REVIEW: Dracula – A Tragedy (Redtwist Theatre)

 

Odd adaptation upends clever atmospherics

 

DracMIna

   
Redtwist Theatre presents
   
Dracula: A Tragedy
   
Written by Mark Mason
Directed by Stephen James Anderson
Inspired by the novel by Bram Stoker
Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr, Chicago (map)
Through October 31  |  
tickets: $15   |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Along with Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s vampire, Dracula, is among the most iconic figures of horror ever created. Even those who’ve never read the original novel (which you really should) or seen one of the scores of films inspired by it (is there anyone who hasn’t?), know something of the tale, although it has been twisted and turned and altered in innumerable ways.

Mina and Renf in Redtwist Theatre DraculaFor Redtwist Theatre’s perverse and gruesome version, Dracula: A Tragedy, playwright Mark Mason takes more liberties than most. He has appropriated Stoker’s characters but almost none of his plot. Instead we get an incoherent mess of spooky weirdness.

The atmospherics are great. Stephen James Anderson, who doubles as director and designer, has done a great job with the set. Arriving theater goers walk down a long dark corridor past ragged gray-robed figures muttering prayers into a long, narrow black box theater. A woman sits near a fire, working at an old-fashioned manual typewriter. At rear stage, we see a huge crucifix. Shimmery hangings enhance the creepy effects.

The music, muttering and typing continue all the while the spectators file in and the play starts. The effect is spoiled somewhat, though, by the viewers, since without a clear signal of the start of the action, the audience doesn’t know when to stop yakking and turn off their cell phones. It’s a pity, but these times require some kind of announcement.

Playing Count Dracula, Bob Pries looks the part, I’ll give him that. Deep set eyes, sharp nose, widow’s peak, prominent ears — he looks like a handsome Nosferatu — with a hokey Bela Lugosi accent.

Drac has just arrived in England on an exploding ship, and purchased a lunatic asylum, complete with inmates, and the count seems bent on making more crazies.

The novel’s chief victims, Mina Harker (Ariana Dziedzic) and Lucy Westenra (Shannon Riley) have been turned into closet lesbians; the madman Renfield (Dustin Whitehead) is Jack the Ripper. Dracula intends to take over England, apparently by forcing Mina’s husband, Jonathan (Sean Ogren), to impregnate her, an act that occurs on stage in a sort of black sabbath.

 

Koffa JonMina Mina

Anderson does some clever things with the staging, such as characters who crawl onstage out of a fireplace, but he’s aimed his cast somewhere between melodrama and over-the-top camp. That follows the script, which segues between histrionics, violence and sudden, disconcerting efforts at humor — which, judging by audience reaction on opening night — rarely succeed.

Ninety minutes without intermission, this version leaves out Van Helsing, the novel’s chief vampire hunter, as well as two of Lucy’s three suitors, Transylvania and nearly all of power of the original.

Dracula: A Tragedy, might be best enjoyed if you forget about trying to follow the storyline and just take it as a sit-down version of a haunted house. (Some of the seats in the 29-seat theater are backless benches, by the way, so arrive early for a comfortable selection.)

   
   
Rating: ★½
   
   

JonMina

Continue reading

REVIEW: Aida (Bailiwick Chicago)

Love conquers all, even in ancient Egypt

 

3826

    
Bailiwick Chicago presents
    
Aida
  
Book by L. Woolverton, Robert Falls and D.H. Hwang
Music by
Elton John, Lyrics by Tim Rice
Directed by
Scott Ferguson
Music Directed by
Jimmy Morehead/Robert Ollis
at
American Theatre Company, 1909 W. Byron (map)
through August 1st  |  Tickets:  $30-$45  |  more info

reviewed by Katy Walsh

Egypt attacks Nubia. Women are abducted. The lead captor and enslaved princess-in-disguise share a passionate connection. Not your ordinary boy-meets-girl scenario, this musical establishes its premise from the first song, “Every Story is a Love Story.” Bailiwick Chicago presents Aida, the Tony Award winning Elton John and Tim Rice musical based on Giuseppe Verdi’s Italian opera of the same name. The 3859 Pharaoh’s daughter has been betrothed for nine years. To avoid settling down, her fiancé, Radames, has been pilfering villages along the Nile River. Everything changes when Radames imprisons Aida from Nubia. A plot to kill the Pharaoh, an uprising of Nubian slaves, the plan for a royal wedding – despite this political duress, an epic love story conquers all. An elaborate production set on a small stage, Bailiwick Chicago’s Aida triumphs simply with song, dance and a legendary love story.

In the title role, Rashada Dawan (Aida) is a regal force that commands the stage. Her physical presence is one of stately elegance. Her singing voice is a powerful authority beckoning adoration. The chemistry between Dawan and Brandon Chandler (Radames) is romantic captivation. Their duet “Elaborate Lives” elicits a combination of shivers and mistiness from any optimistic cynic in matters of the heart. Chandler’s vulnerability and Dawan’s strength are an irresistible coupling for an operatic love story. Bringing the humor to countries at war, Adrianna Parson (Amneris) plays the spoiled princess with a fashion obsession. Her ‘I am what I wear. Dress has always been my strongest suit’ attitude is flashy moxie. The contrasting styles, in dress and personality from Dawan, make Parson a standout in a supporting role. Another secondary character hitting the comedic notes is Aaron Holland (Mereb) as an enterprising slave.

