REVIEW: The Twins Would Like to Say (Dog & Pony Theatre)

The curious case of Jennifer and June

 

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Dog & Pony Theatre presents:
 
The Twins Would Like to Say
 
Written and directed by Devon de Mayo and Seth Bockley
Steppenwolf Garage Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted (map)
through April 25th (more info)

reviewed by Catey Sullivan 

Note: This review was originally published on March 1 on Chicago Examiner.com

Just like the titular twins, you can’t escape mirror images in The Twins Would Like to Say. With Dog & Pony’s innovative examination of the curious case of June and Jennifer Gibbons, ever-shifting halls of mirrors offer both literal reflections of the twins’ lives and a metaphor for them.

twins-and-dadWritten and directed by Devon de Mayo and Seth Bockley, the staging for the Steppenwolf Theatre’s Garage Rep series was inspired by the Gibbons twins, born in 1963. As children, the pair made a pact to do everything in absolute unison, and to speak with no one but each other. Extraordinarily, they succeeded for 20 years, all but entirely silent outside the confines of their bedroom, despite the frustrated efforts of their parents and a cadre of psychiatrists who remained utterly stumped. When separated, the twins became catatonic.

Their lives are whitewashed a bit here – June and Jennifer’s lengthy criminal records, tragic incarceration and Jennifer’s early death are glossed over in a dreamscape of stylized movement. Yet from the lookalike parrot puppets that open the show to the two simultaneously played sorrowful scenes that end it, The Twins Would Like to Say is cryptic, playful and innovative.  

Bockley’s deft at intermingling sadness, beauty and sound (if you saw Boneyard Prayer, you don’t need us to tell you that). de Mayo’s ability to configure a story into non-linear, non-traditional formats received a well-deserved and high-powered spotlight  with Dog and Pony’s The Vivian Girls, which she devised and directed. Together, the pair constitutes a dream team of unexpected storytelling.

The Twins Would LIke to Say is theater as a tumble down the rabbit hole and into an ever-shifting funhouse maze where reality is warped and the line separating fantasy from reality is fluid. By using a promenade staging, Bockley and de Mayo ensure the audience is an active part of the story –  Rather than sit back and watch as they might with traditional stagings, ticket holders have to participate, moving from room to room as the scenes progress.

The audience’s entrée through the lookingglass is Mr. Nobody (Nick Leininger, a winning mix of the sinister and the sympathetic ), who ushers the audience behind a curtain with the flourish of a side-show huckster keen to have the audience to learn about some strange unknown world rather than just gawk at it.

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The first visual we get of June (Paige Collins) and Jennifer (Ashleigh LaThrop) is both spooky and enthralling. Standing stock still at the dead end of a long hall, the girls stare out with dead eyes, an adolescent vision of those twins from the Overlook Hotel in “The Shining.” 

The promenade structure isn’t without drawbacks. Among them: You’d have to see the piece at least twice to take in it all in. See it only once, and you’re forced to choose between scenes. Eavesdrop on the twins’ psychologist (Kasey Foster) trying to make sense of their behavior, and you become keenly aware that you’re missing what’s going on elsewhere, as dialogue floats in from some unseen periphery. No matter how deft the performances or compelling the action, you’re often left wondering if you’ve made the right choice – and if something more interesting is going on just around the corner.

That shortcoming is especially evident in the final scene, when the audience is split in half and divided by an opaque black curtain. Too say that missing half of the piece’s conclusion is immensely frustrating is an understatement.

That aside, the performances in The Twins Would Like to Say are marvelous, cryptic, playful depictions of people living in a world that’s half stylized fantasy and half brutal reality.

Collins and Ashleigh are wonderful, giggling and whispering in their room like teenage girls the world over up; silent, sullen and above all fearful whenever they’re forced to contend with the outside world. As their taunting, eerie classmates Kathryn Hribar and Teeny Lamothe are cruel and typical teens, shrill voices and nasal giggles evoking a thousand mean girls nightmares. (In real life, Jennifer and June were bullied so badly, their school allowed them to leave 5 minutes early, so as to get a head start on the kids who wanted to beat them up.)

As the twins mother Gloria, Millie Langford is the kind, patient, enabling opposite of the twins father Aubrey (Brandon Boler), whose tough love cruelty results in a cacophony of torment when the twins are forcibly separated.

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To depict the intricate fantasies that June and Jennifer spun by filling journals full of elaborate fictions, de Mayo and Bockley stage plays-within-the-play, bringing the pulp fiction storylines and outrageous sexuality of  such dubious works as  “The Pepsi Cola Addict” and “Discomania” (Dan Stermer’s disco choreographer is absolutely delicious). Andrea Everman’s shadow puppets also make the twins’ stories pop with vibrance. All seen in silhouette, a snarling dog, a dying boy and a bereaved father takes on emotional resonance rich in childlike poignance.

The Gibbons lives are by no means completely rendered here, but that hardly matters. What we do get in the 60-minute production is a chance to enter an alternate universe of intricate storytelling.

