REVIEW: The Scarecrow (Theatre-Hikes)

              
      

Nebulous ‘Scarecrow’ comes to life in historic location

 

 

Theatre-Hikes - The Scarecrow 2

   
Theatre-Hikes presents
   
The Scarecrow
   
Written by Percy Mackaye
Directed by
Frank Farrell
at the
Pullman Factory, 11057 S. Cottage Grove (map)
through November 14  |  tickets: $10-$15  |  more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian

Theatre-Hikes takes a break from its normal outdoor theatre productions to bring the action (basically) indoors with Percy Mackaye’s The Scarecrow. Written in 1908, The Scarecrow is based on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “Feathertop”, but expands the tale and is not to be taken as a dramatization of the short story.

The setting for The Scarecrow is an abandoned warehouse in the Pullman Historic District. It’s got a cool, loft vibe with a bit of creepiness for added natural effect. The set itself resembles an old blacksmith’s barn with tools and equipment scattered about, and straw covers the floor. The only downside to the warehouse usage is that there’s a distinct echo, so when the actors speak loudly or yell it’s difficult to understand them.

Theatre-Hikes - The Scarecrow 1Set in seventeenth century Massachusetts, The Scarecrow opens on Goody Rickby (Joni Arredia) working in the blacksmith shop, creating a scarecrow for her cornfields. Arredia initially seems too over-the-top with her performance but as she eases into her character she becomes interesting with a depth that’s clear. You can see that she’s developed a backstory for her character because the emotions come out in her eyes. As Goody Rickby works, she converses with Dickon (Drew Patrick) who is also the devil. Patrick is entertaining and clever in his characterization with an eerie quality that stays with him throughout the production.

Dickon has taught Goody Rickby witchcraft after she has an affair with the town’s justice and he abandons her, causing their child to die due to lack of medical care. Justice Gilead Merton’s niece, Rachel (Athanasia Sawicz) is fascinated by witchcraft and purchases a “mirror of truth” from Rickby. Sawicz offers a somewhat lackluster performance and it’s hard to decipher what her intentions are for her character. She’s rather meek for someone who’s the niece of a prominent town figure.

After Rachel leaves, Rickby and Dickon devise a plan of revenge against Justice Merton. Together, they bring the scarecrow to life to be Rickby’s son and woo Rachel away from her current betrothed, Richard Talbot (Chris Yearwood). The scarecrow, whom they’ve named Lord Ravensbane (Bill Zimmerman), comes to life much like Pinocchio does in the fairy tale, finding his legs and voice to pass as a real man. Zimmerman brings a touchingly naïve charm to Lord Ravensbane, with an adopted stutter and sweet demeanor. He’s eager to please and ready to do what he’s told.

Theatre-Hikes - The Scarecrow 3With Dickon as his tutor, Lord Ravensbane enters the Merton home with every intention, he is told, of winning Rachel for himself. Judge Merton (Marty Couch) plays the justice well enough but seems a bit nervous. The justice is unhappy with his new houseguests, but when Dickon reveals himself as the devil to Merton, Merton realizes he must comply. Rachel develops a crush on Lord Ravensbane and he feels the same way. He becomes enamored of her and she becomes torn between him and Talbot. Although she is supposed to be wrought with emotion, Sawicz doesn’t emit much emotion through her body language and it often feels more like she’s reciting lines she’s memorized rather than that she’s embodied fully the character of Rachel.

Dickon has Merton throw a party in Lord Ravensbane’s honor and at this party, Zimmerman’s Ravensbane proves to be both charismatic and regal, as if her were a real lord. Zimmerman delivers stunning monologues that play to the emotions of his character and the audience. Patrick’s Dickon makes intentional and superb character choices, both with his words and his actions. He is his character through and through.

The Scarecrow proves to be in interesting production with some ups and downs, but it does offer some truly wonderful performances.

    
 
Rating: ★★½   
   
   

The Scarecrow plays through November 14 at the historic Pullman Factory, 11057 S. Cottage Grove Ave., Chicago. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased by emailing theatrehikes@gmail.com or call 773-293-1358.The Scarecrow - Theatre-Hikes

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REVIEW: Our Town (Theatre-Hikes)

Strong ensemble brings Grover’s Corners to life

 

rebecca, george & emily 25

   
Theatre-Hikes presents
   
Our Town
  
Written by Thornton Wilder
Directed by
Frank Farrell
at
The Pullman Historic Museum and Morton Arboretum
through September 26  |  tickets: $13-$19  |  more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian

Our Town, written by Thornton Wilder, offers a glimpse into the daily lives of average Americans in small town New Hampshire. Set from 1901 to 1913, this play takes the audience on a journey of growth and discovery. Focused mainly on the characters of George Gibbs and Emily Webb, Our Town depicts life typical of how things were at the beginning of the twentieth century.

