Review: Something’s Afoot (Citadel Theatre)

     
     

Who dunnit? Who cares?

     
     

The cast of Citadel Theatre's "Something's Afoot" - Kate Andrulis, Sarah Breidenbach, Christopher Davis, Ed Kuffert, Mario Mazzetti, Debra Criche Mell, Dennis Murphy, Gerald Nevin, Ellen Phelps and Andrew J. Pond

  
Citadel Theatre Company presents
   
  
Something’s Afoot
   
 
Book, Music, and Lyrics by James McDonald,
David Vos and Robert Gerlach
Additional music by
Ed Linderman
Directed by Wayne Mell
at Citadel Theatre, Lake Forest, IL  (map)
through June 5  |  tickets: $32-$35  |  more info

Reviewed by Jason Rost

Citadel Theatre clearly has the resources necessary to be a noteworthy professional theatre company in the Chicago area. One instant example of the potential capability of this company is Robert Estrin’s well-designed set. It is impressively built and fills the space perfectly, clueing the audience into the classic English murder mystery style play we’re about to see. It extends nicely outward to give a semi-thrust to the space. I was ready for something akin to The Mystery of Irma Vep, but was quickly disappointed. What Citadel is apparently lacking is the correct caliber of artistic personnel to take the company beyond a community theater on a performance level. Their new 150-seat theatre would be the envy of several companies in the city. However, with director Wayne Mell’s current production of Something’s Afoot, this company’s weaknesses are on display more than its strengths.

A scene from Citadel Theatre's "Something's Afoot", directed by Wayne Mell.Something’s Afoot was written in 1972 as an American musical spoof of the British murder mystery genre, particularly Agatha Christie. We begin the play by meeting the maid, Lettie (a comically talented Kaitlyn Andrulis). Lettie, along with the butler Clive (Dennis Murphy) and the handyman Flint (Edward Kuffert), welcome all of the house guests to the estate of Lord Rancour on a stormy night with effective lighting by Deb Holmen. Each individual enters and embodies a different stereotype, including the young ingénue Hope (played by Sarah Breidenbach with the loveliest voice in the show), the flamboyant nephew Nigel (Mario Mazzetti), the eccentric modern major Col. Gillweather (sharply played by Andrew J. Pond), the Martha Stewart of detectives Miss Tweed (Debra Criche Mell) and more.

One by one they drop. Who is the killer? This spoof doesn’t play out quite as fun as it should with some of the songs bordering on pointlessly halting the show. However, other numbers, such as the first act’s “Something’s Afoot,” manage to further the plot and entertain. As a whole, the cast is underwhelming and at times cringe-worthy in their vocals and harmonies. Luckily, there are a few talented comedic actors who give the evening a handful of laughs. Pond is a standout, giving one of the more polished comedic performances of the evening. His death-by-poison bit is one of a handful of solid laughs in the show. Kuffert’s performance in the song, “Dinghy” is another highlight.

The ending of this parody in many ways pulls the rug out from under you. However, I don’t think Mell’s production quite earns the ironic ending because the rest of the play truly needs to be sharp and much quicker paced in order to achieve the intended effect of having the bottom drop out. Instead, this ensemble and production largely clunks its way to the ending revelation. Marianne L. Brown’s choreography often comes off as forced and robotic. The tap dancing is evidently beyond the cast’s skill level and rather plays as amateurish.

The cast of Citadel Theatre's "Something's Afoot" - Kate Andrulis, Sarah Breidenbach, Christopher Davis, Ed Kuffert, Mario Mazzetti, Debra Criche Mell, Dennis Murphy, Gerald Nevin, Ellen Phelps and Andrew J. Pond

Although serving the northern suburb community, as a Chicago area theatre Citadel must be considered alongside all of the amazing theatres in the city, meaning a show in the farther suburbs must be well worth the trip to recommend. Overall, Mell’s direction is too unpolished, overly presentational and unspecific. While I am usually apt to forgive a few performance mishaps, the performance I attended had a plethora of line flubs, technical jams and one long awkward pause where two actors stood like deer in headlights waiting for the sound operator to find their cue on the recorded soundtrack (another reason why you shouldn’t do a musical if you can’t get live musicians). It may have been an “off-night,” but with more dedication and professional artists involved those happen less, and would help distinguish Citadel from community theater and allow them to be on the same stage with the best of Chicagoland’s companies.

