Review: Before and After (Theatre Momentum)

     
     

Too many actors in the kitchen muddle interesting concept

     
     

'Before and After' at the Apollo Theater, presented by Theatre Momentum

  
Theatre Momentum presents
  
Before and After
  
Directed by Tony Rielage
at the Apollo Theater, 2540 N. Lincoln (map)
through May 7  |  tickets: $8-$10  |  more info

Reviewed by Jason Rost

In Chicago, improv is as synonymous with comedy as the Cubs are with losing. However, there is nothing about improvisational performance that inherently means humor. Most any acting school uses improv as experimentation in training to create performances that are urgent and honest. Theatre Momentum is an exciting theatre company poised to illuminate this fact with their mission of creating narrative based improv. Within the basement space at the Apollo Theater, director Tony Rielage and his company of improvisers have taken upon a notable artistic endeavor with their new production, Before and After. In the end, unfortunately it proves too overwhelming to succeed. While they 'Before and After' at the Apollo Theater, presented by Theatre Momentummay continue to evolve the structure, presently it exists in a state that is fairly entertaining in its high points, yet despite talented performers, falls flat more often than not during this extraneously long show.

The conceit of director Tony Rielage and his troop is to create a fresh narrative each performance, through improvisation, that follows a single character in the midst of a life-changing event, played by two actors in two different stages of the character’s life. The rest of the cast fill in the supporting roles. The performance I attended revolved around a Mark Zuckerberg type character that created a lucrative website encapsulating every internet obsession: web videos, online dating and the sale of ironic Jesus t-shirts. Derek Van Barham and Adam Ziemkiewicz played the central character in different moments of his life. Van Barham was exceptionally sharp as the younger version of the character in his cold manipulative discovery of how the internet can give him power. While Ziemkiewicz added heart to the story, the details of the events surrounding his version of the character were muddy. The life changing event was apparently the marriage of his lifelong love (played by Julie Chereson grounded with charming truthfulness).

As the format exists currently, 90 minutes seemed to cause the group to have to stretch for time and devise improvised scenes that were meaningless and bordering on incoherence. Also, the need to include each of the dozen cast members throughout the show takes too much focus away from the central relationship to carry any gravity. Nevertheless, there were a few impressive moments where these intelligent actors developed some heartfelt relationships, such as Van Barham and Peter Athans in a scene in which a son interviews his divorced father for a dating video to be posted online. Theresa Ohanian brings life and vitality to every scenario she is involved in, proving to have the sharpest wit and most guts in this cast. Athans is also a standout bringing the most truth, empathy and maturity to the stage. All the while, these strong actors come across as wasted talent in the daunting task to create a meaningful piece of theatre with few structural setups to guide their journey.

'Before and After' at the Apollo Theater, presented by Theatre MomentumAs time goes on, this cast may find ways to tighten up their stories and create higher stakes in scenes. While it may go against their mission, I hope that this company may take moments that work well and carry it over to following performances to build upon. I would love to see this very same cast and director tackle a slightly more developed production still utilizing their improvisational skills. If there were a solidified structure for these actors to play in, I feel that it would result in even more creativity. What we get now is far too large a canvas, too many paints and too many artists to give the audience a finished product that can be appreciated in its totality.

Still, Before and After may prove to be an interesting and worthwhile outing for hardcore fans or practitioners of improvisational performance. It certainly offers something different than the likes of iO and The Annoyance. While focused on dramatic narrative, there are still a handful of laughs and sketch moments. Nevertheless, as a piece of theatre it doesn’t quite hold up. It especially doesn’t hold up for a full 90 minutes. It’s a delicate balance between keeping the performances fresh and improvised, while also achieving a consistently coherent narrative within the structure Rielage has devised. The format may benefit from either adding a more preconceived plot to their plays, or condensing the action and losing a few cast members. Theatre Momentum has yet to figure out the correct formula, but they are worth keeping a close eye on.

  
  
Rating: ★★
  
  

'Before and After' at the Apollo Theater, presented by Theatre Momentum

Before and After is a 90-minute long performance at the Apollo Theater Studio, 2540 North Lincoln Avenue, and runs Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 PM through May 7, 2011. Tickets are $10 Fridays and Saturdays, and $8 Thursdays. Reservations may be made through the Apollo Theater box office at (773) 935-6100 and at www.ticketmaster.com.

  

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REVIEW: The Wizard of Oz (Emerald City Theatre)

     
     

Learning to love the things you’ve had all along

     
     

Wizard of Oz - Emerald City Theatre

   
Emerald City Theatre presents
   
The Wizard of Oz
   
Written by L. Frank Baum, Adapted by John Kane
Music/Lyrics by
Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg
Directed by
Ernie Nolan
at
Apollo Theater, 2540 N. Lincoln (map)
Through Jan 2  |  tickets: $13-$16  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

I love children’s theater because the audience’s limited attention span forces wild, fearless performances from the actors as they try to hold the concentration of both children and parents. Emerald City Theatre is one of the city’s premier children’s theater companies, and their holiday production of The Wizard of Oz incorporates audience interaction and puppetry to create a visually exciting production that understands the actor/child dynamic. The actors give unbridled performances that keep the momentum moving briskly, and while they might not be the strongest in term of technique, they make up for it by having so much fun in their characters.

Molly Tower as Glinda the Good Witch - Emerald City TheatreEmerald City’s production High School Musical­-izes Arlen and Harburg’s score with a rhythm section and guitars, but the songs never lose their classic appeal. Karle’s “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” is a rousing number that captures Dorothy’s desire to find a world outside the dreariness of the Kansas countryside, and the actress’s effortless belt gets the show off to a great start. In Oz, Dorothy is greeted by Glinda’s (a hilariously irreverent Molly Tower) angelic soprano, accompanied by the denizens of Munchkinland.

