-perfect Jane Seymour (Brianna Sloane), dumb and ugly Anna of Cleves (Leeann Zahrt), the promiscuous Kathryn Howard (Nicole Keating) and the motherly Catherine Parr (Denita Linnertz). The actresses’ multi-part harmony is impressive as is their adeptness with instruments. This talent enhances the humor. What could be funnier than watching the very serious Katherine of Aragon bang out a bass line on an upright?

Characters squabble with one another in catfight fashion. Katherine of Aragon and her successor Anne Boleyn, whom the King tried to court behind Katherine’s back, row as do Boleyn and her successor Jane Seymour, whom bore the King his only son, Prince Edward.

Nicole Keating as Kathryn Howard There’s also ample ganging up. Anna of Cleves gets it the worst, bearing the reputation of being ugly and foul smelling. Her marriage with the King lasted a brief six months, which in the judgmental eyes of the other ladies, makes her inferior.

The play lacks any sort of cohesive plot. Instead, it plays as a series of monologues, musical numbers and sketches. It’s effective for about an hour. But by the end, Six Dead Queens runs out of any new ground to cover.

The actresses all deliver outstanding performances. Through vocal inflection, mannerisms and personality ticks, the women bring to life six unique individuals with completely separate personalities. In addition, the roles call for a sweeping spectrum of dispositions from slaphappy to somber. The performers are able to make the switch effortlessly.

Six Dead Queens is an entertaining intersection of academia and vaudeville. At times uproariously funny, at times remarkably sad, the piece successfully explores how competitiveness can make women their own worst enemies, how comfort can make them their own saviors and how men can be pigs.

 
Rating: ★★★
 
Amy Gorelow as Catherine of Aragon Brianna Sloane as Jane Seymour Dani Bryant as Anne Boleyn Denita Linnertz as Catherine Parr Nicole Keating as Kathryn Howard

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REVIEW: Out of Order (Metropolis Performing Arts Centre)

Sidesplitting performance worth a trip to the ’burbs

OutOfOrder2 

Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Arlington Heights, presents

Out of Order

 

By Ray Cooney
Directed by David Belew
Through Feb. 19 (ticket info)

reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

I don’t know who the first public official to be caught with his pants down was, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened before men even wore pants. No doubt, soon afterward, the event featured in a raft of dirty jokes. Like philandering politicians, low humor remains always with us, and sometimes even the highest minded of us can’t help laughing.

Metropolis Performing Arts Centre’s "Out of Order" is the funniest thing I’ve seen all year.

OutOfOrder4 Ray Cooney‘s routine bedroom-comedy plot promises much less than this production delivers. With his wife off in the country, suave Richard Willey, a Conservative junior minister in the British government, takes advantage of an all-night parliamentary debate to spend a naughty evening with Jane Worthington, a secretary on the staff of the opposition leader. Instead, they find a dead body in their hotel suite, and Willey calls on his ingenuity and his hapless parliamentary private secretary, George Pigden, to avoid a political scandal.

With the hotel’s supercilious manager, a venal waiter, Jane’s suspicious husband, a private detective and other characters all banging in and out through the suite’s door and malfunctioning window, that’s not so easy, and the fast-talking Willey and George are pulled into an ever more elaborate set of lies and camouflages. Cooney manages to be funny without becoming lewd, which, given the premise, is quite an accomplishment, but he doesn’t stretch the boundaries of this genre.

In fact, this farce has a strong similarity to other bedroom comedies by Cooney, who is best known for "Run for Your Wife" — some of the same characters even appear in ”Two Into One.” Yet, as with the comic but repetitious plots of Thorne Smith or P.G. Wodehouse, that’s a small matter if you don’t encounter them too close together. The script provides only a modicum of the humor, anyway.

OutOfOrder6 OutOfOrder1
OutOfOrder3 OutOfOrder5

The huge hilarity of this production lies in the comic brilliance of the cast, in particular Michael B. Woods as the nebbishy George. At every turn of the plot, Woods expresses George’s appalled horror in each movement of his lanky frame and elastic, Munchlike face. The deft interplay between Woods and Andrew J. Pond’s glib, dry Willey is sidesplitting. As the tortuous plot twists its it way through abruptly disappearing corpses and unexpectedly appearing spouses, Woods just keeps getting better and better.

