REVIEW: The Nutcracker (House Theatre)

     
     

Rediscover the whimsical genius of House Theatre

     
     

The Nutcracker - House Theatre Chicago

   
House Theatre presents
   
The Nutcracker
   
Adapted by Jake Minton and Phillip C. Klapperich
Music by
Kevin O’Donnell 
Directed by
Tommy Rapley
at
Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division (map)
through Dec 26  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

If there is a theatre company in town that has a corner on childlike whimsy for adults, it would be the House, hands down. Every production they put up is sure to have flashy, comic book-style visuals, a frenetic, cartoony energy from the actors, and plenty of gags. And lately (although I wasn’t able to see the season opener, Thieves Like Usour review ★★½), their work has been falling flat on it’s face. For example, last season’s Girls vs. Boys (our review ★½), a musical that was supposed to reveal the dark underbelly of the American teen, was a generic, loud, overdramatic hormone pile.

NutcrakerPoster copyThey may have recaptured their groove that made Chicago love ‘em, though. With The Nutcracker (an adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffman’s classic story penned by Housers Jake Minton and Phillip Klapperich, first produced in 2007 at the Steppenwolf Garage), there’s a delicious blend of fun and heart. They also throw in fistfuls of that whimsical House magic that has you leaving the Chopin full of childish wonder. The show is easily the best thing I’ve seen there.

The story is a distant cry from Tchaikovsky’s ballet, by far the best known adaptation of Hoffman’s short story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.” Minton and Klapperich tinker with the classic story to make it a much more personal tale, eschewing the sugarplum fairies for familial conflict. The play focuses on the relationship between Clara (Carla Kessler) and her brother Fritz (Chance Bone), who dies on the battlefield one Christmas Eve and then comes back, reincarnated as a nutcracker by Uncle Drosselmeyer (Blake Montgomery). Of course, the fantasy is still front and center. The whole play follows Clara and the nutcracker’s battle against the rats for Christmas. They are aided by other playthings hobbled together in Drosselmeyer’s workshop, including Hugo (Joey Steakley), a robot; Phoebe (Trista Smith), a pull-string doll; and Monkey (Michael E. Smith), a francophone sock monkey. Together, they attempt to make cookies, fend off rats, chop down a tree, and bring Christmas back to the house left joyless by Fritz’s death. Clara’s mother and father (Carolyn Defrin and Minton, respectively) are not amused by Clara and Drosselmeyer’s antics, believing the two are opening a barely-scabbed wound. Tension pervades the entire piece. We’re wondering if Clara and her family will move past Fritz’s untimely demise, or if Clara will delude herself into thinking the nutcracker is an appropriate substitute. It’s a remarkably smart, unpredictable, and complex conflict for a group known for spectacle. And it’s much more refreshing than another traipse around Candyland.

The cast has a seemingly endless supply of energy. The always great Defrin, for example, leaves as the depressed and angered Martha just to quick change and pop back in as a nefarious rat. The petite Kessler bursts with the energy of a twelve-year old. The best part is the motley crew of toys, especially Smith, who, donning the monkey costume, is the funniest one in the show.

Kevin O’Donnell’s compositions do a great job of implying a Christmas feel without repeating overplayed Christmas carols (the British accented rats even due a Clash tribute). However, the complete Americanization and contemporizing of the story was unnecessary for me. Although it leads to some great jokes (e.g., pizza bagels), the story begs to be more timeless. There were also a couple of plot gaps that the audience sort of swallows along with the show.

The Nutcracker had some absolutely brilliant moments—one being the magical transition from inside to outdoors and the other being the terrifying Rat King (something that gave me a nightmare or two). With this show, the House finds the perfect content to match their style. Let’s hope they keep it up.

