Review: Feet of Clay (LASTmatch Theatre Company)

     
     

Southern retelling of ‘Three Sisters’ needs the family spirit

     
     

Craig Cunningham, Paul Dunckel, Brandon Ford, Larry Garner, Chris Hart, Leah Karpel and Kimberly Logan in 'Feet of Clay' by Stephen Louis Grush, presented by LASTmatch Theatre Company in Chicago.

  
LASTmatch Theatre Company presents
  
Feet of Clay
  
Written by Stephen Louis Grush 
Directed by
David Perez
at Royal George Gallery Theater, 1641 N. Halsted (map)
through March 19  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

A reimagining of Chekhov’s Three Sisters set 200 miles outside New Orleans, Louisiana, Feet Of Clay finds sisters Orah (Kimberly Logan), Matty (Jennifer Alexander), and Iris (Leah Karpel) Ledet struggling to adjust to life a year after their father has passed away. Orah despises the students at the school where she teaches, Matty is in a loveless marriage to an unseen husband, and Iris clings to the ideal of New Orleans, a place she never truly called home, but dreams will one day be. As Matty and Iris become involved with soldiers from the nearby military base, their Craig Cunningham as Sonny in 'Feet of Clay' by Stephen Louis Grush, presented by LASTmatch Theatre Company in Chicago.deadbeat brother Andy (Chris Hart) and his trailer trash wife Nambi (Annie Kehoe) assume control of the house, desecrating their father’s memory. While Grush’s plot hits the same major points of Chekhov’s, the script suffers from severe pacing issues, moving so quickly that it never fully establishes the relationships between the characters.

Running only 90 minutes with no intermission, Feet Of Clay tries to cram as much story as possible in a limited time, forcing events to move at a speed that doesn’t feel natural. The first act sets up the story points in quick succession, with the second exploring their conclusion one year later, but there’s very little time spent showing the characters building relationships with one another. Matty and Vincent’s (Paul Dunckel) romance suffers because we never get to see them when they are a couple. They’re in love with each other because they have wildly different opinions on crawfish? In the second act both of their spouses become complications, but there’s not any initial tension established between the characters to make the threats feel dire.

The love triangle between Nick (Brandon Ford), Iris, and Sonny (Craig Cunningham) suffers from the same issue, although Iris’s relationship with Nick seemingly appears out of nowhere after Sonny dotes on her (stares at her creepily) in the first act. Grush builds Sonny’s mental instability through two solo scenes, the first at the start of the play when Sonny wakes up from a night terror, the second when he stands drunk and half naked in the rain. Sonny is probably the character that gets the most development in terms of showing multiple facets of a personality, but the character’s big act two moment feels gratuitous and improperly handled by the script. Sonny’s relationship with Iris may be intended to symbolize New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina (which occurs between the two acts), but the consequences of Sonny’s actions are never seen, making the events feel tacked on to build emotional conflict without following through.

     
Chris Hart and Annie Kehoe in 'Feet of Clay' by Stephen Louis Grush, presented by LASTmatch Theatre Company, Chicago. Jennifer Alexander and Paul Dunkel in 'Feet of Clay' by Stephen Louis Grush, presented by LASTmatch Theatre Company, Chicago

Rather than building the characters through dialogue and interactions with each other, most development occurs during speeches where the characters are finally able to express their innermost desires and conflicts. Iris has a freak out about being bossed around on her birthday, so she feels inferior. Orah complains about the “maggot” kids she teaches, so she’s unsatisfied with her life. Matty talks about tarot and how life is all about symbols, so she’s a free-spirited thinker. And while monologues can be effective, it becomes repetitive when characters go to a corner and say their opinion in one big oration. Monologues don’t help much when it comes to building interpersonal relationships because they’re singular by nature, yet much of the characters’ emotional lives come through in these moments. It would be nice if the insight shown in the monologues were distributed throughout the dialogue.

A major problem with Feet of Clay is that the three sisters and brother never really feel like a family. Orah, the oldest of the four, is played with such one-note brashness that it’s difficult to ever care about her. There is rarely a moment when she is not complaining about her work, or demanding something from another person, and when she finally does show a moment of vulnerability, she gives a pretty pathetic reason for her bitchiness. By the time Nambi and Andy get their big monologue Larry Garner as Ivy in 'Feet of Clay' by Stephen Louis Grush, presented by LASTmatch Theatre Company, Chicago.moments (every character gets one), they’re such repulsive characters that there’s not much reason to care. Kehoe falls into a stereotypical trailer trash type that feels put on, and her relationship with Hart feels as forced as the rest of the romances in the play. Karpel seems to be the only one trying to create some sort of family dynamic, her delusions about New Orleans pushing to keep them together, but ultimately her character becomes as scattered as the rest.

