Review: Hickorydickory (Chicago Dramatists)

  
  

Despite inconsistencies, provocative tale sets mind reeling

  
  

Joanne Dubach, Thomas Gebbia and Gail Rastorfer in a scene from "Hickorydickory" by Marisa Wegrzyn, directed by Russ Tutterow. (Photo credit: Chicago Dramatists)

      
Chicago Dramatists presents
   
  
Hickorydickory
   
   
Written by Marisa Wegrzyn
Directed by Russ Tutterow
at Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago (map)
through June 12  | 
tickets: $32  |  more info

Reviewed Catey Sullivan

In Hickorydickory, Chicago playwright Marisa Wegrzyn has penned a piece with the potential for becoming a mind-bending, provocative black comedy. With bloody and disturbing – and bloody disturbing – finesse, she spins a story that’s part smart dysfunctional family comedy, part coming-of-age drama and part gore-packed thriller.

But – and this is a significant “but” – Hickorydickory in many ways still feels like an early draft rather than a polished, finished product. Clocking in at a few minutes under three hours, it is in serious need of editing. Moreover, Wegrzyn keeps the rules she establishes for her fantasy sci-fi-esque tale of mortality in place only so long as they suit the plot. That means Hickorydickory is marred by false crises. Imagine the story of Rapunzel – girl trapped in an inaccessible tower, prince faced with the challenge of accessing it – but instead of ending with a creative solution involving a hair ladder, happily-ever-after is achieved when the prince suddenly realizes he can fly. Even in the worlds of fantasy, magic and sci-fi, the parameters need to be consistent for the dramatic tension to hold.

Hickorydickory’s chief strength lies in Wegrzyn’s ability to merge the ordinary with the fantastical. Her characters are people you know, a relatable, middle-class family forced to contend with situations one would expect to see wizards or sorcerers or elves in. It’s not really magical realism. Hickorydickory isn’t awash in dreamscapes and phantasms. Instead, it shows the everyday nuts, bolts and blood of living with something that just happens to defy the rules of science and the space-time continuum.

Director Russ Tutterow deftly merges both the ordinariness and the mind-blowing fairy tale-esque elements of Hickorydickory. Early on, the worlds of the real and the surreal clash with an impact that elicits laughter and gasps in the same moment. Attempting to repair an old pocket watch, a watch repair apprentice carefully opens the shiny antique – and gets an eyeful of blood when a crimson geyser spews from he workings. It’s an extraordinary event in an ordinary moment, powerfully realized.

Thoas Gebbia and Gail Rastorfer in a scene from "Hickorydickory" by Marisa Wegrzyn, directed by Russ Tutterow. (Photo credit: Chicago Dramatists)

Clearly, we’re not dealing with Swatches here. Third-generation (at least) clock and watch repairer Jimmy (Thomas Gebbia) specializes in a very particular brand: Mortal clocks. As Jimmy and his wife Kate (Gail Rastorfer) explain with exposition that is seamlessly woven into Wegrzyn’s conversational dialogue, mortal clocks reveal the precise moment – and cause – of their owner’s death. Most people are unaware of their mortal clocks, but every once in a great while someone is tragically born with their mortal clock lodged in the brain instead in its proper place behind the heart. Those unfortunate souls are burdened with knowing when, where and how they will die. Along with that heavy knowledge, they are continually subjected to a relentless tick-tocking countdown toward that final, fatal moment.

Life with this birth defect isn’t living, laments Jimmy’s 17-year-old daughter Dale (Cathlyn Melvin), it’s dying. And Dale is doubly burdened – first with the knowledge of her death’s date, and second with the fact that although she’s only a senior at New Trier, the date is imminent. Her life is a death march, her doom quite literally weighing on her mind.

Dale’s escape from the torturous ticking lies at the center of Wegrzyn’s plot. In flashbacks, we meet Dale’s teenage parents and learn the traumatic circumstances that led to her clock becoming misplaced. We also learn the lore of mortal clockery, much of it kept in a tome that looks, appropriately, like something out of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. It’s in the user’s manual that Wegrzyn falters. As two generations of clock shop owners assert, the years allotted by a mortal clock are inalterable. Or at least they are until someone conveniently finds a timely exception.

Hickorydickory is marred by inconsistencies in aging as well. Some people with mortal clocks (Dale’s grandmother, Helen) stop aging at a seemingly random point, while others age normally. On a similar note: Dale’s father Jimmy is supposed to be in his early-mid 30s but looks to be in his 50s. Since the math of their ages plays an important role in the plot, his premature aging is a tad distracting.

