Review: Ismene (Dream Theatre)

     
     

A marathon of self-indulgence

     
     

Jeremy Menekseoglu as Te in Dream Theatre's Ismene

   
Dream Theatre Company presents
  
  
Ismene
   
   
Written and directed by Jeremy Menekseoglu
at Dream Theatre, 556 W 18th St. (map
through June 5  |  tickets: $15 – $18  |  more info

Reviewed by Jason Rost

A good rule of courtesy for Chicago theatre companies to follow ought to be: if a production’s runtime exceeds two hours on a weeknight, there must be some warning of this information somewhere, be it on the theatre company’s website or in the program. In Jeremy Menekseoglu’s at times excruciating three hour long production of Ismene, Dream Theatre makes that information available to no one anywhere. This is a selfish and disrespectful lack of consideration to the Chicago theatergoing community, many who have jobs on weekdays in this blue collar town. Anne Menekseoglu as Ismene in Dream Theatre's "Ismene", written and directed by Jeremy Menekseoglu. (Photo: Giau Truong)Menekseoglu is the playwright, director, sound designer, scenic designer and lead actor in what is ultimately a festival of self indulgence for the artist who holds his audience captive (literally the door to the Pilsen space is locked after the show begins giving patrons a struggle to exit at the two hour intermission mark). While there are several talented actresses involved in Ismene, the script and lack of direction take the life out of their skills with a monotonous overly clichéd meta-theatrical affair.

The evening actually starts out rather interesting with a Circus barker (an intriguing Chad Sheveland) greeting the audience at the door of the storefront lobby along with Thespia (Natalie Breitmeyer), the first member of the chorus (of the Greek variety) to escape and develop individual thoughts. After this brief pre-show we are introduced to Ismene (the very same sister to Antigone). Anna Menekseoglu as the title character in the prologue is captivating, delivering a monologue that is an example of the potential poetic skill of the playwright. She declares that her chorus has died, leaving herself to the decisions of independent will. This concept is interesting enough, but Jeremy Menekseoglu’s script only gets more and more muddled from here allowing the production to slowly spiral downward to a point where nothing can remain compelling or entertaining.

While the audience is still in the front lobby during this pre-show, Erin (a feisty Michelle Apalategui) convinces Ismene to come with her to a school for forgotten girls. At this point the audience is escorted into the larger auditorium space where Menekseoglu has housed his massive set. We learn that the school is run by Procne (played by Rachel Martindale with a captivating vocal quality), who is also known in Greek myth for killing her son and feeding his flesh to her husband. However, if you are unaware of the intricacies of this myth and the tapestry created by her sister Philomena (Alicia Reese), it will all play as just another confounding layer in this dense play. The myth could be seen in a far superior adaptation last year in Red Tape Theatre’s The Love of the Nightingale (our review).

Eventually, the story goes every which way, including the presence of a zombie Greek chorus (which should’ve been a way cooler concept). Jeremy Menekseoglu plays Te, who at first is thought to be one of the chorus. Menekseoglu, while displaying strong physicality, is macabre for the sake of being so and lavishes in it far too much to no effect by kissing, abusing and molesting most of the women throughout. There is a slight parallel throughout the play, which could be focused on further, to fighting breast cancer and rejecting acceptance of your fate. However, Menekseoglu’s actions on stage somewhat contradict the female empowerment message. Also, there is an excess of themes, motifs, characters and plots trying to be tackled to give any one of them their due attention.

         
Alicia Reese as Philomena in Dream Theatre's "Ismene", by Jeremy Menekseoglu Dream Theatre's "Ismene", by Jeremy Menekseoglu Chad Sheveland as The Barker in Dream Theatre's "Ismene", by Jeremy Menekseoglu

It’s undeniable that Menekseoglu and Dream Theatre have an ambitious aesthetic. At times they excel, such as their well received production of Electra (review ★★★½). However, it’s also clear that at times like this they become lost in their vision and become far too precious with each character and aspect of the story. Moments like peering into the audience and contemplating the presence of the audience as voyeurs is a provoking concept the first time, but Menekseoglu takes the convention past resonance by devoting a plethora of time for each character to have this experience. The effect is entirely inward for the actors’ own pleasure and indulgent to the point where the audience is truly delegated to simply being a presence while Menekseoglu and the cast can revel in themselves. The production and script clearly needs a true director keeping the audience in mind and cutting extraneous elements to convey the play and a unified message more successfully.

