Review: Feet of Clay (LASTmatch Theatre Company)

     
     

Southern retelling of ‘Three Sisters’ needs the family spirit

     
     

Craig Cunningham, Paul Dunckel, Brandon Ford, Larry Garner, Chris Hart, Leah Karpel and Kimberly Logan in 'Feet of Clay' by Stephen Louis Grush, presented by LASTmatch Theatre Company in Chicago.

  
LASTmatch Theatre Company presents
  
Feet of Clay
  
Written by Stephen Louis Grush 
Directed by
David Perez
at Royal George Gallery Theater, 1641 N. Halsted (map)
through March 19  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

A reimagining of Chekhov’s Three Sisters set 200 miles outside New Orleans, Louisiana, Feet Of Clay finds sisters Orah (Kimberly Logan), Matty (Jennifer Alexander), and Iris (Leah Karpel) Ledet struggling to adjust to life a year after their father has passed away. Orah despises the students at the school where she teaches, Matty is in a loveless marriage to an unseen husband, and Iris clings to the ideal of New Orleans, a place she never truly called home, but dreams will one day be. As Matty and Iris become involved with soldiers from the nearby military base, their Craig Cunningham as Sonny in 'Feet of Clay' by Stephen Louis Grush, presented by LASTmatch Theatre Company in Chicago.deadbeat brother Andy (Chris Hart) and his trailer trash wife Nambi (Annie Kehoe) assume control of the house, desecrating their father’s memory. While Grush’s plot hits the same major points of Chekhov’s, the script suffers from severe pacing issues, moving so quickly that it never fully establishes the relationships between the characters.

Running only 90 minutes with no intermission, Feet Of Clay tries to cram as much story as possible in a limited time, forcing events to move at a speed that doesn’t feel natural. The first act sets up the story points in quick succession, with the second exploring their conclusion one year later, but there’s very little time spent showing the characters building relationships with one another. Matty and Vincent’s (Paul Dunckel) romance suffers because we never get to see them when they are a couple. They’re in love with each other because they have wildly different opinions on crawfish? In the second act both of their spouses become complications, but there’s not any initial tension established between the characters to make the threats feel dire.

The love triangle between Nick (Brandon Ford), Iris, and Sonny (Craig Cunningham) suffers from the same issue, although Iris’s relationship with Nick seemingly appears out of nowhere after Sonny dotes on her (stares at her creepily) in the first act. Grush builds Sonny’s mental instability through two solo scenes, the first at the start of the play when Sonny wakes up from a night terror, the second when he stands drunk and half naked in the rain. Sonny is probably the character that gets the most development in terms of showing multiple facets of a personality, but the character’s big act two moment feels gratuitous and improperly handled by the script. Sonny’s relationship with Iris may be intended to symbolize New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina (which occurs between the two acts), but the consequences of Sonny’s actions are never seen, making the events feel tacked on to build emotional conflict without following through.

     
Chris Hart and Annie Kehoe in 'Feet of Clay' by Stephen Louis Grush, presented by LASTmatch Theatre Company, Chicago. Jennifer Alexander and Paul Dunkel in 'Feet of Clay' by Stephen Louis Grush, presented by LASTmatch Theatre Company, Chicago

Rather than building the characters through dialogue and interactions with each other, most development occurs during speeches where the characters are finally able to express their innermost desires and conflicts. Iris has a freak out about being bossed around on her birthday, so she feels inferior. Orah complains about the “maggot” kids she teaches, so she’s unsatisfied with her life. Matty talks about tarot and how life is all about symbols, so she’s a free-spirited thinker. And while monologues can be effective, it becomes repetitive when characters go to a corner and say their opinion in one big oration. Monologues don’t help much when it comes to building interpersonal relationships because they’re singular by nature, yet much of the characters’ emotional lives come through in these moments. It would be nice if the insight shown in the monologues were distributed throughout the dialogue.

A major problem with Feet of Clay is that the three sisters and brother never really feel like a family. Orah, the oldest of the four, is played with such one-note brashness that it’s difficult to ever care about her. There is rarely a moment when she is not complaining about her work, or demanding something from another person, and when she finally does show a moment of vulnerability, she gives a pretty pathetic reason for her bitchiness. By the time Nambi and Andy get their big monologue Larry Garner as Ivy in 'Feet of Clay' by Stephen Louis Grush, presented by LASTmatch Theatre Company, Chicago.moments (every character gets one), they’re such repulsive characters that there’s not much reason to care. Kehoe falls into a stereotypical trailer trash type that feels put on, and her relationship with Hart feels as forced as the rest of the romances in the play. Karpel seems to be the only one trying to create some sort of family dynamic, her delusions about New Orleans pushing to keep them together, but ultimately her character becomes as scattered as the rest.