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

NutcrakerPoster copy

 

Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 7 p.m., with matinee performances at 3pm on Friday November 26, Saturday, November 27, and Friday, December 24, plus additional 8pm performances on Wednesday, November 24 and Wednesday, December 22. There are no performances on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and there is no evening performance on Christmas Eve. The Nutcracker plays at the Chopin Upstairs Theatre 1543 W. Division St., Chicago). Regular tickets are $25 and $10 for students/industry at the door. The Nutcracker is The House’s holiday show and is not included with The House’s 2010/2011 season subscription (but subscribers do receive $5 off all tickets). Tickets may be purchased by calling (773) 769-3832 or online at www.TheHouseTheatre.com.

     
     
House theatre - The Nutcracker House theatre - The Nutcracker
     
     

REVIEW: The Regulars (Hobo Junction Productions)

More regular than epic

 

Regulars_Complete_Cast

 
Hobo Junction Productions presents
 
The Regulars
 
Written and directed by Josh Zagoren
at
Apollo Theater, 2540 N. Lincoln (map)
through June 13th  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

reviewed by Aggie Hewitt

The Regulars, an epic rock musical comedy about waiters is a new rock musical-comedy about, well, waiters, presented by Hobo Junction Productions. The audience is presented with the following warning tucked neatly inside their programs, "Caution: This production is meant to strictly Regulars_Hank_Molly make you laugh. We are not trying to make a comment on the human condition. We do comedies…and that’s what they are meant to do… make you laugh." What follows is an hour and fifteen minute dissertation on the human condition. Love, sex, violence and work are major themes in The Regulars, and although it is a musical farce, it is certainly a comment on life as a working, single white person in present day America.

The Regulars opens on a motley crew of waiters in the break room of a chain steakhouse. They spit venom at one another, and meet the new girl Molly (Danelle Wildermuth), who the women hate but the men amorously adore.  With their tough-as-nails demeanor and utter contempt for their job, the crew tries to prepare Molly for the hellish work night she has ahead of her. But nothing can prepare her for the mini-Vietnam that is dinner service at Laconia Steakhouse. The waiters come to the break room with increasingly stained and tattered clothes, and everything that can go wrong does; they run out of sugar and ketchup and secret shoppers from corporate show up.

With paper-thin characters and less-than earth-shattering plot points, writer/director Josh Zagoren has created a show that has no choice but to have absolutely hilarious scenes and dialogue. Unfortunately, The Regulars falls flat. While there are funny moments, Zagoren doesn’t push the envelope far enough. The audience is teased with the promise of a kinky new girl/stock boy love affair, but is given little more than a double entendre about a long rubber hose. You don’t need raunch for comedy, but if a writer puts something dirty or subversive out there, Chicago audiences are sophisticated enough to want to see it pay off. Comedy is in no short supply here in Chicago, which means, if a show claims to exist for the sole purpose of being funny, it had better be really, really funny, which unfortunately The Regulars is not.

     
Regulars_Molly_Anthony Regulars_Simon_Molly_Autumn

There are of course, amusing elements within the production. The funniest character is the sleazy newly-promoted headwaiter Simon, played by the subtly weird and awesome Bryan Campbell. Campbell plays the part with a bizarre innocence, making Simon’s cheesy moves easy to watch. Campbell also has one of the funnier songs, a 1950’s-style rock ode to a mediocre bar the crew goes to after work, “The Billy Bar.” Campbell, like the rest of the cast has a strong singing voice, stronger than the voices you’ll hear in a traditional comedy show in Chicago. Clara Kessler as Denise, the militaristic manager has the strongest voice in the cast, and a nice levity in her performance.

Sadly, levity isn’t enough to hang one’s hat on, despite The Regulars being a competently structured farce, with fun music and gifted actors. And Josh Zagoren is a talented writer and director – way too talented to write a show off as being comedy for comedy’s sake. Every successful comedy is a comment on the human condition, whether it admits it or not. There is a lot of rage underlying this piece about low-income workers in an overbearing job, and if Zagoren trusted himself enough to nurture that a little more, this could be a really funny play. Unfortunately, comedy for comedy’s sake doesn’t stand a chance of being more than cute, and in this town, just being cute doesn’t cut it.

