Review: The Front Page (TimeLine Theatre)

  
  

Updated: Now extended through July 17th!!

TimeLine’s signature dramaturgy venerates classic media satire

  
  

Editor Walter Burns (Terry Hamilton, right) and reporter Hildy Johnson (PJ Powers, left) work the phones as the biggest story of the year breaks around them in TimeLine Theatre’s revival of the Chicago classic THE FRONT PAGE by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, directed by Nick Bowling. Photo by Lara Goetsch

  
TimeLine Theatre presents
  
The Front Page
      
Written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur
Directed by Nick Bowling
at TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington (map
thru July 17 (extended!)  tickets: $18-$38  |  more info

Reviewed by Dan Jakes

Former Chicago newspaper men Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur took aim at city politics, print journalism, corrupt justice practices, and even themselves in their scathing 1928 comedy about a Windy City press room. So what was their ax to grind?
Far as I could tell, they didn’t have one. Even as they unmercifully and repeatedly jab at their subjects, most of which are barely sheathed caricatures of then-contemporary real-life figures, you can read some smiles between Hecht and MacArthur’s searing lines. The Front Page lampoons Jazz Age Chicago the way Trey Parker and Matt Stone eviscerate 21st century pop culture week after week on South Park—with a dash of anarchy and a palpable love for their targets. It’s one of the reasons why this TimeLine revival of a historic work is actually funny.

Peggy Grant (Bridgette Pechman Clarno, left) isn’t so sure that Hildy Johnson (PJ Powers, right) is ready to leave his life as a reporter to get married in TimeLine Theatre’s revival of the Chicago classic THE FRONT PAGE by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, directed by Nick Bowling. Photo by Lara GoetschAnother is director Nick Bowling and artistic director PJ Powers’ willingness to play up the show’s silliness without playing down the characters’ grotesque flaws; these journalists are brash, lazy, immature, dishonest, misogynistic, racist buffoons. Maybe it was my imagination, but at a few points, I swear some were audibly farting on stage. When the most sympathetic man in the office is an escaped murderer, you know you’re working with a real handful…

Hildy Johnson (PJ Powers) makes a break from the boy’s club and heads to New York with his fiancé (Bridgette Pechman Clarno), or at least tries to before a death row inmate escapes from his office’s neighboring jail. The ensuing chaos exposes incompetence and corruption at every level of the city, from the opportunistic editors, to the deal making politicians, to the incapable police officers, to the dishonest reporters. Hilariously, too absorbed in troubles of their own making, the actual threat of the killer on the loose ranks near the bottom of the characters’ group consciousness.

Even near the brink, Powers and Terry Hamilton (Walter Burns) are grounded and convincing, while Bill McGough and Rob Riley get to have a little more fun as Chester Gould-type cartoons.        

Bowling’s production is brisk, clean, driven at just the right speed, and refined with an eye for details, both big—his cast is just right; it’s enough of a challenge to appropriately fill roles in a standard-sized show, and The Front Page is huge; and small—a 100 percent grease-saturated translucent hamburger bag evokes a reminder of why we’re the City of Broad Shoulders.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Hildy Johnson (PJ Powers, right) and Mollie Malloy (Mechelle Moe, left) are determined to hide escaped killer Earl Williams (Rob Fagin, center) before he can be discovered by the police in TimeLine Theatre’s revival of the Chicago classic THE FRONT PAGE by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, directed by Nick Bowling.  Photo by Lara Goetsch

Editor Walter Burns (Terry Hamilton, right) doesn’t want Hildy Johnson (PJ Powers, left) to quit his job as a reporter for the Herald-Examiner in TimeLine Theatre’s revival of the Chicago classic THE FRONT PAGE by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, directed by Nick Bowling. Photo by Lara Goetsch. Reporter Hildy Johnson (PJ Powers) calls the news desk at his paper the Herald-Examiner to report a scoop on the biggest story of the year in TimeLine Theatre’s revival of the Chicago classic THE FRONT PAGE by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, directed by Nick Bowling. Photo by Lara Goetsch
   

The Front Page continues through June 12th at TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington, with performances Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 4pm and 8:30pm, and Sundays at 7pm.  Tickets are $28-$38 ($18 for students), and can be purchased by phone (773-281-8436 x6) or online. More info at timelinetheatre.com.

All photos by Lara Goetsch.

        

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REVIEW: Cash on Delivery (Saint Sebastian Players)

 

Spinning Plates

 

Cash on Delivery - Saint Sebastian Players 2

   
Saint Sebastian Players present
   
Cash on Delivery
   
Written by Michael Cooney
Directed by
Jonathan “Rocky” Hagloch
at
St. Bonaventure Church, 1625 W. Diversey (map)
thru November 14  |  tickets: $10-$15   |  more info

reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Identity theft is usually not the stuff of combustible comedy. But when it’s tied up with and results in mistaken identities, mixed signals, ill-timed interruptions and the rest of the detritus of classic farce, confusion can be critically comical. Michael Cooney, son of Ray (“Run for Your Wife”) Cooney, clearly learned from his father all the literal ins and outs of vintage farce with its slamming doors and self-fulfilling folly. The big difference here is that Cash on Delivery is no bedroom farce (though there’s some genuine confusion about supposed gay or cross-dressing activity). No, here the impetus is an elaborate and perilous fraud perpetrated by Chicago landlord Eric Swan against the Social Security Administration. It seems that the S.S.A. has inundated the opportunistic Eric with claims for a former tenant that, with a little scamming and false filings, mushroomed into $65,000 per year’s worth of multiple deceptions for unemployment, disability, medical and many other false benefits that this unemployed husband just didn’t have to courage or rectitude to decline.

Cash on Delivery - Saint Sebastian Players Of course, living a lie is a lot more taxing (so to speak) than sticking to the simple truth. It all threatens to elaborately unwind as Mr. Jenkins, a nerdy S.S. investigator, comes by for two simple signatures for some required paperwork. That’s all it takes for Cooney to unleash a flood of desperate cover stories as one lie contradicts another and Eric’s house of prevarication comes slowly tumbling down over the next 140 minutes. To pull off the crazed complications (which recall the excesses of Weekend with Bernie grafted onto Lend Me a Tenor) that eventually yield to the straightforward truth and a plausible happy ending requires the usual tour de force of timing, mugging, slow burns, costume switches, double faces, switcheroos, cover-ups, and other comic machinery.

Jonathan Hagloch’s ten actors pull off the shenanigans fairly well, with Greg Callozzo spinning the plates without dropping any (a metaphor taken from the old “Ed Sullivan Show”): Flagrantly and with multiplying mania, his Eric tries to keep his stories straight, with inept help from his upstairs tenant (busy Doug Werder). It helps that the other characters are credulous enough to be taken in by their sham show, most particular an increasingly hysterical Angela Bullard as Eric’s tormented wife, Michael Wagman as the nebbishy S.S. investigator, and Lyn Scott as his battleaxe supervisor. Jim Masini gets battered into unconsciousness as Eric’s venal uncle. The others play an overly helpful family crisis counselor, an officious undertaker, the neighbor’s frazzled fiancée, and a marriage counselor who adds his own befuddlement to this toxic mix.

With silly stuff like this, it’s more important to play it quickly than smoothly. Only in the overlong second act, where the playwright seems to be showing off his ability to keep the lies separate but equal, does the plot thicken into more turgidity than hilarity. But the audience never stops laughing throughout and that’s how you know a farce has force. You don’t have time to wonder why the S.S.A. makes house calls or a social worker can instantly arrange a funeral on the spot. The jokes come faster than any saving skepticism that might stop them in their tracks. Of course, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

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