 

3783
3877 3929

With a cast of twenty on a smaller stage, some of the scenes and transitions seem clunky. It’s trying to do too much with too many. At other moments, like “God Loves Nubia”, the magnitude of the numbers add to the impressive visual and audio spectacle. The large cast also adds to some costume speed bumps. Costume Designer Rick Lurie and a group of fashion designers have gone all out with the ladies for some multiple, extravagant wardrobe changes. Splurging on intricate details for the female cast, it seems the money ran out for the men. The guys are wearing their own personal cargo pants or shorts with distracting striped cummerbunds. And it’s not the slaves that are poorly dressed, it’s the wealthy Egyptians. Despite the big cast and small space, Gary Abbott and Kevin Iega Jeff have choreographed extraordinary dance routines. Whether dancers are rowing the boat, plotting a murder or modeling the latest fashions, the movement is original, tribal and athletic.

Elton John and Tim Rice have created a memorable and poignant score for the blockbuster musical Aida. This Bailiwick Chicago production is a voluptuous woman squeezed into a size eight. She could benefit from a little more room or trimming down but she’s still beautiful!

    
    
Rating: ★★★
   
   

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

       
Photo-AidaRadames2 3773 PhotoArt-Aida

 

 

Three Four Words: Fanning himself with Egyptian style, Scott-dds describes the show as “powerful, memorable, extremely entertaining.”

Continue reading

Review: Hobo Junction’s “Horrible”

 

“Horrible” Haunted by Shoddy Script

 

Hobo Junction presents:

Horrible

by Josh Zagoren
directed by Breahan Eve Pautsch
thru December 19th (tickets: 773-935-6100)

Reviewed by Keith Ecker

Terrible-poster Either the criteria of what constitutes a dark comedy expanded and no one bothered to tell us, or Hobo Junction Productions is misinformed. The theater company’s recent aptly named piece Horrible is being touted as a macabre comedy, but really the scariest element of the production is the script (written by ensemble member Josh Zagoren), which has more holes in it than a victim of an icepick attack.

This isn’t to say the play lacks ghoulish elements. It features quaint depictions of cannibalism, ghostly hauntings and murder. But it lacks the two most critical elements of a dark comedy: cynicism and comedy. In fact, by the end of the play, you will feel as if you just watched an adaptation of a Hallmark card illustrated by Edward Gorey. Sure it might elicit a chuckle, but really it’s just trite, hokey material that scratches the shallowest surface of the human condition.

The play focuses on two families, the Garrishes and the Goodlys, both of whom begin with a dead parent and a dying parent. Malcolm Garrish (Mike Tepeli) is a workaholic doctor. His transvestite brother (Kaelan Strouse) is his assistant, and both are haunted by their father (Elliott Fredland) who is awaiting the death of the Garrish matriarch (Judi Schindler).

Meanwhile, on the other side of town—or the stage rather—lives Holly Goodly (Madeline Chilese), a poor young woman who does anything she can to support herself and her blind sister (Cyra K. Polizzi), even if that means feasting on human flesh to ward off starvation. The Goodly sisters are haunted by their mother (Tara Generalovich) who is awaiting the death of her drunkard husband (Bob Pries).

 

Horrible-Madeline-Chilese horrible-Mike-Tepeli

Soon into the play, the sickly elders from both families kick the bucket, and the lifelines of Malcolm and Holly collide at the town cemetery. Of course, they immediately fall for each other and a courtship begins. Meanwhile, their respective parents, having nothing better to do, pester them about their love lives from beyond the grave. As Malcolm and Holly carry on, the question of how she will hide her horrible secret looms.

There is also a narrator (Keith Redmond), onstage musical accompanists and news of a serial killer about town, a plot point that not only makes the production an overstuffed mess, but also derails the play into eye-rolling territory by the end.

Simply put, the biggest weakness of this play is its script. The story feels very much like a first draft and can benefit greatly from some additional table reads and multiple rewrites. For example, superfluous characters abound, such as Holly’s blind sister and Malcolm’s transvestite brother, who served no real purpose and received minimal characterization. (Blindness and transvestitism is about as deep as it gets.)

Characterization was also nonexistent for the protagonists. Malcolm and Holly’s love feels contrived and cliché, something we’ve seen countless times before in any teenage romantic comedy. There is also no effort to make either multi-dimensional. One’s a workaholic and one’s a cannibal, but there really isn’t a whole lot else to go on. The parental ghosts add a little comic fancy, but they could have been a riot if they weren’t written as North Shore cardboard cutouts.

Horrible-Mike-Tepeli-Madaline-Chilese The jokes are reminiscent of a bad Henny Youngman routine, with one-liners and puns comprising the majority of what is supposed to be the comedy. Whereas the dialogue could inform character or plot, it just sits there as a cheap laugh that stops the action of the play. There should have been more focus on building comedic situations, but then again that would have required creating well-rounded characters to create situations around.

There are some nice things to say about Horrible. For one, the musical accompaniment (composed by company member Dan Pearce), is entertaining and does more to set the tone than any part of the actual play. With only a guitar and a baritone sax, the two musicians create gritty tunes, evoking the spirit of Tom Waits. In addition, Strouse as the transvestite brother stole many scenes, not because he was donning a dress, but because his inflection and facial expressions breathed much life into an otherwise figuratively dead character.

At best, Horrible is a half-baked play that was prematurely produced before the writer could fix the script’s shortcomings. At its worst, it’s a frightening example of a directionless piece whose banality will haunt you.

Rating: ★½

 

Continue reading