Review: There Is a Happiness that Morning Is (Theatre Oobleck)

  
  

A witty, cerebral look at love in all the wrong places

  
  

Diana Slickman, Colm O’Reilly and Kirk Anderson in Theater Oobleck’s “There Is a Happiness That Morning Is”. Photo by John W. Sisson, Jr.

  
Theatre Oobleck presents
  
There Is a Happiness that Morning Is
   
Written by Mickle Maher
at DCA Storefront Theater, 66 E. Randolph (map)
through May 22  |  tickets: pay what you can  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh 

The college watches two people have sex on the quad.  Shocking… especially because the public intercourse is between teachers who will enter courses the morning after.  Theatre Oobleck presents There Is a Happiness that Morning Is. Two poetry professors consummate decades of collaboration. The next day, they acknowledge the super-sized P.D.A. in very different ways.  A barefoot Bernard is in full bloom with twigs and leaves sticking out of his hair and pants.  He poetically states ‘I happy am‘ but wants to apologize for the visual spectacle.  A pulled together Ellen owns the intimacy to her class but not necessarily to Bernard.  And she absolutely refuses to ask for pardon from the college. They teach unrelated but related lessons on William Blake’s poetry.  Discourses of ‘Infant Joy‘ versus ‘The Sick Rose‘ probe happiness and dark secret love.  The Colm O’Reilly and Diana Slickman in Theater Oobleck’s “There Is a Happiness That Morning Is”. Photo by John W. Sisson, Jr.separate verses are interrupted by the college president’s twisted reveal. There Is a Happiness that Morning Is is a witty, cerebral look at love in all the wrong places.

Playwright Mickle Maher pays homage to 18th-century poet William Blake with this show.  Maher builds the action from two characters’ interpretations of two different poems.  It’s living verse as the professors reflect on their intellectual and physical connection to the words.  As an Oobleck practice, the story unfolds without a director.  The devised piece works with the cast’s obvious synergy in storytelling.   Looking like Timeout’s Kris Vire’s brother, Colm O’Reilly (Bernard) is hilarious using his fornication as education.  A starry-eyed O’Reilly teaches a lesson in ‘at last I am this poem.’  Diana Slickman (Ellen) counters O’Reilly’s flowery romanticism with no-nonsense practicality.  Slickman’s drollery entertains with a he-said/she-said discourse.  Overlapping lectures set in different times are particularly amusing as he pours his heart out and she takes attendance. In an opposites attract way, O’Reilly and Slickman’s mismatch heightens the humor.  Kirk Anderson (James) surprises with his arrival and adds another kink(y) to the lovemaking.  Anderson deadpans his buffoonery with lighthearted results.

‘Love makes all the difference. With love, all things are better.  Love makes a magic zone.‘  Poets write about love.  Poetry professors interpret the meaning of love… from their own personal experience. There Is a Happiness that Morning Is is a clever, intellectual love lesson.  Although avid readers of poetry will sustain a higher level of pleasure, this course is a stimulating perusal for anyone! 

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Diana Slickman, Kirk Anderson and Colm O’Reilly in Theater Oobleck’s “There Is a Happiness That Morning Is”. Photo by John W. Sisson, Jr.

There Is a Happiness that Morning Is continues through May 22nd at the DCA Storefront Theater, with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays at 3pm.  Tickets are pay-what-you can ($15 donation suggested), and can be reserved online or by calling the box-office at 312-742-TIXS.  Show running time: Ninety minutes with no intermission.  More info here.

        

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Review: Theatre Oobleck’s “An Apology….Delivered by Doctor John Faustus…”

Colm O’Reilly Slays As the Bad Doctor

 Colm O'Reilly as Faustus. Photo credit: Kristin Basta.

Theatre Oobleck presents:

An Apology for the Course and Outcome of Certain Events
Delivered by Doctor John Faustus on This His Final Evening

by Mickle Maher
thru October 24th (reserve tickets)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Colm O'Reilly as Faustus. Photo credit: Kristin Basta. It was 9 years ago, at the Berger Park coach house, when I first encountered Mickle Maher’s play, An Apology for the Course and Outcome of Certain Events Delivered by Doctor John Faustus on This His Final Evening. The coach house set an eerie gothic tone, as did the robes that swathed Colm O’Reilly as Mephistopheles–out from under which Mickle Maher crawled to play the bad doctor. That opening moment, complete with a candle balanced silently on Mephistopheles’ head, sealed the suggestion of magic, the transcendence of time and space, that dominates the legendary pact between Dr. Faustus and the Devil. It also seemed to suggest from the start Faustus’ subjugation to Mephistopheles. Maher’s performance was light, mercurial; he played for laughs and there are plenty of them–laughter against impending darkness.

In Theatre Oobleck’s current revival, Colm O’Reilly’s interpretation of Dr. Faustus already starts darker and weightier than Maher’s. But then the stage setting in Chopin Theatre’s basement studio lends itself to a leaner, darker, and more modern tone. The basement is utterly black; the closing of the room’s long black sliding door implies that audience and cast are being sealed in hell. Only two hanging pendant lamps provide lighting—and, oh yes, the Exit sign. The audience is set up in two opposing rows, giving the stage the look a fashion runway, with Mephistopheles (David Shapiro) planted silently at one end.

