Review: The Dream Journal of Doctor Jekyll (The Mammals)

  
  

Mammals’ dream journal struggles to maintain balance

  
  

Gabe Garza as Hyde, Sarah Scanlon as Eve - The Mammals - Dream Journal of Doctor Jekyll

   
The Mammals present
   
The Dream Journal of Doctor Jekyll
  
Written by Jason Adams, Scott Barsotti, Randall Colburn, Bob Fisher,
Reina Hardy, Warwick Johnson and Jeremy Menekseoglu
Directed by
Bob Fisher
at
Zoo Studio, 4001 N. Ravenswood Ste B-1 (map)
through April 2  |  tickets: $20  | 
more info

Reviewed by by Barry Eitel

In their The Dream Journal of Doctor Jekyll, The Mammals are quick to dismiss Robert Louis Stevenson, decrying his novel as a “penny dreadful.” Instead, at the onset of the play, our guide Professor Oliver Mastodon Peale says that we are about to get a taste of the real story. He claims that next to the titular doctor’s eviscerated body laid a book, half written in neat cursive, half written in near-illegible handwriting. This adaptation, as we’re led to believe, is actually a dramatization of that story. It’s a bold move; one that breathes life into the Victorian-era tale.

Gabe Garza as Hyde - Dream Journal of Doctor Jeckyll - The MammalsKnown for their exploration of the horrific and grotesque, Dr. Jekyll and his alter-ego Mr. Hyde provide ample fodder for the Mammals. However, the play can never decide whether it is a gothic descent into hell or a smartly-done spoof. In the end, the show becomes a victim of taking itself too seriously.

In lieu of actors, claims Peale (Jason Adams wrapped in a robe and marvelously fake moustache), he has hired sleepwalkers. We watch as Jekyll (Scott Barsotti) battles, comforts, and eventually succumbs to Hyde (Gabe Garza). Basically, it’s a story dwelling on the well-explored turf of Apollonian versus Dionysian. The Mammals make very clear that Jekyll is a man of science while Hyde concerns himself with art and magic (usually through harming cats). We watch as Jekyll, through Hyde, tears into those around him and, finally, into himself.

The play was written by committee, with contributions by Jason Adams, Scott Barsotti, Randall Colburn, Bob Fisher, Reina Hardy, Warwick Johnson, and Jeremy Menekseoglu (whew). It works best when Jekyll and Hyde play off each other like some sort of bipolar comedy duo. The most memorable scene is when the boorish Hyde becomes Jekyll’s wingman, giving him terrible advice for wooing Eve (Sarah Scanlon).

The writers seem to have taken for granted that we all know how the story ends, and the play clumsily spirals into the finale without much concrete motivation. The last couple of scenes, although striking, don’t really connect into a fully-realized arc. The framing device, although funny, doesn’t help things. For some reason, a pair of Siamese twins (Ashlee Edgemon and Anne Marie Boyer, who are not real conjoined twins) do what they can to derail Peale’s demonstration. It also seems like flute-wielding demons are trying to take over the show? Whatever they’re up to, the soundtrack they provide is eerily excellent.

Gabe Garza as Hyde, Sarah Scanlon as Eve, in The Mammals' original production of 'The Dream Journal of Doctor Jekyll', now playing at Zoo Studio.I take issue with the writers’ casual remarks about pedophilia and rape. Some of Hyde’s comments seem like cheap shots for shock value. The play’s moments of high tension are usually overblown, like when Scanlon and Garza scream at each other as they discuss the nature of screams. Again, it’s the comedy that should’ve been the star—the funniest moments can be subversive yet push the story forward. While not one of the smartest points of the show, Garza rolling around on the floor after a punch to the groin and groaning “My balls!” is a highlight.

Either way, the cast fully commits to the material, whether they’re playing a short tune on the dulcimer or screaming at the audience. And some fascinating moments are pulled out of the general chaos. In the last few scenes, a tired Peale goes into a beautifully metatheatrical monologue about the nature of art. John Ross Wilson’s cabinet-o-curios set provides a feast for the eyes, with plenty of drawers and doors for the cast to open and close. Like a dream, a lot of Dream Journal doesn’t quite make sense, but it definitely keeps your interest. Claiming ‘but that’s the point!’ seems a lazy argument to me, but it works well enough to keep this massive collaboration hammering along.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
  
  

Gabe Garza as Hyde, in The Mammals' 'The Dream Journal of Doctor Jekyll'

The Dream Journal of Doctor Jekyll continues through April 2nd at Zoo Studio, 4001 N. Ravenswood #B1, with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 10pm.  BYOB! Tickets are $20, and reservations can be made by calling  866-593-4614.