  
  
Rating: ★★
  
  

Run time is approximately one hour with no intermission.

WHERE: Apollo Theater * 2540 North Lincoln Avenue.  Running Dates: May 7th thru June 13th – Fri. and Sat. @ 8:00 p.m & Sun @ 3:00 pm. Tickets: $15.00 – Call (773) 935-6100 or Purchase online at www.ticketmaster.com


Regulars_Anthony_Autumn CAST: Jake Autizen as Bear, Eli Branson as Anthony, Madeline Chilese as Autumn, Derek Elstro as Hank, Danelle Wildermuth as Molly, Ashley Wint as Sunny, Carla Kessler as Denise, Bryan Campbell as Simon, Cyra K. Polizzi as Ana the Bus Girl

CREW:
Playwright – Josh Zagoren
Music by – Josh Zagoren & Dan Krall
Music Orchestrated by – Joe Griffin & Mike Przygoda
Director – Josh Zagoren
Stage Manager – Amy Hopkins
Tech Director – Amy Hopkins
Costume Designer – Janna Weddle
Set Designer – Amy Hopkins
Lighting Designer – Amy Hopkins

 

     
    

Review: Collaboraction’s “G.I.F.T.”

You Can Have Your G.I.F.T. Back

 G.I.F.T._1


Collaboraction presents:

G.I.F.T.

Reviewed by Timothy McGuire

G.I.F.T. by Collaboraction is a different form of theatrical performance compared to the traditional plays around the city. It is an unconventional multimedia event that makes an effort to appeal to all of your senses. Unfortunately, this innovative an artistically funky production fell short of entertaining me.

G.I.F.T._2 G.I.F.T. is more of an event than a traditional play. Walking into the large warehouse in a single file line, swerving around a gravel path into a “fantasy” room filling up with a hazy, glowing fog; strangely dressed people in an over-stimulated euphoric state greet me beaming with smiles and warmly welcomed me as if we have been best friends for years. I paused, turned to my guest and jokingly said “I think I have been to this party before.” I smell the incense, looked around at all the crazy characters moving about as if in their own pleasant world and said, “…and I might have been on the same drugs before too.”

Needless to say, G.I.F.T. opens with a trippy, unorthodox experience of mingling-with-the-cast-and-audience in the fictional world that Collaboraction has created. The shock-effect wears off quickly; soon you might find yourself standing there holding weird objects I never knew the meaning of as well as talking to friends about other plays they have seen throughout the week. The audience is left standing around too long to maintain the initial feeling of entering into another dimension and soon one loses interest in what is going on around them.

G.I.F.T._3 G.I.F.T._4

Eventually we are led out of the foggy realm and through another door for the main show. I felt a little like “Alice” who has just climbed through one rabbit hole into a crazy utopian circus and being led into another with no idea what to expect. Through the door you get a sense of intimate space, created by the white glowing floor that curves up into the walls, leaving no corners on the stage. The set design and lighting creates a mystic atmosphere that allows one’s imagination to determine the exact location (I imagined the north pole.)

The main performance consists of a series of reenactments signifying what a gift means, none of which are very enlightening. The acting feels rehearsed and the interactions in each skit feels more like an actor’s exercise. Collaboraction may have been trying to reach out to a more artsy audience – one that is looking for something new and innovative – but G.I.F.T. is just weird and boring.

Rating:

 

G.I.F.T. is playing at Firehouse Square, 459 N. Wolcott through Nov. 29th



Featuring: Saverio Truglia, Aurelia Clunie, Carla Kessler, Hannah Phelps, Catherine Glynn, Antonio Brunetti, Gregory Hardigan, Scott Cupper, Jeremy Harris, Andy Junk, Emma Stanton, and Amber Robinson.