REVIEW: The Artist Needs A Wife (side project)

Cohesive set adds clarity to an otherwise jumbled script

Freud stabs painting

the side project presents: 

The Artist Needs a Wife 

by Jesse Weaver
directed by
Carolyn Klein
thru February 14th (ticket info)

review by Ian Epstein

The side project’s production of The Artist Needs a Wife, by Jesse Weaver, tells the claustrophobic tale of Freud and Mott (played by John Ferrick and Chris Hainsworth).  Freud and Mott are two older, similar looking, starving artist types.  The duo lives in a decrepit hovel that doubles as a garden level apartment with walls so leaky, rusty, and paint-smeared that the canvas of Freud’s many-year masterpiece looks like a natural extension of the wall itself.  His muse is a woman named Whore (Allison Cain).  If she hadn’t dried up at the same pace as Freud’s inspiration to paint, the pair might’ve produced something like a de Kooning together.  Instead, there’s a lot of struggling. 

In fits and starts, Freud and Mott come and go, looking for a touch of Michelangelo’s genius at the bottom of a box of corn flakes or hidden among the pages of a Polish mail-order bride catalog.  When they don’t find inspiration in these places, they make bold dramatic gestures: stabbing the empty box of cornflakes to the wall with a carving knife or tearing the apartment to pieces.  And in a moment rife with dramatic possibility, one even orders the redheaded bride that the other was eyeing in the catalog.  Suddenly the image in the catalog is flesh, and Whore has competition in the form of a sexy little redhead (Ann Sonneville) with a thick stutter.

Katja with knife at Mott's throat Mott punches Whore

All of this sounds great, but the script feels like a sprawling rough draft with too little knowledge of its many subjects to be either funny or serious.  It reaches towards the kind of tension that builds up in the back and forth of a Pinter exchange supplemented with a healthy dose of the absurd – but it doesn’t grab hold of anything.  There isn’t a particularly developed stage vocabulary for lack of inspiration so this prominent thematic thread is hard-pressed to hold an audience’s interest for what feels like an unending two-hours-and-fifteen-minutes.  Whenever passage of time comes up, the actors dismiss it with affected lists — a trait that might work if the actual chronology of the characters were made legible anywhere (the walls, the plot, their intimacy).   There are words misused without intending to be, confusion about Polish being written in Cyrillic (which it isn’t), and profanity that reads like a loud placeholder for what a truly ticked-off down-and-out artist might yell.  All of this leaves the audience excusing too much of the playwright’s shorthand to enjoy the show.

William Anderson‘s set, with its moldy colors, its cramped, cockeyed amenities, and its fragmented ceiling tiles may be the only piece of this production that strikes a tone appropriate to the subject matter.  It is especially admirable for its clarity, economy, and versatility. 

Rating:

FEATURING: Allison Cain, John Ferrick, Christopher Hainsworth, and Ann Sonneville 
CREATIVE TEAM: Carolyn Klein (director) William Anderson (sets), Emily Duffin (props), Miles Polaski (sound), Greg Poljacik (fights), Seth Reinick (lights), and Mieka van der Ploeg (costumes)

Tickets: $18 General, $12 Industry   (with H/R, business card or student ID)
Group discounts available

Strawdog Theatre announces new artistic staff and ensemble members

strawdog

As part of their ongoing celebration of 22 years(!) in Chicago theatre, Strawdog Theatre Company proudly announces the hiring of new Managing Director Hank Boland, new General Manager Cortney Hurley, the addition of four new ensemble members: Amy Dunlap, Paul Fagen, Mike Przygoda and Justine C. Turner and the appointment of Matt Hawkins as Strawdog Artistic Associate and Resident Director.

hboland_large Hank Boland replaces Alex J. Goodman as Managing Director of Strawdog Theatre Company.  Boland’s work with Strawdog Theatre Company includes writing Season Seventeen’s epic musical The True Ballad of Fall’s Blessings, directed by Strawdog’s Artistic Director Nic Dimond and written in collaboration with Strawdog Theatre Company. In 2006, Dimond asked Boland to develop a writing initiative for Strawdog Ensemble Members.  Billed the The Hit Factory, this program regularly schedules late night events and graduations to showcase new work. The Hit Factory now also offers tuition based classes to the public, please see our website for more information. The Hit Factory is committed to creating new works, and strengthening the working relationships between Strawdog Theatre Company and other members of the Chicago theatre community. Boland holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Film from Columbia College in Chicago where he is an adjunct faculty member in the screenwriting department.

Cortney Hurley, Strawdog’s Production Manager since 2006, has been promoted to General Manager, overseeing Strawdog’s growing theatrical complex located at

Strawdog Theatre Company is now home to a 70-seat mainstage theatre, 40-seat Hugen Hall cabaret space complete with bar and liquor license and 400 square foot rehearsal space called Nowhere Mountain.

Strawdog Theatre Company is also pleased to announce the addition of four new ensemble members: Amy Dunlap has appeared on the Strawdog stage in Cherry Orchard, Marathon ‘33 and the Strawdog Radio Theatre Series. Dunlap graduated from Boston University’s College of Fine Arts and has been seen in productions at several Chicago theatres including 16th Street Theater, Lifeline Theatre, Factory Theatre, Chicago Dramatists, Adventure Stage Chicago and Estrogen Fest.

Paul Fagen was last seen as Father Toulon in Strawdog’s critically-acclaimed production of Red Noses. Originally from Annapolis, MD, Fagen has also acted in productions at The House Theatre of Chicago, Speaking Ring Theater and Quest Theatre Ensemble.