  
  
Rating: ★½
  
  

The cast of Citadel Theatre's "Something's Afoot" - Kate Andrulis, Sarah Breidenbach, Christopher Davis, Ed Kuffert, Mario Mazzetti, Debra Criche Mell, Dennis Murphy, Gerald Nevin, Ellen Phelps and Andrew J. Pond

Citadel Theatre’s production of Something’s Afoot continues through June 5th, with performances Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $35 ($32 for students and seniors). The space is located at the Lake Forest High School West Campus, 300 S Waukegan Road. Tickets can be purchased by phone (847-735-8554) or online. For more information, visit citadeltheatre.org.

  
  

Continue reading

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

     
     

Continue reading

REVIEW: The Lady’s Not For Burning (Theo-Ubique)

Eloquent Period Piece Is an Endurance Test

 

Ladys Not For Burning - Theo Ubique 8

   
Theo-Ubique Cabaret Theatre presents
  
The Lady’s Not For Burning
   
Written by Christopher Fry
Directed by
Fred Anzevino
at
No Exit Cafe, 6970 N. Glenwood (map)
through October 31  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker

Watching Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre’s production of The Lady’s Not for Burning is like a marathon for your mind. For a comedy, the play is incredibly dense. Written in Shakespearean-style prose, the language is beautifully ornate at times while confusingly verbose at others. The whole thing in the end feels like a riddle, a riddle that goes on and on for two-and-a-half hours.

Ladys Not For Burning - Theo Ubique 9 It is this length that serves as the production’s greatest hindrance. The cast is confident and spot on with their comedic timing. The staging is economic given the awkwardly shaped theater space. You would think that such skillful acting and direction would be able to sustain a play. And although The Lady’s Not for Burning charges out of the gate, it eventually loses steam and limps its way to its conclusion.

Written by Christopher Fry in 1948, the play takes place in the Middle Ages, incorporating period style dress and speech. As Arthur Miller would later do with The Crucible, Fry touches on themes relevant to post-World War II society, including the Red Scare. However, unlike The Crucible, The Lady’s Not for Burning is a comedy, and so it uses satire to address these heavy social issues. Unfortunately, the language and plot are so heavy themselves that these social commentaries get lost within the thick of the play.

To simplify it as much as possible, the play is about a soldier (Layne Manzer) who encourages the mayor (J. Preddie Predmore) to execute him by hanging. Conversely, there is an alleged witch (Jenny Lamb) who wants to live. The two have long conversations about their predicaments, which leads to a blossoming love.

There is of course much more to the story than this. Why else would it stretch on for so long? The problem is the other elements of the story are inconsequential. In fact, it’s unclear as to what purpose the other characters serve other than to occupy space and battle wits with one another for humor’s sake.

And humor is the highlight of the play. Even if the piece becomes crushed under its own weight, the humor adds some much-needed levity.

As mentioned, the acting is superb. Predmore plays the mayor with a wonderful mix of overconfidence and idiocy. Manzer embodies the soldier’s sardonic personality, and Drew Longo, as both the depressed chaplain and the town drunk, proves himself to be a dynamic actor and effective clown.

 

Ladys Not For Burning - Theo Ubique 5 Ladys Not For Burning - Theo Ubique 3
Ladys Not For Burning - Theo Ubique 1 Ladys Not For Burning - Theo Ubique 6

Director Fred Anzevino, who is also the artistic director of Theo Ubique, characterizes The Lady’s Not for Burning as a musical without song or music. While I can understand the sentiment behind the statement, the play is more akin to an epic poem, emphasis on the epic. There is no denying that there is some fine writing here. The descriptions are clever and unique. The imagery painted through Fry’s words is vibrant. But unfortunately, it is this same diction that serves to disconnect the audience from the play. While interesting sentence structure, word choice and figurative language may be pleasant, coherency should be the ultimate goal. Unfortunately, the writing at times impedes understanding.