Memory is a curse, particularly when it cannot allow for the introduction of new impressions. The trouble is that, back at the coach house, O’Reilly’s Mephistopheles was so superb. Positioned at the center of dramatic space, with nary a single word or gesture, he fully embodied the Hell of Maher’s text:

Hell . . . where it’s said there is no Time, that the infinity of Time is snuffed by a larger infinity, a Time so vast it swallows our miniscule eternity, swallows even Heaven’s eternity . . . An infinity just too, too excessive. Excessive to the point of unholy meaninglessness.

It was around O’Reilly’s centralizing void that Maher’s Dr. Faustus could only dance.

logo At best, Shapiro’s Mephistopheles seems a perverse tabula rasa upon which Faustus projects his own evil. And project he does. Nothing in the production chills more than the voice O’Reilly switches to when relaying how he and the Devil supposedly conversed throughout Faustus’ last day. I say supposedly, because it’s implied that all conversations—indeed, all events, time travel, and wondrous discoveries—are occurring only in the depths of Faustus’ mind. If that is the intention, it is one that shifts this play toward the modern, in that it banishes magic from the play.

By magic, I only mean the Supernatural. More than enough magic abounds from O’Reilly’s performance. I don’t know how many have tired yet of critics comparing O’Reilly with Orson Welles. But where that comparison works in the play’s favor is in his ability to portray a genius utterly absorbed with his own self-importance. The darkness O’Reilly brings to the role doesn’t just lend gravity to Faustus’ outbursts, but creates with them an inexorably magnetic pull toward madness. “I don’t need to apologize to the whole world. I’m sick of the world,” says Faustus. Lines that could sound like clichéd world-weariness from another actor emerge from O’Reilly like a black vortex of futility, making his Faustus the evil of which he speaks. It’s a performance that unifies the Devil and the Devil’s prey.

Rating: ««««

Review: Pinter’s “The Caretaker” (Curious Theatre Branch)

Hauntingly primal, animalistic performances are fascinating to watch

Harold Pinter's "The Caretaker"Moving season was the right time for Curious Theatre Branch to produce The Caretaker, by Harold Pinter. Tucked away in the intimate Side Project space, the set, recreating a dilapidated London apartment, is a chaos of broken down debris. A stuffed fox, old newspapers, a paint-splattered ladder, and at least four vacuum cleaners litter the space, designed by Shawn Reddy. Being a Rogers Park native, I was actually looking around to see if I recognized anything as something I threw out. The trashy setting provides a suitable backdrop to the perplexing play, itself a cacophony of dented personalities.

caretaker3 The Caretaker, first produced in 1960, was the first successful play of the writer who later would be hailed as Britain’s greatest living playwright until his recent death in 2008. In true absurdist tradition, not much actually happens in the play. Over the three acts (spanning 2.5 hours in this production), an arm is twisted, a bag is passed around, and the three characters enter and exit the apartment; other than that, the running time is filled with dialogue and Pinter’s famous pauses.

Without the cast having a keen understanding of Pinter’s language and characters, this could have been excruciatingly boring. Depicting one of the worst roommate situations imaginable, where a vagrant is taken in by two emotionally disturbed brothers, the play can flip from cynically hilarious to chilling over the course of a pause. Curious Theatre Branch, though, has a love-affair with the absurd, usually producing original works with the occasional Beckett thrown in for good measure. Directed by the cast along with Jayita Bhattacharya, who also stage manages, the staging of this somewhat baffling masterpiece is darkly visceral yet smartly communicative.

The most relatable character in the play is Davies, a petty, old transient who is both beggar and chooser. Like him, we suddenly find ourselves in the rundown flat that is inhabited by one brother, Aston, yet owned by another, Mick. Alongside Davies, we are slowly submerged into each of their bizarre and intimidating worlds.

Harold Pinter's "The Caretaker" This Caretaker values character above all else, and the performances electrify the space; the actors precisely envelope the damaged personalities they portray. Beau O’Reilly’s Davies is conniving and manipulative, decayed by xenophobia and a refusal to examine himself. O’Reilly captures Davies’ intense neediness as well as his fussiness. Jeffrey Bivens is menacing as Mick, speaking and moving in short bursts like a machine gun. The crowning performance, though, is (Beau’s son) Colm O’Reilly’s Aston. Quiet and unassuming, Aston speaks in nonsequitors, tossing out random facts about himself that lead to more questions than answers. The young O’Reilly captures the stoic energy of the character, speaking with much less volume than his father’s impassioned Davies. His gentle voice works perfectly in the tiny space. The best moment in the production is Aston’s marathon monologue describing his experience in a mental ward—O’Reilly barely moves an inch yet the audience is wholly entranced the entire time.

caretaker4 The end result is hauntingly primal. Some moments are stretched a little long, and a bit shorter run time would improve the show. The ending leaves the play wide open for a myriad of interpretations, which can be a more overwhelming than thought-provoking. This Caretaker is also void of British accents, which makes some of the colloquialisms a little out-of-place, but never distracts too much.

