REVIEW: Muerte Del Maestro (Tympanic Theatre)

   
  

Psychological thriller needs a little more thought

  
  

Tympanic Theatre - Muerte Del Maestro

   
Tympanic Theatre presents
   
Muerte Del Maestro
  
Written by Joshua Mikel
Directed by
Adam Webster
at
the side project, 1439 W. Jarvis (map)
through Dec 22   |  tickets: $  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

I’ve got nothing against bad language. I curse constantly, and I’m a fan of David Mamet, who is known for his strings of profanity. What I’m not a fan of is ineffective bad language, language that basically serves as a lazy placeholder for other dialogue that would better suit the situation.

Unfortunately, Joshua Mikel‘s Muerte Del Maestro, produced by Tympanic Theatre, is like a parody of a Quentin Tarantino movie. Gratuitous foul language saturates the dialogue between protagonist Arturo (Chris Acevedo) and best friend/antagonist Kay Kay (Paul E. Martinez) to the point that we are removed from the action of the play. Sure, young men trade playful barbs all the time. But for the love of God, intersperse the four-letter words with some actual conversation.

To the play’s credit, as the action picks up and the psychological thriller begins to unfold, the ample profanity subsides, giving way to more reserved language that Muerte del maestro posterbetter conveys the characters’ emotions and the propels the plot. In fact, it is the play’s second half that earns it the 2.5 rating.

Muerte Del Maestro is about two young bullfighting fans who live in a small town in Spain. When their beloved bullfighter, La Muerte Negra, dies in the middle of a fight, the town hosts an open-call bullfighting championship to find the next great bullfighter. Both Kay Kay and Arturo think they have the skills. However, as the competition nears, Kay Kay’s mental state begins to crack. When he discovers Arturo has been carrying on a secret relationship with his sister, Pumpkin (Carla Alegre), he completely snaps.

None of the acting is remarkable, though Martinez shows some talent playing Kay Kay at his craziest. The most engaging performance is by puppeteers Ellen Girvin and Charlotte Mae Jusino who control a giant paper mache bull and a collection of shadow puppets.

The space is incredibly small and can feel incredibly cramped. Sometimes this works to the play’s benefit. When the large paper mache bull first makes his appearance, he seems massive in these tight quarters. However, it also works to the play’s disadvantage. The amount of unnecessary yelling at the top of the play is headache inducing, the loudness reverberating against the theater’s walls. Once again, like the ample profanities, this too serves to pull the audience out of the play.

Although the script is weak in its current form, it does have potential. The makings of an intriguing psychological thriller are here, and the pacing of Kay Kay’s descent into madness doesn’t feel jarring or forced. Still, I couldn’t help but to wonder why Arturo and Kay Kay were ever friends to begin with. With a few more rewrites, Mikel could have a very good piece of theatre on his hands.

Muerte Del Maestro is a brash play with a lot of attitude but little direction. With some well-directed strong actors and some significant changes to the script, this could be a very good drama. However, in its current form, it’s one step above tolerable.

     
      
Rating: ★★½
   

Cast and Creative Team

     


Chris Acevedo* / Arturo


Carla Alegre / Pumpkin


Paul E. Martinez* / Kay Kay

     


Megan Tabaque / Muerte Negra


Ellen Girvin / Bull


Charlotte Jusino / Bull

     

Joshua Mikel / Playwright

Adam Webster - side project theatre

Adam Webster / Director

 

Production Team:

Stage Manager: Joy Martin; Dramaturg: Aaron C. Thomas; Set Design: Dustin Pettegrew; Light Design: Brian Berman; Costume Design: Crystal Jovae Mazur; Sound Design: Stephen Ptacek; Puppet Design: Lizi Breit; Photos: Sergio Soltero

        
        

REVIEW: All Saints Day (Ruckus Theatre)

A Superb Ruckus

 

 

Pictured in The Ruckus’ production of All Saints’ Day: 44 Poems About Jeffrey Jones are (l to r) Elizabeth Bagby as Non-Tot and Kevin Crispin as Tot.  Photo by Lucas Gerard Photography.

