REVIEW: Frost/Nixon (TimeLine Theatre)

 

The Man Behind the Monster

 

 Frost (Andrew Carter) interviews Nixon (Terry Hamilton)

   
TimeLine Theatre presents
  
Frost/Nixon
  
Written by Peter Morgan
Directed by
Louis Contey
at
TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington (map)
through October 10  |  tickets: $18-$38  |  more info

reviewed by Keith Ecker 

It’s not a stretch to cast Richard Nixon as a monster. He was a cantankerous soul who rabble-roused around an unpopular war and abused the presidency to allegedly commit felonious acts. His legacy is a sobering stain on the political landscape that serves as a reminder for others to not blindly trust those we choose to lead.

FrostNixon_101 The real challenge of this work is portraying Nixon as a human being, a man of both wants and desires as well as fears and frustrations. To put it another way, the challenge is to bring out Nixon’s humanity while simultaneously highlighting his treachery.

TimeLine Theatre’s production of Frost/Nixon brilliantly toes this line.

The play details the famous 1977 interview with the disgraced president. Those producing the interview meant for it to be the trial that Nixon never got, thanks to a full pardon by Gerald Ford. Unfortunately, spearheading the questioning was a character with questionable skills—David Frost (Andrew Carter). Frost was an international playboy who hosted successful talk shows in the U.K. and Australia. At one point, he had an unsuccessful run in America. This failure forever nagged him, and so he devised a plan to restore his good name. That plan was to nab the biggest interview of the decade.

Meanwhile, Nixon (Terry Hamilton) was self-sequestered in his California mansion. He was defeated. He had achieved the highest position of public office only to fall so very far. However, word of Frost’s desire to conduct an interview piqued his interest. For one, the financial agreement on the table to secure the interview would make Nixon a very rich man. But moreover, doing a softball interview with a British talk show host could help him restore his good name.

Of course, as history reveals, Nixon agreed to multiple sit-down interviews with Frost. And although the majority of tape captured during these sessions was merely a lesson in Nixon’s uncanny ability to evade tough questioning, it eventually led to a rare and honest glimpse into the mind of a megalomaniac.

This play is nothing without a good Nixon, and Hamilton’s portrayal of the man is executed with great finesse. There is obviously a conscious balance between depicting Nixon as a human and a villain with the ultimate goal to strike at the heart of truth. One way this is accomplished is by subtlety yet powerfully revealing to us Nixon’s insecurities. For example, there is a scene in which Nixon questions whether a pair of laceless Italian shoes is too effeminate for him to wear. In this scene, Hamilton broadcasts Nixon’s childlike need for reassurance, knocking the man down to mortal proportions. It is also fortunate that Hamilton never verges on caricature, opting to veer away from political cartoon. Rather, he aims for documentary.

 

FrostNixon_056 FrostNixon_226
FrostNixon_147 FrostNixon_181

Director Louis Contey is a real talent. His use of blocking to create dramatic tension between Frost and Nixon is just another pleasurable subtlety of this production. Specifically, his work is highlighted in a scene in which an inebriated Nixon makes a late-night phone call to Frost. Although the two speak from separate locations, Contey puts them in the same space. There they move around each other and glare at one another in a battle of intimidation.

The set design by Keith Pitts also enhances the quality of the production. Large projections, created by Mike Tutaj, are cleverly used to alter the setting, from Nixon’s California home to a trans-Atlantic flight. Televisions flank both sides of the stage where closed-circuit cameras broadcast the historic interview. This gives us, the theater-going audience, a vision of how the medium of television shaped and influenced the interview.

TimeLine Theatre’s Frost/Nixon digs deep into the psyche of one of our most notorious presidents. Yes, Nixon may not have been an honest man, nor was he necessarily a decent or good man. But he was a man. And although this does not forgive his transgressions, it helps us better understand his weaknesses.

Ultimately, TimeLine has created a triumph of a production. Buy your tickets now while seats remain.

