Review: Moonstone (Lifeline Theatre)

  
  

Lifeline’s world-premiere adaption bedazzles

  
  

Godfrey Ablewhite (C. Sean Piereman, left) proposes to Rachel Verinder (Ann Sonneville, right), while Drusilla Clack (Kaitlin Byrd, center) spies from the next room; in Lifeline Theatre’s world premiere production of “The Moonstone,” adapted by Robert Kauzlaric, directed by Paul S. Holmquist, based on the classic mystery by Wilkie Collins. Photo by Suzanne Plunkett.

   
Lifeline Theatre presents
  
The Moonstone
  
Adapted by Robert Kauzlaric
Based on book by Wilkie Collins
Directed by Paul S. Holmquist
at Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood (map)
through March 27  |  tickets: $32-$35  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

Disease, suicide, addiction, murder: can a stolen piece of jewelry inflict pain and destruction on a family? Lifeline Theatre presents the world premiere of The Moonstone. Set in the 19th-century, a disreputable army officer steals a diamond during his service in India. He wills the cursed sacred stone to Rachel, his niece for her eighteenth birthday. Overnight, the adornment is missing. Who took it? The juggling party crashers from India? The maid just out of prison? One of the cousins? Or Rachel herself?

Rachel Verinder (Ann Sonneville, right) and Franklin Blake (Cody Proctor, left) admire the legendary Moonstone, an Indian diamond with a dark history; in Lifeline Theatre’s world premiere production of “The Moonstone,” adapted by Robert Kauzlaric, directed by Paul S. Holmquist and based on the classic mystery by Wilkie Collins. Photo by Suzanne Plunkett.Within 24-hours, the moonstone changes the shiny, happy home to a dark, suspicious lair. Curses? Or just pure greed? Rachel knows something but refuses to speak. It’s a mystery! The intricate story unfolds from the perspectives of the various characters. It’s like playing a virtual reality game of CLUE except Miss Scarlett’s not talking, Professor Plum is addicted to opium and Mrs. Peacock is a crazy evangelizing Christian. The Moonstone unravels the mystery by pulling hanging strings from everywhere and knitting them together for a warm wrap around.

Playwright Robert Kauzlaric penned the script based on the 19th century epistolary novel by Wilkie Collins. Epistolary refers to a collection of letters. The Moonstone originally ran as a series in Charles Dickens’ magazine. Kauzlaric’s challenge was to take episodic based material and condense it down to one solid play. Although a few details could be eliminated to shorten it, Kauzlaric writes witty narrations that cleverly connect the intrigue together. Scenes are entangled with characters reading from letters. Under the direction of Paul S. Holmquist, the audience is fishing for red herrings. The expedition leads to a theatre under detective-fever quarantine. Who did it?

The cast did do it… marvelously. Keeping the audience engaged and enthralled for a three hour period is a mystery… they solved. The entire ensemble bonds together like a shiny, happy functional family. Sonja Field (Penelope) looks amusingly and adoringly at her father during his charming but lengthy narration. He, Sean Sinitski (Gabriel), affectionately scolds her and greets characters with a warm I-haven’t-seen-you-since-Act-1 hug. The cast is enjoying telling the story! Cody Proctor (Franklin) and Ann Sonneville (Rachel) play out perfectly like a Victorian-era couple trying to get it together. Proctor is the zealous hero-wannabe. Sonneville goes delightfully from morose resignation to boyfriend obsession with one letter. With well-Colonel John Herncastle (Dave Skvarla) steals the legendary Moonstone from its hidden vault; in Lifeline Theatre’s world premiere production of “The Moonstone,” adapted by Robert Kauzlaric, directed by Paul S. Holmquist, based on the classic mystery by Wilkie Collins. Photo by Suzanne Plunkett.placed hilarity, Kaitlin Byrd (Drusilla Clack) hides religious propaganda while delivering judgmental snipes. Byrd is willfully obtuse to comic heights. She responds to being shunned with an ‘I made a private memorandum to pray for her.’ Big nod out to Byrd also for her trust walk with her cast mates. Shivering sands, indeed!