Mike Przygoda was most recently the Musical Director and Arranger for Strawdog’s Red Noses. Przygoda holds a BFA in music composition from Columbia College Chicago.  He has worked on numerous shows in Chicago both as a composer and as a performing musician for companies such as The House Theatre of Chicago (Valentine Victorious, Ellen Under Glass, The Boy Detective Fails, Hatfield & McCoy, The Sparrow, The Magnificents, The Nutcracker, The Rose & Rime), American Theatre Company (Oklahoma!), The Hypocrites (Camille/La Traviata), Trapdoor (AmeriKafka), Next Theatre (The Busy World Is Hushed, 365 Days/Plays), The Neo-Futurists (Beer) and has written music for Serendipity Theatre Collective‘s Second Story.  He served as a musical director for the Second City Touring Company.

Justine C. Turner joins the Strawdog Ensemble after appearing in Red Noses. Originally from Oak Park, IL and a graduate of Columbia College, Turner was most recently seen in the remount of Rivendell Theatre’s These Shining Lives at Theatre on the Lake and appeared in Ren Faire last summer at The Factory Theatre.

Director of Strawdog’s smash, sold-out production of Red Noses Matt Hawkins joins Artistic Associates Kimberly Senior and Shade Murray in their growing ensemble of Resident Directors. Hawkins previously directed Hatfield & McCoy for The House Theatre of Chicago, On My Parents Hundredth Wedding Anniversary for the side project and will direct Cabaret for The Hypocrites next spring.

Strawdog’s staff includes Artistic Director Nic Dimond, Managing Director Hank Boland and General Manager Cortney Hurley. The complete Strawdog ensemble includes Jennifer Avery, Hank Boland, Abigail Boucher, Don Cardiff, Erin Carlson, Michael Dailey, Anita Deely, Amy Dunlap, Paul Fagen, John Ferrick, Mikhail Fiksel, Aly Renee Greaves, Carmine Grisolia, Christopher Hainsworth, Kyle Hamman, Erik Hellman, Tom Hickey, Shannon Hoag, Anderson Lawfer, Sean Mallary, Kat McDonnell, Gregor Mortis, Stacy Parker Hirsch, Michaela Petro, Mike Przygoda, John Henry Roberts, Justine C. Turner, Jamie Vann and James Anthony Zoccoli.

Map to Strawdog Theatre:

Review – “Talking It Over” at Lifeline Theatre

Talking It Over - WeddingTalking It Over

 Producers: Lifeline Theatre (map) 
 Set-Up: When steady Stuart (John Ferrick) marries the enigmatic Gillian (Elise Kauzlaric), his impetuous school chum Oliver (Christopher Hainsworth) senses that three has become a crowd.  But who will end up on the outside, as this love triangle struggles to find balance?
 Pros: The performances, save for Ferrick’s overdone drunkenness, are commendable.  The characters themselves are rather grating, which makes them even harder to pull off, and the cast overcomes this obstacle.  Nice sets and staging.
Cons: As mentioned earlier, the characters in this play are difficult to stomach. This has nothing to do with whether they’re “good” people or not – you can have a villain that is a joy to watch because they have something that they truly believe in, and have a reason for choosing what they do – and then they go for it.  But these characters. save for Stuart’s best friend Val (Katie McLean), are whiny, clothed in layers of victimhood – but unfortunately lack targeted purpose.
Technicals: The set, designed by Andre LaSalle, works well.  Consisting of three raised stages, LaSalle has placed layers of large paintings-in-progress behind each of the stage areas; the respective paintings torn down to match the scene.  This works well, especially as the character of Gillian is a painting restorer.  Lighting (Fullilove-Nugent) and Sound Design (Fiksel) fit nicely into the show. 
Environment: Lifeline Theatre maintains a pleasant lobby and facilities, and the personnel are warm and helpful. The theatre space itself is nice-sized, perfect for more intimate works.  The neighborhood wrapping around the theatre may seem a bit iffy, but don’t let that assuage you – Rogers Park is a quickly-gentrifying neighborhood, and Lifeline is certainly one of the stalwarts of this transformation. (Directions to the theatre can be found on Lifeline’s website.  I suggest taking the el, as the theatre is less than a block away from the Morse red-line el stop)
Summary: Talking It Over has a number of things going for it – including nice staging and decent performances from the majority of the cast.  Unfortunately, these positives are overshadowed by the underlying idea that we just don’t care about the trio’s separate stories.  There’s a clever analogy inserted into a scene where Gillian explains – as she is restoring a painting – the thrill she gets when she uncovers objects in the painting that have been obscured over years of painting wear-and-tear.  An analogy can be projected that we are seeing the same thing happen with the characters, that parts of their personalities and inner struggles are uncovered through their conversations with us.  Unfortunately this done not happen. 

Rating: ««

Other Reviews: Timeout ChicagoTribune, TheatreInChicago.com  

Personnel and Show Times

Adaptor: Peter Greenberg
Director: Dorothy Milne
Sets: Andre LaSalle
Lights: Maggie Fullilove-Nugent
Costumes: Branimira Ivanova
Sound Design: Mikhail Fiksel
Dialect Coach: Phil Timberlake
Stage Manager: Ellen Willett
Featuring: Elise Kauzlaric (Gillian)
Katie McLean (Val and others)
John Ferrick  (Stuart)
Christopher Hainsworth (Oliver)
Ann Wakefield (Madame Wyatt and others)
Location: Lifeline Theatre  6912 N. Glenwood Ave. (map)
Dates: Through March 23rd
Show Times: Fridays – 7:30pm; Saturdays – 4pm and 8pm; Sundays – 4pm

Talking It Over 5

Talking It Over 9

Talking It Over 6