Review: Among the Squirrels (The Black Ship Co.)

  
  

Goths gone wild

  
  

Morgan Christansen, Ron Quade, William Goblirsch, Kaitlyn Whitebread - Among the Squirrels - Photo by Sean Howlett.

   
The Black Ship Company presents
  
Among the Squirrels
      
Written by Eric Appleton
Directed by
Nicki Mazzocca
at
Gorilla Tango Theatre, 1919 N. Milwaukee (map)
through Feb 26  |  tickets: $12  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Among the Squirrels is a charming, sensitive and emotionally mature new play by Eric Appleton—something I never expected see at the Gorilla Tango Theatre space, and I’m glad to be proved wrong. Of course, its production is an “import,” brought by the new and “itinerant theater company that hails from Chicago’s Bucktown,” The Black Ship Company. Black is the color, indeed. Directed by Nicki Mazzocca, Among the Squirrels traffics in the trials and tribulations of the sartorially dark denizens of Chicago’s urban Goth subculture as they contend with maintaining relationships and family at the mercy of the desperate absurdities of job-searching in a recession.

Morgan Christansen, William Goblirsch, Ron Quade - Among the Squirrels by Eric Appleton - The Black Ship Co. - Sean HowletTopher (William Goblirsch Jr.) counts off the days of his unemployment like the days of some macabre reign. However, while between jobs, television nature programming and the beneficent image of David Attenborough (Ron Quade) inspire him to turn toward the natural world, “red in tooth and claw.” He finds compelling diversion in observing his neighborhood’s squirrels, naming them with all the familiarity of Jane Goodall among the apes. His mate Vicki (Kaitlyn Whitebread) holds down the fort by working at a fashionable goth hair salon, but when she finds Topher’s joblessness wearing, Topher takes a customer service position at a big box store, regardless of his skills as an IT specialist.

Appleton’s script is clever and testifies to the wittiness of his play’s subculture. “May your life be complicated,” is Vicki’s benediction, just as equally full of terror as it is a blessing. The interview scene between Topher and the big box store manager (Morgan Christiansen in several roles) is a new classic in the way it points up the ridiculous disingenuousness that is the purview of the corporate job interview with a manager who has truly drunk the Koolaid. Meanwhile, pursuing his growing interest in nature observation stimulates a relationship with a local UIC professor, which propels Topher to new horizons just when his relationship with Vicki goes on the skids. Her posh salon goes under and, oh yeah, she is pregnant with Topher’s child.

Among the Squirrels genuinely and authentically explores the transition from wild, countercultural delayed adolescence to taking on the fierce demands of settling down and parenting. The play is almost a love letter to the influences of one’s youth that continue to mold one’s worldview long after the stage of youth has been passed. Topher and Vicki are pushed to grow without demanding that they give up themselves. Indeed, but for a little editorial trimming of overlong scenes, Appleton has constructed a mature and wise delight. The Black Ship Company’s cast makes these characters super-accessible, their handling of Appleton’s script practically a gentle, wry and no nonsense conversation with the audience about growing older/growing up in tough economic times without losing your soul. Their production is certainly worth your time, especially if you enjoy witnessing the Goth gone wild.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

William Goblirsch, Kaitlyn Whitebread - Among the Squirrels by Eric Appleton - The Black Ship Co.

William Goblirsch, Morgan Christansen - Among the Squirrels by Eric Appleton - The Black Ship Co William Goblirsch - Among the Squirrels - The Black Ship Co.

All photos by Sean Howlett.

  
  

REVIEW: Cirque du Soleil’s “Banana Shpeel”

Yes! We have no bananas

 Dance 9

Cirque du Soleil presents:

Banana Shpeel

written and directed by David Shiner
at the
Chicago Theatre
Through Jan. 3 (ticket info)

reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Comedy 3 When I mentioned to another critic that I planned to rank Banana Shpeel by scoring each of the acts separately and averaging the results, she asked, "Can you use negative stars?"

