REVIEW: Harper Regan (Steep Theatre)

Kendra Thulin shines in U.S. premiere

Harper 3 

Steep Theatre Company presents:

Harper Regan

 

By Simon Stephens
Directed by Robin Witt
Through Feb. 27 (ticket info)

reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

My long-suffering husband, whose theatrical taste runs to comedies and musicals, tends to react to the odder dramas I drag him to with a question, "Why did they produce this play?"

I can’t answer on behalf of Steep Theatre Company, whose U.S. premiere of the quirky, dysfunctional-family drama Harper Regan is one of a raft of British plays in Chicago this season, but I can make some guesses. One is that Simon Stephens is one of England’s hottest playwrights, and the chance to introduce one of his newer works — "Harper Regan" premiered in 2008 at London’s National Theatre — had to be very Harper 1tempting. Another is that it has three very juicy roles for women and a lot of other parts that could be doled out to ensemble members. (Having grown accustomed to the shrunken casts of these straitened times, it’s refreshing to see a different actor for every part in a play, though several male roles might easily have been doubled.)

Exquisitely acted and painstakingly directed as it is, however, Harper Regan may be more satisfying for its cast than for audiences. The plot follows the breaking up or breaking out, depending on how you look at it, of Harper Regan, 40-ish, middle-class and troubled. Her father is dying, her boss is a creep, she hates her job, her husband’s out of work, she’s not getting along with her 17-year-old daughter, they had to move from her northern England hometown to unfamiliar suburban London, she’s not speaking to her mother, and she is deeply insecure.

In an exceptional performance in the title role, Kendra Thulin shows us Harper’s discomfort and self-doubt in every line of her body, cringing and hesitating as, having asked her supercilious employer (Alex Gillmor) for time off to visit her ailing father, she listens to his hectoring refusal. Later, apologizing to her daughter for some sharp words, she says, "I’m so weird, aren’t I?"

Harper 2Caroline Neff is intense and believable as Harper’s nerdy, conflicted daughter, more comfortable with her iPod than her mother. Chelsea Warren’s costumes, notably for Harper and her daughter and mother, show a fine attention to detail.

Act I lags somewhat as the initial facts of Harper’s life slowly emerge, mostly in talky monologues and peculiar conversations she has with unsettling strangers. At last, she leaves home, not telling anyone she’s going. In Act II, we get more disturbing revelations: Why her husband can’t find work. Why they had to move. Why Harper and her mum are at odds. And, most importantly, we see that Harper is even weirder and more unstable than she seems.

Melissa Reimer puts in a strong performance as Harper’s estranged mother. Peter Moore performs sensitively as her down-and-out husband. Curtis M. Jackson is realistic as a teenager she meets near home, while Dan Flannery seems stiff as an older man she encounters during her time away. Julia Siple, Jonathan Edwards, Brendan Melanson and Adam El-Sharkawi fill out the cast.

Marcus Stephens’ stark, leaf-strewn concrete set echoes the harshness of Harper’s world, yet seems inappropriate for many of the indoor scenes, among many off-kilter aspects of this unlikely psychodrama.

 

Rating: ★★½

 

Notes: Adult language and themes.  All photos by Lee Miller

WITH ENSEMBLE MEMBERS Jonathan Edwards, Alex Gillmor, Brendan Melanson, Peter Moore, Caroline Neff, Melissa Riemer and Julia Siple
AND Adam El-Sharkawi, Dan Flannery, Curtis Jackson and Kendra Thulin
PRODUCTION MANAGER Julia Siple* STAGE MANAGER Jon Ravenscroft SCENIC DESIGN Marcus Stephens LIGHTING DESIGN Brandon Wardell COSTUME DESIGN Chelsea Warren COSTUME ASST Gwen Smuda SOUND DESIGN Matthew Chapman PROPS DESIGN Jesse Gaffney DIALECT COACH Eva Brenneman DRAMATURG Gemma Hobbs            *denotes company member

Review: Infusion Theatre’s “Intrigue With Faye”

Kean (Steve O’Connell) comforts his girlfriend Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) to assuage her fears that she cannot count on anyoneProduction: Intrigue With Faye
Producers: Infusion Theatre

Set-up: Intrigue With Faye explores the intimate world of an urban couple whe reach an impasse in their relationship when an infidelity is revealed.  Determined to repair their broken trust, documentary filmmaker Kean proposes to therapist Lissa that they videotape their every move.  Through this videotaping and self-analyzing and reflection, the couple attempts to heal the mistrust and co-dependency that pervades their relationship. 

