Review: The Wedding (TUTA Theatre)

     
     

TUTA’s garishly manic wedding holds more potential

     
     

A scene from 'The Wedding' by Bertolt Brecht, re-mounted by TUTA Theatre of Chicago

  
TUTA Theatre presents
  
The Wedding
  
Written by Bertolt Brecht 
Directed by
Zeljko Djukic 
at
Chopin Studio Theatre, 1543 W. Division (map)
through March 6  |  tickets: $25-$30   |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

The wedding party is back! Under the direction of Zeljko Djukic, TUTA Theatre remounts its wildly successful production of Bertolt Brecht’s The Wedding, an early comedy about a wedding dinner filled with obnoxious and unpredictable guests. Having triumphed with last year’s production (see our review), TUTA is having another go.

TUTA Wedding #3Andy Hager is back at his panty-sniffing best as the Bridegroom’s Friend. As the Bride’s Father, Kirk Anderson holds court once again with the unbearably tangential and grotesque stories. As Bride and Bridegroom, Jennifer Byers and Trey Maclin regale once more as the newlywed couple that strives too hard to impress people they don’t like. Meanwhile, Jacqueline Stone (The Wife) and Jaimelyn Gray (The Bride’s Sister) again take lusty feminine mischief to fabulous extremes.

Ariel Brenner, Sean Ewert and Jake Lindquist join the cast to take on the roles vacated by Laurie Larson, Christopher Popio and Ben Harris. TUTA’s rehearsal process for its remount was terribly short and it shows. Hardly enough time has been allowed to let the new cast members jell with the old. Gone is the near seamlessness by which TUTA conveyed these Weimar Era characters’ jaded frustrations, cynicism and anxiety over class. Another weekend of performances will probably warm up the whole cast to the old Wedding magic, but it shouldn’t be left for too long. Part of the genius of the earlier production was the way madness fluidly sprouted in one corner while a guest struggled to win the center of attention in another.

That said, there’s potential for fresh manic humor from the incorporation of new blood. Brenner plays the Bridegroom’s Andy Hager as Bridegroom's Friend in the remount of TUTA Theatre's 'The Wedding' by Bertolt Brecht.Mother with a little more mischief and flirtatiousness than Larson did—Larson had a mother’s scowl that could sour milk and make mares give birth to deformed foals. Ewert’s Husband sympathetically depicts a man who may actually love his Wife, whatever his demons may be—or hers. Finally, Lindquist sings with a little more vaudeville bravado than did Harris in the role of The Young Man. There is much new here for the cast to work and play with, hopefully with exciting results.

Audiences will still find much to enjoy at The Wedding. The bones of Djukic’s direction are still strong. Jesse Terrill’s original compositions hold up very well, and the incorporation of pop tunes sets the right distancing tone for commentary upon the selfish, self-absorbed action of the guests. And then there’s the Jello—from a jiggling entrée of cod to jiggling desserts, nothing portends wedding disaster like garishly colored food that just won’t stay still.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Scene from TUTA's production of 'The Wedding' by Bertolt Brecht

   
  

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REVIEW: Madeleine Remains (Clove Productions)

How an epic fail can destroy a delicacy

 

clove productions poster

  
Clove Productions presents
   
Madeleine Remains
  
Written by Michael Martin
Directed by Shannon Evans
at the side project, 1439 W. Jarvis (map)
through July 17th  |  tickets: $12   |  more info

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Michael Martin’s new one-woman play, MADELEINE REMAINS: In Memory, A Wife of Genius, is quite a casual production at the side project theatre in Rogers Park. Not that that’s a bad thing. A certain community sensibility pervades the scene at Clove Productions. A feeling of comfort, casualness, and ease exudes from the presence of madeleine remains close friends, family, and long-time theatre compatriots in attendance. This is intimate theater in Chicago in the warm summer air. Here, new works in progress receive a low-key reception, profoundly appreciative of small and delicate work.

Directed by Shannon Evans and produced by Clove Productions, small and delicate is precisely how one should describe Madeleine Remains. It could also be called fine art comedy, since its humor is as ornate and fine-spun as filigree silver jewelry.

The wife of Andre Gide is explaining her life as the simple, unadorned and introverted muse of a modern literary genius. She is also the turn-of-the-century wife to a deeply closeted gay author. His love for her is of a heightened spiritual kind that has no need for earthly passion—or so he tells her when they marry. He even writes love letters to her, which he claims are his finest literary creations. Too bad the ethereal romance of their marriage shows its feet of clay when Andre runs off for a long romance with 16 year-old Mark. This leads Madeleine to burn Andre’s spiritual love letters, but not before she has committed each and every one of them to memory.

One would think this kind of monologue would be burdened with melodramatic histrionics. But Martin’s writing is more cunning than that and in Ariel Brenner he has an actress precisely cast for the role. Brenner has captured Madeleine’s every quiet, unimposing introverted tic and created a comic tour de force with her perfectly timed execution of Martin’s lines. It’s as if Brenner had invented “Less is More” with her exacting portrayal of Madeleine’s subtle personality and exquisitely demur ego.

