Review: Run-of-the-Mill (Currently Untitled Theatre)

  
  

When ‘Run of The Mill’ happens to good actors

  
  

scene from "Run-of-the-Mill" by Tyler Dean, presented by Currently Untitled Theatre.

  
Currently Untitled Theatre presents
  
Run-of-the-Mill
  
Written by Tyler Dean
Directed by
Nate Silver
at
Act One Studios, 640 N LaSalle,Suite 535 (map)
through Feb 26  |  tickets: $20 |  more info

Sometimes people tempt fate. That seems to be the case with the title of the world premiere production of Run-of-the-Mill by Tyler Dean at Currently Untitled Theatre.

This is the story of a family dealing with the foibles and failings of modern life while trying to avoid the mistakes of the past. This is a noble and fecund premise but the seeds lay fallow in spite of some good acting.

scene from "Run-of-the-Mill" by Tyler Dean, presented by Currently Untitled Theatre.This story follows two marriages. Cynthia and Darryl are parents to Stacy, David, and Collin. Darryl has been unemployed for over a year and things are getting tense. Cynthia is a hard driving real estate agent who is fighting to live down past mistakes.

Brit Cooper Robinson, playing the part of Cynthia, balances the role without coming off as brittle or shrill. Patrick Rybarczyk is wonderful as the ever-optimistic Darryl.

Andrea DeCamp, as a daughter who is struggling with graduation dreams and a marriage proposal, is cool and unaffectedly hip in her portrayal. She and Robinson have a good dynamic as mother and daughter.

Mike Hahalyak and Dan Toot play brothers David and Collin respectively. David has messed up his marriage to Donna (Virginia Marie) and Collin is home from Iraq with a less than honorable discharge.

All of the ingredients are in place, but the writing is stilted and weak. Dean takes a long time with the expository elements of the characters. Though much angst is expressed over the dissolution of David and Donna’s marriage, we aren’t told why until after the intermission in the middle of the second act. Ms. Marie does a beautiful and subtle job of suppressed rage and sexual rejection. Hahalyak is appropriately penitent but by the time we find out about her infidelities – who cares? Hahalyak’s David is given a worn excuse of ADHD and depression for screwing around. It’s a punchline; not a reason. This storyline is so drawn out that it feels like an episode of the retro soap “Search for Tomorrow”.

Collin comes home from Iraq packing a bag of weed in his duffle and dishonorable discharge papers. Dan Toot is great as a kid soldier who grew up through combat. He portrays heartbreak, and there is a subtle hint of post- traumatic stress syndrome simmering. The ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ repeal seems thrown in as an afterthought. It’s not why Collin is ejected from the Army but the real reason is less compelling.

scene from "Run-of-the-Mill" by Tyler Dean, presented by Currently Untitled Theatre.The second act does not continue with the stark mystery but jumps right into an ill- conceived series of flashbacks. The soundtrack plays Huey Lewis and the News’ ‘Power of Love’ just as in ‘Back to the Future’. (Some Marty McFly humor would have helped.) What happened to Cynthia and Darryl is what happens to thousands of families and therefore it’s ‘run of the mill’. That doesn’t make for a great night at the theater. To be certain, there are families whose lives are ordinary and mundane, but I go to the theater to see a more tense dynamic or a story that I haven’t heard before. If I’m going to watch a soap opera, then somebody needs to be held captive in a well or Granny’s in the attic living in Imagination Land.

There are other kinks to be worked out in Run of the Mill”. The staging is rather clumsy. Did anyone think to put brakes on the casters? Moveable sets should not keep moving in the middle of the scene. Why do props in some scenes and then completely expressionistic in others? Is this a fleshed out story or a workshop in invisible burger flipping? Go for the fake food. We know it’s not real and in that case go for the satire, for this story has that potential: “Ward and June discover something happened to the Beaver in Iraq. Will things ever be the same on Morning Glory Lane? Tune in for the finely crafted acting!”.

  
  
Rating: ★½
  
   

scene from "Run-of-the-Mill" by Tyler Dean, presented by Currently Untitled Theatre.

Run of the Mill runs on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 through February 26th at Act One Studios,  640 N. LaSalle in the West Loop. Go to www.currentlyuntitledtheatre.org for more information on the company and the actors.  All photos by Gretchen Allnutt.