StrengthsIntruge With Faye’s video effects are pretty cool.  The two leads, Steve O’Connell as Kean and Kate Tummelson as Lissa are gifted actors, and it’s notable that – depsite the fact that Tummelson is the understudy – you never would have known it.  Mitch Golob’s directing skills are adeptly displayed by his ability to keep the production’s focus directly on the two leads, despite the surrounding multimedia bells-and-whistles.   

Weaknesses: Though O’Connell and Tummelson do an exemplary job with their roles, this unfortunately does not allay the fact that their characters are quite uninteresting, especially once they plunge into the seemingly endless videotaping and sef-analyzing imbroglio.  Indeed, it’s interesting to note that the most piquant roles in Intrigue With Faye. 

Summary: This Infusion Theatre Company, now in it’s second year, has set out for itself a very valient and exciting mission: bringing in a new audience of theatre goers through the use of multi-media in telling its stories on stage. Though InFusion’s multi-media themed productions are a breath of fresh air towards Chicago theatre’s pursuit of a wider audience, Intrigue With Faye does not prove to be the best material towards this endeavor.  Slightly recommended.

Rating: ««½

 

Production:

Intrigue With Faye

Playwright:

Kate Robin

Director:

Mitch Golob

Featuring:

Steve O’Connell (Kean), Leah Nuetzel (Lissa), Kate Tummelson (Lissa – understudy), James Farrugio (Frank), Dan Flannery and Marueen Tolman Flannery (married couple), Callie Munson (Tina), Kevin Stark (male patient) and Leah Wagner (Faye)

Design Team:

Lucas Merino (Video Design), Chelsea Meyers (Scenic Design), Michael Smallwood (Lighting Design), Scotty Iseri (Sound Design), Christine Pascual (Costume Design), James Gibson (Props Design)

Technical Team:

Bridgette O’Connor (Assistant Director, Production Manager), Tara Malpass (Stage Manager), Jamie Bragg (Dramaturg), Blair Robertson (Casting Director)

Coming next:

Midwest premiere of Rhymes With Evil (Oct 16 –Nov 23)

More info:

www.InfusionTheatre.com

 

 Kean (Steve O’Connell) breaks the romantic moment with Lissa (Leah Nuetzel)

Kean (Steve O’Connell) breaks the romantic moment with Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) by checking the mail, in InFusion Theatre Company’s Midwest premiere of “Intrigue With Faye” by Kate Robin of “Six Feet Under”.

 Kean (Steve O’Connell) attempts to comfort Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) after missing their date, in InFusion Theatre Company’s Midwest premiere of “Intrigue With Faye” by “Six Feet Under’s” Kate Robin, running April 17 – June 1, 2008, at the Royal George Theatre Gallery Space, 1641 N. Halsted St. in Chicago.  Tickets at 312-988-9000, and info at www.infusiontheatre.com  Photo by Johnny Knight.

Kean (Steve O’Connell) attempts to comfort Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) after missing their date

Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) turns the camera on her boyfriend Kean (Steve O’Connell) to stop him from cheating on her

Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) turns the camera on her boyfriend Kean (Steve O’Connell) to stop him from cheating on her

 Kean (Steve O’Connell) explains to his girlfriend Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) that she should give their relationship another chance (by putting their lives on tape)

Kean (Steve O’Connell) explains to his girlfriend Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) that she should give their relationship another chance (by putting their lives on tape)

Kean (Steve O’Connell) pleads with his girlfriend Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) to give their relationship another chance (by putting their lives on tape)

Kean (Steve O’Connell) pleads with his girlfriend Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) to give their relationship another chance (by putting their lives on tape)

Kean (Steve O’Connell) comforts his girlfriend Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) to assuage her fears that she cannot count on anyone

Kean (Steve O’Connell) comforts his girlfriend Lissa (Leah Nuetzel) to assuage her fears that she cannot count on anyone