Review: Nunset Boulevard (Theatre at the Center)

     
     

Newest nun revue is less than holy

     
     

Lauren Creel, Felicia Fields, Alene Robertson, Nicole Miller & Mary Robin Roth in Theatre at the Center's "Nunset Boulevard" by Dan Goggin.

   

Theatre at the Center presents

  

Nunset Boulevard

  

Written By Dan Goggin
Directed and choreographed by Stacey Flaster
at Theatre at the Center, Munster, IN (map)
through May 29   |   tickets: $20- $40  |   more info

Reviewed by Jason Rost

They say, “When you find something that works for you, stick to it.” Dan Goggin has made a living off of his troop of fictional nuns from Hoboken, New Jersey since the debut of his smash hit musical Nunsense in 1985. After seven spin-offs Goggin has penned the latest nun adventure, Nunset Boulevard. The musical nuns from Jersey travel to California for a gig at the Hollywood Bowl….-A-Rama. It makes some sense that the Chicago area premiere of this new show is being produced at Theater at the Center in Munster, Indiana, since, after all, Northwest Indiana is seemingly Chicago’s Jersey. It’s where we send our landfill, refining and casino gamblers. In this case, it’s where we send somewhat tired musical comedy such as this production directed rather flatly by Stacey Flaster. While there is some huge talent (namely Tony award nominee Felicia Fields) and occasional chuckles, it’s not quite worth the trip down I-90/94 for what is ultimately a cabaret show with too much space to fill.

Mary Robin Roth (Sister Robert Anne) and Nicole Miller (Sister Leo) in Theatre at the Center's "Nunset Boulevard" by Dan Goggin.In their latest outing, our showbiz sisters arrive in Hollywood for what they think is a booking at the famous Hollywood Bowl. Instead, they are scheduled to appear at the Hollywood Bowl-A-Rama, a bowling alley somewhere in Hollywood. While generally Goggin’s nun shows are largely a cabaret style, Sister Hubert (Fields) suggests in this production that they include a plot (in one of the more fun musical numbers of the night). The show is still primarily though a cabaret style performance of comedic bits, musical numbers, improv and interacting with the audience (probably the highlight of the evening). However, there is a through line revolving around Sister Leo (Nicole Miller) and her quest to get “discovered” in Hollywood. It turns out a movie musical about nuns is auditioning across the street. Sister Robert Anne (Mary Robin Roth) is skeptical. She is especially conflicted when Sister Leo asks permission to appear before the casting director without wearing her habit. There is also Sister Amnesia (Lauren Creel), whose schitck is that she lost her memory due to a giant crucifix falling on her head.

The raunchier bits play the best, however there are not many of them. During the improv segment with the audience, there is a game made of naming famous nuns from the movies which rewards certain audience members with very funny religious keepsakes. The fact that the nuns sing and dance isn’t novel enough anymore to carry the interest of the audience over two hours. The Hollywood they are visiting is decidedly a Hollywood of old with songs like “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane” and a parade of classic Hollywood blonde bombshells.

Fields provides some wonderful vocals and dry humor to the evening. Creel and Miller are also standouts with their energy. But, Flaster’s direction, along with certain Mary Robin Roth as Sister Robert Anne in Theatre at the Center's "Nunset Boulevard" by Dan Goggin.performances, hamper the pacing. There’s a comedy-killing pause between nearly every line dragging the show down. The cast overall plays too small to fill this space. Also, there were numerous instances where several actors were restarting lines which took the wind out of any possibility for consistent laughs.

Stephen Carmody’s set is a “Vegas meets Magic Kingdom” take on Hollywood. The expansive facade could hold a big band and 20 chorus girls. Instead, we get 3 keyboardists, a drum kit and five nuns. The one-liners and corny, yet sometimes delightful, tunes come across as though they would fit better in a nightclub setting. The formality of this large theatre complex drowns out most of the charm.

Overall, the production elements are too polished and gaudy in contrast with what’s essentially comedic sketches and light songs. The vastness of the theater demands too much non-stop entertainment. I feel the same show could be placed in a setting such as Mary’s Attic (an upstairs bar lounge in Andersonville) and achieve a much better effect on its audience. There is definitely something here for diehard fans of Goggin’s nun series, but not enough to spark any excitement as these Jersey girls’ take on Tinsel Town.

  
  
Rating: ★★
  
  

Felicia Fields, Lauren Creel, Alene Robertson, Nicole Miller & Mary Robin Roth in Theatre at the Center's "Nunset Boulevard" by Dan Goggin.

Theatre at the Center presents the Chicago Area premiere of Dan Goggin’s Nunset Boulevard, directed by Stacey Flaster, April 28- May 29 at 1040 Ridge Rd, Munster, IN. The performance schedule is Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m.; Wednesdays and Thursdays at 2:00 p.m. The play runs 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission. Tickets are $36 on Wednesdays-Thursdays, and $20-$40 Fridays- Sundays. Tickets may be purchased by phone (219-836-3255) or online at theatreatthecenter.com.