 

     
     

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REVIEW: Cherry Smoke (side project theatre)

   
  

Strong performances evolve from uneven play

  
  

Bug and Duffy almost kiss

  
The side project theatre presents
 
Cherry Smoke  
  
Written by James McManus
Directed
Lavina Jadhwani
at
side project theatre, 1439 W. Jarvis (map)
through Dec 19  |  tickets: $15-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

So much about James McManus’ play Cherry Smoke appalls the senses. The poverty, the violence, the paucity of adult care or concern about these dead-end kids who have no means, no education, and therefore no future. Playing now at the side project in Rogers Park under the direction of Lavina Jadhwani, their story seems foreign, like something out of a third-world country. But no, these are our slumdog millionaires—only there will be no millions to save these kids from their downward spiral.

Fish and Cherry - end exhaleMcManus bases his drama upon his own childhood experiences in Donora, PA. In an interview with Adam Szymkowicz, McManus recalls, “Our area was ravaged by poverty and many were not able to take advantage of even a primary education because of worsening family situations.” Donora, which also holds the dubious record of worst ecological disaster in US history, is a broken relic of the Rust Belt, so poor its only McDonald’s closed because people could no longer afford to eat there once the mill closed.

“But even in the ignorance, there was a beauty in both the language and the dreams,” says McManus. Even with little else, what the characters in Cherry Smoke have language and dreams. In their words we find a brutal kind of American primitive dialect.

At age 9, his father forces Fish (Dan Toot) into the fighting ring, thrown in to sink or swim against the punches of an older boy. His savage victory sets both his back alley fighting career and his psychology in a perpetual iron state of rage. He cannot shake his warlike disposition against any guy who looks at him or against life itself. When Fish roars, “It’s all nothing,” Dan Toot precisely captures nihilism carried out with the force of a dynamo. That Toot physically never lets up in a one hour, 40 minute performance is an achievement in sheer stamina, but he also knows how to sculpt nuances into Fish’s unending enmity against his life.

Only Cherry, who tells fortunes and sleeps in a car in the winter or down by the river in summertime, can understand, love, and tame him—but only to a degree. Incapable of controlling the rage that builds his fighting success, Fish perennially ends up in juvie, then in jail. Separation from Fish leaves Cherry to fall back into nervous depression—ending up as an invalid in the care of Bug (Jessica London-Shields) and Fish’s brother, Duffy (Peter Oyloe). While not Bonny and Clyde, McManus succeeds in crafting a legendary, impossible couple in Fish and Cherry and their almost magical relationship.

That’s not to say the play does not contain serious flaws. The plot is hampered by boxing clichés–the fighter needing to get out of the game but desperately going for one last fight. In fact, Fish’s final fight simply falls apart dramatically, with Fish going into flashbacks about his first forced encounter in the ring. Likewise, the birth of Fish and Cherry’s first born also veers into melodramatic overreach.

Cherry Smoke promoLondon-Shields gives an instinctive and delicate performance as the nervous, shy and unassuming Bug. Peter Oyloe’s performance as Duffy, though, almost washes out beside his bigger, badder brother. A scene in which Duffy is almost ready to kill Fish for breaking his hand restores stronger dramatic tension in Duffy’s psychological make-up.

Cherry Smoke jumps around and needs a serious rewrite to produce a much tighter play. I doubt you could get a clearer wake up call about the impoverishment of America’s Rust Belt youth.

  
 
Rating: ★★
  
  

 

Production Personnel

Cast

Jessica London-Shields, Peter Oyloe, Emily Shain, and Dan Toot

Creative/Production Team

Scott Butler (Dialects), Jesse Gaffney (Props), Sarah Gilmore (Sound), Meg Lindsey (Management), Michelle Milne (Movement), Rachel Sypniewski (Costumes), and Sally Weiss (Set/Lights)

     
     

REVIEW: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Theatre-Hikes)

Exploring good and evil in the great outdoors

 

Theatre-Hikes - Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde005

  
Theatre-Hikes presents
   
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
   
Written/Adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher
Based on novella by
Robert Louis Stevenson
Directed by
Bradley Baker
at
Morton Arboretum, 4100 Illinois 53, Lisle (map)
through October 31  |  tickets: $13-$19   |  more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher, is based on the original novella “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson. Both the play and the original work explore the fine lines between good and evil and what those characteristics can do to a man.

