Review: Verse Chorus Verse (Tympanic Theatre)

    
  

The Tragedy of Grunge, Redux

  
  

Dennis Frymire, Jon Penick, and Kevin Crispin - Verse Chorus Verse

  
Tympanic Theatre presents
  
Verse Chorus Verse
  
Written by Randall Colburn
Directed by Kyra Lewandowski
at side project theatre, 1439 W. Jarvis (map)
through May 1  |  tickets: $12-$15  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Not being a slave to rock ‘n’ roll, I’ve listened, puzzled, to people exclaiming that a certain rock band or music genre saved their lives. I’m equally flummoxed at the notion that any single music artist could be dubbed “the voice of a generation”—there are, after all, so many voices and the most deserving frequently fail to receive widespread attention. Nevertheless, fame places crowns upon a few–that some musicians end in tragedy only serves to superglue that dubious diadem upon the troubled rocker’s brow. Such is the life and music of Kurt Cobain. Tympanic Theatre’s latest production, Verse Chorus Verse, pulls its audience into the milieu of grunge fans, reporters and revivalists marked by Cobain’s death. It’s as if, from the moment he pulled the trigger, time stopped and all hope of going forward was lost.

Actually, Randall Colburn’s interesting new play, under Kyra Lewandowski’s direction at the Side Project Theatre, begins at a far earlier point in the Cobain legend. Fourteen year old Polly (Victoria Gilbert) gets kidnapped, raped and tortured by Gerald Friend (Neal Starbird(left to right) Victoria Gilbert and Neal Starbird - Verse Chorus Verse), who lures her into his car after a punk rock concert–the very same Polly becomes the heroine of Nirvana’s eponymous song on their album “Nevermind”. Flash forward twenty years later, the older Polly now fascinates Garret Leskin (Kevin Crispin), a budding grunge star heralded as the new Cobain, who thoroughly believes that Cobain was murdered. The play’s structure oscillates between the past and present, between that fateful kidnapping and its emotional reverberations far into the future.

For all the dialogue around Cobain and the burden of living up to his legend, the story really belongs to Polly. Gilbert gives a passionate edge to her role’s pathos. Polly is drug-addicted, trapped in the past, and, since becoming enshrined in Cobain’s lyrics, hardly able to see beyond the boundaries of her own legend. The murder mystery that Garret hopes to unravel through her is tangled in half-cooked fictions, inchoate emotional desperation and age-old resentments over who got fame and who got left behind. Dennis Frymore puts in a tough, grilling performance as Mason Dwyer, lead of the Satanic Metal Band, Yeti, who has lost his guitarist Terry (Jon Patrick Penick) to Garret’s up-and-coming band, Samsara.

Lewandoski’s direction also hangs pretty tough—making the most of the black box at Side Project with a spare but versatile set by Dustin Pettegrew. She squeezes every moment for tension and suspense from her cast, shifting between scenes where rockers spar over competing narratives and otherworldly scenes in which Polly survives her kidnapping by Friend, moment by moment, under a starry sky. This doesn’t mean Verse Chorus Verse is perfect. A few fellow audience members confessed to being confused over its alternating shifts between past and present. Plus, the show will obviously carry more meaning for viewers steeped in rock culture. But both the work and production show sophistication, even with its characters’ simplistic pre-occupation with fame. Everyone just wants to be remembered, even Mr. Friend, in a chilling performance by Starbird, tries to be remembered by leaving his marks on Polly’s flesh.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

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Verse Chorus Verse continues through April 7th at side project theatre (1439 W. Jarvis), with performances Thursday thru Saturday at 8:00pm, Sunday at 7pm.  Tickets are $15 general admission ($12 for senior/student/industry), and can be purchased online. For more info, go to www.tympanictheatre.org.

 

Photos by Paul E. Martinez.

 

 

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REVIEW: Ozma and Harriet (Tympanic Theatre)

Grab remote control. Change channel.

 

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Tympanic Theatre Company presents
 
Ozma and Harriet
 
Written by Daniel Caffrey
Directed by
Timothy Bambara
the side project theatre, 1439 W. Jarvis, Chicago (map)
through April 18th (more info)

reviewed by Ian Epstein 

Imagine a young and well-heeled family of three.  Mom is named Harriet (Cara Olansky), and she stays at home and cares for the kid, Ozma (Christopher Acevedo), while Dad, named Frank (Paul E. Martinez) dons his pristine white lab coat with determination and trots off to work, where he is perhaps one of the most respected men in the field of robotics or some similar field. Sounds idyllic enough, right?

ozma and harriet But this child is one of Dad’s lab projects and because he is an android in an early stage of development, Ozma spends most of the day in a "suspended state" (i.e. napping) leaving Mom with little to do.  And since Dad is a workaholic scientist on an analytic diet of restricted emotions, the sex is infrequent if at all. So Harriet futzes in sexual frustration and she paces back and forth and watches a lot of early 90s TV from the comfort of her couch while her marriage slowly starts to crumble.

When her boredom reaches a tipping point, she traipses over to where Ozma naps and pulls our beta-Android friend from his daydreams of electric sheep for a little light conversation and some company bathing in the educative glow of the early 90s sitcom. Educative because Ozma, though he already knows a lot, is still in the knowledge acquisition phase.  Maybe they bump once in the dark but before long there’s some inter-mechanical, borderline incest that everyone has to process as things begin to unwind.

Meanwhile, in the background of it all there’s a silent, screwball chorus of hipster-caveman-zombies who double as grips and triple as the sitcom production team as well as an off-tempo laugh track suffering from a high-pitched case of occasional hysteria.  Ozma and Harriet is at it’s best during these surreal moments when these folks, stationed in every crevice of side project’s tiny space, erupt into their fits of forced and frantic laughter, pop up from behind a couch with a manic smile, or interfere in some other way with the low-stakes, almost-incest farce playing out on stage.

Ozma and Harriet builds all of this up slowly over the course of the first act and the emotionally torqued relationship between Ozma, Harriet, and Frank helps tremendously to understand the opening moments where Ozma politely shuffles around the edges of a sexual encounter with a down-to-business, matter-of-fact call girl named Sandra (Jamie Bragg) who delivers, next to the chorus, the most well-attuned performance. Much of the second act is spent watching what happens when the ball rolls down the hill and everything goes to shit. 

26411_410308615475_185907470475_5377426_3058531_n Sitcom references and structural sitcom-mimicry heavily saturate the play, which feels like a farce trapped in the same room as the bad parts of a soap opera.  Scenes are presented with too much deference to reality – a directorial choice that makes them feel too sincerely acted (or perhaps not acted with enough of that special manic quality that makes a farce so fun to watch). The chorus works wonderfully because their silliness is always energetic, always so far beyond the real that we’ve no choice but to laugh out of surprise as well. Comparatively, Harriet and Ozma and Frank all feel a little indecisive. 

An audience needs to know when to laugh or cower, when to cry or scream in response to robot sex, murder, and, yes, the dissolution of a failed marriage.  Sure, it’s light-hearted fun – but without choices strong enough either to indicate this or make the audience forget all about it and imagine themselves within the mis-wired mind of an android, Ozma and Harriet teeters precariously on the edge of even being theater.

 
Rating:
 

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