  
  

Continue reading

REVIEW: The (edward) Hopper Project (WNEP Theatre)

Though a brilliant concept, this project lacks dramatic arc

WNEP_TheHopperProject_10

WNEP Theater presents:

The (edward) Hopper Project

conceived by Jen Ellison
directed by Don Hall
thru February 21st at The Storefront Theatre 

Reviewed by Catey Sullivan 

There’s no doubt but that there are narrative riches embedded in the paintings of Edward Hopper. Gaze at them even momentarily and the stories take shape, treasures of the mind’s eye that form with the organic spontaneity only the most gifted artists can inspire. Hopper seems like a natural for translation from canvas to the stage; capture the silent depths within the deceptively simple angles and colors of “Early Sunday Morning,” “Room in New York,” “Office at Night” or “Nighthawks,” and you’ve got a piece of wonderful theater.

WNEP_TheHopperProject_01 With The (edward) Hopper Project, WNEP Theater tries to do just that with a production conceived by Jen Ellison as a writing exercise several years ago. The collaborative piece directed by Don Hall follows in the footsteps of similar endeavors – John Musto ’s 2007 opera, “Later the Same Evening,” used five Hopper paintings as his foundation. Donna McRae ’s 2005 film “The Usherette” spun a story from Hopper’s “New York Movie.”

WNEP puts a jazz score behind the paintings-brought-to-life, which reach a visual peak in the money shot that ends the piece by replicating one of Hopper’s most iconic images. That closer sends the audience out on a high note. Would that the roughly two hours leading up to it were as compelling.

The Hopper Project was written by Mary Jo Bolduc, Jen Ellison, Bob Fisher, Tom Flanigan, Don Hall, Merrie Greenfield, Joe Janes, Cholley Kuhaneck, and Rebecca Langguth; perhaps therein lies the core trouble. Playwriting by committee rarely results in a well-written play and for all its visual prowess, The Hopper Project is simply not well written. At the crux of the difficulty? A lack in both character development and connective tissue or dramatic arc among the characters. Watching the piece is akin to flicking through two hours of Network television, never stopping on the same channel for more than a few minutes. People and conversational fragments flit by in fits and starts, rattling about the surface without root or depth – and therefore without substance.

Where The Hopper Project differs from the mostly black hole of TV in its brilliant concept. But for all the gorgeous, provocative potential, that concept is done in by execution that’s far more meh than marvelous.

You’ll get no argument here that true wonders can come of making an audience wrestle with tantalizing loose ends and challenging ambiguity. Few things annoy us more than theater of the stupid – shows that condescend to hand-feed the audience every last detail while telegraphing precisely what the one should be feeling at any given moment. But The Hopper Project goes too far in the other direction. The stories play like unfinished two-dimensional sketches rather than textured, fully realized paintings. Context – both specific and universal – is minimal, and the result is something scattered and superficial rather than a united, meaningful whole.

WNEP_TheHopperProject_04 WNEP_TheHopperProject_08
WNEP_TheHopperProject_09 WNEP_TheHopperProject_02

Overheard conversations one expects to take on deeper resonance never do, words and actions unfold more in vacuums than in fully realized world. And some things just don’t make any sense at all. As a movie theater audience slouches over popcorn (“New York Movie”), an usherette delivers a monologue to – the projector? Her sister? Herself? Why does the slapsticky, mugging business man (“Office at Night”) threaten to kill himself every day? What in the world is the deal with the man whose face burned off and why does he surface, face swathed in bandages, only during intermission? As a Phillip Marlowe wannabe rambles on about a pair of green shoes and (hello noir cliché) a jilted horn player, as a husband and wife bicker abrasively over the connotations of the word “clever,” as a pair of brunettes converse in fraught tones about a family drama, it becomes harder and harder to engage. It is indeed clever that the scenes copy paintings by Edward Hopper in a secular sort of Living Nativity pageant. But minus all-important context and characters, that cleverness takes on the feel of a gimmick.