  
  

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REVIEW: Drum Circle Pandora (Quest Theatre Ensemble)

 

Come To The Circle!

 

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Quest Theatre Ensemble presents
   
The People’s Drum Circle Pandora
  
Conceived and Directed by Andrew Park
at
St. Gregory’s Theatre, 1609 W. Gregory (map)
thru September 19  |  tickets: FREE  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

Quest Theatre Ensemble has created a community experience in the truest sense of the word with Drum Circle Pandora. This is actually theatre of the people where in the audience is encouraged to participate in a celebratory manner. Many theatres try too hard to draw the audience into an alternative reality for a short time.  Quest, however, provides a dizzying array of percussion instruments for the audience to use, allowing participants to create the production on a primal level.

IMG_4320 The first act is the drum circle part of the evening. Drum circles invite people to release emotion and raise inner consciousness through communal drumming and singing.  Quest expertly uses this vehicle, then, to create an open and receptive audience-experience.  The audience is first given a lesson in achieving different sounds from the drums by cast member Aimee Bass, aka ‘Sister Drum’.  Bass is accompanied by Kim DeVore, aka ‘Sister Didge’.  Bass and DeVore are exceptional musicians; their charismatic presence adds color and intensity to the music emanating from their chosen instruments.

Act two, which adds an electric ensemble to the first act performers, is centered on the myth of Pandora – but with a twist: Pandora was not responsible for all of the evils of the world. Instead, by opening the box, Pandora illuminated what was already there. This makes it possible for humankind to see that the perception of evil comes from within as does all good and hope. Creator Andrew Park provides a Greek Chorus of Brother Sun and the Sunshine Girls to accompany Pandora’s journey. Jason Bowen plays the role of Brother Sun with great humor and a touch of lusty naughtiness.

In the tradition of musicals such as Hair and O Calcutta, songs are anthems to moral restraints breaking free. But Pandora instead explores the responsibility that springs from that freedom. The quandaries are still the same in every era. How does humanity ignore what we have wrought? There is poverty, war, and environmental ravages, but people choose not to put light on the situation. While the entire cast does a wonderful job of dancing and singing, Angelica Keenan does a star turn in the title role. Her skills as a dancer are excellent. One unfortunate exception, however, is a dance she performs while wearing boots, a clunky costume choice that literally hampers the beauty of her movement and the gravity of the scene. Ms. Keenan is paired with Merrill Matheson as her spouse Epemethious. Matheson is excellent in portraying societal denial with the personas of businessman, husband etc.

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A wonderful ensemble featuring music in arena rock style enhances the song productions, harkening back to the Rick Wakeman days of the group Yes or Emerson, Lake & Palmer in their heyday. The addition of a didgeridoo by Ms. DeVore adds a sinister and primordial shading to Act 2. The music underscores the archetypal essence of the Pandora myth, i.e., women are usually to blame for the downfall of man in patriarchal tales. There was Eve and her apple, before her Lillith and concurrently Pandora. Drum Circle Pandora seeks to put an equal spin on how it all went down and how everyone must look at what we create in full light as the ultimate solution for harmony, prosperity, and good stewardship of the environment. In the process, Quest creates a timely tale, especially considering the state of the world at the moment.

A special mention must be given to the production’s set design and scenic artistry. Nick Rupard and Julie Taylor have done a fabulous job of alternating cyc walls and moveable scenery. Whether it is sunflowers or destruction, the sets are lush, giving added depth to the action. The masks and puppetry by Megan Hovany are exceptional as well. Drum Circle Pandora is a rich and crazy carnival for the eyes and ears. You will be singing the theme song ‘Come To The Circle’ long after you leave the theatre.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
  
  

IMG_4300 The mission of Quest Theatre Ensemble is to provide free access to theatre for everyone. The productions are free of charge but donations are welcome  – and will certainly help the company buy more instruments and to help spread the word about the production. Drum Circle Pandora is best for ages 12 and up, as some scenes are quite intense.  Also, other than the drumming, I’m not sure if kids younger than 12 will understand the premise (though I’m speaking from a mother’s perspective).

Drum Circle Pandora runs every Friday and Saturday at 8:00pm and Sundays at 2:00pm. Admission is free but reservations are encouraged and honored. The theatre is located at Quest’s Blue Theatre – 1609 W. Gregory. It is in the St. Gregory the Great School building that is accessible by CTA. Go and get your drum on as the summer wanes!