   
   
Rating: ★★★★
  
 

FrostNixon_027

 

Extra Credit:

     

Continue reading

REVIEW: Love’s Labour’s Lost (Oak Park Festival)

A Labour of Love in Oak Park

 

Oak Park Festival Theatre's Photos - Love's Labours Lost 002

   
Oak Park Festival Theatre presents
  
Love’s Labour’s Lost
   
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by
Jack Hickey
at
Austin Gardens, 100 block North Forest, Oak Park (map)
through August 21  |  tickets: $20-$25  |  more info

reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

Okay – sitting in the park on a buggy summer night is not exactly my idea of fun. There has to be something of worth to make this kind of sacrifice. I took a loaner lawn chair from the box office and was grateful to see that the park provided insect repellant for a voluntary donation. I gratefully slipped a buck in the jar and took my place on the lawn in Austin Gardens. There was a lovely pre-performance from the newly formed Oak Park Opera Company. A soprano and tenor performed selections from Verdi and Puccini to warm up the crowd. The music was quite beautiful and set the mood for a very cultured evening.

Oak Park Festival - Love's Labour's Lost 21011 The cast from the play mixed about on the perimeter of the stage, playing bocce in the characters of men at court. When the action began it flowed smoothly as if they really were bystanders in the park.

Love’s Labour Lost is not as popular as other works written by Shakespeare, despite the facts that it is one of his funnier plays. The language is less convoluted and ornate – but it is that simplicity that makes this a deceptive pleasure. The audience gets more of a voyeuristic look into life and the social games that may have occurred in the Elizabethan court.

Love’s Labour’s Lost is one of Shakespeare’s earlier comedies, setting the bar for future farcical comedies full of ribaldry and mistaken identity. Comedy requires a cast to work hard without appearing to try. Kudos to the cast of the Oak Park Festival Theatre for pulling off this feat with grace and skill in spite of a sound system that battled the seemingly endless parade of air traffic overhead and blaring night insects below. Also, a little program coordination would be in order so that the actors don’t have to compete with amplified street performances a block over.

I was able to tune out the distractions for the most part as the play unfolded. Adam Breske as King Ferdinand shone as the pompous monarch setting an impossible social standard on his young attendants. Joseph Wycoff played the Lord Biron with sparkle and a wink to Walter Matthau. Mr. Wycoff has a great face for the frustration and trickery that ensues. It is Lord Biron who is the last of the king’s court to agree to a vow of celibacy and intense scholarship. It is Wycoff who shows the best and funniest reaction as the one who admits his own hypocrisy last when all are revealed as having broken their vows.

Oak Park Festival - Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost

The performance of Stephen Spencer as Don Adriano de Amado – a fantastical Spaniard – is a wonderful mix of buffoonery with Kabuki subtlety. Mr. Spencer is also a wonderful speaker of Shakespeare’s rhythms with sharp and well-placed inflections. No pun is left unturned without perfect inflection hitting the target each time. Charlie Cascino makes brief but crazy energetic appearances as Country Wench Jaquenetta.   Ms. Cascino’s mischievous smile and frisky demeanor are perfect for scenes with the clown Costard, played with equally great skill by Bryan James Wakefield.

Richard Henzel plays the character of Holofernes, a character is pivotal to the wonderful confusion and double takes that ensue with letter exchanges and identities. Henzel is a Chicago theater veteran and takes firm command in this role. The scenes between Holofernes and Sir Nathaniel are comic gems. Two of the audience’s favorite performers are the thoroughly enjoyable Skyler Schrempp as Oak Park Festival - Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost 2Don Armado’s attendant Moth and Robert Tobin as Dull the Constable. They both have a gift for physical comedy and verbal timing.

Love’s Labour Lost is not one of Shakespeare’s best works in regards to women roles. Katherine Keberlein is regal as the Princess of France, but she and the other ladies in waiting do not match the frenetic energy of the people in King Ferdinand’s court. This is partially due in part to Shakespeare’s interpretation or society women of the late 1500s, as well as the also the directing choice of reigning in the female cast a bit more than the male cast members, which is a wise choice by Artistic Director Jack Hickey.

All in all, Shakespeare Under The Stars is a great idea.  You will have to make some concessions for the environmental sounds that hinder full enjoyment, but a night out in a wonderful town with a big city feel more than makes up for this. 

