Review: Curious Theatre’s “Two Plays by Beau O’Reilly”

Misery and Mystery Undergird Two Plays by Beau O’Reilly

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Curious Theatre presents:

Two Plays by Beau O’Reilly

by Beau O’Reilly
thru January 3rd (ticket info)

review by Paige Listerud

Program notes handed out for Curious Theatre’s latest production at the Center Portion Gallery tell you nothing typical regarding the plays performed. They give a bit of history about their creation process–but nothing so conventional as actor biographies or promotional material about the company itself. Instead, playwright Beau O’Reilly writes about getting knocked out of commission at an unexpected moment:

I woke up on Wednesday with “No Longer a Rock” completely in my head and wrote it down . . . Celebrating, I got on a bike and headed down the dirt road . . . I was knocked unconscious, woke up to . . . a feeling of disassociation, which included watching language blend, dissolve, and wander away as if it was someone else’s province . . . rescued from the brain trauma unit by my friends, I did go to the theatre festival, but efforts to move on stage with lumpy grace were replaced by spinning vertigo . . . I sat instead in an armchair and told a half-remembered story, watching my mouth paraphrase my paraphrases as words would float away . . .

Serious misery accompanies incapacitation. Both No Longer the Rock of the World and Dead to the World reveal lives of emotional and mental disability. Despair over what has been lost and won’t be recovered dwells side by side with miraculous possibility–the healing of longstanding wounds and the opening up of new worlds. Forgiveness and the recovery of humanity–heck, even the recovery of a reliable daily routine–allude to chance, fate, or the mystery of existence lying behind material reality. Is O’Reilly aware that he has written little mystery plays for the modern world?

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Never mind. In No Longer the Rock of the World, Kelly Ann Corcoran and Guy Massey strike a nice dueling sardonic pair as Carol and Charles. Both are defensively mourning the death of Walter, an idiosyncratic performance artist who was Carol’s lover and also Charles’ brother. Walter’s dying wish brings them together, as much as they wouldn’t stand each other under any other circumstances.

Charles hurts from his own unfinished business with Walter, as well Carol’s limited judgments of him. Guy Massey immaculately conveys Charles’ brittle spirit, especially when he returns fire with, “You’re a snob, Carol.” But nothing frames their scene together like the black despair Carol sinks into when alone. Who needs who the most becomes the predominant question. O’Reilly’s original music, sung live by a character named Elsie, provides eerie accompaniment to the scene, performed on opening night by Sophie Sennard and Julian Berke. (Jenny Magnus will alternate with Sennard during the run.)

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Dead to the World is essentially one long monologue about a man suffering unpredictable attacks of narcolepsy. Already living on the edge, his life’s journey is an uninterrupted dreamscape that, in its own grungy way, represents a descent into hell. Certainly, the building he lives in, with its gangsta-style vandalism and creepy neighbor lady, is a familiar renter’s hell. How survival happens at all for this guy is as much a mystery to the audience as to him. We are left to presume the kindness of many unmentioned strangers. It’s here where O’Reilly’s writing could use an editor’s eye, since the work threatens to devolve into a shaggy-dog story. But it’s a strong stroke of realism when his character’s escape from narcolepsy is as unpredictable and enigmatic as the rest of his experience.

Kate Teichman adroitly navigates the ups and downs of O’Reilly’s text. Thankfully, the writing exercises her full, versatile range. She’s an actor who gives quirky roles grounding and respect, avoiding clownishness, even while wearing oversize glasses and engaging in a few acrobatics. It’s a performance worth seeing, even with a text that could be tightened up. Not only do we buy her performance as a man, we believe the moments of epiphany along with the dips into despair and disorientation.

Rating: ★★★


INFO:

November 27 – January 3
Fridays & Saturdays 8 PM
Sundays 3 PM

Note: No shows Christmas week or New Year’s Day.

@ Center Portion
2850-1/2 West Fullerton Ave
in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood

$15 or pay what you can at the door
$12 in advance online

Reserve advanced tickets at: https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/90439

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Review: Magpie Project’s “The Happy Family Series”

A Weird and Gifted “Family” Pulls It Together

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The Magpies Project present:

The Happy Family Series:
Demonstrations Exploring “Harmonic Antagonisms

inspired by P.T. Barnum’s “The Happy Family
Curated by Shawn Reddy
Emceed by H.B. Ward a.k.a. "The Tamer"
thru December 6th at Viaduct Theatre (ticket info)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

