Review: Adrift in Macao (InnateVolution Theater)

  
  

Strong acting, lush visuals can’t overcome acoustic issues

  
  

Rick's Song in InnateVolution's production of "Adrift in Macao" at The Call. Photo credit: Eamonn Sexton Photography

  
InnateVolution Theater presents
   
Adrift in Macao
  
Book/Lyrics by Christopher Durang
Music by Peter Melnick
Directed by Toma Tavares Langston
at The Call, 1547 W. Bryn Mawr (map)
thru May 29  | 
tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

The Film Noir translated to stage is a brilliant concept. It is one so abstract and far flung from the history of the musical that it would be absurd unless crafted by a master such as Mel Brooks or the playwright Christopher Durang. The Innatevolution Theater gamely tackle Durang’s Adrift in Macao with mixed results. It’s not clear who lifted what from whom in this mélange of music, farce and romance.

Lena Dansdill as Corrina Evil Princess of Desire in InnateVolution Theater's production of "Adrift in Macao" at The Call. Photo credit: Eamonn Sexton PhotographyThe play is set in 1952 when the Noir film was on the wane in favor of saturated Technicolor melodramas with morals dictated by Eisenhower’s America. The loose flowing hair and perceived even more loose morals of the noir goddess was fading to exotic places such as the Portuguese territory of Macao. Opium dens, shady women and racial stereotypes abound and in the midst of it all are the hard drinking and misunderstood American antiheros.

The performances by the Innatevolution cast are quite good – when they aren’t swallowed by the bad acoustics and poor sightlines from bad staging. The performance takes place in what has potential to be a great theater cabaret space. The actors come out and mix among the audience while in character and then are in place for the action to begin with a murder on a supposedly foggy dock in Macao. (Either the fog machine was not working or a cue was missed.) We are introduced to Lureena stranded on the dock in the dark wearing a slinky dress.

Stephanie Souza plays the role of Lureena, the femme fatale fallen on hard times but not yet on her back. Ms. Souza has a nice set of pipes and is beautifully costumed in a sumptuous gown made for Rita Hayworth. Her introduction song, like all of the others, is swallowed by the acoustics and by having to play to both sides of the room. Johnny Kyle Cook plays the role of Rick Shaw who is the owner of ‘Rick Shaw’s Surf and Turf and Gambling Casino". The long name is a running joke that falls flat because the timing is rather flat and the double takes and beats never quite synchronize.

The antihero Mitch is played by Jordan Phelps. He also appears on the dock in a trench coat and fedora singing of being grumpy. The effect is a satirical take on Humphrey Bogart that is given fresh and frenzied energy by Mr. Phelps. He has better projection with his voice and is the most able to hit all sides of the room.

The other bad girl with a bad opium habit is Corinna played by Lena Dansdill. This is a bravura combination of Betty Boop, Theda Bara, and Myrna Loy. Ms. Dansdill is transformed into a caricature amalgam that is visually stunning and funny. When Corinna starts getting her jones on for opiates, she blurts out things such as ‘has anybody seen my glass pipe?’ and then catches herself countering with an absurd request for pancake mix.

     
Tempura's Ugly Bird - scene in InnateVolution's production of "Adrift in Macao" at The Call. Photo credit: Eamonn Sexton Photography Lureena and Corrina Fight - a scene in InnateVolution's production of "Adrift in Macao" at The Call. Photo credit: Eamonn Sexton Photography

Good Luck to you Ladies - scene in InnateVolution's production of "Adrift in Macao" at The Call. Photo credit: Eamonn Sexton Photography

Ashley Morgan plays the alluring Daisy. Ms. Morgan is a fierce drag actress who introduces herself as a cigarette girl in an exotic cheongsam one minute and then as a freaked out tourist in a Mamie Eisenhower leopard coat the next. Daisy is the native girl who loves the antihero but ends up alone and rejected every time.