The animalistic performances, however, are fascinating to watch. All three actors have a deep respect and love for Pinter’s notoriously sharp language. In this production, they reveal Pinter’s true genius, his ability to stuff the absurd into the realistic.

Rating: «««

The Caretaker
May 22 – June 28
Fridays + Saturdays 8pm • Sundays 7pm
INDUSTRY NIGHT Monday, June 22 7pm

 

 

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"The Strangerer" moving to New York

Theater Oobleck’s acclaimed production of Mickle Maher’s The Strangerer will conclude an extended Chicago run on June 29 before taking the show to New York for performances at the Barrow Street Theatre in the West Village, beginning July 9, 2008. Here is an scene from this productions:

 

Produced by Theater Oobleck, in association with the Barrow Street Theatre, the production is slated for an initial six-week run and will feature original Chicago cast members Guy Massey, Mickle Maher, Colm O’Reilly, and Brian Shaw.

Review – Theatre Oobleck’s “The Strangerer”

Review by guest reviewer Venus Zarris.

I met my lover and some dear friends tonight for cocktails, all abuzz from last night’s production. When I told the name of the play my friend Star said, “You mean ‘The Stranger’ by Albert Camus?” “Well, yes and no.” I answered. ‘The Stranger,’ a classic absurdist novel that tells of senseless murder, was on Bush’s 2006 vacation reading list. This inspired playwright Mickle Maher to examine the president through the absurdist world of Camus’s writing and the result is a hysterically wonderful example of theater’s most exigent possibilities.    

I came away from Theater Oobleck’s production of ‘The Strangerer’ asking a question that I don’t think I’ve ever asked before in the hundreds of plays that I have reviewed. Where is playwright Mickle Maher’s Pulitzer Prize? This question was as urgent as the underlying message of Maher’s deceptively profound script.

There have been countless depictions of George W. Bush‘s ineptitude and arrogance. If there is one thing that he has done right, and this is just about the only thing that can be said for him on a positive note, it is that he has provided more fuel for humor and parody than any president in the last several decades. But it has become cliché to mock Bush, too easy, too obvious. The idiosyncratic absurdities of his mannerisms and his infantile grasp of the English language have been fodder for seasoned satirists, novice stand-up comedians and everyday people alike. So what makes ‘The Strangerer’ more than just another exceptional vehicle for dead on impersonation?… The fact that it nails perhaps the most terrifying aspect of Bush’s reign of terror by illuminating the blatant and surreal disregard for human life that he has displayed.

As we complain on a daily basis about the rising cost of gas, (rapidly approaching what is tantamount to a Kruggerand a gallon) observe America’s standings in the world reduced to a joke, cringe every time a presidential address is babbled by a man who’s communication style consists of self congratulatory grins after successful completions of multi syllabic words, and struggle with the plethora of daily domestic and international foibles of the current administration we loose sight of the very real and frightening fact that our country is being run by a murderer.

We can calculate the decline of the economy. We can calculate the damage to the environment. We can calculate the devastation of foreign diplomatic credibility. But we cannot begin to calculate the toll this administration has taken in human life and human suffering. The implications are exponential, staggering and embody a lethal chaos theory. That is to say that all of the other maladies perpetuated by George W. Bush, and you can include many people in the debauchery but the buck stops with the commander in chief, are simply smoke screens to this administrator of mass destruction.

The setting for ‘The Strangerer’ is the first Bush/Kerry presidential debate in 2004. It starts out appearing to be a straightforward recreation but rapidly descends into madness as Bush repeatedly tries different methods of killing moderator Jim Lehrer. The question is not why an innocent man should be killed but rather what is the proper manner in which to go about killing him.

Colm O’Reilly’s remarkable portrayal of Jim Lehrer is spot on and sets a very controlled and structured opening tone. Mickle Maher’s performance of Kerry is hysterically vapid and astutely illustrative of his under enthusiasm and compliance to the political status quo. But it is Guy Massey that elevates the, already ingenious, material to extraordinarily astounding levels. He approaches what could be a trap of obvious characterization and impersonation with a 190 actors IQ and creates a tour de force that is as breathtaking as the writing that he is animating. His performance will go down in the annals of best performances that you have ever seen. This is an exceptional ensemble that delivers this show with a unified vision and unwavering focus. They are clever, tight, spellbinding and at times side splittingly funny.

You will be hard pressed to locate a production that even approaches the accomplishments of this show, much less can be included in it’s league. In examining a cross section of absurdity, ethics and theater Maher has created quite possibly the most brilliant political polemic you will ever see and something that is amazingly entertaining.

To miss this show is to miss a unique and incredible opportunity. This is why Chicago theater is incomparable.

Rating: «««« 
 
Related Links: TimeOut Chicago article; other “The Strangerer” reviews.

‘The Strangerer’ runs through May 11 The Chopin Theater, 1543 W. Division. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays and 8pm and Sundays at .3pm Tickets are a suggested $10 but they are ‘more if you’ve got it, free if you’re broke’ making this production accessible to everyone. For information or reservations call 773-347-1014 or visit www.theateroobleck.com.