Review: Ismene (Dream Theatre)

     
     

A marathon of self-indulgence

     
     

Jeremy Menekseoglu as Te in Dream Theatre's Ismene

   
Dream Theatre Company presents
  
  
Ismene
   
   
Written and directed by Jeremy Menekseoglu
at Dream Theatre, 556 W 18th St. (map
through June 5  |  tickets: $15 – $18  |  more info

Reviewed by Jason Rost

A good rule of courtesy for Chicago theatre companies to follow ought to be: if a production’s runtime exceeds two hours on a weeknight, there must be some warning of this information somewhere, be it on the theatre company’s website or in the program. In Jeremy Menekseoglu’s at times excruciating three hour long production of Ismene, Dream Theatre makes that information available to no one anywhere. This is a selfish and disrespectful lack of consideration to the Chicago theatergoing community, many who have jobs on weekdays in this blue collar town. Anne Menekseoglu as Ismene in Dream Theatre's "Ismene", written and directed by Jeremy Menekseoglu. (Photo: Giau Truong)Menekseoglu is the playwright, director, sound designer, scenic designer and lead actor in what is ultimately a festival of self indulgence for the artist who holds his audience captive (literally the door to the Pilsen space is locked after the show begins giving patrons a struggle to exit at the two hour intermission mark). While there are several talented actresses involved in Ismene, the script and lack of direction take the life out of their skills with a monotonous overly clichéd meta-theatrical affair.

The evening actually starts out rather interesting with a Circus barker (an intriguing Chad Sheveland) greeting the audience at the door of the storefront lobby along with Thespia (Natalie Breitmeyer), the first member of the chorus (of the Greek variety) to escape and develop individual thoughts. After this brief pre-show we are introduced to Ismene (the very same sister to Antigone). Anna Menekseoglu as the title character in the prologue is captivating, delivering a monologue that is an example of the potential poetic skill of the playwright. She declares that her chorus has died, leaving herself to the decisions of independent will. This concept is interesting enough, but Jeremy Menekseoglu’s script only gets more and more muddled from here allowing the production to slowly spiral downward to a point where nothing can remain compelling or entertaining.

While the audience is still in the front lobby during this pre-show, Erin (a feisty Michelle Apalategui) convinces Ismene to come with her to a school for forgotten girls. At this point the audience is escorted into the larger auditorium space where Menekseoglu has housed his massive set. We learn that the school is run by Procne (played by Rachel Martindale with a captivating vocal quality), who is also known in Greek myth for killing her son and feeding his flesh to her husband. However, if you are unaware of the intricacies of this myth and the tapestry created by her sister Philomena (Alicia Reese), it will all play as just another confounding layer in this dense play. The myth could be seen in a far superior adaptation last year in Red Tape Theatre’s The Love of the Nightingale (our review).

Eventually, the story goes every which way, including the presence of a zombie Greek chorus (which should’ve been a way cooler concept). Jeremy Menekseoglu plays Te, who at first is thought to be one of the chorus. Menekseoglu, while displaying strong physicality, is macabre for the sake of being so and lavishes in it far too much to no effect by kissing, abusing and molesting most of the women throughout. There is a slight parallel throughout the play, which could be focused on further, to fighting breast cancer and rejecting acceptance of your fate. However, Menekseoglu’s actions on stage somewhat contradict the female empowerment message. Also, there is an excess of themes, motifs, characters and plots trying to be tackled to give any one of them their due attention.

         
Alicia Reese as Philomena in Dream Theatre's "Ismene", by Jeremy Menekseoglu Dream Theatre's "Ismene", by Jeremy Menekseoglu Chad Sheveland as The Barker in Dream Theatre's "Ismene", by Jeremy Menekseoglu

It’s undeniable that Menekseoglu and Dream Theatre have an ambitious aesthetic. At times they excel, such as their well received production of Electra (review ★★★½). However, it’s also clear that at times like this they become lost in their vision and become far too precious with each character and aspect of the story. Moments like peering into the audience and contemplating the presence of the audience as voyeurs is a provoking concept the first time, but Menekseoglu takes the convention past resonance by devoting a plethora of time for each character to have this experience. The effect is entirely inward for the actors’ own pleasure and indulgent to the point where the audience is truly delegated to simply being a presence while Menekseoglu and the cast can revel in themselves. The production and script clearly needs a true director keeping the audience in mind and cutting extraneous elements to convey the play and a unified message more successfully.