I will admit to a bit of discomfort with the character of Tempura (Nico Nepomuceno). Racial stereotyping was rampant in Film Noir. The long suffering Black mother from ‘Imitation of Life’ or the fumbling buffoon played by Mantan Moreland in the Abbott and Costello films or happy and faithful Hop Sing on Bonanza. Mr. Nepomuceno takes the role to an expressionistic extreme mocking the American way of life in the staid 1950’s. On one hand Tempura is laying low and disguised by his so-called inscrutable Asian stereotype wearing traditional attire and the queue braid hiding a baton rather than a weapon. On the other hand Tempura’s character plots the demise of the stupid Americans methodically using their own ignorance against them. Nepomuceno’s performance can’t help but be derivative of Ken Jeong’s Mr. Chow from "The Hangover". Jeong and Margaret Cho are the comic standards for turning an Asian stereotype on its head. Some of Mr. Nepomuceno’s performance is uncomfortably funny and like the other characters some of his performance is absorbed into acoustic no-man’s land.

Christopher Thies-Lotito‘s character of Joe is the most clearly heard as a Gildersleeve-type emcee for variations of Rick Shaw’s night clubs.

There are several wonderful moments in this uneven production. The red fan dance is a great send up of both Esther Williams films and the kaleidoscopic June Taylor Dancers choreography. The costumes are spot on with the lurid colors of a Douglas Sirk drama and the wacky spin on Busby Berkeley and Flo Ziegfield . I liked the sly homage to Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" with the flashy duet between Dansdill and Souza.

There needs to be some strategic restaging of this play for it work well. 1) Move the band to the back bar area. They drown out the singing from where they are placed. 2) Use the entire stage facing away from the middle of the room. Whole lyrics are being swallowed into a black hole that neither side can ascertain. 3) Some work needs to be done on the timing to make the farcical aspects of a Noir spoof to work. It may just be sightlines but more plausibly pacing issues.

I do recommend this show (if sound problems are fixed) – and then I recommend that one spends some time checking out such Noir classics as "Gilda", "Out of the Past", or my favorite "The Strange Love of Martha Ivers". The Film Noir is a genre that casts a jaundiced eye on the morals and class war in post war America. This is what Durang was aiming for and this talented cast deserves a chance to hit the mark.

  
  
Rating: ★★
 
 

Corrina's Dressing Room in InnateVolution's production of "Adrift in Macao" at The Call. Photo credit: Eamonn Sexton Photography

Adrift in Macao runs through May 29th at The Call, 1547 W. Bryn Mawr in Andersonville. Check out www.innatevolution.org for more information on the company and performance times.  Tickets are $25.00 which includes 1 well, house wine or Miller Lite drink. Discount Tickets for Students, Industry and Senior Citizens are available. Tickets may be purchased by calling 312-513-1415 or by visiting www.innatevolution.org.

     
      

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REVIEW: Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Christmas Binge (A Reasonable Facsimile Theatre)

     
    

A comedy hangover about the crappiness of Christmas

     
     

Mrs. Bob Cratchits Wild Christmas Binge - Reasonable Facsimile Theatre

  
A Reasonable Facsimile Theatre presents
   
Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Christmas Binge
   
Written by Christopher Druang
Directed by
Michael Buino
at
The Cornservatory, 4210 N. Lincoln  (map)
through Jan 2  |  tickets: $12-$15   |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

I love schlock comedy as much as the next two-fisted drinker; I also have as much disdain for overwrought and overplayed Christmas sentimentality as anyone. But even that much common ground simply couldn’t bring me to open up to A Reasonable Facsimile Theatre’s production of Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Christmas Binge. Christopher Durang’s musical comedy is already a messy hodge-podge of spoofed feel-good Christmas tales, thrown together and slung like hash to the masses. Too bad that messiness is unintentionally amplified by the paucity of cast cohesion and a majority of performances that settle on bland.

Mr. Scrooge (Steve Hickson) is to be taught a lesson by an attending Ghost (Samantha Garcia) about the real meaning of Christmas. However, the magic isn’t working out as planned and the couple keeps getting transported to the whereabouts of Mrs. Bob Cratchit (Tina Haglund), the wife of Scrooge’s subservient employee. It isn’t quite part of the game plan, still they witness her breakdown over Bob bringing home another homeless child while there is no money to feed the children they have on his measly salary. Not able to take it anymore, Mrs. Cratchit tears off to get drunk and throw herself into the river.