Yes, parts of Cirque du Soleil‘s new stage show are that bad.

Although a few elements of this remarkably uneven spectacle are terrific, it all adds up to a disappointing and chaotic whole. If you’re too impatient to sift through the details, the short version is that Cirque du Soleil’s effort to re-imagine the vaudeville variety show succeeds in the circus acts for which the company has become famous and fails in nearly all of its efforts to be vaudevillian and, notably, the comedy.

The humor of vaudeville was broad and slapstick – think the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy and The Three Stooges – often bawdy and coarse. While some of that era’s gags remain timeless, others have become unfunny through overexposure or because modern audiences have finer sensibilities than those of the minstrel era.

Banana Shpeel groans under the weight of hoary old bits that went dull before Groucho Marx was born and ragging jokes that most of us no longer laugh at. Cirque steers away from vaudeville’s most commonplace slurs and stereotypes, but still, within the first 15 minutes, Banana Shpeel pokes fun at old people and deaf people, uses a filthy Yiddish word in reference to an apparently Jewish character and tops it off with a pair of African-American tap dancers.

 

Acrobat 2 Acrobat 6 Acrobat 4

The lineup:

Auditions. The show begins with an utterly lame, overlong act that introduces cigar-chomping impresario Marty Schmelky of "Schmelky’s Schmelktacular" (Jerry Kernion); his two would-be comic sidekicks, Daniel (Daniel Passer) and Wayne (Wayne Wilson); and three other clownish characters who are supposedly auditioning: Claudio Carneiro, a lame Brazilian impersonator of "ordinary people with knee problems"; Patrick de Valette, an exhibitionist modern dancer; and Gordon White, "The Oldest Mime in the World." Despite discouragement by Schmelky and company, this trio shows up again and again in different guises, the running gag of the show. This bunch of second bananas apparently inspired the name. No actual bananas were harmed in the making of the show. zero stars

Welcome to Schmelky Spectacular. Next, we get a not especially spectacular opening dance number, featuring lots of flappers and feathers and highlighting siblings Joseph and Josette Wiggan, two talented tappers who deserve better than to be exhibited like a revival of the vaudevillian "two-colored" rule. ★★

Juggler. In this more traditional Cirque act, Tuan Le adeptly juggles hats – getting up to six – using his hands, feet and head. ★★★

Eccentric dance. An ensemble dance number more remarkable for its fluorescent costumes and effective use of blacklight than for its choreography. ★★½

Duo hand to hand. Strongman Jeff Retzlanff and lithe Kelsey Wiens perform a pas de deux of acrobatic maneuvers that climax with her standing on his head on one foot. ★★★½

Clown restaurant. A long, painful episode involving all five clowns, an apparently well-coached audience member and some trite routines so antique they’ve fossilized.

Act II Clowns. More of the same. zero stars

Foot juggler. A hypnotic act in which dexterous, scantily clad Vanessa Alvarez spins mats with her feet while, among other things, standing on her head. In the background, three other young ladies pose with giant fans. ★★★

Magic dance. There’s nothing especially magical about this dance number. ★★

Magic. A stylized, slapstick magic act, set to music, disjointed and dumb.

Hand balancing. An awesome performance by Russian strongman and contortionist Dima Shine, a beautiful young man doing beautiful, sinuous, graceful, almost impossible things with his body on a lighted pole. ★★★★

Tap dance. If you thrill to the tap spectacles in old movies, this one will wow you. It starts off a bit slowly, but perks up fast. The Wiggans do some fine work here, as do the whole ensemble. This may be the one act that really justifies the "new twist on vaudeville" label, and would have made a much better opening act than those excruciating clowns. ★★★½

Charivari and finale. The lady from the audience is pulled back on stage for a tender scene with Daniel, while White clowns at one side. Surprise – there are actually a few laughs here! Then another chaotic crowd sequence brings the two-hour show to a merciful end. ★★½