   
   
Rating: ★★½
   
   

 

Love’s Labour Lost plays through August 21st at Austin Gardens in Oak Park. The park is a block away from both the Metra and the Green Line. If you take the Metra please pay attention to the schedule as it has an intermittent nature (Metra schedule). It could happen that you end up in Wheaton like I did. Go early to catch the great sidewalk sales and community energy that is Oak Park. Be aware that Oak Park basically closes the sidewalks at 9:00, so either arrive in Oak Park early enough to dine at a restaurant before the performance, or bring a meal and a beverage (wine is allowed) because there is nada après theatre to be had. Check online at www.oakparkfestival.org for availability and ticket information. Bring your insect repellant or at least leave a tip in the donation jar if you use the park’s resources.

   
   

Continue reading

Review: BARE (Stage Door Fine Arts at Stage 773)

Wobbly cast exudes energy and potential

 

 Cast of "Bare", produced by Stage Door Fine Arts, now at Theatre Building Chicago through August 8th, 2010

   
Stage Door Fine Arts presents
   
Bare
   
Book/Lyrics by Jon Hartmere Jr.
Book/Music by
Damon Intrabartolo
Directed by
Paula Taylor and Don Smith
at
Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont  (map)
through August 8  |  tickets: $20  |  more info

reviewed by Allegra Gallian

Bare, formerly known as “Bare: A Pop Opera, is a teen rock musical by Jon Hartmere Jr. and Damon Intrabartolo, with lyrics by Hartmere and music by Intrabartolo. The show debuted in October 2000 at the Hudson Theatre in Los Angeles, where it quickly developed a cult following. As Playbill put it, “fans….cheered [Bare] as being an heir to Rent in style and passion.”

Cast of "Bare", produced by Stage Door Fine Arts, now at Theatre Building Chicago through August 8th, 2010 The only connection to Rent seen in this show, however, is through its stage design. A minimal set with two spiral staircases connecting scaffolding and two sets of lockers, the stage is reminiscent of Rent’s bare bones, warehouse feel. The set is kept dark in all black paint, allowing for audience imagination.

Stage Door Fine Arts’ production of Bare at Stage 773 (formerly known as Theatre Building Chicago) proved problematic from the start. The show started late and was plagued by technical difficulties. Even after a sound check, there were evident problems with the sound equipment. A balance was never really struck between the actors’ voices and their microphones, so for the majority of the show it was near impossible to hear, and therefore understand, what the actors were saying or singing. The microphones also added a tinny quality to their projections, altering the actor’s voices and ultimately hurting their performances.

Bare follows the students of St. Cecelia’s Catholic boarding school as they enter into their senior year. The two main characters, roommates Jason (Sean Doherty) and Peter (Anthony Avino) are harboring a secret that goes against everything they know: they are in a relationship. Problems arise when Peter wants to take their relationship out of the closet and Jason is firmly against that happening.

Avino’s Peter appears nervous in the beginning and slightly unsure of himself. Eventually he calms down, but strains to get through many of his songs. The range of the part seems a little too large and when he goes too low or up into his falsetto, his voice becomes shaky. His middle voice proves to be a strong tenor and in this range he hits some really strong notes.

Doherty is more believable in his characterization of Jason, having a greater grasp on understanding his character. However, he is stiff in his performance and often seems unsure of what to do with his hands aside from leave them hanging. His redeeming quality is his outstanding singing voice.

The students of St. Cecelia are all auditioning for the spring production of Romeo and Juliet. Peter is cast as Mercutio, Jason as Romeo, Jason and Peter’s friend Ivy (Madison Moran) as Juliet and Jason’s twin sister Nadia (Nellie Conboy) as Juliet’s nurse.

 

Cast of "Bare", produced by Stage Door Fine Arts, now at Theatre Building Chicago through August 8th, 2010 Cast of "Bare", produced by Stage Door Fine Arts, now at Theatre Building Chicago through August 8th, 2010

For all this show’s problems, there were certainly points of merit and potential for what Bare could be. Conboy offers a wonderfully bitter and hilarious portrayal of a teenage girl facing the fact that she’s the odd ball in school. She delivers entertaining, punchy numbers like “Plain Jane Fat Ass” and “Spring” with a clear sense of who her character is, and this allows her to genuinely connect with the audience.

Another standout performance is that of Claire (Anne Pallotti), Peter’s mom. She’s quick and clever, delivering a heartfelt performance of a woman coming to terms with her son’s newfound sexuality. In “Warning,” she delivers an honest look at herself, her son and her life, letting down her walls to let the audience in.

