REVIEW: The Iliad (A Red Orchid)

   
  

Young women and the warrior code

 

A Red Orchid Theatre - The Illiad

   
A Red Orchid Theatre presents
   
The Iliad
   
Adapted by Craig Wright
Directed by
Steve Wilson
A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells (map)
through Dec 19   |  tickets: $25-$30   |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

More than a little sly feminism goes into A Red Orchid’s production The Iliad, a one-act play adapted for young female actors by award-winning playwright Craig Wright. The girls take on the masculine roles of this Bronze Age classic and staunchly play out its warrior codes of honor, duty, and submission to fate and/or the gods. The idea is to provide young female actors with roles that they wouldn’t usually get to play and introduce them to the classics. However, employing an all-girl cast pulls double, triple, even quadruple duty by implicitly interrogating the ancient gender roles of Mycenaean Greek culture, wherein dissent between the hero, Achilles (Jaiden Fallo-Sauter), and his king, Agamemnon (Najwa Joy Brown), begins with a dispute over who has claim to a woman they’ve won as spoils of war.

A Red Orchid Theatre - The Illiad posterAs for the women’s roles, they are all played by dolls–dolls to be fought over, to possess, to be prized, to surrender, to be thrown around or to be ordered into submission. It’s this light bit of child’s play between the girls over dolls that brings home the more serious recognition that women were chattel back in the day, no matter how highly born. In the shadow of men at war, women and children could, at best, only hope that their side won–or that whomever won, the victors would be reasonably merciful. Even Michelle Lilly O’Brien’s set design reminds one of children caught at play in the middle of violent upheavals in Bosnia or the Gaza Strip.

That’s quite harsh stuff for a very young cast to convey. But Steve Wilson’s direction unflaggingly keeps up the energy and humor in the show’s vivid confrontations between enemies who should be allies, between brothers Paris (Nicole Rudakova) and Hector (Aria Szalai-Raymond), and, oh yes, between the warring Greeks and Trojans. Sarah Fornace’s fight choreography packs a lot of good visual excitement. The final showdown between Achilles and Hector is all the more thrilling for the economy with which it’s executed. Finally, the strutting stuff in Wright’s script regarding male disputes over honor gets its comeuppance from the girls’ deadpan delivery–to even greater comic effect.

Wright cuts out much of the original Iliad for his adaptation and that, for the purposes of this production, is more than fine. If anyone had told me before now that this epic could be performed on stage in an hour, I wouldn’t have believed it. But I mourn the radical alteration of one scene—the final meeting between Priam (Melanie Neilan) and Achilles, when the aged king comes to beg from him the body of his slain son. It’s passing strange that, having come so far, Wright does not simply pull whole and darkly beautiful lines from the original text:

I have endured what no one on earth has ever done before—I put my lips to the hands of the man who has killed my son.

It is not as if Neilan couldn’t handle that kind of poetry. She, not to mention most of the cast, seems up to it and should be given the chance. If exposure to the classics is part of the actor’s journey in this production then not just gender roles, but also an exploration of the Ancient Greek concept of Ananke, or Harsh Necessity, is just as much part of the process of discovering this culture and these characters. A Red Orchid’s production succeeds with a certain cuteness factor—little girls playing big men’s roles. That works to great effect, especially when 5th grader Eden Strong delivers the lines of the mighty Ajax. But behind the play lies war’s devastation. I say, let the girls bring it.

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

Production Personnel

Featuring Najwa Brown*, Jaiden Fallo-Sauter*, Katie Jordan*, Paola Lehman*, Marissa Meo, Isabella Mugliari, Melanie Neilan*, Madison Pullman, Nicole Rudakova, Kara Ryan*, Elenna Sindler*, Eden Strong and Aria Szalai-Raymond

The creative team includes Steve Wilson (Director), Erin Barlow (Assistant Director), Sarah Fornace (Fight and Movement Director), Michelle Lilly O’Brien (Scenic Design), Joanna Melville (Costume Design), Sean Mallary (Lighting Design), Nick Keenan (Sound Design), Kelli Moreno (Dramaturg) and Mary Ellen Rieck is the Stage Manager, Mackenzie Yeager the Company Manager and the Production Manager is Katherine Welham

*A Red Orchid Youth Ensemble Member

     
       

REVIEW: Orange Flower Water (BackStage Theatre)

Troubled Relationships Lead to Family Trauma

Orange Flower Water (4 of 7)

BackStage Theatre Company presents:

Orange Flower Water

 

Written by Craig Wright
Directed by Jessica Hutchinson
Chopin Studio Theatre thru March 27th (more info)

reviewed by Keith Ecker 

If you’ve ever been part of an ugly breakup, then you probably know the mixed bag of emotions you feel toward your former partner once the relationship is severed. There’s the flood of anger fueled by the overpowering resentment. There’s the sadness felt through the mourning of something lost. And there’s the longing, the part of you that for some inexplicable reason no matter how poorly your partner treated you wants nothing more than for the two of you to be a happy couple once more.