I hardly knew what to make of the press put out by The Magpies Project over The Happy Family Series: Demonstrations Exploring “Harmonic Antagonisms” inspired by P. T. Barnum’s museum piece “The Happy Family.” Living by the creed “There’s a sucker born every minute,” Barnum constructed a fallacious exhibit wherein an assortment of animals, both predators and prey, were forced to live in harmony with each other as a spectacle of example to humankind. As such, The Magpie Project’s own assortment of talented misfits, drawn together from the usual fringe theater suspects, could easily be collected under any random title. Maybe the overwhelming wholesomeness of the holiday season has wormed its way into the company’s artistic direction. Never mind. Any excuse to see these performers is good one.

viaduct Emceeing the madness is H. B. Ward, aka “The Tamer,” who delivers the funniest, most intelligent opening comic monologue I’ve witnessed in years. He’s a man in complete control of the audience—without need of whips and little need of chairs! Most of the rest of the collection, curated by Shawn Reddy, follows in this comic and quirky vein. Whether any of it refers to family hardly matters, but one will find some startling depth along with the laughs.

The first weekend run in particular saw a short memoir simply read aloud by writer and critic Brian Nemtusak. It was the sort of thing one might hear on Public Radio’s This American Life, only with greater psychological depth, quiet power, and less desperate need to please the audience. It came closest to all the evening’s exhibits in articulating the antagonisms between three generations of men and what each generation tried to do to compensate for them. Ira Glass, eat your heart out.

Other sketches executed by Ian Belknap and Edward Thomas-Herrera, such as the subtext of corporate meetings and the dramatic, glamorous imaginings of a lone gay child, were more conventionally funny, but no less entertaining for being so. Far more far out performances were dealt by the musical stylings of Jenny Magnus of Curious Theatre and Chris Schoen of Theatre Oobleck.  I kept thinking Jenny was coming up with any old excuse to sing her songs under the rubric of “family.”

Stopping by to see The Happy Family Series over the next few weeks will be more than worth your while. Who knows, maybe the oddness of the “exhibits” will strike some familial similarity.

 

Rating: ★★★

 

Curated by Shawn Reddy
Emceed by H.B. Ward A.K.A. "The Tamer"

Featuring work by: Martha Bayne, Ian Belknap, Dave Buchen, Chris Bower, Eiren Caffall, Mark Chrisler, Robin Cline, Barrie Cole, Elvisbride Band, Idris Goodwin, David Isaacson, David Kodeski, Jenny Magnus, Brian Nemtusak, Beau O’Reilly, David Pavkovic and Vicki Walden (of DOG), The Lawrence Peters Outfit, Diana Slickman, Edward Thomas-Herrera, and David Wilcox.

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Review: The Alumni Bow

 

New works suggest a promising future.

 

The School of the Art Institute presents:

The Alumni Bow
Three one-acts by Rebecca Beegle, Idris Goodwin and Chris Bower
directed by Stefan Brün and Beau O’Reilly
thru September 27th (tickets: 773-539-7838)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

NoteToMollySmall What a pleasure to be able to review The Alumni Bow, the latest offerings from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s MFA Writing Program, particularly since it doesn’t have much in the way of press to promote itself, other than a few hand-distributed flyers and a blogpost by one of its playwrights, Idris Goodwin. Under the direction of Beau O’Reilly of Curious Theatre and Stefan Brün of Prop Thtr, these simple one-acts show surprising maturity and sophistication, even if some could benefit from the editor’s scalpel.

Honey by Rebecca Beegle, is a one-act monologue of a man under the strain of lost love and lost eroticism, finally losing memory of the woman he has loved so intensively. The man, played by Julian Berke, takes the audience on a tour of the home in which their lovemaking took place, room by room. It becomes apparent that the tour, which most likely began as an act of revenge against his lover, has now transformed into a mournful homage over all he has lost, including the ability to love again. “What is not so important as the sex acts is what led to them . . . a trail of bread crumbs I can’t find again.”

The challenge for O’Reilly’s direction will be in how effective that tour will remain should the audience capacity exceed the space for the tour to take place. As it is, it’s just as interesting to view the crowd as the actor—the one that I was in paraded from room to room with an almost funereal solemnity. Berke’s performance is nuanced, a tribute to an actor for whom this is the first full-fledged role; prior performance experience has been mostly as a rock and blues musician.

The Story Farm is the most intellectual of all these works, a savvy bit of meta-theater, commenting on all things corporate, politically correct, and metaphorical. Between an earnest jobseeker (Arin Mulvaney) and a story research trainer (Jonathan Putman), Idris Goodwin gets to pull out all his jibes at corporate world’s ability to devalue everything, including the power of stories, to their most rudimentary and meaningless frameworks. From there, it is just a hop, skip, and jump to having the utterly ratiocinating story researcher swept up beyond reason by a story Mulvaney’s jobseeker brings in, while she remains blithely uninvolved by her own discovery. The transformation is enjoyable to watch in Putman’s hands, given the intensity he delivers through his character and Mulvaney’s good-natured, cat-loving foil is realistically vacuous.