And for all Hickorydickory’s need of editing, Wegrzyn leaves some tantalizing issues curiously unexamined. Dale’s mother Cari Lee (Joanne Dubach) doesn’t age. Unlike Helen, Cari Lee’s arrested development is explained. But how does a person trapped at 17 survive for decades? Cari Lee is a sort of female Peter Pan, trying to live outside the cocoon of Neverland. But beyond making her a spoiled, immature brat who becomes irritating after her first scene, Wegrzyn fails to plumb Cari Lee’s psychology – or explain why she hasn’t been accused by her neighbors of being a vampire. Another hole: Characters occasionally bump into younger versions of themselves, even though there’s never any indication that mortal clocks can conjure up living, corporeal flashbacks.

Still, Hickorydickory sets the mind reeling with its implications. And the cast, many of them playing two roles, is solid. As Dale and the young incarnation of Kate, Melvin is terrific. She ably captures both Dale’s profound inner sadness at knowing when she’s destined to die and the tough, sarcastic outer exterior she dons to cope with that sadness. Rastorfer is capable as Dale’s loving stepmother Kate, although as Dale’s grandmother Helen she’s rather like Norma Desmond swanning through an especially grandiose audition – which is to say, more melodramatically suited to a silent movie than a realistic drama.

The other wonderfully realized aspect of Hickorydickory is Simon Lashford’s detailed set. Crammed with every imaginable kind of clock – grandfathers down to pocket watches – it’s an emporium where it feels like the past truly lives alongside the present. Barry Bennett’s original music is an evocative mix of echo-ey strings and delicate percussive ticks. If the passage of time made a sound, this would be it.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
   
  

Chicago Dramatists’ Hickorydickory continues through June 12th at their performance space, 1105 W. Chicago (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm.  Tickets are $32, and can be purchased from their online box office. For more information, go to chicagodramatists.org.

  

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Review: Make Me Love You (New Rock Theatre)

     
    

Love me or quit me?

  
  

A scene from 'Make Me Love You - an evolution of love, presented by New Rock Theater and The Verge Theatre

  
New Rock Theater presents
  
Make Me Love You (an evolution of love)
  
Conceived and Directed by Brandon Pape
Music performed by
Paper Thick Walls
at New Rock Theater, 3933 N. Elston (map)
through Feb 20  |  tickets: $15-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian

Make Me Love You (an evolution of love), conceived and directed by The Verge Theatre’s Brandon Pape, takes a look at the various stages of love and how it affects those in it and those around it. Love is great while it’s good, but when it goes bad it’s like accidently taking a swig of that sour, curdled milk you left sitting in the fridge three weeks past its due date. With Valentine’s Day thrown into the mix, the Verge takes a look at the good, the bad and the ugly of love.

A scene from 'Make Me Love You - an evolution of love, presented by New Rock Theater and The Verge TheatreThe set, designed by Andréa Ball, is a very industrial space. With scaffolding, exposed lights and wiring and plastic hanging around like drapes and curtains, it creates a cool warehouse vibe. It’s almost like walking into a found space that someone decided to use as a backdrop for their performance, without all the bells and whistles, fancy set pieces and all the flair. The set also provides a jungle gym of sorts for the actors to swing, run and climb around on as they perform, creating interesting visual levels for the eyes to follow and a perfect opportunity to break through the fourth wall separating cast from audience.

Make Me Love You is a combination of three short plays performed and intermixed with poetry by various artists, and music performed live by Paper Thick Walls. It’s an interesting combination of mediums used as a portrayal of relationships and love. The show comes at the notion of love from all angles, literally and figuratively, with the use of so many art forms as well as the actors moving about the space not only in front of the audience but on the sides, behind them and through the aisles. It’s a very visual and sensory experience that, at times, fully engulfs the audience in the action and pulls the emotion through them.

The cast (Kevin Anderson, Rebecca Drew Emmerich, Joe Sultani, Claire Alden, Wes Drummond, Atra Asdou, Tom Scheide and Cathlyn Melvin) does a fine job of keeping the energy high to the pace of the performance is steady and moves along well. Although it keeps moving, there are many points at which there seems to be a disconnect between one scene to the next or different actions. It’s understood the overall underlying theme of Make Me Love You is love and relationships, but at certain points this theme takes on too broad of scope, leaving me wishing for a more concrete arch that connects the various parts of the performance.