Orange Flower Water (2 of 7)Often when such breakups are portrayed in drama, the scripts and/or the actors fail to do human nature and human emotion justice. Breakups are frequently portrayed as black and white. People are either in love or they are out of love. They either feel hatred, or they feel elated. And of course there’s always a bad guy—the evil lover—and the victim. None of this is real. None of this is true. And we all leave the theater feeling like we just watched some lifeless Lifetime movie that relates as much to us as a tree relates to a fish.

Fortunately BackStage Theatre’s production of Craig Wright’s Orange Flower Water does matrimonial unhappiness some justice. This is a story where perception is key, where bad guys and good guys are one in the same because such distinctions are not universal but rest in the eye of the beholder. This is a story that understands pain is sometimes necessary for love to flourish, and that life offers no easy answers or solutions.

The play is about two couples. Brad (Tony Bozzuto) and Beth (Shelley Nixon) are married with children. Their relationship is in shambles in large part to Brad’s obnoxious attitude. This is a man who proudly wears the label “asshole.” Beth meanwhile never thought the marriage was a good idea in the first place and now seeks the nurturing she craves from another man, David (Jason Huysman). David is married to Cathy (Maggie Kettering). Cathy is fairly deep in denial about the extent of David’s unhappiness in the relationship, which doesn’t bode well for when she finally finds out the truth of his infidelity.

Secrets are revealed and relationships that were once likely filled with tense silences overflow with shouting matches. After confronting Brad about the state of their marriage and confessing to the affair, Beth leaves, which leads to a drunken voicemail message to Beth via a monologue. Cathy, on the other hand, chooses to invert her anger and becomes a masochist, practically forcing David to have the most uncomfortable and least satisfying sex of his life.

As I watched the play, I couldn’t help but think of the award-winning television series “Six Feet Under”, which was famous for toeing the line of drama and comedy with absolute finesse. That’s why I was hardly surprised to find out Wright wrote for the show. His script is honest and touching without being sappy or contrived. He also inserts some powerful levity that spares the play from venturing into melodramatic territory, as well as painting each of his characters in both negative and positive lights, reserving the ability to judge for the audience.

Orange Flower Water (3 of 7) Orange Flower Water (7 of 7)

The acting is outstanding. Huysman plays David with a sincerity that makes it difficult to despise him for cheating on his wife. Meanwhile, Kettering plays Cathy as a soccer mom whose thinly veiled passive aggression is both true-to-life and comical. Nixon throws herself into the role of Beth. When the character displays her insecurity, Nixon is a lamb, but when Beth bares her teeth, the actress summons a lion’s fury. Bozzuto is incredible as Brad. His facial expressions, his mocking tone and the delivery of his lines is so specific. It’s difficult for me to conceive of anyone playing this role differently.

The only glaring flaw with Orange Flower Water is in the directing. The show is in the round and centered around a bed, which the characters rotate from scene to scene. Although this plays into the concept of perception, it also disrupts the view of the actor’s faces and movement. This wouldn’t be a big deal if the actors weren’t so good. But they are amazing, and they deserve to be seen clearly.

The other directorial miscalculation is with the use of transition music. In between scenes, as the actors regroup and the stage rotates, music with lyrics plays overhead. Any deep feeling achieved through the acting and story is immediately made shallow by the insertion of such a “Dawson’s Creek” convention.

Orange Flower Water is an honest portrayal of dishonesty in two relationships. It also is a lesson for the romantic that love often leaves a long and winding trail of pain in its path. With superb acting and an amazing script, this production is nearly perfect.

 

Rating: ★★★½

 

Orange Flower Water (6 of 7)

Continue reading

Think Fast: Cheyenne Jackson, Red Orchid Theatre, Barbara Gaines, and Superior Donuts

logo Good news for Old Town’s A Red Orchid Theatre: tickets for their current production Mistakes Were Made (our review here), by Craig Wright, have been selling like hot cakes – so much so that they’ve added an extra Wednesday night performance for all of October.  Be sure to check it out before it closes on October 31st.  Mistakes Were Made stars Michael Shannon, and is directed by Dexter Bullard.   (h/t Chris Jones)


shakespeare

 

Check out the interview with Chicago Shakes artistic director (and founder) Barbara Gaines regarding her direction of the company’s current production, Richard III. Well worth the read.

