REVIEW: Mid-life! The Crisis Musical (Metropolis Arts Centre)

Still in need of some ‘crisis’ management

 

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Metropolis Performing Arts Centre presents
  
Mid-life! The Crisis Musical
 
By Bob Walton and Jim Walton
Directed by Robin M. Hughes
at MPAC, 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights (map)
Through June 19 | Tickets: $35-$43 |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Hot flashes, varicose veins, dimming vision, escaping memories, philandering husbands … these are the subjects of Mid-life! The Crisis Musical, currently at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights. The opening number offers a laundry list of the pains of the 40s and 50s … and the rest of this overlong show, like middle age itself, goes downhill from there.

Productions - Mid Life - 2 Less a musical than a revue, the show quickly becomes repetitive, with the litany of the first song expanded in a series of thematic songs and skits. The humor expends itself rapidly — these are all jokes we’ve heard before. (And much of the opening-day audience at Metropolis not only lived through them but also at least a decade or two beyond.)

The funniest number, "What Did I Come In Here For?" comically details the problems of short-term memory loss. A mid-life translator interprets the frustrations of aging husbands ("I want to sleep with other women") to their weepy, menopausal wives and vice versa. "He Got What He Deserves" (a low-budget version of "Cell Block Tango" from Chicago) suggests that two-timing, middle-aged lotharios get their just rewards, a sadly untrue contention.

Some of the bits are just plain dumb, like one about a singing mammogram. "The Long Goodbye," a song about the difficulties of caring for elderly parents in senile dementia had the potential to be poignant, but the writers went for cheap laughs instead.

The cast, portraying six nameless middle-aged characters, carries through well, with good timing and fine moves, yet they can’t add much to such lightweight material. Dennis Brown‘s cockney accent seemed a bit distracting, though, and the women — Kate Brown, Elizabeth Haley and Katie Miller — all appear too young for the roles they’re supposed to be playing. Costume Designer Cathy Tantillo apparently tried to address this by putting them in frumpy knee-length khaki skirts with unattractive hem-line borders and maroon tops that emphasize bulges.

Scott Alan Emerick, 41, looks a bit on the youthful side, too, especially in a "Weekend Warriers" skit that portrays him as being the same age as the older men. Haley and David Elliott bring notable voices to their performances, but the music – peppy and uncomplicated – doesn’t give them much scope. (Hear samples on the website.)

Productions - Mid Life - 5 Robin M. Hughes uses a rear-stage video screen to introduce each number in a singularly uncreative use of high tech. The videos, mostly ugly, do nothing that wouldn’t have been more effective in live sequences … even an actor just carrying a sign across the stage.

Michael Gehmlich and Adam Veness have constructed an interesting multilevel staircase set, with two proscenium arches studded with 156 lights. It’s a pity that Christie Kerr’s uninspired choreography doesn’t make better use of it.

Getting old may be no joke, but Mid-life! The Crisis Musical won’t do much to lift your spirits.

   
   
Rating: ★★
  
  

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REVIEW: The Twins Would Like to Say (Dog & Pony Theatre)

The curious case of Jennifer and June

 

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Dog & Pony Theatre presents:
 
The Twins Would Like to Say
 
Written and directed by Devon de Mayo and Seth Bockley
Steppenwolf Garage Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted (map)
through April 25th (more info)

reviewed by Catey Sullivan 

Note: This review was originally published on March 1 on Chicago Examiner.com

Just like the titular twins, you can’t escape mirror images in The Twins Would Like to Say. With Dog & Pony’s innovative examination of the curious case of June and Jennifer Gibbons, ever-shifting halls of mirrors offer both literal reflections of the twins’ lives and a metaphor for them.

twins-and-dadWritten and directed by Devon de Mayo and Seth Bockley, the staging for the Steppenwolf Theatre’s Garage Rep series was inspired by the Gibbons twins, born in 1963. As children, the pair made a pact to do everything in absolute unison, and to speak with no one but each other. Extraordinarily, they succeeded for 20 years, all but entirely silent outside the confines of their bedroom, despite the frustrated efforts of their parents and a cadre of psychiatrists who remained utterly stumped. When separated, the twins became catatonic.