   
Ruckus Theater presents
   
All Saints’ Day
   
Written by Ron Riekki
Directed by
Brian Ruby
at
the side project theatre, 1439 W. Jarvis Ave. (map)
through September 26  |  tickets: $15-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

It’s been quite a while since I’ve had such a good laugh or a mind challenge in the theatre. I believe that the theatre is an art that challenges, enlightens, inspires and provokes. All of these qualities are present in All Saints’ Day: A.K.A. 44 Poems About Jeffrey Jones. It’s made clear that this Jeffrey Jones is not he guy from “Ferris  Bueller” but a playwright who also wrote Pictured in The Ruckus’ production of All Saints’ Day: 44 Poems About Jeffrey Jones is Elizabeth Bagby as Non-Tot. All Saints’ Day begins performances on September 2 and runs through September 26 at The Side Project Theatre (1439 W Jarvis Ave). For more information, visit ruckustheater.org. Photo by Lucas Gerard Photography.about Halloween and inspired writer Ron Riekki for this production. However, the story of the actor Jeffrey Jones would have fit right in with this play.

All Saints’ Day presents vignettes, at varying paces, showing the American tradition of trick-or-treating. Do you remember the feeling when you approached the door of the neighborhood crazy lady or the family with cars on blocks in the front yard? This play takes us into the homes and psyches of those folks and others whose doors perhaps you were too timid to approach. The vignettes represent different eras in global history from an American perspective. What lay beyond the door and who walks up to the door?

There are three characters in this play with names from the absurdist tradition. We have Tot, Non-Tot, and Other played by Kevin Crispin, Elizabeth Bagby, and Mathew Humphrey respectively. Ms. Bagby is brilliant as the Non-Tot behind the door. She inhabits the characters at whiplash speed, hilarity and incandescent pathos. Her chemistry with Mr. Crispin as Tot is spot on and electric. It is a surprise every time Tot knocks on the door and says, “trick or treat!” Mr. Crispin is a wonder of physicality and comic timing. He and Ms. Bagby cover a time capsule of Halloween horrors that still reverberate in American culture every time the calendar approaches October 31st. The Tylenol poisonings, cyanide in candy straws, animal waste dipped in chocolate and dispensed by a seemingly sweet neighbor is presented. The play asks the question – whose fault is it really?

One unforgettable vignette presents a television remote gone mad. Non-Tot is watching television when the remote takes on a personality and power beyond her control. Tot knocks on the door and she discovers that she can switch his personas through the remote. Non-Tot furiously hits the clicker as Tot goes from LBJ on Vietnam to Cool Hand Luke to Princess Diana and a still funny George W. Bush. Bagby and Crispin then recite lines simultaneously as they collapse to the floor. This was one of the serious parts of the show as they speak of Joe Hill, The Weathermen, and Dr. King, and others who have advocated for change on many different platforms. It did not break the rhythm of the action with the serious nature of the subject matter because all of comedy has a serious core of truth.

Pictured in The Ruckus’ production of All Saints’ Day: 44 Poems About Jeffrey Jones is Matthew Humphrey as Other. All Saints’ Day begins performances on September 2 and runs through September 26 at The Side Project Theatre (1439 W Jarvis Ave). For more information, visit ruckustheater.org. Photo by Lucas Gerard Photography. In between the scenes Matthew Humphrey as Other injects comic brilliance and levity with placards announcing the scenes. He portrays a priest, a boxing round cutie holding a bout sign and prancing about the ring, and my favorite was an inspired use of whipped cream as body art. Mr. Humphrey is mute for most of the play and yet is integral to the movement, pacing, and dialogue. He is heard offstage in some of the scenes and appears in a speaking role in the final vignette.