Lifeline Theatre’s tagline is Big Stories, Up Close. With a stage that actually looks like a ‘Gosford Park’ pop-up book (Scenic designer Ian Zywica), The Moonstone is a perfect winter read. The mystery entices with playful ruse. The story is told from intimate perspectives. And at the end, it’s just a nice, cozy fit.

   
  
Rating: ★★★
   
    

Godfrey Ablewhite (C. Sean Piereman, left) proposes to Rachel Verinder (Ann Sonneville, right), while Drusilla Clack (Kaitlin Byrd, center) spies from the next room; in Lifeline Theatre’s world premiere production of “The Moonstone,” adapted by Robert Kauzlaric, directed by Paul S. Holmquist, based on the classic mystery by Wilkie Collins. Photo by Suzanne Plunkett.

The Moonstone continues through March 27th, with performances on Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 4pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 4pm  Running Time: Two hours and fifty minutes includes two intermissions

All photos by Suzanne Plunkett.

  
  

REVIEW: Lakefront Property (Bruised Orange Theater)

      
     

Apocalypse of the Heart

 

 

   
Bruised Orange Theater presents
   
Lakefront Property
   
Written by Clint Sheffer
Directed by Mark Spence
at
Acme Art Works, 2215 W. North (map)
through Dec 18  |  tickets: $18   |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

I have lived near Lake Michigan for all of my adult life, and when I moved here I noticed that the people were different. Was it the water’s tidal pull or did an inordinate amount of strange folks gravitate here? That question re-emerged as I watched Bruised Orange Theater’s fascinating production Lakefront Property.

Lakefront Property - Trish and Pokey Lakefront Property tells the story of two isolated and lonely souls who live in a fantasy world – literally. Jeff Harris plays the self conscious Pokey who constantly puts himself down as fat and unattractive. He has an imaginary girlfriend named Trisha who is played with brilliant insanity by Ann Sonneville. Trisha is what could be called the postmodern girlfriend experience. She is demanding, impulsive, sexually driven and, did I mention, a figment of Pokey’s imagination?

Jeff Harris gives a razor sharp performance of Pokey. He is that guy that you see on the bus painfully shy about everything from his coat to his hairline. He may be talking to himself or is he? Part of Director Mark Spence’s notes relay a line form his favorite band Record Low. ‘What if I’m wrong?’ The theme of this play is just that. What if we the observers are wrong about the pull of the invisible partner or the tides of Lake Michigan?

Delving deeper into the parallel lives theory is the character of Kyla, played by Stephanie Polt. Kyla is a coke-addled waitress who is living on the edge of reality. Ms. Polt is achingly real in her portrayal of not wanting to give a damn anymore while her heart longs for the right man. That man turns out to be a ghost named Harold, played with equal parts folksy charm and sinister menace by David Bettino. Harold is from the mid to late 1800’s and comes on to Kyla with the charm of inviting her to an ice cream social. Whatever you believe about ghosts, it is said that there are benevolent and malevolent spirits. Harold comes to take Kyla to the other side. He is attuned to her cocaine habit and dangerous lifestyle and thus sees her as ready to accompany him to a parallel universe where he has literally witnessed train wrecks in the early days of rail travel. She is another wreck that he witnesses.

Lakefront Property is written by Clint Scheffer, and this is a revival of a Bruised Orange’s early days. That first production took place in an abandoned storefront without a city sanctioned amusement license!

BOTC has come a long way from those days, and have made brilliant use of the Acme Art Works space in Wicker Park/Bucktown. The play is staged in an old protestant church sanctuary that adds a ghostly allure. The stage is set under a mural of Jesus ascending much to the awe and ecstasy of the disciples. Director Mark Spence has the characters flowing in and out of this abandoned altar space as sacrifices to the search for love and companionship from all levels of consciousness. It is a powerful and moving play in these times of personal ads and Internet dating. When Pokey and Kyla find each other after fleeing their imaginary/ghostly lovers I actually breathed a temporary sigh of relief. I say temporary because Trish and Harold remain on the perimeter of the stage glowering just as they remain in the character’s minds.