The Morton Arboretum sets the scene for the Theatre-Hikes production of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The vast outdoor space leaves plenty of room for the actor’s personalities to shine through. With the leaves of the trees changing and the wind Theatre-Hikes - Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde014 rustling through the fallen leaves, there is a unique and apt ambience that surrounds both the actors and the audience. Although it was a little chilly, once the action began it no longer seemed to matter.

Jekyll/Hyde opens on the main characters finding Dr. Jekyll unconscious which leads to flash backs exposing the chain of events leading to Jekyll’s current state. The story unfolds through journal entries, police reports, notes and other writings from the main characters. To begin, two of Jekyll’s friends, Richard Enfield (Zach Bloomfield) and Gabriel Utterson (James Stanton) discuss a peculiar occurrence witnessed and how the man involved is related to Jekyll. The play opens rather strongly, setting a good tone for the rest of the performance. Energy levels are high and stay high throughout the two-hour run of the show. It’s also clear that the actor’s work with their dialect coach, Allison Reinke, has paid off because their accents effortlessly transport the audience back to London in 1883.

The two men meet with Dr. Jekyll (Dan Toot) and discuss the event only to find out the man involved; Mr. Hyde (played at various times by James Stanton, Zach Bloomfield, Geoff Crump and Ellenkate Finley) is an acquaintance of Jekyll. Toot offers up a calm demeanor with Dr. Jekyll and creates an authentic presence on stage. He gives off a confident and intellectual air, as one expects from a doctor.

The character of Mr. Hyde, although played by aforementioned actors throughout the course of the play, is mainly played by Geoff Crump. Crump also does the best job of portraying the terrifying and menacing Mr. Hyde. It’s never quite clear why four actors have been cast to play this one character, for although the others did a fine job, in the end they pull focus from Crump, who proves to be the most devilish and mysterious of them all.

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Theatre-Hikes - Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde023 Theatre-Hikes - Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde015

Continuing on, the play continues to tell the parallel stories of Jekyll and Hyde. Mr. Hyde meets a woman, Elizabeth Jelkes, (Amanda Presz) and they fall in love. Despite all the bad he has done and that he inherently is, she loves him. However, their first meeting is a frightful one when Hyde pulls a knife on her. Unfortunately, the feelings of fear and raw emotion could have be taken further in the beginning – it doesn’t feel like a genuine fear or evil. That being said, as the show progresses, Presz and Crump get in synch with their characters, creating a much more realistic portraits; pulling the audience into the action.

Theatre-Hikes - Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde028As we learn more about the dichotomies between Jekyll and Hyde, it becomes increasingly captivating. All the actors do a terrific job of keeping the audience in the  moment.  Thus, when a scene ends and the audience must move to the next scene location (the hike part of Theatre-Hikes), there’s a moment a surprise at being taken out of the action on stage. Once settled, the actors are able to jump right back in and immediately the audience is, once again, lost in this fantasy world.

Bloomfield, who plays several parts throughout (Sir Danvers Carew, Richard Enfield, O.F. Sanderson, Inspector, Hyde 2) does a wonderful job of switching between them. The characters come off different and unique, which is important. As Jekyll, Enfield, Utterson Toot, Bloomfield and Stanton have good stage chemistry, and it’s definitely believable that they are old friends or colleagues.

As Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde concludes with its final scenes, Crump as Hyde (3) really comes into his element. He pushes his character to its limits, creating depth and a large character arch, making for an overall enjoyable production.  What better way is there to see a top-notch performance AND get a workout all at the same time?!!

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

Theatre-Hikes - Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde021Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde plays at the Morton Arboretum through October 31. Tickets are $13 to $19 and can be purchased through the Theatre-Hikes website.

       
     

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REVIEW: Our Town (Theatre-Hikes)

Strong ensemble brings Grover’s Corners to life

 

rebecca, george & emily 25

   
Theatre-Hikes presents
   
Our Town
  
Written by Thornton Wilder
Directed by
Frank Farrell
at
The Pullman Historic Museum and Morton Arboretum
through September 26  |  tickets: $13-$19  |  more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian

Our Town, written by Thornton Wilder, offers a glimpse into the daily lives of average Americans in small town New Hampshire. Set from 1901 to 1913, this play takes the audience on a journey of growth and discovery. Focused mainly on the characters of George Gibbs and Emily Webb, Our Town depicts life typical of how things were at the beginning of the twentieth century.