The final scene is a departure from the other vignettes, offering a contrast from the American sensibility with a foray into pre-war Germany in the late 1930’s. At first, it’s quite jarring as Mr. Crispin knocks on the door as a character named Ernst and the device of Halloween seems to become the pagan origins of the holiday. It is more of a Samhain feel when the veil between life and death is said to be more evident than any other time of the year. Ernst has come to say goodbye to his friend Franz as the German Workers Party has taken a sinister turn rounding up Jews and displaying an alarming nationalistic fervor – the playwright is alluding to the origins of how hatred takes hold. Ernst gets a trick when he knocks on the door expecting to find familiarity but Franz and his mother have taken on a new guise. Hatred and bigotry are unmasked and unleashed on the world like a virus. That era still holds ominous power as people all over the planet imitate Nationalism to varying degrees. The fact that Riekki can reduce this behavior to brilliant farce is a saving grace of recognition and possible redemption.

Pictured in The Ruckus’ production of All Saints’ Day: 44 Poems About Jeffrey Jones is Kevin Crispin as Tot. All Saints’ Day begins performances on September 2 and runs through September 26 at The Side Project Theatre (1439 W Jarvis Ave). For more information, visit ruckustheater.org. Photo by Lucas Gerard Photography. Pictured in The Ruckus’ production of All Saints’ Day: 44 Poems About Jeffrey Jones are (l to r) Matthew Humphrey as Other and Elizabeth Bagby as Non-Tot. All Saints’ Day begins performances on September 2 and runs through September 26 at The Side Project Theatre (1439 W Jarvis Ave). For more information, visit ruckustheater.org. Photo by Lucas Gerard Photography.
Pictured in The Ruckus’ production of All Saints’ Day: 44 Poems About Jeffrey Jones are (l to r) Elizabeth Bagby as Non-Tot and Kevin Crispin as Tot. All Saints’ Day begins performances on September 2 and runs through September 26 at The Side Project Theatre (1439 W Jarvis Ave). For more information, visit ruckustheater.org. Photo by Lucas Gerard Photography. Pictured in The Ruckus’ production of All Saints’ Day: 44 Poems About Jeffrey Jones are (l to r) Elizabeth Bagby as Non-Tot and Kevin Crispin as Tot. All Saints’ Day begins performances on September 2 and runs through September 26 at The Side Project Theatre (1439 W Jarvis Ave). For more information, visit ruckustheater.org. Photo by Lucas Gerard Photography.

All Saints’ Day” contains language, violence, and portrayal of drug use. The LSD scene is one of the funniest things I have seen ever. The treat offered by Non-Tot is two hits of acid to Tot. He doesn’t feel anything and then Other appears as a dinosaur before morphing into a giant pig. This is theatre on the edge and I loved it.

The play is presented in a minimalist manner in a small black box theatre. The props (Joshua Davis) and scenery (J. Clay Barron) are all very simple but brought to life by the brilliance of the actors and the direction of Ruckus member Brian Ruby. This kind of theatre is what makes Chicago a place where New York comes to look for inspiration and fresh material to bring to their stages. Applause to Ruckus and an appeal to keep the lunacy evident lest we forget.

   
   
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

All Saints’ Day: AKA 44 Poems about Jeffrey Jones runs through September 26th at Side Project Theatre at 1439 W. Jarvis in Rogers Park and steps from the Red Line Jarvis stop. More information is available at www.ruckustheater.org This is a great opening for the theatre season. It’s a short run-do not miss it!

 

     
     

 

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REVIEW: People We Know (the side project)

Perpetuating denial through the company we keep

 

people-we-know7

   
the side project presents
  
People We Know
  
by Robert Tenges
directed by
Adam Webster
at
side project theatre, 1439 W. Jarvis  (map)
through June 6th  tickets: $18  |  more info

reviewed by Robin Sneed

There are plays that require the delicacy of actors turned surgeons to give them breath. In the complex, People We Know, written by Robert Tenges, the doctors are in the house. First, you will be hit with the anesthesia of sarcastic and witty one liners, then they get down to the work of dismantling the empty social connection of three people-we-know5 couples who live in a faded post-modern framework of loose traditional roles and well-rehearsed lines.

