Review: Big Love (Chicago Fusion Theatre)

  
  

Ambition exceeds preparation in wedding dark-comedy

  
  

Jamie Bragg and Marcus Davis in Chicago Fusion Theatre's "Big Love" by Charles Mee

     
Chicago Fusion Theatre presents
   
   
Big Love
  
Written by Charles Mee
Directed by Nilsa Reyna
at Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted (map)
through June 25  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by Dan Jakes

Tackling a work by contemporary mosaic playwright Charles Mee requires aiming high. By design, Mee’s scripts are better described as blueprints than directives. His stage directions pose particularly unique challenges for production directors; some are broad and flexible, while others are comically specific, often with a blatant disregard for economy:

“…and, of all the brides and grooms, some are/ burning themselves with cigarettes/lighting their hands on fire and standing with their hands burning/ throwing plates and smashing them/ throwing kitchen knives/ taking huge bites of food/ and having to spit it out at once, vomiting…”

Stack commands like that on top of hefty themes and purposefully jarring in-play styles, and one can imagine why so many young artists are drawn to Mee’s work. The challenge his shows present offer unique opportunities for exciting, meaningful, fiercely entertaining theater.

Carla Alegre Harrison in Chicago Fusion Theatre's "Big Love" by Charles MeeIf the actors have their lines memorized, that is. Director Nilsa Reyna’s production demonstrates a worthy vision, but his hindered in practice by jumbled dialogue, meandering actor-intentions, and hit-or-miss execution.

Adapted from The Suppliants by Aeschylus, Big Love follows 50 Greek women’s journey for refuge from a family arrangement forcing incestuous marriage upon them to their cousins. Having escaped by ship, three would-be brides (Carla Alegre, Jamie Bragg and Kate LoConti) seek shelter in an Italian mansion, owned by wealthy Piero (Todd Michael Kiech, inexplicably cast as a man of persuasion–Kiech exhibits the charisma of a robot wearing an ascot). Soon after, intended husbands Patrick King, Marcus Davis and John Taflan (ideal as the entitled, handsome, bratty, machismo-saturated Constantine) discover their fiancés’ hiding-spot and follow pursuit. Mee’s play jumps back and forth between Aeschylus’ narrative and broader musings on love, duty, and gender.

Royal George Theatre’s teeny upstairs studio serves as the playing space for Mee’s large-scale show. Nick Sieben’s smart, functional thrust set makes ideal use of the black box’s shortcomings. Concrete slabs, a soaking tub, pink ribbon, and a flower-installation create an ambiance that performs double-duty satisfying the play’s realistic and ethereal sensibilities. It’s one indication of a clear vision behind the show–another is David Mitchell as the curly Q’d, flaming nephew. Mitchell’s heightened acting meshes with text’s abstract style in a way that even when, out of the blue, he dips into a bath and sings a show tune, the moment is touching instead of hackneyed or contrived. Kate LoConti too makes hard-to-digest character traits easy to swallow.

     
(from top) John Taflan as Constantine, Marcus Davis as Oed, Pat King as Nikos in Chicago Fusion Theatre's "Big Love" by Charles Mee (from left) Carla Alegre-Harrison as Lydia, Jamie Bragg as Thyona, and Kate LoConti as Olympia

The rest of the show fares less well. Too many scenes are burdened by actors not seeming to be invested in the same moments, and emotional highpoints reading as stilted and clunky. Here, Fusion can’t quite merge Mee’s tangential ideas with a convincing story.

There‘s a reason so many plays end with a wedding; for better or for worse, they’re inherently dramatic. When even one that ends in a murder-orgy is tedious, the chemistry is off.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
  
  

 David Wesley Mitchell, Lisa Siciliano, Todd Kiech in Chicago Fusion Theatre's "Big Love" by Charles Mee

 

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REVIEW: Muerte Del Maestro (Tympanic Theatre)

   
  

Psychological thriller needs a little more thought

  
  

Tympanic Theatre - Muerte Del Maestro

   
Tympanic Theatre presents
   
Muerte Del Maestro
  
Written by Joshua Mikel
Directed by
Adam Webster
at
the side project, 1439 W. Jarvis (map)
through Dec 22   |  tickets: $  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

I’ve got nothing against bad language. I curse constantly, and I’m a fan of David Mamet, who is known for his strings of profanity. What I’m not a fan of is ineffective bad language, language that basically serves as a lazy placeholder for other dialogue that would better suit the situation.

Unfortunately, Joshua Mikel‘s Muerte Del Maestro, produced by Tympanic Theatre, is like a parody of a Quentin Tarantino movie. Gratuitous foul language saturates the dialogue between protagonist Arturo (Chris Acevedo) and best friend/antagonist Kay Kay (Paul E. Martinez) to the point that we are removed from the action of the play. Sure, young men trade playful barbs all the time. But for the love of God, intersperse the four-letter words with some actual conversation.

To the play’s credit, as the action picks up and the psychological thriller begins to unfold, the ample profanity subsides, giving way to more reserved language that Muerte del maestro posterbetter conveys the characters’ emotions and the propels the plot. In fact, it is the play’s second half that earns it the 2.5 rating.

Muerte Del Maestro is about two young bullfighting fans who live in a small town in Spain. When their beloved bullfighter, La Muerte Negra, dies in the middle of a fight, the town hosts an open-call bullfighting championship to find the next great bullfighter. Both Kay Kay and Arturo think they have the skills. However, as the competition nears, Kay Kay’s mental state begins to crack. When he discovers Arturo has been carrying on a secret relationship with his sister, Pumpkin (Carla Alegre), he completely snaps.

None of the acting is remarkable, though Martinez shows some talent playing Kay Kay at his craziest. The most engaging performance is by puppeteers Ellen Girvin and Charlotte Mae Jusino who control a giant paper mache bull and a collection of shadow puppets.

The space is incredibly small and can feel incredibly cramped. Sometimes this works to the play’s benefit. When the large paper mache bull first makes his appearance, he seems massive in these tight quarters. However, it also works to the play’s disadvantage. The amount of unnecessary yelling at the top of the play is headache inducing, the loudness reverberating against the theater’s walls. Once again, like the ample profanities, this too serves to pull the audience out of the play.

Although the script is weak in its current form, it does have potential. The makings of an intriguing psychological thriller are here, and the pacing of Kay Kay’s descent into madness doesn’t feel jarring or forced. Still, I couldn’t help but to wonder why Arturo and Kay Kay were ever friends to begin with. With a few more rewrites, Mikel could have a very good piece of theatre on his hands.

Muerte Del Maestro is a brash play with a lot of attitude but little direction. With some well-directed strong actors and some significant changes to the script, this could be a very good drama. However, in its current form, it’s one step above tolerable.

     
      
Rating: ★★½
   

Cast and Creative Team

     


Chris Acevedo* / Arturo


Carla Alegre / Pumpkin


Paul E. Martinez* / Kay Kay

     


Megan Tabaque / Muerte Negra


Ellen Girvin / Bull


Charlotte Jusino / Bull

     

Joshua Mikel / Playwright

Adam Webster - side project theatre

Adam Webster / Director

 

Production Team:

Stage Manager: Joy Martin; Dramaturg: Aaron C. Thomas; Set Design: Dustin Pettegrew; Light Design: Brian Berman; Costume Design: Crystal Jovae Mazur; Sound Design: Stephen Ptacek; Puppet Design: Lizi Breit; Photos: Sergio Soltero