Review: The King and I (Porchlight Music Theatre Chicago)

     
     

Getting to love you

     
     

Brianna-Borger and Wayne Hu

  
Porchlight Music Theatre Chicago presents
  
The King and I
  
Written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II
Directed by L. Walter Stearns
Music Directed by Eugene Dizon
at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont (map)
through June 5  |  tickets: $35  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

L. Walter Stearns’ final staging for Porchlight Music Theatre (he’s moving on to manage the Mercury Theatre) is a splendid swan song. Efficient but never merely dutiful, this tender-loving revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1951 treasure lets the talent on this stage honor the brilliance on the page. Despite lacking the budgets of Marriott Theatre’s 2000 revival or the most recent one at Drury Lane Oakbrook in 2007, Porchlight never allows less to be lacking.

Erik Kaiko as Lun Tha and Jillian Jocson as Tuptim - King and IBesides, look at what they’re working with! It’s rewarding how much the R & H musicals amplify each other, yielding a whole much bigger than its parts. In The King and I we see a British schoolteacher who changes the children around her and shapes the future through her enlightened tutelage of the Crown Prince of Siam. Anna Leonowens anticipates Maria Von Trapp, an Austrian governess who changes the children and around and escapes the present to pursue the sound of music. Likewise, Flower Drum Song carefully chronicles the cultural changes in a community. Above all, like South Pacific, King and I delivers an action lesson in tolerance. Anna and the King learn from each pother, he forbearance and humility before the facts of life, love and death, she the discipline and tradition required to keep a nation together and, more importantly, unconquered.

The closest comparison outside the R & H canon is, interestingly, Fiddler on the Roof: Both musicals deal with central characters coping with change during convulsive historical periods, desperate to preserve tradition (and power) while wryly accepting the future, as much on their terms as possible.

The King’s transformation (and, by implication, that of Siam) is accomplished in stunning songs like “Getting to Know You” and “Shall We Dance?” that win us over from the first note. Well worth the succession from Gertrude Lawrence to Deborah Kerr to Donna Murphy, Brianna Borger’s warmly engaging Anna brings quicksilver resilience and five different kinds of love to her widow, mother, tutor, confidante and lover. Her patter songs, “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?,” crackles with contagious indignation and hard-core spunk. The first Asian I’ve seen playing the King, burly Wayne Hu stamps the King with wizard timing, wry irascibility and bedrock dignity. The fact that he’s no infallible leader only makes his aspirations to authority more poignant and less threatening.

It’s impossible to overpraise Jillian Anne Jocson’s lovely and lyrical Tuptim, enchanting in “I Have Dreamed” and “We Kiss in Shadow” with ardent Erik Kaiko as her doomed beloved, or Kate Garassino’s elegant Lady Thiang, wisdom wrapped in reticence. The Siamese wives and children (here reduced to six) are marvels of grace in energy and as comely as a palace frieze. Likewise Bill Morey’s elaborate Eastern costumes, their shimmering and sumptuous fabrics lit by Mac Vaughey with what must be new colors, and Ian Zywica’s unit set with its Oriental throne room, filigreed archways, and burnished floor. (Flanking the king are dualistic symbols of East and West—a chess set and a statue of the Buddha.) Brenda Didier’s choreography, faithful to Jerome Robbins, turns “‘The Small House of Uncle Thomas’ Ballet” into a cascade of astonishment and artful reinvention.

For purists like me there’s one cavil: This revival’s two-piano accompaniment, however beautifully played by Eugene Dizon and Allison Hendrix, is nonetheless a letdown, robbing the songs of the rich orchestrations Rodgers intended. Less crucial, the delightful scene in which the ladies of the court try to maneuver inside European crinoline ballgowns and corsets is necessarily omitted. But new to me is the royal school’s anthem sung by Anna and her princely pupils, as well as a charming reprise of “A Puzzlement” sung by the sons of the principals that extends the cultural clash to the next generation. You win some, you lose some.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Brianna Borger, Dylan Lainez, Tatum Pearlman, Lydia Hurrelbrink

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REVIEW: Three Sisters (Piven Theatre Workshop)

   
   

Chekhov’s naturalist classic enjoys lively revival at Piven

 