Goodwin seems to have the most experience of all the young playwrights and, concomitant with his break beat poet background, plays with ideas and themes with greater virtuosity than the others. But of all the other playwrights, Goodwin’s work would most benefit from an editor’s eye in taking off a good 10 to 15 minutes from this play.

Notes to Molly by Chris Bower deals the most devastating realism of all these pieces. Based on his short story by the same name, the play etches an indelible portrait of a dead-end alcoholic couple and the psychological forces that barely keep them hanging on, to themselves and to life. It is an intensely realized work, almost perfectly performed by Kate Teichman and Matt Test.

All three one-acts deal with some aspect of story, but Bower’s work shows most knowingly how story is used by this couple to evoke a past or present which gives each of them more power or discredits the other, yet does nothing to really disrupt or improve their passive-aggressive relationship. Bower shows great maturity in delineating the symbiotic nature of their mutual dysfunctions and leaves us hanging where they hang, in a subjective no-man’s land, with Test’s character desperately trying to get his fellow alcoholic lover’s attention.

Don’t leave these works out in no-man’s land. The Alumni Bow has a very short run and Chicago should get to know its next generation of original work.

Rating: «««

Review: Pinter’s “The Caretaker” (Curious Theatre Branch)

Hauntingly primal, animalistic performances are fascinating to watch

Harold Pinter's "The Caretaker"Moving season was the right time for Curious Theatre Branch to produce The Caretaker, by Harold Pinter. Tucked away in the intimate Side Project space, the set, recreating a dilapidated London apartment, is a chaos of broken down debris. A stuffed fox, old newspapers, a paint-splattered ladder, and at least four vacuum cleaners litter the space, designed by Shawn Reddy. Being a Rogers Park native, I was actually looking around to see if I recognized anything as something I threw out. The trashy setting provides a suitable backdrop to the perplexing play, itself a cacophony of dented personalities.

caretaker3 The Caretaker, first produced in 1960, was the first successful play of the writer who later would be hailed as Britain’s greatest living playwright until his recent death in 2008. In true absurdist tradition, not much actually happens in the play. Over the three acts (spanning 2.5 hours in this production), an arm is twisted, a bag is passed around, and the three characters enter and exit the apartment; other than that, the running time is filled with dialogue and Pinter’s famous pauses.

Without the cast having a keen understanding of Pinter’s language and characters, this could have been excruciatingly boring. Depicting one of the worst roommate situations imaginable, where a vagrant is taken in by two emotionally disturbed brothers, the play can flip from cynically hilarious to chilling over the course of a pause. Curious Theatre Branch, though, has a love-affair with the absurd, usually producing original works with the occasional Beckett thrown in for good measure. Directed by the cast along with Jayita Bhattacharya, who also stage manages, the staging of this somewhat baffling masterpiece is darkly visceral yet smartly communicative.

The most relatable character in the play is Davies, a petty, old transient who is both beggar and chooser. Like him, we suddenly find ourselves in the rundown flat that is inhabited by one brother, Aston, yet owned by another, Mick. Alongside Davies, we are slowly submerged into each of their bizarre and intimidating worlds.

Harold Pinter's "The Caretaker" This Caretaker values character above all else, and the performances electrify the space; the actors precisely envelope the damaged personalities they portray. Beau O’Reilly’s Davies is conniving and manipulative, decayed by xenophobia and a refusal to examine himself. O’Reilly captures Davies’ intense neediness as well as his fussiness. Jeffrey Bivens is menacing as Mick, speaking and moving in short bursts like a machine gun. The crowning performance, though, is (Beau’s son) Colm O’Reilly’s Aston. Quiet and unassuming, Aston speaks in nonsequitors, tossing out random facts about himself that lead to more questions than answers. The young O’Reilly captures the stoic energy of the character, speaking with much less volume than his father’s impassioned Davies. His gentle voice works perfectly in the tiny space. The best moment in the production is Aston’s marathon monologue describing his experience in a mental ward—O’Reilly barely moves an inch yet the audience is wholly entranced the entire time.

caretaker4 The end result is hauntingly primal. Some moments are stretched a little long, and a bit shorter run time would improve the show. The ending leaves the play wide open for a myriad of interpretations, which can be a more overwhelming than thought-provoking. This Caretaker is also void of British accents, which makes some of the colloquialisms a little out-of-place, but never distracts too much.

The animalistic performances, however, are fascinating to watch. All three actors have a deep respect and love for Pinter’s notoriously sharp language. In this production, they reveal Pinter’s true genius, his ability to stuff the absurd into the realistic.

Rating: «««

The Caretaker
May 22 – June 28
Fridays + Saturdays 8pm • Sundays 7pm
INDUSTRY NIGHT Monday, June 22 7pm

 

 

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