Review: Cold Cold Feet (Diamante Productions)

  
  

Parade of nuptial mayhem brings nonstop laughter

  
  

(L to R) Florence Ann Romano (Monday), Laura Rush (June), Michael Woods (Carl), and Jennifer T. Grubb (April). Photo credit: Michael Brosilow

  
Diamante Productions present
  
Cold Cold Feet
  
Written and directed by Tony Fiorentino
at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont (map)
through June 5  |  tickets: $  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh 

Unwritten vows, sexual addiction, stripper trio, dove droppings:  when potential disasters threaten to crash his wedding, a groom calls it quits.  Diamante Productions presents Cold Cold FeetOn the eve of his nuptials, Benny is freaking out.  As his brother Carl tries to get him to the church on time, the strippers arrive for a belated bachelor celebration.  While Benny enjoys whipped cream covered shenanigans in the bedroom, Carl stalls the wedding party in the living room.  The pimp, the sister, the mother, the priest, the bride, the dove choreographer… everyone wants to know what the delay is.  An anxiety-ridden Carl satisfies each with a different story.  Multiple charades play out in escalating absurdity.  Cold Cold Feet is a hot hot comedy!

Playwright and director Tony Fiorentino has revamped his popular 2006 production.  Based on his own ‘always a groomsmen never a groom‘ experience, Fiorentino creates familial wedding chaos. Within that world, he uses clever dialogue and characters to make the farce even wittier.  Serving as the director, he ensures the execution of the continuous double entendres nails the comedic moment.  The show starts slow with a mean-spirited banter that doesn’t quite build the brotherly bond. Cue the strippers! Start lying!  Once the parade of mayhem begins, the laughter is unstoppable.  The entire ensemble adds to the punch line with deadpan deliveries and slapstick timing.

Joe Bianco (Benny, front), Jennifer T. Grubb  (April, left), Ann Romano (Monday, center), Laura Rush (June, right) and Michael Woods (Carl, back). Photo credit: Michael Brosilow.

Leading the burlesque antics, Michael Woods (Carl) is hysterical as the double-talking fibber.  Woods races around the subject and the room in a zany frenzy.  Joe Bianco (Benny) transforms from nervous to out-of-control to sincere with charm.  Bianco comes across as a tool until he endears with a sweet how-I-met-my-bride story.  The strippers aka “The Time of Your Life” are frolicking, kind-hearted whores. These exotic dancers know how to have fun.  Laura Rauh (June) plays it perfectly dim-witted. Florence Ann Romano (Monday) is an energetic spitfire.  And Jennifer T. DGrubb (April) whips it good as an artist.  Their pimp, Rob Grabowski (Harvey) is the imposing enforcer humbled with intestinal issues. His interactions with Brigitte Ditmars (Mary) and Marie Goodkin (Wanda) are hilarious potty humor.  With misinformation and mistaken identities, Ditmars and Goodkin forcefully go off on Grabowski with riotous results.  Playing funny caricatures, Mike O’Brien (Father Murphy) is a gentle, flask-toting priest and Joel Thomas (Nigel) is an over-the-top dove choreographer.  The bridezilla, Kieran Welsh-Phillips (Lindsay) kicks ass in the final scene.  Welsh-Phillips plays it with tough love, bringing a satisfying end to the jittery hijinks.

Roger Wykes (Scenic Designer) places the story in a Vegas hotel suite.  It’s a large room with exits to a terrace, bedroom, bathroom and hallway.  The multiple doors add to the almost-got-caught tomfoolery.  Costume Designer Emma Weber dresses the cast up in an array of Viva Las Vegas wear.  The sexy underwear and not-so-sexy poker style boxers contrast nicely with the church attire. What happens in Vegas…?  A groom gets tripped up on his way down the aisle.  His family gets caught up in his pre-wedding caper.  Cold Cold Feet engages with a commitment to comedy.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Marital mayhem abounds in Diamante Productions

Cold Cold Feet continues through June 5th at Stage 773 (1225 W. Belmont), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm.  Tickets are $25, and can be purchased by phone (773-327-5252) or online HERECold Cold Feet has a running time of ninety minutes with no intermission.