Nofs-Snyder, Underwood, Batista - H

   
Piven Theatre Workshop presents
 
Three Sisters
   
Written by Anton Chekhov 
Adapted by
Sarah Ruhl
Directed by Joyce Piven
at
Noyes Cultural Center, Evanston (map)
thru November 21  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

For sisters Olga (Joanne Underwood), Masha (Saren Nofs-Snyder), and Irina (Ravi Batista), the road to Moscow is long and bumpy in Piven Theatre’s finely acted, elegantly directed production of Chekhov’s naturalist classic Three Sisters. Tethered to their provincial town by occupation, spouse, and status, they struggle to find the meaning in their tiresome existence, dreaming of a utopian Moscow that is just out of reach. As their hopes fall apart around them, they learn that the only people they can trust are each other, and the three actresses develop the relationship between the Smith, Barnes, Nofs-Snyder - Vwomen beautifully. Under the guidance of director Joyce Piven, the relationships between the sisters and the men around them come to life, creating believable drama that is thick with emotion.

For Olga and Irina, the oldest and youngest, returning to Moscow is not near the fantasy it is for their middle sister Masha, in a loveless marriage with tenuous schoolteacher Kulygin (Brett T. Barnes), and Nofs-Snyder’s melancholic portrayal of Masha captures the sense of helplessness that defines the character. When the handsome Lieutenant Colonel Vershinin (Daniel Smith) enters Masha’s life, she is given a reason to live, and their romance smolders despite Smith’s distracting dialect. The first kiss between the two is one of the highlights of the production, a wonderfully awkward moment filled with hesitation that erupts into lust as the creaking of the wooden sofa breaks through their sensual silence.

Masha is the heart, Irina the soul, and Olga the mind of the play, allowing these core elements to dictate the direction of their lives. Meanwhile, their brother Andrei’s (Dave Belden) wife Natasha (Amanda Hartley) lacks all three, and she sucks them from her husband as the story progresses. A petulant, anxious ice queen with a superiority complex and unhealthy levels of self-righteousness, Natasha is played with villainous gusto by Hartley, who fearlessly depicts the character’s power trip once she marries Andrei. Her treatment of house servant Anfisa (Kathleen Ruhl, mother of adapter Sarah) is appalling, and creates great conflict with Olga, who cherishes Anfisa like a member of the family.

Ruhl, Batista - HDirector Joyce Piven uses the space beautifully, crafting spatial relationships to build tension between characters that explode when they finally come together. Solyony (Jay Reed), the play’s most combustible character, hates everything and never backs down from an argument, his intense misery venturing into comedic territory in its exaggeration. His love for Irina, a love shared by Baron Tuzenbach (Andy Hager), is unreturned by the youngest sister, who is more concerned with discovering fulfilling work than a man. Batista gives an emotionally resonant performance, especially as Irina begins to understand the kind of work available to her in town, but there’s a maturity in her voice and carriage that takes away from the character’s youthful energy. There is an early moment when Vershinin describes the sisters’ old home in Moscow and the older two’s faces become teary-eyed at the memory while Irina struggle to recapture the image, likely too young to truly remember. It’s a small moment, but it helps solidify her position in the trinity.

It’s a good time to be a Chekhov fan in Chicago. Goodman’s The Seagull (our review ★★★★) as the theatrical theory and situational humor, while Three Sisters eloquently showcases Chekhov’s philosophical genius and occasionally nihilist world view. As the lights go down on the three sisters standing united against the world, it’s like they are watching Moscow burn before their very eyes. The power of these three women together is the play’s beauty, the reality of their circumstance its tragedy.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
 
 

Smith, Nofs-Snyder - H

Cast:

Ravi Batista* (Irina)
Saren Nofs-Snyder (Masha)
Joanne Underwood (Olga)
Brent T. Barnes (Kulygin)
Dave Belden (Andrei)
Marcus Davis (Fedotik)
Kevin D’Ambrosio (Ferapont)
John Fenner Mays (Chebutykin)
Andy Hager (Tuzenbach)
Amanda Hartley (Natasha)
Jacob Murphy (Rode)
Jay Reed (Solyony)
Kathleen Ruhl (Anfisa)
Dan Smith (Vershinin)
Susan Applebaum (Understudy – Anfisa)