Replacing Moscow with New Orleans creates a lot of opportunities to incorporate southern American history and imagery, but beyond a few references to kudzu and the southern dialect, these go largely unexplored. Nick mentions how the South is so different from what he sees on TV, and Feet Of Clay’s Leesville is different by not having all that much character at all. The Ledet father’s friend Ivy (Larry Garner) brings in some context when he tells a story about how he improved at math by working at his father’s store, and it’s a quiet moment that has as much value as the intense, dramatic explosions. With a few more of these calm moments, LASTmatch Theatre’s Feet Of Clay could explore the depths of the relationships and develop the characters more completely. The show is all tension, but there needs to be moments of relief that serve as reminders for the characters – and the audience – of why they choose to stay.

  
  
Rating: ★★
  
  

Performances run 2/11- 3/19, Thu, Fri, and Sat at 8pm at the Gallery space at Royal George Theatre. Tickets are $25 and are available through the Royal George Box Office and www.ticketmaster.com. For more information call the Box Office at: 312-988-9000 or visit www.lastmatch.org.

     
Leah Karpel as Iris and Jennifer Alexander as Matty in 'Feet of Clay' by Stephen Louis Grush, presented by LASTmatch Theatre Company, Chicago. Kimberly Logan as Orah in 'Feet of Clay' by Stephen Louis Grush, presented by LASTmatch Theatre Company, Chicago.

Brandon Ford and Leah Karpel in 'Feet of Clay' by Stephen Louis Grush, presented by LASTmatch Theatre Company, Chicago.

Performers include Craig Cunningham, Paul Dunckel, Brandon Ford, Larry Garner, Chris Hart, Leah Karpel, Kimberly Logan, and LASTmatch founders Jennifer Alexander and Annie Kehoe.

     
     

REVIEW: Cherrywood (Mary-Arrchie Theatre)

Party on, Dude!

 

cherrywood

  
Mary-Arrchie Theatre presents
  
Cherrywood: The Modern Day Comparable
   
Written by Kirk Lynn
Directed by
David Cromer
at
Angel Island Theatre, 735 W. Sheridan (map)
through August 8th  |  tickets:  $13-$22  |  more info

reviewed by Katy Walsh

Fliers announce ‘Party Tonite for anyone who wants a change.’ Mary-Arrchie Theatre presents the Midwest premiere of Cherrywood: The Modern Day Comparable.  A foursome decides to host a party. They have three kinds of chips, an array of music, bottles of booze and a shots of… milk? In response to their fliers, the guests arrive and fill up the house. The usual party suspects are all present. Free loading crashers. Whiny girl. Depressed divorced guy. Unwanted neighbor. Gaggle of gals in bathroom line. P.D.A. couple on the dance floor. Hot shirtless guy. Person continually announcing ‘I’m wasted.’ Sporadic drunken wrestling. It feels, looks and sounds familiar except with a couple of twists: Somebody brought a gun. Everybody has been drinking wild wolves’ milk. People are opening boxes of their secret desires. Cherrywood: The Modern Day Comparable is a virtual reality party experience without the pressure to mingle or the aid of a cocktail.

In a large living-room-like space, the audience seats encircle the action. Closely matched in numbers, the 50+ wallflowers watch the 49 performers party. It’s such a tight fit that I needed to move my purse before a guy sat on it. Director David Cromer has gone fire-code-capacity to create an authentic party.

The proximity blurs the fourth wall completely in deciphering between the party gawkers versus goers. I consciously refrain from shouting out an answer to ‘name a good band that starts with the letter ‘A’.’ It seems like a jumbling of improv mixed in with scripted lines. Crediting playwright Kirk Lynn with some of the best lines, it’s existentialism goes rave with the ongoing philosophy ‘if you want something different, ask for it.’ Lynn writes dialogue describing cocktail banter as ‘question-answer-it-doesn’t-always-happen-like-that’ mockery. One character describes herself with ‘everything I do is a form of nodding. I want to break my neck to stop nodding.’ In a heated exchange, the neighbor jabs, ‘you remember the world? It’s the room outside the door.’ It’s genuine party chatter. Some conversations are playful. Some are deep. Some just don’t make any sense. Clusters of people are sharing philosophical drunken babble throughout the room. A gunshot brings the house of strangers together in a communal bonding alliance.