The play opens a year after Paul, played by C. Sean Pierman, has been accused and convicted of sexually abusing a young student in his class. In a series of flashback scenes, Pierman plays the days leading up to Paul’s incarceration as carefully and exactly as a man about to cut into a human heart . He does a quiet slow shuffle of a dance when he decides to tell his friend Eric, played by Robert Koon, of his dilemma. Sliding between the incident as being nothing to worry about to the fear he is in serious trouble, Pierman never resorts to expectedly creepy signals or overt body language. He deftly and believably maintains a teacher dude and boyish Peter Pan-never-grew-up quality. He elicits sympathy, but not too heavily; this is subtlety to its very core.

Robert Koon’s approach to Eric is bold, with a Teflon coating, masking an emptiness that is remarkable in its thoroughness. Eric is a narcissist of the first order, but not of the dramatically and emotionally overwrought variety we typically see. In the conversation in which Paul tells him he has been accused of molesting a child, Eric immediately refers to the child as a liar. He laughs at the situation heartily, and tells his friend they will discover by way of tests that the child is certainly lying and she and her family will owe Paul an apology. Koon hits this flat world of taking sides by way of strong language, without care for actual outcomes, perfectly.

Alcohol, played by wine and beer, is a constant companion to all of the characters in this work. These are not raging drunks, but people who must have a glass of medication in their hands most all the time or the vapid existence they carefully tend might reveal itself as such. The play is shot through with moments of clarity. Fleeting, never lit on, but sipped quietly away into the gentle buzz of the status quo.

Dianne, Paul’s wife, played by Amy Johnson, remains emotionally lost a year after her husband’s sentencing. The other couples have shunned her with silence, and are only just inviting her back into the fold at the beginning of the play. They had no idea what to do with her, about her, or for her, and so quietly erased her from their lives through lack of contact. Johnson provides the razor to this piece in brief moments, pinpointing the apathy, the recited lines, then resumes her own role as the wife who still loves her husband, stands by her man, however unattached to the idea she may feel. There is no fervor in this, but a longing that he will reveal himself to her emotionally, giving her a kind of salvation for her long suffering.

Joshua, played by Andy Hager, is the would be earthy man who sees good in love and family. If not for the dead quiet force called support by his wife, he would be seemingly content and accepting of life as it is. Hager plays this with a keen sense of humor and an insight into the situation that no one around him seems to catch on to. Elizabeth Bagby, as his wife, Hannah, brings pathos to a woman who only need shift her attention to a different man with a better job to fulfill her own expectations and maintain her vision of what life should be like. Through tears, Hannah mourns her choice to leave Joshua for what she perceives as bigger and better things, but there is a steeliness to achieve that trumps love. Hagby brings all of this with a quiet intensity that is riveting.

 

people-we-know6 people-we-knoww

The root of this piece is Maddy, played by Kirsten D’Aurelio. Maddy is part childless earth mother, part old school socialite whose softness and understanding allow for this play of ultimately apathetic friends to swirl around her without real upheaval. She will take care of everyone, she can be counted on. Without her, this world would crumble, starting with her husband, Eric. She willingly pretends to be young women he knows to arouse him sexually as unabashedly and sweetly as if she has no real idea the cost to her emotionally. At times she seeks freedom, but slips back into her roots – that of matron without true motherhood; mothering a man child who still wants to have a baby even after she has had several miscarriages. D’Aurelio plays this without any of the clichés of the enabler. This is a unique performance of unwavering strength; one that includes burgeoning homosexuality, all offered without guile.

In People We Know, the audience gets to know the characters quite well. Within the play, they stand separate from each other only brushing by at arms length. Could any of these outwardly appearing friends have known Paul was molesting a child? No, because the structure of their lives, the agreed upon language, the self absorption, doesn’t allow for it. Only Paul’s wife, Dianne, has a hint from a memory of their wedding night. Sitting there in her perfect white dress, with her perfect new husband, sipping champagne, doubt crosses her face as he tells her a story about his childhood. She smiles the wistful smile of an already weary performer and shrugs it away, going on to build her perfect glass house.