Photos by Michael Brosilow 

  
  

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REVIEW: Rip Nelson Halloween Spooktacular (Hell-Handbag)

 

A Comic’s Comeback – Wishful Thinking on a Roll

 

 The Rip Nelson Halloween Spooktacular- Production photo #8 by David as Joan

   
 Hell in a Handbag Productions presents
 
The Rip Nelson Halloween Spooktacular
   
Written by David Cerda
Directed by
Cheryl Snodgrass
At
Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark (map)
through Nov 6  |  tickets: $10-$17  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Self-destruction, it seems, is the quickest way to create a comeback. In this case it’s as if a 747 pulls out of a talespin just about 100 feet before crashing into the runway. Author/producer David Cerda’s latest confection for his Hell in a Handbag zanies is the perfect vehicle for Ed Jones to do his wicked imitation of Paul Lynde, a basket case in free fall. Except that for legal reasons Jones’ on-the-skids comic who craves a second chance in show biz is now called Rip Nelson (R.I.P.—get it?) who’s hosting a 1970 live taping of a CBS variety show, a Halloween “spooktacular” that he desperately hopes will stop his slide into the bottle. When he gets in trouble, he Ed Jones as Rip Nelson in the The Rip Nelson Halloween Spooktacular - Hell in a Handbag - Mary's Attic reverts to his tag line, “Wooga, wooga!,” a joke that becomes more pathetic as Rip tears himself up. But never fear—Rip is blindly hurtling toward happiness!

Unctuously neurotic (with classic Lynde-like dithering), Jones’ sad-sack Rip amounts to a one-man disaster area. Mired in a self-pity that morphs into toxic insecurity, he hits the bottle and insults his faithful dresser (Barbara Figgins channeling Thelma Ritter). We get, of course, a ton of bitchy byplay in the dressing room, catty wisecracks that feel as familiar as a funhouse mirror. Rip morosely calls his show a “celebrity cemetery where has-beens go to die.”

Somehow addled Rip manages to throw himself into this vaudevillian variety show where the guests interact like tornadoes spawned from a hurricane. These include, of course, Cerda’s patented parody of Joan Crawford who, with Rip, laments ungrateful Christine in the jaunty duet “Kids” from “Bye Bye Birdie.” By now Cerda’s Crawford has become the default drive for the celluloid monster in fetid flamboyance; she’s easily the scariest think in the Spooktacular. But Joan gets plenty of grotesque competition from Missy Aguilar’s strait-laced Kate Smith. This blowsy belter performs a clever duet with Red Genson’s geeky Bob Dylan that perfectly folds the latter’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” into the former’s “God Bless America.”

Imitations that sometimes can pass for impersonations, these usual suspects from the disco decade include Brigitte Ditmars’ hilariously peppy Ann Miller (who hoofs up a storm to “Spooky” complete with phony tap dancing), BC Kalz as an embarrassingly off-rhythm and tone deaf Brooke Shields ruining David Bowie’s “Scary Monsters,” and Michael Hampton’s no-nonsense Bea Arthur (who deadpans “Monster Mash” with an equally dour Dylan). Aaron Lawson adds spice as Donny Osmond, squeaky clean as he demurely declares himself “homosexual catnip”. (This is 40 years ago, mind you.)

Elizabeth Lesinski, as a chatty Charo, makes you realize what killed vaudeville as she launches into the conga-dancing finale “Hootchie Cootchie Halloween,” a deliberately daffy production number that features Rip as Carmen Miranda on steroids. Completing the encourage are Patricia Austin’s adequately brief cameo as Phyllis Diller, Andrew Swan as insolent Brady brat Susan Olsen, and Alex Grelle’s bittersweet Shelley Duvall, a riot as she becomes the butt of everybody’s insults because she’s ugly and offers absolutely no consolation for her father’s failure to appear.

The Rip Nelson Halloween Spooktacular- Production photo #4 by David as Joan The Rip Nelson Halloween Spooktacular- Production photo #6 by David as Joan
The Rip Nelson Halloween Spooktacular- Production photo #10 by David as Joan The Rip Nelson Halloween Spooktacular- Production photo #1 by David as Joan

When it turns out that Rip’s mad scene is the result of Quaaludes that he accidentally drank when he stole Donny Osmond’s glass of orange juice, the loser suddenly rallies and discovers he’s not washed up after all. That of course is just when he’s given a new chance, a CBS comedy with Don Knotts. (This is a show that really believes you can have your cake and eat it too—mock Rip and then care about his comeback.)

It all makes for an exhausting 60 minutes full of what will seem to younger audience members esoteric to arcane cultural references from two generations ago. Despite its brevity, Cheryl Snodgrass’ staging often feels jerky: The dressing room scenes repeatedly drop the energy. (It might be better to play this as a continuous TV show with appropriately stupid commercials inserted during the breaks.)