For the theatre goer looking for a break from classic plot driven shows, Cherrywood: The Modern Day Comparable is performance art. It is a ‘Party Tonite for anyone who wants a change.’ For those who wonder what Chicago actors and designers do off-season, this is an opportunity to fly-on-the-wall it. If you’ve anticipated they hang out together and party, this would be your imagined drunken haze. The who’s who of storefront theater is boozing it up. It’s a Steep, Lifeline, Dog & Pony, House, Griffin, etc. reunion bash, and man do they know how to party!

  
   
Rating: ★★★
       
    

Running Time: Ninety minutes with no intermission

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Review: EP Theatre’s “Baal”

EP’s “Baal” Far from Ballsy

 

EP Theatre presents:

Baal
by Bertolt Brecht
co-directed by AJ Ware and Hunter Kennedy
1820 S. Halsted (map)
thru October 3rd (tickets)

reviewed by Barry Eitel

Because it is the first play written by Bertolt Brecht, arguably the most important theatre theorist of the 20th Century, Baal is a fascinating work. The sprawling drama was written in 1918, before Brecht nailed down the Epic theatre style which would become his trademark. Glimmers of Brecht’s later techniques can still be found, though, such as the use of song and direct address. EP Theatre’s current production, billed as their biggest show to date, features live music baalaccompaniment by the band The Loneliest Monk. Although the production values of this Baal can be pretty ingenious, it lacks clarity and comes across as sloppy and confusing.

There is a lot of love for Brecht’s first work right now, with not one but two full productions happening this season (TUTA is also producing the play next May). Now Baal is an interesting little play for studying the writer’s development, but Brecht’s later masterpieces totally overshadow his debut in terms of quality. I wondered why any company would select it over his later works, but I was reminded how devastating and resonant the story can be. Drawing on Romantic period themes, the play follows a young, self-destructive poet with an insatiable appetite for liquor, sex, and verse. Desensitized to the world, Baal leaves shattered hearts and lives in his wake.

Co-directors AJ Ware and Hunter Kennedy’s production is so muddled; however, the full potential impact of the play is lost. Most of the locations or spans of time are never defined. This makes the action of story and relationships of the characters hard to piece together. There’s also a diverse collection of tertiary characters that are double-cast, but these are also ill-defined. The narrative in general in jumbled and the themes, characters, and emotional effect are disordered.

EP-theater-logo Even though Baal was written before the Brechtian style became the Brechtian style, there are still opportunities to use his powerful methods. Brecht himself retooled the play in 1926 to more closely fit his tastes. I was perplexed by the fact that EP’s production seems to shy away from embracing Brechtian techniques when they can be such a fun challenge for a smaller company. The live musicians are a start, especially when they occasionally interact with the actors. But there isn’t much of an attempt to play around with the audience; it feels like we’re watching a realistic play with some poetry tossed into the dialogue.

The performances might be to blame here, many being way more moody than cynically detached. Craig Cunningham was able to encapsulate the moroseness and aloofness of Baal, along with some of the humor (like when he’s playing with a fresh corpse). Shawn Pfautsch’s Ekart, Baal’s slightly more aware best friend, refreshingly punched up the poetry of the script. However, I’m pretty sure Pfautsch and Cunningham were secretly competing for wobbliest walk and seeing who could get closest to the other. The best performance in the production, hands down, is Gus Menary as Johannes. The part is tiny, but Menary’s portrayal was disturbingly underplayed, in particular when he describes how the body of his dead sister must look after years of floating in a river.

David Beaupre’s drab set design allowed the actors to explore different levels and could be transformed into a myriad of locales. With all of the possibilities the set opened up, it feels as if the set wasn’t fully utilized by the directors. The lighting was possibly the worst lighting design I’ve ever seen, sometimes highlighting pointless sections of wall and other times not providing enough visibility to see the actors. The Loneliest Monk is a saving grace of this production, though, providing complex and haunting ambiance.

The live music along with the actors’ obvious respect for Brecht’s evocative poetry makes the production acceptable. With more attention to story and technique, though, EP’s “biggest production to date” could’ve been destructive.

Rating: ««