Also troubling are the problematic sightlines presented by Heath Hays’ wide, shallow set. The construction is terrific in its boxy, two-story evocation of Hopper’s lines and shades. But if the view is obstructed, the artistry is wasted. From dead center in one of the best seats in the house, I couldn’t see any of the scenes that played on the far sides of the thing.

All that said, there are some winning performances in The Hopper Project. Dennis Frymire creates a largely silent cop whose workaday, shoe-leather weariness hasn’t extinguished an optimistic, romantic heart. Amanda Rountree is radiantly endearing as flirt whose winning smile is laced with the eminently relatable motivation of big city loneliness. If only they had more to work with.

Rating: ★★

 

“The (edward) Hopper Project” continues through Feb. 21 at the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs’ Storefront Theater, 66 E. Randolph St. Tickets are $20, $15 students and seniors. For more information, go to www.dcatheater.org

The (edward) Hopper Project features Scott T. Barsotti, Mary Jo Bolduc, Regan Davis, Lauren Fisher, Dennis Frymire, Kevin Gladish, Lori Goss, Merrie Greenfield, Marsha Harman, Joe Janes, Andrew Jordan, Ian Knox. Patrick Kelly, Vinnie Lacey, Erin Orr, Amanda Rountree and Jacob A. Ware.

WNEP_TheHopperProject_11

Review: “Put My Finger In Your Mouth”

Slouching Toward the Theater of the Ridiculous

Put your Finger in my Mouth

The Right Brain Project presents

Put My Finger In Your Mouth
by Bob Fisher
Directed by Nathan Robbel
Runs thru August 29th (773.750.2033 for tickets)

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Is everything old new again? If Right Brain Project succeeds at anything with its production of Put My Finger In Your Mouth, a new play by Bob Fisher, it’s in evoking a nostalgic, psychedelic, Rocky Horror-like vibe.

Like so many before it, this production’s roots lay the work of New York transgender playwright Jackie Curtis, Andy Warhol film star and creator of The Theater of the Ridiculous. Always on the outside, always fringe, Curtis’s influence prevails to this day through shows like Annoyance Theatre’s Co-ed Prison Sluts or, my old favorites, Cannibal Cheerleaders On Crack or The Vampire Lesbians of Sodom.

finger in my mouth Under Nathan Robbel’s direction, with a sound design that culls tunes from the 60s, 80s, and 00s, Put My Finger In Your Mouth is a much softer, gentler show intent on generating a dream world that its characters inhabit and pull the audience into, rather than shock or outrage it. But the audience can only receive minor moments of dreamlike satisfaction from themes that are worn, trite and underdeveloped.

The play is a club-kid fable about two sisters, Birdy (Erin Elizabeth Orr) and Turtle (Stacie Hauenstein) whose conflicts revolve around the competing claims of pleasure and security. Birdy wants to risk all for discovery and new experiences, while Turtle clings to a safe, co-dependent existence at home. The risks become greater for Birdy upon entry into the bizarre club world of the androgynous Snailman (Emily Mark), whose fingers secrete a hallucinogenic substance that enslaves all who taste it.

Orr and Hauenstein generate sympathy as the two sisters, but a script that repeats the risk vs. security theme ad nauseum hampers their performances. Sadly, Turtle’s hidden past is telegraphed so far in advance, it has no impact at all once finally revealed. The sultry androgyny of the Snailman and the hold s/he has on her willing minions, create the appropriate otherworldly space for Birdy to be ensnared in, but there is something to be aware of in the play’s limitations regarding gender identity difference.

How Victorian the play is in the portrayal of its leading transgender or intersex character as Other, dangerous, and suspect. Snailman still ends up being the coolest thing aroundit’s just disappointing that, once again, the clichéd dangers of gender transgression get a tired, unimaginative, and unthinking rehash here. Right Brain Project clearly wants to go beyond the predictable. More careful consideration or development of material before production would serve it well.

For all that, the cast certainly creates a “scene” with its performance. From time to time, glimmers of poetry strike up from the script. The Battle of the Furries that takes place in the nightclub finally achieves the psychedelic effect the play has been promising all the while. If one could exhort the playwright and the company to anything, it would be this: be bolder. Be even more right brain. Don’t hang back in the safe zone.

Rating: «½

 

CatherineFingerPageChristianFingerPage

ErinFingerPage EmilyFingerPage

JesseFingerPage StacieFingerPage
NealFingerPage FINGERFront04