The evening is packed with tragic stories being revealed endlessly, many with five minute long melancholy monologues to accompany them. The tragedy cannot have any emotional effect after a certain point. Furthermore, Menekseoglu’s distracting and dreary soundtrack is oppressive, forcing the performances to go along at its tedious pace. Near the end of Menekseoglu’s production when Ismene considers gouging her eyes out with her father’s (Oedipus) needles, I couldn’t help but almost relate with her after three hours watching this bloated display of self-serving theatre.

  
  
Rating: ★½
  
  

Annelise Lawson as Iphigenia in Dream Theatre's "Ismene" by Jeremy Menekseoglu

Dream Theatre Company presents Ismene, written and directed by Jeremy Menekseoglu. The show runs through Sunday, June 5th at Dream Theatre, 556 W. 18th Street, Chicago. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm Sundays at 7:00 p.m. with a Monday performance on Memorial Day, May 30th at 8pm. Tickets are $15 – $18 and can be reserved by visiting dreamtheatrecompany.com or by calling 773-552-8616.

  
  

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Review: The Grisly/Glorious Adventure (Dream Theatre)

  
  

This adventure still has some growing up to do

  
  

Piglet and Kanga in Dream Theatre's 'The Grisly/Glorious Adventure of Christopher Robin, Winnie-the-Pooh and Billy Moon.

  
Dream Theatre presents
  
The Grisly/Glorious Adventure of Christopher Robin,
Winnie-the-Pooh and Billy Moon
   
Written and Directed by Jeremy Menekseoglu
at Dream Theatre, 556 W. 18th (map)
through April 10  |  tickets: $15-$25  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Fame doesn’t make your problems go away. It just makes the problems you have weirder.            –John Waters

Dream Theatre has worked wonders with its revisionist takes on Classical works, such as Jeremy Menekseoglu’s dark and slightly feminist Agon Trilogy, Agamemnon (our review ★★★), Electra (review ★★★½), and Orestes (review ★★½), based on Aeschylus’ Oresteia. But its latest production, The Grisly/Glorious Adventure of Christopher Robin, Winnie-the-Pooh and Billy Moon, seems like a work unveiled too soon. Based on the life story of Christopher Robin Milne, the son of A. A. Milne, who authored the “Winnie-the-Pooh” series, The Grisly/Glorious Adventure . . . depicts the withered, emotional dreamscape of a man who felt robbed in his childhood of the very friends his imagination had created to fill its lonely void. Pooh was, at his essential Mishelle Apalategui as Christopher Robin in Dream Theatre's 'The Grisly/Glorious Adventure of Christopher Robin, Winnie-the-Pooh and Billy Moon. origins, Christopher Robin Milne’s creation but it was his father that gave Winnie-the-Pooh to the world—and bestowed upon the human Christopher Robin an unasked for fame that would cloud his own life in adulthood.

Sadly, the work takes too long to get to the heart of the matter, preferring to dwell overlong in the Hundred Akre Wood of the fictional Christopher Robin (Mishelle Apalategui) where sunshine and innocent security are fading fast. A number of Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh’s (Anna Menekseoglu) friends are dying off mysteriously. They, themselves, hardly know why their friends are dying, nor is the limited philosophy of Owl (Chad Sheveland) of any assistance. One can appreciate Dream Theatre’s mission to immerse the audience in a dreamlike state, as they’ve successfully done many times before. The transformation of the Hundred Akre Wood into a nightmare right out of Sleepy Hollow is certainly the most effective element of the first act. But the dialogue that passes for innocent childhood discussion of the characters’ plight is so clunky and unimaginative, the audience is pushed to a state of apathy over whether the inhabitants of Christopher Robin’s world survive or not. In fact, the prosaic dialogue almost undermines the homespun but effective puppetry of the cast.

Jeremy Menekseoglu as Billy Moon in Dream Theatre's 'The Grisly/Glorious Adventure of Christopher Robin, Winnie-the-Pooh and Billy Moon. Even the scenes between the adult Christopher Robin, under his nickname Billy Moon (Jeremy Menekseoglu), and his Mother (Rachel Martindale) come across as too stiff and stereotypical to spark interest. Distant relationships between parent(s) and child are already dangerously cliché; how to make the audience care about the specific dysfunctional family before them is always the playwright’s ultimate challenge. Currently, Menekseoglu’s script is not up to the task of either portraying this family or expanding its meditation on how fame compounds every dysfunction.