The musical’s supposed to be a messy, nonsensical train wreck but, Durang’s unwieldy composition seems to have overwhelmed the cast and that isn’t a good thing. Michael Buino’s direction seems perfunctory at best, designed to get the actors on and off stage and that’s that. Sluggish and cumbersome are the only ways to describe the show as it progresses, with the intentional jaded boredom of the techies in charge of scene changes seeming to have infected the whole production by osmosis.

Mrs. Bob Cratchits Wild Christmas Binge - Reasonable Facsimile TheatreThe cast needs to pick up its energy, as well as pick up on their lines. During the mid-run performance the show exhibited a persistent drag in the action, only alleviated when Steve Truncale bounced into the second act as George Bailey to show us Zuzu’s petals. Now, with character performances as sharp delineated and driven as that, the show would be twice as funny.

Of the notable exceptions: Karen Shimmin gives us a delightfully masochistic Tiny Tim who grows more joyful at the thought of being made even more pathetic by his mother’s absence. Tina Haglund’s Mrs. Bob Cratchit is certainly sympathetic in her mournful disdain of her goody-goody husband, Bob Cratchit (Christopher Slavik), and her 24 + starving children. Haglund’s rapport with Steve Hickson’s Scrooge is quite good, too bad the play takes so long to get them together. Samantha Garcia starts out well as the Ghost of past, present and future, but seems to get as lost in her role as the Ghost does.

Cornservatory certainly doesn’t need critical acclaim or press attention. On the evening I saw the show, the house was packed with boisterous friends and Lincoln Park neighbors who had brought their own drinks. No doubt, I could have used a few to be merrier about what I witnessed. But I also wonder if I would wake up the next morning from a bad comedy hangover about the crappiness of Christmas.

  
  
Rating: ★½
   
   

xmas postcard for Mrs. Bob Cratchits Christmas Binge

Performances continue Friday & Saturday nights at 8:00 pm, Sundays at 4:00 pm thru January 2, 2011.  All performances at  The Cornservatory, 4210 N Lincoln Avenue. Tickets are $15.00, $12.00 for students and seniors.

 

Production Team

        
  Direction: Michael Buino*
  Set/Costume Design: Tina Haglund*
  Choreogrpher: Chani Buchic
  Prop Design: Susan Gaspar*
  Music Direction: Sarah Buino
  Stage Manager: Hazel Marie*
        

Ensemble 

Michael Buino*, Sipriano Cahue, Miquela A. Cruz*, Kristin Danko, Lena Dansdill, Samantha Garcia*, Susan Gaspar*, Tina Haglund*, Steve Hickson*, Bridget Rue, Karen Shimmin*, Christopher Slavik, Angela Snow*, Steve Truncale*, and Robert A. Walter    

* ARFTCo. Ensemble Member

  
  

REVIEW: The Marriage of Bette and Boo (Village Players)

A reverent treatment of Durang’s classic American play

 

DSC01477

 
Village Players Theater presents
 
The Marriage of Bette and Boo
 
by Christopher Durang
Directed by
Dan Taube
at
Village Players Theater, 1010 W. Madison, Oak Park (map)
through June 27  tickets: $20-$25  |  more info

reviewed by Aggie Hewitt

Oak Park’s Village Players Theater is closing out it’s season of “New American Classics” with The Marriage of Bette and Boo, Christopher Durang’s 1985 tragicomedy about a son reliving the painful memories of his parents marriage. Known for being a personal and autobiographical work, The Marriage of Bette and Boo is so popular for it’s sharp black humor and piercingly intense characters that it’s  become almost cliché. It’s the source of the “lost babies” monologue, a piece so rich with nuance, depth and wit that it’s made its way onto “do not use” list of many acting classes because of overuse.

DSC01487It’s no wonder that actors are drawn to Durang’s work. Bette and Boo has amazing characters, from Emily, the neurotic aunt who is full of self loathing and eagerness to apologize for transgressions she hasn’t committed – played by funny and energetic Megan E. Brown, to the hilariously contemptible priest, who’s just so over having to help his stupid parishioners (Dennis Schnell, whose priest monologue is a show stopper, on the night I saw him it received applause).