Sarah Tolan-Mee’s naively sexy Jane, Joe Messina‘s blustering manager and Chuck Sisson’s slow but opportunistic waiter also add notably to the impeccably timed humor. Patrick Tierney chews the scenery a bit as the rampaging Ronnie, but otherwise the cast, also featuring Amy Gorelow, Kevin Kurasch, Lisa Savegnago and Elizabeth Haley (who stood in for Nancy Kolton on opening night), never puts a foot wrong. Adam Veness’ posh hotel suite set, which includes such details as a working flat-screen TV, provides an ideal backdrop for Director David Belew’s dexterous staging.

Don’t miss this one — it’s absolutely worth a trip to the suburbs.

Rating: ★★★★

Notes: Adult themes and language. Metropolis Performing Arts Centre is two blocks from the Arlington Heights Metra station and free parking is available in the municipal garage behind the theater.

Review: Brain Surgeon’s “1512 West Studebaker Place”

 Promising, if Incomplete, “1512 Studebaker” brings the Depression Era Alive

 singustobed

Brain Surgeon Theater presents:

1512 West Studebaker Place

conceived by Liz Ladach-Bark and Joseph Riley
directed by Liz Ladach-Bark
thru November 22nd (ticket info)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

romance One thing you have to say about Brain Surgeon Theater’s latest production: they do crowded tenement right. In fact, 1512 West Studebaker Place maintains such a solid 1930’s tone, it’s hard to believe it’s a contemporary original production—the idea conceived by Liz Ladach-Bark and Joseph Riley, the play written and developed by the ensemble cast, with original music by Christopher Cole and Gwen Tulin. It has all the look and feel of a work that could have been produced from one of the New Deal’s arts programs. Even its incomplete finish does not diminish the ensemble’s achievement in the depiction of suffocating economic despair.

The production’s greatest strength is its realistic and cohesive integration of adult and child players. The Kelly family, headed by Stanley (Buck Zachary), wife Olivia (Katie Canavan) and sister Louise (Gwen Tulin), with their daughters Kate (Layla Kornota) and Suzy (Megan Bishop), live cheek-by-jowl with fellow borders Mim (Amy Gorelow), her niece Juliet (Laura Deger), writer Walter Lummet (Jacob A. Ware) and his little boy Mouse (Ethan Baum). Months of back rent are due to landlady Maggie Delaney, executed with absolutely sinister menace by Lauren I. Sivak.

Maggie Delaney walks in and out of their home without bothering to knock on the door. She involves Suzy in a secretive scheme. Bit by bit, she takes everything her tenants own—even callously wearing a hat that Louise has had to give up with the rest of her elaborate wardrobe.

itwillbeokay yougottagetadollar

But the Kelly family may be just as much at the mercy of Stanley’s unrealistic hopes of owning a toy factory, as they are the economy. In fact, as naturalistic as family and tenant interactions are in this play, what strains credulity the most is Olivia’s enduring, patient acceptance of Stanley’s pipedreams and procrastination. The weakest moments of the play come at the end. When there is finally nothing left for Maggie Delaney to take, everyone gets thrown out of the house. Even a dutiful 30’s housewife would have something to say in response to the loss of her home and the imperiled state of her children, but Olivia remains silent in the face of Stanley’s insipid reassurances.

walter'sshadow The children’s games and songs in the play say volumes about living in poverty, often more than the play’s text itself. The plot developments, such as the revelation of a hidden safe in the house and a budding romance between the silently despairing Mim and butcher’s assistant Clarence, played warmly and compassionately by Rob Grabowski, deepen the world of the play and provide relief to this work’s unending hopelessness.

The plaintive figure of Mouse, jeopardizing his life by crawling out his attic room window to sit and sing in a tree, remains one of the play’s most enduring images. What gets lost in a muddle on stage, at the end of the play, is the dramatic significance of Mim opening up and speaking to him–a problem that could be resolved with some clean up in direction.

1512 West Studebaker Place is still incomplete and audiences should consider it very much a work in progress. But the Brain Surgeons have gotten it this far. The bones of a really good play are there. Let’s hope they will take it the all the way home.

Rating: ★★½

 

Read additional Studebaker Place review, by Henry H. Perritt, Jr., by clicking on “Read more”.

   

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