Their lives are whitewashed a bit here – June and Jennifer’s lengthy criminal records, tragic incarceration and Jennifer’s early death are glossed over in a dreamscape of stylized movement. Yet from the lookalike parrot puppets that open the show to the two simultaneously played sorrowful scenes that end it, The Twins Would Like to Say is cryptic, playful and innovative.  

Bockley’s deft at intermingling sadness, beauty and sound (if you saw Boneyard Prayer, you don’t need us to tell you that). de Mayo’s ability to configure a story into non-linear, non-traditional formats received a well-deserved and high-powered spotlight  with Dog and Pony’s The Vivian Girls, which she devised and directed. Together, the pair constitutes a dream team of unexpected storytelling.

The Twins Would LIke to Say is theater as a tumble down the rabbit hole and into an ever-shifting funhouse maze where reality is warped and the line separating fantasy from reality is fluid. By using a promenade staging, Bockley and de Mayo ensure the audience is an active part of the story –  Rather than sit back and watch as they might with traditional stagings, ticket holders have to participate, moving from room to room as the scenes progress.

The audience’s entrée through the lookingglass is Mr. Nobody (Nick Leininger, a winning mix of the sinister and the sympathetic ), who ushers the audience behind a curtain with the flourish of a side-show huckster keen to have the audience to learn about some strange unknown world rather than just gawk at it.

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The first visual we get of June (Paige Collins) and Jennifer (Ashleigh LaThrop) is both spooky and enthralling. Standing stock still at the dead end of a long hall, the girls stare out with dead eyes, an adolescent vision of those twins from the Overlook Hotel in “The Shining.” 

The promenade structure isn’t without drawbacks. Among them: You’d have to see the piece at least twice to take in it all in. See it only once, and you’re forced to choose between scenes. Eavesdrop on the twins’ psychologist (Kasey Foster) trying to make sense of their behavior, and you become keenly aware that you’re missing what’s going on elsewhere, as dialogue floats in from some unseen periphery. No matter how deft the performances or compelling the action, you’re often left wondering if you’ve made the right choice – and if something more interesting is going on just around the corner.

That shortcoming is especially evident in the final scene, when the audience is split in half and divided by an opaque black curtain. Too say that missing half of the piece’s conclusion is immensely frustrating is an understatement.

That aside, the performances in The Twins Would Like to Say are marvelous, cryptic, playful depictions of people living in a world that’s half stylized fantasy and half brutal reality.

Collins and Ashleigh are wonderful, giggling and whispering in their room like teenage girls the world over up; silent, sullen and above all fearful whenever they’re forced to contend with the outside world. As their taunting, eerie classmates Kathryn Hribar and Teeny Lamothe are cruel and typical teens, shrill voices and nasal giggles evoking a thousand mean girls nightmares. (In real life, Jennifer and June were bullied so badly, their school allowed them to leave 5 minutes early, so as to get a head start on the kids who wanted to beat them up.)

As the twins mother Gloria, Millie Langford is the kind, patient, enabling opposite of the twins father Aubrey (Brandon Boler), whose tough love cruelty results in a cacophony of torment when the twins are forcibly separated.

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To depict the intricate fantasies that June and Jennifer spun by filling journals full of elaborate fictions, de Mayo and Bockley stage plays-within-the-play, bringing the pulp fiction storylines and outrageous sexuality of  such dubious works as  “The Pepsi Cola Addict” and “Discomania” (Dan Stermer’s disco choreographer is absolutely delicious). Andrea Everman’s shadow puppets also make the twins’ stories pop with vibrance. All seen in silhouette, a snarling dog, a dying boy and a bereaved father takes on emotional resonance rich in childlike poignance.

The Gibbons lives are by no means completely rendered here, but that hardly matters. What we do get in the 60-minute production is a chance to enter an alternate universe of intricate storytelling.

 
Rating: ★★★½
 

The Twins Would Like to Say  runs through April 25 in the Steppenwolf Garage, 1624 N. Halsted.  Tickets are $20, $12 students and pay-what-you-can Wednesdays. A three-play pass to the Garage Rep series also including XIII Pocket’s Adore (our review ★★½) and Pavement Group’s punkplay (our review ★★★) is $45. For a performance schedule and ticket information, click here or go to http://www.steppenwolf.org.

 

 

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