 

Lakefron Property - Pokey and Kyla on Lakefront - Bruised Orange Lakefront Property cast - Bruised Orange Theater

Trish becomes a boiling obsession in Pokey’s mind. He yearns to be wanted by both women – one for real and the other an imaginary backup who will love without fail. Harold becomes malevolent and terrifying to watch.

So – what if they are wrong? What if we are all wrong about the search for love and relationship? As Mr. Spence noted, this question turns to a defiant statement after going through the hell of life imagined or hallucinated. Either way you could die trying. This is what I consider Chicago theatre at it’s best. It’s raw, unadorned, and yet skilled and polished.

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

lakefront property - landscape poster

Lakefront Property runs Thursday through Saturday until November 20th and then December 2nd through the 18th on the same days. Show time is 8:00pm. Get there a little early to check out the exhibit in the space as well as to sit in the theatre space itself. Let the ambiance of the old sanctuary get inside your head a bit. You might feel a bit of that parallel universe tugging at you. Acme Art Works is located at 2215 North Avenue in Chicago. Go to www.bruisedorange.org for more information.

     
     

REVIEW: The Ghost Sonata (Oracle Theatre)

Oracle’s ‘Ghost Sonata’ doesn’t sing

 

ghost_sonata_press_1_resized

 
Oracle Theatre presents
 
The Ghost Sonata
 
by August Strindberg
directed by Max Truax
at Oracle Theatre, 3809 N. Broadway (map)
through June 19th  |  tickets: $10-$20  |  more info

by Barry Eitel

August Strindberg’s Ghost Sonata is a tough play to crack open. Written over a century ago, the masterpiece is considered a wonder of Modernist drama. Therefore, it has plenty of bizarre twists and characterizations (vampires and ghosts, anyone?).  Especially now, when we’re used to straightforward stories force-fed through movies and television, the piece is hard to navigate. Oracle Theatre and director Max Truax certainly take up this challenge with their heavily-expressionistic version. Even though they engage Strindberg with honesty and compassion, the end product leaves us bewildered and groping for answers.

ghost_sonata_press_2_resizeYou may want to read a translation of the play before setting out for this production. Truax and his driven cast seem very concerned with conveying mood and themes, but to the detriment of plot and clarity. I had the feeling that everyone onstage knew what was going on but I wasn’t completely welcome. It was like looking through a very dusty window. After a few scenes, it is possible to piece together the general story, but this production doesn’t help much in terms of leading the audience through Strindberg’s dense text.

Truax and his design team create a bizarrely fascinating world, conquering the sometimes awkward Oracle space. There were some amazing stage pictures formed by Truax (doubling as set designer), who whipped up some awesome forced perspective. Although the video projections sometimes confuse the storyline, Michael Janicki’s work fits the twisted world well, with vaguely Victorian black-and-white images appearing in a frame above the action.

The audience enters to Rich Logan looking all comatose in a wheelchair. As the elderly Jacob Hummel, he pushes and manipulates the play forward, imparting plenty of creepiness to the already dark script. Strindberg’s text revolves around a Student (Federico Rodriguez), who meets a cast of wacky characters, including the scheming Hummel, a mummy (Ann Sonneville), a ghostly maid (Lily Emerson), and a dead guy (John Arthur Lewis). Again, even though each of the actors understands and brings life to their characters, the gothic world is not very well explained. Rodriguez carries the show, although sometimes he doesn’t recognize the close relationship he has to the audience. Stephanie Polt fits well into the oppressive world as the object of the Student’s affection, but Sean Ewert as her father, the Colonel, doesn’t match the others. Justin Warren can also fall out of the production’s universe, but he brings some much needed comic relief.

While the performances usually deeply connect to the text, they don’t fit into the space. Truax and his actors seem unaware of how to utilize Oracle’s intimate stage. When emotions run high, the actors often resort to screaming. The audience gets irritated and interest flags. In such an enclosed and small theatre, overplaying can be disastrous. This Ghost Sonata isn’t ruined by yelling, but some over-the-top moments knock down the impact of the play.