The evening is packed with tragic stories being revealed endlessly, many with five minute long melancholy monologues to accompany them. The tragedy cannot have any emotional effect after a certain point. Furthermore, Menekseoglu’s distracting and dreary soundtrack is oppressive, forcing the performances to go along at its tedious pace. Near the end of Menekseoglu’s production when Ismene considers gouging her eyes out with her father’s (Oedipus) needles, I couldn’t help but almost relate with her after three hours watching this bloated display of self-serving theatre.

  
  
Rating: ★½
  
  

Annelise Lawson as Iphigenia in Dream Theatre's "Ismene" by Jeremy Menekseoglu

Dream Theatre Company presents Ismene, written and directed by Jeremy Menekseoglu. The show runs through Sunday, June 5th at Dream Theatre, 556 W. 18th Street, Chicago. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm Sundays at 7:00 p.m. with a Monday performance on Memorial Day, May 30th at 8pm. Tickets are $15 – $18 and can be reserved by visiting dreamtheatrecompany.com or by calling 773-552-8616.

  
  

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Review: The Grisly/Glorious Adventure (Dream Theatre)

  
  

This adventure still has some growing up to do

  
  

Piglet and Kanga in Dream Theatre's 'The Grisly/Glorious Adventure of Christopher Robin, Winnie-the-Pooh and Billy Moon.

  
Dream Theatre presents
  
The Grisly/Glorious Adventure of Christopher Robin,
Winnie-the-Pooh and Billy Moon
   
Written and Directed by Jeremy Menekseoglu
at Dream Theatre, 556 W. 18th (map)
through April 10  |  tickets: $15-$25  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Fame doesn’t make your problems go away. It just makes the problems you have weirder.            –John Waters

Dream Theatre has worked wonders with its revisionist takes on Classical works, such as Jeremy Menekseoglu’s dark and slightly feminist Agon Trilogy, Agamemnon (our review ★★★), Electra (review ★★★½), and Orestes (review ★★½), based on Aeschylus’ Oresteia. But its latest production, The Grisly/Glorious Adventure of Christopher Robin, Winnie-the-Pooh and Billy Moon, seems like a work unveiled too soon. Based on the life story of Christopher Robin Milne, the son of A. A. Milne, who authored the “Winnie-the-Pooh” series, The Grisly/Glorious Adventure . . . depicts the withered, emotional dreamscape of a man who felt robbed in his childhood of the very friends his imagination had created to fill its lonely void. Pooh was, at his essential Mishelle Apalategui as Christopher Robin in Dream Theatre's 'The Grisly/Glorious Adventure of Christopher Robin, Winnie-the-Pooh and Billy Moon. origins, Christopher Robin Milne’s creation but it was his father that gave Winnie-the-Pooh to the world—and bestowed upon the human Christopher Robin an unasked for fame that would cloud his own life in adulthood.

Sadly, the work takes too long to get to the heart of the matter, preferring to dwell overlong in the Hundred Akre Wood of the fictional Christopher Robin (Mishelle Apalategui) where sunshine and innocent security are fading fast. A number of Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh’s (Anna Menekseoglu) friends are dying off mysteriously. They, themselves, hardly know why their friends are dying, nor is the limited philosophy of Owl (Chad Sheveland) of any assistance. One can appreciate Dream Theatre’s mission to immerse the audience in a dreamlike state, as they’ve successfully done many times before. The transformation of the Hundred Akre Wood into a nightmare right out of Sleepy Hollow is certainly the most effective element of the first act. But the dialogue that passes for innocent childhood discussion of the characters’ plight is so clunky and unimaginative, the audience is pushed to a state of apathy over whether the inhabitants of Christopher Robin’s world survive or not. In fact, the prosaic dialogue almost undermines the homespun but effective puppetry of the cast.

Jeremy Menekseoglu as Billy Moon in Dream Theatre's 'The Grisly/Glorious Adventure of Christopher Robin, Winnie-the-Pooh and Billy Moon. Even the scenes between the adult Christopher Robin, under his nickname Billy Moon (Jeremy Menekseoglu), and his Mother (Rachel Martindale) come across as too stiff and stereotypical to spark interest. Distant relationships between parent(s) and child are already dangerously cliché; how to make the audience care about the specific dysfunctional family before them is always the playwright’s ultimate challenge. Currently, Menekseoglu’s script is not up to the task of either portraying this family or expanding its meditation on how fame compounds every dysfunction.

It seems that not much thought has gone into portraying the adult Christopher Robin beyond a bare outline or beyond his relationship to his fictional self created by his father. Menekseoglu’s play asks the audience to care about the man behind the story but, through most of its two acts, portrays C. A. Milne two-dimensionally. The final scene of reconciliation between him and Pooh, his long lost friend, is certainly powerful—it just takes too long to get there – and by the time we do, the journey has been sluggish. This play will need serious revision if it is to truly balance the archetypal Christopher Robin with his human counterpart.