I’m not sure what instrument from the director’s toolbox could have been employed to help this play. There is little to no downtime between scenes, so there isn’t much that can be whittled away to shorten the piece. In the end, there’s a lot of talent at work here, and there is a lot of potential in the commentary, especially in the play’s first half. But as we stretch into the third act, our patience is tested, and we begin watching our watches rather than the stage.

   
  
Rating: ★★½
  
  

Ladys Not For Burning - Theo Ubique 4

 

Continue reading

REVIEW: Peter Pan (Theatre-Hikes)

 

A fun time for all in Never Never Land

 

 Peter and Hook Fight A

   
Theatre-Hikes presents
   
Peter Pan
   
Written by J.M Barrie
Directed by
Lavina Jadhwani
at The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL  (map)
through August 29th  |  tickets: $8-$19  |  more info

reviewed by Allegra Gallian

Wandering through the paths of the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL, a boy suddenly emerges from behind the trees, crowing and dancing around with his shadow. A proper young girl sits with her brothers as they listen to their mother’s stories. Pirates run through the grass in search of the boy who can fly. Produced by Theatre-Hikes, this outdoor production of Peter Pan or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, the beloved children’s story by J.M. Barrie, takes the notion of Never Never Land to a new level.

The DarlingsPeter Pan opens on the Darling family. Mr. and Mrs. Darling are getting ready for a night out while the family dog, Nana takes care of the children, Wendy, Michael and John. After the children are fast asleep, Peter Pan enters their room to retrieve his lost shadow. Waking Wendy with his crying, she sews Peter’s shadow back on for him and in return he teaches the Darling children to fly.

The arboretum provides a stellar background for Peter Pan. After starting in the pavilion transformed into the Darling house, the audience literally travels with Peter past the second star to the right and straight on to Never Never Land. While walking from scene to scene, the audience becomes involved in the production, creating additional atmosphere and heightening the magic that’s occurring. All the arboretum’s a stage – a stage to be used at the actors’ disposal as Peter flits and flies around, the lost boys rally and Wendy puts them all to bed under the sky.

With such a huge performance space, the acting must really stand out, and for the most part it does. Peter Pan (Kaelan Strouse) is youthful, vibrant and full of energy. The moment Strouse enters, his child-like enthusiasm becomes infectious, connecting him to both his fellow actors and the audience. Although Strouse takes his acting a bit too over-the-top at times, he has a clear sense of character and knows exactly who Peter is.

Back in Never Never Land, Peter introduces Wendy to the lost boys and she becomes their honorary mother. Wendy (Allison Schaffer) is adorably naïve and Schaffer’s potrayal of a little girl trying to mother unruly little boys is quality work. She could take her characterization farther at a few points, but overall she’s strong in her conflict between missing her parents and leaving Peter. Kylie Edmonds stands out as Slightly, one of the lost boys. Her performance feels genuine and it’s clear she has put in the effort to figure out her character’s back story, allowing Edmonds to step out at a higher level than the rest of the group. The cast is rounded out by Ellenkate Finley as Tootles and Anne Sears as Curly.

Lost Boys, Smee and Hook

It’s not all fun and games in Never Never Land with pirates prowling about. Captain Hook (Andrew Pond) is Peter Pan’s rival, and has made it his mission to capture and kill the boy. Pond’s portrayal of Hook is more jovial than it is menacing. And while this is children’s theatre and Hook can’t be overly scary, there’s not enough differentiation between his character as Hook and his character as Mr. Darling. (Traditionally, the same actor is cast in both roles). Because of this, Hook isn’t as believable as other characters. Pond does, however, have a way with a sword, and the fight choreography by Dwight Sora following Hook’s capture of Wendy and the lost boys is thrilling to watch.