Replacing Moscow with New Orleans creates a lot of opportunities to incorporate southern American history and imagery, but beyond a few references to kudzu and the southern dialect, these go largely unexplored. Nick mentions how the South is so different from what he sees on TV, and Feet Of Clay’s Leesville is different by not having all that much character at all. The Ledet father’s friend Ivy (Larry Garner) brings in some context when he tells a story about how he improved at math by working at his father’s store, and it’s a quiet moment that has as much value as the intense, dramatic explosions. With a few more of these calm moments, LASTmatch Theatre’s Feet Of Clay could explore the depths of the relationships and develop the characters more completely. The show is all tension, but there needs to be moments of relief that serve as reminders for the characters – and the audience – of why they choose to stay.

  
  
Rating: ★★
  
  

Performances run 2/11- 3/19, Thu, Fri, and Sat at 8pm at the Gallery space at Royal George Theatre. Tickets are $25 and are available through the Royal George Box Office and www.ticketmaster.com. For more information call the Box Office at: 312-988-9000 or visit www.lastmatch.org.

     
Leah Karpel as Iris and Jennifer Alexander as Matty in 'Feet of Clay' by Stephen Louis Grush, presented by LASTmatch Theatre Company, Chicago. Kimberly Logan as Orah in 'Feet of Clay' by Stephen Louis Grush, presented by LASTmatch Theatre Company, Chicago.

Brandon Ford and Leah Karpel in 'Feet of Clay' by Stephen Louis Grush, presented by LASTmatch Theatre Company, Chicago.

Performers include Craig Cunningham, Paul Dunckel, Brandon Ford, Larry Garner, Chris Hart, Leah Karpel, Kimberly Logan, and LASTmatch founders Jennifer Alexander and Annie Kehoe.

     
     

Review: Writers’ “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead”

Long live “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

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Writers’ Theatre present:

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

By Tom Stoppard
Directed by Michael Halberstam
Thru December 6th (but tickets)

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

R-and-G-2 The pre-show announcement for Writers’ Theatre‘s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead asks audience members to lean forward and engage rather than sit back and relax. This is probably to reduce whiplash when director Michael Halberstam grabs you by the brain, straps in your heart, and sends you flying through the rush of heightened language and emotion that is Tom Stoppard‘s tragicomic masterpiece. The story of Hamlet’s two school chums that become accomplices in their friend’s destruction while discovering the impossibility of life has become one of the defining pieces of modern theater, and Writers’ production never loses steam. Anchored by the electric Sean Fortunato and Timothy Edward Kane as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Halberstam directs his cast through the labyrinth of Stoppard’s incredibly dense and wordy script to find the emotion beneath the absurdity of the play, and the end result is a Stoppard production that is accessible while still maintaining its academic roots.

From the very top of the show, Fortunato and Kane capture the chemistry that comes from years of comraderie. They acheive a synchronicity that makes it difficult to imagine the two separately, and even their monologues benefit from the other’s presence. The two actors listen to each other actively and react realistically, and their friendship is a connection to a more relatable and emotional world. Furthermore, they’re fantastic comedic actors, employing a refreshing dryness instead of the over-the-top humor of the other characters. They have incredibly quick reflexes in conversation, creating a forward motion that pushes the entire production with it.

Rosencrantz and Guildensterns are always outsiders, never quite remembering where they’ve come from or are going, and Fortunato and Kane do a remarkable job capturing their collective confusion, but also their collective loneliness. Stoppard’s play has comedic moments, but its heart lies in two friends that are beginning to realize how insignificant they really are. Kane carries the majority of the dramatic weight between the two, considerably more concerned and disturbed by life’s absurdity, but his fears seem to weigh him down less whenever he engages with Fortunato. And while Fortunato stays primarily light-hearted and optimistic throughout the play, his extended monologue in Act Two has the similar sadness and heaviness of Guildenstern’s musings. Its fascinating how the director has found a way to increase the density of the production based on the when the two actors are in dialogue with one another versus the moments when they singularly explore their fears and insecurities.

 

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The other actors all do commendable work, and those playing Shakespeare’s characters do so with a theatricality that is completely appropriate, yet is hilariously over-the-top compared to the title characters’ subtlety. The scenes pulled from Hamlet are all performed with the actors facing upstage, performing to a drop that has been imaged after an empty auditorium; the trick is maybe a little too on the nose of Halberstam, but is still a clever way to emphasize the life versus art themes of the play. These ideas become prevalent when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern interact with the Tragedians and their flamboyant leader, the Player, impeccably portrayed by Allen Gilmore.

Gilmore has found a way to tap into the chemistry that the two lead actors share, and he matches their rapid fire wit with ease. He directs his actors with an iron fist, and while the players’ scenes are primarily comedic, his argument that audiences come to the theater for gratuitous murder, seduction, and incest reveals an intriguing aspect of art’s function: it is a way to experience the dehumanizing and immoral acts that all people secretly desire. While Gilmore handles the humor with fervor, he really shines when he gets to showcase his character’s obsessive personality. After Rosencrantz and Guildenstern abandon the players before they’ve had the chance to perform, the Player performs a monologue describing the pain and humiliation his actors and he shared. Guildenstern criticizes the melodrama of the speech, but in the hands of an actor like Gilmore the melodrama becomes the foundation for honest despair and real pain, a compliment that can be given to the entire ensemble Halberstam has gathered.

 

Rating: ««««

 

R-and-G-4 

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