 
Rating: ★★★½
 

The Twins Would Like to Say  runs through April 25 in the Steppenwolf Garage, 1624 N. Halsted.  Tickets are $20, $12 students and pay-what-you-can Wednesdays. A three-play pass to the Garage Rep series also including XIII Pocket’s Adore (our review ★★½) and Pavement Group’s punkplay (our review ★★★) is $45. For a performance schedule and ticket information, click here or go to http://www.steppenwolf.org.

 

 

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Final Week of great shows: Dog and Pony, Redmoon, ATC

Time Is Running Out!

by Venus Zarris

One of the most amazing and disheartening aspects of live theater is the immediacy of the experience. No two shows, of the same production, are ever alike and so every performance is a once in a lifetime opportunity. That being said, plays are shooting stars in the grand scheme of things.  You either see them or they are gone forever, unlike film that you can catch on DVD and watch over and over again.

Chicago makes this urgency even more demanding as there is so much exceptional work being produced but the many gifted companies. With this in mind there are a few shows in particular that extra efforts should be made to catch before they are no longer an option.

“Boneyard Prayer” – This breathtakingly bleak examination of sorrow and regret told through Redmoon’s unparalleled conceptualization. Their brilliant offering is spellbinding and creates a uniquely poignant and emotional journey.

(“Boneyard Prayer” runs through May 25 at Redmoon Central, 1463 W. Hubbard St. 312-850-8440 x111.)

“As Told By the Vivian Girls” – This unique production plunges you into the strange and absurd world of underground artist Henry Darger. It creates a funhouse experience as you walk through Theater on The Lake exploring selected aspects of his work, taken from his 1500 page manuscript and various paintings and illustrations, brought to life by actors rendering his fantastical characters and creatures. Dog and Pony Theater Company ambitiously creates a remarkable living-breathing homage to Darger’s bizarre and brilliant imaginary realms.

(“As Told By The Vivian Girls” runs through May 25 at Theater on the Lake, 2401 N. Lake Shore Drive at Fullerton. 773-360-7933.)

Speech and Debate – Playwright Stephen Karam creates a brilliantly funny joy ride in this show about three misfit high school kids dealing with their sexual secrets while trying to start a speech team and gay/straight student alliance. Karam has written one of the funniest roles for a young woman ever penned and Sadieh Rafai’s performance of this character is a laugh riot that is sure to delight!

(“Speech and Debate” runs through May 31 at American Theater Company, 1909 West Byron St. 773-929-1031.)

Run, don’t walk, to catch any or all of these incredible ‘NOT TO BE MISSED’ productions while you still have the chance!

Review – “Boneyard Prayer” at Redmoon Theatre

Redmoon’s “Boneyard Prayer”

reviewed by Venus Zarris

Redmoon Theatre's triumphant "Boneyard Prayer"Once again setting the standard for the reinvention of theatrical thought, Redmoon’s ‘Bonyard Prayer’ is a triumph of imagination and creativity. If you have already experienced Redmoon’s work than you understand that when you visit them you are in for at least the unconventional and at best, which is normally the case, the extraordinary. ‘Boneyard Prayer’ certainly fits under both of these classifications.

It traces the cycles of regret through the upheaval of a man’s grave by five gravediggers. Through this remarkable hallucination of somber reflection we see the tragedy of a mistake’s impact on the lives of those it effects.

This is, to say the least, a dirty show. And I don’t mean X-rated, rather 641 pounds of soil are employed to create the burial site. Working with puppets on a multi leveled stage the breathtakingly bleak word of a graveyard is rendered with fantastical effect. The gravediggers dig, sing and animate the puppetry, be that actual or the shadow variety, to tell this sad story.

Charles Kim’s musical composition sounds like a Tom Wait’s homage, the perfect musical soundtrack for this austere dream. It is wonderfully performed by Rob Cruz, playing a piano that sounds like an old barroom upright that hasn’t had a tuning since The Great Depression and has been the recipient of more than one bottle of beer. This tawdry sound only adds to the forlorn wanderings on this purgatorial trip to the root of personal demise.

Not the ‘feel good show’ of the season, you would be well advised to bare the topic in mind. The play opens with a melancholy lullaby sung to an infant who is then placed back in his grave. The night that I attended the play a pregnant woman in the front row who was quickly moved to tears and then left the theater.

I add that not as much as a cautionary note but to illustrate to emotional depth and power of this sorrowfully poignant masterpiece.

Theater can do so much more than simply entertain. It can stretch our mind to process and encompass all aspect of the human condition thereby broadening our emotional vocabulary and our abilities to understand and empathize with others and with ourselves.

This is a lovely examination of the distressing side of our reality. All of the technical and creative elements coalesce flawlessly to deliver a haunting experience that will linger with you long after you leave the theater. This heart rendering and gorgeous production is well worth the emotional investment and should not be missed.

Rating: «««½

 (“Boneyard Prayer” runs through May 25 at Redmoon Central, 1463 W. Hubbard St. 312-850-8440 x111 – www.redmoon.org)