 


superiordonuts The Daily Beast has posted a rave review of Tracy Letts’ Superior Donuts, which played last year to positive reviews at Steppenwolf. An excerpt:

Letts and his cast can breathe deeply today. While a far less ambitious play than August, with its three-story set and sprawling cast, Superior Donuts is no less successful for what it aims to be: a tender, funny, and often tragic valentine to Letts’ Chicago in a time of intense cultural change. Fans of August won’t find that play’s heavy, gut-wrenching revelations here, but Donuts was always intended to be a smaller, lighter effort, as delightful and sweet as a doughnut itself. The play, which Letts began writing even before August, earned positive reviews when it first opened in Chicago with the same cast in July 2008, and after a year of Letts’ tweaks and rewrites, it may be even better….

Read the entire review here.


Per Perez Hilton:

cheyenn Tina Fey’s brilliant comedy, 30 Rock, may be getting the one thing it’s severely lacking – a hot piece of eye candy!

Rumors are circulating that Broadway hottie, openly gay and successful actor Cheyenne Jackson, will allegedly be joining the cast in a semi or possibly a completely permanent capacity.

For those of you who don’t live and die by the goings on of the Great White Way, Cheyenne has been in productions like Xanadu and All Shook Up!

More here.

Review: A Red Orchid Theatre’s “Mistakes Were Made”

It was all my fault

 Mistakes Were Made2

A Red Orchid Theatre presents:

Mistakes Were Made
by Craig Wright
directed by Dexter Bullard
extended through October 31st (but tickets)

reviewed by Timothy McGuire

Craig Wright, Emmy-nominated writer of the hit HBO series Six Feet Under, has created in Mistakes Were Made an entertaining and intelligently witty play, even as Oscar Nominee Michael Shannon is alone on stage throughout most of the play; his time spent engaging in frantic phone conversations, as well as therapeutic talks with his close companion Denise, his fish.

Mistakes Were Made3 Felix Artiflex (Michael Shannon) is desperately trying to put together a new play starring only the best actors and directors. He is frantically making promises beyond his control; doing anything he can to make this project a reality. Felix is a desperate man after losing someone close to him (his daughter?). We do not actually know much about his personal life, but we can tell by the way he works that there is a void in his life and a happiness that he is searching for. Felix has made some grave mistakes in his life, but he believes this new world premiere play about the French Revolution is his chance at redemption and achievement. In his attempts to fulfill all of his desires, he loses everything once again, but finds a small sense of happiness when he faces his own humility.

The stage is Felix’s office, and looks like an old fashion producer’s office from back in the 1970’s. I was surprised when I noticed that this play was taking place in relatively the present day, but considering the lack of money that sometimes comes from working in theatre, some offices no doubt still look like that in 2009. Tom Burch has designed the office littered with drama books, scripts and paperwork. Pictures of actresses and actors, that one assumes Felix has worked with in the past, are hanging on the walls. Pushed away, almost hidden amongst the paperwork and business memorabilia, are a few scattered kid’s toys showing us that there is or was a child that would come around his office.

The make-up artist Nan Zabriskie does an extraordinary job. She makes Shannon looked aged, not as an old man aged by years but by pressure and stress. Shannon’s cheeks look sucked-in, making it appear as if his skin hangs just a bit against his bone structure and his eyes look stressed like a man who hasn’t been able to relax for years.

Mistakes Were Made5 This is a piece that the audience can relate to; the fight to get others to share in your vision and the struggle to escape hardships and find better, more respectable days in the future. Craig Wright’s writing is wonderfully done, including the emotional complexity involved when working while your personal life sits in the back of your mind. Wright has written a variety of characters that Felix interacts with over the telephone creating gripping twists in the plot line, as well as a nice interjection of intelligent humor. Having some knowledge of theatre and classic plays does increase the impact of some of his jokes: since Felix is a theatre producer, the jokes are industry friendly.

The performance by Shannon lives up to the hype, as he portrays the driven attitude of a man nearing the end of his career, reaching for something that he can achieve and hold on to. I felt as if I had an idea of what had happened to Felix and how his life had reached this point. Shannon gave Felix depth and a personal past through his display of tense emotions. We have a sense that he is missing the love and respect of someone in particular without it having to be specifically said. The constant busy-ness of jumping from conversation to conversation is made light and humorous with the pleasant interruptions by the secretary, Esther, played by Mierka Girten.

Even with this gripping performance, the play was too long for a basically one man act. While watching one of the best solo performances I have seen the man next to me feel asleep, and I began to get a serious leg cramp. I recommend this show because it is a rare opportunity to see an outstanding actor perform an intelligently written piece just ten feet away from you. It is an amazing experience to watch Michael Shannon capture the whole essence of Felix’s character, although an hour and 45 minutes with no intermission is just a little too long to watch even this man.

Rating: «««

Mistakes Were Made is playing at A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 North Wells St., Chicago, Thursdays – Sundays and has now been extended through October 31.

Continue reading