REVIEW: Lakefront Property (Bruised Orange Theater)

      
     

Apocalypse of the Heart

 

 

   
Bruised Orange Theater presents
   
Lakefront Property
   
Written by Clint Sheffer
Directed by Mark Spence
at
Acme Art Works, 2215 W. North (map)
through Dec 18  |  tickets: $18   |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

I have lived near Lake Michigan for all of my adult life, and when I moved here I noticed that the people were different. Was it the water’s tidal pull or did an inordinate amount of strange folks gravitate here? That question re-emerged as I watched Bruised Orange Theater’s fascinating production Lakefront Property.

Lakefront Property - Trish and Pokey Lakefront Property tells the story of two isolated and lonely souls who live in a fantasy world – literally. Jeff Harris plays the self conscious Pokey who constantly puts himself down as fat and unattractive. He has an imaginary girlfriend named Trisha who is played with brilliant insanity by Ann Sonneville. Trisha is what could be called the postmodern girlfriend experience. She is demanding, impulsive, sexually driven and, did I mention, a figment of Pokey’s imagination?

Jeff Harris gives a razor sharp performance of Pokey. He is that guy that you see on the bus painfully shy about everything from his coat to his hairline. He may be talking to himself or is he? Part of Director Mark Spence’s notes relay a line form his favorite band Record Low. ‘What if I’m wrong?’ The theme of this play is just that. What if we the observers are wrong about the pull of the invisible partner or the tides of Lake Michigan?

Delving deeper into the parallel lives theory is the character of Kyla, played by Stephanie Polt. Kyla is a coke-addled waitress who is living on the edge of reality. Ms. Polt is achingly real in her portrayal of not wanting to give a damn anymore while her heart longs for the right man. That man turns out to be a ghost named Harold, played with equal parts folksy charm and sinister menace by David Bettino. Harold is from the mid to late 1800’s and comes on to Kyla with the charm of inviting her to an ice cream social. Whatever you believe about ghosts, it is said that there are benevolent and malevolent spirits. Harold comes to take Kyla to the other side. He is attuned to her cocaine habit and dangerous lifestyle and thus sees her as ready to accompany him to a parallel universe where he has literally witnessed train wrecks in the early days of rail travel. She is another wreck that he witnesses.

Lakefront Property is written by Clint Scheffer, and this is a revival of a Bruised Orange’s early days. That first production took place in an abandoned storefront without a city sanctioned amusement license!

BOTC has come a long way from those days, and have made brilliant use of the Acme Art Works space in Wicker Park/Bucktown. The play is staged in an old protestant church sanctuary that adds a ghostly allure. The stage is set under a mural of Jesus ascending much to the awe and ecstasy of the disciples. Director Mark Spence has the characters flowing in and out of this abandoned altar space as sacrifices to the search for love and companionship from all levels of consciousness. It is a powerful and moving play in these times of personal ads and Internet dating. When Pokey and Kyla find each other after fleeing their imaginary/ghostly lovers I actually breathed a temporary sigh of relief. I say temporary because Trish and Harold remain on the perimeter of the stage glowering just as they remain in the character’s minds.

 

Lakefron Property - Pokey and Kyla on Lakefront - Bruised Orange Lakefront Property cast - Bruised Orange Theater

Trish becomes a boiling obsession in Pokey’s mind. He yearns to be wanted by both women – one for real and the other an imaginary backup who will love without fail. Harold becomes malevolent and terrifying to watch.

So – what if they are wrong? What if we are all wrong about the search for love and relationship? As Mr. Spence noted, this question turns to a defiant statement after going through the hell of life imagined or hallucinated. Either way you could die trying. This is what I consider Chicago theatre at it’s best. It’s raw, unadorned, and yet skilled and polished.

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

lakefront property - landscape poster

Lakefront Property runs Thursday through Saturday until November 20th and then December 2nd through the 18th on the same days. Show time is 8:00pm. Get there a little early to check out the exhibit in the space as well as to sit in the theatre space itself. Let the ambiance of the old sanctuary get inside your head a bit. You might feel a bit of that parallel universe tugging at you. Acme Art Works is located at 2215 North Avenue in Chicago. Go to www.bruisedorange.org for more information.

     
     

REVIEW: K. (The Hypocrites)

 

Allen goes coo-coo for Kafka

 

 

The Hypocrites - K - by Greg Allen004

   
The Hypocrites present
   
K.
   
Written and Directed by Greg Allen
at
Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division (map)
through November 28   |  tickets: $14-$28  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

At the last three productions I’ve seen put on by The Hypocrites, arguably the local leader in avant garde storefront, there’s been some blatant reference to the originating text. In Sean Graney’s stage adaptation of Frankenstein last year (our review ★★), the pages of numerous copies of Mary Shelley’s book were pasted on The Hypocrites - K - by Greg Allen001the back wall. In No Exit (review ★★★), Inez splattered toothpaste all over the set and tacked on leaves from Jean Paul-Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. And in their season opener K., translated from “The Trial”, a semi-finished novel from that proto-surrealist genius, Franz Kafka, characters read, toss around, and swear upon a tiny copy of Kafka’s chilling story. The stage adaptation and direction are the handiwork of Neo-Futurist Greg Allen, a master of metatheatricality. The production unravels in the last few scenes, but the darkly funny story is an enthralling journey. One wonders, considering that Kafka died before finishing “The Trial” (or any novels, really), if this is sort of the point.