 

Production Staff:

Producer: Jodi Gottberg
Production Stage Manager: Wendy Woodward*
Scenic Design: Aaron Menninga
Technical Director: Bernard Chin
Lighting Design: Andrew Iverson & Alex Bradford Ruhlin
Costume Design: Bill Morey
Composition & Sound Design: Collin Warren
Sound Engineer: Alex Bradford Ruhlin
Properties Design: Jesse Gaffney
Asst. Director & Dramaturg: Stephen Fedo
Asst. Stage Manager: Chad Duda
Asst. to the Director: Skye Robinson Hillis
Costume Assistant: Melissa Ng
Production Intern: Nathaniel Williams

* Member, Actors Equity Association

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Bailiwick Chicago extends F**KING MEN for 2nd time

Bailiwick Chicago Announces 3-Week Extension

of Joe DiPietro’s F**KING MEN


Executive Director Kevin Mayes announced today that Bailiwick Chicago’s hit production of Joe DiPietro’s F**KING MEN will be extended for an additional three weeks due to popular demand. Performances will continue through Sunday, August 29 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont with the original cast.

We are so pleased that Chicago audiences have embraced this production,” said Mayes, “and we are excited that we’ve been able to keep the original cast together for this second extension. It’s been an amazing summer for Bailiwick Chicago, with our two hit shows Aida and F**KING MEN. We are incredibly proud of – and humbled by – the response.

F**KING MEN observes the sex lives of the modern urban gay American male. Conceived as a noir-riff on Arthur Schnitzler’s 19th century play, LA RONDE, the play examines ten men from all walks of life as they negotiate the before and after of lust, love, betrayal and the pursuit of sex and emotional connection. Funny, poignant, sometimes dramatic, always provocative and sexy, the show has been critically acclaimed by Chicago critics: “Emotionally Searing…Superb Performances…there is truth and understanding in F**KING MEN.” (Hedy Weiss, Chicago Sun-Times) “…[F**KING MEN] is serviced brilliantly by this snappy, assured Chicago production.” (Nina Metz, Chicago Tribune) “…F**KING MEN is pretty fucking solid.” (Kris Vire, TimeOut Chicago).

Bailiwick Chicago has launched a dedicated web site for the production with photos, videos, and additional information about the show at www.FMenChicago.com.

Performances are Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., and Sundays at 7 p.m. General admission tickets are $25. Special Reserved seating is available for $30. Student and Industry rush tickets will be available at the door for $15 at every Sunday performance. Group (6+) tickets are $20.00. To purchase tickets, call the Stage 773 box office at 773-327-5252, or go towww.ticketmaster.com.

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REVIEW: F**king Men (Bailiwick Chicago Theatre)

The Circle of Gay Life

FMen-Vanguard 

    
Bailiwick Chicago presents
   
F**king Men
   
Written by Joe DiPietro
Directed by
Tom Mullen
at
Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont (map)
through July 25th  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

reviewed by Keith Ecker 

I don’t know if you read the papers, but us gay guys get a pretty bad rap. If we’re not contributing to the downfall of society, we’re made out to be self-loathing, sex-crazed loveless loners.

But the truth is, gay men—just like all human beings—are capable of love, and in fact, spend much of their lives, as everyone does, looking for it. And it is this search for Ryan - Beaumeaning, connection and kindness in a sea of sex that playwright Joe DiPietro attempts to illuminate in his cyclical play Fucking Men.

Fucking Men is a loose adaptation of the 19th century play La Ronde in which pairings of characters are featured in scenes preceding and succeeding sexual encounters. It’s an interesting structure—often employed as an improv comedy exercise—that lends itself to strong characterizations and oodles of dramatic irony.

The play begins and ends with John (Arthur Luis Soria), a young lovelorn prostitute. John is about to turn a trick. The trick’s name is Steve (Cameron Harms), a closeted military man who wants to receive oral sex from a man, you know, just to test it out. After the deed is done, Steve freaks out and beats up John.

Next is a silent scene in which Steve is in the gym sauna opposite Marco (Armand Fields). Steve touches his chest, signaling to Marco that he’s interested. Without saying a word, the two men fool around. Afterward, Marco continues his locker room routine: change out of clothes, pack up his bag, etc., while the closeted Steve rambles on about his sexuality and his encounter with John.