It seems that not much thought has gone into portraying the adult Christopher Robin beyond a bare outline or beyond his relationship to his fictional self created by his father. Menekseoglu’s play asks the audience to care about the man behind the story but, through most of its two acts, portrays C. A. Milne two-dimensionally. The final scene of reconciliation between him and Pooh, his long lost friend, is certainly powerful—it just takes too long to get there – and by the time we do, the journey has been sluggish. This play will need serious revision if it is to truly balance the archetypal Christopher Robin with his human counterpart.

  
  
Rating: ★★
  
  

Mishelle Apalategui as young Christopher Robin and Jeremy Menekseoglu as Billy Moon in Dream Theatre's 'The Grisly/Glorious Adventure of Christopher Robin, Winnie-the-Pooh and Billy Moon.

     
     

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REVIEW: Devilish Children-Civilizing Process (Dream Thtr)

   
  

Naughty children demand gnarly punishment

 

Devilish Children - Dream Theatre 017

   
Dream Theatre presents
   
The Devilish Children and the Civilizing Process
    
Written and directed by Jeremy Menekseoglu
Based on German tales by Heinrich Hoffmann
at Dream Theatre, 556 W. 18th Street (map)
through Nov 21  |  tickets: $12-$18  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Are children little monsters? Do they need constant discipline in order to be molded into socially acceptable beings? Is terror a useful and appropriate tool to insure obedience and good behavior? Is a certain level of cruelty always necessary when raising children? Dream Theatre has long produced disturbing archetypal works by its Artistic Director Jeremy Menekseoglu. But his new play, The Devilish Children and the Civilizing Process, digs deep into the very foundations of what we like to believe is cultured order and proper education. Beneath the veneer of discipline lies violence to spontaneous playfulness, emotional well-being and childlike innocence.

Devilish Children - Dream Theatre 031All of which is just fine with the cast. Directed by the playwright, they plunge with relish into their new production’s dark savagery, based on the 19th century collection of German cautionary children’s tales by early psychologist Heinrich Hoffmann. “Der Struwwelpeter” became a European classic in its day and served as the inspiration for the breakout 1998 musical, Shockheaded Peter. Anna Menekseoglu, who plays Pauline, remembers an English version of the book from her childhood—as a little girl, its illustrations absolutely fascinated her.

Little Karl, Age 3 (Judith Lesser) has been banished by her German father, referred to only as Vati (Chad Sheveland), to a dark and foreboding place because he misbehaves. Here, Vati tells him, he will learn to become civilized, to act like a gentleman, and earn the right to associate with the rest of world. Once abandoned, he falls under the instruction of the other abandoned, macabre and threatening children in the garret. They perform one story after another on the essential lessons that will make Karl, Age 3, ready for society—never suck your thumb, don’t be a crybaby, don’t run and jump about, don’t play with matches, etc.

Each cautionary tale is a minor adventure in horror. It is not enough to instruct. Karl, Age 3, must be terrified into learning his lessons. To this end, Dream Theatre employs simple stage effects, masks and some pretty traditional, but well-timed horror sound design (Jeremy Menekseoglu). The Tall Tailor (Annelise Lawson), who comes to cut off the thumbs of little boys and girls who won’t stop sucking them, is absolutely frightening. In fact, 19th century children’s costuming (Rachel Martindale) so perfectly complements the cast’s crisp and creepy German dialect it’s difficult not to think of the Third Reich and all its mind-blowing cruelty in the pursuit of the racially pure perfect order.

Devilish Children - Dream Theatre 001 Devilish Children - Dream Theatre 005 Devilish Children - Dream Theatre 006

Menekseoglu and company execute their demon-child roles with sadistic vigor and gruesome enthusiasm. Mishelle Apalategui’s monstrous glee as Romping Polly and Bil Gaines’ calm and sinister delivery as Conrad are particularly memorable. Anna Menekseoglu’s little pyromaniac, Pauline, is just a delight. Humor and play always lurk right beneath the horror, yet the most horrifying lesson for Karl to learn is that he is innately bad and that this place he cannot leave is what he deserves. For him, as well as the rest of us, it’s a relief to see another, more beneficent model of adult masculinity appear near at end of this play–to bring light, generosity and joy to an otherwise hopelessly benighted existence.