After auditions, the cast throws a surprise birthday party for Ivy. Ivy wants Jason, and she makes this known at birthday party. From that point on she makes it her mission to pursue Jason until she wins him over. Madison Moran’s Ivy feels forced until almost the very end of the show. Moran comes across as an actor playing a part, and she’d benefit from a deeper comprehension of her character to really flesh it out. Not until she serves up the emotionally-driven, belted-out “All Grown Up” does the audience finally catch a glimpse of the real Ivy, and while it’s a welcome change of pace, it would be much more convincing having this authenticity throughout.

Cast of "Bare", produced by Stage Door Fine Arts, now at Theatre Building Chicago through August 8th, 2010 Act II proves to be more solid, with increased audience connection bridging the fourth wall. We see Peter and Jason continue to struggle with their relationship in terms of each other, in terms of their religion and in terms of facing the world. Added to that is Ivy and the problems she and Jason have created together. And overall the performances become slightly more realistic, and the sense of watching a play fades back.

When learning of this musical, I was intrigued, and my interest might have been piqued save for the numerous problems the cast faced. As a whole, Bare is missing the kind of guidance needed to improve matters, as actors seem unsure of what to do with themselves, their arms as stiff as their bodies. The requisite enunciation and diction never fully comes to fruition, resulting in jumbled lyrics that are hard to understand, leaving the audience confused as to what’s exactly occurring on stage. The cast is mainly comprised of high school students or recent graduates. Unfortunately their age and lack of professional experience is apparent – muddled choreography and underdeveloped characters make Bare feel more like community theatre than the quality professional theatre Chicago audiences have come to expect. This ensemble is teeming with potential and enthusiasm; I look forward to seeing these actors excel on the city’s many stages in the years to come.

 

    
    
Rating: ★★
   
   

Cast of "Bare", produced by Stage Door Fine Arts, now at Theatre Building Chicago through August 8th, 2010

Bare is playing at Stage 773, 1225 Belmont Ave., August 5 and 6 at 7:30 pm. and August 7 and 8 at 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm.  Tickets are $20, and all are general admission.

      
    

 

       
       

Continue reading

INTERVIEW: Playwright Lisa Loomer

Playwright Lisa Loomer discusses her new play, Distracted, currently playing at American Theatre Company through February 28th.

Interview by Keith Ecker 

th_tn-500_loomerwm151222666 It’s hard to keep up with Lisa Loomer. The prolific playwright’s work has been produced around the globe in such countries as Germany, Mexico, Israel and Egypt. She’s the recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts grant, two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts as well as a handful of awards. In addition, her plays The Waiting Room—which is about the effects of cosmetic body modification on women—and Living Out—a piece that explores the relationship between a Salvadoran nanny and the Anglo lawyer for whom she works—are both taught in women’s studies and Latino studies programs.

Always one to gain inspiration from personal experience, it is only natural that Loomer would incorporate this idea of busyness in a play. Her piece Distracted, which is receiving its Chicago premier at American Theatre Company, explores the themes of sensory and information overload in our society, and more specifically, Attention Deficit Disorder. The conduits for the story are a husband, wife and their fidgety 8-year-old son. It’s part of the ATC’s 25th season, which explores the identity of the American family.


ChicagoTheaterBlog: American Theatre Company’s 25th season focuses on the American family. How do you think Distracted fits into this theme?

Loomer: Well, I think it fits all too well. Aside from the increasing number of children diagnosed with ADD and the huge rise in the number of psychiatric drug prescriptions written for children, it’s about how we live right now—our world of screens, our fractured attention spans, our need for stimulation and the effects on the family.

CTB: Distracted premiered in 2007. A lot has happened in the U.S. since then, including the election of our first multi-racial president, the collapse of our economy and, of course, the health care debate. Do you think in light of these historical changes, the play has taken on new significance?

Loomer: I think the play is about a society in a mad rush to keep up. I heard it in the State of The Union speech the other night, “We must keep up with China, with India, we cannot be second.” We need our stimulants and other drugs, our ever-changing Windows, our quick cuts, our frenetic rap. They keep us going. And as we fall behind in the world, as we see ourselves as struggling, I think it makes us run even faster. In terms of health care, I’m afraid I do see the drug companies as preying on this need of ours to perform, to be the best.