Naturally, the next scene depicts Armand with yet another character (this one a wisecracking, pot-smoking college student). And the domino effect of the La Ronde continues from there.

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The overarching theme of the play seems to be the need to inject kindness into our relationships, no matter how fleeting. It is all too easy to take advantage of others to fulfill our own selfish sexual and emotional desires. But if you come at sex with a sense of empathy, then you can be sure to limit the amount of pain you spread throughout the world and increase the love. Think of it like paying it forward…only sexually.

Some of the scenes really capture this idea. When the older and partnered Leo (Thad Anzur) enters the college dorm of Kyle (Cameron Johnson) for a random sexual encounter, he gets cold feet. Leo wants to know Kyle, to have some emotional connection prior to the physical connection. Youthful Kyle just wants sex and makes it  clear that if Leo isn’t going to give it up then he can easily get it elsewhere. The two end up chatting and finding some common ground to connect on. Leo gets the emotional connection he’s been seeking, and Kyle gets the sex.

Christian - KarmannOther scenes, however, are less believable. The opening scene in particular falls flat. When the closeted Steve gushes about his self-doubt and sexual confusion to the prostitute, I had to roll my eyes. The scene just doesn’t seem grounded in reality. A prostitute is going to know not to take on a buff, aggressive client who is deeply self-hating and fearful of gays. It’s a safety precaution. And the closeted Steve’s dialogue is riddled with more clichés than a Lifetime movie.

The other major flaw of the play is the music. Laurence Mark Wythe composed original instrumentals for Fucking Men that play as transitions between scenes as set pieces are moved and altered to create the various settings. And although the music itself is just fine, it undercuts the dramatic tension of the scenes when it is used underneath the dialogue. I’m assuming this was a decision made by director Mullen, and I would hope it is relegated only to scene transitions in future performances.

Overall, Fucking Men strikes at the core of what motivates gay men—and quite possibly everyone else too—to have sex. And although there are some weaknesses with a few of the characters whose behaviors just are beyond believable, it’s pretty easy to find traces of yourself in most of them.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

fucking men cast with playwright Joe DiPietro

Cast of “F**king Men”, including Director Tom Mullen and Playwright Joe DiPietro.

           
           

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Review: TimeLine Theatre’s “When She Danced”

 TimeLine crafts a superb production from a flawed script

When She Danced at TimeLine Theatre

TimeLine Theatre presents:

When She Danced

by Martin Sherman
directed by Nick Bowling
thru December 20th (ticket info)

reviewed by Catey Sullivan

Like its depiction of the Isadora Duncan’s life, When She Danced is a glorious, extravagant mess. Amid a cacophony of languages, lobster, lovers and champagne Timeline creates something that’s both richly entertaining and immensely frustrating with Martin Sherman’s portrait of the mother of modern dance.

"When She Danced" at TimeLine Theatre We know La Duncan (who was called such when the article really meant something, unlike today’s trashy La Lohan vernacular) redefined an entire art form. But because film of her dancing is rare unto non-existent, we can only imagine the extraordinary aura of grace and beauty she projected while in motion, inspiring thousands of barefoot disciples the globe over. That very legacy all but ensures that any portrait of Duncan will fall short. Have an actress attempt to dance like Duncan and they will inevitably suffer by comparison. Leave the dancing out, and you lose the essence of the woman’s existence.

Sherman takes the safer route, leaving the dance completely to his audience’s imagination. Rather than choreography, we get rapt exposition by Duncan’s slavishly devoted household coterie. And of course, the lack of a visual is a problem: because we never see Duncan dance, her art – or the lack thereof – becomes the 800-pound gorilla on the set. Dance is the thing that defines not only Duncan, but every relationship and reaction to her. Without it, those relationships and reactions ring a bit hollow. For those who crave a glimpse at the movement that made the legend, When She Danced is a tease. We hear all about the sheer, life-changing fabulousness of Duncan’s dancing, but we never see it.