Dance 12 - Finale 

Set and lighting. Set Designer Patricia Ruel and Lighting Designer Bruno Rafie did a noticeably impressive job. The shifting, colorful backdrop made from a huge, lightbox screen and a glossy, lighted, moving floor add real impact, especially to the dance numbers. ★★★★

Costumes. Costume Designer Dominique Lemieux evokes flamboyant vaudeville style with glittering, shimmering, iridescent and phosphorescent fabrics. ★★★

Music. Composer and Musical Director Scott Price has put together a good live band, but nothing in his score will leave you humming. ★★½

So, let’s do the math: 37½ points, divided by 16 items, equals 2.34. Do we average up to 2.5 stars or down to 2?

Given the incredible pre-show hype, which included spammers posting to local blogs, and the price of decent seats, I’m inclined to average down. Cirque fans who need a fix are advised to skip this and wait till March, when the perennially touring Alegria will play in Hoffman Estates.

 

Rating: ★★

 

Banana Shpeel – Offering up a new take on tap

Directed by David Shiner, Cirque du Soleil is putting a contemporary twist on Vaudeville by infusing this classic form of theatre with a modern flair. Http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/vaudeville  Banana Shpeel is currently playing its world-premiere at The Chicago Theatre on State Street

Banana Shpeel – Cast announced for Chicago production

BananaShpeel

Stars from Broadway’s Jersey Boys and Wicked join cast

Playing at the Chicago Theatre from November 19 – January 3

Stars from Broadway’s Jersey Boys and Wicked will join the distinctive cast of comedic and dance talent in the brand new theatrical production, Banana Shpeel, presented by Cirque du Soleil and MSG Entertainment. Banana Shpeel begins performances at The Chicago Theatre on November 19, with an official Opening Night on Wednesday, December 2. The limited Chicago engagement concludes January 3, 2010, and Banana Shpeel debuts in New York at The Beacon Theatre in February 2010.

 

The Cast

 

banana-longoria-ashford Michael Longoria, who starred as Frankie Valli in the Broadway production of Jersey Boys, will portray Emmett, an innocent and romantic young actor, while Annaleigh Ashford, who starred as Glinda in Wicked on Broadway and in Chicago, portrays Emmett’s love interest Katie, and Remo Airaldi, a prolific resident company member of Boston’s acclaimed American Repertory Theater, portrays Schmelky, a cruel and irritable theater producer. Joining them is an international crew of comedic actors: Claudio Carneiro (Brazil), Daniel Passer (U.S.), Patrick de Valette (France), Gordon White (Canada), and Wayne Wilson (U.S.). In keeping with Cirque du Soleil’s unique and diverse performers, global talents showcased in Banana Shpeel include Russian hand balancer Dmitry Bulkin, Vietnamese juggler Tuan Le, Spanish foot juggler Vanessa Alvarez, and the American sister-brother tap dance duo, Joseph and Josette Wiggan. Completing the cast is a talented ensemble comprised of 10 “triple threats”: singer-actor-dancers Robyn Baltzer, Alex Ellis, Adrienne Jean Fisher, DeWitt Fleming Jr., Luke Hawkins, Kathleen Hennessey, Adrienne Reid, Anthony J. Russo, Melissa Schott, and Steven T. Williams.

The Band

 

Under the direction of Band Leader Robert Cookman, the Banana Shpeel original score is performed live on stage by Roland Barber (trombone), Bobby Brennan (bass), James Campagnola (multi-instrumental), Iohann Laliberté (drums), Jean-François Ouellet (saxophone), Peter Sachon (cello) and Scott Steen (trumpet).

The Show

Banana Shpeel is a roller-coaster mix of styles that blends comedy with tap, hip hop, eccentric dance and slapstick, all linked by a narrative that ignites a succession of wacky adventures. This is not circus, or a musical or a variety show, or even Bananas_Dancingvaudeville. It is Banana Shpeel!