Hook’s first mate Smee (Zach Bloomfield) successfully offers well-timed comic relief. Playing both the parts of Smee and Nana, Bloomfield hilariously delivers his lines (even the ones he barked) and keeps the tone light and the audience entertained.

For all that’s good about this show, the costuming by Sarah Haley lacks. The choices are understandable and suit the characters, but some garments look more like homemade Halloween costumes than costumes for a professional theatre production.

Overall, the actors do well against the many opposing elements created by an outdoor space. Fighting the rain and bugs, they adapt to a full pavilion staging, they speak up and enunciate against a strong breeze and they play off the smaller children in the audience who yell things out during the performance. Because there’s no backstage, Peter Pan becomes interactive at points, allowing the kids in the audience to get a special experience by letting them speak and play with the actors during scene changes. Peter Pan is a fun show for people of any age with its lively energy that flows well, and the two to two-and-a-half hours of performance fly by as fast as Peter Pan himself. (FYI: Don’t forget your bug spray!)

 

  
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

The Morton Arboretum is located at 4100 Lincoln Ave., Lisle IL and Theatre Hikes begins at the Thornhill Center on the west side of the arboretum. Peter Pan runs Saturday and Sunday through August 29 at 1:00 pm. Tickets are $12 (arboretum members) or $19 (non-members) adults, and $8 (members) $13 (non-members) for children. Note: Sunday shows are low-impact hikes designed for strollers and/or wheelchairs, with the hike going less than one mile.  (FYI: Don’t forget your bug spray!)

Peter and Audience

 

 

Continue reading

REVIEW: Heaven Can Wait (Attic Playhouse)

Still earthbound in Highwood

 

attic_playhouse_heaven_can_wait_rs

 
Attic Playhouse presents
 
Heaven Can Wait
 
By Harry Segall
Directed by Catherine Davis; assisted by Lauren Friedman
Attic Playhouse, 410 Sheridan Road, Highwood (map)
Through May 30 | Tickets: $20 advance, $22 door | more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

I recently wrote that there’s good theater beyond the city limits, and so there is. And there’s bad and uneven theater in the city. Yet unsuccessful urban and suburban Chicagoland productions typically show distinct differences.

attic_Ken_Gayton___Brendan_Hutt___Heaven_Can_Wait_1_ In the city, directors tend to be daring, premiering new plays and trying new treatments of old ones, and problems usually center on scripts or staging. In the suburbs, directors will more likely go for the tried-and-true. While occasionally they flub the treatment, the most severe flaws in suburban shows typically lie in the acting. Do suburban stages have trouble attracting the talent performing in urban storefronts, or are their directors just not skilled enough to make the most of it? I can’t tell.

Heaven Can Wait is a perfect example. Chicago playwright Harry Segall’s 1938 classic, the basis for four films — the Academy Award-winning “Here Comes Mr. Jordan” (1941) and “Heaven Can Wait” (1978), and the two versions of “Down to Earth” in 1946 and 2001 – is a sweet, silly comedy, the unlikely story of Joe Pendleton, a 23-year-old New Jersey palooka "collected" by heaven 60 years before his allotted time, and therefore allowed to reanimate a recently murdered, crooked banker. His host body’s wife and secretary are still bent on finishing him off; he falls in love with a young woman whose father the financier has railroaded into jail; and, intent on resuming his boxing career, he enlists his deceased self’s incredulous agent, Max Levene, to book a fight for the millionaire.

The cast ranges from excellent to eh. Andrew J. Pond (recently seen in Out of Order (our review ★★★★) at Arlington Heights’ Metropolis Performing Arts Centre) plays Levene in keenly expressive comic style, smooth, natural and so far outshining the other actors that it makes you wonder what he’s doing in this show.

