REVIEW: Candida (ShawChicago)

 

Shaw explores love by choice rather than passion

 

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ShawChicago presents
    
Candida
  
Written by George Bernard Shaw
Directed by
Robert Scogin
at
Ruth Page Theater, 1016 N. Dearborn (map)
through November 8  |  tickets: $10-$22   |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh 

Everyone loves the Morells but nobody wants to talk about it! ShawChicago presents Candida, George Bernard Shaw’s play about love in and outside the marriage. In 1894 London, Reverend James Morell is in demand on the lecture circuit. His social reform stance has made him a celebrity. His idolizing fans place him on a pedestal. The Reverend enjoys the adoration of his followers including his favorite admirer, Candida –his wife. Life for the Reverend is worship as usual until a young man declares his own love for Candida. Not just that, the young man proposes he’s better suited for her because he’s totally focused on HER happiness. Over a hundred years later, Shaw’s deconstruction of love is timeless humor. In the formalized culture of the time period, love is and isn’t discussed with apologies and controlled emotion. Shaw scrutinizes a marriage to a husband, who has a healthy sense of self. When one confession leads to another, love happens. Candida is a humorous debate of the meaning of love without feelings.

George_bernard_shaw As is ShawChicago’s style, Candida is performed as a staged reading. No sets. No costumes. Under the direction of Robert Scogin, it’s all about Shaw’s words interpreted by a talented cast. Matt Penn (Morell) has controlled intensity as the Reverend. His bursts of rage are a surprising contrast to his confident public self. The target of the anger, Christian Gray (Eugene) plays the young confessor of love with nervous energy and a hint of evil intent. Gray provides a complex version of the love opponent with poetic horrors. Barbara Zahora (Candida) is coarsed-grain. She lives in her husband’s world but maintains her own identity. Zahora charms with a strong sensibility. Lydia Berger (Garnett) is hysterical as the uptight typist. A victim of a secret love, Berger is sharp-tongued with delicious bitterness.

Jack Hickey (Mr. Burgess) assesses the ‘madness’ around him with humor and a strong working class English accent. Sparring with Berger, Kaelen Strouse (Lexy) is also crushing on the Reverend with a sweet devotion. This cast magnificently flirts with all the aspects of unrequited love.

Undoubtedly, Candida shocked the turn-of-the-century audiences. Today, it still surprises for its ageless topic, love. In 2010, love is expressed with emotion. Uncontrollable passion drives people together and apart. It’s not so much a decision to love, as the fated outcome of animalistic urges. Perhaps we should all channel our inner Shaw for lively intellectual debates on love before going heels over head.

Critics, like other people, see what they look for, not what is actually before them. –George Bernard Shaw

   
   
Rating: ★★★
    
   

Running Time: Two hours includes a fifteen minute intermission

   
   

REVIEW: The Weir (Seanachai Theatre)

 

Irish Eeriness Done Right

 

from left, Valerie (Sarah Wellington), Jim (Jeff Christian), and Jack (Brad Armacost) have great craic in Seanachaí Theatre Company’s THE WEIR by Conor McPherson. Photo courtesy of Eileen Molony.

   
Seanachai Theatre Company presents
   
The Weir
   
Written by Conor McPherson
Directed by
Matt Miller
Irish American Heritage Center, 4626 N. Knox (map)
through October 3  |  tickets: $22-$26  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

Considering the resumes of those involved, it’s surprising that Seanachai’s production of The Weir went unmentioned in many of those “fall previews” the theatre press is so fond of. First off, the play was penned by a young Conor McPherson, the Irishman who also wrote The Seafarer and Shining City. Both of those had hugely successful Chicago premiers at Steppenwolf and the Goodman, respectively. To  direct, Seanachai nabbed Matt Miller, the one behind the much-hyped Finbar (Kevin Theis, right) and Jack (Brad Armacost, left) have it out in Seanachaí Theatre Company’s THE WEIR by Conor McPherson. Photograph courtesy of Eileen Molony.Graceland (our review ★★★) at Profiles Theatre last year. And the small cast includes local stage stars like Sarah Wellington and Brad Armacost. Brad Smith, the youngest actor on-stage, even had a song featured on the “Up in the Air soundtrack. There’s so many accomplishments listed in each bio, I’m a little surprised the program didn’t explode.

