Review: Bury the Dead (Promethean Theatre Ensemble)

  
  

Promethean Ensemble misfires in play about war

  
  

Quinn White, Carl Lindberg, Jared Fernley, Joel Kim Booster, Brian Pastor, Dylan Stuckey - Promethean Ensemble's 'Bury the Dead'

  
Promethean Theatre Ensemble presents
  
Bury the Dead
  
Wirtten by Irwin Shaw
Directed by Beth Wolf
at The Artistic Home, 3914 N. Clark (map)
thru May 21  |  tickets: $20  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker

When Irwin Shaw penned Bury the Dead in 1936, World War I was still lodged like an artillery shell in the American psyche. An astounding nine million combatants lost their lives fighting in the trenches of Europe in what would be the last war largely fought on foot. At the time, no one could conceive that greater methods of mass destruction were on the horizon and that more death lie in waiting.

Brit Cooper Robinson and Joel Kim Booster. Photo by Tom McGrath of TCMcG Photography.Although the play is not specifically about any war (according to the script, it is about a fictitious war that has not yet been fought), it is about the massive human toll that war takes and the desire for a society to forget the dead in an effort to pacify the psychic pain. This phenomenon that certainly existed post-World War I remains today. But today’s wars are oranges compared to yesterday’s apple battles. As societies have bled over borders and become global communities and mass communication is a "Like" button away, the dynamics of war that Shaw highlights do not stand the test of time. Vastly enhanced mobility and weapons technology have drastically reduced the number of causalities. Although military deaths are still a topic for discussion, personal freedoms, religious zealotry, resource acquisition, financial costs and nation building are the predominant concerns of today.

This is unfortunate considering the Promethean Theatre Ensemble decided to take the script, virtually untouched, and plop it into the present world (or more accurately 2013). What results is one of the most hilariously ill-conceived updated period pieces I have ever seen. Just take the opening scene. Two soldiers, presumably in either Iraq or Afghanistan, are shoveling sand graves for their fallen comrades as their sergeant stands watch. They begin smart-talking to each other, commenting on the smell of the bodies and the exhaustion felt from physical labor. But instead of speaking in the contemporary vernacular, the two soldiers sport hilariously anachronistic Brooklyn accents and use such words as "gyped" and "stiff." This would be fine if we were observing a couple of wise guys hanging out at the Black and Tan in 1930, but it’s just blatantly bizarre for 21st-century soldiers.

Besides the dialogue, which is only made more cringe-worthy by the scenery-chewing cast, the artistry of the story is non-existent. David Mamet has written that any play that serves to grandstand is not a play worth producing. Shaw’s play is one giant anti-war polemic. There is no devil’s advocate, no counter view that is meant to challenge our own preconceived notions of war. It is just a long diatribe that preaches to the choir. And today’s choir is too intelligent for this kind of preachy pandering. Challenge us. Make us question our views. The last thing an audience wants to do is wallow in the sense that we were right all along. When a soldier ruminates that "Kids shouldn’t be dead," you can just feel the audience collectively shouting "Duh!"

     
Shawna Tucker and Quinn White in Promethean Theatre Ensemble's 'Bury the Dead' by Irwin Shaw. Photo by Tom McGrath of TCMcG Photography. "Bury the Dead" Cast in Promethean Theatre Ensemble's Irwin Shaw play. Photo by Tom McGrath of TCMcG Photography.

The play is about seven dead soldiers who choose to stand in defiance and refuse to be buried and forgotten. In the second act, the military—in a remarkably chauvinistic move—contacts the soldier’s wives, mothers and sisters to coax them into the grave. What follows is a series of two-person scenes with more wistful gazing and maudlin emoting than a Lifetime movie. If you’re a fan of repetitious dialogue (e.g., "Let me see your face. Just let me see your face!"), be prepared to get your fill.

With Bury the Dead, Promethean Theatre has produced the equivalent of taking “Gone with the Wind” and setting it in China. This confusing and poorly thought out concept is further harmed by uneven performances and heavy-handed direction. Yes, the script certainly has its flaws, but with some clever updates, it could still have made for an entertaining watch. But save for a Katy Perry reference, the script seems strangely naive, turning what should be a tense drama into a bizarre farce.

  
  
Rating: ★½
  
  

Marco Minichiello and David Fink in Promethean Theatre Ensemble's 'Bury the Dead' by Irwin Shaw. Photo by Tom McGrath of TCMcG Photography.