CTB: Distracted deals with issues related to ADD. What is it about our contemporary culture that has destroyed our attention spans? Is it Facebook, Twitter, 24-hour news cycles, etc.?

Loomer: Well, first of all, let me say that I do not believe ADHD is simply a cultural phenomenon. Scientists have isolated genes that are involved in ADHD. It is quite real, and I would never minimize its impact on the people who have it or their teachers or families. Whether it is a “difference” or a “disorder” is a question that I pose in the play. And I believe that what is a “difference” in the context of one society might be a “disorder” or “dysfunction” in another. That said, I do think that Xboxes and Twitter and the barrage of 24-hour news, etc. has had an effect on our attention spans. It’s harder to sit still, to contemplate, to wait and to pay attention. And what is attention? For me it is the ability to be present with someone without judgment. And that’s even harder to do when you’re distracted.

CTB: What themes are pervasive throughout your work? Why do you feel you focus on these concepts? Is it a conscious effort?

Loomer: I tend to be moved to write when something bugs me. I seem to have written a lot about balance or the need for balance—the balance of masculine versus feminine, nature versus science, Anglo culture versus Latino culture, the powerful versus the powerless, life versus art. It wasn’t conscious, no. But after a while it became clear even to me.

CTB: Tell me about your writing process. Where do you get your ideas, and how do you flesh them out into a full piece?

Loomer: I tend to get ideas by what I see around me. I wrote Living Out when my son was little and I spent a lot of time in the park, listening to both nannies and moms. I wrote The Waiting Room when the dangers of breast implants were in the news and a friend also wanted me to do something on Chinese foot binding and my mother was dying of cancer. I’m writing now about Israel and Palestine because, well, I read the papers and because I get a dozen passionate e-mails everyday from both sides. Once I do have an idea or an impetus or I’m pissed off enough, a character will appear in my mind and start talking and taking action. And then other characters will appear and start to disagree and get in the way. Once I have a first draft, I will say, “Now what does this want to be about?” And I’ll start to shape.

CTB: You’ve done stand-up comedy. Do you still perform stand-up today? How has this influenced your playwriting?

Loomer: I did stand up, political mostly, for a very short time. Mostly, when I did comedy, it was one-person shows in the vein of Lilly Tomlin. I was an actress, and character comedy and working in political-comedy/performance groups was part of being an actress for me. If stand-up influenced me at all, it made me appreciate the value of cutting. Being an actress had a far greater impact on me as a playwright.

CTB: What advice do you have for aspiring playwrights who wish to see their work produced?

Loomer: Well, my advice is always write what you have to write, write what is yours to write and never write to please or be “popular.” Your job is to do your body of work—no one else’s. I can’t tell anyone how to get produced. But I believe that the more you allow your own voice, no matter how strange, and explore your own interests, no matter how controversial, the more satisfying it will be. I also advise living your life so you have something to write about, talking to everyone about everything and going to the theater.


banner_distracted6

distracted is currently play at American Theatre Company through February 28th.

written by Lisa Loomer
directed by PJ Paparelli

January 28 – February 28 (ticket and show info)

Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm
Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm

run-time: 2 hours, with one intermission

kid-friendly?: recommended for ages 14 and up

50,000 Unique Visitors!

 

5 0 , 0 0 0

 

 

It’s hard for me to believe, but as of yesterday morning (February 9th) around 10am, I have now reached 50,000 unique visitors!!!  I’ve been delightfully surprised at how popular this little blog of mine has become. Now I know it’s no PerezHilton (I only wish) or DrudgeReport (thank god), but I’m extremely proud of this cyber-endeavor.  And I only see bigger numbers ahead – case in point, it took me 13 months to reach my first 25,000 unique visitors, but the next 25k took only 4 months (now averaging between 300-400 views per day).  Pretty cool, huh? 

I have plans for the future, including hiring a few theatre critics as well as blog-exclusive video.  Stay tuned!

Thanks ever so much to all of my theatre-crazy (and, just, simply crazy) readers.  I truly appreciate your interest and return visits.

Cheers, 

Scotty Zacher