What the lean, focused production made clear, however, is that Seanachai spent their time creating a terrific product instead of manufacturing buzz.

The talky play is a perfect fit for Gaelic-centric Seanachai and their ensemble of vibrant storytellers. That’s what the piece is, essentially—a couple rounds of storytelling, all relating brushes with the supernatural. The attractive, urbanite Valerie (Wellington) finds herself in a rural pub usually occupied by several lonely men. The locals attempt to impress her with regional folklore and their meetings with the spirits that inhabit the country alongside them. However, as the beer bottles and dirty glasses pile up, Valerie reveals the most personal and unnerving close encounter of them all.

The set-up might avail itself to some cheap, M. Night Shyamalan twist (“She’s really a ghost!”), but McPherson crafts a tale far richer, as well as much more disturbing. Miller and the cast don’t shock or frighten, but softly drill into the dark parts of the psyche.

Like most of McPherson’s other tales, the show boils down to a few characters sitting around and talking. Does anything actually happen? It’s a valid question. There are only a handful of entrances and exits, and the whole thing takes place in real time with no intermission. Fistful of monologues after fistful of monologues wears you down after awhile. However, when one goes a level deeper, they find that McPherson is fiercely concerned with his characters’ internal struggles and the small, everyday friendships that keep us all sane. The script might make a slow pace appealing to a lesser director, but that would be suicide. The performers here know to keep moving at a fast clip while choosing moments to open up the play so the audience stays hungry.

from left, Jack (Brad Armacost), Jim (Jeff Christian), and Finbar (Kevin Theis), try to curry favor with Valerie (Sarah Wellington) by sharing betting tips, in Seanachaí Theatre Company’s THE WEIR by Conor McPherson. Photograph courtesy of Eileen Molony.

The play opens with Brendan (Smith), the owner of the bar, and Jack (Armacost), his best customer. Armacost goads, blathers, and flirts with the hilarious disregard of an aging bachelor. He also manages to drag the audience along the hills and valleys of loneliness and redemption. Smith retains an aloofness that occasionally borders on being uninteresting, but he stays plugged in with the rest of the cast over the duration, playing along with the more eccentric patrons of his bar. Jeff Christian exudes all sorts of awkward charm as the tightlipped Jim, a man that can get closer to horseracing statistics than other people. Kevin Theis’s Finbar, the married man who takes it upon himself to show Valerie around town, rotates between sliminess and sincerity. Even though the character is obviously a tool, Theis musters up enough charm to make sure that the audience can never really hate him. The heart of the show, though, is Wellington’s Valerie. Through the course of the play, she moves from a passive object of affection to a revealer of heartwrenching yet relatable experiences. And Wellington truly shines, never shying away from visiting the most vulnerable parts of herself.

Irish writers are known for their lyricism and long-windedness, and Seanachai eats it up. With The Weir, Miller spits out a dialogue-packed product that’s still able to tap into our deepest fears of the unknown. I’m guessing the buzz will quickly mount.

   
  
Rating: ★★★½
    
    

The Weir - Seanachai Theatre 02

   
   

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REVIEW: Doctor’s Dilemma (ShawChicago)

A timeless treatise on today’s healthcare debate?

 

doctors-dilemma

 
ShawChicago presents
 
Doctor’s Dilemma
 
Written by George Bernard Shaw
directed by Robert Scogin
DCA Studio Theatre, 78 E. Washington (map)
thru May 10th  |  tickets: $10-$22  | more info 

By Katy Walsh

Who to save? If allotted only enough serum to cure one patient, how to choose who is worthy of it? ShawChicago, in conjunction with DCA Studio Theatre in the Cultural Center, presents Doctor’s Dilemma. Illustrating a lifelong disdain for the healing profession, George Bernard Shaw pens a comedy about doctors debating the sanctity of healthcare for a price. Under the enchantment of a pretty lady, four doctors struggle with the decision to save her charming husband or their bumbling colleague.

shawportrait Although Shaw first produced the play in 1906, his viewpoints are still prevalent one hundred years later. Economics still influences healthcare in adequate coverage for the poor and research interests of the wealthy. Doctor’s Dilemma illustrates the timeless issues of healthcare and arrogant doctors; ShawChicago injects a talented cast. The result is a robust tonic sure to cure any ailment.

