Review: Erratica (The American Demigods)

     
     

Sex and Shakespeare for the scholastically inclined

     
     

Erratica at America Demigods, by Reina Hardy

   
American Demigods present
  
Erratica
  
Written by Reina Hardy
Directed by Dan Foss
at The Second Stage, 3408 N. Sheffield (map)
through May 14  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

The American Demigods are working with one sharp and sassy script for their latest production at Second Stage Theatre. Dan Foss directs a taut, dynamically funny cast for Erratica, by Reina Hardy. An academic farce, Erratica brings brains and loins together with a typical dash of intellectual neurosis. Hardy, being the founder and Artistic Director of The Viola Project, which introduces young girls to Shakespeare, is eminently familiar with the academic field she spoofs. Her professorial protagonist, Dr. Samantha Stafford (Lisa Herceg), idolizes her subject, the Bard, to the rejection of all others. Yet she finds herself up to her eyeballs in moonstruck, mediocre student-poets, glib, scheming and mercenary publicists, and competitive colleagues who would also like to get into her pants. Even the ghost of Christopher Marlowe (David A scene from the American Demigods' "Erratica" by Reina Hardy, now playing at The Second Stage, 3408 N. Sheffield.Wilhelm) desires her amorous, as well as academic, attention. But all the good doctor wants is love distilled to a purity of lived experience that matches Shakespeare’s sublime and ineffable lines.

Of course, no one can live up to that—but that doesn’t stop the puerile attempts of one of her students, Gregory, to woo her with his verse. We never get to see Gregory. But we do get a full on rant against Dr. Stafford from Elspeth (Victoria Bucknell), his defender, for rebuffing Gregory’s advances by savaging his poems. Though stuck on Gregory herself, Elspeth reviles the professor for reducing Gregory to cringing under the table at Commons “eating nothing but Triscuits and powdered Tang.” If Elspeth cannot have Gregory, she at least wants him to be happy in his own heart’s desire—something that absolutely dumbfounds the professor.

Against her wishes to be left alone, Stafford is pulled into an undertow of messy, hormonally-driven desire. Likewise, her desire for academic purity, such as the publication of her highly intellectual treatise on Shakespeare, meets with the mercenary side of publishing–represented by her leggy, fast-talking and devious publicist Lisa Milkmin (Kelly Yacono). Herceg charmingly delivers Stafford’s smart and sardonic exasperation down pat and, while Bucknell makes a classic comic foil with her character’s adolescent insecurity and Wilhelm bounces off her rebuffs of Marlowe with intelligent, roguish charm, nothing crackles as much as the showdown between professor and publicist. It’s style meets substance—and superficial style is definitely winning.

A scene from the American Demigods' "Erratica" by Reina Hardy, now playing at The Second Stage, 3408 N. Sheffield.Lisa wants Stafford to shape her book into a “Shakespeare for the Cosmo girl.” But failing that, she pressures Stafford into translating the newly discovered “Quinberry Diaries,” a recent academic find of an Elizabethan trollop’s journals that has garnered intense notoriety and landed a career coup for the university’s head librarian, Dr. Hooper. “You’re pleading like an undergraduate,” Hooper smarmily quips once Stafford comes asking for the dairies, “that’s exciting.” If Hardy’s play has any flaws, it’s in the way her cerebral protagonist has to skirt sexual harassment moments like these to keep the whole play light and fluid. Foss’s direction simply drives the play forward and the mysterious theft of the Quinberry Diaries distracts from Hooper delivering even further unwanted sexual advances.

Likewise, for such a smart comedy, the play wraps up a little formulaically, with a character leaping from behind an arras to resolve the final entanglement or Stafford showing sudden sexual interest in Hooper where there was none before. All that can be said is that Hardy’s shrewd dialogue and Foss’s clean-cut direction takes the audience through the journey with zippy alacrity. So, savor the juicy conspiratorial scene between Elspeth and Lisa. Enjoy Stafford’s alcoholic binge breakdown, when she declares, “Vodka’s like black—it goes with everything.” Appreciate the quieter moments when Marlowe tries to get through to her. Life isn’t pure poetry. And that’s a good thing.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

The cast of American Demigods' "Erratica" by Reina Hardy, now playing at The Second Stage, 3408 N. Sheffield.

     

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Review: Resonants’ “The Tragedy of Doctor Faustus”

The Resonants Exhibit the Pageantry of Hell in “The Tragedy of Doctor Faustus”

The Resonants have overreached themselves with this production of The Tragedy of Doctor Faustus, by Christopher Marlowe.  Director Dan Krall has a special affection for the material, yet he possesses too little directorial experience and too young and raw of a cast to pull off Elizabethan drama. Many of the actors fail to project and articulate their parts. Some changes between scenes are too rudimentarily staged to provide a cohesive arc to the production. Thankfully, a few bright embers shine out.

faustus press picClaire Alden has the strength of stage presence to pull off her cool, jaded, and sagacious Mephistopheles. Galen Murphy-Hoffman delivers an equally sleek and menacing Lucifer, and is great fun, both as the Emperor, with his George W. Bush impression, and a bumbling Pope. Both Avery Armour and Atra Asdou form a charmingly convincing con-artist team as Wagner and Valdes. Nathan Hicks has delightful moments as Robin the Clown. One can only wonder what further comedy improv training could elicit, both for him and for all of Faustus’ comedic moments.

