REVIEW: Madagascar (Next Theatre)

     
     

Flight and fright in a Roman hotel

     
     

Mick Weber and Carmen Roman in a scene from 'Madagascar' by JT Rogers, now at Next Theatre, Evanston

  
Next Theatre presents
  
Madagascar
  
Written by J.T. Rogers
Directed by
Kimberly Senior
at
Noyes Cultural Center, 927 Noyes, Evanston (map)
through Feb 20  |  tickets: $25-$40  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Now in an absorbing but ultimately frustrating Midwest premiere, J.T. Rogers’ 2004 puzzle play employs three characters who deliver concurrent confessions in the same stripped-down hotel room overlooking the Spanish Steps in Rome. They speak from different times and the subject of their unmotivated outpourings gradually becomes the strange vanishing of Gideon. A scion of wealth and privilege, this attractive young man went to Madagascar on a mission that may have ended in disappearance or death.

Nick Weber, Carmen Roman and Cora Vander Broek in a scene from "Madagascar" by J.T. Rogers - Next Theatre, EvanstonThe testimony is supplied by Lilllian (Carmen Roman), Gideon’s wealthy and detached mother; Gideon’s sister June (Cora Vander Broek), now working as a tour guide for the ancient ruins, and Lillian’s adulterous lover Nathan (Mark Weber), who is also an economist like the boy’s now-dead dad.

As they give themselves away, they provide clues about Gideon, an enigmatic beauty who seems to have been altogether too sensitive to the world’s wrongs; especially his mother’s coldness to him and warmth to Nathan.

Gideon’s discovery that his life was built on a lie (about his mother’s fidelity, his sister’s affection, Nathan’s loyalty to his father, or some schoolgirls recently raped in Africa?) seems to unhinge him and sets in motion a train of tragedies. Why is he so upset? “Because people just can’t be trusted!” and his mother is “selfish” and “grotesque.” Gideon sounds like a poor man’s Hamlet.

Sean Mallary’s lighting changes and the choreographed confessions blocked in Kimberly Senior’s staging keep the clue-mongering fluid and forceful. The play repeatedly raises the fascinating question of why some driven people all but will themselves to be missing persons. Do we have the right to disappear? Or do we owe it to others to keep our identity intact, however wrong it feels within?

Still, there’s too much deliberate or perverse mystery-mangling in this torturous witness to an escape that remains maddeningly evasive. There are too many blanks for the audience to fill in without finally feeling that the playwright hasn’t played fair with the facts.

Roman brings magisterial command to this ultimately devastated mother. Vander Broek’s questing sister, Gideon’s fraternal twin, gives us a refracted portrait of her brother. Weber’s Nathan supplies metaphors from micro-economics that shed a little light on the motivations or mentality of the missing Gideon.

If only this complex kid had appeared, we’d get some closure or at least an illusion of completion. But if you like to spend two hours not solving a missing person’s case, Madagascar is your ticket to nowhere.

  
  
Rating: ★★
  
  
Mick Weber and Carmen Roman in a scene from 'Madagascar' by JT Rogers, now at Next Theatre, Evanston Scene from Madagascar by JT Rogers, now at Next Theatre, Evanston 5

Scene from Madagascar by JT Rogers, now at Next Theatre, Evanston 7

 

   
   

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REVIEW: The DNA Trail (Silk Road Theatre Project)

Silk Road’s “DNA Trail” doesn’t lead far

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Silk Road Theatre Project presents
 
The DNA Trail
 

Conceived by Jamil Khoury
Directed by Steve Scott
Featuring plays by: Philip Kan Gotanda, Velina Hasu Houston, David Henry Hwang, Jamil Khoury, Shishir Kurup, Lina Patel, and Elizabeth Wong
at
Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington (map)
through April 4th (more info)

reviewed by Barry Eitel

The foundational concept behind Silk Road Theatre Project’s The DNA Trail is an inspired one. Seven playwrights of Asian descent have their cheeks swabbed. Those little swabs are analyzed by DNA researchers. The results reveal the ancestral background of each playwright, even pointing as far back as the original cradle of humanity, East Africa. Then the experience is mined for theatrical gold. Each playwright is obliged to write a short piece about the results, the experience, or really anything relating to ancestry, genealogy, or the study of DNA. The whole process is a bold mingling of science and the arts, two forces that should be linked together more often.

dna-trail1 With such a dashing idea, the production could’ve been enlightening. Unfortunately, the results are tepid and meandering, leaving much to be desired.

The seven playwrights are Philip Kan Gotanda, Velina Hasu Houston, Tony-award winner (and Pulitzer finalist) David Henry Hwang, Silk Road artistic director Jamil Khoury, Shishir Kurup, Lina Patel, and Elizabeth Wong. The whole hullabaloo was directed by Steve Scott. The plays range from family dramas, wild farces, and bizarre journeys into the mitochondria.

The last play of the night, Child is Father to Man by Philip Kan Gotanda, is by far the best. It is a one-man show, honestly and thoughtfully performed by Khurram Mozaffar. Gotanda’s play is a meditation on the death of a father, with the son wondering about their relationship, the qualities that are inherited through bloodline, and the qualities that are shaped by life. It’s simple, straightforward, and beautiful. The play proves that something substantial can be accomplished with so few pages. If only this came through in the other short works.