The Pullman Historic Museum provides the backdrop for Theatre-Hikes’ Our Town, creating a feeling of being transported back to the early 1900s. (Note: future performances will occur at the Morton Arboretum). Grover’s Corners, NH, the location of Our Town, is brought to life through this use of this space. Being outdoors however, the cast had to compete with airplanes overhead, car alarms and some rather jubilant church music wafting through the air. The cast succeeds, however, in distracting the  audience from such deterrents with their george & emily A 50 strong, captivating performances. Each scene has very minimal set pieces – only six stools. The rest of the action and props are pantomimed. The cast does a good job acting out different experiences without the use of physical props, allowing for the story to really shine through.

Our Town opens on a typical day in Grover’s Corners with the actions narrated by the stage manager (Dan Scurek). Our Town is a meta-theatrical play that announces it’s a play, breaking through the fourth wall to directly address the audience. Scurek’s stage manager/narrator jumps right into character from his first line. He’s incredibly personable and animated with both his words and his actions, creating a character that one looks forward to hearing from. The narrator introduces the rest of the characters in act one, “the Daily Life,” including Mrs. Gibbs (Mary Nigohosian) and Mrs. Webb (Jeanne Scurek). Nigohosian clearly fleshed out her character with a relatable demeanor. She is entertaining to watch as she neatly gets her family ready for the morning – making breakfast and attending to her husband and children. She proves to be the stronger of the two women, set against J. Scurek. Mrs. Webb is, of course, a proper woman, but Scurek plays her a bit too stiffly. She overacts at times, causing the character to feel forced.

The audience is also introduced to young George Gibbs (BJ Engelhardt) and Emily Webb (Courtney Payne). Interacting through typical conversations of homework and baseball, Engelhardt and Payne offer an innocent and sweetly awkward portrayal of two young people discovering their feelings for one another. The first act also introduces the two standout supporting roles of Professor/Constable (Kevin Lambert) and Simon Stimson (Dan Toot). Although these are smaller roles, the actors take them to heart and really make them come to life. Lambert is amusing and proves to be a strong presence while on stage. Similarly, Toot’s character, the choir organist and town drunk, is quite comical, sometimes stealing the spotlight when he’s on.

Act two, “Love and Marriage,” offers a glimpse further into the relationship between Emily and George. There’s a clear chemistry between the two actors, and as the second act progresses, the characters grow and come truly to life. “Love and Marriage” runs a bit quicker than act one, which slightly drags in the beginning. It’s lovely to see George and Emily’s relationship grow; it’s evident that both Engelhardt and Payne have an understanding of their character’s psyche and the reasoning behind their actions and words. Act two concludes with their marriage and all the townsfolk gathering to wish them well.

george, mr. webb stg mang, george, emily, 3 ladies

Our Town concludes with act three, “Death and Eternity.” The townsfolk have gathered in the cemetery to attend the funeral of one of their own. The tone shifts here from light and happy to stark and contemplative. Payne’s character arch becomes even greater as she attempts to deal with the situation at hand, and real, raw emotions come through, connecting her even further to the audience. Mrs. Gibbs proves to be a comforting presence in this time of sorrow, and Nigohosian’s gentle character is a relief for both the characters and the audience members.

Overall, Our Town is a solid show. The acting is generally on point, and the two-and-a-half hours go by quickly. There is quality direction by Frank Farrell, which allows each actor the confidence to move about without fumbling, and the costuming by Melissa Snyder adds another layer to the show. Each outfit is appropriate to both the characterization and the time frame of Our Town, which helps to shape the story.

(Side note: Act three even allowed for a bit of audience interaction when audience member Dale Gallian was asked to step in a fill a small role of Farmer McCarthy.)

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

Our Town plays at the Morton Arboretum, 4100 Illinois Route 53 in Lisle, IL. The show runs on Saturdays and Sundays at 1:00 pm through September 26. Tickets are $13 to $19 and can be purchased at www.mortonarb.org or by calling (630) 725-2066.

Our Town Ae

      
     

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