Special mention should be made of the set design, which, despite a kind of spare industrial 80s flavor, still manages to evoke malevolent grandeur through the use of floor-to-ceiling black drapes precisely accented with large red tasseled cords. Even the red-light cross, hung upon the right wall, suggests a presence of evil rather than a source of spiritual comfort on stage.

If anything, it’s the visual storytelling of the production that succeeds in expressing the Elizabethan penchant for pageantry as part of stagecraft. The most evocative moment comes at the end, when the cast executes the horror of Dr. Faustus being dragged down into Hell with all its dark magnificence.

What is most sorely lacking is a strong lead. Nate Burger’s Dr. Faustus is a geeky academic, dipping his toe into monumental choices he can barely realize the ramifications of, until it is too late. He hardly seems the Renaissance ideal of a master of knowledge, which was the hallmark of the age. It is not quite clear that this is a dramatic choice rather than an actor simply struggling to the fill out the part.

Burger’s struggles are just one sign of a production that is out of its depth. This may be the moment that a young company needs to reassess its strengths and its deficiencies, in order to put on works that serve to expand its capabilities. There is enough promise here to encourage such an effort.

Rating: «

The Tragedy of Doctor Faustus
City Lit Theater
1020 W. Bryn Mawr

Runs thought July 12th
Price:$10-$15
for tickets, call886-811-4111
www.theresonants.org

Chicago Theater – Best of 2008 (Chicago Sun-Times)

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 Hedy Weiss, theater-critic extraordinaire for the Chicago Sun-Times, has put together an excellent list of her 10 favorite plays of 2008.  Along with the list, Hedy notes the wonderful year Chicago theater has had on the national stage:

…this was the year that Steppenwolf Theatre picked up five Tony Awards for its Chicago-bred Broadway production of Tracy Letts‘ “August: Osage County” before the cast crossed the pond to remount the show at London’s National Theatre, and when the Chicago Shakespeare Theater was feted with the “Best Regional Theater” Tony.

Continuing:

But that was just the beginning. Next Theatre‘s production of the new musical “Adding Machine,” was hailed in its Off Broadway incarnation, with director David Cromer racking up plaudits for his work on that show, as well as for his revelatory revivals of “Our Town” (at the Hypocrites) and “Picnic” (at Writers’ Theatre). Profiles championed the work of incendiary playwright Neil LaBute to grand effect. Remy Bumppo earned laughs with its tale of financial chicanery in a revival of an Edwardian classic, “The Voysey Inheritance.” And director Sean Graney experimented boldy with productions of “The Threepenny Opera” and Marlowe‘s “Edward II.”

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Now here are Hedy Weiss’s favorite productions in 2008:

 

1. Caroline or Change  (Court Theatre)
by Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori
Standouts: Charles Newell (director), Doug Peck (musical director); performances: Malcolm Durning, E.Faye Butler
     
2. Ruined  (Goodman Theatre)
by Lynn Nottage
Weiss comments: Worthy of a Pulitzer Prize, the play will soon move to New York’s Manhattan Theatre Club.
 
     
3. Gatz  (Elevator Repair Service Theatre)
by John Collins
 
     
4. Our Town  (The Hypocrites)
by Thornton Wilder
Standouts: David Cromer (director)
 
     
5. Requiem for a Heavyweight  (Shattered Globe)
by Rod Serling
Standouts: Lou Contey (director)
 
     
6. Amadeus  (Chicago Shakespeare)
by Peter Schaffer
Standouts: Gary Griffin (director), Daniel Ostling (set designer); performances: Robert Sella, Robbi Collier Sublett, Elizabeth Ledo, Lance Baker
 
     
7. As You Like It  (Writers’ Theatre)
by William Shakespeare
Standouts: William Brown (director), Performance: Larry Yando
 
     
8. Drowsy Chaperone  (Cadillac Palace Theater)
by Laura Wade
Standouts: Casey Nicholaw (director)
 
     
9. Around the World in 80 Days  (Lookingglass)
Standouts: Laura Eason (adaptor/director); Performances: Philip R. Smith, Kevin Douglas, Joe Dempsey, Ravi Batista, Anish Jethmalani, Ericka Ratcliff, Nick Sandys and Rom Barkhordar
 
     
10. Columbinus  (Raven Theatre)
by Stephen Karam and P.J. Paparelli
Standouts: Greg Kolack (director); Performances: Matthew Klingler and Jamie Abelson
 

To see the Hedy Weiss’s complete description and thoughts on her favorite plays, click here.