Promethean Theatre Ensemble’s Bury the Dead, by Irwin Shaw, continues through May 21st at The Artistic Home, with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm.  Tickets are $20, and can be purchased by phone (800-838-3006) or online. For more information, visit prometheantheatre.org.

All photos by Tom McGrath of TCMcG Photography, © 2011.

     

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Review: Run-of-the-Mill (Currently Untitled Theatre)

  
  

When ‘Run of The Mill’ happens to good actors

  
  

scene from "Run-of-the-Mill" by Tyler Dean, presented by Currently Untitled Theatre.

  
Currently Untitled Theatre presents
  
Run-of-the-Mill
  
Written by Tyler Dean
Directed by
Nate Silver
at
Act One Studios, 640 N LaSalle,Suite 535 (map)
through Feb 26  |  tickets: $20 |  more info

Sometimes people tempt fate. That seems to be the case with the title of the world premiere production of Run-of-the-Mill by Tyler Dean at Currently Untitled Theatre.

This is the story of a family dealing with the foibles and failings of modern life while trying to avoid the mistakes of the past. This is a noble and fecund premise but the seeds lay fallow in spite of some good acting.

scene from "Run-of-the-Mill" by Tyler Dean, presented by Currently Untitled Theatre.This story follows two marriages. Cynthia and Darryl are parents to Stacy, David, and Collin. Darryl has been unemployed for over a year and things are getting tense. Cynthia is a hard driving real estate agent who is fighting to live down past mistakes.

Brit Cooper Robinson, playing the part of Cynthia, balances the role without coming off as brittle or shrill. Patrick Rybarczyk is wonderful as the ever-optimistic Darryl.

Andrea DeCamp, as a daughter who is struggling with graduation dreams and a marriage proposal, is cool and unaffectedly hip in her portrayal. She and Robinson have a good dynamic as mother and daughter.

Mike Hahalyak and Dan Toot play brothers David and Collin respectively. David has messed up his marriage to Donna (Virginia Marie) and Collin is home from Iraq with a less than honorable discharge.

All of the ingredients are in place, but the writing is stilted and weak. Dean takes a long time with the expository elements of the characters. Though much angst is expressed over the dissolution of David and Donna’s marriage, we aren’t told why until after the intermission in the middle of the second act. Ms. Marie does a beautiful and subtle job of suppressed rage and sexual rejection. Hahalyak is appropriately penitent but by the time we find out about her infidelities – who cares? Hahalyak’s David is given a worn excuse of ADHD and depression for screwing around. It’s a punchline; not a reason. This storyline is so drawn out that it feels like an episode of the retro soap “Search for Tomorrow”.

Collin comes home from Iraq packing a bag of weed in his duffle and dishonorable discharge papers. Dan Toot is great as a kid soldier who grew up through combat. He portrays heartbreak, and there is a subtle hint of post- traumatic stress syndrome simmering. The ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ repeal seems thrown in as an afterthought. It’s not why Collin is ejected from the Army but the real reason is less compelling.

scene from "Run-of-the-Mill" by Tyler Dean, presented by Currently Untitled Theatre.The second act does not continue with the stark mystery but jumps right into an ill- conceived series of flashbacks. The soundtrack plays Huey Lewis and the News’ ‘Power of Love’ just as in ‘Back to the Future’. (Some Marty McFly humor would have helped.) What happened to Cynthia and Darryl is what happens to thousands of families and therefore it’s ‘run of the mill’. That doesn’t make for a great night at the theater. To be certain, there are families whose lives are ordinary and mundane, but I go to the theater to see a more tense dynamic or a story that I haven’t heard before. If I’m going to watch a soap opera, then somebody needs to be held captive in a well or Granny’s in the attic living in Imagination Land.

There are other kinks to be worked out in Run of the Mill”. The staging is rather clumsy. Did anyone think to put brakes on the casters? Moveable sets should not keep moving in the middle of the scene. Why do props in some scenes and then completely expressionistic in others? Is this a fleshed out story or a workshop in invisible burger flipping? Go for the fake food. We know it’s not real and in that case go for the satire, for this story has that potential: “Ward and June discover something happened to the Beaver in Iraq. Will things ever be the same on Morning Glory Lane? Tune in for the finely crafted acting!”.

  
  
Rating: ★½
  
   

scene from "Run-of-the-Mill" by Tyler Dean, presented by Currently Untitled Theatre.

Run of the Mill runs on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 through February 26th at Act One Studios,  640 N. LaSalle in the West Loop. Go to www.currentlyuntitledtheatre.org for more information on the company and the actors.  All photos by Gretchen Allnutt.

 

     
     

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