Kudos to Kalz’ self-caricaturing wigs and to Brian McKnight’s sound design which delivers the variety show’s essential laugh track. But it was all but drowned out by a tipsy Andersonville audience who offered their own clap-happy ovations: Their kindness to these “strangers” amounted to shining generosity. But then everybody loves a loser…

   
   
Rating: ★★
   
   

The Rip Nelson Halloween Spooktacular-Production photo #2 by David as Joan

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REVIEW: The Odd Couple (Raven Theatre)

   

Oddly Uninspiring

 

Pills

  
Raven Theatre presents
 
The Odd Couple
 
written by Neil Simon
directed by
Michael Menendian
at
Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark Street (map)
through July 18th  |  tickets: $20-$30  |  more info

reviewed by Keith Ecker 

Oscar is messy. Felix is tidy. Oscar is brash. Felix is meek. Oscar likes gambling and cigars. Felix likes cooking and vacuuming. They’re both divorcees. They live together. They’re not gay.

If you pitched this as a show concept to a modern-day television executive, he’d either laugh you out of his office or option it as the next banal reality TV show. Either way, the idea would be seen as too simplistic and naïve for a contemporary television Ladleaudience. And that’s saying a lot, considering this is the same audience that demanded 11 seasons of “7th Heaven”.

But back in 1965, this is exactly what constituted good theatre. That’s when Neil Simon’s acclaimed The Odd Couple—featuring the slovenly Oscar and the uptight Felix–premiered on Broadway, garnering that year’s Tony for Best Play. In fact, it was such a hit that it ran for 966 performances, took a leap to the big screen in 1968, jumped to the small screen in 1970, went animated in 1975 and was revived for television once more in 1982. Now, the Raven Theatre Company, known for taking cracks at classics, is doing its own production.

The Raven’s version is utter slapstick. Characters speak with Ralph Kramden growls and nasal newsreel voices. Their movements and reactions are exaggerated for comedic effect. When a scene calls for the emotion of surprise, the actors look as if they’re trying to pop their eyes out of their sockets. At one point, a character actually runs face first into a door when trying to stop a despondent Felix from going into the bathroom alone.

I assume it was director Michael Menendian’s vision to do a live-action cartoon version of The Odd Couple, and unfortunately, the outcome is a terrible miscalculation. The play–which already struggles to connect with an audience who are more surprised to see a marriage last rather than end in divorce—comes off as vapid, void of any real meaning whatsoever. It’s like the tragedy that has befallen Felix (Jon Steinhagen) is one big joke. And we get no sense of Oscar’s (Eric Roach) own unresolved marital issues except for his messy condo, which is a parallel for his messy life. Instead, Menendian has reduced the story to a one-joke pony that keeps begging to be laughed at. Sure, at first it deserves a chuckle, but by the end it’s just kind of desperate.

To their credit the cast is spectacular in their respective roles, even if the final outcome is damaged by misguided direction. Roach toes the line with Oscar, portraying him as a slob but a fun slob. This is a guy who’s a borderline hoarder, but he’s also a wild and crazy guy.

Steinhagen’s portrayal of Felix is a good balance to Oscar’s party-animal stereotype. He’s reserved, slightly effeminate and deeply emotional–or at least an emotional wreck, which is more than can be said about Oscar who takes a much more cavalier approach to his failed marriage.

Poker

In the end, Raven Theatre lost an opportunity to give a fresh take on this well-worn classic. Personally, I would have liked to have seen Menendian take up the task of providing this fairly hollow play with some real emotional depth. Rather than take the easy slapstick route, why not venture on that high road and make the actors bring some realism to their roles? Let’s see The Odd Couple as a dark comedy for once. After all, is this not a play about two men whose marriages have fallen apart, whose families have been torn from them due to their own negligence? If it truly is a funny show, the humor should still shine through despite a graver tone.

Still, there will always be an audience for schlock like this. Some people just don’t want to see something thought provoking or culturally relevant. Some people just want a show with uncomplicated laughs and a simple plot with characters as three-dimensional as a piece of construction paper. For those people, The Odd Couple will work just fine.

  
  
Rating: ★★
 

Performances continue through July 18: Thursdays – Saturdays at 8pm; Sundays at 3pm (No show July 4)

odd-couple-girls2

Cast: Greg Caldwell, Larry Carani, Brigitte Ditmars, Liz Fletcher, Greg Kolack, Eric Roach, Jon Steinhagen, Anthony Tournis

Creative Team:   Michael Menendian (Director), Amy Lee (Light Design), Katherine M. Chavez (Sound Design), Ray Toler (Set Design),  JoAnn Montemurro (Costume Design), Cathy Bowren (Stage Manager), Dean LaPrairie (Photographer)