  
  
Rating: ★★
  
  

Mishelle Apalategui as young Christopher Robin and Jeremy Menekseoglu as Billy Moon in Dream Theatre's 'The Grisly/Glorious Adventure of Christopher Robin, Winnie-the-Pooh and Billy Moon.

     
     

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REVIEW: Devilish Children-Civilizing Process (Dream Thtr)

   
  

Naughty children demand gnarly punishment

 

Devilish Children - Dream Theatre 017

   
Dream Theatre presents
   
The Devilish Children and the Civilizing Process
    
Written and directed by Jeremy Menekseoglu
Based on German tales by Heinrich Hoffmann
at Dream Theatre, 556 W. 18th Street (map)
through Nov 21  |  tickets: $12-$18  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Are children little monsters? Do they need constant discipline in order to be molded into socially acceptable beings? Is terror a useful and appropriate tool to insure obedience and good behavior? Is a certain level of cruelty always necessary when raising children? Dream Theatre has long produced disturbing archetypal works by its Artistic Director Jeremy Menekseoglu. But his new play, The Devilish Children and the Civilizing Process, digs deep into the very foundations of what we like to believe is cultured order and proper education. Beneath the veneer of discipline lies violence to spontaneous playfulness, emotional well-being and childlike innocence.

Devilish Children - Dream Theatre 031All of which is just fine with the cast. Directed by the playwright, they plunge with relish into their new production’s dark savagery, based on the 19th century collection of German cautionary children’s tales by early psychologist Heinrich Hoffmann. “Der Struwwelpeter” became a European classic in its day and served as the inspiration for the breakout 1998 musical, Shockheaded Peter. Anna Menekseoglu, who plays Pauline, remembers an English version of the book from her childhood—as a little girl, its illustrations absolutely fascinated her.

Little Karl, Age 3 (Judith Lesser) has been banished by her German father, referred to only as Vati (Chad Sheveland), to a dark and foreboding place because he misbehaves. Here, Vati tells him, he will learn to become civilized, to act like a gentleman, and earn the right to associate with the rest of world. Once abandoned, he falls under the instruction of the other abandoned, macabre and threatening children in the garret. They perform one story after another on the essential lessons that will make Karl, Age 3, ready for society—never suck your thumb, don’t be a crybaby, don’t run and jump about, don’t play with matches, etc.

Each cautionary tale is a minor adventure in horror. It is not enough to instruct. Karl, Age 3, must be terrified into learning his lessons. To this end, Dream Theatre employs simple stage effects, masks and some pretty traditional, but well-timed horror sound design (Jeremy Menekseoglu). The Tall Tailor (Annelise Lawson), who comes to cut off the thumbs of little boys and girls who won’t stop sucking them, is absolutely frightening. In fact, 19th century children’s costuming (Rachel Martindale) so perfectly complements the cast’s crisp and creepy German dialect it’s difficult not to think of the Third Reich and all its mind-blowing cruelty in the pursuit of the racially pure perfect order.

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Menekseoglu and company execute their demon-child roles with sadistic vigor and gruesome enthusiasm. Mishelle Apalategui’s monstrous glee as Romping Polly and Bil Gaines’ calm and sinister delivery as Conrad are particularly memorable. Anna Menekseoglu’s little pyromaniac, Pauline, is just a delight. Humor and play always lurk right beneath the horror, yet the most horrifying lesson for Karl to learn is that he is innately bad and that this place he cannot leave is what he deserves. For him, as well as the rest of us, it’s a relief to see another, more beneficent model of adult masculinity appear near at end of this play–to bring light, generosity and joy to an otherwise hopelessly benighted existence.

    
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

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Devilish Children runs Thursday, October 28 through Sunday, November 21, 2010 with two additional Monday performances on November 8 & 15 at 8:00pm and a special 9:00pm performance on October 30. Performance times are 8pm on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 7pm on Sundays. Performance location is Dream Theatre, 556 West 18th Street, Chicago.

Featuring Annelise Lawson, Chad Sheveland, Judith Lesser, Bil Gaines, Rachel Martindale, Mishelle Apalategui, Anna Menekseoglu and Jeremy Menekseoglu

Design by Anna Weiler, Giau Truong and Jeremy Menekseoglu.

Based on the German cautionary tales by Heinrich Hoffmann.

        
         

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