Allen first penned his adaptation in 1996. “K.” is Josef K., Kafka’s unwitting protagonist in his slamming critique of law, order, and bureaucracy. “The Trial” is pretty much an expressionist legal thriller, with less crime and more paperwork. K.’s monotonous life is disrupted when he is arrested one morning, but not detained and never told what offense he committed (the police don’t even know). The rest of the piece follows K.’s long, occasionally action-packed struggle to get his trial to go to trial.

 

The Hypocrites - K - by Greg Allen005 The Hypocrites - K - by Greg Allen002

Allen cherrypicks from Kafka’s plot. He hits important characters and scenes, but he streamlines the piece. This works well for the adaptation; K.’s Sisyphean legal journey is easy enough to follow and digest. Allen then plugs the gaps with a self-awareness that shocks the story into a stage life, one that is very aware that it is theatre. The actor playing K.’s father, Sean Patrick Fawcett, must yank a program from the audience to prove to K. that he is, in fact, K.’s father. A painter sells works with titles like The Hunger Artist, The Penal Colony, and The Castle. And there’s a full-on Metamorphosis moment. These choices tap into themes that both resonate with the original text and go beyond it: the nature of narrative, and reality, for that matter.

Brennan Buhl’s portrayal of K. syncs perfectly with Allen’s vision. He straddles the script, keeping one foot in the story and the other in our world. Sometimes he is charmingly aloof, making it seem like he’s part of some dark improv set—ready to joke and riff off whatever happens to him. At other crucial points, he snaps into the plot’s reality with devastating somberness. Buhl’s performance is stripped of sentimentality; his whole world is funny and inconsequential until the agonizing futility of his situation beats him into submission.

The Hypocrites - K - by Greg Allen003There are a few times when the Allen’s meta-theatre meddling fails to produce the fruit, the ending being the prime example. K. has a possibly fatal encounter with his arresting officers, but the final outcome isn’t revealed, and Buhl sucks in the audience at the last moment….except we don’t know where we’re going. We get a sort of “what happened?” moment, and I was very confused as to what actually happened. Allen’s tight focus slackens here and the moment clogs up the heavy theatrical metaphor flowing through the piece.

Buhl is joined by a great supporting cast who all jump into a massive gumbo of personas. They do great things with Chelsea Warren’s set, which features plenty of doors to shift around, open, and slam. There’s an energy present here that isn’t seen often today, one that doesn’t mock the fact that theatre is happening, but lovingly accepts the art form while pushing its limits. Even with K.’s misfires, Allen has created riveting, intellectual theatre.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Brennan Buhl - Hypocrites Theatre - Greg Allen

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REVIEW: Daddy Long Legs (Bruised Orange Theatre)

Beatings on the beach more fun than you’d think

 

DSCN0488

 
Bruised Orange Theater Company presents
 
Daddy Long Legs
  
By Clint Sheffer
Directed by John Morrison
Leone Beach Park, 1222 W. Touhy  (map)
Through Aug. 1  | 
Tickets: $15 or pay what you can  | more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

On a beautiful summer’s day, even the most ardent drama lovers might be reluctant to be cooped up in a dark and stuffy theater. So Bruised Orange Theater Company has come to the rescue. With their cleverly staged, site-specific, one-act, gangster mystery, Daddy Long Legs, you can get your fix of theater and go to the beach.

DSCN0489 The theater company provides your choice of beach chairs or blankets on the sand next to the breakwater at Leone Beach Park and the fun, 50-minute show won’t take too much time away from your evening.

An original play by Bruised Orange’s Clint Sheffer, Daddy Long Legs takes place in the wake of the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day massacre when two small-time mobsters, Bobby Widdle and Mars Streznick, meet on the Chicago lakefront with a bloody sack. The fictional Daddy Long Legs of Sheffer’s title is a mysterious Chicago gangland figure, alluded to in awed tones by the two men as a secret force behind the mob. (This Daddy Long Legs has nothing to do with the 1912 Jean Webster novel of the same name. The basis for the 1955 Fred Astaire movie, the Webster novel the source of the new John Caird musical scheduled to open at Northlight Theatre in the fall.)

Widdle, worried about his missing wife, Jane, demands answers. Streznick says he knows where she is but won’t tell. He’s also close-mouthed about the contents of the bag, and insists that the two must wait on the deserted beach because of "orders" from a higher-up in the organization. The pugnacious Widdle, who believes Jane and Streznick are two-timing him, starts throwing punches, and the two mix it up while trading barbed insults and threats.

I never thought I’d enjoy watching two men beat up each other on the beach, but Sheffer, as Widdle, and John Arthur Lewis as Streznick, create strongly believable characters, and their fisticuffs in the sand become surprisingly compelling. Kudos to Fight Choreographer Wes Clark..

The setting adds a good deal of charm. You can hardly get a more beautiful backdrop than Lake Michigan, and even the weather seemed to get in on the act during the opening performance, with lowering clouds and distant flashes of lightning at dramatic moments while Sheffer and Lewis rolled on the sand, inches from the roiling surf.

Sheffer’s terse gangster dialogue and Director John Morrison’s lively beachfront staging keep us engaged until the resolution of the mystery and the appearance of Jane (a cartoonish performance by Alison Connelly), when the plot starts to go off the deep end and the playwright indulges in some awful puns. Yet despite its uneven quality, Daddy Long Legs makes a highly agreeable way to while away an hour in the out of doors.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
 
 

Note: Parking is $1 per hour up to 7 p.m. in the lot at the north end of the park. No restroom facilities are available.