Directed with quiet and steady pressure by Adam Webster, People We Know does not seek to flay and enrage, soothe or heal. It only seeks to impress that we don’t know who we don’t know by careful orchestration of ourselves and the people around us. We play our roles well, choose others who play their roles well, perpetuating damage by a refusal to live truthfully with ourselves and the people around us. It is within this framework that navels are gazed at while children are hurt, growing up to play those same roles in a never ending show of polite and potentially soul killing company.

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

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REVIEW: Spring Awakening (Promethean Theatre)

The original coming-of-age story

 

springawake1

 
Promethean Theatre Ensemble presents
 
Spring Awakening
 
By Frank Wedekind
Directed by
Stephen F. Murray
at
The Artistic Home, 3914 N. Clark (map)
through May 9th |  tickets: $20  |  more info

by Barry Eitel

Frank Wedekind’s 1891 Spring Awakening has gotten a lot of love ever since the play’s dust was blown off and it was turned into an award-winning musical a century later featuring arrangements by Duncan “I-Am-Barely-Breathing” Sheik. A huge influence on fellow deutscher Bertolt Brecht, Wedekind’s work is known for pushing the boundaries of decency on stage. Spring Awakening could appropriately be described as ahead of its time in its depiction of how much young adults talk about sex, stress over school, and masturbate. Hitching a ride on the musical’s success, Promethean Theatre Ensemble’s production, adapted and directed by Stephen F. Murray, reminds us the less musical original is still worthy of our attention. While the springawake3 cast is enthusiastic and lively, Promethean’s Awakening is uneven and throws too much energy into worrying about revitalizing the script.

The awakening in Spring Awakening is both sexual and intellectual, and it happens to a bunch of the youthful characters at once. Thank you, puberty. Melchior (a dashing Nick Lake) rebels against his oppressive 19th-century society by giving up God and structured morals while personally introducing several of his peers to their changing bodies. He learns intelligence does not equal wisdom, though, as he gradually tears down his own world. His best friend Moritz (Tyler Rich), fights being dragged into puberty like he fights to pass into the next grade, which has several less chairs. His worry over school pushes him to despair, a storyline not unfamiliar today. Wendla (Devon Candura), a masochist discovering herself, is Wedekind’s biggest victim. She is prey to her lack of sexual education and prey to Melchior’s self-absorbed profligacy. Though focusing on these three stories, Wedekind peppers the play with several quick scenes where other kids are awakened, discovering masturbation and homosexuality, as well as compassion and love.

With all of the secondary and tertiary characters, this is an excellent ensemble piece. The Promethean cast energetically takes on several roles apiece. They do everything with assurance and commitment, which is required to keep the meandering piece moving ahead.

That being said, Murray makes some overwrought stylistic choices that push Wedekind’s themes much too hard. All of the adults in Wedekind’s play are written strict, stupid, and stiff as cardboard. Here, they wear grotesque, inhuman masks. Although the masks help distinguish the actors playing adults from the actors portraying children, they aren’t necessary. This talented cast could take on the mechanical old roles without the overbearing costuming; in fact, it would make the springawake2production more dynamic and fascinating. Also, the play jumps between many scenes and the transitions could be cleaner. The Brechtian spoken scene titles, in execution, weigh the momentum of the production down.

Although most of the actors look too old, the leads propel the heady play forward. Lake’s Melchior is self-assured and driven, yet blissfully unaware of the chaos he causes until it is too late. While teetering on overdramatic (although these are teenagers), Rich shines throughout the piece, drawing the audience with him on his overstressed journey. The honest Candura gains our sympathy without begging for it or playing the victim, a tough line to toe. Of the secondary characters, Zachary Clark and Cole Simon are memorable in their famously homoerotic scene. Wedekind throws a thought-provoking twist by making the couple the only healthy relationship in the play.

Murray’s choices drop some of Wedekind’s ironic humor, a sad loss. However, the cast is excited to present the story, a story which is as relevant today as it was one hundred years ago. The play doesn’t need the impositions, but honest, youthful energy. Fortunately, there’s enough of the latter to keep the piece moving.

 
 
Rating: ★★½
 
 

 

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