Sadly, on the night I witnessed the production, an epic fail overthrew all that exquisite work. Brenner stalled right in the middle of the monologue, visibly retreated into her chair, and simply could not recover. A generous and ardent admirer from the audience took her hand and led her from the stage so that she could collect herself. Brenner returned to the stage, the rest of the script in hand, and picked up about where she had left off, relying on the script the rest of the way.

It’s truly difficult to assess the rest of Martin’s work from these unfortunate circumstances. Much of the well-established comic timing that Brenner had slain with was lost. Near the end, Madeleine remarks to the audience that she could recite the content of Andre’s love letters to them, but she refuses to do so until the audience comes to visit again. The ending seemed strikingly flat compared to such a light, bold, and promising beginning. Perhaps Martin would not like to imitate the writing style of Andre Gide by reproducing such an infamous lost text in his script. However, it would be nice to know what Madeleine thinks of a love that is based on airy nothingness—whether she thinks it greater or lesser than the earthly kind.

  
   
Rating: ★★
  
  

REVIEW: Legion (Wildclaw Theatre)

 

Spooky special-effects; original music accent this horror-fest

 
 
Wildclaw Theatre presents:
 
Legion
 
adapted by Charley Sherman
directed by
Anne Adams
at
Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western Ave.
through April 18th
(more info)

Reviewed by Aggie Hewitt

The story of Legion, the sequel to “The Exorcist”, has taken many forms: first as a 1983 novel by William Peter Blatty, then as a film (The Exorcist III) and now it is a play, adapted by Wildclaw’s Artistic Director Charley Sherman, and presented by WildClaw Theatre.

WildClaw’s favored subject matter is the frightening and supernatural. When horror is done right it’s one of the most fun and satisfying types of show to see – the audience feels like a unified place when everyone is afraid of the same boogeyman.  The boogeyman here is two-fold. The string of murders that start Legion off match the M.O. of the Gemini Killer, who was supposed to have been killed twelve years before the start of the play. And of course being the Exorcist sequel, it must feature the worst villain in the history of literature: Satan. So what exactly is going on? Who is committing the murders? I’ll never tell…

Legion takes it’s name from a biblical quote that Blatty uses at the beginning of the novel The Exorcist: “Now when [Jesus] stepped ashore, there met him a certain man who for a long time was possessed by a devil … And Jesus asked him, saying, ‘What is thy name?’ and he said, Legion … “ Given the references to Mafia murders, the Vietnam war and the Holocaust that Blatty references after, it makes one wonder what exactly this Legion is. Is it’s the darkness and rage of humanity that makes this Satanic literary duo so terrifying? It’s not simply the devil. In contemporary society of different beliefs, cultures and mindsets, a biblical tale of demonic possession is not enough to strike fear into a universal audience. But you don’t have to believe in the Christian bible to think Legion is scary.

The main character, Lt. Kinderman is Jewish. His consistent references to kibitzes and Matzo are enough to make one a Meshugina, but the incorporating of a religion other than Christianity reminds the audience that this is a story about man, not God. Len Bajenski’s very endearing yet, (there is no other way to say this) Colombo-esque performance as the detective is more familiar than derivative and is a nice counter-balance to the heavy, daunting subject matter.

LEGION_strip

Despite it’s serious side, Legion never forgets to be entertaining, especially with the over the top special effects skillfully done by Fraser Coffeen. The audience gets to witness the horrific crime scenes with Lt. Kinderman, bodies and all. Of course, the gore does not look real but there is a fun, campy theatricality to the poor victims in Mr. Blatty’s dark tale.

The adaptation takes great care to loyally mirror the book on stage, which can lead to information overload. Trying to cram the density of a novel into a two-act play is too much: too many characters, too many ideas, and too many subplots. Didactic speeches about the existence of God and the nature of man can be cut down substantially. The large cast still relies on double and triple casting of almost all of the actors, and the effect is confusing and overwhelming. Legion soars when it distances itself from the novel and finds its strength as an independent play. The best example of this is a comedia del arte inspired flashback to the childhood of the Gemini killer that is startling and extremely engaging.

The glue that holds this entire production together is the fantastic original music by Scott Tallarida. The screeching strings are reminiscent of the score from the movie Psycho. The music is both terrorizing and humorous, to a very entertaining end.

Director Anne Adams has made a creepy play. Her instincts about when to be campy and when to be down to earth are dead on. The staging of some of the larger group scenes are usually clean and precise, although some staging drifts into clutterdom. Not to give anything away, but Cheryl Roy is fantastically creepy in the ensemble and Scott T. Barsotti gives a performance that will make one jump in one’s seat – perhaps to one’s embarrassment.

Legion is a play that lives in the dark and the light: it’s political and scary and light and cinematic all at the same time. It’s unafraid to push the limits of on-stage horror to the maximum. While not a perfect production, this play hits all the right marks for a fun night out.

 
Rating: ★★½
 

 

   

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