Besides clarity, the biggest issue afflicting Truax’s production is a lack of humor. Yes, this is a dark, turn-of-the-century, proto-Expressionistic script, but there has to be some releases—Strindberg, being a master dramatist, pens them in. Avoiding the humor can make the play feel highly melodramatic and uninteresting. There are some nuggets of humor, but most of it is swept away to make way for dreariness.

Truax’s production is very conceptual and looks pretty cool, but fails to respect Strindberg’s text. The focus is too much on theme and not enough on story. The talent is obviously there; with a few exceptions, it seemed like the whole cast was on-board and clicking with each other. The design makes some very innovative choices that you might not expect from a storefront. Oracle’s Achilles’ Heal here is storytelling; Truax finds great skin but uses a weak skeleton.

  
  
Rating: ★★
 
 

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REVIEW: The Artist Needs A Wife (side project)

Cohesive set adds clarity to an otherwise jumbled script

Freud stabs painting

the side project presents: 

The Artist Needs a Wife 

by Jesse Weaver
directed by
Carolyn Klein
thru February 14th (ticket info)

review by Ian Epstein

The side project’s production of The Artist Needs a Wife, by Jesse Weaver, tells the claustrophobic tale of Freud and Mott (played by John Ferrick and Chris Hainsworth).  Freud and Mott are two older, similar looking, starving artist types.  The duo lives in a decrepit hovel that doubles as a garden level apartment with walls so leaky, rusty, and paint-smeared that the canvas of Freud’s many-year masterpiece looks like a natural extension of the wall itself.  His muse is a woman named Whore (Allison Cain).  If she hadn’t dried up at the same pace as Freud’s inspiration to paint, the pair might’ve produced something like a de Kooning together.  Instead, there’s a lot of struggling. 

In fits and starts, Freud and Mott come and go, looking for a touch of Michelangelo’s genius at the bottom of a box of corn flakes or hidden among the pages of a Polish mail-order bride catalog.  When they don’t find inspiration in these places, they make bold dramatic gestures: stabbing the empty box of cornflakes to the wall with a carving knife or tearing the apartment to pieces.  And in a moment rife with dramatic possibility, one even orders the redheaded bride that the other was eyeing in the catalog.  Suddenly the image in the catalog is flesh, and Whore has competition in the form of a sexy little redhead (Ann Sonneville) with a thick stutter.

Katja with knife at Mott's throat Mott punches Whore

All of this sounds great, but the script feels like a sprawling rough draft with too little knowledge of its many subjects to be either funny or serious.  It reaches towards the kind of tension that builds up in the back and forth of a Pinter exchange supplemented with a healthy dose of the absurd – but it doesn’t grab hold of anything.  There isn’t a particularly developed stage vocabulary for lack of inspiration so this prominent thematic thread is hard-pressed to hold an audience’s interest for what feels like an unending two-hours-and-fifteen-minutes.  Whenever passage of time comes up, the actors dismiss it with affected lists — a trait that might work if the actual chronology of the characters were made legible anywhere (the walls, the plot, their intimacy).   There are words misused without intending to be, confusion about Polish being written in Cyrillic (which it isn’t), and profanity that reads like a loud placeholder for what a truly ticked-off down-and-out artist might yell.  All of this leaves the audience excusing too much of the playwright’s shorthand to enjoy the show.

William Anderson‘s set, with its moldy colors, its cramped, cockeyed amenities, and its fragmented ceiling tiles may be the only piece of this production that strikes a tone appropriate to the subject matter.  It is especially admirable for its clarity, economy, and versatility. 

Rating:

FEATURING: Allison Cain, John Ferrick, Christopher Hainsworth, and Ann Sonneville 
CREATIVE TEAM: Carolyn Klein (director) William Anderson (sets), Emily Duffin (props), Miles Polaski (sound), Greg Poljacik (fights), Seth Reinick (lights), and Mieka van der Ploeg (costumes)

Tickets: $18 General, $12 Industry   (with H/R, business card or student ID)
Group discounts available