 

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REVIEW: Abe’s in a Bad Way (Free Street Theater)

The American psyche exposed in “Abe”

 Amber Smith as Abe, and ensemble. Photo credit: Anita Evans 

 
Free Street Theater presents
 
Abe’s in a Bad Way
 
directed by Anita Evans
at
Pulaski Park Field House, 1419 W. Blackhawk (map)
through April 17th (more info)

reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

In every collective conscious experience, there is a print left on the human psyche so that everyone is feeling that thing in a familiar way. Some will say that they can’t put a name to it until another experience comes to clarify what occurred. A light bulb goes on and one is left wondering, “Why didn’t I think of that?” The very talented performers of the youth ensemble of Free Street Theater have provided a brilliant exposure of Abraham Lincoln with Abe’s in a Bad Way

abeflagThis production is called a string musical installation and stretches the boundaries of what is called theater. One is spellbound experiencing the performers’ revelation of Abraham Lincoln’s last days – done with impeccable timing and flashes of dark humor. 

The action starts with a vignette from the play Our American Cousin, which was playing at the Ford Theater on that fateful night. It is a funny enactment of what was most definitely mediocre 19th-century theater. When the shot rings out, the scene is set for the an entire country in the state of shock. The sound of the Long String instruments, a guitar, and box/block percussion provide a stirring dirge-like atmosphere. A doctor appears downstage to add a leit motif of dialogue, detailing the President’s last hours. It is factual and yet haunting to hear what is discovered to be the actual medical transcription of Lincoln’s heart rate, respiration, and pulse.

There are projections upstage that show Lincoln’s personal life as well as the history of his days in office. We see through these images not only a country dealing with grief and sadness over the assassination, but also the grief and mourning of his family. Ultimately it is shown that Lincoln dealt with through constant grief and depression all while governing a nation divided. His marriage to Mary Todd was seen as a sudden decision and their union was fraught with tragedy and division.

The show’s depiction of the stages of depression and anger is a very intense experience. A player sits in the iconic pose of the Lincoln Memorial in a rail back chair while being berated with a twisted ‘this is your life Abe’ tirade. There is a young woman sitting at the foot of the President who taunts Lincoln (Amber Smith) with the details of his sudden marriage and children’s deaths. Then there is what was perceived to be his political failures recited as a bitter litany. His failure to be elected senator and a hard fought national election of which the result was immediate secession by Southern states and the Civil War. The sepia toned daguerreotypes on the screen behind project pictures of his children, along with images from Civil War battles, piles of bodies stacked into piles, make the era seem more current than ages ago.

AbeIndexWeb Another wonderful scene involves the ghost of Lincoln’s son Willie, standing in front of his gravestone, comforting his father with talk about heaven. A haunting tune is sung in the background as Willie tells the dying president that being dead is easy. As the doctor pronounces Lincoln dead, the ensemble takes the stage and echoes the dying breath in relief and acceptance to an adaptation of Walt Whitman’s “O Captain” set to music.

The performances of these young people are professional and on a par with the most stringently trained Method actors. At a post show talk about their creative process, it suddenly occurred to me that these were teenagers. The crackling energy and excitement of being on stage was running through the room. They explained how they created Abe’s in a Bad Way. This is a product of extensive research on depression and the details that made up the life of Lincoln and his family. Also explained were some of the nuts and bolts of blocking on stage, and the stream of consciousness and improvisation that went into creating the dialogue and physical movement for the different stages of grief. Also present were Director Anita Evans and Musical Director Stone to answer questions or elaborate on the process of creating this production. Stone’s musical resume includes performance with String Theory Productions. The instruments sat on a coffin base and an antique trunk surrounded by American flag bunting. They look liked deconstructed pianos, a ghostly blend of harmonica, violin, zither, and percussion. Ms. Evans seemed to have a disciplined yet very respectful approach to working with these young actors, which definitely shines through in the finished product. This is not cute children’s theatre – the future is now with these performers and I expect that we will be hearing from them again and again. In fact, some of the company is traveling to Thailand to create a production with Makhampon Theater in Chiang Dao, Thailand.

The performers are as follows: Chance Damon, River Damon, Danielle Davis, Sophia de Oliveria, Summer Edmonds, Giovanni Gonzalez, Karina Gonzalez, Arden Harris, Linda Millan, Nemeh Morrar, Amber Smith, and Brittany Ward. The talented ensemble also wrote the play with assistance from Director Evans and excerpts from writings about Abraham Lincoln. I encourage you to see this production. Free Street Theater is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year – 40 years of nationally-acclaimed productions and some very gifted performers. I was a day camp kid on a field trip to Ravinia in 1970 when I first saw Free Street. I had seen big productions in the Loop and still I thought Free Street was the coolest thing running. I had the same feeling some 40 (what??!) years later.

 
Rating: ★★★
 

Abe’s in a Bad Way runs through April 17th. Friday’s at 7:00 and Saturday’s at 2:00. Free Street is located at 1419 W. Blackhawk on the 3rd floor of the Pulaski Park Field House. Call 773-772-7248 or www.freestreet.org

abebad

Free Street Theater penetrates the mind of one miserable man who lived to make one nation indivisible.