Wong’s Finding Your Inner Zulu is a cute start to the night, but fails to make a real impact. Revolving around two estranged sisters, breast cancer, and a moon goddess, Houston’s Mother Road, leaves the audience behind in confusion after a few minutes. Kurup’s Bolt from the Blue has the same effect. The 12-15 minute play is actually a pretty difficult medium, and Houston and Kurup overextend themselves.

Khoury’s WASP: White Arab Slovak Pole is funny and revealing. Clayton Stamper plays Khoury himself, who deals with the fact that he is a white guy named ‘Jamil.’ The play, through direct address and several scenes, sheds some light on the mission and founding of Silk Road Theatre Project, an interesting by-product of the piece. That Could Be You, Patel’s contribution, dramatizes the science behind DNA in a pretty hilarious way. I was disappointed by Hwang’s piece, A Very DNA Reunion, a homage to the history-defying first act of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls but lacking the bite.

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Scott’s direction is top notch and Lee Keenan’s lights and set are remarkable. The ensemble includes Mozaffar, Stamper, Jennifer Shin, Cora Vander Broek, Melissa Kong, Fawzia Mirza, and Anthony Peeples, and all of the actors do a decent job juggling between each individual show. There is obviously a lot of talent going into this production from nearly every angle. On the whole, the texts just aren’t strong enough to support.

Some of the writers are too married to the project, like Wong and Hwang. Taken out of this specific context, some of the plays wouldn’t work as stand-alone pieces. If we didn’t already know the Trail’s process, a couple would seem oddly obscure. But because the process is revealed in the program, they feel redundant. If everyone could abstract and interpret the project as well as Gotanda, this would be a winning short play festival. When the topic is as significant as the building blocks that make us human beings, Silk Road could have delivered so much more.

 
Rating: ★★
 

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Review: Timeline Theatre’s “All My Sons”

Timeline tackles Miller with outstanding results.

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Timeline Theatre presents:

All My Sons
by Arthur Miller
directed by Kimberly Senior
Greenhouse Theatre Center 
Running thru October 4th (buy tickets)

 Reviewed by Oliver Sava

All_My_Sons5 Timeline’s All My Sons is a beautiful, haunting piece of theater. Arthur Miller‘s masterpiece is the story of the Keller family, rocked after the disappearance of son Larry during World War II and patriarch Joe’s (Roger Mueller) trial for shipping defective airplane parts that led to the death of 20 pilots. When Larry’s brother Chris (Erik Hellman) invites Ann (Cora Vander Broek), Larry’s sweetheart, to the Keller house to propose to her, tensions rise as mother Kate (Janet Ulrich Brooks) interprets the gesture as a confirmation of Larry’s death. Meanwhile, Ann’s brother George (P.J. Powers) arrives with shocking revelations from the man that went to jail for Joe Keller, their father.

Exquisitely directed by Kimberly Senior, the cast captures the sense of family that is essential to a successful production by finding a comfort with each other that allows the language to flow naturally. The rhythm of Senior’s production is like a heartbeat: when the stakes are high the show moves at a rapid pace, taking the audience on an emotional sprint as the characters watch their world collapse, but there are also quiet moments when the actors can slow down and absorb the changing circumstances around them. Silence is used remarkably well, such as when Chris struggles to find the words to express his love for Ann (or does he know the words and is afraid to say them?), and when these pauses are broken, intense reality rushes in to fill the gap. The perfect balance of these moments is what ultimately makes the production so captivating, mimicking the diversity of the everyday.

All_My_Sons3Janet Ulrich Brooks shows why she’s been nominated for two Jeff Awards this year with her portrayal of the delusionally optimistic Kate, perfectly capturing the pain of a mother’s loss underneath a facade of hopefulness. From the moment she takes the stage, Brooks exudes a welcoming presence that pulls the audience firmly into Miller’s world, and it is no surprise when she is able to calm the infuriated George and make him feel like a child in her home again. Brooks seems to bring out the best in her costars, and the scenes that she shares with Mueller are bristling with the chemistry of a couple that has been married for decades.
In the earlier scenes of the play Mueller and Hellman establish the father/son dynamic that lies at the heart of All My Sons, a relationship that revolves around their understanding of war and what it means regarding their missing family member. Hellman plays Chris with a youthful exuberance, but underneath his calm exterior is a man that is haunted by the death he has seen, and caused, in his short life. Conversely, Joe lives in a semi-denial regarding the amount of responsibility he had with the defective airplane parts, and when these two characters’ vastly different emotional states come out in full force the results are explosive.

All_My_Sons6Initially, Cora Vander Broek‘s Ann does not seem to fit in with the rhythm that the company has created. She speaks with a calm confidence that is a stark contrast to the other women in the play, but when she consoles Chris as he confesses his survivor’s guilt, it becomes apparent why Ann is different: she has control. Surrounded by women that have chosen to be subservient to the men in their lives, Anne refuses to compromise for what she wants, and the strength of her convictions ultimately leads to the play’s tragic conclusion. The only person that is able to put a dent in Ann’s steely demeanor is her brother, and Powers plays George with just the right mix of compassion for his sister and disdain for the Kellers so as to never make him seem malicious.

Timeline can proudly add another success to their already hefty list with All My Sons. From the fabulous cast, including the heretofore unmentioned neighbors that establish the world around the Keller home, to the revelatory direction, Miller’s classic is done the justice it deserves. Just ask all the audience members reaching for their tissues at the end of the show.

Rating: ««««

 

View Arthur Miller's -All My Sons- at Timeline Theatre

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