     
A scene from 'Make Me Love You - an evolution of love, presented by New Rock Theater and The Verge Theatre A scene from 'Make Me Love You - an evolution of love, presented by New Rock Theater and The Verge Theatre

While appreciating the use of not only the short plays but the poetry and music with dance, some of the poems are powerful and fulfilling while others come across as just words repeated off a page with less force behind a meaning.

The performances by Paper Thick Walls and the choreography performed by the cast is interesting to watch and listen to but it is clear that not all of the actors are dancers so some movements are not as sharp.

It’s a welcome sight to see that Make Me Love You investigates not only mushy romantic love, but explores what happens when loves fades or makes people act in ways they never otherwise would. It plays into all of the different emotions that spring from love and relationships, taking the performance to different levels to keep the audience engaged.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
  
  

Make Me Love You (an evolution of love) plays at the New Rock Theater, 3933 N. Elston, through February 20. Tickets are $10 general admission and can be purchased by calling (773) 639-5316.

A scene from 'Make Me Love You - an evolution of love, presented by New Rock Theater and The Verge Theatre

     
     

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Rhino Fest 2011: A Fruit Salad of Fringe

  
  

A Fruit Salad of Fringe

  
  
Astronaut - Lemonade Stand - Strange Lupus Theatre Currency by Lisa Fay and Jeff Glassman Spores of Eden by Peter Axel Komistra  
       

All plays reviewed by Paige Listerud

Time simply won’t allow for a thorough review of all the productions curated for Curious Theatre Branch’s 22nd Annual Rhinoceros Theater Festival. But an initial smattering might give you a glimpse of the good, the bad, and the deeply uncertain. Chicago’s fringe theater scene is clearly a subculture that depends on prior acquaintanceship—to know which fringe theater companies have a solid reputation for good work and which are still finding their feet and their voice. The following is a truly random selection of Rhino Fest 2011, a fruit salad of fringe, if you will, chosen for variety within the first weekends of the festival—many more productions remain throughout its 5-week run (through February 13). Check out the rest of its schedule.

Prop Thtr    

 All performances @ Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston (map)

 

    
All The Flowers Are Dead - Curious Branch Theatre All That Fall by Samuel Beckett - at Rhino Fest

 

Curious Theatre Branch presents
 
All That Fall/All the Flowers Are Dead
 

All That Fall by Samuel Beckett

Judith Harding, Matthew Kopp, Kate O’Reilly, Meg Hauk and Beau O’Reilly beautifully revived this Beckett radio play, all the while seated at a table crammed with hats and various noisemakers for special effects. Mrs. Rooney (Harding) takes a sojourn from her home to the train station where she means to pick up her husband. Along the way, she runs into various neighbors who may be a help, a hindrance, a peril, or a temptation to her. Beckett’s love of the cadence of language out of Irish mouths suffuses All That Fall, even when characters acknowledge that they are speaking a dead or dying language. It’s a play in which the old survive, even through complaining about the weariness of going on. Youth is either dying or removed by more insidious means. Curious’ production was so charming, rich and evocatively rendered, it’s a pity they will not be performing All That Fall past the first weekend of Rhino Fest. This production truly deserves a remount. If their production of Mexico, a poem play by Gertrude Stein is done half as well, then Chicago audiences are in for a real treat.

All the Flowers Are Dead, written and directed by Matt Rieger

Matt Rieger’s script is almost American Primitive in its construction and dialogue. Two households live in grinding poverty and predictable misery. Jerome takes care of his ailing mother, hoping that his new job planting flowers for the Park District will give them a better chance. His girlfriend, Rusty, gives him a bicycle to get to and from work but she also pressures Jerome into further commitment. Meanwhile, Augie has to contend with his dad, Nicky, for whom another drink is always the right decision and mom is no help when she finally stops pressuring Nicky to find employment and joins him in drink. Sadly, the first half of Rieger’s play is too plodding and the dialogue too boilerplate to capture the imagination. The play only comes alive once Nicky, to regain his son’s affection, steals Jerome’s new bicycle to give to Augie. The play’s conclusion is devastating but takes far too long to get there, making All the Flowers Are Dead a work in progress more than a completed play.