As she makes her way to the Emerald City, Dorothy encounters new faces, including Scarecrow (Bret Beaudry), who serves as a major source of physical comedy throughout the show. Tinman (James Nedrud) is cleverly portrayed as an Elvis-like crooner and carries a guitar for an axe, appropriate for the Million Dollar Quartet housing Apollo Theater, and Nedrud has a smooth vocal quality that is perfect for the character. The only one of Dorothy’s new friends that struggles is Lion (Shea Coffman), and the difficulty of the character’s music isn’t helped by the ornaments Coffman adds to almost every sustained note.

Using puppets for the munchkins is hilarious and efficient, and the low-budget shortcuts that Emerald City takes contribute to much of the show’s charm. Kevin Beltz’s economical set unfolds Dorothy’s house to reveal walls with turning panels to signify location, all located in the walls of Dorothy’s home that unfolds during the storm. It’s a great effect that also saves a lot of money on scenery. Despite not being the most technically astounding or polished production, the show’s simplicity and dedicated ensemble make Dorothy’s journey through Oz easy for kids to enjoy while still entertaining for adults.

If I only had a heart by Emerald City Theatre Company Find Her! - The Wicked Witch by Emerald City Theatre Company
If I only had a brain! by Emerald City Theatre Company The Wicked Witch of the West by Emerald City Theatre Company When I am king of the forest by Emerald City Theatre Company

It is surprising how well Baum’s classic story works in a holiday setting, as the storm that whisks Dorothy away, in this production, occurs just before Christmas. Maybe it’s the combination of red and green that comes from ruby slippers – adorably reimagined as glistening ankle-boots – and the Emerald City. More likely, the connection comes from how well Baum taps into the holiday spirit of giving thanks, and taking pleasure in the company of people that will always be there for you. The important part of the holidays isn’t the presents you get, but learning to love the things you’ve had all along.

   
  
Rating: ★★★
   
  

Off to see the Wizard

        
        

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Chicago shows currently Jeff-Recommended

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Equity Wing:
Learn more about the Equity Wing

All My Sons
TimeLine Theatre Company
» our review here

Cabaret
Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre
» our review here

High Fidelity
Route 66 Theatre Company

Million Dollar Quartet
Apollo Theater Chicago
» our review here

Mistakes Were Made
A Red Orchid Theatre

Studs Terkel’s Not Working
The Second City e.t.c.

The Fantasticks
Porchlight Music Theatre Chicago

The History Boys
TimeLine Theatre Company

The Light in the Piazza
Marriott Theatre

 

Non-Equity Wing:
Learn more about the Non-Equity Wing

Graceland
Profiles Theatre
» our review here

POSEIDON! An Upside Down Musical
Hell in a Handbag Productions

The Night Season
Premiere Theatre and Perf. i/a/w/ Vitalist Theatre

The Taming of the Shrew
Theo Ubique Theatre Company i/a/w Michael James
» our review here

Under Milk Wood
Caffeine Theatre
» our review here

Chicago Theater – Best of 2008 (Chicago Tribune)

   Bountiful03smE_Faye_Butler - CarolineChangesweetcharitycollage

 

Chicago Tribune’s main theatre critic, Chris Jones, presents his top 10 plays of 2008:

 

1. A Trip to Bountiful  (Goodman Theatre)
by Horton Foote
Standouts: Harris Yulin (director), performance: Lois Smith
     
2. Our Town  (The Hypocrites)
by Thornton Wilder
Standouts: David Cromer (director), actors: Jennifer Grace (as Emily), David Cromer (narrator)
 
     
3. Picnic  (Writers’ Theatre)
by William Inge
Standouts: David Cromer (Director)
 
     
4. Caroline or Change  (Court Theatre)
by Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori
Standouts: Charles Newell (director), Doug Peck (musical director); actors: Kate Fry, E.Faye Butler
 
     
5. Ruined  (Goodman Theatre)
by Lynn Nottage
Standout: Kate Whoriskey (director)
 
     
6. Four Places  (Victory Gardens)
by Joel Drake Johnson
Standouts: Sandy Shinner (director)
 
     
7. Sweet Charity  (Drury Lane Oakbrook)
by Cy Coleman
Standouts: Jim Corti (director), Mitzi Hamilton (choreographer)
 
     
8. Gatz  (Elevator Repair Service Theatre)
by John Collins
 
     
9. The Seafarer  (Steppenwolf Theatre)
by Conor McPherson
Standout: Francis Guinan (says Jones: probably the best male performance of the year)
 
     
10. Journey’s End (Griffin Theatre)
by Jonathan Berry
 

Honorable mentions: (alphabetically): America: All Better! (Second City), Don’t Dress for Dinner (British American Stage Company – at Royal George), Grey Gardens (Northlight Theatre), If All The World Were Paper (Chicago Children’s Theatre), Jacques Brel’s Lonesome Losers of the Night (Theo Ubique). Les Miserables (Marriott Theatre), Million Dollar Quartet (Deegee Theatricals, John Cossette Productions and Northern Lights – at the Apollo Theater), A Taste of Honey (Shattered Globe Theatre), Tomorrow Morning (Hilary A. Williams LLC), The Voysey Inheritance (Remy Bumppo Theatre Company).

 

To see further discussion regarding each show, go to Chris Jones’ The Theater Loop blog posting.