The rest do mostly OK, but they have an unfortunate tendency to lapse into that awkwardly self-conscious, artificial delivery I can only describe as, "Look, Ma, I’m acting!"

attic_Jessica_Lauren_Fisher__Joyce_Porter___Lane_Wheeler___Heaven_Can_Wait_1_ attic_Joyce_Porter__Ken_Gayton___Jessica_Lauren_Fisher___Heaven_Can_Wait_1_

Still, Ken Gayton is so adorable as Joe we can overlook that he chews the scenery as much as he pounds the punching bag. As the homicidal Mrs., Kimberley Hellem’s wonderfully mobile face makes up for her stiffness otherwise, and Brendan Hutt, as the heavenly guide Mr. Jordan, and Evan Voboril, as the murderous secretary, achieve subtlety more often than not. Probably, they’ll all loosen up as the production continues.

Director Catherine Davis’s effective staging makes the most of Attic’s small space. She has, however, taken Segall’s three-act play and reconfigured it into two, dividing the original second act in the middle, to the detriment of suspense. Whatever time savings she realized thereby were lost in slow pacing.

If not quite celestial, Heaven Can Wait still offers plenty of down-to-earth entertainment. The seats are cheap and the parking is free, so if you’re around the North Shore, have a look. You could pay more for worse in the city.

 
  
Rating:  ★★½
 
  
attic_heaven_can_wait_2 attic_heaven_can_wait_1 attic_Kimberley_Hellem__Evan_Voboril___Ken_Gayton___Heaven_Can_Wait_1_
      

Review: Piccolo Theatre’s “Black Comedy”

Precision, passion still needed in “Black Comedy”

Black Comedy

Piccolo Theatre presents:

Black Comedy
by Peter Shaffer
directed by P. Marston Sullivan
thru October 31st (buy tickets)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

If timing is everything in comedy, then that is true in spades for Peter Shaffer’s comic staple Black Comedy, onstage now at Piccolo Theatre, directed by Peter Sullivan. Written in the 1960s, this outrageous British sex farce requires broad physical comedy blended with exquisite timing to work. Pity the cast that has not had substantial experience or training in that area. Their efforts truly are a lot of flailing around in the dark.

Black Comedy That’s too bad, because this cast definitely displays the energy for it. Brindsley (Adam Kander) is a young, struggling artist about to privately show his work at his apartment to a mysterious millionaire, Mr. Bamberger (David W. M. Kelch), who could make his fortune. The sale of his work is also meant to placate his potential father-in-law, Colonel Melkert (Andrew J. Pond), into letting him marry his poncy fiancé Carol (Liz Larsen-Silva). With Carol and Brindsley redecorating his bare flat with the posh antique furniture “borrowed” from next-door neighbor Harold (Brian Kilborn), their plans for a successful showing are ruined by a blown fuse and Harold’s early return from his weekend away in the country.

In the role of Brindsley, Kander does the yeoman’s job, in that his character must move all the furniture back to Harold’s apartment in the dark out from under everyone’s nose . . . or arse . . . or something. This is where the majority of the physical comedy takes place. Not a role for the faint of heart–or an actor without the skills of someone like Jim Carrey. What is more, Kander’s interpretation lacks the mischievousness that would make his character think that he could pull this whole thing off in the first place. Brindsley must be something more than just a desperate loser; he’s a desperate loser who thinks he can win.

Sullivan’s staging delivers some good bits, but without the requisite skills to execute them, it’s like watching the cast paint by the numbers. Spontaneity and surprise vanish into thin air.

Under-training plagues the whole production; even the dialect needs more consistency throughout the entire cast. Comic timing also goes missing in the preliminary sketches taken from British comedy favorites. It’s tough to tell a production to go back to the drawing board, but there it is.

Little moments of characterization are enjoyable: Liz Larsen-Silva is delightfully annoying as the spoiled Colonel’s daughter. Kelli Walker’s Ms. Furnival would probably writhe her way out of her clothing eventually, alcohol or not. Sandy Elias’ role as Schuppanzigh adds some badly needed, earthy humanism. The cast is certainly proficient in developing their roles. Would that their skill set had expanded sufficiently to pull off this monstrously demanding comedy.

Rating: «½

 

Continue reading