Astronaut - Lemonade Stand - Strange Lupus Theatre

   
Strange Lupus Theatre presents
  
Lemonade Stand
  
Written by Jordan Scrivner
Directed by
Ernest J. Ramon,
Sasha Samochina and Jordan Scrivner
thru Feb 10  |  tickets: $12  |  more info

It looks like another sunny day at the beach with a lovely young woman, Laura (Jessica Bailey), tending her humble and homey lemonade stand. But, in fact, it’s a way station on an asteroid at the other end of a wormhole, through which astronaut Alexander Russell (Ken Brown) has been propelled from his position on Earth’s moon. How did he get here and how will he get back—or go forward, since time and space have been thoroughly transcended? Laura’s answers Alex’s questions rather cryptically, plus the pair faces interruptions from a thoroughly goofy Professor (Crispin Rosenkranz), an affable and romantic delivery guy (Ernest J. Ramon) and a Russian gal (Sasha Samonchina) in disco attire. Strange Lupus’ production still looks rough around the edges–what with Brown coming off more like a confused actor than a confuse astronaut and Rosenkranz’s daffy, congenial professor still in need of refined comic timing. As is, Scrivner has a charming and profound script with Bailey and her delivery guy holding the production’s center. Simple but effective lighting effects from Maria Jacobson and Shannon Penkava, paired with Ramon and Samochina’s sound design, give Lemonade Stand its out-of-this-world vibe.

Featuring: Ken Brown, Jessica Bailey, Crispin Rosenkranz, Ernest Ramon, Sasha Samochina, Tommy Heffron, Paul Scudder

Sound Design by Ryan Dunn and Sasha Samochina


Currency by Lisa Fay and Jeff Glassman

   
Lisa Fay and Jeff Glassman Duo present
   
Currency
    
Performed by Lisa Fay and Jeff Glassman
More information

Lisa Fay and Jeff Glassman have the consummate professionalism of a longstanding comic team. While undoubtedly their short theater pieces contain comic moments, their real intent is to go to the center of human movement, habit and meaning. “Coffee Cup Duet” establishes the rhythm of a simple business meeting over coffee, as well as the rituals inherent in meeting and needing transactions wherein coffee and its accoutrements establish the common ground. “’Napse” is a mysterious and unearthly piece, combining Glassman’s commonplace movements with the gargling, choking, chewing, distortions and whispers Glassman conjures from a small mic saddled in his cheek. One never knows where Glassman is going next with the world he creates from each garbled sound. The suspense alone leads to a finish that unites the everyday with eternity. “Time and Again” examines the stop and start repetitive habits of a couple over the issue of when to return a book to the library. Fay and Glassman’s timing is impeccable and interrogates the very coming and going, leaving or staying that makes a relationship. “Homeland” hits the hardest, with a solitary housewife moving backward in time, from the moment she weeps into a phone in her hand to the violation of her home that has provoked her upset. The piece chillingly depicts where we are now.


"The Spores of Eden" by Peter Axel Komistra, now playing at Prop Thtr as part of Chicago Rhino Fest

   
Two Weeks Productions presents
  
The Spores of Eden
    
Written by Peter Axel Komistra
Directed by
Dylan S. Roberts
thru Feb 12  | 
tickets: $12  |  more info

Agatha (Lisa Herceg) and her daughter Linda (Cathlyn Melvin) spare it out over the last egg out of a dozen Agatha has set out in an Easter egg hunt for Linda to find. Not finding the 12th egg, Linda gives up and refuses to go looking for it, even when it begins to rot and stink up the house. A battle of wills ensues when Agatha keeps replacing the rotten egg for Linda to find and Linda keeps refusing to go in search of it.  Decay becomes the only thing the two women know and seems to be the only thing by which the Father (Paul Cary), speaking posthumously, endorses—or so we think. Everything remains at an impasse until Topher (Rory Jobst), Linda’s banished brother, arrives one evening to try and understand his banishment and his wayward life ever since. Peter Komistra seems to not know what to do with characters with such implacable wills as he has crafted here. While the cast does an admirable job with Komistra’s language, the characters themselves only oppose or undermine each other but never reach any kind of clear and creative rapprochement. While it’s thoroughly legitimate to return the play’s circumstances to the same decaying state in which they begin, the conundrums of seeking or failing to find renewal also receive a muddled treatment in the course of the work. The Spores of Eden needs a strong editorial hand and clarification—and it may also benefit from not leaning so heavily on the “Book of Genesis”.

  
  

Mexico - Curious Branch Theatre - Chicago Rhino Fest