    
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

Devilish Children - Dream Theatre 016

Devilish Children runs Thursday, October 28 through Sunday, November 21, 2010 with two additional Monday performances on November 8 & 15 at 8:00pm and a special 9:00pm performance on October 30. Performance times are 8pm on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 7pm on Sundays. Performance location is Dream Theatre, 556 West 18th Street, Chicago.

Featuring Annelise Lawson, Chad Sheveland, Judith Lesser, Bil Gaines, Rachel Martindale, Mishelle Apalategui, Anna Menekseoglu and Jeremy Menekseoglu

Design by Anna Weiler, Giau Truong and Jeremy Menekseoglu.

Based on the German cautionary tales by Heinrich Hoffmann.

        
         

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REVIEW: Street Scene (National Pastime Theater)

How not to revive a play

 

street-scene-collage

 
National Pastime Theater presents
 
Street Scene
 
Written by Elmer Rice
Directed by Laurence Bryan and Keely Haddad-Null
At
National Pastime Theater, 4139 N. Broadway (map)
thru April 25th (more info)

reviewed by Oliver Sava

Elmer Rice‘s 1929 Pulitzer Prize winning Street Scene has over fifty characters and a heavy handed script that critiques an urban social structure that doesn’t exist anymore. Why did storefront theater National Pastime revive this show? Dated scripts have a certain appeal in revealing how contemporary society has changed or remained stagnant, and evolved acting techniques can often bring new life to a dusty play. Unfortunately, those only apply if the production is good, and National Pastime’s is not. 

Directors Laurence Bryan and Keely Haddad-Null fail to transform their assortment of actors into a cohesive ensemble, and much of this can be attributed to a lack of definition concerning the world of the play. Rice’s realist dialogue and characters clash with out-of-tune musical interludes and out of sync movement sequences, drawing attention away from the script and onto the weak choices of the creative team. Why have actors play instruments with a track if they can’t stay on tempo? Or have three actors engaging in expressive hand choreography in a corner of the stage in the midst of legitimate dramatic conflict? Some of the decisions are truly baffling, especially an unintentionally hilarious sound cue of a woman giving birth that falls somewhere between an infant throwing a tantrum and Linda Blair being exorcised. These all could be excused if the acting were above par, yet somewhere in the directors’ conceptualization of the script they forgot about the 23 performers on stage.

The plot of Street Scene concerns the hardships endured by the residents of a tenement in New York City, a group of people ranging from fresh immigrants to those having lived in the city their entire lives. The biggest challenge for the actors is the dialects, and their accuracy varies greatly, with most falling on the low end. The New York accents aren’t consistent, creating confusion about where exactly this stoop is located, and there are times when mother-daughter duo Rose (Melinda Ryba) and Mrs. Maurrant (Rebekka James) drop the dialect completely, making it even more distracting when it mysteriously reappears. The immigrant characters don’t fair any better. Musician Lippo (Michael Solomon) sounds more like Cheech Marin than an Italian, and his wife Mrs. Fiorentino (Kiley Moore) struggles to sound anything but American. Mrs. Olsen’s (Alexandra Shepherd) accent sounds like she can be anywhere from Ireland to eastern Europe.

The dialects are such an obstacle that it is difficult to connect with what the characters are actually saying, and plot points get lost in the muddled language along with any emotional resonance. The actors with the best vocals are the most intriquing, particularly Kaplan (Fred A. Wellisch) and his daughter Shirly (Shannon Hollander), who not only have flawless dialects, but also a clearly defined relationship. Their two windows of the tenement’s nine feature the most dynamic storytelling of the entire show, and watching the weary Shirly keep her rambunctious father in check provides actual entertainment value. Even apart these two actors shine, with Wellisch filling the “elderly revolutionary” role (see Awake and Sing’s Jacob) without becoming too tedious, and Hollander creating the show’s most genuine emotional moment, a melancholy goodbye with the tragic Rose.

Certain members of the supporting cast also provide nice but fleeting moments, like the ultra-prejudiced black neighbor Mrs. Jones (Sandra Watson) who is completely unaware of her son Vincent’s (Geoffrey Davis-El) tendency to rape, although the actual assault is some of the worst fight choreography I’ve ever seen. Prostitute Mae’s (Kelsey Hopper) squeaky sensuality brightens her scenes and impoverished mother Hildebrand (Rachel Griesinger) brings some tension to the piece with her chilly demeanor. Otherwise, the acting is stiff and disconnected across the board. Many actors look uncomfortable on stage, particularly when the goofy choreography begins, and line delivery becomes so monotone and dull as the play stretches into hours that it is a chore to watch.