In the ShawChicago tradition, the show is a public reading. No costumes. No scenery. It’s just Shaw, Scogin and the ensemble. Under the direction of Robert Scogin, the entire cast adds their own version of razzle-dazzle. The doctors are a variety of superior condescension. Jack Hickey (Sir Ralph Bloomfield Bonington) is hilarious as the know-it-all physician with one basic prescription, “stimulate the phagocytes.” Hickey is riotous rambling his lunatic theories then stopping abruptly to utter “I’ve lost the thread of my conversation.” Will Clinger (Cutler Walpole) is in turn outrageous with his repeated diagnosis of ‘blood poisoning’ and his declaration that he is, “not a doctor. I’m a surgeon.” Skip Lundby (Sir Patrick Cullen) is the delightful retired doctor who starts an argument with, “when you’ve killed as many people as I have…” Matt Pen (Sir Colenso Ridgeon) is the smug bachelor with the God complex. The patient is Christian Gray (Louis Dubedat). Gray is the fast-talking scoundrel and the arrogant match for the doctors. In his immorality justification, Gray argues that lawyers threaten prison, parsons threaten damnation and doctors threaten death. Gray is deliciously unapologetic for his rogue ways. Barbara Zahora (Jennifer Dubedat) is the loyal wife and object of the doctors’ affections as she pleads for healthcare for her husband. In smaller roles but with superior accents, Mary Michell (Emmy) and Kaelan Strouse (Newspaper Man/Mr. Darby) are outstanding.

Sixteen years ago, ShawChicago started its artistic initiative with Doctor’s Dilemma in the DCA Studio Theatre in the Cultural Center. Back then, it was Clinton and healthcare. Now, it’s Obama and healthcare. But then and now and since 1906, Doctor’s Dilemma is a Shaw timeless classic.

 
 
Rating: ★★★
 
 

Extra Credit:

Running Time: Two hours and thirty minutes includes a ten minute intermission.

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Review: ShawChicago’s “Votes for Women!”

We’ve come a long way, baby

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ShawChicago presents:

Votes for Women!

by Elizabeth Robins
directed by Robert Scogin
thru November 9, 2009 (buy tickets)

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

Inadequate health care coverage, conservatives versus liberals, rumors of a politician’s past sexual indiscretion? No, Votes for Women! isn’t the story of Hillary Clinton’s rise to power. In fact, actress and playwright Elizabeth Robins wrote the work over a hundred years ago. Set in England in 1907, Votes for Women is about a naïve heiress introduced to the Suffragettes’ movement by the former lover of her political fiancé. ShawChicago’s production is a 100-year anniversary replication of Votes for Women! being introduced to Chicago.

Before the show even commences, the lack of scenery on stage is a bit perplexing. Chairs, music stands, and bottles of water suggest a reading – not a play.

Initially, the authenticity to the time period is appreciated. Later, after a series of monologues, a craving for visual stimulation and modern-day editing defeat any nostalgic notions. Distractive music and pounding offstage vie for attention during particularly long lectures. The stellar cast tries to overcome the lack of action with facial expressions and limited gesturing. Joseph Bowen (narrator/various voices) is fascinating playing characters with a variety of accents. In Act II, the juxtaposition between Suffragette’s speeches was intriguing. Melinda Moonahan (Working Woman) uses a lower class dialect bluntness to rally support. Lydia Berger (Ernestine Blunt) addresses with an educated and amplified oration. And Suzanne Lang (Vida Levering) delivers a personal and passionate plea. As the heiress, Barbara Zahora’s (Jean Dunbarton) love struck innocence engages compassion for the “poor little rich girl.”

Ironically, throughout the performance, one is torn between “we’ve come a long way baby” and “we got the vote, so what?” Yes, women can vote, own property, and run for President. On the other hand, the harsh and superior judgment of single mothers, welfare recipients and average-looking women continues to be prevalent. Regardless, however, Votes for Women is an important illustration of the evolution of thought regarding women’s rights. Hopefully by the 200th-anniversary production, women will have secured equality to men and each other.

 

Rating: ««

 

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