With a talented cast and a winning play, there was little director Dan Taube could have done to mess this production up and in fact, he enhanced it. Taube brings out the sadness in this work, lifting the veil of levity in every scene. Although it is a fast passed play, Taube does not shy away from taking time when it is needed to shine a spotlight on an emotional moment. Dan Taube’s direction is the invisible kind: one doesn’t really notice any direction at all, only the story that he has facilitated.

25 years after it was written, The Marriage of Bette and Boo is still a challenging piece of theater. The manic style in which it is written, and the darkness of its subject matter, make it at times difficult to watch. It also feels, well, dated. In 2010 it is no longer en vogue to deliver highly academic, sardonically funny monologues about how much one hates one’s parents (unfortunately). Stephanie Sullivan is an unsympathetic Bette, leaving one to feel that this play might just be a two-and-a-half hour long complaint about Christopher Durang’s mother. Sullivan is a strong actress, and when she is able to find moments of humanity in Bette, they are poignant and lovely (most notably in the aforementioned “lost babies” monologue) but the character – a mother who relentlessly demands to be impregnated, only to drag her family through hell with still births again and again – is as hard for the audience to love as it is for her narrating son.

Modern audiences might feel as if they are watching a very 1980’s dramady with this production, which is extremely well done but does little to innovate or modernize this “new American classic.” Most notably, the set, designed by Annette Vargas, has a super 1980’s feel. Three tall panels are designed with a brightly-colored square pattern that looks like neon stained glass. It’s pretty, and old fashioned looking, and yet somehow it works.

This Village Player’s stuck-in-the-past production is fitting – how for a play about remorse, loss and memory. How something like The Marriage of Bette and Boo could be contemporized would be a challenge. The play seems destined to stay in the 1980’s, to remain a living monument to the year of its creation. Whether or not Dan Taube is correct when he says, “One day people will look at Durang’s body of work and the innovation and the vision and put him in a class with American masters like O’Neill and Williams,” this production, presented with the loyalty and reverence of a period piece, surely supports that hypothesis.

 
 
Rating: ★★★
 
 

BetteBooweb

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Village Players taps storyteller Megan Wells as first artistic associate

 

Village Players' new Artistic Associate, Megan WellsDirector, actor and storyteller Megan Wells has been named Artistic Associate at Oak Park’s Village Players Theatre. She is the first Artistic Associate to be named at the 50-year-old non-Equity theater, and ushers in a new program implemented by Artistic Director Daniel Taube.

Taube was named Artistic Director at the theater in August, after former Artistic Director Carl Occhipinti left the post to devote himself full-time to his thriving career in therapeutic massage. VPT has two stages, the 50-seat black box Studio Theatre established by Occhipinti several years ago, and a 180-seat main stage that’s been the bulwark of the 1010 W.  Madison Street facility since it opened in 1984.

Wells, of Lagrange Park, is well known in story-telling circles for her prowess with original works. She has toured locally and regionally with her one-woman performances of Dracula, Psyche and Eros, Helen’s Troy, Firebird, and The Last Supper, spinning tales that merge rich dramatic detail with thorough scholarship.  Wells has numerous awards for storytelling, including the EdPress Distinguished Achievement Award for “Fire in Boomtown”, a piece on the history of the Chicago fire she performer with composer/musician Amy Lowe. Her most recent work at VPT was helming The Miracle Worker for the studio space earlier this season.

While the precise nature of the Artistic Associate program has not been spelled out, it will be a “sort of residency fundamental to improving the quality of progressive work at VPT in the coming years,” Taube said in a prepared statement.

VPT is in the middle of its 2009-2010 season, with the main stage shows dedicated to “New American Classics” and the studio programming to plays written by women or focusing on a strong, central female character. A Chorus Line opens March 13 on the main stage, while Marie Irene FornesMud opens in the studio space March 27. The main stage season continues with Christopher Durang’s The Marriage of Betty and Book May 7 – June 27. The studio space will host Naomi Iizuka’s Polaroid Stories June 10 – July 18.

 For more information or to reserve tickets, go to www.village-players.org or call the box office at 866-764-1010.