The Pullman Historic Museum provides the backdrop for Theatre-Hikes’ Our Town, creating a feeling of being transported back to the early 1900s. (Note: future performances will occur at the Morton Arboretum). Grover’s Corners, NH, the location of Our Town, is brought to life through this use of this space. Being outdoors however, the cast had to compete with airplanes overhead, car alarms and some rather jubilant church music wafting through the air. The cast succeeds, however, in distracting the  audience from such deterrents with their george & emily A 50 strong, captivating performances. Each scene has very minimal set pieces – only six stools. The rest of the action and props are pantomimed. The cast does a good job acting out different experiences without the use of physical props, allowing for the story to really shine through.

Our Town opens on a typical day in Grover’s Corners with the actions narrated by the stage manager (Dan Scurek). Our Town is a meta-theatrical play that announces it’s a play, breaking through the fourth wall to directly address the audience. Scurek’s stage manager/narrator jumps right into character from his first line. He’s incredibly personable and animated with both his words and his actions, creating a character that one looks forward to hearing from. The narrator introduces the rest of the characters in act one, “the Daily Life,” including Mrs. Gibbs (Mary Nigohosian) and Mrs. Webb (Jeanne Scurek). Nigohosian clearly fleshed out her character with a relatable demeanor. She is entertaining to watch as she neatly gets her family ready for the morning – making breakfast and attending to her husband and children. She proves to be the stronger of the two women, set against J. Scurek. Mrs. Webb is, of course, a proper woman, but Scurek plays her a bit too stiffly. She overacts at times, causing the character to feel forced.

The audience is also introduced to young George Gibbs (BJ Engelhardt) and Emily Webb (Courtney Payne). Interacting through typical conversations of homework and baseball, Engelhardt and Payne offer an innocent and sweetly awkward portrayal of two young people discovering their feelings for one another. The first act also introduces the two standout supporting roles of Professor/Constable (Kevin Lambert) and Simon Stimson (Dan Toot). Although these are smaller roles, the actors take them to heart and really make them come to life. Lambert is amusing and proves to be a strong presence while on stage. Similarly, Toot’s character, the choir organist and town drunk, is quite comical, sometimes stealing the spotlight when he’s on.

Act two, “Love and Marriage,” offers a glimpse further into the relationship between Emily and George. There’s a clear chemistry between the two actors, and as the second act progresses, the characters grow and come truly to life. “Love and Marriage” runs a bit quicker than act one, which slightly drags in the beginning. It’s lovely to see George and Emily’s relationship grow; it’s evident that both Engelhardt and Payne have an understanding of their character’s psyche and the reasoning behind their actions and words. Act two concludes with their marriage and all the townsfolk gathering to wish them well.

george, mr. webb stg mang, george, emily, 3 ladies

Our Town concludes with act three, “Death and Eternity.” The townsfolk have gathered in the cemetery to attend the funeral of one of their own. The tone shifts here from light and happy to stark and contemplative. Payne’s character arch becomes even greater as she attempts to deal with the situation at hand, and real, raw emotions come through, connecting her even further to the audience. Mrs. Gibbs proves to be a comforting presence in this time of sorrow, and Nigohosian’s gentle character is a relief for both the characters and the audience members.

Overall, Our Town is a solid show. The acting is generally on point, and the two-and-a-half hours go by quickly. There is quality direction by Frank Farrell, which allows each actor the confidence to move about without fumbling, and the costuming by Melissa Snyder adds another layer to the show. Each outfit is appropriate to both the characterization and the time frame of Our Town, which helps to shape the story.

(Side note: Act three even allowed for a bit of audience interaction when audience member Dale Gallian was asked to step in a fill a small role of Farmer McCarthy.)

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

Our Town plays at the Morton Arboretum, 4100 Illinois Route 53 in Lisle, IL. The show runs on Saturdays and Sundays at 1:00 pm through September 26. Tickets are $13 to $19 and can be purchased at www.mortonarb.org or by calling (630) 725-2066.

Our Town Ae

      
     

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