Synopsis: Propelled by crazy humor and intense choreography, Banana Shpeel plunges us into the world of Schmelky, who dangles fame and fortune in front of Emmett, who has come to audition for him. Emmett soon finds himself trapped in a flamboyant, anarchic world where Schmelky sows terror and reigns supreme. Emmett falls in love with the beautiful Katie and meets a bunch of absurd characters, including the strange Banana Man. But who is this mysterious Banana Man and how can Emmett escape the clutches of Schmelky and his henchmen?

The Creative Team 

 

The Banana Shpeel Creative Team includes: Artistic Guides Guy Laliberté (Cirque du Soleil Founder) and Gilles Ste-Croix; Writer and Director David Shiner; Director of Creation Serge Roy; Composer and Musical Director Jean-François Côté; Comic Act Designer Stefan Haves; Choreographer Jared Grimes; Costume Designer Dominique Lemieux; Set Designer and Props Co-Designer Patricia Ruel; Props Co-Designer Jasmine Catudal; Lighting Designer Bruno Rafie; Sound Designer Harvey Robitaille; and Make-up Designer Eleni Uranis.

Banana Shpeel writer and director David Shiner started out as a mime in Paris. His career took off in 1984 when he was discovered at the renowned circus festival Cirque de Demain. Shiner later teamed up with Bill Irwin to create the wordless two-man show Fool Moon, which played from 1992 to 1999, including three Broadway runs. Fool Moon picked up numerous prizes, including a Tony Award, Drama Desk Award and an Outer Critics Circle Award. In 2007, Shiner directed his first Cirque du Soleil production, the big top touring show KOOZA.

Performance Schedule

Banana Shpeel performs from November 19, 2009 through January 3, 2010 at The Chicago Theatre

Ticket Information

Tickets are available now for all performances and can be purchased at www.cirquedusoleil.com or www.thechicagotheatre.com or by calling 1-800-745-3000. Regular ticket prices range from $23 to $98, with limited Premium and Tapis Rouge VIP Experience tickets also available. Discounts are available for groups of 20 or more, by calling 1-866-6-CIRQUE (1-866-624-7783).

banana

Chicago show openings and closings this week

chicago_bridges_opt 

show openings

Black Comedy Piccolo Theatre

Bruschetta Appetite Theatre

Dinner for Six Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

Fake Steppenwolf Theatre

Moonlight and Magnolias Buffalo Theatre Ensemble

Treasure Island Lifeline Theatre

Year Zero Victory Gardens Biograph Theater

 

distant-chicago-skyline

show closings

Beer The Neo-Futurists

Ekphrasis: Cave Walls to Soup CansSideshow Theatre

Hardcore Dad Annoyance Theatre

The Second City’s Girls Night Out Uncensored Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

Skinprov Annoyance Theatre

Sunday in the Park with George Village Players

Timeless Is More Gorilla Tango Theatre

Review: Eclipse Theatre’s “Six Degrees of Separation”

 Relationships Have Their Limits 

 L-R: Paul (Michael Pogue) describes his stolen thesis paper to Ouisa (Karen Yates), Flan (Eric Leonard) and Geoffrey (John Milewski) in Eclipse Theatre's production of "Six Degrees of Separation” by John Guare, directed by Steve Scott.

Eclipse Theatre presents:

Six Degrees of Separation
by John Guare 
directed by Steve Scott
thru August 30 (Buy tickets online)

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

WHAT IS THE POINT of being related to everyone else on the planet, if the daily connections between those one is closest to are thin, shallow, and brittle to the point of snapping? That is the central theme of John Guare’s most famous play, Six Degrees of Separation, produced by Eclipse Theatre at The Greenhouse Theatre upstairs studio. Sadly, as proficient, or even inspired, as individual performances may be, a startling lack of contrast between what is and what could be in the relationships between various characters reduces this production to a flat, if interesting exercise.

