REVIEW: Beast Women (Greenhouse Theater)

Feminine. Animal. Magnetism.



Beast Women Productions present
Beast Women: Summer Series 2010
Produced by Michelle Power and Jillian Erickson
Greenhouse Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through August 28th  |  tickets:  $15   |  more info

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Something about Greenhouse Theater Center’s space brings out the animal in women. So I like to think, because I’ve now seen two different styles of comedy here based on women doing their animal thang. First, there was Cougars! The Musical (our review ★★★), a whacked-out review about women acting on animal urges well past menopause. Now on the mainstage, Beast Women: Summer Series 2010 promises even more beastie grrls—no sleep until the estrogen riot is over.

Not that the ladies don’t display their cojones . . . or juevos . . . ovarian fortitude—whatever you might call it; it’s just that the talented acts co-producers Michelle Power and Jillian Erickson have amassed for our delectation demonstrate considerable sophistication. The Beast Women are sexy and fun, but definitely not the usual sexed up, late-night monkey business. Expect the laughs to be full figured, the songs to dip into deep seriousness, and the belly dancing to round out the evening with more sensual joie de vivre than the usual bump and grind. Beast Women with a Touch of Class—that’s the real title of this production.

Out of 64 auditions of talented women, Power and Erickson selected around 30 to actually perform in this showcase. Hence, the acts change with each new night, and if opening night is any indication, then late-night crowds will find fun that gives both a subtle and sassy nod to women’s empowerment.

Singer-songwriters Jana St. Stjarna and Kristina Cottone display very different styles in music and performance, but both relay lyrics with surprisingly deep poetry, intelligence, and power. Just a touch of world-weariness suggests itself in both their opening songs—“A Love Song for Abraham Lincoln” and “Oh What a Dark Age,” respectively. Their CDs are on sale in the lobby.

beast-women-logoAmy Lynne Sumpter executes classic stand-up comedy, delivering balls-to-the-wall, good-time boisterousness. Her method of surviving back spasms during a game at Wrigley Field is simply to engage in more drinking. “Then I did yoga poses until security asked me to leave,” reports Sumpter, only to continue her quest to end the spasms with more drinking at Sluggers. Meanwhile, Claire Wedemeyer’s comedy is coyly reminiscent of the silent sketches of Carol Burnett. A gal dances and romances with her curling broom to classic recordings of Edith Piaf—and Wedemeyer’s classic clown training evokes something as silly and innocent as comedy right out of the 1950s.

The works of Angie-O (Angela Oliver), Shanna Shrum and Jillian Erickson slide into the performance art and actor’s monologue genres; all exhibit their artful ability to amuse, provoke, and bring one close to tears. Angie-O delivers spoken word and a song piece about an artist’s life that’s so accurate in its economic deprivation, I thought the girl could see right into my life. As Dr. Kim Dickinson, academic advisor for the daughters of over-privileged parents, Shrum delivers the only advice that will keep their teenager’s sagging grades up and her hymen intact: fatten her up to lonely, unfuckable unpopularity. “Now, I know what I am telling you may sound radical,” says Dr. Dickinson, Twinkie filling glistening in the corners of her mouth. But really, what’s a lifetime of eating disorders compared to academic and career advancement?

Jillian Erickson’s turn on stage is about our culture’s obsessive wedding disorder—and it’s reassuring to see her realistically trash the bride-mania that gets shoved into women’s faces, reality TV show after reality TV show. “I’ve never understood this whole big wedding production thing,” she says, squeezed into another unwearable bridesmaid’s dress, “telling someone you love them in public shouldn’t cost $10,000.” But Erickson is at her most poignant when she acknowledges that the death of her own fun and funky fiancé does make her jealous of her bride-bound sister, no matter how ridiculously she’s surrounded by wedding accoutrements.

Belly dancer Kamani Raqs rounds out the show with a sensual, elegant and flirtatious performance. Her interaction with the audience shows such flare, moxy and daring, she’ll be watched for again all over town. But Powers and Erickson have plenty of other burlesque and belly dancers in their line up, so check them out each weekend. Beast Women 2010 is sure, smart, and fun entertainment—both for gal pals and the men who love them.

Rating: ★★★

Running Saturdays @ 10:30pm, July 10 – August 28, in the Greenhouse Theater Center’s Upstairs Studio.  Show runs approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.


REVIEW: Cougars! The Musical

She is cougar, hear her roar!



Fireworx Productions presents
Cougars! The Musical
by Gillian Bellinger and Chuck Malone
directed by
Corey Rittmaster
The Greenhouse Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through May 22nd  |  tickets: $15  more info   

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Gillian Bellinger and Chuck Malone both have long, august (if that is the word) careers in comedy. Their collaboration on their latest creation, Cougars! The Musical has bourn the strangest, wildest, funniest fruit. By all indications, Cougar-fever has hit the Chicago comedy scene with a vengeance. Who needs critical accolades when your second night’s performance is packed to the rafters?

aaa-cougarsposter Three elderly gal pals, Kate (Gillian Bellinger), Lana (Rebecca Montalvo), and Bette (Madeline Wager) are on the prowl for fresh young meat. They even rename their favorite young bartender Meat (Justin Schumann), even though his real name is Kevin. (Hey, it’s good for the meat to know their place.) Meanwhile, Bette’s ex-husband, Frank (Brian Finley), who she divorced 40 years ago over his trysts with a geisha in Nam, still carries a torch for Bette and wants her forgiveness. Can Frank save Bette from Michael (Paul Barrett Ford), Bette’s hot, new, young beau, who has a dark and sinister agenda?

Director Corey Rittmaster’s remarks in the program say it all about Bellinger’s book and lyrics: “ . . . never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that out of that sweet, fresh-faced Texas girl’s imagination would come this incredible homage to depravity and vulgarity.” What must also be acknowledged is the sophistication of Malone’s compositions for this raucous, in-your-face farce. While most comedy reviews content themselves with slap-dash and simple-minded arrangements for tunes, Cougars’ songs sound like they come from, well, a composer. Plus, choreography for the smaller tunes seems on the usual sloppy side of schlock comedy, while in bigger numbers the whole cast pulls together with sharper, more impressive performances.

Here’s where the picky theater reviewer comes in with her annoying critique – but Bellinger and Malone have brought it on themselves. By setting the bar higher in writing and composition, they’ve introduced greater demands upon the cast than might usually be expected from lesser fare. I have no idea how much time was taken in rehearsal, but if any remount of Cougars! The Musical is planned for the future—and why not—then greater care should be taken in more accurate, fully formed characterizations for each role. There’s still more juice to be squeezed from this juicy fruit and there’s no reason to think the current cast couldn’t take it all the way.

Cougars the Musical Cougars the Musical Cougars the Musical

Finally, the slow start to the show on its second night was noticeable—and low energy is always death to comedy review. Ford, as the swindler Michael, picked up the pace considerably with his rocked-out, rotten plans for Bette–“Off That Cougar Whore.” From there, the rest of the cast picked up and took flight. In particular, the cast brought down the house with Frank and Michael’s testosterone sparing match, “Dick to Dick.” Now top that off with acting that echoes the meticulous inflections with the script that Alaina Hoffman shows as Jennifer, Bette’s daughter, and you’ve got sex-crazed comedy that practically passes for ART. OMG! That could be a sign of the Apocalypse—a happy, joyful, cougar-y sign!

Rating: ★★★

Cougars! The Musical performs every Saturday, April 3rd-May 22nd (Saturday April 17th moved to Friday April 16th)


Continue reading