A second intermission is the final nail in the show’s coffin, killing any momentum the lagging production had gathered. Expecting an audience member to wait another ten minutes for the end of a mediocre production is disrespectful, especially when the third act is twenty minutes long.

 
Rating: ★½
 

Street Scene previews March 19 & 20 and opens on March 26 at 8pm. The performances run Thursdays, Fridays Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm to April 25. Tickets are $25. Date night stimulus Thursdays two for one.

        

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REVIEW: Aelita and Shiny Boxes (Dream Theatre)

More work-in-progress than job-well-done

shinyboxes

 

Dream Theatre presents:

Aelita and Shiny Boxes

 

by Bil Gaines and Mishelle Renee Apalategui
directed and designed by Anna Weiler
through February 21st (more info)

review by Aggie Hewitt

Aelita and Shiny Boxes are two original one acts by young playwrights Bil Gaines and Mishelle Renee Apalategui, presently premiering at the Dream Theatre. This theater company, which produces only original work, has never before done a show written by anyone other than the artistic director, Jeremy Menekseoglu.

aelitaAelita, by Bil Gaines, is an allegorical story about a young woman who has to kill in order to free her soul. It’s a short play that dives right into big questions about god, violence, and love, while skipping details like relationships and characters, in a quasi postmodern style. The characters are very loose sketches of actual people, often speaking in bold, fragmented ideas rather than traditional dialogical thoughts. They seem to have a minimal point of view in order to bring home philosophical points of the play, and this break down in speech seems to have affected the opinions of the actors. The singular exception is Giau Truong as Amboy, the giant, who is older than death. This is the most clearly written character, and Truong is a charming and amenable actor that is fun to watch. This not totally lacking in humor, Aelita takes itself pretty seriously. The whole production leads up to a moral at the end which is always a tough sell, especially from a young playwright. 

Shiny Boxes, written by Mishelle Renee Apalategui is a tightly structured and nicely staged play about haunting childhood memories and the traumatic transition into adulthood. The set needed for this avant-garde piece is perfect for companies working with smaller budgets, as it uses inexpensive, everyday items to create the suggestion of a nineteen-year-old’s apartment and a child’s birthday party. A multi-colored metallic “happy birthday” banner hangs from the wall, and when the light hits it, it creates an amazing sparkling effect that is as full of nostalgia as the writer intended. The playwright does a nice job of weaving in and out of flashbacks, but this play, like Aelita (maybe even more so) takes itself a little too seriously, and the subject matter verges on melodrama.

As a whole, these plays both possess a didactic, college theater feel. The work and themes show promise.  No doubt both playwrights will grow and mature – creating amazing work in the future, but for now, however, the writing veers towards the immature.

SPECIAL NOTE: Because of a medical emergency that took place on stage during opening weekend, I saw this play twice. I have to make a mention on how professionally and seamlessly the actors improvised and performed the second half of the play without a key actor. The work was so committed that I could not tell that anything was wrong until I received a phone call from the executive director the next day. Another mention to the poor actress who fell ill, her performance while sick was so good, again I had no idea that anything was wrong. Bravo to the cast.

 

Rating: ★★

 

Performances occur Thursday, February 4 through Sunday, February 21 at Dream Theatre 556 W 18th Street.  Performances run Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00PM, and Sundays at 7:00 PM. Street Parking is available.

Tickets are $15-$18, 773-552-8616 / annainthedarkness@gmail.com

aelita_web 

AELITA & SHINY BOXES is a double feature of world premiere plays directed and designed by Dream Theatre Company member Anna Weiler (Somewhere In Texas). Dream Theatre Company invites two new playwrights, Bil Gaines and Mishelle Apalategui. Each writer has a unique style that complements the Dream Theatre Company tradition of high art. Featuring Dream Theatre Company members: Giau Truong, Megan Merrill and Judith Lesser and introducing: Chad Sheveland, Meredith Rae Lyons, Alicia Reese, Sean Murphy and Zach Livingston. Featuring soundtrack music written by Oh My God, Abraham Levitan and Coehlo. Photographs by Giau Truong. Graphic design by Lou Rocco Centrella.