L-R: Flan (Eric Leonard) receives a gift from Paul while Larkin (Joe Mack), Ouisa (Karen Yates) and Kitty (Rebecca Prescott) try to find Paul's father, in Eclipse Theatre's production of "Six Degrees of Separation” by John Guare, directed by Steve Scott. Perhaps this particular studio space simply cannot allow for enough varying levels of play. In scenes which require most of the cast, Steve Scott’s direction clumps half to one side and half to the other, forcing an almost two-dimensional interaction, and reducing the actors to bodies onstage. Also, this ensemble play still lacks strong ensemble feeling. Characters may be distant from each other, but actors should not be; this play demands that the history between most characters be inferred from just a few lines.

Having said that, there’s no denying the excellence of individual performances. Michael Pogues’ portrayal of Paul, the young black man who dupes the upper echelons of New York society into believing that he is the son of Sidney Poitier , is subtle, knowing, and the high point of the production. Pogue is as much a dream weaver as his character and his performance is a joy to watch.

Ouisa’s (Karen Yates) progress under Paul’s inspiring, if illusory, influence is driven, engaging, and realistic. Ouisa may never be a Zen master, but she does move from shallow, materialistic social climber to a woman intrigued by the potential for expansive, more meaningful relatedness. The rapid-fire exchanges between Ouisa and her husband, Flan (Eric Leonard), whether about art deals, social machinations, or Paul’s transgressions, are fun displays of technical virtuosity.

Ousia (Karen Yates) dreams about Paul (Michael Pogue) in Eclipse Theatre's production of "Six Degrees of Separation” by John Guare, directed by Steve Scott. What a pleasure to see Guy Massey (Dr. Fine) and John Milewski (Geoffrey) well-cast and exemplifying the complete embodiment of small roles. Michael Gonring also does a solid turn as the awkward, closeted young college student that Paul seduces to extract information on the upper classes he seeks to infiltrate.

However, at this particular moment, Six Degrees of Separation may demand more from younger cast members than the adults. Sadly, our palates have been jaded (if not utterly revolted) by a steady stream of obnoxious rich kids in dramas, reality TV shows, and as vapid celebrities in their own right. As of 2009, we suffer from over-exposure to the bad behavior of the celebrity rich. The greatest challenge, through acting and direction, is to humanize the parent-child relationships of the play and to individualize each young person’s role, regardless of how few lines or how spoiled the characters are. Otherwise, the danger is that the audience will tune out and not care.

It matters because this is the background against which Ouisa evolves her relationship—or fantasy of a relationship—with Paul. The rapport that she and Paul creaL-R: Rick (Nick Horst), Elizabeth (Laura Coover) and Paul (Michael Pogue) celebrate exciting news in Eclipse Theatre's production of "Six Degrees of Separation” by John Guare, directed by Steve Scott. te during his desperate phone call to her, before his arrest, needs greater contrast with the connections, or lack of them, that Ouisa has with her own children and husband. Likewise, a stronger sense of history between her and Flan would lend body and contrast to the overall production. Every relationship, no matter how simpatico with regard to interests, has its irritations, its compromises, and its resignations. Ouisa’s exposure to Paul magnifies what little Ouisa has settled for while she pursued having it all. Now, will she go on settling or will something have to give?

Rating: «««

All photos by Scott Cooper.

 

Theater Thursday: “Arabian Nights” at Lookingglass

Thursday, May 21

Arabian Nights
Lookingglass Theatre
Michigan Ave. and Pearson., Chicago

arabiannightsFresh from sold-out runs at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre and Kansas City Repertory Theatre, Tony Award-winner Mary Zimmerman‘s The Arabian Nights returns to Lookingglass for a limited run. This stunning theatrical piece incorporates powerful storytelling, lush visuals and vibrant music to weave a rich tapestry from one of the world’s most enduring works of literature. The event begins with a reception catered by Il Mulino. Lookingglass artists will lead a discussion, offering unique insight into the production, beginning with its inception during the first Gulf War.

Event begins at 6:30 p.m. Show begins at 7:30 p.m.
TICKETS ONLY $30
For reservations call 312.337.0665 and mention "Theater Thursdays."

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All Theater Thursday postings sponsored by this fine entertainment accessory retailer.