That said, director Nick Bowling has crafted an immensely watchable and lavishly beautiful production. We meet Isadora (Jennifer Engstrom) in her 40s. She claims to be past her prime, but in Engstrom’s alternately regal and unabashedly sensual performance, Duncan is every inch magnificent. Her Paris flat is in a state of exuberant and sophisticated chaos. Among the larger-than-life personalities coming and going: Duncan’s much younger Russian husband Sergei (Patrick Mulvey), gleefully capturing an unstable firebrand with little but sex and suicide on the brain); Alexandros Eliopolos, an adoring 19-year-old Greek prodigy pianist (Alejandro Cordoba, a major talent who delivers a concert-level Chopin etude midway through the production); and Miss Hanna Belzer (Janet Ulrich Brooks), a Russian translator whose underwritten role nonetheless becomes an emotional cornerstone thanks to Brooks’ quietly galvanizing performance.

"When She Danced" at TimeLine Theatre when-she-danced-2

The languages – Greek, Russian, English French and Italian – fly fast and thick with several in the ensemble never speaking a word of English. Bowling succeeds in making dialogue flow like music. And it’s to the cast’s great credit that even when the words are foreign, the meaning within them shines through.

It’s a shame that all these wonderfully idiosyncratic, effectively etched characters are stuck in a plot that’s rather static. Duncan’s desperate need for money provides the slight arc. The story peaks with a marvelously unconventional fund-raising dinner party that devolves into a rapturous, multi-lingual food fight. But once the rolls stop flying, Sherman doesn’t seem to know what to do with everyone other than have them fade slowly into a blackout.

In all, Bowling has crafted a superb production from a flawed script. It helps that When She Danced looks wonderful, thanks to Keith Pitts at once elegant, impoverished and richly beautiful Parisian flat. Seth E. Reinick’s evocative lighting beautifully emphasizes monologues by Brooks and Cordoba that come almost as close to portraying Duncan’s brilliance as any actual dancing might. Almost.

When She Danced continues through Dec. 20 at TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington. Tickets are $25 and $35. For more information, call 773/281-8463 or go to www.timelinetheatre.com

Rating: ★★½

 

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Review: “Carpenter’s Halloween” at Mary’s Attic

Definitely a treat!

myersKnifesmall

The Scooty & Jojo Show presents:

Carpenters Halloween

created by Scott Bradley and Jonny Stax
directed by Scott Bradley
music-directed by Brent Moore
thru November 7th (buy tickets)

reviewed by Katy Walsh

carpenters-halloween-1

Light their way when the darkness surrounds them…

Is this the beginning narration of a story about a beast or a line from a 1970’s pop song? In Carpenter’s Halloween Scott Bradley and Jonny Stax re-imagine John Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween movie as a musical. The Scooty & Jojo Show’s production uses the lyrics of Karen and Richard Carpenter to tell the tale of Michael Myer’s psycho ward escape and killing-spree homecoming. The results? Carpenter’s Halloween is a hilarious slasher reproduction.

a kind of hush all over the world tonight”

Performed at Mary’s Attic, the show starts with and uses film footage projected on televisions to illustrate Michael Myer’s childhood transformation into psycho killer.  The multi-talented cast, cardboard cars, live band and puppets transport you back to the familiar cult classic. The fear factor is gone as the campy show pokes fun of the movie’s scary elements 30+ year ago that, in hindsight, seem ridiculous.

“We’ve only just begun….”

Some of the best moments are new lines on the familiar script; “he always looks like that. He’s a puppet.” And “would Karen Carpenter have a second bowl of popcorn?”  Leading the laughter is the stand out performance of Scott Bradley as Laurie Strode. Playing up the Laurie’s “Solitaire’s the only game in town loneliness,” Bradley hilariously mimics Jamie Lee Curtis’ memorable performance. One of many giggle-fests occurs when Lindsey (Ryan Guhde) and Tommy (Libby Lane) re-interpret the phrase “go upstairs and change your clothes.” Baby, baby, baby, aw baby I love Carpenter’s Halloween I really do!

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Examples of comments heard from audience members include – Steve:  Muppets meet Python; Tom: campy, funny, songy; Shawn: scream queen lives; Scott: song slash dance; Jen: well-delivered, witty, wicked; Paul: camp built well; and James: Karen would approve!

Rating: «««

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